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Posted in: Doctor's Orders
Doctor's Orders: July 17-20, 2017 - Shinsuke Nakamura's 1st Three Months, TV Show About Wrestling Vs. A Wrestling Show on TV, Kurt's Projected Angles
By The Doc
Jul 20, 2017 - 9:08:57 PM

”The Doc” Chad Matthews has been a featured writer for LOP since 2004. Initially offering detailed recaps and reviews for WWE's top programs, he transitioned to writing columns in 2010. In addition to his discussion-provoking current event pieces, he has written many acclaimed series about WrestleMania, as well as a popular short story chronicle. The Doc has also penned a book, The WrestleMania Era: The Book of Sports Entertainment, published in 2013. It has been called “the best wrestling book I have ever read” and holds a worldwide 5-star rating on Amazon, where it peaked at #3 on the wrestling charts.

What's Going On With Shinsuke Nakamura?

WWE's TV Production Styles (w/ Raw Thoughts)

Possibilities for Kurt Angle Storylines

What's Going On With Shinsuke Nakamura?

QUESTION OF THE DAY: What are your feelings regarding WWE's push on Smackdown Live of Shinsuke Nakamura to date?

Rewind the clock to this time in 2016 and one of the hottest topics coming out of NXT was when Shinsuke Nakamura would make his main roster debut. In fact, of all the superstars who thrived in NXT, nobody seemed to garner more hype for his/her ascent to WWE proper than The King of Strong Style (TKOSS). Fans clamored to see him featured in a variety of dream matches and they could not wait to see him on the grander stages. Then, that familiar violin tune struck on Smackdown two days after WrestleMania 33, ending months of speculation and eliciting a cathartic moment from the audience via his mere presence alone.

And so the real story of Shinsuke Nakamura in WWE began…

In his first 15 weeks on Smackdown, it has been difficult to gauge how the higher-ups feel about the Japanese sensation. On the one hand, you could argue that Nakamura has been pushed steadily according to a WWE plan that seeks to maximize his in-ring appearances and save his most marquee match-ups for the Big 4 special events. However, you could just as easily argue that Nakamura has been the latest casualty of an NXT-to-WWE call-up process that quite clearly needs more attention to detail, reinforcement for the general consensus that NXT plays to the strengths of its performers while WWE proper struggles to avoid putting its wrestlers in awkward positions that threaten their ability to get over and maximize their worth. Like many things in professional wrestling observation, it is all a matter of perception, but attempting to find the reality amidst both sides of the debate is a quite engaging exercise, especially as it pertains to Nakamura.

An honest evaluation of Shinsuke’s four month start on the main roster should readily acquiesce to the idea that he has not had the type of impact straightaway that a lot of pundits predicted he might. Basically, he was the perfect package of charisma, in-ring ability, and top notch presentation coming out of NXT, so it was thought that he was ready-made to excel on whatever brand that he called home. Unfortunately, creative decisions have challenged his charisma by asking him to talk consistently instead of working hard to ensure that his interviews carried more weight through their infrequency, as was often the case in NXT. The excellent presentation of his entrance has remained, making him one of the few stars in the game today that you feel like you need to see in person at least once, but the lackluster build to his matches has also weakened the effectiveness of his in-ring performances; while his debut match against Dolph Ziggler was good and his matches on TV have been fine, nothing he has done to date for the blue brand has been particularly inspiring.

The one time that the booking allowed him to shine was the Money in the Bank Ladder Match and, in that setting, it truly did seem like WWE understood Nakamura’s value. The annual June pay-per-view has become WWE’s defacto 5th biggest special event, so one could gain some confidence that the masters of his fate highly value Nak as a commodity by embracing the concept of Baron Corbin’s pre-main-event attack being as much designed to maximize Shinsuke’s role as it was to aid in getting The Lone Wolf over. It was a simple and effective move to have him taken out only to come back later and be the primary protagonist for the climax, just as it was simple and effective to tease the Nakamura vs. AJ Styles match that has pretty much become the elephant in the room for TKOSS. Through the PPV cycle set to culminate in the MITB aftermath for Nakamura and Corbin, WWE has furthered teased that the much-anticipated Styles match is imminent.

