The first four months of Shinsuke Nakamura’s main roster run have been interesting, to say the least. Almost every major wrestling personality has given their thoughts on the “Artist” formerly known as “The King of Strong Style” and opinions have certainly been mixed thus far. Detailed discussion has surrounded everything from the booking of the Japanese superstar to the performances of the man himself. Last Tuesday seemed to mark a major occasion for Nakamura though and now as we head into SummerSlam it feels like he’s at a pivotal point that could push his WWE career in one direction or the other. Before that though, let’s first have an in-depth look at his run so far.
Shinsuke famously debuted on the SmackDown after WrestleMania but the man originally opposite Nakamura seems to have been forgotten by some. Nakamura’s arrival actually came while Miz and Maryse looked to leave the ring following a promo scoffing at that past Sunday’s events. In front of an electric crowd, Nakamura made his celebrated entrance whilst Miz and his wife just watched on, suddenly an afterthought. With that the seeds were seemingly planted for a quite fascinating feud between Shinsuke and Miz but six days later those plans, if there were any, would vanish as the Superstar Shakeup led to Miz somewhat surprisingly moving to RAW.
Though some of the momentum was seemingly stalled by those factors, hype was still high for Nakamura’s in-ring debut and in fact, may have actually been a little too high. That eventual debut took place against Ziggler in the opening match of Backlash and in the end the match was a controversial one with Dolph taking control for much of it and Nakamura mostly selling throughout the 15 minutes of action. I personally thought it was a very strong match and enjoyed it a lot but I do concede some of the complaints and critiques that people had.
After all the hype, promotion and marketing, Nakamura perhaps hadn't shined as much as many had hoped and in hindsight, was seemingly a victim of a half-hearted re-investment in Ziggler. In the actual narrative developed on TV at that time Ziggler was very much treated as a threat to anyone, even beating AJ Styles on TV in the weeks following his PPV match with Shinsuke. Considering that, there was no shame in Nakamura’s struggle to win but as is always the case, perception is reality and that was incredibly apparent with Ziggler, especially at this time.
After a failed heel turn in early 2017, Ziggler had just spent too much time doing nothing of importance and in the minds of many that led to a lengthy match reflecting poorly on Nakamura who perhaps should’ve won in easier fashion considering the moment. It’s obviously very easy to Monday morning quarterback such booking and whilst I admit that it probably could’ve been handled better, I really think that it’s negative effect on Nakamura was and is quite exaggerated by some. Either way, Nakamura moved forward and was booked as a participant in the Money in the Bank Ladder Match.
For three straight weeks Nakamura would pin Kevin Owens, twice in tags and then finally in a TV main event singles match. Once again Nakamura sold a lot in these matches and even though he was winning against a top talent, he still didn't always seem to shine in ideal fashion. However, in absolute fairness to the producers behind the layout of those matches, I don’t think that was the only issue. Certain aspects of Nakamura’s in-ring style didn't seem to be translating perfectly to main roster crowds. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn't a complete disconnect but there were times where his strengths didn't seem to be quite as strong in this new environment.
I know that some will scoff at that notion due to Nakamura’s NXT success but I will always maintain that those audiences are different, regardless of the shared umbrella they stand under. That’s not a criticism of Nakamura either, I’m just saying that it takes some time to adapt and there seems to be some signs that he’s been getting more comfortable as of late. One of those examples could be Nakamura’s TV rematch with Ziggler, a lengthy match that much exceeded its predecessor in the minds of many. The match quality was likely the best so far for Nakamura on the main roster and he then entered a program with Baron Corbin.
After a mixed bag of build-up, Nakamura and Corbin had a rather under whelming PPV match on the ill-fated Battleground, a match that also ended with a weak DQ finish. Nakamura’s WWE career would change two days later though. After winning a much better rematch with Corbin on SmackDown, it was announced that Shinsuke would face John Cena the following week in a modern day dream match, or at least it was to the more ardent viewer. It was clear that regardless of what the result would be, Shinsuke certainly needed to deliver in such a big spot against such an iconic performer.
Thankfully, he did just that as he and Cena put on a memorable TV main event that had drama, showmanship and incredible action. It was quite brilliant and more than all of that, Nakamura won clean in the middle with his Kinshasa knee strike. A post-match handshake followed and now with that win, Shinsuke heads to SummerSlam as the number one contender. It’s very possible that last Tuesday’s match will serve as the real boost to get Nakamura well and truly going on the big stage. However, first Shinsuke has to face Jinder Mahal and regardless of the result, it’s imperative that he delivers in Brooklyn.
It’s no surprise whatsoever that Nakamura looked great when matched with the almost (Battleground) infallible Cena but now ‘The Artist’ needs to show real consistency in delivering when it matters as without that, his future as a main event talent seems unclear. Oddly, Nakamura’s two best matches thus far have come on television but if their Money in the Bank interactions are anything to go by, his eventual WrestleKingdom rematch with Styles looks sure to be spectacular. In my mind though, before we get to that potential money-match Nakamura has to solidify his spot as a top guy with elite performances against other, less over talents.
Overall there’s certainly been some ups and downs thus far for Nakamura but in all honesty, that’s nothing new. When you’re producing the amount of content WWE is there’s sure to be some less than stellar moments but what really matters is that after four months, Nakamura is still very much over and finds himself in a marquee match-up for the WWE title at SummerSlam. Now it’s a question of whether or not he builds on that as at times, Nakamura has arguably banked on overness and its unclear if that will cut it in the main event on a consistent level. Time will tell and Brooklyn will be pivotal, one way or the other.