Friday’s SmackDown showed that Shinsuke Nakamura belongs in a babyface role in WWE and that there is still hope that he can have a career resurgence in 2021.
For the first time in several years, Shinsuke Nakamura felt like a genuine star during his remarkable run in the Gauntlet match main event on Friday’s SmackDown. He eliminated three top-tier Superstars, including Daniel Bryan, before being screwed out of an opportunity at the Universal Championship at Royal Rumble, thanks to Roman Reigns and company.
In addition to his outstanding performance, he shook Bryan’s hand afterward and exuded major babyface energy. It’s also been announced that Nakamura will battle Jey Uso one-on-one next week on SmackDown, meaning that The King of Strong Style’s bad blood with the Samoan dynasty is not yet over.
The timing is interesting considering he is fresh off a three-minute loss to Otis on SmackDown. That seemed to indicate WWE had zero plans for him and didn’t see him as anyone special, especially since he’s been relegated to midcard mediocrity for the last two years.
Even when Nakamura reigned as United States champion and Intercontinental champion in 2018-2019, his title runs didn’t produce many memorable matches of moments. They lasted long for the sake of lasting long before ending on random episodes of SmackDown.
Nakamura’s fall from grace in WWE in recent years has been well-documented. In a nutshell, he came into the company with a ton of fanfare, had a stellar stint in NXT, and was wildly over in his first year on the main roster.
It all went downhill following his failed feud with AJ Styles over the WWE Championship, where he was unsuccessful in taking the title on multiple occasions. He subsequently turned heel and hasn’t been the same since, though a babyface turn could be exactly what gets him back to where he belongs: in the main event picture.
It can be heavily debated whether Nakamura has been vastly underutilized so far and should be a bigger star than he is currently, or if he’s right where he should be after serving as a mainstay in the midcard scene while in New Japan Pro-Wrestling. Either way, there can be no doubt that he started off hot in 2016-2017 and saw his popularity gradually decline because of bad booking.
Fans may be quick to write him off as a lost cause and to focus on fresher faces instead, but even at the age of 40, Nakamura still has plenty to offer. He proved in his mini-match with Daniel Bryan last Friday night that he can hang with the best of them and can be an exciting performer to watch.
His only setback is his lack of mic skills, though that isn’t anything a proper mouthpiece such as Sami Zayn or Cesaro can’t fix. But if the plan is for him to revert to his roots as a babyface, and it should be, then his actions and unparalleled charisma can do the talking for him.
Between what went down at the end of SmackDown and Nakamura’s upcoming encounter with Uso, WWE should hopefully have plans for the first-ever two-time NXT champion going forward, at least for the foreseeable future.
Adam Pearce could easily relinquish his “earned” title shot and give it to Nakamura at the Royal Rumble. After all, that was the same show where Nakamura eliminated Reigns to win the Rumble three years ago, and the two have seldom crossed paths since then.
Nakamura wouldn’t beat Reigns for the Universal title, of course, but it could be the next step in his turning him back into a fan favorite. Who he’d feud with from there is unknown, but Seth Rollins would be an excellent choice given he’s also a man without a WrestleMania opponent as of now.
Most importantly, Nakamura’s face turn won’t be complete until he gets his old epic entrance music back (a.k.a. his current theme without the lyrics). Granted, there won’t be any fans in attendance to sing along to the song, but that was part of his appeal in the first place and helped launch him into the stratosphere of super stardom.
It’s also worth noting that the blue brand is light on top babyfaces at the moment. Reigns has already run through Kevin Owens, and assuming Bryan is being saved for The Show of Shows, The Tribal Chief needs more notable names to run through until then. That’s where Nakamura comes in.
Regardless of whether Nakamura ever holds world title gold in WWE, he’s a natural babyface and that’s role he should be in. This is the most amount of buzz he’s had since his storyline with AJ Styles and the promotion has a chance to at least attempt to right the wrong they made by turning him heel.
If handled correctly, WWE’s resident rock star can ascend to the top of the card once again.