Kobayashi has won several professional wrestling championships in his career: he is a former one-time Global Honored Crown (GHC) Heavyweight Champion, three-time GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion, three-time GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champion, and one-time GHC Tag Team Champion; once was the inaugural reign with longtime partner and rival, Naomichi Marufuji, which saw the two hold the title for almost two years, as well as a reign with protégé Taiji Ishimori. He was also the winner of the 2012 Global League and the 2013 Global Tag League tournaments.
Prior to wrestling professionally, Kobayashi had a variety of athletic backgrounds, practicing baseball and kickboxing; the latter came to be a strong foundation in his wrestling style often referred to as shoot style. Kobayashi made his professional wrestling debut on May 24, 2000 against future ally and rival, Naomichi Marufuji, in All Japan Pro Wrestling (AJPW) to compete in their junior heavyweight division. He did not remain in the company long as Mitsuharu Misawa, acting president of AJPW, decided to secede from the company following a dispute with other forces, thus leading to Misawa forming his own company, Pro Wrestling Noah.
One of Misawa's focuses in his new promotion was the junior heavyweight division, which never was treated with high regard in AJPW despite the successes in other promotions. Being sidelined with injuries for the majority of Noah's first year of operation, Kobayashi made his return in July 2001, simply named Kenta.
Kenta's first involvement in a championship situation came when Naomichi Marufuji was forced to vacate the GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship after suffering a knee injury; Kenta entered into the tournament held to determine a new champion. He advanced to the finals by defeating Kotaro Suzuki and Tsuyoshi Kikuchi before losing to Yoshinobu Kanemaru on the Navigation with Breeze Tour. Following his relative success in the tournament, Kenta had an increase in his popularity, and he joined his mentor, Kenta Kobashi, in the faction Burning.
March 1, 2003 saw Kenta team with Naomichi Marufuji for the first time against Makoto Hashi and Yoshinobu Kanemaru in a winning effort. They began teaming regularly as the two entered into a tournament to christen the first GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champions during the company's Accomplish Our Third Navigation tour; they went to win the tournament by defeating junior heavyweight veterans Jushin Thunder Liger and Takehiro Murahama in the finals on July 16. While defending the tag team title, Kenta continued his venture in hopes of winning the GHC Junior Heavyweight title once again on November 30, 2003, in an unsuccessful bid against Takashi Sugiura.
As part of a reward for the way Kenta performed, he earned himself a trial series of seven matches going into the next year, seeing Kenta able to challenge more established stars in an attempt to elevate his status. Kenta began his trial series on the First Navigation tour, beating Juventud Guerrera. This was followed by defeats to Yoshinari Ogawa and Jun Akiyama. The final match of the series was a loss against Marufuji in October. While the series was taking place, Kenta and Marufuji continued defending their title against a number of challengers: El Samurai and Ryusuke Taguchi, Yoshinari Ogawa and Kotaro Suzuki, Suzuki and Ricky Marvin, Marvin and Suwa and, on Noah's first Tokyo Dome show, against Kendo Kashin and Takashi Sugiura. Their reign as champions came to an end after almost two years by Kanemaru and Sugiura after the latter pinned Kenta.
Kenta's first major rivalry in singles competition began in March 2005 following a dispute with SUWA, which led to a series of confrontations between the two, including a violent match that ended in his opponent getting disqualified for assaulting the referee. This led to Kenta getting one more chance to challenge for the Junior Heavyweight title against Yoshinobu Kanemaru on July 18, which saw him win the title. He made his first defense two months later against Suwa, then against Kotaro Suzuki as his alter ego, Mushiking Terry. Simultaneously, Kenta began teaming with Katsuyori Shibata as The Takeover, challenging for the GHC Tag Team Championship, the heavyweight version of the company's tag team title.
On March 5, 2006, Kenta faced a major challenge in Kenta Kobashi, which saw him lose following a Burning Hammer. This was followed by a loss of the Junior Heavyweight title on June 4 to Takashi Sugiura. This saw Kenta shift his attention to the GHC Heavyweight Championship, challenging Naomichi Marufuji, losing in a match which won numerous awards and accolades from the wrestling media.
