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The following interview appeared in Weekly Pro Wrestling No 2139, Issue 9/15. I originally shared this translation via Google Drive, but have now migrated it here.

() are annotations by the original publication, [] are annotations by me. Ibushi quotes in bold.

It’s been two months since you missed [Dominion]. How is your physical condition?

My injuries in the past…I have missed events before due to external injuries, but I think this is the first time I have missed one because of something internal, like this pneumonia.

You’re saying this is the first time you missed an event because of a so-called internal medical issue?

Yeah. That’s why it’s very hard to adjust (for my return). If it were pain because of an injury, I could gauge how much load I can put on today, what kind of training I can do, but this time, my physical condition is different from day to day.

You have to adjust while monitoring your physical changes.

If I suddenly increase the intensity too much, my physical condition abruptly worsens, so it’s very difficult to control. This is my first time experiencing this.

So it’s a state that makes it difficult to train as much as you want to.

That’s right. One time I decided, let’s do it as if I weren’t sick at all, but I must have trained too hard, and I was at about 70% when my physical condition deteriorated.

Then I started training from about 20% [of what I would normally do]. Now I’m at about 40, 50%. There was a fatigue that was different from the tiredness you feel after not having exercised for a while, that I could recover from by resting. But I think this was fatigue from [lack of] cardiopulmonary function. I didn’t feel it in my throat, but it was true that my lungs were weak, so I wondered if I had fully recovered from that or not, or if I had increased the intensity [of the training] too soon. I’m not sure.

So you have to continue training while watching your physical condition one step at a time.

It’s really difficult because I have to do it while thinking about when I’m feeling tired and when I need to take a break.

You must feel fairly anxious, given that there are about ten days left from the point of this interview until your return match.

As long as the show isn’t cancelled, I’m determined to do it, so I think what I can do is to wait for it in the best possible shape that I can be in.

It’s not something where you can just recklessly say, “I’m at my best”.

Right, I can’t really say I’m at 100%. At any rate, this is my first time experiencing this, and it’s a challenge for me.

Looking back in chronological order, you were announced to be absent from the Sapporo event on 7/10. What were your first symptoms?

I had a slight fever of about 36.9 to 37.1 degrees on the 9th, which was the day I travelled to Sapporo, and I was in my car on my way to the Haneda airport. But all of a sudden, I felt sick, and went to stop the car and take a rest. But when I got out of the car, I was dizzy, and this is when I called the office.

You explained your symptoms and then went back home, right?

[The office] told me, there‘s a possibility I won’t be able to enter the airport due to the fever, and that I should rest. I also had the [Tôkyô] Dome [event coming up], and I had planned on joining up [with the rest of the roster] in Aomori (on 7/13), but my fever didn’t go down. It continued going up, going so far as about 40.7 degrees, and when I called the office, they told me they were calling an ambulance.

Did you feel like you could make it in time and appear at the Tôkyô Dome at that moment in time, while you were recuperating in the hospital?

Of course I did. I definitely wanted to come back in Ôsaka (on 7/22) and make it to the Tôkyô Dome, no matter what. I had received a PCR test and it was confirmed I [wasn’t infected with] Corona, so I thought that maybe, if just the fever went down, I could make an appearance. I thought, I can’t miss the Tôkyô Dome main event against Takagi Shingô. I had done three main events at the Tôkyô Dome in one year, and I’m very attached to that belt, and my opponent was Takagi Shingô, so my feelings towards that were very strong. That I absolutely had to do it.

However, your symptoms didn’t change, and time continued to pass.

Physically, I was feeling a bit hazy and continued to have trouble breathing.

The day before the Dome event, after the show in Nagoya, Tanahashi cut a promo that he was willing to make an emergency appearance. What were your thoughts when you first heard those words?

They fired me up even more. Instead [of being sad], I felt like I had to get out.

I don’t know if this is the accurate word, but was there a part [of you] that felt angry as well?

Yes, I felt angry.

What was your mental state like when it was decided that you would miss the Dome on the day of the event?

