Last night’s Battleground pay-per-view had its moments–there was one excellent match (New Day vs. Usos) and the main event was the type of bombastic rasslin’ spectacle you’re either gonna love or hate (personally, I thought it was a lot of fun). The most egregious lack of logic came in WWE’s seeming insistence on booking Shinsuke Nakamura as just another guy.
In WWE, of course, everyone has to have a nickname; a brand. We don’t have mere mortals vying for championship glory–we have Big Dogs, Monsters Among Men, Modern Day Maharajas and Vipers. It’s no surprise then that WWE would want to slap a trademark on a property as high profile as Nakamura, but bizarrely, they decided to do away with the memorable, well known one he came with: The King of Strong Style. WWE marketed Nakamura under this name during most of his tenure in NXT, but since his call up to Smackdown Live, they’ve largely done away with the moniker in favor of the far more generic "The Artist."
On one hand, it’s clear to see why they would choose a nickname like that. Nakamura is a very unique personality with an air of mystery about him; but marketing him simply as "The Artist" only tells half the story. In NJPW and later NXT, his enigmatic actions spoke for themselves while the "King of Strong Style" moniker helped sell how truly vicious he is inside of the ring. Ironically, though, those two promotions needed to sell his viciousness the least, because between the ropes he was presented as a nearly untouchable force of nature. In NXT, Nakamura only lost three televised matches total, all for the brand’s top prize, the NXT Championship–factoring in just five more untelevised matches (mostly tag matches), Nakamura is good for a 91% winning percentage in NXT. His winning percentage is obviously way lower in NJPW (56%), since he was with the company for thirteen years, and only presented as a huge deal for a handful of them, but from the point he won the Intercontinental Championship on, he was one of the promotion’s biggest stars, having iconic matches with the likes of AJ Styles and Kota Ibushi.
When he was first called up to the main roster, it seemed he’d be retaining that feeling of being untouchable–his debut was treated as a huge deal, and his entrance alone has become an Undertaker-level spectacle almost instantly.
Then he feuded with Dolph Ziggler. And had a competitive match with him.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve long been a fan of Ziggler, but his stock has fallen so far from his peak in 2013 that he’s essentially enhancement talent at this point. He’s not at the bottom of the totem pole, of course–he can beat the likes of Kalisto and Apollo Crews with ease, but that’s not exactly saying a lot. So having a mega-star come in and have a competitive back and forth with a guy like that does Nakamura absolutely no favors. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened at Backlash. Nakamura should have clobbered Ziggler to immediately establish his spot in the pecking order above the likes of Ziggler and send him off to bigger and better things right away.
And this match came after Ziggler essentially positioned his opponent as some kind of strange Michael Jackson impersonator. WWE is notoriously reticent to let Asian stars have too much mic time, so in his introduction feud, telling most of the story as far as promos go fell on the shoulders of Ziggler. The story they chose to tell is as base at it is perplexing; basically, "Whoa, he’s so weird, isn’t he?! But it’s pretty cool, right?!" Sure, his entrance is seriously bad-ass, and every crowd from Philly to Corpus Christi singing along makes him look like a very big deal. But nearly everybody has cool entrances these days. They need to do more to sell his intensity in the ring to truly set him apart.
Nakamura was instead established as a guy on the level of Dolph Ziggler, which makes his subsequent feud with Baron Corbin essentially useless. Corbin made quick work of Ziggler even before he became Mr. Money in the Bank and felt the effects of all the momentum that goes along with it, so what gets accomplished if he beats a guy who could barely beat him? Last night’s Battleground match, that should have been a way to elevate the Lone Wolf to Nakamura’s status, instead drags Shin down to Baron’s. Nakamura was absorbing punishment from Corbin for most of the match until the match ended when he got kicked in the balls. How does this help anybody?
Shinsuke Nakamura is a once in a generation talent. After his near perfect handling in NXT, however, his short stint on the main roster so far is a definite cause for concern. It’s getting harder and harder to justify why a show featuring the likes of Shinsuke Nakamura, AJ Styles, John Cena and Kevin Owens is being headlined by Jinder Mahal and the Great Khali.
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