He might be the God of Swag, the Wrestler of the Year, and a music video superstar, but Shinsuke Nakamura used to just be a regular-ass Japanese heavyweight wrestler, with a non-fantastic haircut. As a Japanese heavyweight wrestler during the early 2000s, it was basically an edict from the Emperor of Japan that he also try his hand at mixed martial arts. Here’s a history of the King of Strong Style’s shoot fighting past life. Luckily, it was a brief run, so there won’t be a ton to cover. I want to give a quick shout out to my friend, Dash, who not only inspired this post, but gave some thoughts on which of Nakamura’s fights were legit or not since that’s been an issue in MMA for a long time.
Match One – vs Daniel Gracie, Inoki Bom-Ba-Ye 2002
It’s always tough for me to suss out which Gracies were good at fighting in the early 2000s (Now it’s easy, none of them are any good at MMA). Daniel’s certainly no Renzo or Ryan, but that’s because he’s not a real Gracie. Despite it being his first fight, Nakamura’s got a really good double leg takedown, but part of me wonders how much Gracie cared to defend those shots.
Round two has another Nakamura blast double, but he leaves his arm hanging out, Gracie does what a Gracie does and snatches it, locking in an armbar and forcing the tap.
Ultimately, Shinsuke tried hard, and though he’s got a solid double leg, at this point in his fledgling MMA career, he was learning submission grappling in between Kazushi Sakuraba’s cigarette breaks.
Dash sez: I’d guess the Gracie fight was a shoot
In true Japanese MMA fashion, Nakamura faces a guy twice his size with half the skill because Japan is bonkers. My favorite thing about Nortje is that as he went into combat sports that allowed more techniques, he got worse. He’s 11-0 as a boxer, 9-15 as a kickboxer and 2-6 as a mixed martial artist (Uh, spoilers, I guess?).
I love that Nortje, a white South African, has a dude dressed exactly like Akeem the African Dream in his entourage while Jan’s wearing a zebra that he might have skinned himself.
The first round is all Shinsuke, as other than a brief sprawl of the initial takedown attempt, Jan spends most of opening five minutes on his back. Nakamura works his way past Nortje’s nonexistent guard and lands some good punches before angling for an armbar. Nortje’s defense is to hurl Shinsuke out of the ring, and the referee calls for a break. The restart doesn’t last for long on the feet as Nakamura gets another takedown and finishes the round punching Jan in the head.
The second round begins with another Nakamura take down, and this time he’s pretty much looking to improve position instead of dropping bombs on Jan’s oversized head. The referee stops the action to drag the two to the center of the ring so they don’t go through the ropes, and Nakamura goes back to inching his way up Nortje’s body. The official result says Shinsuke submitted Jan with a guillotine choke, but it looked way more like an Ezekial to my semi-knowledgeable eyes. At worst, it’s a straight up forearm choke, but it’s actually the rarely seen any more “Fuck this, I’m done, get me outta here, I’ll tap to anything” choke that pretty much just works on Bobb Sapp these days.
Side note – this is the same show that Lyoto Machida, after taking a decision win over Kengo Watanabe, got Spirit Slapped by Antonio Inoki, which is pretty rad
Dash sez: The Nortje fight is a toss-up, because Jan Nortje has been involved in some J Pro Wrestling, but he is also just horrible at grappling so it could easily be work or shoot.