I am a benevolent king of these debates. I have listened to the requests that have been made of me in terms of topics and will give you all what you asked for, if not necessarily what you want. In this case, one of the most asked for things was less time travel and for topics that touch more or the present day. So let's do that. Congratulations, you have just been made a writer on Smackdown and have been assigned just one goal. By the day after Wrestlemania Shinsuke Nakamura has to be the biggest star in the wrestling world. He has to be a superstar that the company can lean on for years to come, so strong that John Cena can finally ride off into the sunset. You have 6 months to accomplish this and access to anyone that WWE would have access to to have him face in the main event at Wrestlemania to make this happen. If he is not a star at the conclusion of Wrestlemania you will be fired, and your kids will have to wear trash bags to school. Harsh, right? So you'd better get started answering the question...
WHAT ONE MATCH WOULD YOU PUT ON IN THE MAIN EVENT OF WRESTLEMANIA TO MAKE SHINSUKE NAKAMURA THE TOP STAR IN THE COMPANY?
(For the purposes of this, you can use anyone from either brand or that WWE would reasonably have access to.)
The coin toss dictates that Psycho666Soldier will go first.
Shinsuke Nakamura is an exceptionally special talent in the world of professional wrestling. Many people had said if any top Japanese wrestling star could pack their bags and stake their claim in the US, it would be Shinsuke. Hell, I won my first semi-final debate arguing that he was the best non-WWE wrestler based on his ability to transcend the language barrier. It is clear that he is far more than capable of being a wrestling icon anywhere he goes. However, that still requires he is handled strongly along the way to the top. That includes high-caliber matches, well-booked storylines, and most importantly, legendary match-ups, all capped off with a monumental showdown at the Granddaddy of Them All - WrestleMania.
So that begs the question, "What one match should I put on in the main event of WrestleMania to make Shinsuke Nakamura the top star in the company?" There are so many tantalizing options, but there is a select few that actually have the ability to elevate their opponent to new heights. And out of respect for my opponent's first post, I will refrain from explaining why I think certain obvious options are not good. Instead, I will simply tell you the one and only answer out of that few to guarantee stardom. And that option is...
Seriously, there is no other benchmark. When you read the list of people that have defeated Brock Lesnar one-on-one, EVER, it reads like a who's who of Professional Wrestling. Goldberg, The Undertaker, John Cena, Triple H, Kurt Angle, Eddie Guerrero, and Big Show). It's a chosen elite, and to this day, gaining a W over The Beast establishes you as one of the baddest dudes to step up to bat.
His crossover appeal is through the roof, as he draws in the skeptic fans of non-choreographed sports and old school fans that have become disillusioned with the family-friendly product. He is legitimately one of the most dangerous men on the planet, conquering UFC in catastrophic fashion. It's no surprise considering how quickly he rose to the top of WWE. And all of this adds an air of legitimacy to what he does - if not for his combat sports background, then for his immediate prominence in any business venture he steps into.
Naturally, he would be the best choice for Nakamura when thinking of the marquee, but let's look at some other aspects. Nakamura is the King of Strong Style - a heavy-hitting, face-breaking warrior who doesn't know the word quit. Brock Lesnar is the Mayor of Suplex City - a malicious beast who takes delight in pummeling and decimating his opponents. Let's also not forget that Shinsuke is well-known for his own legitimacy outside of the wrestling ring, having MMA experience with a strong 3-1-0 record for his short stint. The match and feud practically writes itself. And just imagine Paul Heyman's ability to hype up Shinsuke leading up to the big event.
And how about the history? Brock and Shinsuke have crossed paths in New Japan Pro Wrestling over a decade ago, when both were young and incomplete, but still at the top of the company. There are dark not-so-secrets about Lesnar's time there that could be brought up to spice up the dish. They are two of three performers in WWE to hold gold in both WWE and New Japan. There's enough there to hear, "a match years in the making" in every single WrestleMania Promo video all season.
And the path is simple. Brock defeats everyone in his path on RAW, keeping a death grip on the Universal Championship. He even defeats Roman Reigns at the Royal Rumble to shut down that thread for a good while. Leave no loose ends. Meanwhile, Shinsuke plays sole Survivor for his Survivor Series team, has a strong feud carrying him through now until the Rumble(considering December seems to be pending for PPVs) - take your pick between AJ, Owens, or Zayn - and then he comes out victorious in the Royal Rumble after a thrilling final two with that current rival. Then the next night, Lesnar comes out to boast about defeating The Big Dog and having no one left to fight on Monday Night Raw...
