A lot of things have changed while Hideo Itami was on the shelf nursing an injury. A majority of the talent he battled with back when he was healthy is gone to the main roster, more established independent guys joined the fold, and whatever momentum he had before being sidelined is not only gone. A vast section of the WWE Universe likely forgot about him during the wave of awesomeness that has been NXT for the last nine months.
The good news for Itami is that he is still scary good. After partaking in a figurative battle on Wednesday night, it appears that the international wrestling star hasn’t missed a beat. It seems as though those in charge of booking NXT continue to think highly of him.
What’s next for him, though? The brand extension ravaged the NXT brand. Does that make him more or less likely to get called up in haste? With NXT being rather fluid in its storytelling approach, do we still have a few dream matches at that level that features Itami?
Thing is, if he wants to make it to the main roster in an expedited fashion, the timing of his return couldn’t have come during a better period of WWE wrestling. While there’s no pinpoint date as to when it will debut on Monday Night Raw, the cruiserweight division is opening up shop again. Luckily for Itami, he fits in the size-range of a wrestler who would qualify to do some damage in that division.
He can fit in that weight class swimmingly, help add instant credibility to it and the move would help explain why he’s been promoted to the main roster so quickly after returning to injury.
That’s the lowest ceiling for Itami, at least in terms relative to where he would debut on the main roster if that’s something the WWE wants to do.
There’s also a more than solid chance that the company feels as though it needs him at NXT for now. With the roster being picked relatively thin thanks to pre-brand extension call-ups and the draft itself, there aren’t a ton of name guys currently trotting about the WWE’s developmental federation.
It wouldn’t be shocking for the WWE to simply ask Itami to work off some ring rust down at NXT while he helps transition the Network-only federation into a new era of its own. He can help build new stars that are currently unknowns, headline a TakeOver or two, and still make it to the main roster well before his usefulness as an in-ring talent has gone the way of the dinosaurs.
In large credit to Itami, he can fill whatever role the WWE wants him to moving forward. From getting called up, to helping establish the cruiserweight division, to headlining TakeOvers, to putting over younger guys at NXT, to whatever, Itami is currently entering the Swiss Army Knife portion of his WWE career.
What he actually wants might be a different story, however.
He likely didn’t leave the confines of international stardom to forever wrestler in WWE’s developmental league. Itami may very well have dreams of going to the main roster – in some form or fashion – to try to make an impact on Raw or SmackDown to increase his legacy to other-worldly levels.
This, too, is unlikely lost on the WWE. Plus, the company knows that if it wants to keep good relations open with international top stars, keeping a guy like Itami down at NXT for too long – however “too long” happens to be is arguable – can dampen the company’s chances to land other prized free agents down the line.
We would take a somewhat educated guess in surmising that Hideo Itami isn’t long for NXT. While guys like Samoa Joe and Shinsuke Nakamura appear to be the names every Internet Wrestling Community fanboy wants called up next, Itami has paid his dues to get called up as well, and double that – in the realm of the WWE that is – than those wrestlers.
If he doesn’t get called up soon, it isn’t panic time, either. The WWE is simply asking him to help with the rebuild of NXT. He will be fine – and great, mind you – either way.