The wrestling world is going to get what they want. The match between AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura has all the makings of a WWE classic. What better way to showcase on of the best rivalries in professional wrestling in the past five years than to have it as part of the co-main event at WrestleMania 34 in New Orleans.
The Styles-Nakamura paring could be as good, if not better than some of the best feuds WWE has had to offer its fans. The Rock and Steve Austin, Edge and John Cena, Shawn Michaels and Chris Jericho and Cena and CM Punk. The best thing about this kind of rivalry, as we have discussed before, is it becomes a go-to event when WWE needs an infusion of excitement or injuries to either the Raw or SmackDown Live roster occur. Having two superstars who can pick up right where they left off and strike gold is as good as it gets in this business.
It’s much like Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat, who tore down arenas in the late 1970s and then revisited the same kind of intensity in the last 1980s. WWE needs that kind of “shtick” if it is going to move past the legends of yesterday and focus on the stars of tomorrow.
Both Styles and Nakamura said they had anticipated this match from the moment both were signed to WWE contracts. The fans clamored for it long before, when Styles entered as the second participant in the 2016 Royal Rumble. Will this be the coronation of Nakamura as the next great WWE champion, or will the company give this feud the respect it deserves and have it linger over three pay-per-view events.
My money is on the latter but putting the strap on Nakamura offers a new landscape of potential rivalries WWE would love to work with. If Nakamura wins on April 8 in the Mercedes Benz Superdome and retains the title in a return match, here are a few wrestlers who could step up and challenge the champ.
John Cena – Cena’s name heads the list. The former 16-time world champion of course will stick his nose in the middle of the main event picture. There aren’t many opportunities left for Cena, who has admitted there are plenty of distractions outside the business that have his attention. His most recent angle – the man without a plan – is getting some good reception. I’d love to see Nakamura and Cena as another changing of the guard match. Cena put of Roman Reigns, AJ Styles and Bray Wyatt. Will he do the same thing for the King of Strong Style?
Samoa Joe – When he comes back from injury, Joe will return as everyone’s favorite heel. There is nothing not to like about Joe, whose agility and skill in the ring makes him one of the better strikers in the company today. Also, Nakamura and Joe have had their wars in NXT. Renewing an old rivalry would not only be beneficial to both men, but WWE fans would have an opportunity to see the in-ring chemistry of these two. This is a Kevin Owens-Sami Zayn type of match that could also have legs for future confrontations.
Finn Balor – This could be the future of WWE. Balor is getting a solid push as part of the Intercontinental Title match with The Miz and Seth Rollins. It is only a matter of time before he makes a run toward either the Universal Title or moves over to SmackDown Live and challenges for the WWE Title. What makes this match work is how evenly matched these two are – size, speed, agility. It’s a cruiserweight match on steroids. If WWE wants to put Balor over, having him work a three-match program with Nakamura is certainly the way to do it.
Seth Rollins – Rollins has been on a roll of late and should have a solid showing in the triple threat match for the Intercontinental Title. Rollins and Balor have renewed an old rivalry when Balor beat him for the first ever Universal Title run. That was cut short by injury. Both Rollins and Nakamura should have great chemistry in the ring. If WWE is going to have a superstar shakeup following WrestleMania 34, I could see Rollins jump over to the blue team and make a run at Nakamura and the title. Maybe Rollins becomes “Mr. Tuesday Night” along the way.
Randy Orton – You cannot talk about the WWE Title and leave Orton’s name off this list. After 13 world titles and one of the most decorated careers in the company, does Orton have another run at the belt in him? Will the company push him like they do John Cena? Nakamura and Orton have had a few matches in the past, but if Orton turns heel again, this is a must-see event. Like Cena, beating Orton is a passing of the torch type of event.
Rusev – At some point, the big Bulgarian has to receive a push toward the top title in the company. Rusev has done well with his Anti-American angle and still has the fans loving every minute of his “Rusev Day” shtick. He should be a babyface, but for now, his role in the company is defined by the fact he is a solid performer with a lacky at his side, literally signing his praises. This is a feud that has already been forecasted as Nakamura beat Rusev last week. I will be interested to see how WWE books the brute and Nakamura in the future.