Shinsuke Nakamura (February 24, 1980) is a Japanese professional wrestler and mixed martial artist, currently signed to WWE, where he performs in its developmental territory, NXT and is a one-time NXT Champion. He is best known for his work in New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW), where he is a former three-time IWGP Heavyweight Champion, five-time IWGP Intercontinental Champion, one-time IWGP Tag Team Champion and the winner of the 2011 G1 Climax, 2006 G1 Tag League, and 2014 New Japan Cup tournaments. Nakamura is the youngest IWGP Heavyweight Champion in history, having won the title for the first time at the age of 23 years and 9 months. In 2015, Nakamura was inducted into the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame.
Professional wrestling career
New Japan Pro Wrestling
Super Rookie (2002–2005)
Nakamura joined NJPW in March 2002 and quickly began making a name for himself as a bright prospect for the company. Having earned the nickname "Super Rookie", Nakamura impressed both NJPW officials and fans with an excellent combination of strength, speed, and technical skill. Alongside fellow rookies Hiroshi Tanahashi and Katsuyori Shibata, Nakamura became known as one of the "new Three Musketeers". Nakamura also began training vale tudo and on December 31, 2002, he made his mixed martial arts debut in a match, where he was defeated by Daniel Gracie via submission to an armlock. Nakamura's second MMA match took place on May 2, 2003, when he defeated Jan Nortje with a guillotine choke. He followed that up on September 13 with another submission victory over Shane Eitner in his third MMA match. On December 9, 2003, Nakamura defeated Hiroyoshi Tenzan for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, thus becoming the youngest wrestler in history to win the title. On January 4, 2004, at Wrestling World 2004, Nakamura successfully defended the IWGP Heavyweight Championship against the NWF Heavyweight Champion Yoshihiro Takayama in a title unification match. However, just a month later, Nakamura was forced to vacate the title due to an injury. Upon his return, Nakamura received a shot at the title, now held by Bob Sapp, but was defeated by the defending champion on May 3, 2004. Later that month, Nakamura competed in his to date last MMA match, defeating Alexey Ignashov with a forearm choke on May 22. On December 11, 2004, Nakamura and his tag team partner Hiroshi Tanahashi defeated Kensuke Sasaki and Minoru Suzuki in a decision match to win the IWGP Tag Team Championship. On January 4, 2005, at Toukon Festival: Wrestling World 2005 Nakamura defeated his own tag team partner, Tanahashi, to win the IWGP U-30 Openweight Championship. During Nakamura's and Tanahashi tag team title reign, the two left for an excursion to Mexico, where they feuded with Los Guerreros del Infierno and defended their titles against Rey Bucanero and Olímpico. A few weeks later, on October 30, 2005, they lost the titles to Cho-Ten (Masahiro Chono and Hiroyoshi Tenzan).
Excursion and return (2006–2009)
Nakamura challenged Brock Lesnar for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship on January 4, 2006, at Toukon Shidou Chapter 1, but lost. In March 2006, Nakamura announced that he would depart on a learning excursion in order to further improve his wrestling skills. Among other things, he would travel to Mexico, Brazil and Russia, as well as train with Brock Lesnar at his personal gym in order to gain muscle mass. NJPW President Simon Inoki later suggested that as part of his learning excursion, Nakamura would be loaned to World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) to gain experience in working large American shows. However, it proved to be mostly speculation and never came to pass, as Nakamura was urgently needed back in New Japan due to Lesnar's departure.
On September 24, 2006, Nakamura made his long awaited return to New Japan, joining Masahiro Chono's Black stable, which had the goal of reforming New Japan with Chono as the president and Nakamura as the "Ace". Nakamura had greatly improved his muscular mass during his overseas training and also debuted a new finisher, called the Landslide. On December 10, 2006, Nakamura was unable to win the IWGP Heavyweight Championship from then-champion Tanahashi and was again unsuccessful on January 4, 2007 at the Wrestle Kingdom in Tokyo Dome show, which he lost to Toshiaki Kawada. Nakamura entered the 2007 G1 Climax tournament, where he reached the semifinals, before dislocating his shoulder. The injury sidelined Nakamura for months, but on November 11 he made his return and took over the leadership of Black from Chono and reformed the stable under the new name RISE, consisting of himself, Minoru, Milano Collection A.T., Hirooki Goto, Giant Bernard, Travis Tomko, and Prince Devitt. Low Ki was later added to the stable after Milano was injured, having impressed NJPW officials during an appearance when he was still with Total Nonstop Action Wrestling. On December 9 Nakamura defeated Togi Makabe to earn an IWGP Heavyweight Championship match at the following month's Tokyo Dome show.
