Admittedly, I am not a huge follower of NXT, the proving ground for WWE’s main event. So, when I listen to fans and fellow wrestling writers, I am not as jazzed about Shinsuke Nakamura and his leap to the main roster as others are. WWE made the right decision to move the former NXT champion to Tuesday nights and SmackDown Live following WrestleMania 33. I, however, hope the company’s plans for the superstar are huge or his advance in WWE just might be short lived.
Nakamura is every bit as talented as his IWGP counterpart, AJ Styles. Nonetheless, he needed time to learn about working in front of a camera and in live aired shows. Styles, who is the best in the business today, was an instant hit once he moved to WWE and his appearance at The Royal Rumble last year.
The program Nakamura is working with Dolph Ziggler at Backlash this Sunday is a baby step compared to the feud Styles and Chris Jericho embarked on – but both could have the same results. If the former three-time IWGP Heavyweight Champion, five-time IWGP Intercontinental Champion, and one-time IWGP Tag Team Champion wants to earn WWE gold, he must look solid against a veteran like Ziggler.
I suppose my caution with Nakamura may be nothing more than the unknown. But I also think there may be some truth to my hesitation. Yes, the entrance of the Japanese star is just sick. The “Strong Style” is unmistakable. The fan reaction is so worth the wait. But is he as good as other Japanese stars from the past?
The 37-year-old must live up to the standards set before him. I watch The Great Muta for years in the old NWA and saw him face the best in the business. Sting, Ric Flair, Ricky Steamboat and Barry Windham. He is a former NWA world champion and a global icon. Does he have the in-ring charisma of the Ultimo Dragon? Will he have the appeal of Giant Baba? Or, will WWE have the patience to build Nakamura as the “next big thing” and allow the fans to witness his greatness? Will a match with Styles ever materialize? How does he fit into plans that could involve Randy Orton, Kevin Owens and potentially Sami Zayn and Jinder Mahal? Is Mahal the path by which Nakamura wins the blue team’s title?
Those stepping stones alone will make him a star in this promotion. Solid booking will more than sell his legacy. If he is not the WWE World Champion within a year, then the experiment failed. WWE cannot take a chance on waiting for him to win company gold. If that does happen, Bobby Roode, Drew Galloway and Zayn may pass him by. With the company’s shaky ladder to the top, Nakamura must find firm footing fast.
The issue with professional wrestling today is the desire to move a wrestler from neophyte to champion is the snap of a finger. In this case, moving Nakamura through the food chain is necessary. There aren’t enough players in the main event picture.
I hope WWE knows what it is doing when placing Nakamura in the ring with Ziggler, who will sell the hell out of this match at Backlash this Sunday. While Styles and Owens are the main event to watch, this confrontation could steal the show. What the company does not need is a subpar performance from either Nakamura or Ziggler. That only hurts the anticipated start of Nakamura’s career.
If Nakamura wins and looks strong, he may just get a shot at Owens. A feud with Styles would be asking too much but would sell like crazy. Although it might be short, Nakamura must bide his time in WWE. It should only be a matter of time before he is wearing gold and has the fans in arenas screaming over his victory.
Should WWE book this properly, Nakamura could be the international superstar this company needs. He just might bring back the masses the company is trying so hard to lasso into submission.