By Keith Elliot Greenberg
It was supposed to be a coronation. When fans arranged to stay in New York to catch the live WWE Monday and Tuesday programming that would follow SummerSlam, there's no doubt many assumed that tonight’s special edition of Smackdown Live would feature a celebration of Shinsuke Nakamura.
Nakamura, after all, is one of the most dynamic Superstars ever to appear in WWE. A former holder of Japan’s important IWGP heavyweight crown, “The King of Strong Style” swiftly won the NXT Championship in 2016 after entering WWE’s venerated developmental organization. When he made his debut on Smackdown Live the day after WrestleMania 33, it appeared to be a given that the WWE Championship would soon belong to the son of Kyoto, Japan.
A hard hitter in the ring, Nakamura exhibits the type of idiosyncratic mannerisms and facial gestures not seen since the time of WWE Hall of Famer Randy “Macho Man” Savage. Even his accented English captivates fans, given the matchless way he delivers his words.
In his match against WWE Champion Jinder Mahal at SummerSlam, Nakamura was facing the unlikeliest of titlists. Although the “Modern Day Maharaja” insists that all 1.3 billion citizens of India support him, most North American fans question the way that he’s held on to the gold -- notably with the help of confederates who share his Punjabi heritage. Such was the case on Sunday night, when Nakamura appeared to be surging and Mahal’s twin cohorts, Sunil and Samir Singh, interfered. Nakamura easily handled the intrusion, gifting each brother with a Kinsasha kick. In the chaos, though, the powerful Mahal was able to sneak up behind the challenger, retaining the Championship by applying the Khallas -- the Hindi word for “finish.”
Ironically, when Mahal appears on tonight's episode of Smackdown Live (tonight, 8/7c), he’ll see that a number of American devotees have joined the Maharaja’s pep squad.
“There’s nothing about Jinder Mahal that’s predictable,” said Armin Selimovic, 24, a Hartford, CT resident in the audience for SummerSlam. “No one saw him becoming champ, and he still has the title. So whenever I see him, I’m going to stand up and cheer him.”
Yet, Nakamura has not relinquished his quest to unseat Mahal for the title. “Sun rises again,” he tweeted after the SummerSlam setback.
For the past two years, WWE would broadcast Raw live from the Brooklyn's Barclays Center the night after the big event. This is the first time that the company has opted to remain in town on Tuesday for Smackdown Live.
“The Raw after SummerSlam is always great,” commented SummerSlam spectator and Brooklynite Jude Constant, 24. “But for Smackdown Live to be here, too, it’s just awesome, man. It’s awesome.”
As with the Raw and Smackdown Live shows that followWrestleMania, the post SummerSlam broadcasts invariably include a number of unexpected moments. On last night's Raw, for instance, John Cena not only returned for the first time in more than a year -- but called out “The Big Dog” Roman Reigns. Before the pair could tangle, though, both the The Miz and Samoa Joe entered the ring, setting themselves against the Superstars.
Cena and Reigns ended defeating The Miz and Samoa Joe in the main event. But in the confusion of the match, Reigns inadvertently hit Cena with a superman punch, aggravating the friction that already existed between them. The development had fans speculating over who might suddenly materialize on Smackdown Live, and which conflicts will combust. In addition to the Mahal-Nakamura collision, a number of Smackdown Live struggles appear to be unresolved. At both SummerSlam and the Battleground pay-per-view in July, the Usos and New Day tore up the building -- with rear-falls, wild dives and dueling chants. Although the Usos emerged with the Smackdown Tag Team Championship on Sunday night, an informal poll of spectators revealed a desire to see both tandems go at it again.
Another title switch involved the WWE Smackdown Women’s Championship. Although Natalya’s mastery of the Sharpshooter -- popularized by her uncle, Bret “Hit Man” Hart -- enabled her to secure the prize, former holder Naomi is galled at the way the victor taunted her by holding up the Championship after the bell and dramatically kissing it. But Natalya needs to be cautious. In addition to Naomi, Money In the Bank winner Carmella is watching the titleholder closely. And -- just as Mahal has grown to rely on the Singh Brothers -- Carmella’s become dependent on James Ellsworth’s laugh-worthy-but effective-assistance.
Following his lightning fast conquest over Rusev -- with an RKO seconds after the start of their SummerSlam match -- Randy Orton is hoping to add to the 16 titles he’s already held in WWE. After exchanging the WWE United States Championship with Kevin Owens several times, AJ Styles managed to retain on Sunday. Even more significant was the way that special referee -- and Smackdown Live General Manager -- Shane McMahon managed the contest, trading angry shoves with each combatant. Although many observers believe that Shane's physicality was warranted, some wonder whether his actions fortified or eroded his integrity.
Remember to return here tomorrow for insights from Smackdown Live. Here are other notes from last night's Raw:
- As forecasted here yesterday, Braun Strowman continued his onslaught on WWE Universal Champion Brock Lesnar, attacking him in the early moments of the show.
- For the first time since the start of their rivalry, Enzo Amore had his arm raised after former BFF Big Cass suffered a leg injury and was counted out during a Brooklyn Street Fight.
- Despite their recent tensions, new WWE Raw Tag Team Champions Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins worked fluidly together in a thrilling defense against the Hardyz.
- Sasha Banks offered a public prayer to a hospitalized Ric Flair, accurately stating “the world needs the Nature Boy.”
Keith Elliot Greenberg is the co-author of the third edition of the WWE Encyclopedia of Sports-Entertainment, as well as the autobiographies of Ric Flair, Freddie Blassie, and Superstar Billy Graham.