It's not hyperbole to say that Shinsuke Nakamura is one of the best talents to have come out of Japan in the last twenty years. Starting his career in New Japan Pro Wrestling in 2002 at the age of 22, Nakamura would go on to become a three-time IWGP Heavyweight Champion, a five-time IWGP Intercontinental Champion, and a one-time IWGP Tag Team Champion.
Since signing with the WWE and debuting on NXT in April 2016, Nakamura has brought his captivating style and amazing technique to a whole new generation of pro wrestling fans. It all started with a breakthrough performance against Sami Zayn at NXT Takeover: Dallas on April 1, 2016.
In the very first match of his WWE career, Nakamura stole the show and immediately set himself up as one of the best performers currently in NXT, and arguably one of the best performers that has ever come through WWE's developmental territory. After more must-watch matches against the likes of Austin Aries and Finn Balor, Nakamura embarked on a prolonged feud with Samoa Joe.
Now a two-time NXT Champion, Nakamura seems destined for greatness once he finally breaks through onto the main roster. But which brand should that be? Who should he feud with first? What athlete best matches up with Nakamura's style and personality? And who should he avoid at all costs if he wants to successfully make the transition from NXT standout to WWE superstar?
Here are 8 wrestlers Shinsuke Nakamura needs to face, and 7 he should do his best to avoid.
15 Needs To Face: Kevin Owens
After his hotly-debated defeat to the part-timer Goldberg, fan respect and admiration for Kevin Owens has never been higher. A lot of people are irate that Owens lost his championship to a man who seems to not be able to go more than five minutes, and being brutally honest, was never all that good to begin with. On his best day, Goldberg had to be carried like a small child in order to give the fans a good match, while Owens has displayed the talent, charisma, and adaptability that one needs in order to secure and maintain a position at the top of the card.
Nakamura vs. Owens would wash away the bad taste left in many fans' mouths after Goldberg beat Owens for the WWE Universal Championship. Both men are at the top of their game, and Owens has more than enough charisma to cover for Nakamura's admittedly lacking promo skills. And once they wrestle each other, they'll remove any and all doubt in regards to if they have the talent necessary to deserve a spot at the top of the food chain.
14 Stay Away From: The Miz
The Miz earns the honor (if you could call it that) of being the only person on this list that is actually too good for Shinsuke Nakamura. Allow me to explain. While it is true that Nakamura is one of the best wrestlers in the world, The Miz has been so consistent for such a long time that at this point you have to give him props as one of the WWE's hardest workers.
I'm sure that they could have several amazing matches with each other. Unfortunately for Nakamura, Miz's mic work would only serve to expose Nakamura's lack of promo skills.
On any given day The Miz can (and will) run circles around anyone that the WWE puts him up against, in terms of raw promo skill. Not only that, he's only gotten better with time. His recent mic work has not just resulted in some of the best promos of his life, but some of the best promos of the last several years of any WWE performer. Taking it a step further, his meltdown on "Talking Smack" is arguably one of the best wrestling promos of all-time.
Nakamura does a decent job of holding his own on the mic, but against The Miz, he would be cannon fodder. Even if the matches were good (and they would be) I don't like how much credibility Nakamura would lose after several long weeks of The Miz verbally eviscerating him.
13 Needs To Face: Brock Lesnar
Some slight spoilers for you: you'll notice a pattern on the flipside of this list. Most of the men I urge Shinsuke Nakamura to avoid are very similar to Lesnar: hulking behemoths that normally can only get over by squashing whoever they're put up against, killing their opponent's momentum and destroying their credibility. Lesnar is the rare exception to this rule. While it would be inevitable that Nakamura would be put into the underdog role in any sort of Nakamura vs. Lesnar feud, Lesnar has the tremendous ability to churn out quality match after quality match no matter who he's up against, while at the same time elevating his opponent's star status.
If popular rumor is to be believed, Lesnar will leave WrestleMania with the WWE Universal Championship around his waist, avenging his loss to Goldberg and adding another championship to his impressive title history. He'll need new, interesting challenges to face. And they don't get much more interesting than Shinsuke Nakamura.
12 Stay Away From: Baron Corbin
Speaking of treading water: Baron Corbin vs. Shinsuke Nakamura. I don't have any strong dislike of Baron Corbin, unlike some of the other men that find themselves here on this list. I think he has a lot of potential, and is shaping up to be a major star. But I don't see where a feud between Shinsuke Nakamura and Baron Corbin is supposed to go. The best feuds elevate both men to a higher position within the company, the worst send both men back several steps. This one... this one will likely just fill a few months and then leave both men no better or worse for wear.