Of course it sucked. And that frustration…it was the first time I cried because I felt such regret.

So this was your first time to experience crying because of the weight of your responsibilities?

I didn’t care that I was thought of less or whatever because of this. I felt more sorry that I couldn’t appear at the Tôkyô Dome, that I couldn’t show the fans [what I can do], and I felt sorry [that I had to disappoint] Takagi. He told me he was “waiting [for me]” so many times, and yet I couldn’t make it…I’m sorry for the people that concerned themselves with me, and I felt sorry for everyone who was so excited for me, who made it to the Tôkyô Dome and I felt really sorry for that fact that I couldn’t appear [at that event].

So, more than what your surroundings thought [of you], there were many big things within yourself that you couldn’t sort out.

I didn’t care about my [win-loss] record, I was just really sorry. Surely there were fans who thought I would appear after all, and if I could have gone (to the Dome to greet them and such), I would have, but the fever prevented me (from entering the venue).

It took a while to get your mind in the right place?

I wasn’t able to accept it, not until recently, but I realized that if I didn’t accept it, I wouldn’t be able to move forward, that I wouldn’t be able to start [again]. And yet, somehow I feel that there is a part of me that still doesn’t accept it.

You still haven’t fully digested it?

No, I haven‘t. But Tanahashi helped me, and I thought once more, man, how great is Tanahashi.

Did you watch the Tôkyô Dome matches?

Of course I watched them. Tanahashi really is so good, being able to do an over 30 minute match so suddenly after having a singles match the day before. Of course, he has that conditioning where he can just be told to do it out of the blue and pull it off, but he is also mentally tough, and I felt that [once more with this].

You felt Tanahashi’s real, underlying strength.

I really, really did. Or perhaps I should say I felt an absolute sense of security. Like, “I can’t win against this”. Watching the match made me feel so frustrated, and wondered how the fans were looking at this. I asked myself, what am I [in all of this]? Am I even necessary? Tanahashi did this completely by himself, and the atmosphere and feeling of that day was created by him as well, so I wondered, what am I?

You regretted that you couldn’t be there, and you also had mixed feelings towards Tanahashi, that he had so hurriedly created this space [instead of you].

I questioned whether (I myself) was necessary, and I had this moment, where, for about a week, I lived in a state of “nothing”. The final [PCR] test was on the 4th of August, and I had been told not to move until then, so I was just home all the time, not wanting to talk to anyone, not wanting to see anyone.

And while you were doing that, Tanahashi suddenly declared you as his opponent for your return match.

I owed him for the Tôkyô Dome, and he is also my tag partner, so once more I realized and felt deeply how great he is. When I was told [I would be his opponent], it wasn’t a feeling of “I have to do this”, it was “I want to do this”. I thought, what I need the most right now is to fight Tanahashi. Rather than the belt and all that, I need Tanahashi right now. That’s what I thought I wanted to get [out of this].

You thought that in order to make a fresh start, you had to get in there physically with Tanahashi Hiroshi.

I also asked Tanahashi, why did you pick me? These are just my own thoughts, but I feel like this is his way of pushing me and going “You can still step up”, “You can still do this, right?”. In my own way, I take that as a good thing.

You wanted to respond to Tanahashi’s feelings in your own way.

As far as returning the favor goes, I want to return to the best state I possibly can, and hit him with all my strength on that day. I think that’s the best way for me to pay him back.

The Tanahashi you once thought you had “overcome” is now here again, appearing before you as the champion…

I wonder if that wasn’t just a dream (laughs bitterly). Well, whether I have overcome him, whether I have not overcome him, I think in the end the fans are the judges of that, what I overcame him with [and so forth].

But it’s still clear that there exists a “Tanahashi Hiroshi that you have to overcome”.

I think that there is still a lot that Tanahashi has that I don’t. On the other hand, I feel like I have received a dream.

You look at Tanahashi and you feel courage?

I feel like I received a dream that I can still, still, still have it [within me].