The Jon Moxley of NJPW is not the same babyface known and loved by AEW fans. Firstly, he goes by a different moniker; the “Purveyor of Violence” is instead called the Death Rider. His finisher, the Paradigm Shift, is known by the same name in New Japan.
While in AEW Moxley’s affinity for violence is a lovable, if not worrying quirk, in NJPW it makes him a mysterious, menacing force. His reign with the IWGP US Title has, unfortunately, been riddled with unfortunate circumstances (ie, a typhoon and a global pandemic), but when Moxley is present in NJPW, he is a brutal opponent and champion.
So, global catastrophes aside, here’s a look at Jon Moxley’s reign as the IWGP US Heavyweight Champion.
Storming the Castle
Moxley made his first appearance in NJPW in 2019 with a mysterious vignette. He sat in a dark pub, wearing his signature leather jacket, carving an hourglass into the wooden bar. The hourglass symbolized that time had run out for the then US champion, Juice Robinson; Moxley broke free from his prison and prepared to wreak havoc on the wrestling world.
Robinson claimed that after he first saw the vignette, he knew exactly who the challenger was. He and Moxley knew each other years ago, in the same prison-like factory where wrestlers are molded into sports entertainers. Juice had abandoned that factory rather quickly, and found himself a loving home in New Japan; the idea of the colorful, boisterous Juice Robinson as part of the prison/factory/promotion across the sea was unimaginable. Moxley, though, hunted his former colleague and came to burn Juice’s home down.
Moxley challenged Juice to a No-Disqualification match on June 5th in Ryogoku. Juice, a little too brave for his own good, accepted. The match was a bloody showing of violence, as Moxley dragged Juice out of his territory and into a hellscape of brutality. The Death Rider left Juice bleeding from his face, unconscious in the ring. Moxley had claimed the IWGP US title in his first ever NJPW match.
Between work for the then-infant company AEW and other indie appearances, Moxley was unavailable for possible title defenses in Japan. Since the US title is a midcard belt, this wasn’t an urgent issue, but eventually a line was drawn. Moxley was set to defend his title in October at NJPW’s King of Pro-Wrestling show against the former champion Juice Robinson. Typhoon Hagibis, though, sent Japan into a national state of emergency and prevented Moxley from making the show. NJPW consequently stripped Moxley of the US title. Juice Robinson would go on to meet Lance Archer at KOPW for the vacated title and lose at the hands of the Murderhawk Monster.
It wasn’t until Wrestle Kingdom that Jon Moxley was able to make a return to NJPW to try and reclaim his championship.
On night one of Wrestle Kingdom 14, Jon Moxley met Lance Archer in a Texas Death match. It was another brutal outing for the Death Rider, but by that point fans knew exactly what to expect. Archer and Moxley threw each other through tables, whacked each other with kendo sticks, and slammed each other into steel chairs. At the end of it all, Moxley was victorious. He successfully reclaimed the title he never lost. The night after, Jon Moxley made his first successful defense of the IWGP US title against Juice Robinson (though, Juice didn’t leave the Tokyo Dome completely disappointed, as he and his best friend David Finlay successfully captured the IWGP tag team titles at night one).
Suzuki wouldn’t escape NJPW without a confrontation from his next challenger. This opponent would be Moxley’s toughest obstacle yet, as he’s widely regarded as one of the most frightening men in pro wrestling. Moxley’s challenger was, of course, Minoru Suzuki, friend and leader of Lance Archer and Suzuki-Gun. The two met at New Beginning in Osaka, where Moxley scraped by with a victory.
A New Challenger Appears
Since the COVID-19 outbreak, Moxley has been unable to return to Japan for any title defenses. To keep the title relevant in the champion’s absence, NJPW announced the New Japan Cup USA on NJPW Strong in August 2020. The winner of this single elimination tournament would earn the title of number one contender for the IWGP US title. Bullet Club’s own KENTA came out on top of this tournament, and soon after received his infamous red briefcase to hold his title match contract.
Kicking Down the Door
Between his victory of the New Japan Cup USA and his eventual title match against Jon Moxley, Kenta had seven successful defenses of his briefcase. That is more defenses than Moxley has had in his two reigns as champion combined. KENTA understandably felt his title opportunity was long overdue, and decided to pay the champion a visit.
On February 3rd, KENTA shocked the wrestling world by attacking Jon Moxley on AEW Dynamite. His appearance shattered the “Forbidden Door” between AEW and NJPW, and marked the beginning of one of the most ambitious crossovers in wrestling history. On the next episode of Dynamite, KENTA reluctantly teamed with Bullet Club alum Kenny Omega against Jon Moxley and his temporary ally Lance Archer in a Falls Count Anywhere match. Ultimately, this match served as a precursor to Moxley and Kenta’s title match, soon after announced for February 26th.
The Current Moment
Moxley defeated KENTA on NJPW Strong, in a surprising twist of a finish. I say surprising because many believed that Moxley’s lack of presence in NJPW, though it’s largely been out of his control, meant he’d have to give up the belt to someone who could defend it more often. Moxley’s victory, though, shows that NJPW is quite alright with the amount of time and spotlight the US champ has given their title.
The 2021 New Japan Cup USA is about to start on NJPW Strong, and a new challenger for Moxley will then be revealed. It’s an open field, with names like Lio Rush, Chris Dickinson, and Brody King all being potential number one contenders. Ultimately, only time will tell what’s in store for the Death Rider and his title.
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