Shortly after Tetsuya Naito became the first man in New Japan Pro Wrestling‘s history to hold both the IWGP Heavyweight Championship and Intercontinental Championship at the same time, Tokyo Sports revealed that about a month before Wrestle Kingdom, he had surgery for an eye issue that he thought might force him into retirement. In a recent interview for NJPW’s website that was mostly in-character, Naito talked about what sounds like a very real medical problem and how it was impacting his wrestling.
Naito says he “started having issues with my right eye last May.” One of his muscles supporting the eye “was paralyzed. So essentially my right eye wasn’t being supported properly” and “with both eyes open, I couldn’t focus my vision.” He says he was seeing double in the ring until October, when he started seeing triple. Naito acknowledges that this was dangerous, and talks about how it made wrestling way more difficult than usual:
Even walking up the steps to the ring or running the ropes was something I was having to take much more care in doing. Things that I wouldn’t normally think twice about, I was suddenly having to consider really carefully. And up to now, I’ve always taken backstage comments quite seriously, but if I had nothing left over after my matches, I wasn’t going to half-ass a promo. So I was giving fewer comments.
The double champion had an extremely Naito answer for why he initially didn’t tell the company about his problems: “I really hate going to the hospital… I kind of thought at first that if I slept it off, it’d get better by itself, but it didn’t.”
He talked to different physicians and trainers about the issue, and in September 2019, he went to “a university hospital,” where the issue was diagnosed. Naito says he thought he “might be done” because his condition was a lot like the one that caused Milano Collection A.T. to retire about ten years ago. “He had paralysis in the muscles underneath both eyes.” However, Naito was able to take time off halfway through World Tag League in November, get surgery, and return to the ring.
Naito doesn’t sound like he’s still worried about retirement, but he admits that his vision isn’t where it was before last May, saying, “If I look upward, my vision’s a bit blurry, but it’s much better.” Fortunately, that sounds a lot less dangerous than doing a running Destino while seeing double.