I remember it like it was yesterday. It was my first ever live professional wrestling experience. It was NXT Takeover: Brooklyn II at the Barclays Center. There I was in the crowd, with the main event being Samoa Joe defending his NXT Championship against Shinsuke Nakamura.
I remember someone playing a violin with a lone blue spotlight to play Nakamura out. I remember the Barclays giving him a massive pop, and I remember the louder pop that came when he won the NXT Championship. It seemed like a century ago that folks were calling Nakamura the next major international WWE sensation.
When Shinsuke Nakamura had that first major match against Sami Zayn at Takeover: Dallas, there was an electricity in that match that I couldn’t explain. In hindsight, many people may have thought it was overrated. Maybe there’s some merit to that, but there’s no denial that the match was special because it was a signaling of a changing of the guard for the NXT brand.
Nakamura had this popular ring presence, despite not being able to cut English promos effectively. He didn’t need to, because he was able to capture us with his unorthodox mannerisms and his charisma.
Now, I’ll be honest in saying that I had my reservations about Nakamura even when he won the NXT Championship. I looked at his matches against the likes of Samoa Joe, Finn Balor and Bobby Roode. I always found them to be very good, but not great matches. Johnny Gargano? Adam Cole? Aliester Black? Tomasso Ciampa? They’ve had some near perfect matches. Nakamura? Always passable at worst for him.
However, we all expected bigger things for him on the horizon once he lost the NXT Championship. When he was called up to the main roster, there was definitely an excitement that bubbled around him. For me, there was a hint of caution because I knew all too well about WWE’s tendency to demean NXT superstars on the main roster.
Surely enough, Nakamura just meandered around until he earned the opportunity to win the WWE Championship at Summerslam 2017. This is where I believe WWE missed a huge opportunity. The AJ/Nakamura feud from two years ago wasn’t nearly as exciting as we were expecting. For me, I would have campaigned to give Nakamura the WWE Championship, have AJ Styles win the Rumble, and then have Nakamura slowly turn heel that way. Did you see their WrestleMania 34 match? I hated the fact that I was left saying it was a very good match instead of being prompted to re-watch a spectacle.
However, I had hope that his 2018 would facilitate even greater things for him. A star making moment for him was eliminating John Cena and Roman Reigns successively to win the Royal Rumble. Yet, nothing came of it. He’d eventually win his first title, the United States Championship. However, he’d go months without defending it. Then, fast forward to 2019 and what happens?
Well, he gets put into a makeshift tag team with Rusev which went nowhere. He then reverted back to his singles nature and eventually won the Intercontinental Championship from Finn Balor. I’d think that would be what he needed to get right back on track. Yet, more of the same would continue. He’d go months upon months without even showing up on SmackDown. Even after being paired up with Cesaro and Sami Zayn, he’s looked like an absolute joke, and that joke ended when he lost the Intercontinental Title.
We’ve heard rumors about Shinsuke maybe wanting to go back to NJPW. Truth be told, I cannot blame him. There’s no doubt that he’s been utilized absolutely poorly and has been relatively unimportant in major WWE story lines. However, a question that I’ve had for a while is whether or not we’ve overrated Nakamura from the start?
Personally, I don’t think Shinsuke is an overrated performer, as his popularity in Japan has shown. The talent and charisma is definitely there. Yet, I have heard differing opinions on his character for a while and that it wouldn’t translate well in front of a WWE audience. While it is far from too late to salvage his career, I’m not encouraged that rebirth will take place any time soon. With that said, what is your evaluation on Shinsuke thus far? Can his struggles be attributed to just him, or is WWE responsible?