For the past few weeks, it’s been said that Hideo Itami will be moving up to the main roster and joining the Cruiserweight division soon.
No specific date has been announced, nor any other details, so one of the things that has me particularly interested is what alignment his character will serve: will he be a heel like he was the last time we saw him, or will he transition back to being a babyface?
My gut reaction is to say that he should be a heel, since I started to care more about him during his last short stint in NXT as a villain than I did in a long, long time when he was a babyface.
However, was that really because I enjoyed him as a heel, or just because I felt like they were finally doing something with him that didn’t revolve around sympathy for being on the shelf injured?
The more I think about it, the more I realize his career has been summed up as a big hype that hasn’t become much of anything and WWE can easily go in either direction with it possibly working out.
The Case for Being a Heel
If Hideo Itami most recently was complaining about wanting more respect, he certainly didn’t get enough of it to justify him feeling satiated and turning a new leaf.
Granted, that can still happen without getting what you want (more on that later) but realistically speaking, the characters should logically continue on the most recent trend instead of doing a jarring 180 turnaround like what happened with Ruby Riott, Liv Morgan and Sarah Logan suddenly being heels out of nowhere.
Perhaps Hideo Itami himself even requested this as a means to freshen up his character after spending so long as just a name people are supposed to cheer.
After all, the heels are the ones dictating the story most of the time. They’re either instigating fights or running away from them and then they have to explain their actions, one way or the other.
The babyfaces don’t get much to do other than to talk about how the other person should step in the ring to fight them with honor and blah blah blah. It’s boring, repetitive stuff to be a babyface and I’ve never met a single wrestler who hasn’t admitted that it’s more fun to be the bad guy even if they love the adoration that comes with being someone kids can cheer.
Plus, there are plenty of babyfaces for him to feud with as one of the secondary or tertiary programs on the brand.
In a straight-up match quality sense, Hideo Itami vs. Cedric Alexander could be super fun to watch, as could Hideo Itami vs. Akira Tozawa and plenty of others.
The Case for Being a Babyface
Piggybacking off the last point, don’t we have enough heels already?
Enzo Amore has four people backing him up as members of The Zo Train and we currently keep finding ourselves week to week without much of anything to do for The Brian Kendrick and Gentleman Jack Gallagher, who have almost fallen off the radar completely.
Then, there’s TJP, who has nothing going on because he was a heel who was cast aside in favor of Enzo Amore, too.
If Hideo Itami were to come in as a heel as well, that’s one more person trying to find something to do when there aren’t enough roles to sufficiently book at the moment.
As a babyface, he helps offset that disparity and the brand becomes 8 heels (Enzo Amore, Ariya Daivari, Noam Dar, Jack Gallagher, Drew Gulak, The Brian Kendrick, Tony Nese and TJP) and 8 babyfaces (Cedric Alexander, Mustafa Ali, Lince Dorado, Hideo Itami, Kalisto, Gran Metalik, Rich Swann, AkiraTozawa) with Neville sitting between the two in limbo.
While I’m certainly interested in a match between Hideo Itami and Cedric Alexander as I am, I’m just as intrigued about Hideo Itami vs. any of the heels, particularly The Brian Kendrick and TJP.
There’s also an issue of character when it comes to Hideo Itami as a heel, where those men and women tend to succeed much easier if they’re able to cut a promo, which is something Hideo Itami struggles greatly with.
If he were to be a babyface, though, his promo time would be negligible in comparison, allowing him to focus on his in-ring performance as the thing that fans should get behind.
Also, as a face, he can legitimately win matches to showcase his skill instead of having to cheat to be victorious, which makes a performer look weaker in the grand scheme of things.
It could go either way, but I’m leaning much more heavily toward babyface for one particular reason: Enzo Amore.
Next week will be the match between Rich Swann and Drew Gulak to determine who faces Enzo for the title at some future date—possibly the Royal Rumble.
You have to assume Swann is going to win that title opportunity as he’s the face, whereas Gulak is firmly on Team Enzo and will be the fall-guy to set Swann up, rather than fight Enzo and turn babyface.
I have no faith whatsoever that Rich Swann will dethrone Enzo Amore for that Cruiserweight Championship, so after that is over and done with, who becomes the next No. 1 contender?
At that point, we’ll have had all the babyfaces save for Metalik and Dorado in the mix and neither of them seem to last more than a week or two without taking time off, so they won’t build any kind of legitimate momentum to face Amore, but Hideo Itami will as a newcomer.
It will be very easy to have him come aboard 205 Live and immediately rub Enzo Amore the wrong way when the champion tries to strut his stuff as the big man on campus, only for Hideo Itami to kick his head off and declare that things are about to change.
Where things go from there is up for WWE’s management to decide, as Hideo Itami can win the title or Enzo can squeak by with another “retaining through shenanigans” facade to hold onto it for a little while longer.
All in all, I think it’s much easier to bring Hideo Itami into the division as someone we’re supposed to cheer than to try to set him up as a villain again while introducing him to a crowd that might be unfamiliar with him if they haven’t seen his particular few episodes of NXT.