Hideo Itami on his hard road back to NXT from injury
After being forced out of action for nearly a year and a half, Hideo Itami made his long-awaited return to an NXT ring several weeks ago. As one of Japan’s biggest stars, Itami’s decision to sign with WWE NXT in summer 2014 made headlines all over the world. Now, he’s back in the headlines by returning to the ring in the hopes of picking up right where he left off. This week, Itami sat down with WWE.com to discuss his return, the frustrations of being injured and his future goals.
WWE.COM: How did it feel to finally return to an NXT ring?
ITAMI: I’m so happy to be back. Words cannot explain how much it meant. But my goal is not just to be back in action; I’m also focused on reaching the next level.
WWE.COM: For those who were unfamiliar with your shoulder injury, what exactly happened?
ITAMI: I suffered a dislocated shoulder, which was a very tough injury. I have torn my ACLs in both knees and I’ve broken an ankle, but this is the longest I’ve ever been out of action in my entire career. It was the toughest injury of my life.
WWE.COM: I understand you had two different surgeries, which extended your time away from the ring, right?
ITAMI: Yes, I had the first surgery in May 2015 and a second one in February 2016. When I first suffered the injury, I thought I was only going to be out for six months.
WWE.COM: How did your shoulder feel during your return match?
ITAMI: It felt a little stiff and there was some pain, but I just felt so happy to be back that it didn’t bother me too much. I admit, I was definitely nervous going into the match, because I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel.
WWE.COM: How was the rehab process?
ITAMI: I rehabbed every day for four hours, doing stretching routines to build the inner muscles of my shoulder and to improve my range of motion. It still gets tight, so I have to spend a lot of time stretching daily.
WWE.COM: You mentioned this being the toughest injury of your life. How frustrating was it to be hurt for so long?
ITAMI: It was very frustrating. NXT went through so many big changes while I was hurt. There was so much new talent brought in and NXT expanded its touring schedule, but all I could do was watch it happen. I hated having to watch NXT every Wednesday, knowing I couldn’t be in the ring.
WWE.COM: How did you keep yourself from going crazy?
ITAMI: Fortunately, my family moved here from Japan last August. I got to spend a lot of quality time playing with my two little sons and time with my wife. They kept telling me not to worry and that I will be a champion one-day.
WWE.COM: You joined NXT around the same time as Finn Bálor and Kevin Owens as three of the biggest signings the brand had ever seen. Both of those men have gone on to accomplish great things in NXT and WWE since then. Do you feel added pressure to do the same?
ITAMI: I sat in the crowd and watched Finn Bálor become NXT Champion in my home country. I was happy for him, but I was also a little jealous. I saw Kevin Owens defeat John Cena in his first match in WWE. Many people in Japan expected me to do big things when I came to NXT, and now that I’m back, I want to make them proud. I want to show the world how good I am and I want to prove to myself how great I can be.