At Wrestle Kingdom 9, Shinsuke Nakamura fended off Kota Ibushi’s challenge for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship in what was one of the best matches of 2015, despite taking place only four days into the new year and being followed by nearly twelve months worth of fantastic wrestling. This year, it’s A.J. Styles’ turn for a shot at the IC title, a belt that’s become synonymous with its current holder, Shinsuke Nakamura.
Nakamura is a five time IWGP Intercontinental Champion, the most since the title’s inception in 2011. Nakamura first won the title in 2012 when he defeated Hirooki Goto. Since then, the belt has basically belonged to him. Sure, he’s lost it four times, but Nakamura doesn’t really ever lose the title, he just lets others play with it until he’s ready to take it back.
A.J. Styles is no slouch when it comes to impressive title reigns. After signing with New Japan, Styles defeated Kazuchika Okada in his debut match at Wrestling Dontaku 2014 for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. Not a bad start. He was also in some company called TNA, or Impact Wrestling, or Wrestling Matters, or something, where he was apparently quite successful, but I don’t really know anything about that.
How’d We Get Here?
It’s pretty simple, actually. After deciding Hirooki Goto had played with his belt for long enough, Nakamura took back his property at Destruction in Kobe in September. Nakamura successfully defended the title against Bullet Club co-founder Karl Anderson at Power Struggle, but before the match, he went the John Cena route and issued an open challenge for the title at Wrestle Kingdom. You’ve got to admire the gall of Nakamura, issuing an open challenge when he still had Karl Anderson to get through. After defeating Anderson in a very exciting match, A.J. Styles came out to graciously accept the challenge. And there we have it. Nakamura vs. Styles at Wrestle Kingdom 10.
One reason I’m excited about this match, besides the fact it involves two of the best wrestlers in the world today, is that it’s a first time match. Nakamura and Styles have only previously met in tag matches or multi-mans, so this will be their first singles match together. So that’s neat. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of chemistry they have, and if this match will be the beginning of a long term feud, or just a one off thing.
It’s also a battle of the hairstyles. One wrestler has a very progressive, fashionable hairstyle, and the other is A.J. Styles. I kind of wish this match was a Lucha de Apuesta, with Nakamura’s title vs. A.J.’s hair. There’s still time, NJPW!
Finally, what I’m most excited for is Shinsuke Nakamura’s ring entrance. At Wrestle Kingdom 9, Nakamura came out wearing a regal crown and looking like Vincent Valentine, which was great, but fairly tame for Nakamura. The previous year, he was accompanied by a whole troop of dancers. With poles for some reason! One thing that was missing from Wrestle Kingdom 9 were the long, extravagant entrances. Without GFW’s involvement and the incurred time constraints, Wrestle Kingdom 10 should go back to the big, elaborate entrances of years past.
Of course, this will all be for naught if A.J. Styles doesn’t even make it to the Tokyo Dome. Recently, Styles was sent home from the NJPW World Tag League tournament due to a lingering back injury. Shortly before the tournament, he had also missed some ROH shows. Hopefully it’s nothing a little R&R can’t fix. Though he still had a major match in ROH against Jay Lethal to get through before Wrestle Kingdom, so I’m not sure just how much of the R’s he’s actually got.
Cards are always subject to change. It would be a huge disappointment to miss the biggest NJPW show of the year, but personal well-being does come first. However, I don’t doubt Styles will make it to Wrestle Kingdom, but I highly doubt he’ll be at his best. Luckily for him, he’ll be in there with one of the best in the world. Besides, even an A.J. Styles at 50% would still be better than most.