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Exclusive interview: Kassius Ohno on his return to NXT
When you make a return, do so with a bang. After a several-year absence, Kassius Ohno has done precisely that with his return, and by setting his sights on NXT Champion Bobby Roode. One week before his first match back – a championship showdown with The Glorious One – Ohno opened up to WWE.com about his time away from NXT, making his return and his agenda for the future.
WWE.COM: Now that you’ve had time to settle back into NXT, what has returning been like for you?
KASSIUS OHNO: I think “surreal” is probably the word that most accurately describes how it feels to be back at NXT. Everyone has been so welcoming, and the environment is a very positive and inspiring one. I'm extremely excited at the possibilities.
WWE.COM: It took you over 12 years to get an opportunity to join NXT. How did you deal with the emotions of seeing that dream slip away?
OHNO: I had a feeling things were heading down that path. I had a few weeks to internally address the frustration and disappointment, so the moment I knew I was leaving, I got right on the phone and started making calls. I didn't give myself a second to dwell on it. I was too busy ordering merchandise, taking bookings, reserving flights and visiting friends.
WWE.COM: You had already made quite the name for yourself on the independent scene. What was it like to go back on that circuit?
OHNO: I could not have asked for a better “hero's welcome.” My friends, the fans, my peers, they all made me feel right at home. It was vindicating. The reactions I received night in and night out, the caliber and variety of opponents I encountered over the last three years, have made me feel like the best wrestler on the planet.
WWE.COM: Did you ever expect to return to NXT?
OHNO: I didn't. I followed NXT loosely over the years, but I had kept myself so busy that I never really entertained the thought of what it would be like if I were to come back.
WWE.COM: What lead to your return?
OHNO: When I left, I was told that the door wasn't closed. I'm not the type to burn bridges anyway, so I just kept traveling and getting better at my craft. Eventually, someone reached out to see if I was interested in returning. After a bit of deliberation, I decided that it was something I needed to do.
WWE.COM: What drove that need to come back?
OHNO: I’ve worked hard not to let my previous tenure define my career. I knew I didn’t have to come back to prove myself to anyone. What I need [to do] is to come back and accomplish all the things I failed to accomplish my first time here. I also need to reach those goals for anyone who has ever believed in and supported me.
WWE.COM: Since your return, what kind of reaction have you gotten from those who know you?
OHNO: Well, my mom has supported me in everything I’ve ever done. To be honest, though, I’ve been floored by the outpouring of support from friends, fans, acquaintances and peers, both past and present.
WWE.COM: What’s the difference between the Kassius Ohno from three years ago to the Kassius Ohno of today?
OHNO: Aside from about 50 pounds? [Laughs] I'm smarter. I've matured and I don't have a chip on my shoulder. I'm more comfortable and I know my worth.
WWE.COM: Now that you’re back, it seems that your objective is clear.
OHNO: My focus is zeroed in on the NXT Championship. I have accomplished everything I've ever wanted, everywhere I've ever been. Championships, tournaments, you name it. The NXT Championship is something that I don't just want, it's what I need. I plan to become the face and ambassador of NXT. I want to bring the absolute best in-ring action all over the world.