Shinsuke Nakamura was one of the faces of NJPW for years, revolutionising strong style and eventually coming to NXT where he was an integral part of that brand becoming as popular as it is today.
After a great run in NXT, including two title reigns, he was called up to the main roster and has had a somewhat… sporadic run.
From losing to Jinder Mahal, to then winning the Royal Rumble, but then losing to AJ Styles in a match that paled in comparison to their NJPW classic. He did get a run recently as Intercontinental champion for quite some time but rarely defended it. It just feels like they could’ve done so much more with the King of Strong Style.
And I know how they should’ve booked it.
I would keep the NXT period the same. Don’t fix what isn’t broken. He had great matches with the likes of Sami Zayn and Samoa Joe and overall a very successful run. It’s when he debuts on the main roster that things get fuzzy.
The first feud he entered into was with Dolph Ziggler who at the time was effectively the gatekeeper for NXT call ups. He then beat John Cena clean as a whistle, but lost to Jinder Mahal with a surprising lack of shenanigans.
So my first change would come right off the bat: no Ziggler feud. I get its a right of passage in a sense but you don’t need to do that with a big star who has already made a good name for himself elsewhere and even in your own “developmental” – sorry Ziggles!
I would also keep him away from Jinder Mahal, only because in all honesty, Mahal was never treated as a credible champion, and certainly wasn’t considered on par with the King of Strong Style, so if you’re not putting the belt on him, don’t have him challenge for it.
Instead I would have his debut feud against Finn Balor. Now I know the day Nakamura debuted, Balor was injured, however he returned shortly after so you could even hold off the debut.
This would be the best way to showcase the talent of Nakamura to casual fans not familiar with him while also providing fan service to those who do by revisiting an amazing feud from NXT.
The way to get the feud going is straightforward as well, with Nakamura being the hyped NXT call-up as Balor was not so long ago.
Now of course I would have Nakamura win but not before a barn burner of a match. If you give the talent time on the show and the freedom to have their own style of match, they have the skill and knowledge to make it a classic. Especially these two.
If you do this at Extreme Rules, this is when Balor comes back from injury. It does mean Balor isn’t in the main event fatal five-way but he didn’t win so he won’t be sorely missed, and that is now a more-traditional four-way.
And important moment I would have after the match is
Shinsuke showing his respect to Balor by shaking his hand and bowing.
Now obviously this does mean he is on Raw with the ‘Brand Split’ that was implemented but at the time, Smackdown Live was full of storylines and talent so there isn’t much space for a new emerging star.
This then leads into Money in the Bank. I wouldn’t change anything here apart from Nakamura being taken out the match for most of it. I understand you want Corbin to look strong if he’s going to win, but, as is the mistake WWE often make, you don’t need to do that at the expense of a rising star.
One thing I want to emphasise is the tease of Styles v Nakamura because that was great. Even if you don’t the NJPW history, it’s still two incredible stars facing off. And, as WWE often show, if you have commentary hammer home that this is a big deal, it will be regarded as such by most of the fans.
After this you have Great Balls of Fire (what a name) where Samoa Joe failed in his effort to claim the Universal Championship from Brock Lesnar. The next night on Raw I would have him come out and speak about the fact that even though he lost to Lesnar, he could beat anyone else. ANYONE.
Cue that violin.
Have Shinsuke come out and challenge Joe to match on Raw the following week. And as much as I’m not a fan of DQ cop outs, I feel like it makes sense with this feud for them because you don’t want Joe to just lose clean again so soon after Lesnar but you also need to protect Nakamura. Wins and losses do matter after all.
So I would have Joe get frustrated the he cannot put away the King of Strong Style and go after him with a weapon.
The following week, because Joe was not satisfied with losing via DQ, he comes and challenges him again stating he KNOWS he can beat him as he has done it before.
Again go for a long, hard-hitting match with Shinsuke coming out on top. Once again I would have him bow to Joe as Joe stomps up the ramp.
The next big PPV would be Survivor Series. Now what I would do here is have Nakamura in the Raw team in place of Joe. Joe doesn’t strike me as a team player and this show did the brand warfare storyline well in my opinion so he won’t be missed not being on the show.
The match was good and I would have Nakamura put on a good performance, even have him eliminate Bobby Roode. One thing I would change is don’t get rid of the younger talent so quickly to focus on the Triple H/Kurt Angle/Shane McMahon segment.
I get this was to serve a bigger storyline and you can still have it, but at least give them a good show. I would have Nakamura be eliminated by the man who takes his place on team Smackdown: JAMES ELLSWORTH!
I would actually put Kevin Owens in that spot. It gives him a nice rub
and also means the attack on Shane McMahon can come from inside the team, leading to that storyline with those two, Sami Zayn and the returning Daniel Bryan.
The next PPV Raw was featured in is the Royal Rumble, by which point AJ Styles was WWE Champion. The Rumble match itself, I wouldn’t change. Especially the end.
I loved the face off with the ‘WWE guys’ in Roman Reigns and John Cena, vs the ‘NJPW guys’ in Nakamura and Finn Balor. Also the bait-and-switch with Reigns was well done.
(Editor’s note: I can vouch – was there live in Philadelphia and the deliberate threat of having the established guys get rid of the prospects, in the same building Big Show and Kane killed the mood of the Rumble match with their elimination spree three years prior, had the live crowd on edge.)
Now I would have him over the next few weeks be approached backstage about challenging Brock Lesnar or AJ Styles. I wouldn’t put the announcement immediately after his win, and I wouldn’t have him talk too much.
At the end of the day his English isn’t perfect so you don’t want to shine too much light on that. I would just have him refuse to comment.
Two weeks before Elimination Chamber I would have him turn up on Smackdown, after AJ defends his title against someone, have Nakamura come out and do the classic point while staring down Styles and smiling.
During the build up I would have Styles cut promos about respecting Nakamura and talk about their history in Japan. This will hopefully prompt the audience to check out that match they had (which if you haven’t, you definitely should) but this is ‘the house that AJ Styles built’ and he’s not ready to hand the keys over.
This would go on until Wrestlemania. Now, this match was widely considered a let down. It was a good match by all means but it’s hard to argue the feeling there was something missing.
I personally think the two fatal aspects were the time given to it and the placement on the card. I would put it before the Daniel Bryan return and the Undertaker/Cena match. By the time the Styles/Nakamura match came along, the crowd was tired out.
Also, the other big change is to give it a bit more time. These two are among the biggest stars in the industry and you can justify much more than 20 minutes and change. I would have it go at least 30 to 35 minutes.
Also, I would have a role reversal with the finish. Nakamura wins and
does his now signature bow which can lead to a cool spot where AJ hits the Styles Clash.
The main reasons for this are: 1) The whole foreign heel gimmick is played out 2) AJ Styles is such a good heel and 3. You shouldn’t have all this build up for Nakamura to just lose again and again.
Going forward from there you can have a couple more matches with AJ operating as a heel and Nakamura being the respectful winner. After this he can have a long successful run and always being respectful. This can then lead in to the shocking heel turn from Daniel Bryan.
After that I’d have everything stay pretty much the same. In terms of the Intercontinental title, it’s really a simple fix. Just feature him in PPVs and make it feel like a big deal. I personally love a tournament to determine a number one contender. Things like that make a title feel like a big
So there you have it. This is how I think Shinsuke Nakamura should have been booked from his main roster debut. If there’s any changes you would make let me know and if there’s any other missed booking opportunities you’d like me to rebook, hit me up via social media.