On January 4, 2008, Nakamura defeated his rival Tanahashi in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom II in Tokyo Dome, winning the IWGP Heavyweight Championship for the second time. He followed that up with defeating Kurt Angle on February 17, 2008 to win the IGF version of the IWGP Heavyweight Championship and unify it with his own NJPW version of the title. He lost the IWGP Heavyweight Championship to All Japan Pro Wrestling representative Keiji Mutoh in Osaka on April 27, 2008.
September 5, 2008, Nakamura and stablemate Hirooki Goto challenged Togi Makabe and Toru Yano for the IWGP Tag Team titles but failed, and afterwards Giant Bernard and Rick Fuller attacked Nakamura and Goto and joined Makabe's GBH (Great Bash Heel) group along with the returning Low Ki. He also failed to win back the IWGP Title from Keiji Mutoh on October 13. On February 15, 2009, Nakamura faced Hiroshi Tanahashi for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, but once again failed to regain the title.
Strong style resurrection (2009–2012)
In April 2009, Nakamura turned heel, siding with the former members of GBH (especially Toru Yano) in a feud against Togi Makabe and Tomoaki Honma. This new group was soon named Chaos with Nakamura as their leader. Nakamura began to work a much rougher style, using a lot of knees and continuing to use a straight right hand as a frequent move in addition to the Bomaye, his new finisher. It was the Bomaye that took him to the finals of the 2009 G1 Climax, where he fell to Togi Makabe. Prior to the final Nakamura had gone undefeated, winning each match with the Bomaye. The move was also credited for fracturing IWGP Heavyweight Champion Hiroshi Tanahashi's orbital bone in the semi-finals of the G1, which forced Tanahashi to vacate the title later that month.
On September 27, 2009, Nakamura avenged his G1 loss and defeated Makabe in a decision match to win the IWGP Heavyweight title for a third time. Upon winning the title, Nakamura drew the ire of the likes of Antonio Inoki by announcing his plan of wanting to restore the "Strong Style" of New Japan by capturing the original IWGP Heavyweight Championship belt from Inoki to replace the fourth generation title belt Nakamura himself has. On October 12, he successfully defended the title against Shinjiro Otani. On November 8 at Destruction '09 Nakamura successfully defended his title against previous champion Hiroshi Tanahashi. On December 5, he retained the title by defeating Yuji Nagata. On January 4, 2010, at Wrestle Kingdom IV in Tokyo Dome, Nakamura successfully defended his IWGP Heavyweight Championship against Yoshihiro Takayama in a rematch of their 2004 Tokyo Dome title unification bout. After defeating Takayama he was challenged by Manabu Nakanishi, whom he would pin on February 14 at New Japan's ISM show in Sumo Hall, making his fifth defense. On April 4 Nakamura made his sixth successful title defense against the 2010 New Japan Cup winner and former team mate Hirooki Goto and afterwards accepted Togi Makabe's challenge for the title. On May 3, 2010, at Wrestling Dontaku 2010 Nakamura lost the IWGP Heavyweight Championship to Makabe. Following the loss, Nakamura was sidelined with a shoulder injury, until he returned on June 19 at Dominion 6.19, defeating Daniel Puder. Simon Inoki and Atsushi Sawada of IGF appeared at the show and seemed to eye up Nakamura after the match. On July 19 Nakamura received a rematch for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, but was once again defeated by Togi Makabe. The following month Nakamura entered the 2010 G1 Climax, where he won four out of his seven round robin stage matches, including one over eventual winner Satoshi Kojima, and was leading his block heading to the final day, where he wrestled Pro Wrestling Noah's Go Shiozaki to a 30-minute time limit draw and thus missed the finals of the tournament by a single point. The draw with Shiozaki led to a No Time Limit match at a Pro Wrestling Noah show on August 22, where Shiozaki was victorious. Despite losing to Hirooki Goto in a number one contender's match on October 11, Nakamura was hand–picked by the new IWGP Heavyweight Champion, Satoshi Kojima, as his first challenger. The title match took place on December 11 and ended with Kojima retaining his title.
