AJ Styles defeats Shinsuke Nakamura to retain the WWE Title
His match against Kota Ibushi at Wrestle Kingdom 9 was the first time I ever had the chance to see Shinsuke Nakamura in action. The match is, by any definition, a transcendent masterpiece that established both men as worthy of the main event of any show in any promotion at any time. And while it might be unfair to place that as the bar, Nakamura has been completely incapable of matching the quality of a single meaningful moment from that match since he joined WWE’s main roster.
He’s worked well in with specific performers in specific instances, but this was definitely the first match where he was able to articulate to a crowd why his presence on a card is meaningful and what he’s capable of doing when he is allowed to treat a performance like a fight and not a pre-ordained path to a planned result. Shin looked every bit the world destroying badass through much of this match that he felt like the first moment he stepped his foot on the ramp in the Tokyo Dome to face Ibushi.
And while there were any number of visual moments that stood out, it was the sound of AJ Styles free kick to Shin’s special place that I’ll remember most. Although it didn’t end the match, the fact that the clear babyface in the match could use such a normally taboo move to take down his opponent was a testament to Nakamura’s vastly underrated heel work during this feud. It’s hard to say that anyone has ever carried AJ Styles to anything, this was the Nakamura Show from beginning to end.
Both men will likely rebound into significant feuds, which hopefully for Nak means a chance at the US title as a way to establish credibility on Smackdown beyond his palpable badassery. As for AJ, he’s been so knee deep in Shin that his future is clouded entirely. This is, presumably, a good thing, but given the nature of this match — and the way he’s acted since the feud reached the end stages — whether or not it’ll be as a heel or face remains to be seen. And I, personally, would have liked if this match did a better job of establishing that.
So, while this was easily the best match of their series and the King of Strong Style’s WWE main roster career, it would be sadder that they don’t have anywhere else to go after this if the last four matches hadn’t been such borderline disappointments.
Match .65 | PPV +2.465