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Hideo Itami & The Curious Case of The NXT Parking Lot Attacker

Hideo Itami

Who ran over Austin? Who raised the briefcase up in the main event of King of the Ring 1999? Why did the set fall on Mr McMahon during the Million Dollar Giveaway on Raw? It’s been awhile since we’ve had a good WWE mystery even if the Austin mystery turned out to be a bummer.

But at least that mystery got an ending. Others aren’t so lucky. While it was inferred that the Big Boss Man was the one who raised the briefcase during the Austin/McMahons match at King of the Ring, stopping Austin from gaining control of the company, the audience was never given a definitive answer. Was the set falling on Vince just an accident? Who knows?

While we’re at it, what ever happened to doppelganger Kane from 2006? Oh wait: he joined the Bullet Club, right?

As frustrating as an eternal loose end can be, I’d rather that than a completely unsatisfying reveal like car murderer Rikishi, or a leprechaun being outed as that confounded Anonymous Raw GM. It seems WWE mysteries can only end in two ways: badly or not at all.

Today, the biggest mystery in WWE is where Chris Jericho gets those absurdly expensive scarves. Luckily for us who love a good mystery in our pro wrestling, NXT has potentially the biggest WWE mystery in years: Who took out Hideo Itami?

Yes sir, we’ve got a real whodunnit on our hands.

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To bring you up to date, in May 2015 at NXT TakeOver: Unstoppable, Itami, Finn Balor & Tyler Breeze were scheduled for a three-way to decide the new number one contender for the NXT Championship. However, Itami would never make it to the match. Footage which opened the show revealed that Itami had been attacked in the parking lot on his way into the building.

The attacker was not caught on camera, but Kevin Owens was seen suspiciously walking by an injured Itami after the fact.

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The attack put Itami on the bench for over a year, only just recently returning to the house show circuit in June for tag team action with former Pro Wrestling NOAH tag team TM61. Hideo’s first TV match since the attack was on August 3 against Cruiserweight Classic competitor Sean Maluta. Despite having one normal and one tiny arm, Itami looked good in his return match, and ready to make up for lost time.

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As an Itami supporter, it was great to see him back in the ring, but the most interesting part of the match was finding out whether Itami’s attack, and more specifically the mystery of who attacked him, was going to be acknowledged by the announcers, or swept under the rug like so many dropped WWE storylines.

To my relief, the attack was brought up, but I am a little concerned at how quick Corey Graves was to dismiss the allegations that Owens was the one who took Itami out. I believe his exact words were, "The fact is Hideo was out for a long time. Now, he’s back.”

I feel like there are two ways to interpret that comment by Graves. Either that was WWE’s way of squashing the mystery and turning the focus on Itami’s future. Or, and I’m pulling for this one, they’re going to milk this mystery for all it’s worth and go the slow reveal route. I guess we’ll have a better idea which direction they take when we next see Itami on NXT TV. But for now, it’s time to play Unsolved WWE Mysteries!

If Robert Stack just popped into your head, high five for being an old fart like me!

So just who did actually dunnit? I’m going to start by focusing the investigation on four suspects. Really, we’re talking fiction here, so the attacker can pretty much be whomever WWE wants it to be, logic be damned. But unlike WWE, I take mysteries seriously. Most seriously.

Suspect Number One: Kevin Owens

Big Kev is perhaps the most obvious suspect. He was there at the scene of the attack moments after it happened, and he was anything but sympathetic. He may have seen Hideo as his biggest threat to the championship, leading to the attack, but I don’t buy that as his motivation. Hideo was scheduled for a three-way for the number one contendership, so why only attack him?

Wasn’t Bálor or Breeze...well, Bálor an equally major threat to Owens? If you’re going to eliminate your challengers to the title, wouldn’t you eliminate all of them, not just one? Then again, Owens is a heel, and heels do like to sneak attack faces. So there is that, but Owens isn’t my favourite choice

Suspect Number Two: The Club

Oh yes, the Biz Cliz. Let’s not forget who benefitted the most from Itami’s injury. While Itami lay in agony in the Full Sail car park, Bálor went on to defeat Tyler Breeze and become the number one contender (Yes, in this scenario, Itami spent the entire show lying in agony in the car park). He then beat Owens for the NXT title in Japan, THE COUNTRY HIDEO COMES FROM! Coincidence? I THINK NOT!

Itami would have to watch from his hospital bed as Bálor’s success in NXT would continue, eventually becoming the face of the brand and one of WWE’s most popular stars (Yes, in this scenario, Itami was in hospital for over a year).

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I always thought, and I know I’m not alone here, that a great way to introduce The Club to the WWE Universe was to reveal them as the ones who attacked Itami. Bálor, of course, could have been the mastermind behind the attack. As we know, this is not how The Club ended up being brought in, but it doesn’t eliminate Bálor and The Club as suspects. In fact, it’d still make for a pretty great revelation and heel turn for Bálor somewhere down the road.

The problem with Owens and Balor as suspects though is that they’ve both since been promoted to the main roster while Itami remains in NXT. While that doesn’t rule them out, if this mystery is to remain an NXT exclusive, then we need a current NXT roster suspect.

Suspect Number Three: Samoa Joe

Bálor isn’t the only one who found success in NXT during Itami’s absence. In fact, it was the same day Itami was attacked that Samoa Joe made his NXT debut. Coincidence? We’re detectives now. We’re not allowed to believe in coincidences. Jim Gordon, anyone?

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Suspect Number Four: Becky Lynch

A bit of a wildcard suspect, but stay with me here. Remember that “Who is Finn Bálor?” series of videos that aired back when Finn was still number one contender for Owens’ NXT Championship? And do you remember how passionately and emotionally Lynch spoke about her good pal Fergal?

Well, some people will go to great lengths to “help out” their friends. And you know what they say: it’s always the one you least expect.

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At the end of the day, judging by the aforementioned emphatic “let’s just move on” statement by Graves, there’s a good chance this mystery will become yet another WWE cold case (new WWE Network Series?). And that sucks. This is a pretty great opportunity for NXT and Hideo Itami. Letting this mystery play out could make for some really fun viewing, plus it’s different to the kinds of storylines we’re used to seeing in NXT.

It’s also a great opportunity for Itami to show some range as a WWE performer. Before his injury, it didn’t feel like everything was clicking for Itami in the WWE. He wasn’t completely flopping by any means. He’d had some good matches and, if I remember correctly, he was getting pretty good crowd reactions, but I never got the sense he was completely comfortable transitioning from KENTA to Hideo Itami.

A good old fashioned whodunnit may be just the thing Itami needs to give his character, well, a bit more character.

Let’s see what kind of range Itami can show as a performer. Worst case scenario, it turns into a joke and R-Truth shows up in Sherlock Holmes cosplay. Best case scenario, we the audience are exposed to some intriguing, character defining television. Worse worst case scenario: Hideo’s mystery attacker is never brought up again.