Armchair Creative: Salvaging Shinsuke Nakamura

Matthew Rago, Editor-in-Chief

Shinsuke Nakamura is a main-event talent dwelling in WWE’s midcard. Once touted as one of the highest-profile signings in WWE history, Nakamura burst onto the scene in NXT with a critically acclaimed match against Sami Zayn. After capturing the NXT Championship, Nakamura was ushered to the main roster, where he defeated John Cena, won the Royal Rumble and contested for the WWE Championship at Wrestlemania. However, despite a resume flush with accomplishments, it still feels as though Nakamura is scratching the surface of his full potential under the WWE banner. Let’s explore options on how to salvage Nakamura.

Currently, Nakamura is the WWE Intercontinental (IC) Champion, having defeated Finn Balor on the Extreme Rules Kickoff Show. First of all, the idea of Nakamura and Balor being relegated to the Kickoff show is insulting and laughable. However, it is also indicative of just how low WWE’s opinion of Nakamura currently is. After winning the Intercontinental Championship, Nakamura–and by extension, the IC title–essentially disappeared from television, as Nakamura only competed in two televised matches between July and August.

WWE has made it apparent that the language barrier that exists between the WWE Universe and Nakamura is too vast to ignore. To remedy this issue, WWE paired a directionless Zayn with Nakamura to serve as his mouthpiece. The pairing has helped revive Nakamura’s career. However, the pairing is volatile as, barring an undisclosed injury, Zayn is simply too talented of an in-ring performer to remain in a managerial role. Nakamura needs more stability in order to stay over with the crowd and get the fans to emotional invest in his storylines.

While we never want to reinforce ethnic stereotypes, there is something endearing about uniformity in the world of WWE. Creative should explore having a bilingual manager such as Funaki adopt an indignant stance on WWE burying arguably the greatest living Japanese performer today. He should break the fourth wall and reference how WWE’s refusal to book Nakamura on television for the entirety of August was a brazen attempt by intolerant executives to sabotage Nakamura’s momentum. Funaki angrily lambasting Zayn for trying to ride the coattails of Nakamura in order to stay afloat in an ever-evolving WWE can serve as a catalyst for Nakamura to sever his professional relationship with Zayn, kickstarting a feud between the two. WWE could afford the two superstars 20-to-25 minutes to tear the house down, rejuvenating two underutilized superstars in the process.

From here, WWE would be wise to remove the IC Title from Nakamura while concurrently protecting him. An overzealous Funaki can attempt to interfere in a title match, only to distract Nakamura and cost him the title. For feasibility purposes, Nakamura should tease ending his alliance with Funaki only to provide an explanation of how valuable he perceives Funaki’s guidance to be. Funaki should make amends by negotiating a WWE Universal Championship match for his client, kickstarting Nakamura’s ascent to the main event scene.

At this point, Nakamura needs to take down the biggest fish in WWE. Brock Lesnar and Nakamura competed for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in 2006 in a hard-hitting contest that presented Nakamura as Lesnar’s equal. WWE would be wise to adopt the same strategy, selling the idea of Nakamura negating Lesnar’s power advantage with his strong-style striking and unparalleled precision. At the moment, Lesnar is booked too strongly, causing a backlash from the WWE Universe. A competitor like Nakamura, slithery and unorthodox, would be an ideal foil. Perhaps WWE does not perceive Nakamura as a performer capable of serving as the face of their company, but even in defeat, Nakamura vs.Lesnar would provide entertainment value and present Nakamura as a top echelon talent.