On January 4, 2011, Nakamura avenged his loss to Go Shiozaki by defeating him in a singles match at Wrestle Kingdom V in Tokyo Dome. On May 3, Nakamura failed in his attempt to regain the IWGP Heavyweight Championship from Hiroshi Tanahashi. From late May to early June, Nakamura worked a tour with Mexican promotion Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre (CMLL), whom New Japan had a working agreement with. On August 1, Nakamura entered the 2011 G1 Climax and, after winning seven out of his nine round robin stage matches, finished first in his block to advance to the finals of the tournament. On August 14, Nakamura defeated Tetsuya Naito to win the 2011 G1 Climax and earn another shot at the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. Nakamura went on to challenge for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship on September 19, but failed to recapture the title from Hiroshi Tanahashi. In the 2011 G1 Tag League, Nakamura teamed with Toru Yano as the "Chaos Top Team", winning all five of their group stage matches, advancing to the semifinals of the tournament with a clean sheet. On November 6, Nakamura and Yano were eliminated from the tournament in the semifinals by the team of Minoru Suzuki and Lance Archer. On January 4, 2012, at Wrestle Kingdom VI in Tokyo Dome, the Chaos Top Team was defeated by Pro Wrestling Noah representatives, Go Shiozaki and Naomichi Marufuji.
Intercontinental Champion (2012–2016)
On July 22, 2012, Nakamura defeated Hirooki Goto to win the IWGP Intercontinental Championship for the first time. In August's 2012 G1 Climax tournament, Nakamura wrestled in the same block as fellow Chaos member and recent IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada. The two stablemates faced each other on August 5, with Nakamura picking up the win, effectively solidifying his spot as the leader of Chaos in the process. After four wins and three losses, Nakamura was defeated in the final day of the tournament by Hiroyoshi Tenzan and was thus eliminated from the finals, failing to defend his crown. On August 26, Nakamura traveled to the United States to make his first successful defense of the IWGP Intercontinental Championship, defeating Oliver John at a Sacramento Wrestling Federation (SWF) event in Gridley, California. The following day, Nakamura threw the ceremonial first pitch at a Major League Baseball game between the Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays in Arlington, Texas. On October 8 at King of Pro-Wrestling, Nakamura successfully defended the IWGP Intercontinental Championship in a rematch against Hirooki Goto. On November 11 at Power Struggle, Nakamura made his third successful defense against Karl Anderson. From November 20 to December 1, Nakamura took part in the round-robin portion of the 2012 World Tag League, alongside stablemate Tomohiro Ishii under the team name "Chaos Invincible". The team finished with a record of three wins, which included a win over stablemates Kazuchika Okada and Yoshi-Hashi, and three losses, failing to advance from their block. On January 4, 2013, at Wrestle Kingdom 7 in Tokyo Dome, Nakamura defeated Kazushi Sakuraba for his fourth successful defense of the IWGP Intercontinental Championship. From January 18 to 19, Nakamura took part in the Fantastica Mania 2013 weekend, co-promoted by New Japan and CMLL. In the main event of the second night, he made his fifth successful defense of the IWGP Intercontinental Championship against La Sombra. In early 2013, Nakamura became involved in Chaos' rivalry with New Japan's other top villainous stable, Suzuki-gun. On March 3 at New Japan's 41st anniversary event, Nakamura defeated Suzuki-gun's Lance Archer for his sixth successful title defense. On April 5, Nakamura and Tomohiro Ishii unsuccessfully challenged Archer and Davey Boy Smith Jr., K.E.S., for the IWGP Tag Team Championship. Two days later at Invasion Attack, Nakamura successfully defended the IWGP Intercontinental Championship against Smith, avenging the previous loss from the first round of the New Japan Cup. On May 3 at Wrestling Dontaku 2013, Nakamura defeated Suzuki-gun's newest member Shelton X Benjamin for his eighth successful defense of the IWGP Intercontinental Championship.
