Kenta Kobayashi may be 43 years old but he still wants to keep going for as long as possible.

The former NXT star Hideo Itami was at a Destiny World Wrestling event on April 14 at the Alliance Banquet Hall in Toronto. He was given a match fitting his 25 years’ experience: a main-event slot for the Destiny World title with himself and Trent Seven facing champion Mike Santana. And although he didn’t win the match and add another title to his growing collection, KENTA is still living his dream of traveling the world and continuing what he started all the way back in 2000.

Prior to wrestling in the main event, KENTA sat down with for a lengthy interview to discuss various aspects of his career. He didn’t go into too extensive detail about any particular subject, though. At the same time, the typical Japanese honor wasn’t in short supply as KENTA was humble, thankful, and respectful to his peers, the promotions that booked him (including both Destiny and DEFY wrestling out of Portland, whose World title he carries to this day), and even to the wrestlers that openly stole from him.

Though KENTA never made it big in any of the major American companies unlike his counterparts Shinsuke Nakamura, Asuka, and Kazuchika Okada, his influence can be found in other places. Many wrestlers have either copied or paid tribute to him by using the moves he either invented or popularized. Bryan Danielson’s running knee is known as the Busaiku (ugly) Knee that KENTA used as far back as 2003. Cody Rhodes’ Disaster Kick was first used by KENTA a decade earlier when KENTA was still in NOAH. AJ Styles’ Phenomenal Blitz is a slowed-down version of the KENTA rush. Jon Moxley outright admitted that he and many of his peers stole from KENTA and wasn’t ashamed to admit it. And of course, many people – but most famously CM Punk – copied the Go 2 Sleep fireman’s carry kneelift KENTA created almost 20 years ago.

“If they steal from us [KENTA himself & Marufuji], then it feels good,” KENTA admitted to

KENTA’s career has spanned almost 25 years. He first signed with All Japan Pro-Wrestling in 2000 and began training a month before Mitsuharu Misawa led an exodus of wrestlers away to form Pro-Wrestling NOAH. KENTA followed most of AJPW’s native roster behind Misawa and continued training there. His environment may have changed but the style did not. As a fan of Giant Baba’s and of the Four Pillars of Heaven growing up, KENTA endured incredible physical punishment just to be accepted into the dojo. He had to do 500 push-ups and 1,000 squats per day. Whenever he did any sparring he thought his opponents were going to kill him. It was brutal, but to him it was worth it.

“It felt like Hell. But in the end it made me strong in body and in spirit,” he said.

KENTA went on to become a hot commodity, first in NOAH and then internationally through NOAH’s partnerships with promotions like Ring of Honor (ROH). He is most proud of the “young KENTA” years, which dates back to the 2000s when he was joined at the hip with Naomichi Marufuji. Together those two would become centerpieces of NOAH’s junior heavyweight division and is especially fond of their many singles matches together. It isn’t hard to see why: many of these matches changed the game of junior heavyweight wrestling and were many years ahead of their time.

Twenty years later and little has changed for KENTA on the outside. Though his hair is a bit longer and his attire has changed somewhat, he still retains his junior heavyweight frame. Standing at 5’9 and weighing around 187 pounds, KENTA might look small but he still packs a punch…though not as much as he did in his prime since age and injuries have taken their toll on him as they would any wrestler who trained and worked as hard as he did.

Although stylistically he was closer to Toshiaki Kawada (owing to his small stature and kickboxing background), KENTA was paired with Kenta Kobashi in NOAH. That pairing ended up being a huge benefit to the younger wrestler’s career: two months after Kobashi’s famous match with Samoa Joe, KENTA was brought in to face Low Ki at ROH Final Battle 2005. Despite that being his first time in the United States, he was overwhelmed with the positive reaction he got and especially from the “please come back” chants the ROH faithful gave him.

But it wasn’t all roses for KENTA.

