Many of us fans of ALL professional wrestling were halfway expecting Shinsuke Nakamura to win the WWE title his first night on Smackdown after WrestleMania this year. Having the past few months to see Vince McMahon not understand how special the Japanese superstar is has led to some disappointment among fans. It’s a symptom of WWE’s troubles overall that’s worth discussing at another time, but for now, let’s talk about the state of Nakamura going into SummerSlam against Jinder Mahal for the title.
Is he WWE ready to be “the man”? No, and he may still be a year away from truly adapting to what a WWE superstar is. But that doesn’t mean he can’t be in WWE’s top spot right now if WWE was willing to adapt to Nakamura’s comfort zone. Time and time again the wrestling industry has proven to be bigger than any one man or woman but letting Nakamura go full Nakamura isn’t a sign of failure. It’s the acceptance that maybe WWE doesn’t always have to make something theirs and they can accept something leased from somewhere else. The company has tried their best to turn Nakamura into a WWE creation with branding like “the artist” or “the rockstar” and it’s done nothing to overnight him into the zeitgeist of the casual WWE fan.
WWE would be better served allowing Nakamura do his full hard hitting and dangerous spot in-ring style. No matter how many dream matches with the likes of Cena, Orton, and even Triple H we’ll get; WWE superstars grown in-house aren’t ready for strong style. You can’t put just any long time WWE superstar in there with him as was evidenced by the match with the bloodless golem John Cena where for a split second I convinced myself Cena was dead after taking that suplex. Even Nakamura’s entrance gets a bit of the –fix something that ain’t broke– WWE treatment. That’s not to say you should change the presentation and throw streamers at the man when he enters the ring like in Japan. Let Nakamura’s charisma and ability to intrigue the fans speak for itself. Basically, all you have to do is just tell the commentators to shut up during his entrance. Let him be Freddie Mercury on the way to the ring, then let him be the king of strong style in the match.
While it was a solid match fans who have known about Japanese wrestling wanted to see, the WWE’s biggest draw wasn’t ready to work with Shinsuke and nearly killed himself doing so. The right opponents to showcase strong style are already in WWE: Balor, Owens, Zayn, Anderson, Itami, Samoa Joe, Brock Lesnar. All have had stellar matches with Nakamura at one point in their careers.
When you look at Shinsuke Nakamura in WWE, you may not realize at first that you’re witnessing the company’s next Undertaker. Not in terms of gimmick or appearance, though elements of their in-ring styles have similarities. The two highly compare in presence. When the lights go out and Nakamura’s music hits you feel the same level of goosebumps you do when the dead man is about to droll to the ring, knowing you’re about to see something special. What I love most about Nakamura’s entrance is how battle ready and flamboyant it simultaneously is. By the time he gets to the ring he falls to the canvas clutching the ropes as though it’s exhausting just being Shinsuke Nakamura. Right now the only entrance that even comes close is Dalton Castle’s peacock over in Ring of Honor and you should absolutely google Dalton Castle ROH entrance right now.
As for Nakamura’s current place in WWE? Well, it’s not potentially in the best of spots right now. Amidst all the negative reaction from fans on twitter to his “WWE branding” and lack of in-ring leeway from the higher ups, he’s still set to take the WWE’s top prize at SummerSlam. While that sounds good in theory, consider WWE’s track record of 5-minute title reigns at SummerSlam (Daniel Bryan, CM Punk). The company is likely to once again go for the cheap heat of having Nakamura beat Jinder Mahal at SummerSlam for the title only to see it taken away by having Money in the Bank winner Baron Corbin cash in his briefcase at the end of the night. The guaranteed title shot briefcase has always been a good way to put a first championship reign on a superstar but to see it take Nakamura’s first title away in minutes would continue WWE’s current trend of being a ship without a rudder in an ocean of expired mayonnaise. If it were to happen that way, the company would once again be stepping over themselves in getting Shinsuke over with the crowd and cause irreversible damage to current WWE Champion, Jinder Mahal.
While WWE only put the title on Mahal as a way to appeal to the India audience, the guy has made strides in getting better. He’s still far from a top talent but WWE put themselves in this position and should ride it out a bit longer. Cutting any momentum down in Mahal’s 3-month title reign does more harm for him than good for Nakamura. This in the middle of him becoming the next good wrestling heel, the likes of a JBL or Iron Shiek. The worst case scenario it sets up a triple threat match between Nakamura, Corbin, and Mahal post SummerSlam PPV in September that will see Mahal drop off after he loses leaving the other two fight for the title through Survivor Series in November.
How do you set Nakamura on the right track? There’s a lot they could do but all signs point to WWE’s current course being mediocre at best. Shinsuke isn’t going to get an investment from a new audience being exposed to him by feuding with superstars who still need to learn to be better performers such as Corbin and Mahal. Kevin Owens and AJ Styles are currently in a good program over the US Title and Cena will probably go over to RAW soon. The likeliest candidate to have a good series of matches with the king of strong style is Sami Zayn. Just go on the network and look at Shinsuke’s first match in WWE against Sami at NXT Takeover San Antonio. You can’t help but be captivated by the magnetism in both men’s moves that night. Even if WWE isn’t big on Zayn, losing to Nakamura in a 5-star match gives him something to do while letting the Japanese talent show his full move set. Perhaps the best thing WWE could do for Nakamura is to put him in a feud with Chris Jericho. Physically Y2J is on the tail end of his career however, he’s still solid in the ring. Jericho is also a testament to the business, he understands the importance of putting over the new guys. His mic work with Kevin Owens over most of last year up to Wrestlemania this year was some of the best of his entire career. None of us will ever forget the “Festival of Friendship”. Being on TV with Jericho elevates the interest of the audience. Jericho could carry Nakamura in promos while building up the Japanese star’s skills for future work.
The list of talent WWE is currently wasting (Bayley, Becky Lynch, Ty Dillinger, Finn Balor, etc) could fill up whatever venue holds the next Wrestlemania. Nakamura’s situation is just the one that’s still got some hope of being fixed sooner rather than later. Who do you believe is being wasted the most in WWE right now?