Reconciling how much of Nakamura’s lacklusterly received booking can be blamed on Smackdown’s return to a monotonous wrestling show on TV after its brilliant 2016/2017 run as a must-see TV show about wrestling – 90% of Tuesday night’s have been stuck in creative quicksand since the Shake-Up (see the endless supplies of lazy tag team matches) – is important to this discussion as well. Without question, Nakamura’s week-to-week character existence would have benefited from being on Smackdown as it used to be rather than what it has become. If they pull the trigger on his match with Styles for Summerslam and it delivers to its potential, then it will be difficult not to view the first phase of Nakamura’s main roster run as successful, an overall net positive, but his profile likely would have been raised for such a moment at the second biggest PPV of the year by better creative handling from April to present day.

Nakamura is entering a pivotal stretch in his WWE career. An assumption is being made that the Styles match will happen at Summerslam; what he does after that is a huge question mark for Smackdown in general. No matter how you feel about Jinder Mahal, it would be the understatement of the year to say that the blue team needs a new go-to storyline. It could be argued that Nakamura would risk becoming another Bayley-type of NXT call-up if he was to be pushed through the end of the year like he has been for the past few months. He could hypothetically exit Summerslam with tons of momentum, as hot by late August as he ever was in NXT due to the broader scope of the main roster position; WWE would be wise to capitalize on it as soon as possible like on Raw they have with Samoa Joe, and Finn Balor before him. Have Shinsuke win the WWE Championship as soon as possible and engage in feuds with the best that Smackdown has to offer. Make September to December the quarter-year of Nakamura and let the blue brand rise with him.

Other than the revisiting his New Japan rivalry with AJ, the obvious dream match from a WWE-centric viewpoint is Nakamura vs. John Cena, who one would think is chomping at the bit to step into the ring with such a uniquely gifted talent. It has always seemed that the route for WWE to take with Shinsuke was to have him face Styles and Cena at Summerslam and WrestleMania, respectively, no matter the order of opponent. By the time Mania returns to New Orleans, Nak will be 38 years old – and he looks like a much older thirty-eight than Cena looks at forty and you accordingly get the sense that there is a window for capitalizing on The King of Strong Style’s main-event shelf life that could be much narrower than that of his older peers. So WWE should not waste another month; push him now, as hard as possible, build through Summerslam into the fall of 2017 and onto WrestleMania 34, and let the wrestling world ride the Shinsuke Nakamura wave for as long as it will last.

A TV Show About Wrestling Vs. A Wrestling Show on TV (w/ Raw Thoughts)

There is a difference between a wrestling show on TV and a TV show about wrestling. In the case of the former, there is a linear, stop-start format that sees superstars engaged in feuds with each other for a certain number of weeks that are largely independent of other superstars and their feuds; as for the latter, there is a greater connectivity to the various events taking place which creates more emotional investment and a subsequent desire to tune in every week. The Attitude Era was WWE history’s pinnacle example of Raw and Smackdown being TV shows about wrestling. Unfortunately, the last decade has seen fewer and fewer periods of WWE programming finding a week-to-week flow featuring the kind of multi-layered storytelling that made it more than just a wrestling show on TV. Among the things for which the Smackdown brand was celebrated from July 2016 through WrestleMania 33 was that Tuesday nights once again felt like a must-see TV show about wrestling.

Monday Night Raw as it exists today will always be somewhat held back by its 3-hour runtime – it is just too long for a TV show – but there has been an obvious effort in 2017 to make the flagship show more consistently interesting so as to avoid becoming skippable altogether in an age when the video production department’s PPV hype packages are so well done that technically a fan could never watch Raw or Smackdown, only watch the special events on WWE Network, and feel like they had all the details necessary to inform their pay-per-viewing.

Smackdown ‘16/’17 was WWE at its modern television best and it achieved its success without relying on the evil authority figure(s) that had been the catalyst for the other of the decade’s top periods of TV (Summerslam 2013 through Survivor Series 2014). The corrupt empire saga has been done to death since Vince McMahon’s Corporation peaked that foundational narrative style in 1998/1999, so WWE has been left with little choice but to adapt in the face of the sinking ship that is their domestic TV audience. The blue team put together nearly nine months of programming mostly devoid of lazy tropes that antagonized diehard viewers into tuning out, crafting a formula for viewership maintenance and, at times, steady growth; since replacing its critically successful format with bad habits, its audience has dropped off. Raw in 2017 appears to have taken what Smackdown stumbled upon in 2016 and translated it to a larger roster and a show that has more time to fill. In general, when it has done well creatively, it has held its audience and, when its attention to detail lulled for six weeks, its audience faded.