The feud would be decent, that's for sure. But that's the problem: I don't want decent. Both men deserve better. Both Corbin and Nakamura deserve to feud with somebody that will bring out their full potential. As it stands, a Corbin/Nakamura feud would likely be forgotten about the second after it was over, with both men more or less in the same position as they were in when the feud started. We'd have had a few good matches during that time, sure, but Nakamura could have plenty of good matches with a whole host of other stars, while staying in a feud that was important and meaningful.
11 Needs To Face: John Cena
Let me stop you before you grab your pitchforks and start screaming "blasphemy" loudly into the night sky: the days of John Cena taking good talent and burying them just to further enhance his "Super Cena" persona appear to finally (and quite thankfully) be over. I won't begrudge you your hesitation towards the idea of a Cena vs. Nakamura feud, I am just fully committed to the belief that Cena will prove you wrong.
As he has demonstrated recently with A.J. Styles, Cena is capable of making his opponent look strong while also still keeping his core character attributes intact. He can "rise above" without making his opponent look foolish, and he can churn out Match of the Year contenders while doing so. Cena vs. Nakamura may seem strange and awkward and out of left field at first, but give it time. Let it grow on you. Soon enough you'll realize that this feud could give us some of the most entertaining moments SmackDown has seen in years.
10 Stay Away From: Sheamus
While the Cesaro/Sheamus tag team has been fun for the most part, eventually the WWE will want to book Sheamus as a top card attraction again, given all the work they've spent building him into one. But when placed in that main event role, Sheamus has a bad habit: most of his feuds never really go anywhere, and most of the time they don't really mean anything. I'm not saying it would be a terrible feud, per se. In fact, I think Sheamus is underrated as a worker.
But Sheamus/Nakamura just doesn't feel nearly as impactful as Nakamura/Zayn or Nakamura/Joe or a whole host of other potential opponents. I'm sure Sheamus and Nakamura could give us several entertaining bouts, but in order to fully realize his potential, Nakamura needs a feud that will propel both him and his opponent to new heights. I don't see a Sheamus/Nakamura feud doing much else other than treading water.
9 Needs To Face: A.J. Styles
Styles and Nakamura have already proven that they work well together. At NJPW's Wrestling Kingdom 10 on January 4 2016, Styles and Nakamura captured the hearts and minds of the more than 25,000 in attendance. Now Styles is one of the biggest stars of the SmackDown brand, having held the WWE Championship on one occasion and proving that he can have a quality match with just about anybody.
While Styles will have to do most of the heavy lifting to make the feud entertaining to fans, he's been put into that position on more than one occasion and the results speak for themselves. Plus, Nakamura will more than prove himself once it's time to step up to the plate and actually wrestle a big match in front of a major crowd. While Styles may have his hands full with Shane McMahon for the immediate future, his dance card will likely be left open post-WrestleMania, which would be a perfect time for a debuting Nakamura to assert himself as one of SmackDown's top stars by taking on "The Phenomenal One".
8 Stay Away From: Roman Reigns
If you want someone to hate for ruining the potential of up-and-coming stars, that dubious torch has been passed from John Cena to Roman Reigns. For some unknown and likely-insane reason, Reigns continues to get the push of a lifetime despite the fact that the WWE Universe has fully turned on him. Nobody likes Roman Reigns. I don't like Roman Reigns. You don't like Roman Reigns. I'm pretty sure that at this point even Roman Reigns doesn't like Roman Reigns.
Don't even joke about liking Roman Reigns. I know you're lying.
We all know how this feud would end: Reigns would be made to look unstoppable, and Nakamura would end up looking like a joke. Nakamura deserves so much more than a feud with Reigns, because a feud with Reigns ends with him becoming the latest star to be fed to Reigns in WWE's desperate attempt to keep Roman Reigns relevant and near the top of the card.
7 Needs To Face: Dean Ambrose
Just imagine how entertaining it would be to see these two in the ring together trading verbal jabs. Nakamura's personality is wholly unlike anyone else in the WWE, and the same could be said for "The Lunatic Fringe". Plus, both men are hard workers and always put everything they have into any match they wrestle. So not only would it be highly entertaining to see the two attempt to out-crazy each other week after week, the matches would be even better once all the shenanigans are done.
Plus, a Nakamura/Ambrose feud would only heighten the prestige of the WWE Intercontinental Championship, which currently rests on Ambrose's shoulders. The blue brand has done a great job of making that championship feel important and worthwhile again, and this would be another big step in the right direction.
