I love me some KENTA, and last Saturday's Pro Wrestling NOAH show, in which he went toe to toe against Yuji Nagata, illustrates why. Nagata, 6', 240#, is hugely popular in Japan right now, mostly because of his stiff chops and penchant for breaking opponents' bones even when he loses. The shoot style of wrestling merges Anglo style professional wrestling with Asian MMA techniques, for more dangerous, punchier full-contact frays. Both Nagata and KENTA, 5'8", 180#, are proponents of the style, with backgrounds in other martial arts, KENTA having been an amateur kickboxer before turning to wrestling in his late teens, Nagata having competed internationally as a Greco-Roman wrestler. KENTA, also hugely popular in Japan, is the better known to American wrestling fans and to me, and this meetup against Nagata has been anxiously anticipated.

I prefer the old-school Southern style of sweaty grappling, as many of you know, but KENTA's stoic demeanor draws me into his fights, even though they seldom employ the kind of grunt-n-groan work on the mat that I enjoy. It's not just that he goes up against much bigger opponents, because a lot of wrestlers do that--in fact, smaller wrestlers have to fight big opponents often if they want to stay in the game. I like the glare of KENTA's eyes and his fearlessness. He's not impervious to pain, but he reserves niceties like facial expressions for when he really feels the pain. Enraged, he flies into his opponent without regard to his personal safety (this does not always go well for him). Several times in this match his temper flares, and he and Nagata go toe to toe for a slugfest (and kickfest, too).

KENTA somewhat reminds me of a mix of Jason Hades and Jonny Firestorm, except, you know, Japanese. He is small but rugged. He's got attitude, but he's not flamboyant about it. (More Takashi Shimura than Toshiro Mifune, if, like me, you're a Seven Samurai fan.) KENTA's got a steely stare. His tight, fit body looks less a product of a fastidious gym regimen than of frequent hard-fought battles in the ring. Dismissive at first, Nagata comes to respect the smaller man for his resilience and feistiness. Both men appreciate a good fight, and they damn near kill each other in this one.


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