When Jon Moxley defended his IWGP United States Championship against KENTA in February 2021, fans wondered who the next challenger would be. After almost more than a month, Moxley appeared on New Japan Pro Wrestling’s YouTube channel calling out the legend that is Yuji Nagata. This is the journey of Yuji Nagata and Jon Moxley as they face each other.
“When you get down to the brass tacks, what this comes down to is two guys that are going to stand in the ring and try to f—— kill each other…This dude is the definition of fighting spirit, what New Japan’s all about, and I don’t roll over for anybody.”
The two men come from completely different backgrounds with careers that, although long, seem worlds apart. The title match was set for May 12, 2021, on AEW Dynamite. Here is a look at the timeline of the events leading up to their big match and what fans can expect from the two’s first meeting.
Yuji Nagata – BORN FOR WRESTLING
Like many professional wrestlers, like Minoru Suzuki, Nagata was a successful amateur wrestler before joining the New Japan dojo in 1992. He eventually made his debut that year against a fellow young lion who fans now know as Hiroyoshi Tenzan. Like many New Japan trainees, Nagata went for his excursion in 1997. It took him across the pond to America where he World Championship Wrestling (WCW).
On his return to New Japan in 1998, Nagata made his presence in the IWGP Heavyweight Champion picture known straight away. However, his first taste of IWGP gold came in August 1999. He and fellow legend Manabu Nakanishi won the tag titles for just under a year until the team of TenCozy beat them.
A CRUCIAL PART OF NEW JAPAN
Nagata finally achieved his dream of IWGP gold in 2002, beating Tadao Yasuda at the Nippon Budokan. From this moment, Nagata constantly stayed at the top of the company, winning multiple titles, tournaments, and awards for his wrestling skills.
Even as his career in New Japan started to slow down, it didn’t stop Nagata from impacting the company. Alongside a run in Pro Wrestling Noah, he continued to put on amazing matches. He had several more title runs as the GHC, NEVER, and All Asia Tag Champion. Since then, he has become a mentor for the trainees. This has allowed him to showcase his talent and also helps train the future.
“I’m very grateful to Jon Moxley for wanting to fight me so much that he made this challenge and invited me to America and AEW…I have a lot of respect for him, and what I respect most is that he understands the level of competition that takes place in New Japan Pro-Wrestling.”
Moxley’s Start Seemed Worlds Away From A Dojo
Jon Moxley has had a very different career from those who were taught and raised in a Japanese wrestling system.
Whereas Nagata made his career as a wrestler in the care of a dojo, Moxley spent most of his early career performing on the independent circuit at 18 years old. This was until he made the jump to WWE in 2011. He first signed with the development territory Florida Championship Wrestling (FCW) and then made a mark on the main roster as Dean Ambrose.
Even though he had an extremely successful career, like many, he eventually left in 2019 due to frustration with WWE booking. Taking back the name Jon Moxley and returning to the independent scene, Moxley made his mark on wrestling. He then shocked fans by joining All Elite Wrestling and appearing on New Japan shows.
Yuji Nagata and Jon Moxley – Degrees of Separation
Like everyone in the world of professional wrestling, the two may not have wrestled before, but their paths seem to have crossed indirectly. With nearly half a century of wrestling experience between the two, here is a look at the links between the two.
Looking back to a time when Moxley was only a young boy, Nagata traveled to the US to wrestle in WCW. For wrestling fans, the link should be more obvious. Decades later, the promotion Blue Justice honed his skill would become the company Jon Moxley would make his name.
Yuji Nagata and Jon Moxley –
The Two Men Have Wrestled For Too Long Not To Have Similarities
However, the more recent links would come with the opponents Moxley and Nagata have faced in New Japan. By being in the company for so long, there would be very few wrestlers that Nagata hasn’t faced at some point in his career. Whether it was Juice Robinson, KENTA, Lance Archer, Kenny Omega, or many more, Nagata has either teamed or faced the men that Moxley has come to know very well.
Although the two men are at very different points in their careers, they have spent years honing their craft and not only elevating the business but passing their knowledge onto younger athletes. Nagata might be coming up to the latter years of his career, while Moxley has found love for the business again. These differences don’t matter when it comes to two of the best in the business. They are two men who have made careers out of winning titles and changing the game.
Yuji Nagata and Jon Moxley – The Challenge Was Made
When Moxley first challenged Yuji Nagata on April 5, it was the last person many fans imagined he would pick. Although Nagata has had one of the most successful careers in New Japan, he has slowed down significantly in the last few years. In 2018, he won the All Asia Tag Team Championships with Jun Akiyama, and his last New Japan title reign was in 2016 with the NEVER title.
Yet, when Moxley made the challenge, it seems as if Nagata might be the perfect choice for the title. Over the past few months, the members of the third-generation club have proved that they are still able to perform in high-stakes matches.
Nagata was never going to back down from a fight. Nagata’s response to Moxley on April 15 confirmed this. In true Blue Justice form, Nagata made it seem like it was a privilege for Moxley to challenge him.
“I was pleased to know that you recognize who the toughest around here is.”
With Moxley known for his street fights, Nagata also made it clear that, when they battle, it should be a brawl with no props. It shows that Nagata wants to win a clean fight and proves that he can still compete at a top-level.
Yuji Nagata and Jon Moxley – What Was To Be Expected?
With a tag match set for May 7, 2021 it will be the first time fans will get to see any contact between the two. It should give some indication of what they can expect from the title match. By defending his title more and more, Moxley will be another chance to prove why he still deserves to hold the title. For Nagata, it is time to prove that he can still put on amazing matches with some of the best wrestlers in the world despite being in his 50s.
Anything is possible with these two athletes. Hopefully, Moxley will listen to the words of Nagata and produce a good, clean, and old-fashioned wrestling match that combines Japanese and American wrestling. Despite his unpredictable offence, fans have seen that Moxley can take a match to the mat and play the same game that Nagata has used his entire career.
Unlike his match against KENTA, this would be a much fairer fight between two men who have spent their entire careers trying to make a difference in the business. It will be exciting to see what they can bring out of each other, and fans can expect nothing less than a phenomenal bout.