WWE's History with Japanese Stars May Be Bad News for Kenta

The Doctor Chris Mueller@@BR_DoctorFeatured ColumnistJuly 26, 2014

Credit: WWE.com

Rumors were swirling for months, but it finally happened: Kenta signed with WWE. Now, he just needs to make sure he doesn't fall victim to the same thing that has plagued every other Japanese star who's ever worked for Vince McMahon.

Kenta Kobayashi is considered one of the most talented technical wrestlers in the world, even inspiring some of WWE's top talent to borrow some of his moves.

CM Punk's GTS was taken from Kenta, as was Daniel Bryan's flying knee. His influence is felt all over the world of wrestling, and the guy is only 33 years old. Talk about carving out your legacy early.

Unfortunately for Mr. Kobayashi, WWE doesn't exactly have the best history when it comes to how it books its Japanese stars. They either end up being used as comedy characters, put at the bottom/middle of the card or end up being released.

Mr. Fuji was probably the last WWE Superstar who had a decent career with the company, with every Japanese star who's followed falling short of his success. All you have to do is look at history to see the pattern.

Yoshi Tatsu

The most recent example of this is Yoshi Tatsu (real name Naofumi Yamamoto). Tatsu spent five years on the main roster before being released during the most recent round of budget cuts.

His initial run in WWE's version of ECW saw him get a couple of wins over established stars, but his push ended as quickly as it began, and he was eventually relegated to house shows, dark matches and squashes.

There was one time back when NXT was airing on Syfy that it seemed like Tatsu was going to have a second chance. He debuted a new look with face paint and a ceremonial mask he would wear to the ring.

He became more serious and wrestled a stiffer style, dropping the smiles and happy-go-lucky attitude. But this gimmick was quickly abandoned, and he went back to not being used at all.

In fact, he went over two years without a televised victory before being released. His last win came on an episode of Superstars in 2012 over Johnny Curtis, who now wrestles as Fandango.

The last time WWE audiences would see Yoshi Tatsu was in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania XXX.


Yoshihiro Tajiri is one of the best examples of WWE not knowing how to use a great Japanese talent. He had all the talent in the world, but nobody was willing to let him use it.

Tajiri was first introduced to American audiences in ECW, where he established himself as one of the most popular and talented workers on the roster for both his hilarious antics and his ability inside the ring.

Despite holding eight championships during his WWE tenure, Tajiri never reached his full potential. He was used mostly as a tag team wrestler or to put others over.

You would think that a talent who employed the use of the famous green mist, displayed a wide range of skills inside the ring and had a big personality would thrive in WWE, but it wasn't written in the stars.

Luckily, Tajiri left on his own terms, with fans giving him a deserved standing ovation after his final match with the company on an episode of Sunday Night Heat in 2005.

Taka Michinoku

Taka Michinoku is practically a legend in the world of Puroresu (Japanese wrestling), but he did not exactly have a stellar run in WWE.

He was first brought into the company when it was developing a light heavyweight division to compete with WCW's blossoming cruiserweight division.

He won the title and held it for 10 months, successfully defending it against a number of challengers before losing it to Christian. It was the first and last taste of gold Michinoku would get in WWE.

He soon entered into a program with the stable Kai En Tai, eventually joining forces with them and feuding with Val Venus. They participated in the now famous segment involving a katana and a part of the male anatomy. This is where things began to go south.

Most of the group left WWE, and Michinoku was kept in a tag team with Funaki. The duo were turned into comedic jobbers, often putting on skits with bad English dubbing over their Japanese voices as a reference to all the terrible dub jobs done on kung fu movies in the '70s. It was mildly offensive.

Michinoku returned to Japan after leaving WWE and has gone on to have an incredible career, but he never got to the level he deserved to be at in WWE.


Taka Michinoku may have been booked far below his worth, but Funaki had it even worse. Not only did he stick around long past his prime, but WWE practically ignored him for years.

In fact, it would come as no surprise to find out that Vince McMahon had no idea Funaki was even with the company from 2008-2010.

He spent 12 years with WWE, but his final few saw him wrestle less than 12 matches on television. He was mostly used as a comedic personality or in backstage segments.

That is until the company decided to go full stereotype on him and stick him in a gimmick where his name was Kung Fu Naki.

While not quite as talented as Tajiri or Michinoku, Funaki had worth far beyond what WWE used him for, making him just another in a list of poorly booked Japanese talents under Vince McMahon's watch.

However, we may not have seen the last of him, as he recently appeared in an interview as Kenta's translator on an episode of NXT. Perhaps he will see him act as some kind of manager for Kenta when he makes his debut.

Also, it should be mentioned that the other two members of Kai En Tai, Dick Togo and Men's Teioh, were also booked very poorly during their short WWE careers.


Jinsei Shinzaki wrestled in WWE for two years under the name Hakushi. He had one great feud with Bret Hart very early in his run, performing very well against WWE's top grappler.

Once that program was over, it seemed like Hakushi would have a good career in WWE as a mid-level heel, but that was just a pipe dream.

Ask yourself, what's worse than being booked below your station? How about losing to a guy who was known for losing to everyone else for several years?

Hakushi was one of the few opponents Barry Horowitz managed to defeat in the short-lived storyline where he went from jobber to winner. It was great for Horowitz but terrible for Hakushi.

After less than two years, Hakushi parted ways with WWE and added another name to the list of Japanese stars that WWE didn't know what to do with.


Kenta may just have the talent needed to escape the fate of all the names mentioned above, but if history keeps repeating itself, he will be pushed upon his initial debut and then put into a position where he won't be able to work his way up the ranks.

Japan is one of the largest wrestling markets in the world. It's known as a place for wrestlers to up their game against some of the best in the world, but it's a different product over there.

Japan has wrestling. America has sports entertainment. They both feature wrestling matches, but that is where the similarities stop.

Japanese wrestling relies more on the traditional aspects of the business while utilizing a stiffer style and featuring a wide variety of international talents. Sports entertainment relies on theatrics, and it's always looking for new gimmicks to incorporate into the product.

Just because someone is popular with the Internet Wrestling Community and other wrestlers because of their work in Japan does not mean they will be a success in WWE. Hopefully that is not the case with Kenta, but we'll have to wait and see what happens.

What do you think? Does Kenta have what it takes to be the first successful Japanese star in WWE since Mr. Fuji, or will he fall into the same trap as everyone listed in this article?

Thanks for reading, and follow me on Twitter: @BR_Doctor.


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