I have been saying the words “Hideo Itami needs to be the next NXT Champion” for a long time.
It’s been going on for two years this upcoming July 4th, to be exact, the same day Finn Balor won the title off of Kevin Owens at Beast In The East. It seemed so obvious that Itami would be next in line and eventually get the title, but fate would not be so kind.
Itami’s tenure in NXT has not been one of failure, but one of bad luck. The first big international signing to the brand before Asuka and Shinsuke Nakamura were even considered, the man known around the world as KENTA started off strong out the gate, taking on the then dominant Ascension alone, tagging with Balor at NXT Takeover: Revolution, and eventually winning a spot in the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania 31. It even seemed like he was on track for a feud with then NXT Champion Owens, but a shoulder injury in 2015 would stop that trajectory. That injury would then complicate, extending his time on the shelf from seven months to 13. He would eventually come back in 2016 and was all set to take on Austin Aries and team with Kota Ibushi when a bad spike from Riddick Moss at a house show caused a neck injury that sidelined him yet again until March of this year.
For Itami, the last few years have been a series of false starts and what ifs. Not just about the unresolved story question of who attacked him in the parking lot before NXT Takeover: Unstoppable, but all the things that could have been in the past two years. However, it seems like NXT might actually finally have a chance to resolve the biggest what if of Itami’s career at NXT Takeover: Chicago: could Itami actually win the NXT Championship? If the answer turns out to be ‘yes,’ it might just also be the biggest resolution NXT has had with any of their angles or superstars to date.
“I will become NXT Champion” is a line that has been in Itami’s Twitter profile for about as long as he’s been in NXT. It’s something that nearly every wrestler who has walked through NXT since its inception has said, but for Itami, it always felt like it was going to be reality, and it should be. He may not be the charisma fountain of Nakamura or the pure evil of Owens, but he’s an unstoppable force. Strong, silent and hard-hitting, everything Itami says and does feels like a promise—either to succeed or put you to sleep with a knee straight through your cranium. Sometimes, it’s both at once. If he wins on Saturday night, it’s definitely going to be both for Bobby Roode.
NXT currently has its biggest chance for a payoff in Itami. It can prove that while there might be a lot of what ifs around him, being NXT Champion was not one of them. It may not solve the ever-dangling parking lot mystery, but it would at least show that Itami was always meant to be there and that he was always meant to be on top, even if it took him years after making his first promise to do so.
Ashley Leckwold is a freelance writer based out of Atlanta who specializes in comic books, professional wrestling, and pop-punk music. Besides being regularly found at Graphic Policy and The Outhousers, you can find her at her blog and on Twitter @misskittyf.