If I were to tell you before WrestleMania 33 last year that the match 48-year old Shane McMahon had with AJ Styles was better than what Shinsuke Nakamura would give at WrestleMania the following year, I’m sure you would take me for a fool. Well, now we all look stupid. This past Sunday, AJ Styles had a match with Shinsuke Nakamura for the WWE Championship. It was a good match. I wish that was a compliment. Throughout the entire duration, I used a bit of a musical metaphor to describe what I was watching. I claimed that this match is like people who love heavy metal listening to opera. They can appreciate the artistry, but they want something else. That’s what I was doing in this match. I was left wanting. I wasn’t expecting some sort of 5 star NJPW-style match like we both know they can do, but certainly more than what we got.
AJ and Shinsuke did some basic back and forth things that you could find on any Smackdown. There was the basic psychology of AJ Styles selling his back, which prevented him from doing a Styles Clash, and Nakamura’s knee, which would hinder is the ability to hit the Kinsasha. However, I was led to believe this was all leading up to something bigger and grander when the match would be over. The end of the match came when Shinsuke was going for the Kinsasha, but AJ Styles reversed it into a Styles Clash. When the referee was counting, I’m sure we were all expecting Shinsuke to kick out. But no, the ref counted 3.
The match would make for a very good Smackdown main event, but on wrestling’s biggest stage, neither had that WrestleMania moment. What compounded things was that there wasn’t a compelling enough in-ring story to compensate for their lack of build outside the story. However, it dawned on me as to why the match sucked, and it’s something I detest WWE heavily for when they do it. It’s what came after the match. No, not Nakamura’s heel turn. That part was cool. Let me set a stage for you. Remember back in 2012 when Daniel Bryan was defending the World Title against Sheamus at WrestleMania 28? Remember when the match ended in 18 seconds? But remember when Sheamus and Daniel had a spectacular 2 out of 3 falls match at Extreme Rules at the very next PPV? Hopefully, you see where I’m going with this. AJ Styles and Nakamura’s match at WrestleMania wasn’t meant for finality, but rather to build to a future match between them.
WrestleMania is a place where feuds culminate, new stars are born and fresh rivalries are born. When Nakamura bent down and gave AJ a low blow a la Chris Jericho to Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania 19, it was clear that this match was only meant to set up a rematch between the two, but with this time there is a definitive heel and face. Perhaps that’s why the match didn’t meet anyone’s expectations. This wasn’t meant to be the big blow-off based off two years of anticipation of seeing these two in the same ring together. This was meant to be only the first chapter instead of the conclusion. That being said, this is probably what the doctor ordered for Mr. Strong Style.
When you think about it, since WWE signed Shinsuke in 2016, hasn’t the only one truly great match he had been against Sami Zayn at Takeover: Dallas? Since then, what other great match that reminded you why Shinsuke can be awesome has he been a part of? His matches against Samoa Joe and Bobby Roode were physical, but nothing to the caliber of the NXT Title matches we’ve been treated to as of late. Then, enter his main roster run. He gets placed in a meaningless feud against Dolph Ziggler because he’s the easy choice to introduce new guys to the main roster. Then he meanders around with Baron Corbin in which no guy can elevate the other. Then, he was thrust into the WWE Title scene when he faced Jinder Mahal, and unfortunately, Shinsuke came out of the feud looking not only like a loser but like an idiot. They did the same exact finish and followed the same, exact formula. Jinder mocked Shinsuke’s facial mannerisms and way of talking, and then beat him on WWE’s second biggest show of the year.
Now, I understand that a part of Shinsuke’s underwhelming main roster run is partly due to the fact that he has rarely been placed in any top tier feuds, but has he himself given you a reason to suggest that he could be something special. We already know promos aren’t his thing, but in terms of his in-ring work, hasn’t he been sort of robotic and predictable. There hasn’t been anything unique about him thus far. He comes out to violin, he gained the moniker of being an artist (which I still don’t understand to this day) and he has some awkward movements. When he wrestles, it’s sort of an anomaly. He can get by in 10 minutes making you think he had a diverse moveset, when all he really does is some knee shots, suplexes, and his finisher. Heels traditionally tend to dominate the middle portion of a match the most. Could perhaps a change in his character allow for some diversity in his character and his matches?
Nakamura is still in the same boat as Bobby Roode. A change in character is what may be required for him to pick up some momentum. But did you catch that backstage promo? That little wink of the eye? The blatant sarcasm? That’s something I can get behind. Not him coming out to the ring every week just to ramble incoherently, with WWE exploiting his….less than perfect English.
Overall, I liked what I saw from the first glimpses of a heel Nakamura, and here’s to hoping that this does him a lot of good going down the line. Same goes for Roode. Until next time.