Before being known to a wider audience as Hideo Itami, he was KENTA. This would mark the ROH debut for the NOAH star, as he defended his GHC Jr. Heavyweight Title against Low Ki. If you wanted to know how big a deal this way, just note that this was the main event. Yes, ROH’s biggest show of the year was headlined by a debuting Jr. Heavyweight. I absolutely loved the ROH/NOAH partnership. It was about 10,000x better than their NJPW partnership.
The ROH faithful rightfully treated this like a big match. Both men came in confident that their striking ability was better than the other. For example, even after Ki brutalized KENTA with some kicks, the champ retaliated by cockily kicking him in the back of the head, shrugging it off. Their first strike exchange was brief but violent. Almost as if it was put there purely to tease the audience. Each kick sounded more painful than the last. There was a feeling that these were two very evenly matched wrestlers. Despite that, it was Ki who took control, wearing down KENTA and focusing on the back. I say wear down, but it wasn’t anything dull like you get in some other matches.
KENTA began his comeback, fueled by kicks and high impact offense. When he couldn’t put Ki away for good, that set up a finishing stretch of wild stuff. Ki hit the Warrior’s Way and busted out the Kobashi chops, while KENTA delivered a super falcon arrow (HE DID THE SUPER DEAL). They went to exchange some of the hardest slaps you’ll ever see in a ring. It reached a point where KENTA knocked Ki down with one and the fans bought it as a finish. A highlight came when KENTA had the Busaiku Knee countered into a Ki Krusher, which was insanely awesome. In the end, KENTA hit the first Go to Sleep in ROH history, which Ki sold like death. He followed with the Busaiku Knee to retain in 25:02.
An incredible encounter. KENTA had the best in-ring debut for a company I can think of, at least until Shinsuke Nakamura showed up in NXT in 2016. Low Ki was the perfect opponent for this, as their styles were similar and played right into KENTA’s strengths, introducing him as well as anyone could have. The crowd was hot for everything. Nothing against them, but I do feel this might’ve been even better in a place like the Manhattan Center. Anyway, they beat the hell out of each other and raised the bar until a great finish. [****½]
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