Kenta spent the majority of his 2007 time in Noah wrestling a variety of tag team and six-man tag team matches with protégé Taiji Ishimori and Akitoshi Saito as partners. He saw most of his success with Ishimori as the two had critically acclaimed matches against a wide variety of competitors, including Ring of Honor (ROH) competitors on loan to the company due to the talent exchange agreement, the Global Professional Wrestling Alliance (GPWA), between ROH and Noah: the Briscoe Brothers, Davey Richards, and Bryan Danielson. As Kenta and Ishimori progressed as a unit, they entered the first NTV Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Tournament; in the finals they beat Marufuji and Kota Ibushi to win the tournament. They later challenged the GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champions, Dragon Gate wrestlers BxB Hulk and Shingo Takagi, in a winning effort before losing them to Yoshinobu Kanemaru and Kotaro Suzuki, only to defeat the team to win the second NTV Junior Heavyweight Tag Team League Tournament.
Following his loss of the tag title, Kenta returned to competing in singles competition by defeating Bryan Danielson for his second GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship, which led to a match with Marufuji, who had won the World Junior Heavyweight Championship, to attempt to unify the titles; the match ended in a sixty-minute draw, keeping the titles in the hands of their respective holder, while gaining favorable reviews for their efforts by the media with some claiming it to be a Match of the Year. Kenta lost the title in February 2009 to rival in their interpromotional rivalry with another member of the GPWA in the Kensuke Office, Katsuhiko Nakajima, only to win it back in the next month. In October, Kobayashi was forced to vacate the title after suffering a knee injury, which would keep him sidelined for over seven months.
Kobayashi made his return from injury on June 6, 2010, losing to Naomichi Marufuji in a GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship number one contender's match. On October 30, 2010, Kenta and Atsushi Aoki defeated Roderick Strong and Eddie Edwards in the finals of a tournament to win the 2010 Nippon TV Cup Junior Heavyweight Tag League. As a result, Kenta and Aoki received a shot at the GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship, but were defeated by the champions, New Japan Pro Wrestling representatives Koji Kanemoto and Tiger Mask, on November 23, 2010. On January 29, 2011, Kenta turned heel and join the Disobey stable with members Muhammad Yone, Yoshinobu Kanemaru and Genba Hirayanagi. Kenta would change his look and attitude. Then on March 5, he turned on Yone, removing him from the group. One week later, he renamed the stable No Mercy. On May 25 Kenta and Yoshinobu Kanemaru defeated Atsushi Aoki and Kotaro Suzuki of the ANMU stable to win the vacant GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship. After months of trying to persuade his mentor Yoshihiro Takayama to join No Mercy, on June 26 Takayama turned on his partner Takuma Sano during a tag match against Kenta and Kanemaru and became the fourth member of the group. Kenta and Kanemaru would then make it to the finals of the Junior Tag League on July 30. They lost to Atsushi Aoki and Kotaro Suzuki. Then on August 18, 2011 Kenta and Yoshihiro Takayama won the Noah 2 Day Tag Team Tournament. On August 24, Kenta and Kanemaru successfully defended their tag title against Aoki and Suzuki, who got the shot due to their victory in the Junior Tag League. On September 23, Kenta confronted GHC Heavyweight Champion Go Shiozaki after he defeated Takayama to retain the title. Kenta got a number one contender's match with Takashi Sugiura, which he won on October 10. Kenta and Kanemaru lost the GHC Junior Heavyweight tag title to Aoki and Suzuki on October 16.
At Noah's Halloween show on October 31, 2011, Kenta challenged the NJPW team Bad Intentions (Giant Bernard and Karl Anderson) for the GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Championship with Yoshihiro Takayama. The match was set for 2012, but never happened due to injury. In November, Kenta entered Noah's Global Tag League and developed a new submission move he called "Game Over" to help him dispatch heavyweights. Kenta would make it to the finals on November 20, but would lose to Takeshi Morishima. On November 27, he lost to Go Shiozaki in his GHC Heavyweight title shot. In December 2011, Kenta tore his ACL again, forcing him to undergo another surgery to repair it. It was announced that he would be out of action for six to seven months. Tokyo Sports named Kenta the 2011 Technical Wrestler of the Year. Despite his injury, Kenta would stay in Noah and manage No Mercy during his injury. On February 14, 2012, Kenta recruited Shuhei Taniguchi as the fifth member of No Mercy and change his name to Maybach, becoming his mouthpiece and talking for him.