On May 11, Nakamura left for another tour with Mexican promotion CMLL. His first match back in Mexico took place the following day, when he teamed with El Felino and Negro Casas in a six-man tag team Two Out of Three Falls match at Arena Coliseo, where they were defeated by Máscara Dorada, Rush and Titán. Nakamura quickly started a rivalry with La Sombra and, after suffering two pinfall defeats against the Mexican in six-man tag team matches on April 17 and 24, accepted his challenge for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship, setting up a Fantastica Mania 2013 rematch between the two. The match took place on May 31 and saw La Sombra once again defeat Nakamura to become the new IWGP Intercontinental Champion, ending his reign at 313 days and eight successful title defenses. Nakamura wrestled his final match of the tour on June 9, when he was defeated by Rush in a singles match. Nakamura returned to New Japan on June 22 at Dominion 6.22 in a tag team match, where he and Tomohiro Ishii were defeated by Minoru Suzuki and Shelton X Benjamin, who pinned Nakamura for the win. On July 20, Nakamura regained the IWGP Intercontinental Championship from La Sombra, becoming the first two-time holder of the title. From August 1 to 11, Nakamura took part in the 2013 G1 Climax. Finishing with a record of five wins and four losses, Nakamura narrowly failed to advance to the finals, after losing to Shelton X Benjamin on the final day. On September 29 at Destruction, Nakamura defeated Benjamin to make the first successful defense of his second reign as the IWGP Intercontinental Champion. His second successful defense took place on October 14 at King of Pro-Wrestling, when he defeated Pro Wrestling Noah representative Naomichi Marufuji. On November 9 at Power Struggle, Nakamura made his third successful title defense against Minoru Suzuki in a match, which had the added stipulation that Nakamura would have had to join Suzuki-gun had he lost the title. Post-match Nakamura nominated Hiroshi Tanahashi as his next challenger, setting up the first title match between the two longtime rivals in over two years. From November 23 to December 7, Nakamura and Tomohiro Ishii took part in the 2013 World Tag League, where they finished with a record of three wins and three losses, with a loss against Togi Makabe and Tomoaki Honma on the final day costing them a spot in the semifinals.
On January 4, 2014, Nakamura lost the IWGP Intercontinental Championship to Hiroshi Tanahashi in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom 8 in Tokyo Dome. A rematch between the two took place on February 9 at The New Beginning in Hiroshima and saw Nakamura fail in his attempt to regain the IWGP Intercontinental Championship. In March, Nakamura took part in the 2014 New Japan Cup, which he eventually won, defeating Bad Luck Fale in the finals on March 23, and afterwards challenged Tanahashi to another rematch for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship. On April 6 at Invasion Attack 2014, Nakamura defeated Tanahashi to win the IWGP Intercontinental Championship for the third time. The following month, Nakamura took part in NJPW's North American tour, defeating Ring of Honor's Kevin Steen in an interpromotional match at War of the Worlds on May 17. On May 25 Back to the Yokohama Arena, Nakamura made the first successful defense of his third reign as the IWGP Intercontinental Champion against Daniel Gracie. On June 21 at Dominion 6.21, Nakamura lost the title to Bad Luck Fale in his second defense. In the 2014 G1 Climax, Nakamura won his block with eight wins and two losses, advancing to the finals. On August 10, Nakamura was defeated in the finals by Chaos stablemate Kazuchika Okada. On September 21 at Destruction in Kobe, Nakamura regained the IWGP Intercontinental Championship from Bad Luck Fale. He made his first successful title defense on November 8 at Power Struggle against Katsuyori Shibata. From November 23 to December 5, Nakamura took part in the 2014 World Tag League, alongside Tomohiro Ishii. The team finished second in their block with a record of four wins and three losses, narrowly missing the finals of the tournament due to losing to Hirooki Goto and Katsuyori Shibata on the final day. On January 4, 2015, at Wrestle Kingdom 9 in Tokyo Dome, Nakamura made his second successful defense of the IWGP Intercontinental Championship against Kota Ibushi. His third defense took place on February 14 at The New Beginning in Sendai, where he defeated Yuji Nagata. Nakamura's fourth title reign ended on May 3 at Wrestling Dontaku 2015, where he was defeated by Hirooki Goto. Nakamura received a rematch for the title on July 5 at Dominion 7.5 in Osaka-jo Hall, but was again defeated by Goto.
