After several rather disappointing, injury plagued years in both NXT and WWE, KENTA formerly known as Hideo Itami…emerged in New Japan Pro Wrestling. He was introduced to New Japan fans by his best friend Katsuyori Shibata in June of this year. Despite being put over by the much beloved Shibata, KENTA was exactly the most well received new star in NJPW. According to announcer Kevin Kelly, KENTA was seen as an outsider from all his years of success carrying the Pro Wrestling Noah banner…a sort of rival to New Japan.
KENTA would compete in New Japan’s infamous G1 Climax tournament to a mixture of cheers and boos. After he was mathematically eliminated from winning the tourney…KENTA suffered a few tough losses. Around this time, Bullet Club stalwart, Tama Tonga was teasing a new member to the faction. Who would it be? Nobody knew for sure. Fast forward to the G1 final at Nippon Budokan and KENTA was involved in a random six man tag team match partnering with Tomohiro Ishii and Yoshi-Hashi versus Bullet Club members Bad Luck Fale and The Guerillas of Destiny.
Sound familiar yet? KENTA would turn on his partners and join the Bullet Club on their beat down of Ishii and Hashi. If that wasn’t shocking enough, KENTA’s former tag team partner and long time friend…Shibata got in the ring and confronted the Bullet Club. For the first time since Shibata suffered a near fatal injury in April of 2017, he became physical attacking everyone in sight. The sight of seeing Shibata getting physical inside a ring after over two years of being sidelined brought the Japanese fans to a thunderous roar.
Reportedly, nobody except a very select few knew what Shibata was going to do what he did that night. The end result of that confrontation, was the Bullet Club outnumbering Shibata and beat him unconscious. The last image we had was KENTA mocking his former best friend by sitting “Indian Style” on top of the fallen Shibata throwing up the ‘too sweet’ hand gesture. It solidified him within the Bullet Club and gave the fans a real reason to boo and hate him.
Now the reports are that Shibata has still not been medically cleared to wrestle. I have my serious doubts about that considering how he performed inside the ring after the heel turn. A Shibata ring return would certainly sell a lot of tickets for the Tokyo Dome Wrestle Kingdom show (New Japan’s version of Wrestlemania). We will just have to wait and see. Either way, this was a shocking heel turn and perhaps one of the biggest in New Japan’s history. Some have said it is equivalent to when Hulk Hogan turned at Bash at the Beach in 1996.
The story is all set up and what a great story it is. Two long time friends that grew up in the business for Pro Wrestling Noah and now in New Japan. An outsider in KENTA, turns his back on his friend who helped him get into the company and joins one of the most prolific factions in NJPW. While an match between two of the hardest striking wrestlers in the entire world would be monumental….the angle was still red hot and set up New Japan very nicely.
It does remain to be seen how big this storyline will get, but as of this moment, it is one of the hottest in all of Japanese wrestling.
3 thoughts on “I KENTA Believe What I Just Saw! New Japan’s Version of Bash At The Beach ’96”
If Shibata does get cleared, WK’s got a certified semi-main event on its hands. And for those doubting the impact of a Shibata return, I watched that video, and the ovation Shibata got really was thunderous.
I would love to see Shibata return to the ring but not at the risk of his own health. I don’t want him to get any head shots and read the news that he died in the ring. I don’t want that. I would love for someone to come in and defend Shibata’s honor.
Considering the many twists and turns that have occurred in professional wrestling. I think it is no question that Hogan’s heel turn in 1996 at Bash at the Beach and the formation of the nWo is the best heel turn of all-time and of the 20th Century. Now this is the 21st Century and we haven’t had a lot of great heel turns here in the U.S. and nothing to my knowledge outside of the U.S. That is until KENTA and what he did. If New Japans were hating him upon his arrival and his time at the G1. They hate him even more now and he definitely lit a fire in the ass of the Bullet Club who definitely lost some momentum after the Elite left. I’m looking forward to what will happen next as I also think that KENTA will later become the Bullet Club’s new leader and their first Japanese leader which would be even more shocking since it was originally a gaijin faction.
Another way this could’ve been NJPW’s version of BATB 1996 was if it also had an undercard match featuring the Japanese equivalents of Steve “Mongo” McMichael and “Desperado” Joe Gomez.