Shinsuke Nakamura Explains How He Got WWE Permission For Match Against The Great Muta

This Sunday, New Year's Day, Pro Wrestling NOAH is promoting one of its biggest shows in recent memory: NOAH The New Year. It's part of the retirement tour for The Great Muta. The biggest match on the show features Muta, last seen by U.S. fans at "AEW Rampage: Grand Slam," taking on current WWE main roster star and former New Japan Pro-Wrestling stalwart Shinsuke Nakamura.

On Tuesday, Encount published an interview with Nakamura about the match, and one of the main topics was not just how the match came together, but how it wouldn't have been possible six months ago when Vince McMahon was in charge of WWE's creative direction instead of Paul "Triple H" Levesque.

"I was like, 'No way.' I couldn't believe it. I didn't think it would happen," Nakamura explained (translation via DeepL). "It was something that would never have happened under the previous structure of the WWE. [NOAH] came to me with the idea, and we talked about it, but my answer was no. Vince stepped down in the summer, and I was advised by people within the company that it might be possible now. I still thought it would be difficult, but I talked directly to Triple H. When the decision was actually made, I was shocked."

Reaction In WWE Locker Room

Asked how other WWE wrestlers reacted to the news, Nakamura said it was universally positive.

"In today's terms, it was a buzz," he said. "Some said, 'I can't believe it,' and others said, 'Good for you.' I was happy as if it were my own. WWE superstars compete within the WWE's worldview, but they don't and can't imagine stepping outside of it. In that sense, I thought to myself, [laughing] 'I have it all.'"

Muta (as Keiji Mutoh) and Nakamura both got their starts in NJPW, each being members of groups that were dubbed the promotion's "Three Musketeers": Mutoh, Shinya Hashimoto, and Masahiro Chono in the 1990s; and Nakamura, Hiroshi Tanahashi, and Katsuyori Shibata in the 2000s.

Mutoh and Nakamura have had two previous singles matches, both IWGP Heavyweight Title matches in 2008, with Mutoh winning both.

NOAH The New Year airs live on the Wrestle Universe streaming service on January 1.