Jim Ross pitched both AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura to the WWE after calling their respective bouts at New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Wrestle Kingdom 9 event last year, the WWE Hall of Famer tells Review Fix.
At Wrestle Kingdom 9, Styles wrestled Tetsuya Naito in a winning effort while Nakamura successfully defended his IWGP Intercontinental championship against Kota Ibushi. Styles, a relative newcomer to NJPW, was further cementing himself as the promotion’s top foreign performer. Nakamura, on the other hand, was already a legend in the country.
Ross, 64, has spent a lot of time on the NJPW product in recent years as both a commentator and a fan. In fact, it was announced last month that Ross will be the new play-by-play announcer for NJPW on AXS TV starting March 4. However, his impressions of both Styles and Nakamura made their way to several higher-ups in WWE.
“I remember talking to Vince McMahon and to Triple H, casually, when I got back, and he [Nakamura] was one of the guys I was raving about — ironically, AJ Styles was another one,” Ross said to ReviewFix. “I didn’t know if they [WWE] would try their hand with AJ because he’s not six feet [tall], I was pushing for him because I believe he’s a pretty special talent.”
After weeks of rampant speculation, Styles made his WWE debut a few weeks ago in the Royal Rumble match as the No.3 entrant. Last nearly 30 minutes in the match, Styles impressed the WWE Universe on his debut night. Since that first appearance, Styles has competed in matches against Chris Jericho, Curtis Axel, and The Miz as he firmly cements himself as a WWE mainstay.
“Obviously, they [WWE] feel the same way, they hired him [Styles], he’s on TV and will continue to be on TV.”
In Nakamura’s case, the “King of Strong Style” has not debuted for the WWE yet but that will change soon. At a recent set of NXT tapings, it was announced that Nakamura would make his debut at NXT Takeover: Dallas in a match against Sami Zayn during Wrestlemania 32 weekend.
Ross feels that the hard-hitting and eccentric Nakamura, a multiple-time IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental champion, can make a successful transition into the WWE.
“Nakamura is a 6’2, 6’3 guy, speaks good enough English to do promos, has an amazing MMA foundation [and] has really acquired the skillset of entertaining. He’s the guy that told me he was influenced by Freddie Mercury of Queen and Michael Jackson.”
A lot of Nakamura’s performance is predicated on his teeth-shattering strikes. While the NXT audience — which is in-tune with wrestling outside of WWE — will likely welcome Nakamura’s unique style with open arms, Ross believes Nakamura will have to alter his performances a bit.
“I think what you’re going to find out is that he’s going to tweak his game,” said Ross. “He can’t be the exactly same, you always want to get better. Even when he was in New Japan, he’d want to get better and refine his game. I think when you find your comfort zone, you start fading away.”
However, Ross adds that Nakamura’s in-ring abilities go far beyond stiff kicks and punches, which will become apparent once he makes his NXT debut in less than two months.
“He can wrestle, he’s got good submissions, he’s a good chain wrestler, he takes crisp bumps, he knows how to sell, he knows how to be aggressive, he’s got another gear — all the things you look for, he’s got.”
[Featured Photo via Mshake3 | Wikimedia Commons| Cropped and Resized | CC BY-SA 3.0 ]