Kenta made his in-ring return on July 22, 2012, losing to Naomichi Marufuji. On October 8, Kenta and Maybach Taniguchi defeated Magnus and Samoa Joe to win the GHC Tag Team Championship for the first time. However, they lost the title to Akitoshi Saito and Go Shiozaki just eighteen days later. On November 23, Kenta won the 2012 Global League Tournament.
On January 27, 2013, Kenta defeated Takeshi Morishima for the GHC Heavyweight Championship at Great Voyage 2013. On February 9, Maybach Taniguchi turned on Kenta and stole his Heavyweight Championship belt. The following week, Kenta took part in a South American tour with the Alianza Latinoamericana de Lucha Libre (AULL) promotion, during which he won the Torneo Latino Americano de Lucha Libre, defeating Super Crazy in the finals. On March 10, Kenta defeated Maybach Taniguchi for his first successful defense of the GHC Heavyweight Championship. On April 28, Kenta and Yoshihiro Takayama defeated Katsuhiko Nakajima and Kensuke Sasaki in the finals to win the 2013 Global Tag League. On May 11, Kenta took part in Kenta Kobashi's retirement match at Final Burning in Budokan, where he, Go Shiozaki, Maybach Taniguchi, and Yoshinobu Kanemaru were defeated by Kobashi, Jun Akiyama, Keiji Mutoh, and Kensuke Sasaki. The following day, Kenta made his second successful defense of the GHC Heavyweight Championship against Takashi Sugiura. On June 2, Kenta defeated New Japan Pro Wrestling representative and reigning GHC Tag Team Champion Toru Yano for his third successful title defense. Six days later, Kenta was pinned by Yano in a GHC Tag Team Championship match, where he and Yoshihiro Takayama unsuccessfully challenged Yano and Takashi Iizuka. On July 7, Kenta made his fourth successful defense of the GHC Heavyweight Championship against Naomichi Marufuji. Kenta's fifth successful title defense took place on August 4, when he defeated Muhammad Yone. Next Kenta defended his title against the reigning GHC Tag Team Champions, first defeating Shane Haste on September 7 and then Mikey Nicholls on September 16. On October 5, Kenta defeated Diamond Ring representative Katsuhiko Nakajima for his eighth successful title defense. With the win, Kenta became the first wrestler to successfully defend the GHC Heavyweight Championship eight times during a calendar year. On December 7, Kenta defeated New Japan representative and winner of the 2013 Global League Tournament, Yuji Nagata, for his ninth successful title defense. Kenta's near one-year long reign ended on January 5, 2014, when he lost the title to Takeshi Morishima in his tenth defense.
On February 3, 2014, Kenta and Maybach Taniguchi's long rivalry culminated in a No Disqualification match, where Kenta was victorious. After Yuji Nagata had defeated Morishima to become the GHC Heavyweight Champion, Kenta received the first shot at the new champion, but was defeated in the title match on February 22. On April 30, Noah held a press conference during which Kenta announced his resignation from the promotion. Kenta wrestled his farewell match on May 17, where he and Naomichi Marufuji defeated Katsuhiko Nakajima and Takashi Sugiura.
Aside from competing in Pro Wrestling Noah, Kenta has been able to compete abroad in the United States with other participating members of the GPWA. His first appearance in the country was with Ring of Honor at Final Battle 2005, as a fan favorite, defending the GHC Junior Heavyweight title against Low Ki. He returned to the company the following year for Best in the World in New York City on March 25 where he and Naomichi Marufuji defeated the team of Samoa Joe and ROH World champion Bryan Danielson after Kenta connected with his finishing strike, the Go 2 Sleep, on Danielson. Kenta returned for In Your Face featuring him in a three-way match against Joe and Danielson, which ended in similar fashion.
Kenta's first loss in the company came in the form of a tag team match, which saw his partner, Davey Richards, get pinned in a match against the Briscoe Brothers. This led to a series of matches with the two against each other, as well as reluctant partners. At Glory by Honor V: Night 2 Kenta received another match against Danielson for the ROH World title, which saw him submit to Danielson's signature hold, the Cattle Mutilation.