Cue the electric violin, the massive pop, and Shinsuke Nakamura staking his claim on Monday Night RAW, using his Royal Rumble Title Shot to challenge The Beast to once and for all prove that he is the TRUE King of Strong Style.
So the goal here is to make Shinsuke so strong a star in the company that Cena ride off into the sunset for good huh? Well what better way to accomplish that than have Nakamura's opponent be none other than....
Now you might be reading thinking to yourself "But didn't they do this match already on Smackdown?" Well yes they did and we got a small taste of what they can do. On this instance however it would be on a bigger stage with more at stake. Their previous encounter can provide some impetus into a rematch Allow me to explain.
Wrestlemania is all about appealing to the mainstream and wider audience. It's their biggest show of the year with celebrities being there too. Cena's done more than his fair share outside the ring as well as inside it. He's the company's biggest Make-a-Wish contributor, he's done talk shows (which would come in handy for him promoting the Mania match to get even more people tuning in) and he has instant credibility. Even when losing which he did do against Reigns in his last encounter, he can always be one or two wins away from being a championship contender again.
This can be achieved in a number of ways. The first step is to get the title off Mahal because let's be honest, nobody wants to see that title reign stretched all the way to Mania, we've suffered enough. In a surprise return, he could be the one to finally dethrone Mahal breaking Flair's record (which would be a historic moment in itself) and go into the match as champion either beating Mahal at Royal Rumble or in the No Way Out Elimination Chamber. Or you could flip the script a bit and have him as a surprise entrant into the Rumble and winning thus entering Mania as the challenger. The pop would no doubt be tremendous for that scenario like it was here:
Imagine this if he returned in the Rumble unexpectedly. On that occasion, it was due to a neck injury. The only difference here was against Reigns, the ending was portrayed like Cena was riding off into the sunset with fans chanting "Thank You Cena!" His return would be different to the days of old when there was a big divide between the women/children and the older males in the audience. Nowadays, the "Cena sucks chants" is more like Angle's "You Suck" chants as fans do it more out of respect than real hatred. By keeping it secret like they did back then, it would make the pop even more special.
Of course, let's not forget about Nakamura as you have to build him up for this. There are more ways than one this can be done too. For instance, like Cena he could also be the one to finally dethrone Mahal. He's lost two title matches already, but it can be salvaged as third time could be a charm. At Survivor Series, Mahal could put together a team and so could Nakamura. You could even throw in a stipulation, if Nakamura survives all the way to the end and wins, he gets one more shot at Jinder but it's straight up one-on-one this time with no Singh Brothers, no Khali or any outside interference. If Mahal's team wins, no more title opportunites for Nakamura as long as he is champ. Of course being the Smackdown writer I wouldn't let that happen.
Nak wins and goes into Mania as champ with Cena winning the Rumble.
Alternatively, you could have Nakamura win the title via the Elimination Chamber route. He beats five of Smackdown's top superstars and faces a Rumble-winning Cena gunning for his 17th title win to beat Flair's record. That adds another interesting wrinkle to the Mania match. Another wrinkle to add to the story is Shinsuke beating Cena before and Cena wanting revenge for the loss but on a bigger stage this time.
Whoever enters as champion and challenger for the Mania match makes this a compelling story. The one constant of course is Nakamura wins at the end of the day. He gets a victory over one of the all-time greats on the biggest stage of them all, he's champion and the company's biggest star with the rub from Cena. He could then go onto have great title defenses against the likes of Owens and Styles (who I ALMOST went with here, but Cena has more mainstream appeal).
To be continued....
John Cena is one of the people who would have been mentioned in my first post to further explain why Brock is the only answer. And we're going to start with the obvious that you brought up: Nakamura has already beaten John Cena. Rather efficiently. The fact that he did so cleanly in a shorter, less-hyped match takes away even more effectiveness of that match-up. There is no mystique around whether Nakamura can beat Cena: it's been done. If you want to make Shinsuke a star through a WrestleMania Main Event, you have to give him something both new and unaccomplished. Defeating Brock Lesnar fits that bill so well that it practically is the bill, but this brings up another point I would like to highlight.
Any scenario where Shinsuke Nakamura goes into WrestleMania as champion automatically tarnishes the star-making aspect of the main event.
