10. CFO$ "The Rising Sun" (2016)
Settle in, chums; it’s wrestling time. Let me tell you about the time when, for just one glorious night in January 2018, World Wrestling Entertainment did something it hadn’t done for a very long time before that: it got absolutely everything right.
Shinsuke Nakamura is probably the best wrestler in the world. He’s not a superheroic, steroid-sculpted muscle monster like Hulk Hogan or Ultimate Warrior, he’s not a hard-working, savvy underdog like Bret Hart or Daniel Bryan, and he’s not an anti-establishment icon like Steve Austin or Shawn Michaels. He’s a gangly, uncanny, disconcerting Japanese man, with a character based as much on Michael Jackson as Rikidozan, a background in mixed martial arts and a fearsome reputation. His finishing move is a running knee to the face. At times it legitimately looks like he’s killed his opponents.
I was lucky enough to see him wrestle in Tokyo, albeit as part of a short multi-man match on the undercard of Best of Super Juniors, but even from his scant minutes in that match, dismantling the unfortunate Captain New Japan, it was clear he had something you couldn’t teach. He was an absolutely immense presence. Luckily for me, his excellent match with AJ Styles had brought him to the attention of the former WWF – still the biggest wrestling company in the world.
They signed him up; he had a succession of fantastic matches against the likes of Sami Zayn and Samoa Joe, came up to the main roster, greatly impressed pretty much every single WWE fan, ran roughshod over top names like Randy Orton and John Cena to make his way into the world title picture, and then… Nothing. Losses in key matches, poor to no scripting, large swathes of time off television – but the memory of his match with Styles, and the knowledge that the latter was WWE’s current world champion, kept the fires burning in fans’ hearts.
At January 2018’s Royal Rumble event, headlined by the first ever women’s version of the annual 30-person single elimination battle royal, Nakamura entered at number 14 in the men’s match, as every fan in attendance, and everyone in the pub to which my girlfriend and I had decamped to stay up until 5am and watch the event live, sang along to his WWE entrance music, “The Rising Sun”, which was a hell of a feat in itself given it’s an instrumental. It’s a great track as well, with an oriental flavour but a western rock sensibility – and even its existence shows WWE have come a very long way, given all their Japanese wrestlers used to be given the same borderline racist plinky-plonky music.
But he wasn’t going to win, surely? Not with WWE’s chosen one, Roman Reigns, in there. Not with Orton and his myriad of second chances, with iron man Finn Balor still in there, with a returning Rey Mysterio in his path. And again, Nakamura would have to go through Cena – a man not noted for losing. When Cena was eliminated and the final two of Reigns and Nakamura faced off, the pub was at fever pitch, and I clutched my girlfriend’s hand so tight I lost the feeling in my fingers. When Reigns hit the floor, it all went off – hugs, high fives, screaming: it’s the most fun I’ve ever had watching wrestling. And then an interviewer asked who was next for Shinsuke, and he spake thus… “A. J. STYLES!!!” It truly seemed like WWE could do no wrong.
Then he went to Wrestlemania and lost and we all went back to complaining again. And now, we approach another Royal Rumble, with WWE again in a seemingly can’t-lose situation. But will they drop the ball again? I’ll tell you this much: If Lynch Loses, We Riot.
Next time, let’s get a “Post-Coital Glow” and take a dip in “My Own Urine”, because “Mary Had A Little Drug Problem”! (Hang on – that last one’s Scratch Acid. Damn.)