Kenta made his return to Ring of Honor on May 11 of the next year against Delirious in a winning effort. Ring of Honor made its pay per view debut with the show, Respect is Earned, teaming with Nigel McGuinness against Danielson and Takeshi Morishima in a losing effort, after which Kenta spent several months with the company competing against rival, Davey Richards and his contingency, the No Remorse Corps. Kenta made his next appearance on the Glory By Honor VI tour; the first night had him team with the GHC Heavyweight Champion Mitsuharu Misawa against Takeshi Morishima and Naomichi Marufuji, with the match ending in a thirty-minute time limit draw. The following night, Kenta wrestled Misawa for the GHC Heavyweight Championship in a losing effort.
Kenta made his return in 2009 against ROH World Champion, Nigel McGuinness in a losing effort at the company's seventh anniversary show. He returned a few weeks later to challenge Davey Richards once more, as well as make his second pay per view appearance for Take No Prisoners teaming with Tyler Black against Katsuhiko Nakajima and Austin Aries. Kobayashi was scheduled to return to ROH in November 2009, but was forced to cancel the appearances after suffering a knee injury.
On January 27, 2014, Kenta, with Noah's blessing, entered WWE's Performance Center in Orlando, Florida for a tryout. In a press release, Kenta claimed that he was not after a WWE contract, but only wanted to fulfill a dream and take part in a WWE workout. On June 27, Tokyo Sports reported that Kenta had signed with WWE. His signing was officially announced during an in-ring segment on July 12 in Osaka. Kobayashi relocated to Orlando to resume training at the Performance Center, while also working for WWE's developmental territory NXT.
Kobayashi debuted on September 11 at NXT TakeOver: Fatal 4-Way, introduced by William Regal, where he announced his new ring name, "Hideo Itami", meaning "Hero of Pain", and fended off The Ascension when they interrupted the segment to confront Regal. Itami made his in-ring debut at the following day's tapings of NXT, defeating Justin Gabriel, after which he was attacked by The Ascension. During the following weeks, Itami kept engaging The Ascension in brawls, but continually lost due to the numbers disadvantage; the storyline was that as a newcomer in NXT, Itami did not have any friends in the locker room to help him. This continued until November, when Finn Bálor debuted as Itami's new partner. After weeks of feuding with The Ascension, Itami and Bálor defeated them at NXT TakeOver: R Evolution on December 11. Itami suffered his first defeat in NXT on January 15, 2015, when he was defeated by Bálor in the semifinals of an NXT Championship number one contender's tournament. At NXT TakeOver: Rival, Itami defeated Tyler Breeze. On March 27, Itami won the WrestleMania Axxess NXT tournament by defeating Adrian Neville and then Finn Bálor to get a spot in the André the Giant Memorial Battle Royal on the pre-show of WrestleMania 31, where he was eliminated by eventual winner Big Show.
On May 20 at NXT TakeOver: Unstoppable, Itami was scheduled to face Finn Bálor and Tyler Breeze in a triple threat match to determine the number one contender for the NXT Championship; however, Itami was ruled out due to injury after an attack he suffered before the event started. This was made as Itami had suffered a legitimate shoulder injury, which required surgery and was expected to sideline him for six months. In January 2016, it was reported that Itami had suffered complications with his shoulder and was "nowhere close to being able to return".
After over a year of inactivity, Itami returned to the ring on June 30, 2016, at an NXT live event, teaming with TM-61 to defeat Samoa Joe, Blake and Tino Sabbatelli in a six-man tag team match. On August 3, Itami made his televised return, defeating Cruiserweight Classic competitor Sean Maluta.
At NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn II, Itami confronted Austin Aries, following the latter's match with No Way Jose, exchanging blows before attacking Aries with a GTS. On October 12 at an NXT live event, Itami suffered a neck injury after a botched powerslam from Riddick Moss and would not be able to team with Kota Ibushi in the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic in which he was scheduled to compete in. In a video announcement published on October 18, Itami vowed to return to in-ring competition at NXT's first show in Japan on December 3. However, at the event, Itami did not compete but was instead in an in-ring segment alongside William Regal where they talked to the crowd. Itami made his televised return on April 19, 2017, where he confronted NXT Champion Bobby Roode, before slapping him and executing a GTS. This led to a match at NXT TakeOver: Chicago, in which Itami was unsuccessful in winning the title from Roode. On the June 7 episode of NXT, furious after his loss to Roode, Itami faced Oney Lorcan, which ended in a no-contest after Itami performed three GTS on Lorcan until Kassius Ohno attempted to save Lorcan, teasing a heel turn and a feud between the pair. On the July 5 episode of NXT, Itami teamed with Ohno in a tag team match against Sanity (Killian Dain and Alexander Wolfe), but lost after Itami refused to tag in Ohno. On the July 26 episode of NXT, Itami faced Ohno in the main event, which ended after Itami intentionally disqualified himself with a low blow to Ohno before viciously attacking and laying him out after two GTSs, followed by a 3rd onto the steel steps, cementing his heel turn.
On the August 2 edition of NXT, Itami cut an in-ring promo, demanding respect from the fans. He was interupted by Aleister Black, who was scheduled to face Kyle O'Reilly in the night's main event. After a stare down between the two, Black hit Itami with Black Mass. Itami attempted to assault Black following the event, but the two were separated by fellow talent. At NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn III, Itami was defeated by Black.Finishing moves
As Hideo Itami
Corkscrew roundhouse kick to a kneeling opponent – 2014
Diving double foot stomp – 2014
GTS – Go to Sleep – 2015–present – Innovated
Shotgun Kick (Running single leg front dropkick) – 2015–2016
Busaiku he no Hizageri / Busaiku Knee Kick (Running single leg high knee)
Game Over (Omoplata crossface) – 2011–2014; adopted from Daniel Bryan
Go 2 Sleep – Innovated
As Hideo Itami
Tornado DDT onto the ring ropes
Bridging tiger suplex
Falcon Arrow (Sitout suplex slam)
Multiple kick variationsKoutoubu Kick (Roundhouse)
Slingshot leg drop
Standing or a running high-angle sitout powerbomb
Ura Go 2 Sleep (Argentine backbreaker rack dropped into a knee lift to the back of the opponent's head) – Innovated
"International / Japanese Sensation"
"No Light Theory" by Brahman (NOAH)
"Where da Hood At?" by DMX (NOAH)
"Art & Life" by Twista featuring Young Chris, Memphis Bleek, and Freeway (NOAH/AAA)
"What You Know (Instrumental)" by T.I. (NOAH)
"Rey Mysterio, Jr. Jam (Instrumental)" by Ill Harmonics (ROH)
"Hard in da Paint" by Waka Flocka Flame (NOAH)
"Enio" by SebastiAn
"Tokiwakita (Time Has Come)" by CFO$ (NXT; 2014–present)
Alianza Latinoamericana de Lucha Libre
Torneo Latino Americano de Lucha Libre (2013)
Pro Wrestling Illustrated
Ranked No. 22 of the top 500 singles wrestlers in the PWI 500 in 2013
Pro Wrestling Noah
GHC Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship (3 times)
GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship (3 times) – with Naomichi Marufuji (1), Taiji Ishimori (1) and Yoshinobu Kanemaru (1)
GHC Tag Team Championship (1 time) – with Maybach Taniguchi
2 Days Tag Tournament (2011) – with Yoshihiro Takayama
Differ Cup (2005) – with Naomichi Marufuji
Global League Tournament (2012)
Global Tag League (2013) – with Yoshihiro Takayama
Matsumoto Day Clinic Cup Contention Heavyweight Battle Royal (2013)
One Day Six Man Tag Team Tournament (2002) – with Kenta Kobashi and Kentaro Shiga
Nippon TV Cup Junior Heavyweight Tag League (2007, 2008, 2010) – with Taiji Ishimori (2007, 2008) and Atsushi Aoki (2010)
Global Tag League Fighting Spirit Award (2014) – with Yoshihiro Takayama
Best Bout Award (2006) vs. Naomichi Marufuji, October 29, 2006
Best Tag Team Award (2003) with Naomichi Marufuji
Outstanding Performance Award (2013)
Technique Award (2011)
Wrestling Observer Newsletter
Best Wrestling Maneuver (2006, 2007) Go 2 Sleep
Tag Team of the Year (2003, 2004) with Naomichi Marufuji
Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal Qualifying Tournament (2015)