This Thursday at WWE’s NXT Takeover II: Fatal 4-Way we will see the promotional debut of Japanese superstar KENTA in NXT. This is a big — no huge — deal for wrestling fans, even if he won’t wrestle tomorrow night. The question for a lot of fans is this, though; why? Not all wrestling fans invested large portions of their life into watching tapes/DVDs/torrents from Japan, so they might not be familiar with KENTA beyond a few clips here and there.
KENTA is probably one of the most influential wrestlers of the past 20 years, with his influence being felt all the way to the very top of the WWE over the past few years. KENTA was brought into All Japan Pro Wrestling as the great Kenta Kobashi’s student right before most of All Japan quit and formed Pro Wrestling NOAH. The funniest part is that KENTA’s name is ‘Kenta Kobayashi,’ which means that fans could have confused them in name, but not in appearance. Kobashi was a tank of a man, a legitimate heavyweight, while KENTA is a lot smaller, a Cruiserweight at best, which in Japan means he could never be a top star.
KENTA rose up through the ranks in NOAH and became quite a standout with the loyal Pro Wrestling NOAH crowds. Eventually NOAH was at a point where they knew that they couldn’t keep KENTA as just a Junior Heavyweight, that he needed to be competing against the top stars in the organization. So he had a “trial series” where he got annihilated by top stars as a bit of an initiation into the Heavyweight field. During this trial series he introduced a move that many WWE fans are familiar with, the Go 2 Sleep.
This is why I say that his influence is huge. The Go 2 Sleep was adapted by CM Punk when Punk was signed by the WWE as his main, go-to finisher. Punk was, like many other wrestlers at the time, a huge fan of KENTA’s work and saw the Go 2 Sleep as a natural finisher that would get over huge with fans. Of course, he couldn’t use his top rope pedigree (the Pepsi Plunge) in the WWE for a number of reasons. What’s funny is that CM Punk wasn’t the only guy to sample from KENTA’s moveset when looking for a finisher. Daniel Bryan is the complete package in the ring, but due to his neck problems the diving headbutt started to seem like a bad pinfall finish move for him, which meant that he instead started using a running knee kick. You see, he needed a move beyond the Yes! Lock, which KENTA himself had been using in Japan.
That running knee kick was undoubtedly the Buisaku Knee, KENTA’s original finishing move.
KENTA’s legacy is more than just top WWE guys using some of his moves, though, you can see his influence in the styles of many pro wrestlers today. What’s crazy is that KENTA is only 33 years old and that he’s getting a crack at WWE. At under 6’ and under 200lbs many don’t see him going very far, but with NXT being pushed as a secondary brand more so than just a developmental territory for WWE right now the chances are that we might see KENTA against some of the top guys in NXT very soon.
WWE is treating the signing of KENTA as a big deal, so we are going to treat it like one. Be prepared for his debut this Thursday by watching five of the BEST KENTA matches in history.
ROH World Title: KENTA vs. Bryan Danielson (WWE’s Daniel Bryan) – Ring of Honor 9.16.06
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Bryan Danielson was the guy that US indy fans were talking about in the mid-00’s as the best in the world. Everyone else who was really into wrestling was talking about KENTA being the best in the world, so imagine when both guys met in the ring at Ring of Honor in 2006 at the height of their careers? That is exactly what happened here.
GHC Heavyweight Championship: KENTA vs. Naomichi Marufuji – NOAH – 10.29.2006
KENTA and his good friend and tag team partner Naomichi Marufuji had a ton of great matches against each other over the years in NOAH. There was a serious paradigm shift that happened in NOAH, which was primarily a Heavyweight-focused promotion, when they realized they hadn’t built up any new Heavyweight stars. Instead, they had Junior Heavyweights like Marufuji and KENTA that fans were firmly behind. The days of Kobashi, Misawa, Taue and Akiyama were great, but they were becoming older, less able to provide the hard-hitting, intense style that NOAH fans knew and loved.
So they had to push the new generation of pro wrestler, they had to push the little guys. Marufuji became GHC Heavyweight Champion and there were some groans from traditionalists, but just about everyone was happy with NOAH trying something new. Marufuji met his good friend KENTA in a singles match for the GHC Heavyweight Championship in October of 2006 and it was definitely one of his best singles matches ever.
KENTA/Taiji Ishimori vs. Naomichi Marufuji/Kota Ibushi – 7.15.07
A bulk of KENTA’s best work has come in tag team matches, considering that NOAH was transitioning to pushing their smaller guys a lot more in 2006 onwards, but was still not fully committed just yet. So when KENTA tagged up with indy high-flier Taiji Ishimori against Marufuji and another indy-darling high-flier in Kota Ibushi things got pretty serious.
GHC Heavyweight Championship: KENTA vs. Takashi Morishima (C) – 1.27.13
While I probably wouldn’t argue that this is one of KENTA’s best matches, this was a historic match for KENTA. This was the match where KENTA would finally win the big one in NOAH, he’d finally become the GHC Heavyweight Champion. Morishima was NOAH’s go-to guy to be their big Heavyweight star and it never really caught on like it should have. The decision finally came down to give KENTA a run with the GHC Heavyweight Championship and as a fan it was just a great moment to see him get this win.
GHC Heavyweight Championship: KENTA (C) vs. Takashi Sugiura – 5.12.13
Every champion needs a signature match, a match that stands out and defines their reign. Without it, was that reign really that good? For KENTA his bout with Takashi Sugiura from last May was that bout. NOAH’s roster by this point was watered-down, their crowds were growing smaller, things were looking a bit bleak. Even so, KENTA was tearing the house down and there is no better example than this match against Sugiura.