How WWE Damaged Shinsuke Nakamura in His SmackDown Debut


Backlash was supposed to be Shinsuke Nakamura’s epic in-ring debut. Instead, it was a grandiose disappointment.

WWE have been hyping the in-ring debut of Shinsuke Nakamura for weeks. He didn’t actually wrestled on SmackDown Live for quite some time, and spent most of his time cutting promos and being Shinsuke Nakamura.

The idea here was that Nakamura would be built up as a ‘special attraction’ of sorts that only wrestled on rare occasions. JBL even mentioned this on ‘Bring It To The Table’, saying that Nakamura would lose his ‘it factor’ if he wrestled on a fully regular basis like anyone else.

Given all of this, one would’ve expected Nakamura’s match to be somewhere towards the end of Backlash. After all, Nakamura was the one that appeared on most of the promo posters and in virtually all of the videos promoting Backlash. Instead, he was in the opening match, the very first match on the official Backlash card.

Now, this isn’t the worst thing to happen on a PPV. After all, an earlier match can, on occasion, eclipse the matches that follow it. NXT TakeOver: Chicago is a prime example, as the UK Championship match blew away everything else on the card and made even bigger stars out of its participants.

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However, Nakamura’s image was damaged in a major way by his booking at Backlash 2017.

The match itself wasn’t anywhere near the level of Nakamura’s first WWE match, the one he had against Sami Zayn at NXT TakeOver: Dallas last year. In that match, Nakamura was booked against an excellent workhorse that understood a variety of wrestling styles that excelled at selling brutal offense.

Dolph Ziggler did not fit that role in this match at Backlash. Instead, Dolph was in control for the majority of the match and took the magic away from Nakamura. The match was slow at the beginning, and is lacked many of Nakamura’s signature actions.

He didn’t rest his head in his opponent’s chest to mock them. Nor did he hit his trademark ‘Good Vibrations’ wacky corner stomp that everyone loves to see. Instead, Dolph remained in complete control for the majority of the match, which prevented Nakamura from getting any major offense in.

Though Nakamura did win, it wasn’t the enormous spectacle that the audience was expecting. When Nakamura debuted on SmackDown, the reaction he got was monumental. In the subsequent weeks, he was still cheered despite doing relatively little in terms of speaking or even random actions.

As a result, WWE’s main roster writers proved that they have no idea how to book Nakamura as well as he was booked in NXT. While he was there, Nakamura spoke on a few occasions, but used few words and more random actions. In doing so, not only did Nakamura get his point across with a ‘less-is-more’ approach, but he also sold his uniqueness to the crowd.

On SmackDown, his promos lacked character, the truly unique elements that made Nakamura who he was. He was made too much into a regular WWE guy, and wasn’t given enough opportunities to be the same wacky character he was before coming to the main roster.

While the Nakamura-Ziggler match at Backlash was good, it wasn’t the epic match WWE promoted it to be. This was because Nakamura, the man promoted as a special attraction and MAJOR star from NJPW & NXT, almost lost his first main roster match to Dolph Ziggler. He didn’t look strong after this match ended; if anything, Dolph actually looked better than Nakamura afterwards. That isn’t what a match like this should be conveying. This should’ve been the main roster equivalent of Nakamura-Sami Zayn.

One can only hope the SmackDown writers and bookers push Nakamura properly going forward. If they want him to be a ‘special attraction’, he needs to be built as a huge threat like Brock Lesnar. That cannot be achieved when his matches are actually too competitive.

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Nakamura has the potential to be the new face of SmackDown Live. He has all the tools and attributes needed to have an entire show built around him. The only thing that stands in his way is proper booking from WWE’s powers-that-be. If they manage to realize what worked for Nakamura in NXT and apply that on SmackDown live, the blue brand could match RAW once again in terms of ratings, quality, and interest.