Is it fair to say that WWE has never seen anyone like Shinsuke Nakamura before?
A wrestler from somewhere outside of North America who is able to get himself over all across the globe, essentially flipping off the language barrier, because of his natural charisma even before his matches begin. From the moment his music hits, he is as must-see as anyone in the sport of pro wrestling. He is being pushed as "The Artist", because, like Prince once was, Nakamura is the living embodiment of a "rock star" without having to say very much.
Nakamura's time in NXT was relatively brief (368 days between his NXT debut match and his Smackdown debut), but he became one of the biggest names in the brand's history in that time. His presentation was near flawless. If you were already aware of him and could call yourself a fan, nothing changed. However, for those who weren't aware of anything he did pre-NXT, that presentation is what made you fall in love with the guy. The music, the strobe entrance, the facial expressions, the wild movement in his mannerisms... and then his matches began, where he would beat the holy hell out of people. Kids love him. Adults love him. Men love him. Women love him. It's so rare in this day and age for WWE to have someone so universally liked, as we've seen with all the split reactions live crowds give to almost all of the company's top names.
Calling him up to the main roster looked to be an easy home run. Continue the path you've already taken, introduce Nakamura to an even bigger audience of people that didn't know who he was before, and watch the money pile up.
If you're a baseball fan, you know that easy home runs only appear to be easy, but they end up being outs at the warning track.
Things started nicely, with Nakamura making appearances on Smackdown in non-wrestling roles. They were saving his main roster in-ring debut for Backlash, making it come across as a big deal, which it was. He was all over the promotional material for Backlash, appearing in the commercials and being all over the posters. His match was announced beforehand as being the show opener (which hardly ever happens), because WWE wanted to make sure fans were tuned in to watch him.
I've seen many differing opinions on the match at Backlash. Nakamura and Dolph Ziggler went out there and wrestled for nearly 16 minutes, when many people were expecting it to last less than half that time. People were predicting a squash win for Nakamura, to firmly place him in the Smackdown main event scene, showing that he was a force. I didn't think it would be a "squash", necessarily, but I did think Nakamura would get a very decisive victory. Instead, we got Dolph controlling most of the offense in what should have been a showcase for his opponent. Yes, Nak won, but he didn't look like anything special in doing so.
Alright, that's fine. Minor speed bump. No big deal.
After Backlash, someone in WWE decided it would be a good idea for Nakamura to cut promos every week. They aren't lengthy soliloquies like Triple H used to cut to open Raw every week, rambling on and on for 20+ minutes with regularity, but he was still talking. I'm not sure if you're aware of this, folks, but English isn't his first language. Shocking, I know. Having him cut promos, even a sentence or two at a time, isn't going to do anything positive for him. The evidence for that came during this week's episode of Smackdown, when his words were being met with the dreaded "What?!?" chants from the crowd. Like many of you, that absolutely blew me away. Watching his meteoric rise to stardom in NXT, I never envisioned a time when he would be on the main roster and getting those chants, both because I thought he would be too loved by crowds for it, but also because I DIDN'T THINK THE COMPANY WOULD BE DUMB ENOUGH TO LET HIM CONTINUE CUTTING PROMOS.
Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me for the millionth time, well, shame on me, I guess.
If I can rewind just a bit, go back to this week's Smackdown... even before he started speaking... and watch his entrance at the beginning of the show. Fans of all ages, races, colors, religions, and sexual orientations have been able to come together as one to "sing" his entrance music. It's a joy to watch, and a joy to participate in. You know what Nakamura's entrance didn't need? Pyro. You know what Nakamura's entrance got this week? Pyro. Why in the world would you take something so beautiful and make little changes to it? That's like slapping God across the face for giving you a gorgeous gift. It... isn't... necessary. The entrance didn't need tweaks.
This just screams the work of Vince McMahon. Yes, I know just about everything you see on WWE television is Vince's work, but this type of insane micro-managing is what we've all gotten accustomed to through the years. He sees something that he didn't have his hands in, so he decides to change that as soon as possible. It's infuriating, because time has simply passed him by. He doesn't understand the current era, but he has too much power for anything short of his death to change things. What makes it even more infuriating is that he doesn't always do it. Take a look at AJ Styles, who followed a similar career path to Nakamura before signing with WWE. He became a star elsewhere, got to an age where people thought he was "too old" to get signed, only to surprise the wrestling world by putting his name on a WWE contract. AJ was 38 when he signed, and Nakamura was a few weeks away from turning 36 when he signed. Since his arrival, AJ has been able to be himself, wrestle like himself, cut promos like himself, and basically have no reigns or restrictions on him. Because of that (at least partially), he went on to have one of the best "rookie" years in WWE history, with no "sophomore slump" in sight.
Imagine a Shinsuke Nakamura on the main roster with no restrictions on him. No changes. No character tweaks. No stupid, forced nicknames that he doesn't need. Just the same Shinsuke Nakamura that became a transcendent superstar in Japan, and then came to America to continue his rock star-like growth. As I said earlier, WWE has never seen anyone like him before, so it would make for a great story if he could reach the top of the mountain there in a way that would be trailblazing and groundbreaking. The man is 37 years old. He doesn't exactly have all the time in the world to be brought along slowly or to have his momentum robbed from him and to have to build it back up again the way Vince McMahon would apparently like him to. This really isn't rocket science.
Money In The Bank is coming up, and the way he is booked for that event could go a long way into viewing his future. If you want to try and read too much into things, as we always do on the internet, you'd see that Nakamura is currently scheduled to headline Smackdown-branded live events in July, competing against Jinder Mahal for the WWE Championship. Does that mean Jinder retains at Money In The Bank? Does that mean Nak wins the Money In The Bank briefcase, and they run with that storyline the briefcase holder possibly having two chances to win the title? Does that mean someone other than Nak wins the briefcase, with the King Of Strong Style stepping up as the next title contender while everyone waits for the briefcase to be cashed in? Does it all mean nothing, because "Card Is Subject To Change"? Only time will tell, but if they want to take Nakamura to the main event scene, even if it's temporary, they have to be very careful about how they present him.
No more pyro. His entrance is epic just the way it is.
No more weekly promos. Save his speaking for a special occasion, and even then, keep it short and sweet.
Subscribe to the Paul Heyman style of booking. If you have a wrestler who has certain strengths and weaknesses, you accentuate those strengths and try your absolute best to hide those weaknesses. Give fans the best possible version of every wrestler on the roster, but especially with a once-in-a-lifetime talent such as Nakamura.
Don't blow this, WWE. You have time to right the proverbial ship, but that time is ticking away.