(5/3) Shinsuke Nakamura & Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Rolles & Daniel Gracie

New Japan Pro Wrestling
Fukuoka Convention Center (Fukuoka, Japan)

This match was intriguing on paper because in Nakamura, the Gracies have their first NJPW opponent theoretically capable of helping them bridge the gap between their MMA background and pro wrestling. NJPW fans groaned at Nakamura being paired with the Gracies because it is seen as a “waste” of one of the promotion’s better workers. Of course a perfectly good use of one of your better workers is to pair him with your more inexperienced workers to attempt to get the most from them. This is particularly true in this case given that Nakmura’s MMA background and pro wrestling style makes him uniquely qualified to work with pro wrestling newcomers, Daniel and Rolles.

NJPW is going to push the Gracies. They might as well put them in the best position to succeed. Right now, that means working with Nakamura.

Like most Gracie matches so far, all four wear gis to the ring, with Nakamura sporting an appropriately unique and outlandish red one. Nakamura begins for his team and leads the Gracies through some slow grappling sequences. Nakamura appears to understand that grappling and feeding body parts for submission attempts is the best way for the Gracies to look competent as pro wrestlers but neither party seems entirely comfortable working that style early on. As the match progressed, I felt Nakamura got a better grasp on how to mix that stuff in with his traditional pro wrestling spots. Perhaps even more important, there were times in this match when the Gracies looked comfortable pulling off moves in a pro wrestling environment which is a big step in the right direction for their New Japan careers.

The reason this match was still more fun than good is that Daniels and Rolles were never particularly great fighters and as such, they are not very adept pro wrestlers – at least not at the present. The Gracie matches have been referred to as “fake MMA” in a pejorative manner. The implication there is that the style of these matches is inherently bad. The style is not the problem; the inexperience of the Daniel and Rolles is. Nakamura got big reactions for his knee strikes here because they were utilized as a high spot after the slower earlier build. Sakuraba’s signature leg kicks and jumping stomp worked as high spots as well for the same reason. The Gi choke finish worked very well and got over with the live crowd. One of the Gracies utilized a good-looking roll through Kimura.

This match it not “fake MMA” as opposed to shoot style pro wrestling, despite some attempting to make that distinction. This match was merely a shoot style pro wrestling match that just wasn’t very good largely due to the inexperience and/or ineptness of one of the teams. It is a flaw in execution, not in style.

Sakuraba gets choked out which worked well as the finish. Saku pounces around in frustration post-match which I thought was a nice reaction to help put over the outcome as meaningful. Daniel once again challenges Nakamura to a title match which he accepts for May 25th in Yokohama. Sakuraba takes on Rolles on that same card. Like this tag, they might not be great matches but if New Japan is going to use the Gracies, shoot style matches with Nakamura and Sakuraba constitutes the best usage of them.

Shoot Style | Worthwhile | Intrigue & Uniqueness

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