How to Fix Failing Shinsuke Nakamura on WWE SmackDown Live Before It's Too LateNovember 10, 2018
Shinsuke Nakamura has failed to live up to his potential for quite some time, but it isn't entirely his fault.
WWE hasn't positioned him to be a bigger star and has almost avoided giving him the proper tools to succeed.
It's a confusing situation, as he was in a major spot earlier this year when he won the Royal Rumble and challenged for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania, but he came up short and has limped on ever since.
Even now, as United States champion, he's been inconsequential since the summer.
If WWE has no faith in his star power, why is he holding a championship? If he's considered worthy of a title, why has he been ignored for so long instead of prioritized as a featured player?
Whatever reasons WWE has for booking him this way, he's been steadily declining, and if this continues, he won't be able to bounce back to his former glory.
This is how WWE must rehab Nakamura's career before he reaches the point of no return.
Step 1: Actually Use Him
Nakamura needs to show up on television often in order to be worth something.
This should be obvious, but somehow, despite any injuries preventing him from appearing, he's largely spent the past few months missing in action.
It's impossible to progress his character in any fashion if he's not on TV, as live events are basically considered non-canon.
When Superstars are away too often, fans forget they are even on the roster. For example, when is the last time you've had a discussion about Shelton Benjamin or Ariya Daivari? Do you even know who NXT's Dan Matha is?
"Out of sight, out of mind" is not OK, as the more forgettable someone becomes, the less likely fans will remain interested when WWE tries to tell a story about them later down the line.
Then, when WWE's writers see the lack of investment, they also stop valuing that Superstar and claim they aren't over with the fans.
Step 2: When He Shows Up, Make It Count
Simply being there on a regular basis is a good start, but it doesn't end with that, as Nakamura needs to do things that are worth watching.
WWE has to try harder than to just continue putting him in 30-second pre-recorded backstage videos of generic promos with no substance behind them. That has happened enough that by now, everyone knows to skip them, as they're just a waste of time.
When he was a babyface, Nakamura would often go out and put on a great performance against any random opponent and people would be excited to see the match out of pure enjoyment of the in-ring quality.
But as a heel, WWE doesn't let him be the showy performer, as that would get him cheered.
Instead, they prefer to book heels as cowardly losers who get beaten up until there is a disqualification or interference for a cheap win; it's either that or they fight in glorified squash matches against lesser opponents like Sin Cara who are fed to them as sacrificial lambs.
Just like the bland promos, those matches mean so little that fans tune them out like white noise.
Nakamura needs to be doing good things on television to generate buzz, not just making appearances for the sake of reminding us he still exists, and he needs to win matches that matter so he can build up his credibility as much as possible.
Step 3: Book Him in an Actual Feud!
How has Nakamura gone this long with a championship around his waist and not a single real feud since Jeff Hardy?
What's sad to admit is that he wasn't even the driving force of that one, either. Randy Orton was the main focal point, with Nakamura being a bit-player in the mix.
This wouldn't even be difficult to do, as the belt provides an easy excuse for anybody to want to fight him. It's a prop that creates stories of a quest for the title, rather than relying on setting him up for bitter, personal rivalries that require more effort on behalf of the writers.
All it takes is one episode of SmackDown to have a No. 1 contender's match with Nakamura ringside on commentary to establish a challenger and set the two up for a face-to-face confrontation after that guy wins.
Rusev is popular. Daniel Bryan is tied with AJ Styles as the biggest babyface on the brand. They could spice things up by having a heel vs. heel feud and pairing Nakamura with Andrade "Cien" Almas, who isn't busy doing anything else. Rey Mysterio is back and looks better than ever.
There are plenty of available options, and WWE just has to pick one of them and go with it, commit to giving the two some screen time, allow them to wrestle on pay-per-views and let them showcase their in-ring talents.
If the reason this doesn't happen is that WWE doesn't have faith in Nakamura's promo skills, move on to the next step.
Step 4: Give Him a Manager
English isn't Nakamura's first language, and even if he focused all of his attention on improving that aspect of his performance, he's not going to start cutting promos like The Rock.
His charisma is in his presence and wrestling skills, rather than being a wordsmith who could trade verbal jabs with The Miz.
But that is why managers are so useful, as they can pick up the slack and carry another wrestler's feud for them by doing all the mic work.
WWE understands this. Brock Lesnar has Paul Heyman, The Authors of Pain have Drake Maverick and Bobby Lashley has Lio Rush, who all prove it can be done.
If Nakamura isn't given any feuds because he can't do the verbal part of those stories, giving him a mouthpiece associate takes that burden away.
Knowing who would be best for this role is tough, though. We as fans have no idea who WWE has at its disposal to play around with, and capturing lightning in a bottle isn't easy. But you never know what pairings could work until you try it, so anything is better than nothing.
Step 5: Fake It Till You Make It
WWE isn't a transparent company that has no secrets from the fans, but it can be quite obvious when they've given up on someone and don't see any value in their future.
When the powers that be are fond of someone, they will make sure the WWE Universe is exposed to them as much as possible and will try to force certain opinions onto the fans about how great they are, like they've done with Roman Reigns for years.
But when they're treated like an afterthought like Nakamura has been, it's hard to project the message that fans should get behind that Superstar. We've all seen how quickly pushes can be derailed, and even the biggest monsters can turn into laughing stocks.
If WWE wants Nakamura to be valuable again, even if they don't see him in that light, they need to try to convince us that we should view him that way by pretending that he is until we start to believe it again.
Presenting him as a big deal will make him seem like a big deal until he becomes that once more, but if WWE isn't even willing to put in the effort and hopes the fans will just fill in the gaps themselves, Nakamura will continue down this path and become a jobber in a few months.
Survivor Series will be the final straw. If his only role is being someone for Seth Rollins to fight before Dean Ambrose screws him over, to further that feud, it will show that Nakamura means nothing to WWE and is as much of a prop as the title he's wearing.
After that, he might as well drop the belt and prepare for his new role as enhancement talent.
Anthony Mango is the owner of the wrestling website Smark Out Moment and the host of the podcast show Smack Talk on YouTube, iTunes and Stitcher. You can follow him on Facebook and elsewhere for more.