Shinsuke Nakamura won by disqualification against Baron Corbin at WWE’s Battleground event on July 23. The win came immediately after a low blow from Corbin, which the referee caught, then called for the bell to end the match.
Once again, The King of Strong Style has come up short.
He walked away with the win of course, but it arguably made no difference in the end. The lasting visual was that of Nakamura being left for dead in the ring. Not only had Corbin delivered the low blow, he also came back to the ring and gave his End of Days finisher to Nakamura as well.
So what’s going on here?
Long time fans will say this is how it goes in WWE. No one comes in and dominates from day one. It just doesn’t happen that way. Brock Lesnar and Kurt Angle are perhaps the only two exceptions to that rule; both men rose up extremely quickly when they hit the main roster.
To this day, Lesnar is still dominating. Of all the nicknames he’s known for, The Anomaly is indeed the best one.
But apart from Lesnar and Angle, everyone else has had to fit into the WWE machine, and contribute as assigned. It was true for CM Punk, who was the best independent talent in the country when he debuted in FCW. It was also true of Daniel Bryan, who held the “top indie darling” moniker when he first came to the company.
Even AJ Styles, who is now a top guy in WWE, did not come in on top. He had to work his way up the card. So there is obviously precedent for a red hot talent getting cooled down when he is signed to Vince McMahon’s company.
But Nakamura is ice cold right now.
The funny part about this situation is that he’s over. Fans want him. They want to see him, and they want to see him do well. It’s evident when his music hits, and it’s evident when he shows up in a backstage segment. The crowd immediately pops for him, because they love him.
However that’s not enough for WWE. Being popular apparently has no impact on how a guy is handled in the company, and that’s been the case for years. Zack Ryder is a perfect example of a guy that worked hard to get over--with no help from WWE--and was one of the more popular Superstars on the roster.
But the company didn’t care about him. He’s still around. He’s probably still selling merchandise. He’s back on TV now, which is a good thing. But unless something drastic happens and WWE does a 180, Ryder will never be anything more than a low to mid-card star.
Popularity meant nothing for him, and it still doesn’t now.
Of course Nakamura is not Ryder. The former New Japan megastar has the ability to get over in any environment, as he can work anyone on the roster. He’s versatile in the ring, he can tell a story without saying a word, and the camera absolutely loves him.
He’s turned on all the time; from the moment his music begins to the moment he goes back through the curtain after his match, Nakamura is completely in character. He is an oddity in today’s WWE because he doesn’t care about being a social media star. He also doesn’t care about making noise backstage because he’s not getting his way. Nakamura just wants to wrestle. That’s why he’s there.
Nakamura is an entertaining professional wrestler. WWE wants him to be an entertainer that wrestles. There is a difference.
If Nakamura wanted to, he could likely shoot on any of his opponents and there’s nothing anyone could do about it. He’s exceptionally tough in the ring, and his strikes can be felt in the rafters. He is the real deal in every respect, and he is the perfect hybrid of WWE Superstar and legitimate tough guy.
But instead, he does business the right way. He goes with the program and he does what the company wants him to do. Nakamura is a company guy and there’s nothing wrong with that.
However there is something wrong with WWE’s lack of vision for him. He is slowly being transformed from The King of Strong Style to The Artist. It’s a very subtle move that few have noticed yet, but it’s happening all the same. WWE is focusing on Nakamura as the charismatic performer, instead of the hard-striking workhorse that he truly is.
Is it any wonder why he continues to fall short of expectation?
It could be that it’s too soon for fans to panic here. Nakamura has been on SmackDown Live less than four months, was he supposed to take over the world on the night he debuted?
WWE’s upper echelon is full of businessmen that want to make money; utilizing Nakamura in the right way will make tons of money. Surely WWE Creative knows that.
Surely Triple H and Vince McMahon know that.
But until Nakamura is allowed to be himself, and work in the ring as only he can, then he will likely continue to struggle. The only thing fans can do is sit back and watch, hoping that eventually WWE will get this right.
Nakamura is ready. He’s been ready. Hopefully WWE will soon be ready as well.