The main storyline of New Japan Pro Wrestling‘s 2019 World Tag League tour was the 2019 World Tag League, a sixteen-team tournament to determine challengers for the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship at Wrestle Kingdom. But often its most compelling storyline was one that didn’t happen in the ring or even technically within New Japan kayfabe: Kenta creating a romantic drama between himself and the NJPW World camera operator.
What started as a bit in which Kenta couldn’t figure out which camera to cut promos at turned into a surprisingly layered story of the rise and fall of a tumultuous workplace romance. While this was, in kayfabe, the Kenta character doing a bit that got out of hand rather than Kenta having an actual romance storyline, it still showed a side of Kenta that many probably didn’t realize existed.
This section of his promos was compared to a “fantasy video” by Kenta, referred to as a “romantic drama” in the title of a video on NJPW’s YouTube channel, and called a visual novel or dating simulator by fans – at least two of whom were inspired to make fan art based on this angle that wasn’t even really an angle.
While watching New Japna backstage promos this fall, I regularly enjoyed this bit and was impressed by how out of nowhere it was and how many unexpected twists it took. I have therefore declared it With Spandex’s Wrestling Romance of the Year after doing no research into whether there were any better wrestling romances that happened in 2019. In celebration of this prestigious award, here’s a full timeline and breakdown of Kenta’s romance that spanned two tours and about two and a half feuds, and included a surprising amount of Yoshi-Hashi t-shirts.
The Meet Cute
Kenta started the Road to Power Struggle/Super Junior Tag League tour overwhelmed by the coolness of dreamy Tomohiro Ishii, or at least acting that way for mind games. On the second night of the tour, October 17, he sat down backstage to cut a promo and had his first significant encounter with another character with whom he would become obsessed, the NJPW World camera person.
He asked, “Which camera is it?” as in, which camera should he cut his promo towards, which is not an uncommon question backstage in New Japan. Kenta quickly learned which one was filming for NJPW World and cut his promo towards this correct camera. No one could have guessed at the time this was the start to anything, especially something that would eventually include attempted murder.
On October 28, the tenth night of the tour, Kenta and the camera operator connected again. “New Japan World… This one? Where have you been?,” he asked. “I was so worried. I haven’t seen you in so long!” He asked the person, looking directly into the camera, “Have you been avoiding me?” and they shook the camera, ‘no.’ “Good, long time no see,” Kenta said, smiling, and asked them to confirm something that fans had been doing on the tour before launching into a promo on Ishii. This was very friendly behavior for a heel, but nothing really out of the ordinary.
Things got more personal, though, the following night, when Kenta asked (before his promo on Ishii), “New Japan World, you came to see me? You wanted to see me, didn’t you? You didn’t come to hate on me? You’ll come to see me again?” He asked the camera person if they disliked him, and they shook the camera ‘no.’ The NJPW camera operator, usually unacknowledged in promos, was now an unnamed character with a friendly relationship with the NEVER Openweight Champion.
On Night 12, Kenta started realizing this relationship was getting weirdly intimate, but that didn’t stop its development. “You came to see me again? And you’ll come to see me tomorrow, also?” he asked while gazing into the camera. But he snapped out of this, confused, and asked, “Are we making a fantasy video?” before starting his promo. The next show saw this relationship progress even further, with Kenta asking, “Maybe, if you like, we can go out for some takoyaki later?” before protesting this was all feeling like a fantasy video.
On November 3, backstage at Power Struggle, Kenta switched his promo formula around, beginning his monologue by talking about his successful title defense against Ishii and speaking sincerely about his career in New Japan. But the end of the promo video once again turned to romance, with Kenta asking “Will you come back to see me next tour? Promise? You won’t confuse me with anyone else, right?” before exclaiming “This is turning into a fantasy video! And a cheap one!”
