WWE Championship Match
AJ Styles (C) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura
The Reality: This match has the potential to be the most disappointing, if only because it also has the highest ceiling: With the “inexperience” of Nakamura, it’s possible they may try a bit too hard. HOWEVER, considering how lit AF his first NXT match — the “fight forever” match with Sami Zayn — was, it feels like this is a guaranteed money match, in terms of satisfying the fans in spite of themselves.
This was a match that suffered, perhaps more than any other, from being late on an interminably long show. In fact, my initial reaction to this match — especially relative to my current one, after having rewatched it — was finally what pushed me over the edge into actively advocating for a two-night show for WrestleMania, instead of the yearly endurance race we run as wrestling fans every Spring.
And it certainly didn’t help that the best, most engaging part of the entire segment was the post-match dick punch. If this is the match that gets us full Wrestle Kingdom 9 Nakamura, then this pretty decent but ultimately not great match (between two people from whom such things are expected) will have been totally worth it. If that isn’t the case, and Shinsuke turns back into Uncle Fluffy, I’ll be more than a little disappointed. It’s unfair, perhaps, to say that this should have been every bit as good as its SDL Women’s Division equivalent in Asuka and Charlotte’s match, but considering the talent involved it definitely doesn’t feel inaccurate.
HAVING SAID THAT, this shit was still super good on the rewatch. There’s a level of urgency that’s missing from the crowd, and that likely made everything feel much more perfunctory than it does outside of the context of the SEVEN HOUR show it sat almost at the end of. In rewatching the morning after, however, the stiffness of the strikes and tension of the match — which, of course, lags after the fire emoji start — is maintained at a much higher level than originally felt. Nakamura still has to prove himself on the main roster, but it’s also perhaps time we understand that he’s not working in the same company, or with the same time, he did when he first struck his knee through our hearts all those years ago.
AJ, though. That dude rakes.