This review was commissioned by Squill over on my Ko-fi account. As of this writing commissions are still open, they’re going for $10 a pop. If you want to seek out my specific thoughts on a match that I haven’t gone into yet, this is the way to do it.
Bob Sapp is the better wrestler in this match.
I just want to get that out of the right at the top of this because it feels like my own biggest takeaway from the bout. Time has been very kind to Shinsuke Nakamura’s legacy since 2004. At this point in his career, it’s very clear that all of Nakamura’s best work is still ahead of him. He’s yet to develop the charismatic swagger that made him pop in the 2010s, and even his in-ring mechanics have some maturing left to be done at this point in his career. In particular, Nakamura throws some woefully tame elbows and half-hearted open palm slaps in this instead of learning that he was destined to ram his knee into people’s skulls at a hundred miles per hour.
Bob Sapp is no perfect wrestler either. His size is imposing and intimidating, but there’s a certain lumbering hesitation to some of his movement. He’s not throwing the best strikes in this either, it’s his size doing most of the work. Even though they’re not the beefiest elbows, there’s just enough literal weight behind it that it can’t help but outshine Shinsuke’s more feeble attempts throughout.
All these mechanical issues from both men aside though, this actually is quite a good match. For the most part, it achieves this through commitment to a few core ideas. Bob big, Shinsuke small. David vs. Goliath. A foundational story to any form of physical combat, but told in a real interesting way here. Shinsuke spends much of the early match trying to dodge Sapp’s grasp, ground him, and grab a limb to get a quick tap out. This manifests in different ways, but primarily in Shinsuke consistently going for a Shining Triangle or trying to get into an armbar to tap out Sapp.
The problem with the Shining Triangle though is that Shinsuke’s essentially throwing himself into a very large man. Do that enough times and the big dude’s going to catch you. Sapp’s able to get an early powerbomb and follows up with a real sweet John Woo-style dropkick to knock Shinsuke to the floor. I’m very much not a fan of ramp spots in general, but once the action gets back into the ring, it really kicks into another gear.
There’s a tonal switch here as Nakamura’s strategy no longer comes off as canny and thoughtful, but more desperate instead. He rushes in, leaving himself vulnerable to be plucked up by Sapp, but still finding some beautiful openings to ground the big man on the ground. In this section of the match, in particular, there’s real hints of what Nakamura’s greatest strengths will be. The sense of timing and explosiveness that would make future Tokyo Dome bouts so thrilling can be found here, even he’s not applying himself to that same level here. It’s perhaps best exemplified by Nakamura catching the champion in the corner with a front guillotine and turning it into a DDT.
Meanwhile, Sapp displays the best weapons in his arsenal to their maximum effect here. The dude has a wicked lariat, which Shinsuke bumps beautifully for, and some grotesque power moves in a reverse tombstone and his Beast Bomb finish. Hell yeah, those moves strung together cleverly enough in such a compressed piece of work does wonders for a match like this.
After two viewings of this, a little too much fun and thoughtful to deny. Quibbles on mechanics aside, something this concise and committed to its own ideas shows the beauty of simple narratives applied in main event situations. Just enough here to call it great and get a recommendation.
Long live Inokiism.