Home Away From Home: Jon Moxley on Becoming IWGP Heavyweight Champion, The Shield, & Defending The Belt in AEW

Jon Moxley on Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins: “What they’ve done, it’s a really cool thing”

SI.com’s Week in Wrestling is published every week and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.

Jon Moxley on Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins: “The more time that passes, the more it becomes evident that we did exactly what we said we were going to do”

If you were expecting to see Jon Moxley at WrestleMania, you weren’t alone.

When the familiar beat of The Shield’s music blasted throughout Lincoln Financial Field, there were many who immediately pictured Moxley resuscitating the Dean Ambrose character for one night. As wrestling companies begin to open previously closed doors in an effort to work together, it seemed plausible–at least for a fleeting second–that AEW and WWE had worked out a surprise appearance for Moxley at WrestleMania 40.

Yet it wasn’t to be. Seth Rollins, adorned in his Shield gear, arrived instead, ultimately distracting Roman Reigns in the closing sequence of his match against Cody Rhodes. All the while, Moxley was blissfully unaware, already immersed in the honey-heavy dew of slumber.

“I was asleep in Japan when that was going on,” said Moxley, who had traveled to Tokyo for a tag match with Shota Umino against Jack Perry and Ren Narita. “When I woke up, I had these messages saying, ‘I thought you were coming out!’ And I was like, ‘Coming out where?’

“It’s cool that people thought it was me. But I was asleep.”

While people thought he may appear at WrestleMania, Moxley had just finished wrestling on his trip to Japan
While people thought he may appear at WrestleMania, Moxley had just finished wrestling on his trip to Japan / Courtesy NJPW

Japan is a home-away-from-home for Moxley. That is only going to intensify in the coming weeks, and perhaps months, as Moxley begins his first reign with the prestigious IWGP world heavyweight championship.

All of that, of course, permitting he defeats Powerhouse Hobbs later tonight on Dynamite, a rare defense of the title in an AEW ring.

“One of the first times Will Hobbs was on TV, we were in the ring together at Daily’s Place,” said Moxley. “There was so much to like about him, and he’s worked really hard. Now, back in that same building, we’ll see what he’s got.

“I’ve got a lot of plans for Japan. Hobbs comes first.”

Moxley with the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship
Moxley with the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship / Courtesy AEW

In an unexpected, exciting finish, Moxley won the title by defeating Tetsuya Naito at New Japan’s Windy City Riot pay-per-view two weeks ago. It took place in front of an electric crowd at the Wintrust Arena in Chicago, the same venue where Moxley defeated Chris Jericho for his first AEW world title at Revolution in 2020.

Naito and Moxley
Naito and Moxley / Courtesy NJPW

When Moxley bid farewell to WWE in 2019, he carved out a new legacy in AEW. But the first contract he signed away from WWE was not with AEW–it was with New Japan.

“That’s true, I signed a contract with New Japan before I signed one with AEW,” said Moxley. “Japan is the first direction my compass was pointed. New Japan is all about the action in the ring. There’s pageantry and big characters, but it’s all about the action in the ring, which is so high level. It always spoke to me.

“There was an icy relationship back then between AEW and New Japan. I was completely neutral. For a moment, it seemed like I was going to have to pick one or the other, but I said, f--- that, I’m going to do both. And now the two sides have this wonderful working relationship. I hope I helped play a role in facilitating that.”

Moxley and Naito
Moxley and Naito / Courtesy NJPW

Even back in his WWE run, Moxley always felt an intense connection whenever he wrestled in Japan. It was ethereal, an uncommon feeling for a craft he knew on an intimate level.

Japan was not home. It will never be home. But for Moxley, it became a haven.

“I always looked forward to those shows in Japan when I wrestled for WWE,” said Moxley. “I’d feel a connection with the audience. I understood them. They understood me.”

In 2016, Moxley defended the WWE title against Rollins and Jericho at Ryogoku Sumo Hall, a historical wrestling landmark he returned to in June of 2019 with New Japan.

“Sumo Hall is one of my favorite buildings in the world,” said Moxley. “I have a particular attachment to that building. It’s a very distinct look, and it’s set up differently. Instantly, I immediately felt like I was in the right place. When I first walked into Ryogoku, it felt exactly where I was supposed to be. I was off to the races from there.”

Moxley was an instant fit in New Japan
Moxley was an instant fit in New Japan / Courtesy NJPW

Moxley’s legacy cannot be shared without including his success in AEW. He served as an essential building block in AEW’s foundation, providing Kenny Omega with extraordinary cachet as the two began their bloodlust battle at Double or Nothing in 2019, the very first AEW pay-per-view. Moxley carried the company as its champion during the pandemic, provided a boost as champ after an injured CM Punk was forced to vacate the title, worked an entertaining–and heated–program with Punk that led to his third reign with the belt, and then surrendered the throne to MJF, setting up the rising star for a memorable run as champ.

Moxley at All In this past August
Moxley at All In this past August / Courtesy AEW

An avid reader, the journey Moxley embarked upon evokes the spirit of Robert Frost’s famed “The Road Not Taken” poem. In only four stanzas, Frost crafted a piece of writing that has endured for more than a century. The poem builds to an emphatic finish in the final three lines, which read: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I/I took the one less traveled by,/And that has made all the difference.”

The Shield
The Shield / Courtesy WWE

As Ambrose, Moxley established himself in WWE. His future there was secure. If, in 2019, he decided to stay with the company, then he would still be a part of their main event scene and world title picture. His storyline would never drift too far from Reigns and Rollins, Shield brethren with whom he will forever be intertwined.

Yet that was not the road he chose to travel.

