It's still too early to give a definitive statement on whether Itami made the right decision or not. We won't have anything close to a good idea of that until we see how Itami is introduced to and presented on WWE's main roster. But we can look at what's been done with him so far because that gives us an idea of how valuable his new employers consider him to be.
Itami's first televised appearance was one of the selling points of NXT's Takeover II show. That he was recognised as significant enough to attract people without actually wrestling was a promising sign that WWE recognised they had a big deal with him, and also confirmed that NXT was intended as WWE's response to the more readily available than ever indy scene.
|Dapper gentleman Hideo Itami.|
That initial appearance saw KENTA introduced to the ring by William Regal before officially adopting his WWE name. After a few brief words (in both Japanese and English) Itami was interrupted by The Ascension. Their appearance likely caused many viewers to groan. A tag team of burly, no-selling brawlers were not the ideal introductory feud for a smaller, more athletic singles wrestler. But it wasn't necessarily a misstep: The Ascension were swiftly dispatched by Itami and backed off when he invited them back to the ring to face him. Up until that night they had been presented as unstoppable. They'd lost the tag team championship to the Lucha Dragons earlier on the show but that had been presented as a fluke, the challengers getting lucky. When faced with Itami the pair backed down, which immediately established Itami as someone not to take lightly.
Had the rivalry ended after a few weeks with Itami handing Viktor and Konor (in that order) decisive singles losses things probably would have been okay. The Ascension's aura wouldn't have been damaged by taking losses outside of a tag environment and Itami would have benefited from beating two of the roster's most heavily pushed names. Instead it dragged on for three months, with Finn Bálor being brought in by Itami as an equaliser and the two finally handing The Ascension a loss at R Evolution. The rivalry finally came to a close a few weeks later when Itami and Bálor handed Konnor and Viktor a second loss on TV.
That Itami and Bálor have been linked to The Ascension for so long is disappointing. Not only has it not been especially interesting to watch but it's also deprived us of more varied matches involving the pair, a shame considering that they’re two of the most highly regarded wrestlers in the world. Had he opted for NJPW it seems safe to assume Itami would have faced a greater variety of opponents, very likely including a top guy like Nakamura or Styles, by now.
On the plus side Bálor and Itami's beef with The Ascension has been presented as one of NXT's top stories. That shows WWE still views Itami as a top developmental name, which in turn means he's someone the company is relying on for the future. Which is something that Itami's nationality also tells us. The company wouldn't have signed one of Japan's top stars, beating out the not exactly poor New Japan on pay, if they didn't intend to have a bigger presence in that country in the coming years.
The NXT crowd has also been consistently keen on him. He regularly gets rousing reactions when he enters and he holds attention during his matches. And his teasing of the Go 2 Sleep, a move he innovated, has been very promising. When he finally gets to hit it the crowd will explode.
Hideo Itami may have played second fiddle to Finn Bálor in their R Evolution match but it's still early days for both guys. As far as the long term's concerned I'm confident Itami's made the right decision.