Wrestle Kingdom 14’s second night concluded with KENTA sitting atop the first-ever dual champion in New Japan Pro Wrestling’s long and storied history. Tetsuya Naito had just wrapped up a story spanning several years by defeating IWGP World Champion Kazuchika Okada in the show’s main event. As the leader of LIJ celebrated in front of an adoring crowd, KENTA hit the ring and laid Naito out, making his intentions clear as the future contender to the World Heavyweight and Intercontinental Championships.
Just one day prior, KENTA had lost his NEVER Openweight Championship to Hirooki Goto, somewhat of a surprising loss for the Bullet Club member. The man formerly known as Hideo Itami needed something big to keep him in the hearts and minds of wrestling fans not just in Japan but across the world. His stock had already fallen enough thanks to his awful run in WWE, so if he was on the downhill slope in NJPW too, then there’d not be much hope for KENTA’s future as a main event star.
Luckily, this attack of the new face of NJPW was enough to suddenly put him back in everyone’s minds. KENTA made it very clear that he was to be taken seriously as a big-time player in NJPW, taking out one of their biggest stars and closing the promotion’s equivalent to WrestleMania.
Bullet Club has been undergoing somewhat of a rejuvenation under ‘Switchblade’ Jay White and KENTA. White has slowly been winning over the wrestling world, and now with KENTA re-entering the conversation as a major player, there’s no doubt that soon enough, NJPW fans will see the Bullet Club as a force to be reckoned with once again.
Perhaps now that KENTA is in line for a shot at Tetsuya Naito, he’ll soon usurp White as the Club’s leader. KENTA is definitely a worthy successor to the captain’s chair, following former WWE pals Finn Balor and AJ Styles, and AEW’s Kenny Omega. Even prior to his run in NXT and WWE, KENTA was one of the hottest independent stars acorss the world. Now that he has finally settled into NJPW, the brand he had forever kept at an arms length, there’s certainly enough to justify him as an ideal candidate to not only Club leadership but also to the IWGP World Championship.
NJPW has only just started to scratch the surface of KENTA’s potential. For the most part, he has been competing in the multi-man tag matches that the majority of fans tend to gloss over. KENTA’s run in the 2019 G1 Climax tournament was enough to prove that he still had the potential to put together instant classic singles bouts. His Wrestle Kingdom debut didn’t quite meet those standards but there’s plenty of talented individuals on the roster that could bring out the best in the stiff-hitter.
The inevitable title match with Tetsuya Naito is bound to be a phenomenal title match, not only as KENTA’s coming out party but also Naito’s first match as IWGP World Champion. Both men are looking to impress and take NJPW into its new era, along with the looming IWGP US Championship feud between Jon Moxley and Minoru Suzuki. Fans of NJPW are certainly in for a treat with the next pay-per-view event.
KENTA has yet to tangle with the cream of NJPW’s roster: Kazuchika Okada, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Minoru Suzuki and Will Ospreay are all suitable match-ups for the former NEVER champion. With so many rivalries now coming to a close, there’s much for all of the aforementioned to sink their teeth into as part of a new era of New Japan Pro Wrestling. Something that is naturally going to come together now that Okada is stepping away from the title scene and fresh blood is entering the fray.
Not only that, but NJPW has yet to capitalise on the growing tension between KENTA and his former mentor, Katsuyori Shibata. KENTA shocked the world by turning heel and aligning with Bullet Club, attacking the retired Shibata and attracting the ire of the wrestling world. Shibata fired back with his own assault, suggesting that ‘The Wrestler’ might indeed make it back into the squared circle after all, although that has yet to be confirmed by medical officials or NJPW management. Either way, it would be an insanely exciting feud should it ever come to pass. Not just because we’d see the in-ring return of Shibata, but also a huge way to put KENTA over as a future headliner.
The next chapter of New Japan’s history could definitely have KENTA at the fore-front, proving that former misused WWE stars have a potential future over in the land of the rising sun. KENTA’s success could open the door for other underutilised superstars who have more than enough talent to put together some hard-hitting performances with other world class performers.
Should KENTA capture the IWGP World Championship at the next NJPW main card, we should witness the dawn of a new era for the popular independent promotion. KENTA could finally realise his full potential, and wrestling fans will be treated to the superstar we deserved back in NXT.
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