The Honeymoon Phase
When World Tag League began on December 16, it quickly turned out that the NJPW World camera person had come to see Kenta again (or just showed up for work), and the relationship between the two soon escalated. Kenta rarely talked about the tournament backstage, more focused on his new rival, Hirooki Goto, and the camera operator. After their first match together, his tag partner, Yujiro Takahashi, tried to strike up a conversation about their recent dye jobs, but Kenta basically blew him off, eager to be alone with the person filming them. Again, the conversation turned into dating simulator dialogue.
Kenta and Yujiro’s next match was against their Bullet Club brothers Bad Luck Fale and Chase Owens, and backstage, the NEVER champ kept things on the topics of tag league and Goto, plus a few insults to Yoshi-Hashi, with which he had also been concluding promos on the previous tour. But on Night 5, he was back on his bullshit, and on it more than ever before.
Kenta responded to a (silent) comment from the camera person by saying, “My bangs are usually swept to this side, but today they’re going opposite? You noticed! I combed my hair this way today for you.” The following night, he started his backstage comments by covering the camera lens with his hand and saying, “Guess who!” and later asked, “Why don’t we go play catch at Kawasaki field afterward?”
After publicly asking the NJPW World camera person on a date for the second time, Kenta kept his promos fantasy free for the next few shows, focusing on Goto, with a few digs at Yoshi-Hashi thrown in. On the ninth through eleventh nights of the tournament, Kenta cut no promos at all because he and Goto were too busy attacking each other.
The Other Man
On Night 12 of the tour, December 1, the romance was revived, but it wasn’t as cutesy anymore. When Kenta was alone with the camera operator, he mentioned suspiciously that “Actually I saw something the other day… You were talking with Yujiro, alone.” To the viewer, this might seem like baseless jealousy. Of course, the camera person had to film all the wrestlers, and sometimes they often come backstage alone. And Yujiro was there alone because Kenta and Goto were fighting!
But the camera person soon confirmed (silently) that there was actually something for Kenta to worry about when they called Yujiro the very familiar “Yu-chan” rather than something more formal or professional like “Yujiro-san.” After agonizing over this, Kenta decided “Okay, I’ll trust you this time,” before snapping out of the bit. “What is this? Where is this going? I’m not even sure if this is a fantasy video or not?… This doesn’t have to become a thing.” But somehow there was still even more of a thing for this to become!
On Night 13, it was revealed that Kenta wasn’t the only one dealing with jealousy. While the camera person said they were no longer upset about the previous night’s argument, they also led Kenta to say, “Pieter? There’s nothing going on between us. Pieter is just a girl who likes to cosplay all year. I have nothing to do with her.” Kenta and Pieter, Yujiro’s valet, had interacted a little in the ring, but nothing suggestive; maybe the camera person saw that tweet where he said she was hotter than the Iiconics.
Kenta proposed a pinky promise that they trusted each other, basically confirming these characters to now be in a committed, monogamous relationship. This pink promise was also yet another dig at Yoshi-Hashi (who had started to respond to Kenta’s constant insults in his own promos.) “If one of us is lying, we have to carry Yoshi-Hashi’s staff,” was how Kenta and the camera operator pledged loyalty to each other.
The next time Kenta and Yujiro had a match, the Tokyo Pimp spoke very positively about the former Pro Wrestling NOAH star, saying they had the best chemistry of all his tag partners, probably, he decided “because we’re both heartthrobs.” Kenta didn’t hear this promo, though, and entered the scene steaming with jealousy after Yujiro exited. “Were you talking to him alone again? You have to explain to me what I just saw… There’s nothing going on between you and Yu-chan? Can you please stop calling him Yu-Chan in front of me? This is unbelievable.”
Something else Kenta saw completely destroyed his trust in the NJPW World camera operator. “Hey, where’d you get those earrings? Yu-chan gave them to you? How could you wear those in front of your boyfriend? Don’t you want me to trust you?” Kenta revealed that meanwhile, the camera person had never worn “those Yoshi-Hashi t-shirts I gave you for your birthday… You used them as dust cloths!” He decided, “We really have to think about our future. My confidence is shaken.”
