Welcome to another edition of A Matter of Character. Now some of you may know this if you’ve been following me on social media, but for those of you that don’t, I’m very excited about something in wrestling right now. No, it isn’t the return of Bobby Lashley (though that’s pretty cool). No, it isn’t that Roman Reigns’ coronation was delayed yet again (though I did find that funny). No, it isn’t even that Smackdown has a loaded roster that I am excited to see week in and week out. I’m most excited right now about Shinsuke Nakamura and his heel turn.
Since he punched AJ Styles in the balls at Wrestlemania, Shinsuke has been a revelation. His every appearance on television, his mannerisms, facial expression, and his aggression have all reached new heights. I’m absolutely loving it.
Last February, I did an AMOC on Shinsuke, right as he was called up to the main roster. While the WWE didn’t quite follow my blueprint (which was pretty good I think) they did have him win the Royal Rumble and challenge for the WWE Title at Wrestlemania. Unfortunately, those were the highlights of his year on the main roster that consisted of matches with Baron Corbin, Dolph Ziggler, and Jinder Mahal.
Nakamura’s run over the course of his first year on Smackdown left much to be desired, so I am going to revisit his character here, deduce why this first year wasn’t up to standard and explain my excitement and optimism for what is to come with Shinsuke! Enough wasting time, Let’s Do This!
Shinsuke Nakamura made a name for himself in the wrestling world outside of WWE. He debuted in New Japan Pro Wrestling and in his 13 years with them became one of their biggest and most decorated stars.
Nakamura was a 3 time IWGP Heavyweight Champion, a 5 time IWGP Intercontinental Champion, Winner of the 2011 G1 Climax, and has put on some of the greatest matches with some of the wrestling world’s best talent of the last decade, including a 2006 bout with Brock Lesnar, a 2008 bout with Kurt Angle, battles with Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kota Ibushi, Kazuchika Okada, Kenny Omega and of course his bout with AJ Styles at Wrestle Kingdom 10 in 2016.
The birth of the Shinsuke Nakamura that we are all familiar with today, started when he turned heel in 2009 adopting the moniker King of Strong Style and forming the faction CHAOS. The metamorphosis wasn’t immediate. First, his in-ring style was solidified, then came the gear, the jackets, the hair, and mannerisms. The entire evolution started in 2009 and Shinsuke had become the un-rivaled Swag King by 2012.
After his match with AJ Styles in January of 2016, he announced he had signed with the WWE and debuted at NXT TakeOver in Dallas against Sami Zayn in April. He spent the year in NXT, then the next year on the main roster before winning the Royal Rumble to set up a rematch with AJ Styles, this time at Wrestlemania. I’ve become a big fan of Nakamura’s over the years, which is why it was so hard for me to admit that something wasn’t working.
What Wasn’t Working?
Nakamura debuted with a bang. His first match in WWE was a classic with Sami Zayn at NXT TakeOver Dallas. There was no real build to the match, but the two told a brilliant story and gave us a hard-hitting, incredible match. It was both a blessing and a curse. While it’s a dream debut bout, it’s hard to top that or to match that consistently. He never had a match as good as that one again in NXT. I liked the matches with Joe and Roode, don’t get me wrong… they just weren’t the Zayn match. I felt the same about the matches he was having on the main roster once he was called up as well.
It wasn’t just the matches. While Nakamura was still the unquestionable Swag King of wrestling, there was something missing. I now understand that it was the attitude that was out of sync. The whole Shinsuke Nakamura aesthetic, the look, the mannerisms, the dancing, the violence, it all works in concert to present this chaotic character that means to obfuscate and subvert all expectations. He’s weird, flamboyant and even silly at times, but it’s all working to catch his opponents off guard so he can knee them in the face.
The way it was presented in the WWE was as though he was a rock star. A respectful man with an affinity for showmanship and artistry. The entire thing was muted. It lacked bite or edge. He was presenting the character many recognized, but without intention or story. It was just an aesthetic for 2 years in the WWE, a really fun and cool aesthetic, but nothing more. Which is why I am so very happy about the heel turn at Wrestlemania!
What’s Working Now
You can already see that Shinsuke has been unleashed. It’s only been a couple weeks since the turn but there is a purpose behind him now. The way he’s acting, the facial expressions, the mannerisms, they are subversive once more. There to divert and distract from his penchant for violence.
He’s being disingenuous when interviewed by Renee Young. He’s shrouding his motivation in mystery and refuses to explain himself when pressed, only responding “No Speak English”. That saying could be problematic out of the mouth of a different character in a different situation, but it’s literally perfect for this evolution of the Shinsuke Nakamura character. He isn’t being mocked for poor English, but instead, he is using the fact that it isn’t his first language to avoid accountability, explanation and to further shroud himself in mystery. His entire character right now exists to bewilder and confuse.
I don’t know how much of it is as thematically intentional as it’s coming across, but I’ll give the WWE the benefit of the doubt here. This turn is thematically perfect. He became the megastar he was in Japan after a heel turn and the introduction of CHAOS in the form of a stable with that name. With his character stagnant and still trying to find his footing in the landscape of WWE, he has again turned heel and introduced chaos, in the form of unprovoked attacks during main events matches. His need to hit AJ in the junk is both hilarious and befuddling. The fact that he came out one week, low blowed AJ, hit him with a Kinshasa, then picked him up to low blow him one more time is so perfectly Nakamura. You mustn’t ever feel like you understand where he’s coming from or why he’s doing what he’s doing. For the first time in the WWE, the character feels alive.
The question often is, how will the WWE handle these bursts of brilliance in the long run? I absolutely love the new attitude of Nakamura. I love that he’s ruining Smackdown’s main events. I love that he seems to have a renewed energy about him because he has a purpose. I want to keep that chaotic energy with him for as long as possible. The key to doing so is to always go against conventional wisdom with him.
I want him to be Smackdown’s Joker in a sense. Impossible to read or predict, because even he isn’t sure what he’s going to do next. He just does what he feels like doing. I want to repurpose Stone Cold’s famous phrase “DTA, Don’t Trust Anybody” and make it DTS. Don’t Trust Shinsuke. I want him to be the least trustworthy person on the entire WWE roster. I want him to team with The Miz to face Daniel Bryan and AJ Styles, have the two of them beat down the babyfaces, only for Nakamura to low blow Miz and hit him with a Kinshasa for good measure. I want him to join beatdowns for wrestlers he’s not even feuding with for no reason other than he likes the violence. I want him to make everyone around him uneasy. I want every person on the roster to distrust him. I want every other character to be confused because they don’t know what his motivations are. They don’t know why he does what he does.
Heel Nakamura should be a delight that keeps on delivering for a long time. Keep making him punch guys in the balls, keep making him appear to ruin things and keep on having him avoid explaining himself. He’s finally being the mystifying character I wanted him to be, albeit in a way I hadn’t expected. Let him keep being that guy. Do not do conventional things with him, and if you must, allow him to do those things in an unconventional way. I can’t wait to see him wrestle all that talent on Smackdown. It should be such a fun year!
There you have it y’all, but as always I want to hear what you think! How are you guys feeling about the Shinsuke Nakamura turn right now? Do you feel like his mannerisms are more purposeful now? Are you down with the thematic symmetry of this heel turn making him into Shinsuke Nakamura: Agent of Chaos? How would you book him to maintain this chaotic energy around him? What do you think of DTS (Don’t Trust Shinsuke)?
Until next time folks, I’m Matthew J. Douglas saying have a great week and gear up for the Infinity War on Friday!