KENTA has had quite a year in professional wrestling, starting off 2019 as a part of the WWE 205 Live Roster and currently anticipating performing in NJPW's G1 Climax. The international superstar spoke with New Japan about what his experience was like transitioning to WWE.
"I went to America, I went to WWE, and I didn't really achieve what I set out to do there. I didn't get the results I wanted," KENTA admitted. "While all this was going on, I was still in contact with [Katsuyori] Shibata, and we talked about this and that. In the end it boiled down to 'OK, what do I want to do with myself'? What I concluded was that I didn't want things to end this way, I wanted to try once more to bring my vision of pro wrestling to the world. So that said, business is booming for NJPW, and if there's anywhere that I can bring that vision worldwide, it's in New Japan."
KENTA believes that NJPW's popularity has increased significantly since he first signed with WWE back in 2014. As a result, after he finally departed from WWE, it was commonplace for him to be asked about potentially signing with New Japan.
"When people would ask me after I left WWE what I was going to do next, a lot of those questions would be followed up with 'are you going to New Japan'? It really made me feel that NJPW had this big international influence," KENTA explained. "I mean, in April, NJPW filled Madison Square Garden, and the quality of the wrestling is always very high. I thought 'OK, here I can make my mark'. The best wrestlers from all around the world are here. If I can do my thing in NJPW, it's a chance for my style of wrestling to be seen, naturally, by the whole world... Even to American fans, the words 'New Japan' mean a lot, it's reached the global consciousness."
KENTA's perception of his time in WWE is laced with hardship and struggle. Although his original intentions were to expose the world to the "strong style" that Japan is renown for, KENTA feels like that was lost in his effort to adapt to what WWE wanted from him.
"It was a very tough five years. I got hurt, and beyond that I was really grasping for something during that whole time," KENTA said. "It's like, I came into the company to bring my style of wrestling worldwide, but what that actually became was bending and adapting to what the company wanted. That's important in a sense, but the strength and aggression that I bring to the table got lost. That's a real shame.
"One person there might tell you 'do it this way', and then another would be 'no, no, do it like this'. That meant my own personal vision just crumbled away," KENTA continued. "There are people who can do very well in that environment, but I just couldn't. So when that 'what next?' question came up, I didn't ask anybody else what they thought. I just decided to focus on what I wanted to do. Otherwise there's no point."
Ultimately, KENTA has learned some of his own personal life lessons from his time with WWE, and he hopes to apply that knowledge into reaching greater success in New Japan.
"If I didn't [gain anything from the experience], the whole thing would have been meaningless. Of course you want to succeed in everything first time and keep moving forward, but life isn't like that," KENTA explained. "You take your knocks, and then have to learn from that, otherwise your experience is pointless. In the end, I have zero regrets about any of my decisions... My style isn't really like the WWE style. There's an aggression there that's closer to Strong Style, my matches evolve in a more thrilling way. I think if I can fit in here, I'll be able to awaken something that's been dormant for a long time."
Peter Bahi contributed to this article.