1. The King of SmackDown
It's getting clearer that WWE recognizes just how much of a rock star Shinsuke Nakamura is.
Early on, the company didn't seem to know what to make of the Japanese spark plug. There was too much focus on his entrance and eccentricity, and not enough on him kicking heads in. WWE asked him to cut lengthy promos despite his limited English.
But things have changed for the better as WWE has improved its presentation of the former NXT champ. And not only is Nakamura getting more of a chance to be a badass between the ropes, he is standing in the spotlight and winning big.
After pushing past the midcard where he tangled with guys such as Dolph Ziggler and Baron Corbin, Nakamura is now banging heads with the top stars of WWE SmackDown. And he's on the verge of becoming the next world titleholder.
On Tuesday's show, Nakamura outlasted Randy Orton in the main event. The win netted The King of Strong Style a WWE Championship match against Jinder Mahal at the Hell in a Cell pay-per-view on Oct. 8.
That follows a win against John Cena on Aug. 1. As Miami Herald columnist Scott Fishman pointed out, knocking off those two future Hall of Famers in such a short span is mighty impressive:
Scott Fishman @smFISHMAN
How many people can say they defeated John Cena and Randy Orton in the ring straight up in a matter of weeks? Nakamura can. #WWE #SDLive2017-9-6 01:58:50
Those wins and a second title shot in as many PPVs is an obvious sign of WWE's confidence in Nakamura.
It's only been five months since his debut on the main roster and he's already beaten four former world champs—Orton, Cena, Ziggler and Kevin Owens. He was in a high-profile bout at SummerSlam, and he's set to be in the same spot at Hell in a Cell.
And he could be WWE champion in his "rookie" year with a win at that event.
WWE Universe @WWEUniverse
The ARTIST known as @ShinsukeN will see @JinderMahal at @WWE #HIAC after defeating @RandyOrton TONIGHT on #SDLive! https://t.co/miL5gqdu6G2017-9-6 02:00:25
Nakamura is on a similar arc to what AJ Styles experienced last year. The Phenomenal One took over as SmackDown's top star before a full 12 months passed after his debut. Now it's The King of Strong Style's turn.
From his vibrant personality to his hammering strikes, Nakamura constantly reminds us how special he is.
He's a potential transcendent star. He's a world-class performer with an overstock of charisma. WWE has come to the same conclusion and is treating him like the centerpiece he is.
2. The Underutilized Underdog from the Underground
WWE refuses to treat Sami Zayn as a threat, as a contender or as anything other than a doormat.
Whether he's been a part of Raw or SmackDown, the company hasn't made use of his storytelling skills and natural babyface appeal. He should be in the mix for a championship, not dropping consecutive bouts to Aiden English.
Comparing the winning percentage of former NXT champions in 2017, per CageMatch.net, reveals how low on the totem pole Zayn sits:
- Neville (.719)
- Shinsuke Nakamura (.706)
- Finn Balor (.650)
- Big E (.600)
- Seth Rollins (.538)
- Samoa Joe (.524)
- Kevin Owens (.452)
- Sami Zayn (.394)
- Bo Dallas (.235)
Joe headlined a PPV against Brock Lesnar this year. Owens was U.S. champ, Neville is the cruiserweight champion and Nakamura is in the WWE title hunt. Big E and Rollins have both been tag team champs this year.
Zayn, meanwhile, has yet to win gold on the main roster and can thank the bottom-feeding Bo Dallas for not being at the bottom of this list.
This can't be how WWE continues to make use of Zayn. He has to be treated a lot more like Neville and a lot less like Dallas.
3. Throwback Video of the Week: Big Show
Big Show may have exited WWE as he entered it—through a steel cage.
In what some have speculated is his last match, he lost to Braun Strowman on Monday's Raw. The Monster Among Men hurled the giant through the wall of the steel cage to put an exclamation mark on his victory.
The roles were reversed in Big Show's WWE debut. At St. Valentine's Day Massacre in 1999, the newly arrived behemoth sent Steve Austin flying through the cage wall.
If Big Show is set to retire, it would be powerfully poetic that he played homage to his debut during his farewell.
4. Please Sign Mia
Mia Yim dug her claws into the Mae Young Classic.
The high-energy, hard-striking wrestler was one of the most magnetic stars of the tournament, and she made the most of her opportunity in front of her. Yim hit it out of the park in her two matches, thriving against both Sarah Logan and Shayna Baszler.
It would be unwise for @QoSBaszler to sleep on @MiaYim in the second round of the #MaeYoungClassic... https://t.co/sXDYnGU98x2017-9-3 12:00:29
Yim is experienced but young at age 28. She's a well-rounded performer in the ring and has an endearing personality outside of it.
