Shinsuke Nakamura probably understands and speaks English better than most fans would assume. While he has a thick accent, he’s perfectly capable of carrying on conversations in the language and understanding what is being said to him.
Delivering promos in English, however, is a totally different beast. A majority of people who speak it as their first language couldn’t hop on a live microphone in front of 10,000 people — plus a large audience watching from home — and cut a decent promo.
That is a special ability and one that puts the likes of The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Ric Flair, Dusty Rhodes and John Cena in a league of their own. Nakamura can speak to a live crowd, but not in an overly compelling fashion. And you know what? That’s OK. There are plenty of WWE superstars who don’t shine on the microphone.
The reality is that Nakamura doesn’t have to open shows with 15-minute long monologues to get over with the WWE universe. Not as long as he’s allowed to be his oddball self whenever he does end up on camera.
If his ear-to-ear grin doesn’t make you at least smile in response, you might want to check your pulse. Usually, when the WWE announcers frequently repeat things, it’s more like they’re trying to indoctrinate you than actually confirm a character trait that exists in reality.
Nakamura is insanely charismatic, though. This week’s edition of SmackDown Live featured a great example of that.
Randy Orton and AJ Styles were backstage discussing strategy for their upcoming main event handicap match against Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. The Viper and The Phenomenal One were about to get involved in a spat about what would happen if Orton won the Royal Rumble when Nakamura slyly slid into view of the camera.
He beamed and swayed, said “not so fast,” gave Styles’ WWE Championship belt the too sweet and said “good talk,” parroting what AJ had said to Randy just moments before. It was a chuckle-worthy moment and one that elicited a good response from the crowd.
Was it an electric backstage promo? Something that will turn Nakamura into an overnight sensation? No, but it was everything it needed to be. Shinsuke doesn’t have to be great when he’s working outside the ring. He just has to be his usual, odd self.
It’s always been his body language that made Nakamura cool, after all. And it’s not like NJPW leaned on him — or anyone, for that matter — to put matches over with promo work. In Japan, the King of Strong Style garnered praise and adoration because of his in-ring work. The same goes for NXT, where his hard-hitting style and ability to tell a story with his physicality made him special.
Those are the same traits that will allow Nakamura to thrive as a main-event player on SmackDown. We’re all still clamoring for a big main-roster moment from WWE’s rockstar, and that moment will eventually come. So long as he’s allowed to continue to do what has made him successful in the past.