From July 23 to August 15, Nakamura took part in the round-robin stage of the 2015 G1 Climax. Despite missing one match due to an elbow injury, Nakamura won his block and advanced to the finals by defeating reigning IWGP Heavyweight Champion and Chaos stablemate Kazuchika Okada in his last round-robin match, giving him a record of seven wins and two losses. On August 16, Nakamura was defeated in the finals of the tournament by Hiroshi Tanahashi. On September 27 at Destruction in Kobe, Nakamura defeated Hirooki Goto to win the IWGP Intercontinental Championship for the fifth time. He made his first successful title defense on November 7 at Power Struggle against Karl Anderson, avenging an earlier loss from the 2015 G1 Climax. He made his second successful defense on January 4, 2016, by defeating A.J. Styles at Wrestle Kingdom 10 in Tokyo Dome. Hours after the event, it was reported that Nakamura had given his notice to NJPW on the morning of January 4, announcing that he was leaving the promotion for WWE. Nakamura remained under NJPW contract and was expected to finish off his contracted dates with the promotion before leaving. On January 12, NJPW confirmed Nakamura's upcoming departure, announcing he would also be stripped of the IWGP Intercontinental Championship. Nakamura handed in the title on January 25, officially ending his fifth reign. Nakamura wrestled his last match under his NJPW contract on January 30, where he, Kazuchika Okada and Tomohiro Ishii defeated Hirooki Goto, Hiroshi Tanahashi and Katsuyori Shibata.
On January 6, 2016, Nakamura confirmed in an interview with Tokyo Sports that he would be leaving NJPW at the end of the month, and signing with WWE. On January 27, WWE officially announced that Nakamura would be taking part in the NXT TakeOver: Dallas event on April 1, 2016. On January 31, Nakamura was confirmed to have finished his NJPW commitments and was said to be reporting to the WWE Performance Center for training and handling logistical matters regarding his move to the company. On February 2, Nakamura arrived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to undergo pre-contract signing medical tests. On February 22, WWE held a press conference in Tokyo, Japan to officially announce the signing of Nakamura to WWE NXT. On April 1, Nakamura defeated Sami Zayn in his debut match at NXT TakeOver: Dallas.
Nakamura then entered an undefeated streak, defeating Austin Aries at NXT Takeover : The End. All the way to the NXT Championship picture, then defeated Samoa Joe at NXT Takeover : Brooklyn to win his first NXT Championship.
Nakamura married Harumi Maekawa on September 1, 2007.
Along with fellow NJPW wrestler Kazuchika Okada, Nakamura is featured in the Japanese music video for Pharrell Williams' song Happy, released in May 2014. On May 27, 2014, Nakamura published an autobiography titled King of Strong Style 1980–2004.
- Finishing moves
- Bomaye (NJPW/ROH) / Kinshasa (Knee strike to an opponent's head, sometimes from the second rope) – 2009–present
- Cross armbreaker, sometimes while flying
- Landslide (Samoan driver, sometimes from the second rope) – 2006–2009; used rarely thereafter
- Shining Triangle (Running triangle choke while using the opponent's knee for leverage)
- Signature moves
- "Child of God"
- "The Black Savior"
- "King of Strong Style"
- "El Samurai de NJPW" (Spanish for "The Samurai of NJPW") (CMLL)
- Entrance themes
Championships and accomplishments
- New Japan Pro Wrestling
- IWGP Heavyweight Championship (3 times)
- IWGP Intercontinental Championship (5 times)
- IWGP Tag Team Championship (1 time) – with Hiroshi Tanahashi
- IWGP U-30 Openweight Championship (1 time)
- NWF Heavyweight Championship (1 time)2
- 10,000,000 Yin Tag Tournament (2004) – with Hiroyoshi Tenzan
- G1 Climax (2011)
- G1 Tag League (2006) – with Masahiro Chono
- National District Tournament (2006) – with Koji Kanemoto
- New Japan Cup (2014)
- Teisen Hall Cup Six Man Tag Team Tournament (2003) – with Hiro Saito and Tatsutoshi Goto
- Yuko Six Man Tag Team Tournament (2004) – with Blue Wolf and Katsuhiko Nakajima
- Heavyweight Tag MVP Award (2005) with Hiroshi Tanahashi
- New Wave Award (2003)
- Tag Team Best Bout (2004) with Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs. Katsuyori Shibata and Masahiro Chono on October 24
- Technique Award (2004)
- Pro Wrestling Illustrated
- PWI ranked him #5 of the best 500 singles wrestlers in the PWI 500 in 2015
- Tokyo Sports
- Wrestling Observer Newsletter
1 After winning the IGF's version of the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, the title was unified with the NJPW sanctioned IWGP Heavyweight Championship, which Nakamura also held at the time.
2 After winning the NWF Heavyweight Championship, the title was unified with the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, which Nakamura also held at the time.