What Raw has been doing for much of the year, then, especially since post-Extreme Rules but excluding a ghastly let-up in mid-April, is not destined to boost ratings in a hurry; at this point, nothing is likely to serve as a launching pad for a sizeable Nielsen turnaround anyway. However, Raw remains the top advertising agent for WWE Network, which is unquestionably the reason for several record financial quarters in a row. At the very least, a consistently entertaining Raw brand would give WWE its best chance to organically grow its audience of potential Network subscribers bit by bit and avoid stunts like hotshotting wrestlers of particular ethnic backgrounds to the top out of nowhere to boost numbers.

The recent story revolving around Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose represents perfectly the benefits of more dynamic storytelling. Rollins, last week, wrapped up his feud with Bray Wyatt on the same night that a Miz promo prompted The Architect to engage himself in the Intercontinental Champion’s affairs. The Miz, embroiled in a series of IC Title bouts with Ambrose, left last week’s show with two viable challengers who just so happen to have a generational rivalry with each other that is unlikely to ever end. This week, Ambrose and Rollins were a mutual physical target of Miz and his cronies, but their interactions with The Miztourage have prompted another chapter to be written in their own on-going saga. It is certainly not the only instance of this sort of intermingling of dramas on Raw, but it does stand out. Rollins has done well to rehabilitate his image as a protagonist after being the top heel in the game for two years, but there are still a lot of doubters; Ambrose characterizes The Architect’s naysayers, adamantly opposed to buying him as a changed man, so if Rollins can win over the superstar who trusts him least, then perhaps he will be able to win over his remaining detractors.

Last night’s Raw was probably the red team’s overall weakest effort since Samoa Joe assumed #1 contender status in early June, but it was still an episode that flowed well within the narrative drive of the last two months and built to several interesting talking points that are sure to retain viewership for next week. In addition to the Rollins-Ambrose-Miz situation, the Universal Championship picture is the most overt example of non-linear television booking. A “Question of the Day” last Tuesday brought to the forefront all of the possibilities for the Summerslam main-event: any singles combination of Brock Lesnar and Joe, Roman Reigns, or Braun Strowman, a triple threat, or a fatal-fourway. Personally, I’m holding out hope that Braun Strowman gets the next shot at Lesnar because it is the biggest match that WWE can do right now. One of WWE’s present weaknesses is their failure to go with the flow in favor of ideas they became married to several months prior. Strowman vs. Lesnar would be the latest sign that WWE still has the ability to recognize when the iron is hot and it is time to strike. Nevertheless, a case could be made for either option, and that all of the options make sense on paper is the key.

Next week, the Women’s Championship will be a major focus when Bayley and Sasha Banks wrestle for the #1 contendership, culminating the avoidance of the linear rematch in Banks vs. Alexa Bliss while also keeping Nia Jax prominently in the periphery. That along with Kurt Angle and Jason Jordan’s storyline advancement, plus Angle’s general managerial decision regarding the Universal Title and Summerslam, will continue arcs from this week that give ample reason to tune in again.

Inherent to the “TV show about wrestling” philosophy is that it provides pay-offs (small or large) one week and also sets the stage for more pay-offs the next; the reason why I have anticipated watching Raw every Monday for nearly two months now is that it is adhering to this philosophy. Ratings are back up too. I hope they stick with this approach for the long-haul.

Three Possible Angles for Kurt and Three Examples of Olympic Heroism Needed Before He Retires

Tonight’s episode of Monday Night Raw will be built partially around the big reveal for the Kurt Angle mystery ultimately expected to lead to his return to the ring, perhaps at Summerslam. The only rumor out there presently is that the story will center on Stephanie McMahon and Triple H, but a few other options will be presented momentarily. Then, with Our Olympic Hero reportedly set to wrestle again, curiosity is peaking as to what he might be able to accomplish in WWE before having to hang up his boots once and for all. Prior to his retirement, there are three essential things he absolutely must do before phasing into a Legends deal.

