For almost every wrestler in the world, the WWE will more than likely be a dream. It's the place that so many of us fell in love with the sport. It's the place where we first saw our favourites and became enthralled in this weird world of athleticism and entertainment. Everybody wants that chance to have success in the big leagues and to prove themselves to the world. It's a natural thing that happens to all of us. Whatever you do, you want to do it at the highest level.
The truth though, is that not every wrestler can be a success in the WWE. It doesn't matter how good you are, how experienced or how many countries you have worked in or how many five star matches you've had. Sometimes, it just doesn't work out. It's just life. Things don't always work out the way you thought.
Stuck in a rut
One man who it seems is currently in this predicament is Hideo Itami. A member of the WWE roster since 2014, the former KENTA was signed with such a fanfare that Hulk Hogan flew to Japan to present him as a WWE superstar. It seemed the sky was the limit for the Japanese star.
A 14 year pro at this point, KENTA has worked with both Pro Wrestling NOAH and Ring of Honor over the years. A three time GHC Junior Heavyweight champion, his matches with Naomichi Marufuji, Bryan Danielson and Mitsuharu Misawa saw him become one of the finest wrestlers in the world. Known also by many as the inventor of the Go To Sleep – a move that CM Punk made famous in the WWE; KENTA was someone that many people wanted to see in Connecticut..
After a tryout at the performance centre, he was signed to the biggest wrestling promotion in the world. Debuting quickly under the name Hideo Itami, things started very well for him. A feud with The Ascension was quickly followed by wins over Tyler Breeze and Neville, the latter of which earned him a spot in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. After a very good showing, it seemed Itami was a star in the making. Unfortunately, a shoulder injury saw him out for over a year, and while he was gone, names like Balor, Owens and Nakamura took advantage. After returning to the ring, he seemed to again be picking up momentum when he suffered a neck injury from a powerslam from Riddick Moss.
This has been a major problem for the Japanese star. Every time he seems to be getting somewhere, disaster strikes, and he's back to square one. Injuries are always a risk in wrestling, but to pick up two injuries in such quick succession is very unlucky. Since returning from this injury Itami seems nowhere near his best. Losing stature in NXT due to so much inactivity, he was soon moved up to 205 live, where he seemed to be onto a major push, only to lose to Roderick Strong this week in the first round of the Cruiserweight title tournament.
Things really aren't looking good for Itami, and I can't say I'm too surprised. For as good as he was in NOAH and ROH, he just never seemed all that suited to the WWE. At only 5ft 9, 180Ibs and with an average physique he looks small compared to the majority of the roster. Plus, when you add in the fact that he is still struggling with the language then it becomes apparent that there really isn't much for him to offer in the world of sports entertainment.
What's next for Hideo Itami?
That's not discounting his in-ring ability whatsoever. A stiff striker, he is able to compete in the ring with anybody. But to succeed in WWE you need so much more than to just be able to wrestle. You need to be able to engage the crowd, to entertain them, to be larger than life with your character and to make them want to watch you. For so many of the casual fans, Hideo Itami is just a small Japanese guy who kicks hard. He just doesn't interest them. When you compare him to the charisma of Shinsuke Nakamura then he struggles to grab the interest of the casual fans.
Which is why it makes a lot more sense for him to just cut his losses and go back to NOAH, where he truly can be a star. A place where you don't need to be able to cut 20 minute promos every week, or have an over the top character. Just a place where you simply have to be able to perform in the ring, which is something he is very capable of doing. Also, if you look at the popularity of Japanese wrestling right now. With New Japan making waves across the world, then promotions like NOAH and All Japan, so often forgotten about by many, could really do with a boost from bringing back one of their finest talents this century.
Who knows where he would be if he could have stayed healthy. With his size and lack of English it's tough to imagine he'd have ever been a major success on the main roster. The truth is, we will never know, but I think it's fair to say that maybe through no fault of his own, Kenta Kobayashi's American experiment just hasn't worked out.
Do you think Hideo Itami should go back to Japan? Let us know in the comments below!