Earlier today, I hopped on YouTube and happened to rewatch a free match WWE was offering. It was Shinsuke Nakamura’s first ever match under WWE. He faced off against NXT veteran and fan favorite Sami Zayn. I rewatched every second of it and it instantly brought me back to how I felt when I first watched it. I was completely in love with it. Here is why.
Many were beyond excited when they learned that Nakamura was coming to WWE and would face Sami Zayn at Takeover. It was a dream match. At Takeover: Dallas, the atmosphere was electric and the energy was palpable. It was as if you could physically touch it. Some people may say that match is overrated, but the reason why it planned out so well was because of Nakamura’s swagger. The facial expressions, the swift power strikes, the battle cries, the taunts and the brief struts around the ring. He took command and was able to take the crowd to task.
Nakamura had all the makings of an elite star and one of the greatest international talents in WWE. He could do everything except speak well. But what made him special was that he didn’t have to speak in order to get the crowd to invest in him. He’s a man where his actions cuts all the promos for him. Through warm up feuds with the likes of Finn Balor, Austin Aries and others, Nakamura’s crowning moment came at Takeover:Brooklyn 2 when he would win the NXT Title.
Many became indifferent to Nakamura towards the end of his WWE run, because of his lukewarm feud with Bobby Roode, but people were still excited to see him. He’d make his main roster debut after WrestleMania 33. He didn’t do anything particularly noteworthy to begin his Smackdown career, but many thought WWE was just preparing him for a big moment. He feuded with Dolph Ziggler to start, but Ziggler is the company’s go-to-guy to introduce new talents to the main roster.
He would fiddle around with the relatively weak Smackdown roster, but a signature moment came for him when he challenged for Jinder Mahal’s WWE Chanpionship by defeating John Cena, almost seriously hurting his neck in the process. However, Nakamura could not have looked like more of a fool in that feud. WWE bordered on racist lines by feeding Jinder corny lines poking fun at his facial expressions and muscle spasms.
He seemingly never evolved in his matches and constantly lost due to distractions from the Singh Brothers. Worst of all was that Jinder had to carry the feud on the mic because Nakamura’s fatal flaw is his lack of eloquence. But again, that wasn’t supposed to matter with Nakamura. Instead, even on a Smackdown-exclusive PPV’s, he never main evented when fighting for the WWE Championship.
Then he was inserted into a horrible feud with Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn with Shane McMahon being the focal point. It was quite clear his main roster run was missing something. That swagger, that extra gear? It wasn’t there. The start of 2018 looked to be promising for him. He won the Royal Rumble and predictably challenged for AJ Styles’ WWE Championship. It was a match many believed to be a dream match. It was two of the best in the world. At WrestleMania. For the WWE Title. It wrote itself.
The match? Well, it wasn’t bad. And it’s a shame that’s all I can say about it. It was a well worked match. But unfortunately, it wasn’t the emotional roller coaster ending with Nakamura winning the title that we expected. The match just sort of ended, and just like that, the dream ended. But then Nakamura turned heel after by stiffing AJ in the nutsack. Maybe that’s why the match wasn’t as great as we wanted it to be. Maybe it was supposed to be a face/heel dynamic. So WWE decided to do the match again, and again, and again. But there was a recurring theme.
Aside from the fact that the WWE Chanpionship match wasn’t inserted into the mid-card, WWE had the temerity to do two straight non finishes in their PPV matches, with one of them being a No Disqualification match purposefully placed so there WOULD be a finish. As time waned, and as the matches grew stale, it got to the point where WWE made fans not to want to see the match. It had been forcefully shoved down our throats too often in a condensed period, and Nakamura walked away in the end with nothing.
Nakamura wouldn’t leave 2018 completely empty handed, though. He defeated Jeff Hardy to become the United States Champion, but with that came a bigger issue. WWE seemingly had no room for him on Smackdown every Tuesday and we’d go weeks without even noticing he was on the show, much less a title holder. He was also noticeably left off PPV’s such as Hell In A Cell and Super Showdown. His last minute entry as a pre-show spot filler vs. Rusev at Crown Jewel seemed like pity in hindsight.
So now he’s a champion, but the problem is he’s not important enough. So what now? In one week, he’ll face 2018’s top in-ring performer, Seth Rollins, af Survivor Series. It doesn’t matter if he wins or loses, because there’s nothing to gain. The important thing is whether or not it looks like he belongs. Rediscovering that swagger that he once had.
So with all that, I ask you. Has Shinsuke Nakamura’s decline a result of WWE putting him in bad positions? Or were we overrated Mr. Strong Style from the beginning, thereby setting our expectations too high just to get disappointed each time? Where do you stand?