After a victory over Velveteen Dream at NXT Takeover 31, Kushida seems to be in prime position to potentially take on the current NXT Champion Finn Balor in the near future. However, is it likely he’s going to get a run with the top prize?
There’s been no shortage of former NJPW stars being successful in NXT and WWE, the two most prominent names that come to mind on the developmental brand are current champion Finn Balor and former two-time champion Shinsuke Nakamura. Both of these men came into NXT with tons of hype as their body of work elsewhere spoke for itself, and Kushida was no different.
Looking back, the announcement of his signing over Wrestlemania 35 weekend and his debut in 2019 with NXT at Takeover: New York led to fans being ridiculously eager to see Kushida in the ring for the first time in WWE – even those who may not have heard of him before his debut saw what a huge deal NXT was making of his arrival at the company.
Not every debutant/signee gets this type of treatment so it was clear from day one they had big plans for him, and he got off to a great start defeating Kassius Ohno and making waves on 205 Live. His in-ring style fits both the black and yellow and the purple brand incredibly well. Viewers of NXT in particular have gotten used to a certain standard of wrestling on that brand, people like Gargano, Ciampa, Joe, Nakamura, Cole, Asuka, Banks, Bayley etc. have set the precedent of some of the best wrestling in the world on Takeover shows and Kushida doesn’t out of place among these names at all.
When announced for the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic tournament, Kushida’s partner was a mystery. This was a great tool of building up hype surrounding Kushida as it led to much speculation of who the mystery man would be. It was then revealed that Twitter’s beloved Alex Shelley would be joining Kushida in the tournament to reunite the ‘Timesplitters’ (one of my personal favourite tag teams of all time).
Although the team were knocked out of the tournament in the first round, the match itself was incredible and put a lot more eyes on Kushida and gave newer fans a bit of an insight to his days prior to signing with WWE – while simultaneously giving long time Kushida fans one hell of a reunion.
Most recently, Kushida entered a feud with Velveteen Dream. Dream, already a top star of the developmental brand, turned heel with a post match attack on Kushida thus setting up a match between the two of them at Takeover: 31. Within this match, we saw a much more aggressive side of Kushida due to the nature of the feud and post match, the Hoverboard Lock was applied to Dream causing him an injury. Furthermore, after a competitive match on last week’s NXT with Tommaso Ciampa the finish of the match was caused by interference by Dream causing Kushida to lose by Disqualification. This was an interesting ending to the match, just as he picked up some steam against Ciampa, the interference happened.
This allowed for both Kushida and the former NXT champion to both leave the match looking strong as neither man took the pin or submitted. It also protects the Hoverboard Lock as a dangerous submission. Moreover, the attack Dream went for was quickly thwarted by Kushida who completely foiled the attempt of Dream’s sneak attack. Dream got next to no offence on Kushida which wasn’t expected, to continue a feud it would have made sense for Dream to perhaps lay him out with something in order for Kushida to want to get some sort of revenge. Instead, he’s come out on top in their last two interactions – making us all see what a strong competitor he is.
This brings us back to the question, are WWE building Kushida up to be the next NXT Champion?
I think it’s likely that they are, or they’re certainly building him up for a feud with the current champion that should lead to some incredible matches and interactions between the two. Depending on how long his feud with Dream lasts, we could see the two former New Japan stars closing one of the next Takeover show’s and possibly seeing Kushida taking home the gold.