June 5th 2019 marked Jon Moxley’s first match since leaving the WWE machine 6 weeks prior.
His New Japan debut brought with it a barrage of questions, none more prevalent than how would Moxley adapt to the stylistic differences between WWE and NJPW. One year since his debut and it’s comfortably agreed that Moxley and Japan took to each other with open arms.
He is currently in his second reign as IWGP US Heavyweight Champion; he competed at both nights of Wrestle Kingdom 14; he had an incredible run in the G1 Climax and had a dream match with Minoru Suzuki. Jon Moxley and New Japan were meant to be.
Unleashed. Uncaged. Reborn.
For weeks a mysterious vignette played alluding to the coming of Jon Moxley, who had his target set on Juice Robinson and the IWGP US Heavyweight Championship. At the Best of the Super Juniors final in Ryōgoku Kokugikan, Moxley made his debut to the sounds of a fiery guitar riff and emerged from the shadows of the audience, making his way to the ring through the hordes of fans in attendance.
What followed was a man letting the world know that Dean Ambrose was dead and that this was the rebirth of Jon Moxley. Uncaged for the first time in 8 years and free to wrestle the way he wanted to, and the way Moxley wanted to wrestle was an unbridled brawl. Competing in trunks to further distance himself from Dean Ambrose, the match was anything but fancy as Robinson and Moxley tore into each other.
In his attempts to bust Robinson open, Moxley bit Juice above his eyebrow to soften it open for the coming blows, leaving a permanent scar on Robinson’s face. A mean lariat from Juice seemed to take Moxley by surprise, almost a welcome lariat to the world of stiffer Japanese wrestling. Ending things with an elevated version of his WWE finisher, now dubbed Death Rider, Moxley became a Champion on his first night.
4 days later Moxley was in a surprising place on the card for Dominion, one of the biggest shows on the New Japan calendar. Placed in the opening match against young lion Shota Umino, Moxley made quick work of the rookie but it was post-match that Moxley made his mark by announcing himself as a competitor in the G1 Climax 29.
As unpredictable as ever, Moxley then carried the man he had just defeated backstage and when interviewed by reporters announced that Shota would be his partner as he’s going to need some help whilst in Japan, “I’m gonna’ need somebody to drive me home from Roppongi.” This would set up Shota to be Moxley’s tag partner in the preview matches throughout the G1, where Moxley would dub Shota as “Shooter”, a name that has stuck among Western fans.
G1 Climax Titan
Moxley was back in Japan for the first night of B Block action in the G1 Climax on July 23rd. Moxley went undefeated in his first 5 matches; defeating Taichi and Jeff Cobb in straightforward affairs; he went to war with Tomohiro Ishii in his first main event, claiming it “one of the most important matches of my career”; he became only the third man in New Japan to defeat Shingo Takagi and the only man to do so via submission and he toppled then IWGP Intercontinental Champion Tetsuya Naito.
He was the runaway leader of the block and only needed another victory to be out of reach when he was confronted by the unforgiving Toru Yano. The trickster taped Moxley to his companion Shota and, as a result, Moxley was unable to beat the 20-count and lost via count out, suffering his first defeat since leaving WWE. With the unbeaten script torn up he went on to lose his final 3 matches to eventual finalist Jay White, Hirooki Goto and a rematch against Juice Robinson.
Moxley brought with him fresh eyes to the world of New Japan much like Chris Jericho had done prior. With the spotlight firmly on Moxley throughout the G1 he shared it with those he was in the ring with, elevating those around him. His work with Shota Umino shined an array of colours on a young lion who would have otherwise gone unnoticed in his shadow. His matches with Juice Robinson explored a more vicious side of the beloved jovial character we had grown to love.
Throughout the G1 Moxley redefined who he was, shedding the skin of Dean Ambrose entirely and proving that he belonged among the best in the world. Night after night he was given a “canvas on which to paint ugly, gruesome works of art.” It was apparent that a motivated Moxley was a unique beast both in the ring and out of the ring.
He flourished in the harder hitting environment of Japan, most notably against Ishii, a match which garnered the coveted 5 star rating from the Wrestling Observer Newsletter. Moxley became a sensation with his backstage antics where he would dive into his comedic side, calling Shota a “real panty dropper” and saying he needed to “go ice my balls” after being hit with a low blow from Yano.
These videos became instant highlights on New Japan’s YouTube page, getting far more views than any other wrestler’s backstage comments.