Of course, he then almost immediately dismissed the whole bit. “Who’s gonna care about this soap opera drama? Nobody really cares. Give me a break.” There would be no break from this soap opera drama, but a breakup was on the horizon.
The next time Kenta was backstage, the camera person was fed up with the drama and wanted to end things. The NEVER Openweight Champion tried to salvage his relationship (“Is it because I said that I have no confidence in us? That was just a joke!”) but it was too late, his significant other had found someone else.
It turned out Kenta had been right to be worried about the relationship his tag partner and his romantic partner. “Yu-chan? No, you can’t. He’s no good for you. I know that he wears Yoshi-Hashi t-shirts in private. What? That doesn’t bother you? But you used those other Yoshi-Hashi t-shirts as cleaning cloths?”
Kenta hinted he could “move on to Pieter” but the camera operator’s resolve was firm. As Kenta pleaded with them to talk things out, they started walking down the hallway… until Kenta dragged things back to kayfabe reality. “Nobody really cares who gets dumped. Enough of this… This isn’t that serious of a love story.” He proceeded to cut a promo about his tag match, Goto, and Yoshi-Hashi, but the following night, the love story became even more serious before it ended for good.
On December 6, the second to last night of World Tag League, Kenta and his love story took a dark turn. “Welcome home, honey. Surprised? Sorry for sneaking into your house without asking,” he apologized, indicating to the audience that this segment was a billion times crazier than all of the past segments combined. “How did I get in? I secretly had a key made. You haven’t been returning any of my calls or emails.”
Kenta tried to salvage his relationship by reminding the NJPW World camera person, whose house he had broken into, about all their good times together. These all heavily featured being mean about Yoshi-Hashi, but were not effective seduction, and Kenta became dangerously desperate. If you haven’t watched the rest of the insane conclusion to this story, check it out in the video above.
After wrapping up the story and brutally insulting Yoshi-Hahi again (“An ugly person like you should stay quiet and stay ugly”), Kenta critiqued his work, saying “Today seemed like the final episode didn’t it? Why does it have to end with me being a stalker. I don’t really get it.”
For now, that really was the final episode of the play within a play that was Kenta’s romance with the NJPW camera operator (who was definitively revealed to be a woman in the last episode.) It has come up one more time since when backstage at the World Tag League final, Kenta asked, “Did you catch the last episode? We never even had a show title. But I’m sure the ratings were great” before Goto ran backstage to beat him up.
Kenta turning himself into a love interest in a dating simulator (and not even the one you end up with in the good ending) was not an essential part of NJPW’s annual tag team tournament or Kenta’s Wrestle Kingdom feud with Goto. But his promos, including this unexpectedly complex non-canon romantic drama, were consistently a really entertaining part of the tour, just like his “TOMO” bit was on the previous tour
While promoting NJPW’s Tokyo Dome show on his Instagram story, Kenta recently reflected on the state of his career, saying, “Last year, I had a match once a month or twice a month, but a year later, I had seventeen matches in just one month last tour. Honestly, this is huge for me. I realize that I’m living my life… I’m going to prove what I can do, who the f*ck I am, where I belong in this world.”
The feud for Kenta’s upcoming Wrestle Kingdom match with Goto is way more serious than any of this romantic promo stuff, but all of these things together have given fans a much different impression of Kenta’s place in the wrestling world than the one he had for about five years previously. Since he left WWE and especially since he turned heel, Kenta has displayed both his wrestling and his creativity in a way that hadn’t been seen for years.
With Spandex’s Wrestling Romance of the Year award may not be “prestigious” or “a real award,” but the work Kenta did to earn it was legitimately really good in a way that no one expected. He left the world of sports entertainment and became one of the most entertaining people in the King of Sports.