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KENTA’s Resurrection Begins at NJPW G-1 Climax

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credit: AXS TV

KENTA cracked Kota Ibushi in the jaw with a slap that sounded like a piano wire snapping. Ibushi fired back with one that left his foe flat on the mat holding his jaw. And with that, the seal had been broken, the ribbon had been cut. KENTA was officially in business again.

This was more than a New Japan Pro-Wrestling G1 Climax match. It was more than a debut for NJPW. It was a reawakening. 

Wrestling as Hideo Itami, KENTA spent four-plus years with WWE. He was not the headhunter that he was in Pro Wrestling NOAH there, though. He was handcuffed, defanged, diluted. KENTA worked a less violent style, surely per the company’s direction. He never seemed comfortable in the WWE environment, like a bare-knuckle boxer suddenly forced to work with gloves and headgear.

His frustrations with that process are now well-documented.

At a press conference the day before the start of the G1, KENTA talked of what was to come now that he had joined NJPW.

“I need to be myself,” he said. “I’m so excited to be myself tomorrow. I came to Japan to show who I am. I am f—ing KENTA!”

On night one of the G1 Climax in Dallas, Texas, he was exactly that. He and Ibushi had an absolute slugfest, an in-the-flesh representation of the iron sharpens iron idiom.

The feeling out period, where the foes stood in defensive stances and cautiously grabbed at each other, was over in a hurry. KENTA swiftly moved to showing off his famous strike power. He knocked Ibushi in the head with a flurry of kicks. Outside the ring, as The Golden Star hung over the steel railing, KENTA came flying in with a knee to the back of the neck. KENTA towered over a fallen Ibushi, giving him a stare that could cut through cement. He beat his boots against Ibushi’s chest plate, playing a savage song we haven’t heard for way too long. 

Beyond the heavy blows, KENTA’s energy spoke volumes.

He looked at home again as he toyed with his opponent. He prowled around the ring, energized.  There were moments where he looked out to the Dallas crowd and stood there, soaking it all in. Who could blame him? He was a killer again, an artist free to return to the style he had temporarily abandoned.

The thought of that freedom left him choked up at Friday’s press conference. That freedom that saw him thrive in the ring, looking every bit ready to be a major player in New Japan.

Ibushi and KENTA beat each other until they were reddened and wobbly and spent. And the former NOAH star ended it all with Go To Sleep. KENTA’s favorite weapon was now unsheathed once more after years of not using it with WWE.  

Of Ibushi, KENTA said in Friday’s presser: “He is the best opponent to who show I am.”

And boy was he right. KENTA and Ibushi rocked.

When it was over and the warrior walked into the press room at the American Airlines Center with welts on his chest and his sweat glinting on his shoulders, he looked relieved. He was back, his true self no longer subdued. 

“I can’t imagine the last time I had this kind of feeling,” he said through a translator. “When was the last time I wrestled like this?”

He can now look ahead, to his journey through the arduous G1 and his post-WWE career in general. Hiroshi Tanahashi is next on the docket for KENTA. His other A Block opponents include EVIL, Lance Archer and Kazuchika Okada. A whirlwind of violence is promised in every one of those matchups.   

It is time for him to roar louder, to cut deeper, to kick harder. It is time to be KENTA again.

credit: AXS TV

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