Following her standout showing at the Mae Young Classic, WWE has every reason to sign her to a full-time deal.
5. Shaq and Cena
Shaquille O'Neal may not have made it to WrestleMania 33 as planned, but at least we got to see him mix it up with John Cena.
The pro basketball Hall of Famer and the 16-time world champion met in a new edition of Carpool Karaoke. Each man had an unending supply of puns at the ready.
This is the kind of place we're going to see Cena pop up more and more as his in-ring career winds down.
6. The Ring of Honor
Cody Rhodes unveiled a non-traditional means to convey the fact he is the Ring of Honor world champion. Over the weekend, the titleholder noted it was time for a change, tossed his world title to the side and slipped on a championship ring.
Innovation and creativity are key to keeping wrestling alive, but this departure from tradition isn't necessary.
A ring is not nearly as visually dramatic as a championship belt. It's smaller. It's harder to see all its adornments. And one can't hoist it above one's head in dramatic fashion after a win.
Rhodes may well have a hell of a title run, but he's not going to start a new tradition with his ring.
7. Another Reign Coming to a Close?
Alexa Bliss will have to fend off three foes—Sasha Banks, Nia Jax and Emma—to remain Raw women's champion. Those Superstars will all collide in a Fatal 4-Way at No Mercy on Sept. 24.
The odds aren't in Bliss' favor to retain. For one, she will be outnumbered. And secondly, WWE has had no issue moving the title around from wearer to wearer.
.@AlexaBliss_WWE vs. @SashaBanksWWE vs. @NiaJaxWWE vs. @EmmaWWE in a #Fatal4Way Match at #WWENoMercy! @WWENetwork https://t.co/YvFS1B9T8h https://t.co/dj9ZhCzfOT2017-9-5 18:00:43
Per WWE.com, the Raw women's title has changed hands five times so far in 2017. Last year saw seven title changes.
If Banks wins, it will be her fifth reign in two years. If Jax or Emma win, they will be the fifth woman to win the title in its short existence. And it will be Emma's first championship since she claimed (as Tenille Tayla) the Extreme Canadian Championship Wrestling women's title in early 2010.
8. Early-Round Must-Watch Matches from the Mae Young Classic
The Mae Young Classic has been quite the showcase for women's wrestling.
The tournament has allowed virtual unknowns to create buzz aplenty. It has featured bruisers and mat technicians, strikers and powerhouses from around the world. And a number of the matches have been outstanding.
Before the finals arrive, be sure to bookmark these bouts:
- Dakota Kai vs. Rhea Ripley
- Kairi Sane vs. Tessa Blanchard
- Kairi Sane vs. Bianca Belair
- Mia Yim vs. Sarah Logan
- Piper Niven vs. Santana Garrett
It's contests like these that make it clear WWE must revisit this event. It would be great to not only see more of women like the beastly Jazzy Gabert in action, but there are also a lot of fresh faces still out there ready to step up at the next Mae Young Classic.
9. Not Sold on Amore
In a misguided attempt to invigorate the stagnant cruiserweight division, Enzo Amore has shot to the top in a hurry.
The garish loudmouth pushed past his fellow cruiserweights to become the No. 1 contender to Neville's title by sneaking up on Cedric Alexander and pinning him on Tuesday's 205 Live. A championship match now awaits.
Amore has not been entertaining in his new home to this point. He has rambled during interviews, and he's been unimpressive in the ring. Regardless, he is going to be front and center in the division.
Jason Powell of ProWrestling.net made it clear he's not interested: "Check out 205 Live to listen to Enzo cut needlessly long promos and then cheat to win his matches. Pass."
It's understandable that WWE would a spark for the cruiserweights. The wrestlers' work has largely gone unnoticed and crowds seem disinterested in their in-ring exploits.
Amore isn't the solution; improved storytelling is.
The Realest Guy in the Room, though, is about to face Neville. Against a top-level foe like that, Amore will get his chance to quiet his critics.
10. Strowman on Show
After Strowman sent Big Show crashing through a steel cage on Monday, he made sure to salute the giant.
The Monster Among Men has collided with Big Show several times during his rise. And the two have had some of Raw's better matches all year.
Strowman posted a note of appreciation on Instagram:
One of the key lines here is: "You brought 100 percent of the monster out in me!" His showdowns with Big Show have been as instrumental to Strowman's success as his rivalry with Roman Reigns.
When Strowman has stockpiled championships and earned icon status, we will look back and see just how important The World's Largest Athlete was in that process.