Wrestlemania 34 Spotlight: Shinsuke Nakamura vs AJ Styles

So it’s about time I got round to writing about the match I’m most looking forward to at Wrestlemania. It’s a match between two of my favourites in or out of WWE (I mean, just look at the image at the very top of this site).

Much like I wrote about the Intercontinental Championship triple threat earlier in the week, it’s a match we’ve seen before. Not in this hemisphere, not in this country. Not on this stage and not with this prize at stake. This time it’s the Royal Rumble winner facing the WWE Champion. But it’s still Shinsuke Nakamura vs AJ Styles.We know this match will be good. The only question is how good. Their match at New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Wrestle Kingdom 10 two years ago is one of two matches I credit with getting me interested in New Japan in the first place. It was fantastic, a tremendously hard hitting affair.

But the New Japan style is totally different from WWE’s style. The presentation will be different at Wrestlemania, the crowd will be different and react in different ways to different things. Plus, Nakamura hasn’t had a real top match since joining WWE’s main roster.

That being said, expectations are high. It’s the best bet for the match of the night, and is already a contender for WWE’s match of the year. If these guys get anything in the region of 20 minutes, with their past and purely because they are two of WWE’s elite talents, they could go on to something special.

This is very much one of those matches on the Wrestlemania card where the build has been underwhelming, but the talent involved sells itself. That pretty much sums up the card as a whole actually – Daniel Bryan’s return sells itself, as does Ronda Rousey’s debut, Charlotte vs Asuka, and the prospect of John Cena vs The Undertaker. There have been great moments, but no sustained storylines that have been consistently brilliant like Cena and The Miz’s promos were last year.

Cena Miz
The interaction between these two last year was nothing short of incredible.

But WWE are now in a position that it doesn’t need to be. The branding of Wrestlemania has reached another level, pretty much guaranteeing that ticket and Network buys will be good year on year regardless of what WWE does to sell it.

Obviously the level of talent they currently possess helps too, there are five matches that have the star power and ability to headline Wrestlemania 34, and there are more people who could be in that situation. There are seemingly endless combinations of matches that could reach a top level. And that doesn’t even include NXT.

But let’s look at this match specifically. Basically ever since both men signed with WWE in January 2016, people have looked at this pairing as a must happen. To be honest, I’m a little impressed they didn’t rush into it. It’s been a year since Nakamura joined the main roster, and up until the last couple of months they haven’t interacted all that much.

Styles Nakamura MITB
There was an electricity in the air during this face off at Money In The Bank last year.

But there has been the occasional tease. I refer to Money In The Bank in July last year, where both Syles and Nakamura competed in the Money In The Bank ladder match. It took until the final stages, but when those two locked eyes through a ladder and the place went wild, it was an obvious match at some point in the future. If there was any doubt in WWE about whether their fanbase would crave the face off, whether they would know the history, that one moment should have eradicated any fears.

So from there the question became how did they get to Styles vs Nakamura. It looked like an obvious way to go when Nakamura earned a title shot against Jinder Mahal last summer, but amazingly it was Mahal that went over. It seemed to make all the sense to put the strap on the King of Strong Syle, and then build to Styles challenging him. Instead, they went the other way around.

It would end up being Styles who would dethrone Mahal in Manchester last November, starting his current championship reign. While Styles would get drawn into the Bryan/McMahon/Owens/Zayn story, Nakamura set about winning the Royal Rumble. And thankfully, while Styles kept on retaining his title, Nakamura would win the Rumble. The dream match was on.

Let me just break this down to it’s basics. If someone has never watched WWE before, why should they care about this match? For one, it’s for what is on paper the most prestigious championship in the industry. For two, it sees WWE’s best in-ring performer battle arguably their most naturally charismatic superstar. For three, they have history – they have put on phenomenal matches before, both with other opponents and against each other. For four, these are two experienced wrestlers who have perfected their craft.

And to make it all that little bit more special, it’s held at the biggest event in wrestling: Wrestlemania. It really is that simple.

I always ask the same question in these Spotlights – what’s next? In this case I only really see one thing happening. A new champion.

Styles in the space of two years has risen to a level where high profile defeats won’t hurt him in the slightest. And while I always hate to see him lose a title, I don’t see him keeping it past Sunday. Nakamura needs something to bring him to that upper echelon in WWE, and a star-making match and title win is just that.

WM Styles Nakamura.jpg
It’s the perfect opponent, the perfect prize, and the perfect stage to make Nakamura a top guy.

Plus, I think Styles is moving to Raw. It was heavily rumoured to be happening last year, and for whatever reason didn’t. I think it’s now overdue, and with Nakamura taking the WWE Championship at the top of the card, Daniel Bryan’s return and the presumable star moving from Raw (likely either Seth Rollins or Finn Balor), SmackDown will be fine. But Styles can’t move to Raw as WWE Champion.

So there we go. This match alone would sell me on Wrestlemania, even though the build has been nothing special. It could be one of the greatest Wrestlemania matches in years, and one of the greatest WWE matches in just as long. No pressure lads. While Reigns vs Brock Lesnar will likely go on last, and Ronda Rousey will likely get the most mainstream attention, this is the wrestling fan’s main event. Now, it’s on them to deliver.

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