In presenting Shinsuke Nakamura’s words as spoken, ‘King of Strong Style’ allows the reader what feels like a genuine glimpse into the mindset of one of the greatest performers of a generation.
There is something perfectly judged about the decision to allow Shinsuke Nakamura’s words to speak for themselves in ‘King of Strong Style’. Presented as an extended interview (and originally consisting of two books rather than one), this allows what feels like unfettered access into his world, a particularly apt choice for one of the more unique combatants to have stepped into the ring in the new millennium. Through this, we get a feeling for the pride, desire and soul-searching that came alongside a controversially meteoric rise up the New Japan ranks, one that also coincided with forays into legitimate combat sports.
It is the coming together of these two paths that make this such a fascinating read at times. With Antonio Inoki trying to blur the lines between what New Japan presented and the growing interest in combat sports such as MMA, Nakamura was the recipient of a significant push right from the start; a push that didn’t sit well with some. Coupled with Nakamura’s attempts to find his place as both a performer and a competitor, the difficulties of his time in New Japan are laid bare for all to see. Nakamura rose from what is often considered one of the darker periods of time for the promotion in recent memory, and it was this ability to persevere, re-invent and strive for the best that is presented in all its unflinching glory.
If anything, this book is worth a read for it being a rare chance for a Western wrestling fan to hear about the workings of a Japanese puroresu promotion, as well as the various characters that Nakamura worked with during the twelve years of his career these books cover. Though it often still feels like kayfabe is being adhered to at points in his narrative, Nakamura is open and honest about the experiences he had, whether in terms of his work with New Japan or his time spent as a Mixed Martial Artist. In particular, Naofumi Yamamoto is the punching bag oft used by Nakamura, especially when talking about life in the Dojo. These words come with an element of tongue in cheek; less so, the short shrift aimed at wrestlers like Katsuyori Shibata and Suwuma, among others.
Nakamura is—at all times—honest about his own shortcomings, whilst also taking the opportunity to espouse his ideas around the psychology and philosophy of professional wrestling, thus leading him to the performer he was in 2014, one that would eventually head to the WWE. In doing so, the book presents a triumph over initial adversity that doesn’t get bogged down in its own self-congratulatory excesses or saccharine self-platitudes. That, in itself, is probably the book’s greatest achievement.