From gratitude to the griddle: Hideo Itami on NXT, IHOP and adjusting to life in America
As one of the most anticipated WWE signings in recent history, Hideo Itami’s NXT debut at TakeOver: Fatal 4-Way was met with excitement and jubilation, which was to be expected, but also controversy, as The Ascension tried to spoil the international Superstar’s first appearance.
With a new career chapter under way and two monstrous foes already, WWE.com caught up with Itami while he prepared for his NXT Live Event debut in Jacksonville, Florida. From his first match under WWE contract to his favorite American food, NXT’s resident Japanese legend explains what it's been like adjusting to life in the U.S.
WWE.COM: What was it like for you to make your debut at NXT TakeOver: Fatal 4-Way?
HIDEO ITAMI: I was very excited when I made my debut. It was the biggest moment of my career because WWE has always been my goal. The NXT Universe was very welcoming to me and very happy. I was very nervous before I made my debut, but excited, too.
WWE.COM: What is the meaning behind your name?
ITAMI: It means “Hero of Pain.”
WWE.COM: What has the reaction been from your friends and family in Japan?
ITAMI: My family and friends were very happy for me when I debuted. I want to someday return to Japan as part of WWE so I can show my Japanese fans what I have accomplished. I also want to go back as a thank you to all the fans over there for so many years of support.
WWE.COM: You faced Justin Gabriel in your first NXT match. Describe that experience.
ITAMI: I used to watch tapes of Justin Gabriel, so I had a lot of respect for him and everything he’s able to do. Gabriel’s a very tough competitor, especially for my first match, so that, mixed with the nervousness, made it very memorable.
ITAMI: This was my debut and the biggest moment of my career and they tried to break my happy moment. I think they were upset that I was getting time and decided to make me their victim.
WWE.COM: Let’s talk about you transition from Japan to America. What has it been like so far?
ITAMI: Everything is an adjustment. (Laughs) Driving on the right side instead of the left side, like in Japan. In the house, I notice a lot of people don’t take their shoes off, but in Japan we always take off our shoes. Even the toilets and showers are different here in the U.S. I do like American food but I still miss my Japanese food.
WWE.COM: What’s your favorite American food?
ITAMI: My favorite American food is steak. I love IHOP and specifically their chocolate chip pancakes, and Waffle House, too. They have great waffles and grilled chicken!
WWE.COM: How about shopping?
ITAMI: I love my trips to Walmart but it gets hard sometimes because everything is in English, so I have to shop mostly with my eyes. American Eagle and H&M are popular in Japan so I’m glad they are here, too.
WWE.COM: What motivates you to train and work so hard every day?
ITAMI: I always strive to reach a higher level. In Japan, family is everything, so coming to the States gives me the opportunity to earn something bigger for my family.
WWE.COM: What is your long-term goal?
ITAMI: I want to be a World Champion and I would like to compete at a WrestleMania. It’s funny because the thought of making it here first popped into my head about 10 years ago. Around 2003, 2004, I thought about walking away from wrestling and then I attended a WWE show in Japan. From that point forward, I was re-inspired to make it.
WWE.COM: Do you have a message for everyone following your new career chapter?
ITAMI: Thank you for supporting me. I want to be as big of a star as possible. I want to be a real Superstar.