2019 has been a dramatic year for KENTA, fka Hideo Itami. After about five years dealing with injuries and not being heavily pushed in WWE, the former Pro Wrestling NOAH star requested his released from the company in January and got it. Then in June, he showed up at New Japan Pro Wrestling‘s Dominion, where he was introduced by his best friend Katsuyori Shibata and declared his intention to enter the G1 Climax tournament.
On July 6 in Dallas, Texas, KENTA wrestled his first post-WWE match against Kota Ibushi. After a hard-hitting battle between two renowned strikers, KENTA won with Go 2 Sleep, a move that had been banned in WWE after it broke Brian Kendrick’s nose in December 2017. In an interview for NJPW’s website earlier this month, KENTA had spoken about his frustration with not being able to use the move:
It’s not like I invented the dropkick or anything. But when it comes to a move that I did make, that was another thing that got to me about WWE. A move I invented, I thought up, and I’m not allowed to use it? It’s crazy. Over here, well, nobody can say anything to stop me hitting it.
Backstage at the G1 opener, KENTA spoke to the press (in Japanese, using a translator) about his in-ring return. On how it felt to use the G2S again, he said, “I had a little bit of pain in my shoulder, but I did really feel that was very effective. It’s really been a while since I had this type of firm feeling, like ‘Oh, this is working,’ so that was great.”
On the match as a whole, KENTA reflected, “I really appreciated this opportunity to go against Ibushi… I can’t imagine the last time I had this type of feeling. I wonder when was the last time I wrestled like this? It’s been a while.”
KENTA said this match was the first step in getting back what he had before he went to WWE. But though it felt like “a fresh start… Of course, I can’t really say anything much just having had only one match, and this is just the first match in the tournament.”
His next match is against an even higher profile opponent in Hiroshi Tanahashi, but it sounds like KENTA is looking forward to the G1 as a whole more than any individual match. “Yeah, it’s really great to face Tanahashi and I really appreciate this opportunity to go against him on such a big stage… I really want to enjoy this as much as I can, no matter who I’m fighting against.”