Prior to 2016, Shinsuke Nakamura had spent his entire career in Japan. The former IWGP Intercontinental Champion was dubbed the Super Rookie for his ability as a Young Lion in New Japan. Nakamura wrestled in New Japan from 2002 to 2016, when he left for WWE.
Speaking to Scott Fishman of TV Insider, Nakamura discussed two men who helped him get to the levels he reached while in Japan.
“I was (Masahiro) Chono’s young boy. I trained with him a lot. He loved driving. I just sit by his side learning,” he said. “He also likes to talk about building the matches, how to show yourself. I learned a lot from him."
Along with Chono, Nakamura credited Minoru Suzuki for teaching him along the way. "I’m very good friends with Suzuki. He was my neighbor. Sometimes we would drive to the same venue. He came to my house. I’d ask him about his history. When he was 20-something, I asked about Pancrase and his company. I basically was a huge wrestling mark. It was almost like I was interviewing him in his car.”
Despite his ties to Japan, Nakamura made the decision to come stateside in 2016. He spent the first year of his WWE career in NXT, capturing the NXT Title on two occasions. This past year, he won the Royal Rumble and took the United States Title from Jeff Hardy.
While some have criticized Nakamura's move, feeling he's been misused in WWE, he doesn't regret his decision and is glad other Japanese wrestlers have followed suit.
“This is big for Asians, not only for Japan. Everybody wants to get these opportunities. Kairi Sane, Io Shirai achieved and accomplished a lot in Japan, but they wanted to wrestle in a bigger stage. Only place is WWE right now to do that, and their decision was correct. They made the right decision," he said. "Moving to the United States is a huge decision. There are wrestlers in Japan. I think they think they can move to WWE, but it’s not so easy. There is the language. I can speak English a bit, but I’m trying. I wanted to challenge myself. I wanted to enjoy my life and challenge myself. That’s why I came here. I came with my family. It’s a lot, so it’s not just wrestling. I’m proud to be here."
Nakamura is the current United States Champion on SmackDown, but still searching for his next challenger. His WWE contract is set to expire early next year. He recently stated that his decision to stay in the US or go back to Japan could come down to better surfing.