Who is Shinsuke Nakamura?
He’s one of the biggest international stars to make the crossover from Japan to WWE. His unorthodox ‘Strong Style’ technique, combined with a breathtaking entrance, has wowed NXT audiences. Now Shinsuke Nakamura is blazing a trail on the main roster’s SmackDown Live show.
HRH Mag‘s Chief Reporter, Andy Spoors, caught up with Nakamura to discuss his journey, influences and that entrance…
HRH Mag: Who was your favourite wrestler growing up?
Shinsuke Nakamura: When I was in elementary school, I used to wake up at midnight and turn on the TV and Jushin Thunder Liger would be making his entrance. I thought that was really cool if I could walk like him, so I decided to be a professional wrestler.
HRH Mag: Which promotion did you like as a kid?
SN: New Japan Wrestling. All Japan’s lighting was a little bit dark more than New Japan. Also All Japan wrestler’s tights were bigger than New Japan’s! New Japan wear much smaller pants.
HRH Mag: The Japanese culture loves wrestling but how does it compare in the States?
SN: The audience is very much different. Japanese people have a different respect for fighting. I’d probably say it’s harder for an American wrestler in front of a Japanese audience. I love both. Japanese fans concentrate a lot on the wrestling so it’s very quiet, they understand fighting. American fans enjoy their wrestling and let the wrestlers know about it – both ways are fine by me.
HRH Mag: Going back to when you started wrestling in New Japan, people may not know that before you were the ‘King of Strong Style’ you wore traditional black trunks and were a serious fighter and wrestler. Could you tell us a bit about the change?
SN: My career is very different to others. I joined New Japan in 2002 and I believed wrestling was a kind of mixed martial arts. I had trained in amateur wrestling for seven years – also Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Submission Wrestling, Karate, Boxing and Kick-Boxing. I learnt a lot of oriental martial arts like Japanese Kobudo, Tai Chi, Kung-Fu. Then after I joined New Japan Wrestling, I debuted in August 2002. So good times in Japan. Professional wrestlers fight at the MMA K1 in a kind of mix and the company decided to go to Los Angeles to train MMA. So I knew how to fight in MMA, after the debut in August 2002, I flew to Los Angeles to train there and returned in December. I had a match on my return, not in wrestling but in MMA against Daniel Gracie. Three days later I then have a wrestling match! So a different career, I did both MMA and wrestling. It’s hard to explain but at the time New Japan wasn’t as big as MMA, which was taking over.
HRH Mag: But was there a point where you realised wrestling was fot you?
SN: Finally after Pride had gone and K1 had gone, pro wrestling started to rise up again. I then wrestled as a serious wrestler until 2011, when I went to Mexico for a few months. I wanted to change everything! I shaved my head, started wearing a red jacket, leather pants and a mask. I changed everything. Then CMLL (Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre) pissed me off. “We ordered ‘Strong Style’ Shinsuke Nakamura. What the hell is this? Some kind of Michael Jackson!?” But people’s reaction changed and they loved my character. I didn’t change (my mind) I kept all my own stuff and then finally I had my character. I don’t feel like it’s just a character though, it came from my real life. My real experience of martial arts, I also imitate Michael Jackson for his movement, as he looks like a martial artist. No muscle, creeping up on everybody and it looks like he controls gravity kind of like a ninja. I learnt a lot of oriental martial arts like Japanese Kobudo, Tai Chi, Kung-Fu.
HRH Mag: Traditionally it seems wrestlers from America and the UK travel to Japan, not the other way around. How does it feel to be part of almost a new wave of wrestlers moving from East to West?
SN: I just enjoy my life. I don’t care about that side of things. I’m interested in different cultures and it gives me inspiration so that’s why I keep on travelling.
HRH Mag: At NXT Takeover: Brooklyn II you blew the roof off with your entrance. Where does that rank for you in terms of the best entrances you’ve been involved in?
SN: I didn’t know about the special violinist for my entrance until the day of the match. I just enjoyed the moment and was happy to perform with him.