It’s almost hard to believe Hideo Itami was the one who introduced Finn Balor to the NXT universe. Finn is now on the cusp of main roster call up and is the longest reigning champion in NXT history, winning the championship in Japan and Itami has been on the shelf for a full year.
It’s now been 13 months since Hideo Itami suffered the shoulder injury that saw him taken off the NXT Takeover: Unstoppable card, but Itami is around the corner from making his comeback. Dirt sheets have been reporting that his return is around the corner and Itami recently tweeted that he’d “see (us) soon”.
Itami was one of the first big independent wrestlers signed, but since his injury he has been passed by a smorgasbord of superstars and he’ll need to redefine his spot on the card when he returns. Simply being a great Japanese wrestler isn’t enough anymore and he needs something more concrete. So the question is: how do you book Hideo Itami’s NXT return?
The stage is set at NXT Takeover: The End with Shinsuke Nakamura versus Austin Aries in what appears to simply be an exhibition match between WWE’s two most recent signings. Nakamura wins clean, defeating Aries with the Kinshasa. He goes up to Austin and puts his hand out, but Aries is angry. This was his chance to prove that the hype should’ve always been his and not Nakamura’s, and he failed.
He drops Nakamura and begins beating on him when out comes Hideo Itami, fending off Aries and sending him flying out of the ring. Hideo helps Shinsuke to his feet and pats him on the back. Nakamura goes to the ropes to make sure Aries is backing off. He turns back to Itami, who kicks him in the head – knocking him out. Hideo just stares at Nakamura for a few seconds, and then leaves.
The next NXT tapings, William Regal is in the ring with Nakamura, demanding an answer as to why Hideo attacked him – when he’s interrupted by Paul Heyman. Heyman comes to the ring and explains that his new client, Mr Hideo Itami doesn’t deal with petty NXT tapings in front of 200 people and Heyman explains, on Hideo’s behalf, that Itami was tired of all these big international names coming in and stealing the spotlight that was rightly his. Itami was the original big name and then he got injured (which Heyman blames on Finn Balor to get more boos) and guys like Nakamura and Aries came in and thought they could just push in front of him in the line.
Itami came back to make a statement and he chose to make it by taking out Nakamura because he knew the crowd would choose Shinsuke over him, so he took the decision out of their hands. Heyman puts Hideo over as a (kayfabe) rich man who doesn’t need to wrestle, but does so simply because he is the best in the world at it and Hideo wants a match against Shinsuke Nakamura on July 1st in Tokyo Japan, live on the WWE Network. William Regal says the match will not happen unless Itami comes to this ring next week and signs the contract himself.
Heyman says that he’ll be here, but if Nakamura lays a finger on him, Itami will sue through Heyman’s lawyer connections. Nakamura is pacing back and forth at this stage and angered by this whole scenario. The next week, out comes Hideo Itami wearing an expensive suit and dark sunglasses. Heyman is by his side and they come into the ring. Hideo doesn’t address the fans, he doesn’t even look at them. Nakamura comes out and gets in the ring, but Hideo simply signs the contract and walks out before Shinsuke can do anything.
Nakamura faces Austin Aries the week before the Tokyo show and Aries beats him with a roll-up after Heyman comes onto the ramp and distracts him. Nakamura runs towards Heyman, but security and referees rush out to restrain Shinsuke before he can get to him. Out of nowhere, Hideo appears behind him and delivers the same kick, again dropping Nakamura. July 1st arrives and Hideo versus Nakamura opens the show in Japan.
They go 20 minutes before Itami cheats to win, using custom-made brass knuckles to deliver a shot to Nakamura while the referee isn’t looking. The next week on NXT, William Regal is infuriated and calls Heyman and Hideo to the ring. Only Heyman comes out. Enraged, Regal tells Heyman that Nakamura will be getting a rematch at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn and the match will be a no holds barred match.
Heyman laughs and explains that this is exactly what Hideo wanted. He wants the big matches on the big stages, because that’s where he makes his money. Everything Regal’s done has been exactly to Heyman’s master plan. Regal smiles and thanks Heyman for telling him what his plan was. He announces that Itami will have to win three matches between now and Brooklyn in order to get the match, otherwise the match will be cancelled.
He then adds the stipulation that the winner of the match becomes the number one contender to the NXT Championship, which is being defended between Samoa Joe and Bobby Roode. Heyman tentatively agrees, but Itami is outraged. He doesn’t want to compete in front of Full Sail University whatsoever. Heyman explains to him that if he does this and wins the NXT Championship, he’ll be able to earn a lot more money and hold the title in spite of everyone here.
Itami agrees and defeats all three of his opponents on the road to Brooklyn, but Nakamura plays mind games with Hideo and goes after him every match. Now Nakamura has the psychological advantage in the feud. Nakamura wins the match at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn and goes on to be the number one contender to the title Joe retains against Bobby Roode. However, you’ve given Hideo a clear persona, an advocate to speak on his behalf and the best possible way to showcase his abilities.
He should be called up to the main roster by the end of the year with Heyman remaining as his manager.