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WWE needs to build Shinsuke Nakamura as a credible challenger

Even though it took toward the end of the week to find out, fans finally got some idea of what WWE had planned for WWE and Universal Roman Reigns’ immediate future in the wake of “The Tribal Chief” defeating Brock Lesnar to unify the titles at WrestleMania 38. To the delight of those fans, those plans came in the form of Shinsuke Nakamura.

The former Intercontinental Champion interrupted Reigns’ show-closing speech this past Friday on SmackDown, but instead of asserting himself as the top contender to Reigns’ titles, the segment quickly shifted focus back to The Bloodline. Nakamura didn’t even get a single word in before Reigns snatched the microphone, mockingly empathized with Nakamura over Rick Boogs’ legitimate injury, and awkwardly hugged Nakamura.

Oh, and the Usos closed the proceedings with a superkick to Nakamura’s face, as if everything that came before those kicks weren’t enough to make “The King of Strong Style” look like a goof.

WWE knows it has to build up Shinsuke Nakamura to make a potential match with Reigns compelling, right?

Now, if WWE merely ran this angle as filler before setting up Reigns vs., say, Drew McIntyre, then fine. Sure, teasing a match that fans have clamored for just to swerve them (with no plans to follow up on it) and give them something else would speak to the sort of promotional malfeasance that WWE is often prone to, but there will be plenty of time to criticize the company if that happens.

If Reigns vs. Nakamura is indeed the plan, though, what WWE booked on SmackDown was short sighted and exemplary of why it struggles producing babyfaces for fans to rally behind.

At some point, WWE has to realize that Reigns’ run at the top of the card will only remain captivating if he wrestles opponents that are just as compelling and protected as he is. This is why his programs with Lesnar, John Cena, and — to a lesser extent — Edge worked: the promotion promoted them as Reigns’ equals.

Even if those names were put in place to boost Reigns’ credibility as a top heel, you could at least buy into them as threats to his title, mainly because they weren’t scripted to be outsmarted by Reigns and The Bloodline at every turn (some, but not every).

Of course, we’ve only seen one week of whatever this turns out to be, but we’ve also seen what WWE has done when it matches Reigns up with someone it doesn’t view as top stars (Finn Balor, Rey Mysterio, Cesaro). In those cases, WWE relied on the pre-existing fan interest in those matches while de-emphasizing the challengers’respective pursuits of the title.

It may not mitigate how good the eventual match is, but it sure makes the road to get there less fun to travel through and makes the matches feel more anticlimactic than they already are.

Yes, we all know that Reigns isn’t losing the unified championship anytime soon, nor should he. We also know that no one on the roster is remotely in consideration for beating him outside of, maybe, Cody Rhodes. But would it hurt WWE to at least try to make fans believe otherwise?

After all, so much of what makes pro wrestling work is that emotional investment in who wins, who loses, the ramifications of those results, and a promotion’s ability to create uncertainty in seemingly foregone results. Opening this potential Nakamura/Reigns program with Nakamura getting shown up did little to generate that doubt, but WWE still has plenty of time to make this right.

It beats booking several straight weeks of heat segments.


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