He was in NOAH during its best years and saw what happened during the decline. According to him, the lack of a TV deal was devastating to NOAH; though it got All Japan’s old NipponTV slot following Misawa’s exodus because NTV was a minority stakeholder in his promotion, the economic downturn that hit Japan in 2008 was devastating. And while Misawa did his best to give KENTA, Marufuji, and the other younger guys more time and creative attention, their best in-ring efforts couldn’t stop the bleeding that NOAH experienced in the late 2000s and early 2010s.

Things seemed to turn around for KENTA in 2014 when he signed with WWE. He was treated as a big deal, with his contract signing being overseen by Hulk Hogan to give it the biggest sense of credibility and significance possible. But as was discussed before, KENTA’s WWE career didn’t pan out as planned. The man himself admits this, though he did call his WWE career “a good experience” all the same.

Hideo Itami

KENTA as Hideo Itami. Photo by Mike Mastrandrea,

And while observers and analysts can point fingers at different reasons for his lack of success in WWE, KENTA himself has his own position. He believes that his lack of success came from his focus on wrestling rather than building a character.

As Tajiri noted in his book on wrestling, the first thing he ever heard from Vince McMahon was that “pro-wrestling is a character business.” KENTA’s lack of success in WWE proves this argument in a roundabout way: he was so focused on wrestling that he wasn’t able to put together a gimmick or personality that could transcend the language barrier. And try as he might, a gimmick like “KENTA kicks hard” wasn’t going to work in NXT, especially during a period when WWE was getting ever stricter with concussion protocols and wrestler health and safety.

After his WWE tenure ended in 2019, KENTA had to choose where to wrestle next. As AEW was not yet an option for him, he was left with two main choices: return to NOAH or start with New Japan. Although returning to NOAH made creative sense since he had extensive history there and could easily pull off another banger with Marufuji, he ultimately chose to sign with New Japan instead. The main reason for this decision was personal, as New Japan gave him the freedom to stay in the United States (he lives near Orlando) and travel back to Japan when needed whereas NOAH would require him to move back to Japan full-time. And considering he uprooted his family when he moved to the US for his WWE career, he didn’t want his family – especially his young children – to go through that process again.

Alex Podgorski interviews Kenta at the Destiny World Wrestling show in Toronto on Sunday, April 14, 2024. Photo by Greg Oliver

Alex Podgorski interviews Kenta at the Destiny World Wrestling show in Toronto on Sunday, April 14, 2024. Photo by Greg Oliver

Now, KENTA is happy to be involved in pro-wrestling in any way he can. He’s happy to be able to go back-and-forth between the US and Japan without risking his family’s comfort. He’s happy to be able to see the world, including Europe, other parts of the United States, and even “beautiful” Canada (Toronto Pearson Airport’s sluggish immigration process notwithstanding). And while his hard-hitting, kick-his-head-in days are mostly left to the past, KENTA still sees plenty of opportunities for himself to continue wrestling, whether it’s for New Japan or any of its partner promotions big or small.

Triple H once said that wrestling careers are short and few people tend to prove otherwise. By that standard KENTA is an outlier, having been wrestling almost since the dawn of the new millennium. And while he’s the first to argue that he isn’t all that successful, he still had some words of encouragement for his fans and for any aspiring wrestlers out there:

“Even if you think you fail, even if you feel like a failure, after a couple years, keep working hard and focus. It’ll change to success,” KENTA said. “In life there’s no failure. Keep going, work hard. If at the time you think this is a failure, keep going, it won’t be failure forever. Someday it’ll be success.”

Anyone interested in looking at KENTA’s library of big matches needn’t look far. Many can still be found on YouTube or DailyMotion (for sure check out Naomichi Marufuji vs. KENTA – NOAH 10.29.2006) through accounts like KingsAARK, Real Hero Is Back Again, and ClassicsPuro83. These channels are but a few that include some of KENTA’s greatest matches and serve as prime examples of the man’s contributions to the wrestling business.

TOP PHOTO: KENTA at the Destiny World Wrestling show at Alliance Banquet Hall in Toronto on Sunday, April 14, 2024. Photo by Bryan Weiss #WeissShotMe #Ishoot4me