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[2016-01-04-NJPW-Wrestle Kingdom 10] A.J. Styles vs Shinsuke Nakamura

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It's Nakamura in a big match on the Dome show. Do you really need more motivation to check it out? They play up on AJ's recent back problems which result in a great spot where AJ plays possum. Near enough every near fall and submission felt like it could end the match, and even as the match approached the 25 minute mark, I still didn't want it to end. A total war.
★★★★½

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I had high expectations for this match, and I sure was not disappointed. The Phenomenal One & The King of Strong Style put on a show. Great sequences, awesome counters, good psychology. The moment after the match where both guys showed respect to each other was absolutely amazing as well. Brilliant match. ****1/2

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IWGP Intercontinental Champion Shinsuke Nakamura vs AJ Styles - NJPW 1/4/16

It is crazy to think I saw this exact match-up live on a random Smackdown in Manchester, NH. Here it is as the semi-main event to a Tokyo Dome show. Life is funny. I was really disappointed by the WWE series and I saw that as maybe the biggest AJ Styles fan on the planet. I remember really enjoying and this and yep it totally lives up to my memory.

The main hook of the match is Nakamura working the back/abdomen (the general core region) with laser precision. I hear that AJ had some back injury coming into this. They play that off in the beginning when Nakamura jerks him off the ropes and AJ takes a hard flat back bump. AJ feigns the injury and sneak attacks Nakamura. When Nakamura gets a sort of Irish Curse backbreaker on Styles this time AJ is not so lucky and his back is actually hurt. AJ does such a great job selling this and writhing in agony. The Nakamura heat segment on AJ's back is clinical. This is the type of stuff you show rookies. It is textbook, it looks great and highly entertaining. The way he drives AJ into the guard rail. I loved the kicks to the abs and then when AJ finally smartens and catches the kick, Nakamura goes high with the enzigiuri. Genius! The kneelifts were fucking great and devastating. Running kneelifts leave you exposed to counters so when AJ evaded one this set up the Springboard Forearm and just like that AJ is back in it. I liked how AJ's strategy was all head focused. Even before having his back worked on, AJ was focusing on the head-rocking strikes. Those elbows, forearms and knees were all targeting the head. No one since Misawa is better at throwing the 'bow than AJ. Again, he is going for the head. I liked how hard it was for AJ to get Nakamura over on a suplex given his back issue, struggle is a critical part of pro wrestling. One thing I often in note in Nakamura's New Japan matches is that he is usually the superior counterwrestler. Here are two occasions, we see AJ not Nakamura busting out the counterwrestling using the Calf-Slicer. Nakamura on the other hand was going back to the back when he could. There were great finisher teasers between the Styles Clash and Bom Ba Ye Knee, which I loved. It makes you feel like each wrestler is trying to win the match. As the match progresses, you can feel each wrestler getting a little more desperate. With AJ's injury, he wants to get out of this match as quickly as possible and every time AJ rallies, Nakamura gets a little more nervous and wants to knock him out with a knee. I love that. 

At this point, the match becomes more strike oriented. AJ builds matches so well and his false finishes just crescendo to absolute fever pitch. I will say Nakamura sold his ass off for AJ. A critical point was when Nakamura was in such a rush, he ends up getting caught in the mush with a wicked uppercut knee. Nakamura's selling was so good and as my mom would say "haste makes waste". We get that sweet AJ 450 for two. Big false finish. Nakamura shows his counterwrestling game with a flash flying cross armbreaker but AJ clasps his hands. When Nakamura turns it into a triangle attempt, AJ hits a Styles Clash! HOLY SHIT! I popped HUGE for that all over again. Great false finish. AJ is fired up and wants to finish Nakamura off with a Super Styles Clash, but in all that time wasted, Nakamura SMOKES him with a wicked kick to the head. Nakamura BLASTS him with a Bom Ba Ye Knee to the back of the head and then one more for good measure to the face to win the match. 

Amazing start to what would be a banner year for AJ Styles, I would say one of the best in-ring years of all time, right up there with Flair in '89. The work was snug, tight and logical. The escalation was great. They really built to a barnburner. The psychology was very sound, my issue is I thought the bridge from the body of the work (back psychology) to the finish could have been better. Things like Bom Ba Ye Knees after a Pele Kick is not great. It felt very much like action for the sake of action, but once AJ hit that uppercut knee they were right back on track. It may have been all of two minutes so a minor nitpick. Definitely one of the New Japan matches of the modern era that really holds up and all the more shame that they didnt click in WWE. ****1/2

Fun Fact: This is my 2,000th review on ProWrestlingOnly!

  

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