It’s good to see Hideo Itami back in the ring doing his thing, isn’t it?
As we saw on last week’s episode of NXT, Itami returned from a hiatus that lasted over one year. He was impressive in a victory over Sean Maluta, one of the competitors we saw in the Cruiserweight Classic.
Having Itami back in NXT, you can’t help but ask what could have been had he not been sidelined with a severe shoulder injury. I know, I know, many people don’t care for the hypothetical situations, but it totally applies here. Why? Because NXT was turned upside down by this injury.
It’s easy to forget that Itami was arguably the first major international star that was signed to NXT. That includes Finn Balor and Shinsuke Nakamura. He won a spot in the second Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania 31, and it was clear that big things were in store for him.
But then he was injured and as a result, many things took place in NXT that may not have taken place if not for that injury. The two Superstars you can point to directly are Balor and Nakamura, for totally different reasons.
Balor began his NXT career by teaming with Itami, originally coming out to even the odds in Itami’s feud with The Ascension. Though Balor did win their first one-on-one encounter in a No. 1 contender’s tournament, it was Balor who Itami defeated to advance to the battle royal at WrestleMania.
Once Itami was hurt, Balor shot up the ranks. Is that a coincidence? Probably not. Though Balor is an extraordinary talent, make no mistake that Itami, known in Japan by his real name, Kenta Kobayashi, had every bit the same success prior to WWE as Balor did. In fact, quite a bit more.
So great to have Hideo Itami back. The forgotten man thanks to the injury, but among the NXTers with the highest ceiling. #WWENXT
— Ryan Dilbert (@ryandilbert) August 4, 2016
Would Itami have been the guy to take the NXT title from Kevin Owens? Would he have been the guy to engage in an epic feud with Samoa Joe? And finally, would he have been the No. 5 overall pick of the WWE draft, as Balor was? Though some may see that all as a tough sell, it’s a fair, legitimate question.
If WWE saw Itami as a notch above Balor in NXT, which is highly possible, it absolutely could have been the case. Of course, it’s all just a conversation at this point, because Balor is in the spot he’s in and Itami is having to work his way up from the bottom, almost literally.
As it relates to Nakamura, perhaps his rise in NXT would have been handled at a slower pace. Though Nakamura possesses the kind of charisma you rarely see from a Japanese wrestler, would WWE have wanted to put two Japanese stars at the top of the brand? That will be the question it has to answer now, as Nakamura is getting set to challenge Samoa Joe for the NXT Championship at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn II.
Where does this leave Itami?
Unfortunately, he’ll likely find more of a mid card role while Nakamura takes over the top spot on the roster. For Itami, it could now be years before he catches his break and lands on the main roster. That’s not a good sign for a guy who is 35 years old.
In the meantime, Neville, Tyler Breeze, Alexa Bliss, Baron Corbin, Carmella, Enzo and Cass, Apollo Crews, Mojo Rawley, American Alpha, The Vaudevillains and Balor have all been called up to the main roster. Certainly, one of those spots would have gone to Itami. That much you can all but guarantee.
As for what else would have taken place had Itami never gotten hurt, that’s anyone’s guess and unfortunately – it will never be anything more than that.