Starting with tonight’s hook, the presentation thus far, with the vagueness of the cell phone messages and the awkward interactions between Angle and Corey Graves, has given us little to no context for whatever is to be “made public” except that it could spell bad news for Angle’s career. If it is not an affair or [insert wrestlecrap potential storyline here] with Stephanie, then what else could it be? Based on pure speculation (since there is so little to go on):

-It could be a relationship with another female on the WWE roster, inappropriate by the nature of his leadership role as General Manager and therefore threatening to his standing. There was a rumor last month that Bayley was in line for a character shift that would be stimulated by an on-air romantic relationship; it would be awfully strange for her otherwise wholesome persona to become entangled in an affair with a much older man and authority figure, but at this point anything seems worth a try to salvage her. A match with Triple H could still be the end result as The Game would attempt to take the moral high ground, leading to a power struggle that might culminate in Bayley beneficially facing Stephanie as well.

-Continuing in the vein of the sympathetic Angle doing something that his power-hungry rivals could use against him, WWE could opt for an illegitimate child arc. Jason Jordan is over on Smackdown doing nothing while his partner has gotten the chance to shine recently. The former Indiana wrestling product is roughly 20 years Angle’s junior, which could be used to establish a paternal link. It would not be the firmest foundation for Jordan’s post-American Alpha career, but it would give him a huge spotlight and the chance to get some very authentic tutoring from Angle. In the odd chance that everything clicked, JJ’s long-term association with being Angle’s storyline son could be hugely beneficial, hypothetically. Plus, Triple H and Stephanie would not be the only ones who could use Jordan against Angle either, as any number of heels (Bray Wyatt? The Miz?) could pounce on that information eventually.

-Given Angle’s desire to use his WWE tenure as a platform for drug addiction awareness, one of the bolder creative choices would be to disclose on Raw some sort of relapse or rehab stint in an effort to allow art to imitate life. It could be argued that such an angle would not be in good taste, but an affair with Stephanie or Bayley or an illegitimate child would be in no better taste, would it? The heel would then lambast Our Olympic Hero for his decisions in a modern take on the same sort of storyline that Angle used against Eddie Guerrero to build their WWE Title program ahead of WrestleMania XX. The triumph in the ring would then mirror the triumph in real life of beating addiction and actually turn out to be a really strong message in the end.

Now, with the above ground covered, I will readily admit to being more excited to see Angle wrestle in a WWE ring again in general than I am to see him wrestle his rumored first (and perhaps only) opponent, Triple H. So, assuming that the Angle-Hunter match does happen, here are a few things that also need to happen before Kurt sails off into the sunset:

-A heel turn for Angle is an absolute must. Go back and watch his Hall of Fame speech and about 95% of the “moments” he made reference to creating were as an antagonistic character. As a good guy, there is not a lot for him to do, especially if he stays within the confines of the limited personality he has displayed since assuming GM duties after Mania 33. Switching the dynamic to the dark side will provide him the best chance to find his voice again and thrive during his remaining days as a competitor.

-The WWE 2K18 commercials featuring Angle and Seth Rollins have been fabulous and have made me want to see them work together in a major match at WrestleMania that much more. Rollins has topped my list of desired Angle opponents since the beginning and, despite The Architect’s history with injuring people, the wrestlers he has injured have been very vocal in stating that the fault was not Seth’s. An avoidance of Buckle Bombs would be wise for Angle, but the potential for an Angle-Rollins match is immense. Add Reigns and Styles to the list if Angle can work more than two matches.

-After turning heel, Angle taking a young antagonist under his wing in an official on-screen mentorship would be an excellent use of Our Olympic Hero’s built-in, Hall of Fame credibility. A stable of former amateur standouts like Dolph Ziggler and American Alpha would be one way to go; a more creatively protected version of what Ric Flair was in Evolution could work too; either scenario could be the catalyst for spotlight matches opposite stablemates who break from his influence down the road.

At the end of the day, as a long-time Angle enthusiast, I am excited to see his role in WWE expand beyond the played out on-air authority figure. He has contributed next to nothing to Raw, thus far. For better or worse, that is about to change; and I have faith in my Olympic Hero that it will be for the better, both in the short-term and the long-term.

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