Once upon a time, Shinsuke Nakamura was the biggest international signing in the history of WWE. Seems long ago, as his career in the company has had plenty of ups and downs considering his booking. But recently on SmackDown, Nakamura showed signs of his former self that made him that headline signing, returning to “The King of Strong Style” version of himself to nearly run the gauntlet. It could be signs of things to come for WWE’s resident artist. This is a look at what could be the redemption story of Nakamura and why his past defines a clear return to prominence.
The King of Strong Style: One Of New Japan Pro Wrestling’s All-Time Greats
There is a reason that he is known worldwide as “The King of Strong Style.” In New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW), Nakamura was like a god as his oozing charisma mixed with his incredible in-ring style made him one of the most historic champions in the history of that company. During his time there, he won the IWGP Heavyweight Championship three times and the IWGP Intercontinental Championship five times. No matter what he did, he dominated the scene and did it with class. There’s a reason that when he was heading to WWE, the world was talking about what it could mean for his legacy and WWE moving forward.
An NXT Game-Changer: Nakamura’s Impact On A Developmental Brand
When Shinsuke Nakamura signed with WWE, more specifically NXT, it felt as though it was the official switch from developmental to a third brand. Nakamura was a major player in Japan and his name carried a lot with it. The international superstar raised the bar in his debut with Sami Zayn, as it marked the greatest debut in the history of the black and gold show. He was one of those guys that many thought would win the Intercontinental Championship, but also raise the brand as he did. Finn Balor was maybe the most crucial champion to NXT, but it was Nakamura that helped put more eyes than ever.
He was the game-changer of the brand and became a must-see no matter what he did. From his entrance to his matches, Nakamura helped people understand what made the Japanese strong style so great and why he should be a future world champion. Those around the industry saw Nakamura as the next major player on the WWE main roster, but that wasn’t fully the case.
Debuting Like No Other: The Rise Of “The Artist”
You could not walk onto the main roster in a bigger way than Shinsuke Nakamura did. From the wonderful entrance that saw the violin go into his legendary theme song to a WWE Championship match only a few months later at SummerSlam, he was on his way up. In 2018, Nakamura won the men’s Royal Rumble match to solidify a dream rematch of sorts from his New Japan days with the WWE Champion AJ Styles. All seemed right for the newly nicknamed “Artist,” but it was not as bright of a future that fans had hoped for. A loss at WrestleMania 34 began a slew of losses and eventually saw him drop down the card in a heel role. He’s essentially been in that spot for some time now, which is why this is a redemption story. It almost felt like a “should have been” type of run for Nakamura.
Fading Down The Card: US/IC Championship Runs & A Tag Team Specialist In The Mid-T0-Lower Card
Nakamura’s “demotion” from the main event star to the mid-card, at times lower card, and off television as a whole was one that angered many fans. He slowly faded down the card as he won the United States Championship twice but rarely defended the title. Shinsuke also won the Intercontinental Championship and held it for 201 days but defended it a whopping four times before losing it and was overshadowed by his manager, Sami Zayn. The past two years were almost a waste in a sense when it comes to Nakamura and he eventually transitioned into tag team work with both Rusev and Cesaro. In 2020, he won the first tag team titles of his WWE career when he and Cesaro defeated The New Day at Extreme Rules. \
His star power shrunk and it seemed as though he also wasn’t giving the full effort because it was simply not necessary for his spot. The lowest of lows came when he was pinned by Otis in a match that lasts less than three minutes. All seemed over for any chance he would see that main event again. And then Nakamura entered the gauntlet.
Redemption: “The King of Strong Style” Returns In Dominant Fashion
Entering 2021, it had to be out of many fans’ heads that Shinsuke Nakamura was going to be anything but a “good hand” moving forward. Then on Jan. 8, Nakamura was one of six participants to be entered into the gauntlet match made by Adam Pearce to decide who would face Roman Reigns at the Royal Rumble. As the third entree into the match, he defeated Rey Mysterio, King Corbin, and stunned many when he finished it off by pinning former world champion Daniel Bryan after all of that before him. It was another moment where WWE was recreating a star through the gauntlet match, much like they did with Kofi Kingston in 2019. He didn’t earn the shot at the Royal Rumble, however, as Reigns and Jey Uso laid him out and put Pearce over him to ultimately defeat him in the match. Considering his ability to compete for over 25 minutes, Nakamura is far from done now that he has reentered the main event scene. That will be proven this Friday.
What Is Next For Shinsuke Nakamura?
“The King of Strong Style” is in familiar territory once again. Perhaps it is territory that fits who he more than ever when you look at his past two years. He is back in the spotlight. And considering the grand chance that he faces Reigns down the line, Nakamura has a chance to make fans believers all over again. This run is certainly one of his last, so it’d only be right that this is the ultimate redemption story for his WWE career. And it’d be even more right for him to return to the babyface version that made him so popular with WWE fans alike. There’s no guarantee where this run may go, but any time Nakamura is in the spotlight, you know he’s not going to waste the opportunity. Welcome back, king.
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