‘I don’t get it’. One of the many Vince McMahon-ism’s that plague the talents when they bring their gimmick from a source outside of the WWE bubble. But on 4th April 2017, a big moment in wrestling occurred for me personally. I was at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida watching SmackDown Live with a good friend of mine. The Miz and Maryse were cutting a quite frankly hilarious promo on John Cena and Nikki Bella, in which both were dressed up and acting like the opponents that they lost to two nights prior at WrestleMania 33. Then the lights went out.
With my piss poor eyesight, it took me a moment to regain focus when I spotlight hit someone holding a violin. I instantly knew what was happening, and so did the live crowd. A huge roar went up when the violinist finished his solo and the opening bars to Shinsuke Nakamura’s intoxicating theme music hit the speakers, and a short few seconds later, I and most in attendance were singing along like a hoard of football fans (that’s soccer for those across the Atlantic). I got it. And so did 15,000 other people.
He sauntered down the ramp with his unique characteristics on show for the world to see, the charisma that made him such a popular figure in New Japan Pro Wrestling, with his entrance alone making him completely different from any other talent on the roster.
Shinsuke Nakamura makes his SmackDown Live debut. Pic: WWE.com
So, what’s happened? I guess we should start at the beginning of his WWE run. On April 1st, 2016, Shinsuke Nakamura made his NXT debut at NXT Takeover: Dallas taking on Sami Zayn (who was having his last match in NXT before his RAW debut) in a match many have called Nakamura’s best. Both men used a mesh of styles, with Zayn’s Lucha-inspired WWE style, with Nakamura’s raw Japanese Strong Style, they put on a very hard-hitting, action-packed match that instantly got Nakamura over with the NXT fanbase. His original version of the Kinshasa looked brutal too.
Sami Zayn had the distinction of having Nakamura’s first match in NXT. Video: WWE YouTube Channel
At NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn II in mid-2016, Nakamura defeated Samoa Joe to become the NXT Champion and the flag bearer for the brand. Nakamura would hold the title and defend it well until January 2017, where he lost the title to Bobby Roode at NXT TakeOver: San Antonio. I assumed (wrongly) that they would keep Nakamura on the NXT brand for the foreseeable future, given his lack of promo skills (Jon Moxley’s push in NJPW doesn’t appear to be hindered by his inability to speak Japanese does it?), but as I mentioned above, Nakamura debuted on SmackDown Live that April, his debut was enough to fill me with enough confidence that his character would be booked differently and treated as a big deal.
Nakamura and Samoa Joe clash for the NXT Title. Pic: WWE.com
His first real feud (which should in retrospect have been the first red flag – Catfish reference) was with Dolph Ziggler. On the surface, it seemed like a decent fit, Ziggler a great hand in the ring when it comes to helping others develop into the WWE style and someone who could bump for Nakamura’s strong, physical style. At Backlash 2017, Nakamura and Ziggler opened the show, Nakamura got a great reaction, but unfortunately, the match didn’t really live up to the billing. For whatever reason, Ziggler and Nakamura’s style simply didn’t gel well.
Dolph Ziggler battles Shinsuke Nakamura in his first main roster match. Video: WWE YouTube Channel
Nakamura went on to participate in the Money in the Bank match that year and then was put into another throwaway feud with the human charisma vacuum Baron Corbin. Thankfully, he ended up winning the feud and defeated John Cena in a pretty decent outing to become number one contender to the WWE Title held at that time by Jinder Mahal. It was at this point, that I believe a particular downward trend with regards to his character begun. Granted, Nakamura was in a WWE title match at SummerSlam, the company’s second-biggest show of the year. Looks great on paper.
And then he lost to Mahal. Even with interference, this in my eyes took away a large part of the aura surrounding his character. I’m not a Jinder Hinderer. In fact, I liked his gimmick at this time. But if you want to build a character in the eyes of your audience, you have to give them something to latch onto. Maybe the office looked at his lack of ability on the microphone and thought he couldn’t connect but, in truth, he connected in a different way. But he lost the match, and a part of his character’s credibility to deliver in big matches.
Nakamura and Mahal clashed at “SummerSlam”. Pic: WWE.com
Just in case you need catching up, aside from one match with Cena, Nakamura’s first feuds on the main roster have been Ziggler, Corbin and Mahal. Oh and I forgot to mention, he then went on to beat Randy Orton for another chance at the title and was booked to lose to Mahal a second time at Hell In A Cell. He beat Orton and Cena in a matter of weeks but couldn’t beat Mahal twice. The hilarious booking continued into the Survivor Series, where Nakamura was the first person on Team SmackDown Live to be eliminated by Braun Strowman. A few months later, it appeared that the company had turned a corner with Nakamura. At Royal Rumble 2018, he entered the Rumble match at number 14 and won the Royal Rumble. Nakamura then chose AJ Styles as the man he wanted to face for the WWE Title at WrestleMania 34.
Nakamura is all smiles after his Royal Rumble win. Pic: WWE.com
All I remember about the build-up to this match was the hype from both men’s one-on-one encounter from New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Wrestle Kingdom 10 in 2016 and, as the anticipation built, I couldn’t help but feel that this was set up to fail in a WWE environment. The match happened, and it was fine. Nothing amazing, and that is entirely on the performers. They have to take the flack for that. The end of the match saw Styles pin Nakamura clean, and the only thing of note to come from this is that Nakamura then turned heel, kicking Styles in the balls after the match. You see the pattern here? Since beating Corbin, Nakamura’s only other Pay-Per-View wins were the Royal Rumble and against Rusev at the show before WrestleMania, FastLane. Styles and Nakamura feuded for the next three Pay-Per-Views, first at the Greatest Royal Rumble, then Backlash, and then finally at Money In The Bank. Another note, both men were counted out at the first two, and at Money In The Bank Nakamura was defeated by Style in a Last Man Standing match. Keeping score at home?
Nakamura battled AJ Styles for WWE Title at “WrestleMania 34”. Pic: WWE.com
I could continue on but there really isn’t any point as the point has already been made. If you are keeping score at home, from his main roster debut at Backlash 2017, until his Last Man Standing match at Money In The Bank 2018, his Pay-Per-View record stood at four wins, seven losses and two ‘draws’, but I guess he didn’t win them so you can add these to his loss record. This should show you all you need to know about WWE’s perception of certain talent. In my opinion It all comes down to Nakamura’s gimmick not being a creation of the boss. Nakamura recently won the Intercontinental title for the first time from Finn Balor on the pre-show of Extreme Rules, but he was on the pre-show. The PRE-SHOW. I don’t know where they go with Shinsuke Nakamura from here on out, but what may be better for him, and what may be better for his bank balance are most likely two different things. As per usual only time will tell.