Nakamura should grab all the accolades that are envisioned by every prospective WWE star that prepares him for the top. Winning the Royal Rumble is a crucial moment to that process. Top that off with the "shock and awe" feel from the moment Nakamura unexpectedly pops up on Monday Night RAW to lay the gauntlet in front of The Beast. In that moment, you know you're witnessing one of the most memorable starts to a WrestleMania main event storyline. Then, to topple a top dog for the first time ever on the biggest stage possible to gain your first major championship - as opposed to affirming a victory you've already attained - THAT'S the perfect final chapter to a star-making story. None of that can be accomplished if Nakamura becomes WWE or Universal Champion before WrestleMania.
Most importantly, all of that feels so much more grandiose when Brock Lesnar is the opponent. If you transplant Cena into that scenario, it falls short in many ways.
Cena beating Mahal keeps the moment exclusive to Smackdown, not creating that exciting Monday Night Wars-like rush of Nakamura popping up on RAW. Cena beating Lesnar seems anti-climactic, unnecessary, old, and would be an absolute slap in the face to the slow build of Lesnar's reign. And Cena not being champion leaves nothing for Nakamura to achieve. Again, Shinsuke needs something new and unaccomplished. So the environment for the build is already wrong.
Excluding the environment, the feud would be built around some level of respect and proving who's the better man. The problem here is that there would be no real heat. Cena isn't the kind of character that will make you crave an ass-kicking unless his opponent has a chip on his shoulder or is an all-out heel. That is not Shinsuke. However, you have Shinsuke proving he's a tougher badass than the man known as one of the biggest badasses on the entire planet, and you have a recipe for a storyline filled with hot confrontations and true heat. Even if they tried to do that with Cena, he doesn't live and breathe that essence like Lesnar. The crowd would be rabid for the showdown at every stop until Nawlins, with Paul Heyman stirring the pot like a true microphone master.
Overall, Lesnar caters to the persona that best represents Nakamura, before and after the bell. In the ring, Lesnar would let Nakamura go all out on him and dish it back twice as hard, making it feel more like a war. Cena might hang, but he won't accentuate Nakamura's strengths like Lesnar can. Especially since Paul can do all the heavy lifting on the microphone. Nakamura would be expected to have some semblance of back and forth with Cena, and it would risk too much embarrassment for Shinsuke who is still overcoming the English language.
Perhaps most importantly, beating Cena means less than it did in years past. Instead of an unattainable dream, it's become a rite of passage for any one with hope of touching the main event. And as you mentioned, WrestleMania is all about appealing to the mainstream and wider audience. Cena may have some experience doing media appearances outside of WWE, but none of that compares to the sheer spectacle that Brock Lesnar is. And that's exactly what WrestleMania is about: spectacle. WrestleMania is driven by attractions, and creating a star there involves pitting the prospect against the attraction. Brock Lesnar is an attraction. John Cena was the top star of WWE at one point, but his value is plenty diminished in comparison, and is not an attraction or a spectacle.
I'm going to start here by pointing out the big elephant in the room. Doesn't the debate brief say that you've been made a writer for Smackdown and you have 6 months to build him up to being in the Mania main event or you're fired? In your build-up to the main-event he's gone from Smackdown after the Rumble, so technically you can't write a Raw-based Mania feud with Lesnar if you're a Smackdown writer right? Yes the question says you can have access to anyone on both rosters or anyone reasonaly accessible, but I would've though that meant a trade or addition to Smackdown. Losing Shinsuke would be a huge blow to them, but keeping him there with the addition of Cena however means I'm doing my job as a writer. Also, Cena would still get the live rush returning to Smackdown as it's not pre-taped these days.
Let's say you can book the Lesnar match. First off, let's start with Lesnar's cross-over UFC appeal. I won't deny that Lesnar was one of the biggest UFC attractions in their history and made them a lot of money in their PPV records. Was being the key word. Breaking that down further, he has been sporadic and he has had problems with health issues. He has only fought once since 2011, this being. against Hunt last year. While he won the fight on the night, there was massive controversy afterwards with him failing two separate drug tests testing positive for clomiphene with him being suspended. This suspension was frozen when he announced his retirement in February. There's been rumours of him going back but then his favoured opponent Jon Jones also tested positive. Lesnar's not the big attraction he once was and I doubt how much crossover appeal and outsider fans he could bring to the Mania match when he's not been in UFC for so long. Cena is still fresh and relevant with the publicity he brings in.
