“I’m gonna prove what I can do, who the fuck I am, where I belong in this world.”
Those were KENTA’s words before Wrestle Kingdom 14, a pivotal piece of his career revival. It’s a simple sentiment, though an awful striking one with some context. Over a decade removed from his perceived prime, KENTA was clawing back control of his own career. Finally free from an ill-fated stint in WWE, KENTA appeared to be almost exhaling, relieved that he was headed in the right direction. That thought isn’t surprising, especially for KENTA’s most ardent supporters but yet, his sincerity told its own story.
These conversations aren’t uncommon, with wrestlers logging their latest chapter as they go, detailing each and every triumph or tribulation. KENTA always felt different however, a symbol of excellence that suddenly found himself stalled. It was hard to watch at times, frustrating, even painful. Though most sympathiZed with his situation though, I’m not sure that anyone expected him to mirror those feelings so publicly. It was startling, a refreshing contrast to the cold, poised performance that KENTA had become so iconic for.
It’s that ingredient that I keep becoming back to, beyond the on-screen action and excitement. Every week, another wrestler proves their point, silencing a doubter or at the very least trying to. Few are as willing to be vulnerable though, even fewer doing so with such honesty. That’s understandable, especially in something as grand and ostentatious as pro wrestling. Any transparency is admirable but coming from such an obvious star, a living legend, this continues to leave me floored. He’s very much human, regardless of the mystique that once surrounded his name.
Talking to Sports Illustrated’s Justin Barrasso, KENTA admitted “I’ve felt in my heart that the five years I spent in WWE were the most frustrating days of my life. I’ve talked about this, but I’ll always remember the humiliation in America. Being here reminds me of that regret. And when you’re not good, you tell yourself that. That is what inspires me.” Such sharp self-awareness isn’t always easy to read and, in this case, it’s probably more piercing than necessary too.
With that being said, it’s those comments that make KENTA’s current standing so inspiring. Just over a year removed from that prior proclamation, KENTA has indeed proved exactly where he belongs in this world. Reigniting his status as one of the wrestling world’s most important individuals, KENTA is again making history, now kicking down that infamous forbidden door. Weeks away from a major match with Jon Moxley, KENTA is exceeding even the loftiest of expectations, celebrating a return to form that once seemed unfathomable.
That match’s physical potential is palpable, its overarching direction fascinating. That’s a worthwhile discussion for a different day but I’ve found it increasingly difficult to look beyond KENTA’s own path. In the same way that he once influenced a generation or two, he’s now inspiring the industry in a fashion far broader than bell to bell thrills. KENTA is a case of perseverance, an example of optimism in a category so commonly consumed with bitterness. That’s equally human, but it sparked a motivation in KENTA that’s far more stirring.
In the most objective sense, this whole episode is only enhancing KENTA’s legacy. With a prime etched in the industry’s fabric, KENTA is now extending his story. This isn’t a career that required cementing, nor is it a stature unsteady. That hasn’t stopped KENTA though, it hasn’t dulled the fire in his eyes, not weakening the passion in his heart. Those traits announce themselves with KENTA’s every move, particularly pouring through his most unguarded words. That aforementioned contrast still exists too, KENTA makes sure of that much.
Whether it’s at Daily’s Place or Tokyo Dome, KENTA’s sinister spite lives, still battling away with that familiarly stubborn edge. It’s not my focus on this occasion, but KENTA certainly belongs. This isn’t a fairy-tale, nor is it a revival shrouded by romanticism. KENTA remains great, perhaps not in the dynamic form that he once was but he’s adapted, which is a wonderful addition to his ever-expanding list of achievements. KENTA’s current work doesn’t require such sincerity, it still speaks for itself. To me though, that only makes it more powerful.
I can’t relate to KENTA, he’s one of the greatest professional wrestlers of his generation. That’s no mean feat, it adds a separation that’s necessary, enjoyable even. Whether they are heroes or villains, the greats remain stars in the sky to me and though naive, that remains idealistic in the most imperfect way. Even still, I find myself inexplicably encouraged by KENTA’s latest success, rooting for each step he takes. Within that story, there’s something for us all to share, an element we can all understand.
At core, KENTA is simply another person desperate to prove themselves right. He’s a man that doubted himself, a professional that had to fight his way out of a career collapse. Whether you can directly identify with that or simply empathise with it, it’s something substantial. Those quotes are a reminder that even KENTA feels those things, even KENTA battles those thoughts. In the same way though, these moments of glory are a reminder that there’s always an escape, forever the chance to move forward.
KENTA is an industry titan for producing some of the most spectacular matches in professional wrestling history. To me though, his legacy is now far vaster than that, becoming a symbol of something so separate from his initial reputation. After being such a daunting distance away, KENTA is now back where he belongs in this world. He’s proving what he can do, he’s showing you who the fuck he is.