(Almost) 5-Star Match Reviews: Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Tomohiro Ishii – NJPW G1 Climax 2015
With Shinsuke Nakamura being drafted to RAW as part of the 2023 draft, it’s important to look at what we can expect from him.
Nakamura’s tenure in WWE has been, well, mixed. His debut match against Sami Zayn in NXT was outstanding, but alas it was all downhill from there. A purported dream feud with AJ Styles wasn’t even close to what they achieved in New Japan. He was shoehorned into bad promos and angles on SmackDown for years. Winning the Royal Rumble did nothing for him. For years many fans online tried to remain optimistic about him. “Don’t worry about it”, they said. “This time it’ll be different. There’s no way that WWE will mistreat Nakamura the same way they did the Japanese stars that came before him.”
The past seven years has left us with little hope and plenty of disappointment. Being drafted might lead to some new feuds for Nakamura, but I doubt that anyone on the RAW roster aside from GUNTHER is willing to wrestle an unchained Nakamura. And by “unchained” I mean with Nakamura wrestling in the style that made him famous in the first place.
Nakamura was on fire in 2015, and some of his most random matches were getting praised left and right. With that in mind, let’s look back at one of his most noted singles matches of 2015 and see how well it holds up.
As a reminder, I am reviewing Five Star and almost-Five Star wrestling matches as rated by Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. It goes back to the 1980s and I’m going to pick different matches from different eras to see how they look today. Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here.
Nakamura and Ishii were stablemates in CHAOS, but during the G1 alliances were thrown aside. This was all about personal glory. And in Ishii’s case, it was also about getting revenge for his loss to Nakamura in the prior year’s G1.
Ishii had already earned a reputation as the G1 MVP because, more often than not, his matches were the show-stealers and best performances. It also helped that he clobbered people left and right, took hits like a planet, and did everything possible to embody the concepts of “fighting spirit” and “strong style”.
Those qualities were working for Ishii so far; going into this match he was undefeated, having bested Satoshi Kojima, Yujiro Takahashi, and Karl Anderson. But Nakamura was a different animal compared to those three. Nakamura was a proven main-eventer, a multi-time champion, and an equally-dangerous striker. Even though his G1 record so far wasn’t as good as Ishii’s, he was still one of the biggest threats in their tournament block.
Ishii may have been considered tougher and more tenacious, but Nakamura was more experienced, had longer reach, and wrestled more strategically. Whereas Ishii was largely a one-track machine that just spammed attacks until either he or his opponent stopped moving, Nakamura played mind games and attacked his opponents from different angles before closing in for the final kill-shot.
It was interesting to see who was going to win this. Would Nakamura break Ishii’s lucky winning streak? Or would Ishii beat up his boss and push himself closer into a position of leadership and prestige?
This match originally took place on August 1, 2015. It was rated ****1/2 out of five by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer.
A tense exchange starts things off and then ends with Nakamura putting his head in Ishii’s gut against the ropes. He hits an elbow that angers Ishii but then he stops Ishii’s charge with a snapmare and a kneedrop. Nakamura kicks Ishii’s chest HARD but Ishii no-sells them and demands Nakamura kick him more. Nakamura obliges and kicks until Ishii catches and elbows his leg. Ishii grinds Nakamura’s head with a headlock and then knocks him down with a shoulder tackle. Ishii really does look like a wrecking ball here: just a short, barrel-shaped bald man knocking down anything in his path.
Ishii stiffs Nakamura all over the ring with chops and head-butts. Nakamura hits back but his elbows don’t do a thing to Ishii and Ishii drops him with another elbow of his own. Ishii trash-talks Nakamura and the two trade stiff slaps. Nakamura wins that exchange but then Ishii sends him backwards with another head-butt. Ishii goes for an Irish whip but Nakamura counters it and then gets ahead of Ishii by landing a windmill enzuigiri to the side of his head.
Nakamura kicks Ishii into a corner and lands his vibrations corner stomp. He charges for a corner strike but Ishii hits him first. Ishii charges but Nakamura lands a single-leg dropkick for a two-count. Both guys fail at landing Nakamura’s inverted Exploder but then Ishii catches a charging Nakamura with a powerslam. He lands a corner strike barrage and then lariats Nakamura in the opposite corner. Nakamura kicks out of a vertical suplex at two and then powers out of a powerbomb attempt. Another standing strike exchange ensues. Nakamura blocks a corner charge with a knee, and then hits a big corner running kneelift. Nakamura covers but only gets a two-count.
