In 2016 the signing of NJPW icon Shinsuke Nakamura set the internet ablaze as fans speculated about the potential of one of pro wrestling’s most charismatic characters. Fast forward to 2017, “The Artist” known as Nakamura is becoming marginalized on Smackdown Live and forced into the generic WWE Superstar mold. You could blame the wrestler himself for not getting himself over but there are a few key areas we feel are being handled badly.
1. Too Much Mic Time
For a Japanese native, Nakamura’s spoken English is pretty good (way better than my Japanese). However when delivering promos it is still an uphill battle. Nakamura is competent enough to make himself understood but delivery is slow and at times hard to understand. Worse yet he is being put up against proverbial mic wizards in The Miz and Kevin Owens who any superstar would struggle to best in a verbal joust.
Nakamura’s charisma isn’t so much linked to his promos, at least from the perspective of a non-Japanese speaker. The way the guy dresses, moves, his facial expressions; they’re all just cool! WWE’s laboured attempt to force Nakamura to connect with fans on the mic just demonstrates how ill equipped they are to make money from anyone who doesn’t fit their template.
2. 50/50 Booking
Our first exposure to “The Artist” wrestling on the main roster was in a PPV match against Dolph Ziggler. Nakamura won the match but only after absorbing a lot of punishment from his opponent, a perpetual mid carder. If we are to buy into Nakamura as a big deal surely he shouldn’t be struggling with scrubs in the mid card, at least not to start with.
The most frustrating thing is that this booking style doesn’t benefit either man. Ziggler is a broken commodity and has had competitive matches with all manner of opponent from CM Punk to Zack Ryder; he gains nothing by taking the new guy to task. Likewise anything less than a dominant victory for Nakamura in his first outing makes him come across as decidedly average, and that’s exactly what has happened.
Why is every knee strike Nakamura delivers called a Kinshasa? Can we not call knee strikes, knee strikes anymore?
This may seem like a pedantic point but I believe it is linked to Nakamura’s waning drawing power. The big knee strike, FKA the Boma Ye, was a solid and WWE friendly move the Shinsuke could bring with him. The issue I have is that inexplicably every knee strike Nakamura delivers is branded a “Kinshasa”, though not all knees are equal. By overcalling it the danger is removed from the actual move.
If you don’t think established stars finishers are instrumental in getting them over then I’d ask you to look at Hideo Itami and the GTS.
Also the only man who could call the Kinshasa properly was Corey Graves. Jus’ sayin’. It would be better for everyone if Corey just commentated on every show. Potentially Mauro Ranallo could have gotten the call over but we’ll never know now, will we JBL?
The International Elephant in the room…
Nakamura may still get over, he has the talent and a blossoming feud with AJ Styles on the horizon after all. But if he does the likelihood is that it will be in spite of the WWE Creative team which speaks to a bigger problem for the E, why can’t they elevate their international talent?
Just look at Andre “Cien” Almas (FKA La Sombra); one of CMLL’s biggest stars and a founding member of the now international faction Los Ingobernables. He has now been reduced to jobbing on WWE’s developmental show NXT.
Or how about Gran Metalik (Máscara Dorada)? Another big name in Mexico, Japan and a WWE Cruiserweight Classic standout. Now you’d be lucky to catch Gran Metalik on the Network’s 205 live. For a company who are apparently always on the lookout for their next Rey Mysterio WWE routinely stack the deck against their Mexican signings.
There have already been occasions where WWE have failed to sign big independent names who are likely cognizant of the company’s track record. Famously WWE failed to sign Kota Ibushi and Zack Sabre Jr. after the aforementioned CWC, both men originally pegged as favorites to win. Given the way big international stars are handled by WWE I’d imagine there’s little incentive to join outside of the pay they’d offer. If WWE prove to be an entity that devalues a stars brand they’ll have more problems signing top talent in the future.
With NJPW looking to expand into new markets, including the US, WWE is leaving itself wide open to disruption. The recent experiment with ITV’s World of Sport revival saw WWE panic and quickly spin up their own UK brand. They’re at least cognizant of the risk. This tournament (and future weekly show) showed us a brief glimpse of WWE getting it right, letting the Brits define their own identity as something unique and exciting.
WWE need to look at what they’re doing wrong with Nakamura and fix it. Having the buying power to bring in top international stars is only beneficial if they can make money off them.
By trying to fit these Icons into a traditional Superstar template not only hurts the wrestlers but leaves money on the table in terms of drawing power.