Wrestle Kingdom Rewind: Shinsuke Nakamura goes for Double Gold 【WK18】

Shinsuke Nakamura took on Yoshihiro Takayama with IWGP and NWF belts at stake in 2004. 

<– 2003: Pro Wrestling vs MMA      2005: A legendary rivalry begins–>

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Having been hand picked by Antonio Inoki as the ultimate cross sport prospect, Nakamura would hone his skills in the original LA Dojo, and back in Japan, participated in Ultimate Crush matches (fights contested under MMA rules that punctuated traditional pro-wrestling bouts on NJPW cards) through 2003 while also competing with the top pro-wrestlers of the era. Nakamura was the flag bearer of the Inoki-ist ideal, at a time where NJPW’s future direction seemed unclear; this new breed of dual sport athlete butted heads with the traditions, pageantry and style that saw New Japan on top of the mountain through the 1990s. In October 2003 in the Tokyo Dome, Nakamura teamed with Takayama, along with Bob Sapp, Kazuyuki Fujita and, on his return to pro-wrestling from MMA, Minoru Suzuki as NJPW’s representative in  Team Inoki for a ten man elimination match against top NJPW stars, including the soon to be IWGP Champion, Tenzan.  

Team Inoki’s win in that match paved the way to a title shot for Nakamura in the wake of Tenzan’s victory, and for his eventual success. Yet regardless of style and affiliation, in Nakamura’s mind the greatest sport on Earth was professional wrestling. Nakamura sought to unify his freshly won IWGP championship with the martial arts oriented NWF belt that Takayama still held, and bring solidarity to NJPW and pro-wrestling at large. Shinsuke would be successful, and though injuries would necessitate him vacating the IWGP title shortly afterward, for now it was a big success for the pro-wrestling sphere.

A similar theme of NJPW taking on invading outsiders was seen as Keiji Muto and Bob Sapp took on Masahiro Chono and Hiroyoshi Tenzan. ChoTen were reforming for the first time since losing the IWGP Tag team Championships in June, while Chono was back in an NJPW ring for the first time in October as the two faced representatives from the offbeat startup Wrestle-1 organization. Bob Sapp was in the peak of mega celebrity in Japan, and his pro-wrestling backbone was as evident as his charisma when he made his NJPW debut in the Tokyo Dome in 2002. Now a conquering invader, he and Muto were victorious after a Beast Bomb on Tenzan, and Sapp would soon wear IWGP Heavyweight gold.  

Yuji Nagata would fight with similar pride on behalf of New Japan on the card when he faced Kensuke Sasaki. Long a part of New japan Pro-Wrestling, Sasaki had left the organization in 2002 splitting along with mentor Riki Choshu to form World Japan. Wrestling as a freelance prospect by time Wrestling World arrived, he stepped into an NJPW ring opposite the man who had since become recognised as Mr. IWGP. Nagata was incensed at Sasaki’s departure, and fought the former IWGP champion to what quickly became a bloodbath. 

In a gruesome war, Nagata and Sasaki matched one another for brutality, neither giving an inch even as the match met its conclusion. As Nagata stretched Sasaki, the former IWGP Heavyweight Champion refused to give in, eventually passing out as the referee stopped proceedings, a sign of how pride is always at its highest in the Tokyo Dome. 

For Sasaki’s fellow W-J founding member in Genichiro Tenryu, 2004 would see time split between New and All Japan, and his return to the cerulean blue on January 4 would see him face Nagata’s long time friend and partner, Nakanishi. Just as he had one year prior, Nakanishi was fighting with home promotion pride against a returning foe, and while things were less bloody than between Nagata and Suzuki, the hits were just as hard. A barrage of knife edge chops between the two men spilled all the way around ringside, before a Fisherman’s suplex saw Nakanishi’s hand raised in-ring. 

Watch Wrestling World 2004 here!