John Cena and Shinsuke Nakamura gave us one of the best SmackDown matches of the year.
John Cena and Shinsuke Nakamura wrestled each other for the first time in the history of their storied careers last night on SmackDown—and it was worth the wait.
The match was presented with nearly zero build-up, which is peculiar, considering that if Cena-Nakamura had been on a pay per view, it would have been enough reason to subscribe to the WWE Network for a month.
Going into the match, there were three prevailing questions that will help dictate Nakamura’s future in WWE:
I.) Similar to the way he did with Kevin Owens and AJ Styles, would Cena meet Nakamura in the middle and allow him to shine in the match?
II.) Is WWE willing to go 50/50 with Cena and Nakamura, integrating Cena’s ability to fully engage the crowd with the intricate details of Nakamura’s wrestling style?
III.) How would the live crowd in Cleveland respond?
Fifty-fifty booking is often criticized in wrestling, but it was imperative to present Nakamura as a legitimate threat to Cena. WWE allowed Nakamura to enter the ring after Cena, which set an early tone that he was the favorite in the match.
The crowd was the third member of this match, and played a crucial part in Nakamura’s success. People were genuinely behind Nakamura, and the crowd erupted after he connected with his Kinshasa head kick to win the match.
To the credit of WWE and John Cena, Nakamura was never presented as an underdog. Cena did more than meet Nakamura in the middle, as the majority of the offense was in Nakamura’s favor. The three-time IWGP champion injected his own unique style into the match, which is still taking time to resonate with the audience in the United States, but he looked very strong with his ability to reverse some of Cena’s key moves. Kicking out of Cena’s AA, which is not that uncommon, was still a nice touch to help present Nakamura as a star to the WWE audience.
The only issue with the match was the lack of build. Nakamura would have benefited from feuding for a few weeks with Cena, and it will be worth noting to see how his storyline with Jinder Mahal develops leading into SummerSlam. The match against Cena came off as a big event and delivered one of the best SmackDown Live main events of the year, and now the bar is set even higher for SummerSlam.