Now onto his current WWE title reign, again sporadic. He's only had three PPV title defenses since he beat Goldberg. His offense has also gotten extremely lazy too. German Suplex ad nauseum occasionally throwing in a Kimura lock then F-5. His opponents have done the majority of the work for him. He is not the beast in the ring he once was a few years ago. His Mania match at Goldberg was passable because it was short as it needed to be and kept to basic power moves. Shinsuke is a whole different animal. He is as you say King of Strong style and one of the best strikers in the game. Though they both have MMA backgrounds, Lesnar is far more grappler than striker so I don't know if they would really mesh. Shinsuke's in the ring day in and day out and would really have to put the work in to make this match look good. Lesnar's deliberately been booked in short matches so he can do his now played out routine. Cena had a perfectly fine TV match with Nakamura on Smackdown, and on a bigger stage with more time, I'm sure they could really tear it up. I'm not sure I could say the same for Lesnar and Shinsuke even with Heyman hyping the shit out of it.
Nakamura winning the Rumble and getting to Mania against Cena who would already be champion would be fine and really put him over, but it's not the only way. Your highlighted point about winning the tarnishing the stardom isn't necessarily true. Eddie Guerrero for example won the title before Mania against Lesnar (in his prime) and then went onto have a great match at Mania with Angle. Shinsuke's first title defense against Cena trying to break Flair's record with the added onus of trying to break a record would be a great story. Shinsuke's not the most fluent of speakers, but he did a podcast on Talk is Jericho where he held up just fine. Besides, Shinsuke's connection with the audience without saying too much is undeniable and he and Cena are both veterans so aI don't think the promo thing is going to be an issue. Cena can turn on his asshole side a bit as well, bring up Nakamura failing to top Mahal in two consecutive PPVs and not living up to the hype like when he was first brought in. This in turn would make Shinsuke all the more determined to kick his ass and topple him.
The actual debate topic has no bearing on whether the feud is for Smackdown or RAW. I am tasked with producing the WrestleMania main event that makes Shinsuke Nakamura a star. Therefore, I would be granted jurisdiction in handling the RAW segments. Writers have been shared for specific storylines all the time. Jimmy Jacobs was an NXT Writer in title, but he was responsible for the List of Jericho and many things involving Jericho and Owens' characters. My job isn't to keep him on Smackdown, my job is to create a star by any means necessary. And Cena returning to Smackdown isn't a big deal considering he's a "Free Agent." We know he goes where he wants now. Shinsuke popping up on RAW to challenge The Beast as a contracted Smackdown performer would be much more shocking and set the tone for the seismic shift we're about to witness.
Lesnar held the all-time PPV Buys record of $1.6 Million for nearly seven years, only barely broken 2 months ago by Conor McGregor. That's still a huge deal when he's broken a million three other times. And while you downplay his current relevance, his fight with Mark Hunt helped the show break a million again. People don't care about drug tests enough to kill the draw, and considering the rumors, UFC obviously has no qualms as long as he tests clean. There are still people to bring in and hook with Shinsuke. More importantly, there are people who tune in only for Brock Lesnar because nothing else has made them stay yet, so there is plenty more to gain from that market.
Your criticisms of Lesnar's in-ring output fail to consider the booking. They have intentionally created a repetitively suplexing machine to sell an idea, and now a slogan. But even so, excluding his run in 2015, most of his matches have had high marks, and he's shown in cases like Roman, Goldberg, and Joe that he can still create a compelling match when it's only one-on-one - and it's not heavy-lifting. The title defenses being spread out makes the trophy that much more special. Again, it adds to the Attraction. "Come see who will step up next to try and dethrone The Beast!" Everyone wants to know who can actually beat him that isn't already a part of the established elite. Cena will have a fine match with Nakamura, but Brock Lesnar will have a once-in-a-lifetime special match with the Shinsuke Nakamura. And to say he isn't much of striker...have we forgotten his penchant for elbowing and clotheslining the fuck out of people until they bleed? Nakamura would eat that shit up.
Eddie had a great match with Angle, but didn't have that truly star-making moment. When was that star-making moment?
Oh yes, when Eddie Guerrero won the title from Brock Lesnar and became one of the few to ever defeat him. So even if you think winning the title before Mania doesn't matter, beating Brock Lensar for the title sure as hell does. Far more than defending the title, because watching Nakamura attain the ultimate goal against the ultimate opponent has more emotional connection that deeply grabs the fans. And I've already stated that no matter what Cena portrays in the program, it can't reach the same intensity that any segments with Nakamura and Lesnar. Again, it feels HUGE.
