After months of rumors and conjecture, WWE has announced that former Pro Wrestling NOAH star KENTA (nee Kenta Kobayashi) is joining the roster. KENTA’s next move is to head to Orlando, Fla. where he will train at the WWE Performance Center. Rather than moving up to the main roster, KENTA will join WWE’s developmental roster and show with NXT. While I am excited about the prospect of seeing KENTA on WWE television, he has many challenges to overcome to truly make it on the grandest stage in the business.
KENTA recently turned 33 years old last March. So, he is not exactly the young, hungry buck and thoroughbred who the likes of Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins were when the trio made their debut on WWE television as The Shield. KENTA is not yet in that quasi-older no man’s land that likely hindered A.J. Styles‘ chances of a WWE deal after he left TNA Wrestling. The main problem with KENTA’s age and experience is that WWE seems to want to mold and build younger talents almost from scratch.
Another issue with KENTA is his size. KENTA, at an average height of 5-foot-8, tips the scales at about about 180 pounds. WWE is the land of big men; and in the past, booking has proven that bigger is generally better. Now, KENTA is not much smaller than former WWE world heavyweight champion Daniel Bryan. The latter was able to break through and become a major star in WWE. However, Bryan also started in WWE at a younger age and had to spend years of toiling and “paying his dues” before he was able to find an incredible connection with the WWE Universe that rocketed him to the top through sheer force of will.
One of the major tests for KENTA’s success in the business will be adapting to WWE in-ring pacing and style. For years, KENTA has worked a hard-hitting, stiff style on the Japanese wrestling scene. It is a style that translated well for him when worked as a part-timer in the United States for indy feds such as Ring of Honor. In fact, some of KENTA’s trademark moves and kicks were appropriated by the likes of CM Punk and Bryan in the WWE. However, such moves look great when he is working against wrestlers of a similar stature in NOAH and in ROH. It will be interesting to see if KENTA can adapt a move-set that connects with the WWE Universe and its sensibilities. That said, KENTA’s move to the NXT roster and his training at the Performance Center are great ways to assist him in this area. It would not hurt for KENTA to buckle down and learn English and try to develop some basic promo skills for the English-speaking fans. He does not have to be a wordsmith at the level of CM Punk, but even Chris Jericho and Rey Mysterio talked about how Sin Cara’s failure to learn English well was a strike against the Mexican wrestler.
Also, to be brutally honest, few Japanese wrestlers and performers have been able to break past the status of mid-card attraction or comedy act in the WWE. Former WWE Superstar Yoshihiro Taijiri, who has a similar stature to KENTA, had a fairly lengthy and decent career in WWE; yet Taijiri never grew beyond the role of tag team champion for oddball, makeshift tag teams or cruiserweight champion. Former WWE Superstar Yoshi Tatsu was nothing more than enhancement talent and a low-level jobber on WWE Superstars before he was fired from last month.
The deck is clearly stacked against KENTA. That does not mean he cannot be an exception to the rule. Perhaps this is a challenge for KENTA that will make him rise to the occasion. I am not against his move to the WWE. There is nothing wrong with giving WWE a try. Even if he does not make it, it could still make him much more popular and provide him more lucrative opportunities for later in his career. Having seen KENTA perform live at ROH Supercard of Honor IV during WrestleMania 25 weekend, I can say without a doubt that him and Davey Richards stole the show and had the best match that entire weekend. Seeing KENTA perform is an experience unlike any other.