Building a Kingdom
Having lost to Juice Robinson during the G1 Climax a rematch was set for Moxley’s IWGP US Heavyweight Championship at King of Pro Wrestling on October 14th. Due to a typhoon ravaging Japan, Moxley was unable to make the match and he was forced to relinquish the title without having had a single defence. In a match for the vacated Championship, Lance Archer stepped in and took down Juice Robinson to claim his first singles title in New Japan.
Moxley would not rear his head in Japan again until December 8th. In shocking fashion he rocked up unannounced during the final night of World Tag League in Hiroshima to confront Lance Archer. The ensuing carnage saw Moxley attack both Lance Archer and Minoru Suzuki with a double-arm DDT and he then challenged Archer to a Texas Deathmatch at Wrestle Kingdom 14.
With his unique brand of violence set for the biggest stage in New Japan, Moxley made his Tokyo Dome debut on January 4th. It was his most violent match in NJPW, involving chairs, tables, a kendo stick and a rubbish bin lid, with the devastating finale being a Death Rider off of the apron and through a pair of tables. Archer was down for the 10 count but Moxley had the unenviable task of defending his freshly won title the following night, to settle a grudge with Juice Robinson.
On the second night of Wrestle Kingdom 14 Moxley successfully defended the title against Juice Robinson. Now having faced off three times Moxley holds a 2-1 lead. But post-match the ominous music of Kaze Ni Nare kicked in and the King Minoru Suzuki made his way to the ring, not forgetting the disrespect Moxley had shown a month earlier at World Tag League. A brief brawl ended with an emphatic Gotch Style Pile Driver and Suzuki laying claim to the IWGP US Heavyweight Championship.
Toppling a King
The next night Jon Moxley showed up unannounced again, this time to get his revenge on Suzuki. After being planted with a Death Rider, the sadistic Suzuki smiled and laughed. Suzuki enjoyed it and dealt some daunting words out to Moxley backstage, “Our war has begun. Don’t you dare think you can escape Japan safely, punk.”
These were two men that spoke the language of violence. A dream match for fans and Jon Moxley himself who has made it no secret that he is a big fan of Minoru Suzuki, citing Suzuki’s match with Tanahashi during King of Pro Wrestling 2012 that made him a fan of NJPW. Moxley says he has watched that match about 100 times.
Before the match could take place, in usual New Japan fashion there were tag matches to build up to the eventual clash. These matches put Moxley in a situation we hadn’t yet seen, having him team with established members of the roster. The first of which came when he teamed with Kazuchika Okada on February 1st to take on Taichi and Suzuki. The tag team of Moxley and Okada was oozing with coolness but it wasn’t enough, as the match ending with Suzuki pinning Moxley.
The next night Moxley teamed with SHO, YOH and Ryusuke Taguchi to take on the united front of Suzuki-Gun’s El Desperado, Yoshinobu Kanemaru, DOUKI and of course Suzuki. With the tension boiling, Suzuki didn’t wait for Moxley to make his way through the crowd on this night and took the fight to him. The pair spent the first half of the match brawling around the venue, not interested in their teammates in the ring.
The war generals clashed on February 9th in Osaka-jō Hall. Mutual destruction was assured. Iron sharpens iron and the merciless joy that both men get from giving and taking pain was at the forefront. The battle of attrition ended with Moxley having his second successful defence of the IWGP US Heavyweight Championship, but the celebration was immediately cut short as fellow Suzuki-Gun member Zack Sabre Jr. attacked Moxley, asserting himself as the next challenger.
Moxley’s match with Suzuki was his last in Japan due to the on-going impact of Covid-19. He was not set to compete in the New Japan Cup but would have likely resurfaced at Sakura Genesis which was set to take place on 31st March.
One Year of Violence
A future title defence against Zack Sabre Jr. is certain once it is safe for New Japan to run shows again. Moxley will be keen to be the most successful IWGP US Heavyweight Champion, a record currently held by the inaugural champion Kenny Omega who had four successful defences. His match with ZSJ will be entirely different from his match with Suzuki. Moxley may look to shock the world again by showing a more technical side when the match does happen.
The biggest compliment that can be afforded Moxley is that he feels like an essential part of the New Japan roster. He has elected to be more than just star power and has integrated himself in the system. He isn’t always the main event. He isn’t in contention for the top title. He isn’t showing up for only the biggest shows. Jon Moxley is enriching NJPW.
You can find me on Twitter @CiaranRH. Thanks for reading.