Nakamura starts coming back with grounded knees to Ishii’s head and a falling gourdbuster. He charges for a Boma Ye but Ishii dodges and hits Nakamura’s inverted Exploder. Ishii follows with a folding powerbomb but only gets two. A superplex gets Ishii another two-count and then he charges again. He dodges the same windmill kick that dropped him earlier but this time Nakamura hits a kneelift and then an ax kick. Both men go down.
Nakamura wins the third strike exchange and hits an inverted Exploder of his own. He follows with a sliding knee but only gets a one-count. He teases and charges for the Boma Ye. Ishii blocks and lands an enzuigiri and a lariat. One, two, Nakamura kicks out. Sliding lariat. Nakamura kicks out again. Nakamura escapes a Brainbuster and roundhouse kicks Ishii’s neck. Boma Ye connects. Nakamura can’t pin right away so he goes to the top rope. Diving Boma Ye. The referee counts one, two, and – Ishii kicks out. Nakamura tries another Boma Ye. Ishii catches the leg but Nakamura enzuigiris him with his free leg. Ishii retaliates with a lariat. Nakamura remains standing. Ishii goes for a second. Nakamura counters with a flying armbreaker. Ishii breaks free but then walks into another kneelift. Nakamura charges again. Ishii hits first with a dropkick. Ishii hits a head-butt and goes for another Brainbuster. Nakamura escapes and counters with his Landslide fireman’s carry slam. Boma Ye connects. Nakamura gets the three-count to end Ishii’s 2015 G1 undefeated streak.
Winner after 14:47: Shinsuke Nakamura
I’m a little disappointed to be honest. I expected more from Nakamura here given how much animation he brought to his usual matches. Here, though, he looked subdued. Even though he wrestled well mechanically, there was a noticeably lack of emotion from him. Ishii followed his usual formula and it kept the match interesting. But for some reason Nakamura didn’t step up to the plate to fill the missing pieces needed for this match to be truly special. It wasn’t even close to their terrific match from the 2014 G1. It wasn’t even either wrestler’s best match of 2015.
There was a noted lack of heat or excitement until the ten-minute mark. Up to that point there was nothing from either wreatler that hadn’t been seen before. Nakamura hit hard and Ishii hit harder. Simple enough, right? And yet the match came across as robotic, like there was movement without motion. The story was so plain it was begging for the slightest non-move factor to spice it up. Maybe Nakamura bitchslaps Ishii out of frustration. Maybe Ishii grins like the Cheshire Cat when Nakamura’s kicking him. Maybe both men go nose-to-nose shaking their heads, neither one willing to back down. something simple like that would’ve given this match some degree of personality or emotional flair. And while the action was solid, it didn’t really connect. It was like watching a pinball get launched around a pinball machine’s surface without the added excitement of being able to hit it with your flippers in time.
Not only that, but both wrestlers missed golden opportunities to tell the same strong style story but in a different way. Both Ishii and Nakamura had taped-up joints that the cameras focused in on several times throughout the match. Yet not once was either limb given any attention. It comes across as a wasted opportunity when a wrestler has such an obvious visual weakness only for it to be ignored. One could argue that both wrestlers ignored those weaknesses to keep this fight “pure” and “sportsmanlike”, but that just seems out of character, at least for Nakamura. He was a guy who trained in MMA and who built himself as a realistic wrestler hidden behind the mask of a Freddie Mercury/Michael Jackson cosplayer. Yet where was that logic and common sense here?
If Nakamura wanted to be taken seriously, then he should’ve wrestled more viciously. He should’ve gone after Ishii’s leg, protected his arm, and done more to rile Ishii up into making a mistake. After all, the intended story for this tournament was for Nakamura to face Hiroshi Tanahashi in the finals. Tanahashi, who for years was the Edge to Nakamura’s Christian. If Nakamura wanted people to believe that he stood a chance of beating the ace one-on-one, then he needed to build serious positive momentum. He got a win here, sure, but it didn’t make Nakamura come across as particularly threatening. He eked out a victory and didn’t show anything new. Small wonder that Tanahashi beat him in the finals (that said, their match was still incredible).
Final rating: ***1/2
This is a solid match but a skippable one. Nakamura and Ishii had a better singles match the year prior and both of them, Nakamura in particular, had better matches in 2015. If you want to see Nakamura at his best from the same time period, then there’s his match with Kota Ibushi from Wrestle Kingdom 9, his G1 singles match against Okada, and the aforementioned G1 final against Tanahashi.
Although I doubt that Nakamura’s recent return will lead to anything on the level of his 2015 classics, I do hope that his recent shift to RAW will lead to some fresh and possibly exciting match-ups.
Thanks for reading. You can email me with any questions or comments, and be sure to check out my 5-Star and Almost 5-Star Match Reviews series here.