Shinsuke Nakamura is an international superstar. Prior to his signing with the WWE in 2016, he was arguably the biggest star in New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW). Potentially, he was the biggest star in all of pro wrestling, outside of the WWE. When he arrived at the WWE Performance Center in 2016, he was treated as such. NXT TakeOver: Dallas saw Nakamura debut to much fanfare. The entrance, the strobe lighting, the crowd singing his name in unison. The match itself remains Shinsuke’s greatest WWE match to date – an absolute stellar performance from both himself and opponent, Sami Zayn. He would capture the NXT Championship at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn II from Samoa Joe. All signs pointed towards Nakamura being one guy the WWE creative team simply could not bring down. Yet, they did.
— Shinsuke Nakamura (@ShinsukeN) May 29, 2021
Shinsuke Nakamura: Rise From NXT, Royal Rumble Victory And Where It All Went Wrong
April 4, 2017 saw Shinsuke Nakamura arrive to the main roster following a highly successful stint in NXT. On an episode of SmackDown Live, as it was then known, the star from Kyoto, Japan would interrupt The Miz and Maryse, during his mock session of John Cena and Nikki Bella. The “King of Strong Style” had arrived; maintaining his look, his name and even his personal violinist, who would occasionally play him out to the ring. He soon defeated John Cena himself – immediately establishing himself as a key player for SmackDown Live.
With Shinsuke Nakamura possessing unique, plentiful charisma – and undoubted in-ring talent – all he needs is big wins to be a proven, legitimate contender in the eyes of the audience. That Summer, Nakamura would lose against Jinder Mahal both at SummerSlam 2017 and Hell in a Cell 2017 – with the latter being a clean defeat. This would, of course, derail Nakamura’s momentum until Royal Rumble 2018, where he would win the men’s Royal Rumble match. As we all know, Nakamura’s WrestleMania 34 title opportunity against long-time foe, AJ Styles, would end in failure. The WWE Championship continued to allude him and then he turned heel.
Shinsuke Nakamura Turns Heel, Aligns With Sami Zayn and Cesaro
The heel turn was, initially, okay. Despite the natural, babyface aura Shinsuke has, he had been an established heel for years in NJPW. As is typical of their style, however, WWE soon had him in the cartoonish, “evil foreigner” role straight out of a 1980s Hulk Hogan feud. They asset stripped away everything that made him the “King of Strong Style”. His look (he began wearing odd, unflattering singlet type attires better suited to post-prime Elvis Presley) was taken away; his style was watered down drastically; his entrance music was altered, so fans could no longer sing along to his theme. Even the nickname itself was no longer used in reference with his name. He would refuse to speak English, even though most fans are aware of Shinsuke’s fluent grasp of the language.
Eventually, he would join up with two other miscast, misused superstars in Sami Zayn and Cesaro. Despite two United States Championship wins, as well as an Intercontinental Championship win, regular losses would hurt Shinsuke Nakamura to the point where he was just another guy on the roster. Yet another example of wasted talent; wasted potential and, even, wasted mega-stardom. It became a recurring theme on most episodes of SmackDown that Nakamura’s music would hit, he would enter a match and he would lose. The “King of Strong Style” had become Louis XVI – a headless, lifeless example of what once stood a King. In January of this year, he would finally turn babyface in a gauntlet match to crown Roman Reigns‘ next competitor – a gauntlet Nakamura would almost win (if not for Reigns’ interference and last second inclusion of Adam Pearce) in an exceptional, iron man display which reminded anyone who had forgotten that he is one of the best in the world. At last, the King had returned, sort of.
Battle of the Kings
Shinsuke would not get his match with Roman Reigns. He would fail to even get a match at WrestleMania 37. Instead, he was the final competitor eliminated from the Andre the Giant Battle Royal (won by Jey Uso), which took place on Friday Night SmackDown this year. Weeks of directionless booking would lead him to his first real feud in quite some time, with King Corbin. King Corbin has never exactly been a beloved figure in the WWE. Granted, he is a career-long heel, so it is his job to be hated (which he does very well), but he has never succeeded in establishing a connection with the WWE audience. Some might argue that this makes him one of the best heels in pro wrestling today. Others might question whether the heat he generates is the infamous “Go Away Heat” – heat generated not by the talent’s ability, but by the audience’s complete un-interest in the talent. Nakamura is the opposite; a naturally talented, charismatic individual who has spent decades building a relationship with audiences the world over.
In the feud with King Corbin, Shinsuke Nakamura has the opportunity to pull off his biggest victory in quite some time. Corbin might seem like a feud beneath Nakamura, as he is pretty directionless currently, but it is a start to rebuilding the King of Strong Style. That appears to be what is happening; with Nakamura regaining his former, popular theme song and the recently debuted Rick Boogs as his personal virtuoso. There is also plenty of potential to revisit the feud between Reigns and Nakamura later in the year. With Reigns showing no sign of slowing down as champion, he requires fresh competitors to face off with and Nakamura would, indeed, be a fresh, new rival for the Tribal Chief. Corbin is a lifelong heel who has no business feuding with Roman Reigns during his present run. Should Corbin win the feud and become undisputed King, he will remain in the midcard. Should Nakamura win, he rebuilds lost momentum; moves on to something bigger and gives the audience someone to support. Therefore, it makes most sense for Nakamura to be booked strong; to reclaim his style and to keep the crown. The King of Strong Style is long overdue a triumphant return and with fans returning to arenas in just two months time, you can rest assured that his loyal subjects will be clamoring to see their King.
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