6 Stay Away From: Big Show
I just don't see what Big Show has for Nakamura. While I respect Big Show for all he's accomplished and for how long he's been wrestling, I have to wonder what benefit either man would receive if they were put in a feud together. Big Show has already seen and done it all, and his career appears to be winding down. Another big win for him doesn't do much at this point, and for Nakamura, a feud with Big Show wouldn't be nearly as impactful or as important as would just about any other feud with any other high-level name.
Plus, how are they supposed to book this feud? Big Show tends to have only one storyline nowadays: he's a big guy who hits people hard. Not only do I think Nakamura would be booked weakly in this feud, I also think that Big Show and Nakamura are worlds apart stylistically. Whether it's on the mic or in the ring, this feud wouldn't mean much. It could even get downright painful to watch. And if it ever does happen, I don't see it going anywhere important.
5 Needs To Face: Seth Rollins
While Nakamura's history in NXT could likely make for some awesome feuds going forward, there's a whole host of talent he's never been in a ring with that he could still work wonders with. Case in point: Seth Rollins. This is another entry where, in all honesty, their reason for feuding is mostly irrelevant. Stylistically, I can't wait to see this match. Rollins has a way of bringing out the best in his opponents, and Nakamura's best gives us Match of the Year contenders.
Plus, it gives both men a chance to explore fresh territory. While Rollins has been involved in an entertaining long-term feud with Triple H, the feud appears to be winding down and isn't expected to last much longer after an inevitable Triple H vs. Seth Rollins match. For Nakamura, this gives him a chance to prove himself in the WWE and not simply coast on his many accomplishments in NXT.
4 Stay Away From: Kane
Much like Big Show, a feud with Kane wouldn't be of much benefit to anyone. His character (and the quality of said character) has varied widely and wildly throughout the years, and most of the attempts to revitalize that character have faltered and sputtered out. Kane deserves a few good feuds to end his career on, but Nakamura shouldn't be one of them.
Plus, this is another example of two wrestlers being so apart from each other stylistically that they just don't have any common ground to stand on. Sometimes this clashing of styles results in amazing matches, but that's the exception and not the rule. Most likely any Kane/Nakamura feud would give us maybe one good match, a whole host of "just OK" matches, and a storyline that likely wouldn't end so much as it would just be forgotten one day so both men could move on to different things.
3 Needs To Face: Samoa Joe
This is a story that writes itself. Samoa Joe has been unstoppable on Raw. He's destroyed anyone that's been put in his path so far, and he's made it look easy. Joe inspires fear and dread just by walking into a room, but nothing he can do or say will erase the fact that Shinsuke Nakamura defeated him for the NXT Championship not once, but twice.
Just imagine the type of reaction Nakamura would get if Joe cut the classic heel promo, the one that begins with "Nobody in this company can beat me", only for the lights to dim and those awe-inspiring violin chords to hit.
Nakamura and Joe have already proved that any time they're in the ring with each other, magic happens. They've also got something you simply can't teach, no matter how good you are: chemistry. Some wrestlers were just made to wrestle each other. Not only are Nakamura and Joe two of the best in the world, their chemistry is undeniable. This is a feud that writes itself, with matches that are already amazing and will only get better in time.
2 Stay Away From: Goldberg
As horrendous as a feud with Roman Reigns would be, I literally shuddered at the thought of any sort of Nakamura vs. Goldberg feud. While I am fairly confident that Nakamura could carry Goldberg to an enjoyable match, that actually only further intensifies my feelings of hatred towards this feud. Nakamura would be booked as nothing but another stepping stone for Goldberg. WWE has already dealt me a heavy blow by feeding Kevin Owens to the aging part-timer; I'm not sure I could survive seeing Nakamura fed to the former WCW star.
Everything that is good about Nakamura would be lost during this feud. Any potential star power he'd have upon debuting onto the main roster would be lost after the inevitable two-minute squash match, and he'd be sent tumbling down the card to rot in midcard purgatory.
1 Needs To Face: Sami Zayn
Shinsuke Nakamura's debut match in NXT against Sami Zayn set the tone for the entirety of his NXT career up to this point: it was a fast-paced, electric match that captivated audiences from the opening entrances all the way to the final bell. Unfortunately, Zayn has yet to fully capture the hearts and minds of the WWE Universe in the same way he did with the NXT faithful. There's several factors as to why this is, but it all boils down to Zayn not being matched up well in the feuds he's been placed in since debuting on the main roster.
Against Nakamura, nothing really needs to be done or said. Give them any reason to feud, or give them no reason at all. Let these two men work together, and let that work speak for itself. Against each other, Nakamura and Zayn can deliver amazing match after amazing match, which will only help elevate both men's star status.