A few other quick points to bring us home. Lesnar's reign will be more prestigious by virtue of length, creating an ever larger mountain for Shinsuke to conquer. Vince is more wary of pitting Shinsuke with Cena after Nakamura practically dropped him on his head. This might prompt him to require Nakamura to take it easy, or even play a psychological effect on Shinsuke. That's completely out the window with Lesnar.Cena may have a better face or media appearances, but Lesnar has a deeper crossover appeal: he makes it seem real. If you witness Nakamura surviving the onslaught of The Beast, then you know he's legit. And that's even if he goes down with a loss. Now you talk about WINNING? That's wrestling magic, right there; On a level that Nakamura vs. Cena is not possible to reach yet.
The bottom line is that no matter how effective any major WWE star - Cena included - would be in creating an absolute star in Shinsuke Nakamura, none of them would have the mystique, intrigue, and box-office aura that Brock Lesnar would provide while catering to every strength that embodies Nakamura.
Coming up with a few gimmick ideas for a character like Jacobs did in the past for Jericho and Owens is hardly in the same league as trying to make Shinsuke the biggest star in the whole company. Raw and Smackdown are treated as much more separate now than the brand split in the past save for a few occasions like this upcoming Survivor Series. As far as I'm aware though, that does not include the stipulation that the Royal Rumble winner gets to choose which champion at Mania 34. Randy was not given that option last year, Reigns had to defend the title last year to further his feud with HHH which was kept brand specific. That jurasdiction would be up to Vince, and would he risk devaluing a brand in favour of another by having the Rumble winner switch brands? He cares about Smackdown more than you think seeing as he himself apoeared on it lately to promote Owens/Shane.
Playing hypothetical again though, say Shinsuke did get the option should he win the Rumble. Him appearing on Raw to challenge Lesnar may create an initial buzz, but still Lesnar's appearances are few and far between due to his scheduled appearance dates so they'd have to do some work to keep that feud going til Mania even with Heyman as the hype man. Cena may be a "free agent", but on an already stacked Raw roster it would make more sense to put him on Smackdown to boost the roster and viewership numbers. The TV match with Shinsuke helped boost the viewership, and while you may say there's no "mystique" in them fighting again, you also said his appearance has become a rite of passage for anyone wanting to enter the main event scene. It's a tried and tested formula and it did wonders for the likes of Reigns recently and helped AJ Styles become more established as he got more than one victory over Cena. Shinsuke getting a second victory over Cena on the grandest stage of them all and leaving as champion would do wonders to cement him as a main-event superstar. Cena's rub has not been diminished like you say it has.
Now back to Lesnar, you quote some impressive stats for his UFC career which are indeed true and I already acknowledged he was a huge deal. His fight with Hunt last year did make very good numbers which could very well be attributed to a large amount of wrestling fans tuning in to watch Brock out of curiosity. Since then though, there's little to no evidence that that's worked the other way around with UFC fans tuning in to watch WWE with ratings being down for the large part. You say Lesnar's title reign is special, but in actual fact it's hurting them not having a regular champion on their brand. The "mystique and intrigue" of Lesnar's reign is more a chore to watch really knowing he's being saved til Mania 34. Lesnar used to be much more vicious and versatile in his repertoire, but lately it's been Suplex City mode far too often and he's been more the underdog than the Beast. It's a slogan but an overused one that's become far too involved in his matches that it's meaning has diminished. Shinsuke deserves a far better match at Mania where he can really showcase his arsenal and he would no doubt get that with Cena going all guns blazing either going for his 17th title reign to also avenge the Shinsuke loss or trying to extend a 17th title reign with Shinsuke going for his first.
Also, your theory that Vince would ask Shinsuke to "take it easy" against Cena due to a bad bunp is interesting. First off, Cena told him not to worry about it and if that really was the case, then you think he would be asked to "take it easy" against Brock or anyone for that matter? It'd throw a monkey wrench into your dream hard-hitting match, especially considering Lesnar is a suplex machine. Also way to twist my Guerrero/Lesnar example. That was 30 minutes with Lesnar pulling much more out of his repertoire to put over Eddie. Lesnar's repetitive routine these days wouldn't fly for 30 minutes especially at Mania. Cena has proven recently more than Lesnar in the last year that he can go the distance on PPV and he and Shinsuke could serve up an epic bout to catapult Shinsuke to stardom.