Shinsuke Nakamura was on the fast track to irrelevancy before joining forces with Sami Zayn on the August 20 edition of SmackDown Live. In the last three weeks alone, though, the duo have become one of the more talked-about acts in WWE and so far have been much better off than they were before.
It had been painfully apparent since he made his main roster debut in April 2017 that Nakamura needed a mouthpiece. Although his eccentric mannerisms mostly do the talking for him, his promos had always been his biggest weakness.
Thankfully, Zayn is a terrific talker and thus the two complement each other very well. If handled properly, they can work their way up the ladder on SmackDown and solidify themselves as the top talents they are destined to be.
Nakamura put the entire WWE locker room on notice following his hot arrival on SmackDown two nights removed from WrestleMania 33. Unfortunately, it quickly became clear in his program with Dolph Ziggler that his lack of mic skills would hold him back from greatness.
Although his unmatched charisma and above-average in-ring abilities made him an immediate fan favorite, his subpar promos prevented him from reaching that next level in WWE.
Despite winning the men's Royal Rumble match and reigning as United States champion on two separate occasions, he was never able to take the WWE Championship from Jinder Mahal or AJ Styles in 2017 and 2018, respectively.
His heel turn at WrestleMania 34 helped him get back on track for a bit, though it wasn't long before he was floundering again due to his inability to cut a compelling and coherent promo. His Intercontinental Championship reign meant nothing until Zayn agreed to serve as his hype man of sorts in August.
The Critic of the Critics was struggling to find success on his own prior to partnering up with Nakamura. He's been back in action since right after WrestleMania 35, yet he has won only two televised matches in that time (with one being a tag team victory alongside Kevin Owens at Stomping Grounds).
As exceptionally skilled as Zayn is in the ring, it is smarter for WWE to utilize him in a managerial role and not waste him the way it has been lately. He's more than just a glorified stepping stone, and he's finally getting a chance to prove that in this alliance with Nakamura.
It's no coincidence that both men settled into their first feud in many months as soon as they joined forces. They have been at odds with The Miz heading into Clash of Champions on Sunday, and at the event, Zayn aims to ensure Nakamura walks out with his intercontinental title reign intact.
The rivalry has hardly reinvigorated the midcard scene on SmackDown, but it's a solid start for Zayn and Nakamura. From there, they can continue working with other Superstars such as Ali, Apollo Crews and Buddy Murphy.
One thing WWE must refrain from doing is having Zayn obnoxiously yelling on the mic during Nakamura's matches. They tried the tactic on the September 3 episode and it backfired horribly, so here's hoping they learned from their mistakes with Lio Rush and don't ruin this duo with something so unnecessary.
That aside, they have been doing a great job of generating genuine heat up to this point with Zayn trash-talking Nakamura's opponents and The King of Strong Style backing up every word he says.
Not only will Nakamura emerge from this partnership a bigger star, Zayn could greatly benefit as well. Having The Artist eventually turn on his mouthpiece would seem to make the most sense, especially since Zayn failed to beat Nakamura in their first and only one-on-one encounter back at NXT TakeOver: Dallas.
That could catapult Nakamura back into the main event picture where he belongs and plant the seeds for a face turn for Zayn. A feud between those two could breath new life into both of their careers as well as the intercontinental title.
For now, though, Nakamura and Zayn must make the most of the time they have together and redefine the formula for what wrestler-manager combos can achieve in WWE.
Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, is an Endicott College alumnus and aspiring journalist. Visit his website, Next Era Wrestling, and "like" his official Facebook page to continue the conversation on all things wrestling.