The build to the WWE Championship match at WrestleMania 34 in New Orleans on Sun., April 8 focused heavily - some would say entirely - on the fact it was a dream match. In fact it was a rematch of a dream match, even if The ‘E didn’t officially recognize AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura’s Tokyo Dome showdown for New Japan.
We did get a Wrestle Kingdom vibe from the start, with the challenger Nakamura getting a theatric entrance with Nita Strauss playing his “Rising Sun” theme on guitar along with a ramp of violinists and a drummer or two:
The crowd in the Superdome was ready for the first WWE showdown between the two Superstars, even five-plus hours into a really good ‘Mania. The performers were ready to, with AJ displaying a bit of a short temper in face of Nak’s repeated mind game, which continued into the match. A knee to the face from the champ slowed the early momentum Shin’s speed gave him, and took the mat to the ground. Shinsuke got some separation and delivered a kick from the second rope to get back in it, and his signature taunt got Styles to walk into a flurry of strikes.
Styles wasn’t at a disadvantage for long, but he was unable to put Nakamura away. He fought out of Styles Clash set-up, and countered a Phenomenal Forearm attempt into a Landslide for a two count.
More drama came from a Calf Crusher that followed AJ delivering a kick to the inside of Shinsuke’s knee. After almost reaching the ropes, Nakamura rolled through to a triangle, and it appeared the champ might pass out, but Styles got him up in the air to drive him neck first to the mat.
Both men would sell the damage from those moments. The champ was unable to get Nak up for a Styles Clash because his back wouldn’t support it. Shinsuke missed a knee strike, and ended up taking a Phenomenal Forearm... but kicked out at two.
The challenger got his knees up on a springboard 450, but that only got him a nearfall. They followed that with a stiff-looking striking exchange in the middle of the ring that left both men looking out on their feet. A Pele Kick rocked Nakamura, but he responded with a knee strike to the back of AJ’s neck.
Ground and pound led to the exploder suplex, and Nakamura lined up the Kinshasa. AJ countered into the Styles Clash, however, and he got his win back from Tokyo.
It wasn’t the match a lot of people expected, but it was hard-hitting and followed through on the story which brought us to ‘Mania. Styles helped Nak to his feet after the bell and they hugged it out in respect before Shinsuke knelt down and handed him his belt...
BUT IT WAS A TRICK! The King of Strong Style delivered a nut shot to the champ, and then disrespected him by kicking him out of the ring like trash.
Expect another dream match in the future, but one will have a much different build.
Get complete WrestleMania 34 results and coverage of the entire card here.