On April 8th, 2018, WWE Champion AJ Styles would defend his title against Shinsuke Nakamura. With Nina Strauss and a sea of violin players leading him to the ring, Shinsuke Nakamura, The King of Strong Style, not unlike a rock-star, would come to the ring. Corey Graves shared how it was 31 years since Alice Cooper was a part of WrestleMania, and now Cooper’s guitar player, Strauss, is a part of this year’s event. The two men faced each other because Nakamura won the 2018 Royal Rumble. It was a battle of two men whom fans couldn’t wait to see for the first time as part of the WWE. Here we revisit their WrestleMania 34 encounter. This is AJ Styles vs Shinsuke Nakamura.
— AJ Styles (@AJStylesOrg) January 29, 2018
Both men highly built up the matchup. Styles and Nakamura faced each other previously in Japan during New Japan Pro Wrestling’s annual Wrestle Kingdom 10 event. During this encounter, the King of Strong Style took the best from the then leader of the Bullet Club and walked away victorious. As both men were being introduced here, there was no decisive side that the fans were pulling for.
The bell sounds, and both men immediately try to feel each other out upon locking up. Eventually, Styles and Nakamura do lock up, with the referee having to stop the tie-up once they are pressed up against the corner. If one thing is evident, both men would come at each other with their own mind games. For Nakamura, his relaxed dangling of hands and his head leaning into the chest of Styles. Styles would retaliate with a slap to the face and a quick strike of his own.
AJ Styles vs Shinsuke Nakamura – WrestleMania 34
As the pace of the match moves on, Styles would be quick to try and get into the head of Nakamura. Nakamura recovers and then backs Styles into the corner turnbuckle, hitting a couple of forearms on Styles. Styles resumes control and drives stiff kicks into the back of the Rock Star.
Styles has a rear chinlock resting on Nakamura as Graves added some insight into the match. He states that this is the largest crowd Nakamura has ever been in front of. Styles then attempts a couple of strikes on Nakamura, who is outside the ring but is caught with a sweep kick. Nakamura then hits an array of kicks on Styles to take him down. The Rock Star then hits a series of knees in Styles’ chest, including one in the corner. He then lifts Styles and rests him across the top turnbuckle.
With both men in the center of the ring, Nakamura lifts Styles and drops a forward suplex on the champion. He then attempts to clutch him around the neck, but Styles turns it into a hoisted face-first drop. Styles then attempts a pin, but Nakamura kicks out at two. AJ then picks up Nakamura for a pump handle gutbuster. Styles makes another pinning attempt but again for the count of two.
AJ Styles vs Shinsuke Nakamura
A Back and Forth Battle Between The Phenomenal One and The King of Strong Style
Styles attempts a Styles Clash, but Nakamura stops it. He then blocks an attempted Phenomenal Forearm and turns it into a landslide. Nakamura follows that up with a pin but again only for a count of two. Shinsuke picks up Styles, but the champion reverses it. Styles then catches an attempted kick by the challenger and replies with kicks on the inside of the left knee. Shinsuke then gets caught in a Calf Crusher by Styles. The challenger continues to fight off the attack. But Styles rotates and retains the hold on his knee. Nakamura turns it into a triangle choke on Styles. AJ looks as though he is wilting.
However, Styles rotates Nakamura on his back and, in one last-ditch effort, picks him up and drops him with a Brainbuster/Death Valley Driver. That was quick! AJ slowly attempts to hit the Styles Clash, but his back seizes up. Nakamura attempts a kick, but he can’t put any weight on his leg. He then hits an attempted knee but hits the turnbuckle! Styles then hits the Phenomenal Forearm and makes a pinfall attempt. But Nakamura kicks out at two! AJ once again climbs and hits a 450 splash, but Nakamura gets his knees up. The challenger turned it into a pinning attempt but only for a count of two.
Both men are attempting to make their way to their feet. With both men standing, they would exchange strike for strike with one another. Styles hits a Pele kick but is caught with a knee to the back of the head. Both men are an absolute mess. Nakamura’s knee is a focal point, but each time he uses it, the more it affects him in the process. Shinsuke hits a Reverse Exploder on Styles. Nakamura sets up for a Kinshasa but is caught with a Styles Clash. Styles makes the pin for the one…two…three.
AJ Styles retains the WWE Championship.
AJ Styles retains the WWE Championship in a match just over twenty minutes in length. Upon replay, the roll-through by Styles really was impressive. Styles stood up in the corner celebrating but looks back at his opponent. AJ helps Nakamura up to his feet. The two men embrace. They share a few words as Nakamura hands Styles the title on one knee. Styles accepts the title and receives a low blow immediately. Nakamura stood up, taunting the champion after what he had done. Repeated kicks by the challenger resulted in a chorus of boos from the crowd. Styles is eventually kicked out of the ring by Nakamura. Shinsuke follows him out and continues to kick him around in the process.
Referee Mike Chioda encourages Nakamura to move away. However, all this did was allow him to set up Styles for the Kinshasa at ringside. Nakamura’s actions stunned those in attendance, even upon replay. As the camera fades out, the last visual is of a dazed AJ Styles on his back at ringside looking up.
In retrospect, Styles felt the match never met the fan’s expectations.
“Expectations are way too high,” Styles thought. “I know Nakamura [thought so] too because no matter what we would have done in that match, the expectations were way too high. Here’s what a lot of people don’t understand. Crowd, fans, the WWE Universe, New Japan, and all that stuff, their fans are everything. They’re everything. They set the tone on what is a great match.
“It’s how they respond to it, and in Japan, they’re so respectful. When they do respond, it’s huge. Wow, this is such an amazing match, but had that same match been done in a WWE ring without the same response, it’s not going to be declared as that great of a match. Fans are everything. They dictate a great match. It’s just the reality and the truth of the whole thing and a lot of people don’t understand. The expectations, they were so high because what we did at Wrestle Kingdom. I was like, ‘oh man.’ I still think it was a great match.”
AJ Styles on his match with Shinsuke Nakamura at WrestleMania 34.