WWE NXT: Heel Turn is Best Thing Possible for Hideo Itami


Hideo Itami failed as a babyface; as a heel, however, he actually has a chance at greater success in WWE NXT.

After his loss to Bobby Roode at NXT TakeOver: Chicago, Hideo Itami appeared to have turned heel. He went berserk and shoved Kassius Ohno, and on a later WWE NXT show attacked Oney Lorcan. These actions suggest that Itami will be a heel going forward, which is the best move possible for him.

When Itami debuted, it was to great fanfare. He was Pro Wrestling NOAH’s biggest star, despite his very small stature. He became one of the ‘Triple H guys’ almost instantly. Unfortunately, Itami’s WWE career has been devastated by one problem after another.

He suffered two terrible injuries that sidelined him for lengthy periods. His peers like Finn Balor and Kevin Owens surpassed him in terms of star power in NXT. Worse, he lost his monopoly on the position of ‘popular Japanese wrestler’ when Shinsuke Nakamura debut and overtook him in every way possible.

When he was wrestling, Itami was a generic babyface that simply loved to kick people. Unfortunately, the stiff NOAH style hasn’t translated well in North America, even with the ever-gracious NXT audience. Itami has had to overcome one challenge after another, and as a babyface, he hasn’t achieved the desired reaction. It also doesn’t help that his GTS finisher, the move he created, is now synonymous with CM Punk forever and always.

Thus, the best thing for Itami to have done was to turn heel. Not only will this bring about a refreshing change in creative direction for Itami, but he’ll finally be in his element. For Itami, or KENTA, excelled at being a heel.

During his NOAH days, Itami acted like a cocky, disrespectful heel towards everyone around him, from his peers, to legends. This was because his character suffered from a little man complex, and KENTA was determined to show the world that this small fry packs a punch.

In this role, Itami, as KENTA, became a huge success in NOAH. He managed to annoy and anger virtually every single one of his opponents. His strikes were stiffer than normal, even by Japanese standards. This made some of his opponents genuinely angry with him, as he was hitting them harder than what was necessary.

This translated into excellent on-screen heat and the desire to see KENTA either get is, or for him to engage in those famous Japanese strike exchanges. Either way, he was much better off as a heel.

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There’s another element to this as well: facial expressions. Despite WWE NXT being Triple H’s baby, it still falls under the larger WWE umbrella, which means that there are basic rules that all wrestlers must follow. One of those is the rule that, ‘all babyfaces MUST smile’.

Unless your name is the Undertaker, you cannot be a badass stoic babyface anymore; you must be cheerful, happy-go-lucky and exude a positive influence on the audience. These requirements are more like restrictions on many WWE superstars, and mark a death sentence for Itami on the main roster, should he reach that level.

If you watch Itami’s matches, either in WWE or before that, you’ll notice something about his facial expressions. Itami doesn’t smile; and when he does, it looks forced. Instead, he walks around with this angry sort of scowl, and in the ring, he’s as serious as can be. Furthermore, whenever he does his strike exchanges, he has this cocky, arrogant, ‘You-can’t-hurt-me-you-suck’ expression on his face.

In the above video, you can see KENTA trash-talking his opponent, and he does a fantastic job of letting the audience know his emotions and intentions. Even to viewers that might be unfamiliar with him, you can tell Itami/KENTA is a take-no-prisoners badass that WILL hurt you if you cross him.

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Furthermore, this presents WWE with the opportunity to do something that they’ve failed to do many times over the years: create a proper tweener character. For those unfamiliar, a ‘tweener’ is a character that’s neither babyface nor heel; they’re neutral and only serve themselves. Think the Undertaker throughout his final years or ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin during his peak. Both of these two legends attacked anyone that stood in their way, regardless of their alignment.

Itami has the potential to be a great tweener. He could be the guy that attacks everyone that crosses him without mercy. If booked properly, he can become someone that the other wrestlers become legitimately afraid of. With the right booking, the phrase ‘don’t hit Hideo’ can become something of a calling hard, like in the video below:

In this video, a wrestler cheap-shots Itami/KENTA, only for the diminutive Japanese wrestler to destroy him moments later with stiff kicks. This is a much better gimmick for Itami; he can be the guy that proves that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, and that even the smallest wrestlers can do major damage.

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This is the direction Itami must go in going forward. His babyface act in NXT has failed, and a heel turn is not only more profitable, but easier for him. Itami has years’ worth of experience playing the cocky arrogant heel that will back his big mouth up with powerful strikes. Since it’s obvious that shoe-horning him into a babyface position has failed, the heel route is a better choice for him.