Of all the disappointments in WWE in 2017, the company's failure to back up Shinsuke Nakamura's electrifying momentum from his time in NXT sits somewhere near the top. It's time for those responsible to put that right.
The traditional road to WrestleMania offers up perhaps more chances for mainstream exposure than at any other point in the year. Casual fans are generally more interested in events like Royal Rumble and WrestleMania than the shows that follow later in the year. So if there is ever a time to push Nakamura and allow him to truly realize his potential in the company, this is it.
Luckily, WWE has the perfect vehicle to execute that push properly by way of the Royal Rumble match itself.
At the time of writing, The Artist is one of only 11 men to confirm they will be competing in the match later this month. He is the standout candidate from those who have already declared their intention to compete, and the bookmakers are leaning towards Nakamura finally getting the push many feel he deserves.
Per Jim Murphy of Sports Betting Experts (h/t Tommy Messano at Cageside Seats), Shinsuke is now the joint-favorite alongside John Cena to be the last man standing and go on to headline WrestleMania 34 in a championship match.
It will be news that will be welcome to many fans who feel Shinsuke has been underused thus far in the year or so since his graduation from NXT.
Logic, and indeed speculation, dictates that the number of realistic candidates to win the Rumble is smaller than in recent years, given the plans for Raw's Universal Championship.
It looks increasingly likely that the company is headed for a blockbuster match between Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar for that championship, and given Reigns holds the Intercontinental Championship and could easily progress to a bout with Lesnar organically, it means a star from SmackDown is more likely to win the Royal Rumble.
Shinsuke leads the way when one assesses credible candidates on the blue brand, too. Of the other SmackDown wrestlers officially entered, only Randy Orton feels capable of winning it alongside Nakamura.
Baron Corbin, Aiden English and Rusev will have little chance, despite fan momentum currently giving hope the latter has a chance.
WWE has seen too little of Shinsuke in worthwhile, meaningful feuds so far—not least because he barely wrestles on his own, inhibiting his exposure and undisputed in-ring ability.
Per ProFightDB, five of Nakamura's last seven matches on TV dating back to mid-October have been in multi-person bouts. The last three have seen him teaming with Randy Orton in contests that have been more about the ongoing situation with Shane McMahon, Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn than Shinsuke himself.
That is a criminal way to treat one of WWE's best in-ring talents.
Unfortunately, there isn't much time to correct that run before the Royal Rumble match itself. But if the company trusts Shinsuke to move forward and enter the WWE Championship picture at Mania, he has to be in regular singles action on a more frequent basis.
He was in that title scene just a few months ago, in what was eventually a rushed, forced title feud with Jinder Mahal, proving to be a temporary block in the road for Mahal until he was beaten by AJ Styles.
And speaking of Styles, the prospect of Nakamura winning the Rumble and going on to face The Phenomenal One is too tantalizing a prospect to ignore.
They've clashed so many times in other promotions that hardcore wrestling fans know what they can do together. It's time casual WWE fans were introduced to that magic.
Sure, there are a few strong contenders to win this year's Royal Rumble match. But given how it has failed him so badly thus far, WWE would be wise to hand Shinsuke the overdue push he deserves by winning the bout.
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