“What they’ve done, it’s a really cool thing,” said Moxley, speaking about Reigns and Rollins. “We were nobodies. We came in with attitudes, and we pretty much said, ‘We’re coming in, f--- you, and we’re taking this sh-- over.’ The more time that passes, the more it becomes evident that we did exactly what we said we were going to do.”

Jon Moxley
Jon Moxley / Courtesy NJPW

After starring in The Shield, Moxley forged his own path. If he defeats Hobbs tonight on Dynamite, then two matches in Fukuoka await.

“When I first came to Japan, I wanted to understand it and participate in it,” said Moxley. “That allowed me to learn and grow. I didn’t come in and say, ‘This is what I do and this is what we’re doing.’ Everyone I wrestled, I learned from. I’ve really been able to grow a lot working with New Japan. It’s been a mutually beneficial relationship. They get me, and I get them.

“The first deal I signed with them was for six months. The shoe fit, so we kept going. We’re still on a handshake deal.”

Moxley in a New Japan ring
Moxley in a New Japan ring / Courtesy NJPW

When Moxley defeated Naito for the title, he made the winning pin fall after three Death Riders. As he felt the cool chill of the world title on his bare shoulder, he swiftly felt the intoxicating joy of a starring role on the world’s stage.

“Those moments in the ring are like a drug,” said Moxley. “It was a great atmosphere, it was a crazy moment. I was all f----- up with blood in my eyes. There was absolutely nothing that was going to stop me. Not giving up in the face of adversity, the will to not be denied.

“All the long-ass plane rides, all the injuries, all of that went away at that moment. I’m still here. So much of decision-making in pro wrestling is out of your control, but I have this one shot. I may never get another one. Plus, I’m a father now. At first, it didn’t seem so realistic. It wasn’t even a goal. I just embraced every moment in Japan. I love being there, training there, and wrestling there. All I’m focused on there is wrestling. That’s it. So it’s a state of mind that allows me to grow as a pro wrestler. It’s all about the pursuit of pro wrestling.

Jon Moxley, the new IWGP world heavyweight champion
Jon Moxley, the new IWGP world heavyweight champion / Courtesy NJPW

“I’m the first guy to hold all three–WWE, AEW, and IWGP. It feels so humbling to be put in this position. It’s a different world with the IWGP title, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. So I’m going to storm the f------ castle.”

The potential exists for an especially memorable title run. Who wouldn’t want to watch Moxley battle Tomohiro Ishii for the belt? Or Shingo Takagi? Or Zack Sabre Jr.? Or Taiji Ishimori? Or Gabe Kidd? Or Hiromu Takahashi? Or a rematch against Naito?

Ishii and Moxley
Ishii and Moxley / Courtesy AEW

Beyond the in-ring aspect, the promos could be legendary. This will be Moxley unleashed, a scintillating proposition for wrestling fans.

Moxley has enjoyed working with the NJPW roster
Moxley has enjoyed working with the NJPW roster / Courtesy NJPW

“I need to get through Hobbs on Dynamite, and then I get the opportunity to return to Japan with the championship,” said Moxley. “I’m not intimidated by the opportunity. I’m much more comfortable with the ball in my hands. Let it fall on my shoulders. I’ll take all of the blame if it goes wrong. I am more comfortable when sh-- goes off the rails. A lot of people want to be in those positions, but then they get there and realize it’s a lot harder than they thought.

“Nothing lasts forever. You can’t take anything to the grave with you. One day you’re giving everything back to the universe, and the world keeps spinning. It could last three weeks, it could last three years–but to be in this position, it means as much to me as anything I’ve ever had in wrestling.”

Moxley can showcase the title–and New Japan–as often as possible in AEW. He still has a lot to accomplish there, but he is also excited to start a new chapter in his storied career.

“This relationship with New Japan is very important to me,” said Moxley. “I take it very, very seriously. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m right where I want to be.”

The (Online) Week in Wrestling

  • Becky Lynch is the new Women’s World Champion. It was disappointing to see WWE choose to crown a new champion so quickly–only a week after Rhea Ripley vacated the belt due to injury–and even more deflating that the belt was decided in a battle royal. Yet none of that detracts from Lynch’s brilliance, and watching Liv Morgan conspire to win the title should be fascinating.
  • Congratulations to Trick Williams, the new NXT champion.
  • Brandon Thurston has been on top of every new development in Vince McMahon’s personal and professional career.
  • The introduction of Tama Tonga in WWE has been executed flawlessly. Solo Sikoa has also stepped up, but the key to success for The Bloodline has been Paul Heyman, who gives Sikoa and Tonga an altogether different air of authenticity.
  • In a battle of former Bullet Club members, AJ Styles is set to be the first challenger for WWE champion Cody Rhodes.
  • If ever there were someone in pro wrestling to rally around, it’s Trevor Lee.
  • This is likely to be contested, but it certainly affects professional wrestling.

TNA missed an opportunity at Rebellion to reshape the company

Moose defeated Nic Nemeth this past Saturday at TNA’s Rebellion pay-per-view, extending his run as world champion.

It was an opportunity to redefine the world title picture, but one that TNA failed to capitalize on.

Moose is a key piece of the roster, but Nemeth–who starred in WWE as Dolph Ziggler–as champion would have added an entirely new element to TNA. Nemeth is a highly respected and talented in-ring performer. Why not give him free rein in his matches to see if he can become this generation’s Kurt Angle in TNA? 

Nemeth could have defended the belt against “Speedball” Mike Bailey, Josh Alexander, and Hammerstone, as well as in rematches with Moose. Instead, Moose’s current program is with the newly returned “Broken” Matt Hardy.

The “Broken” character, especially the manner in which Hardy presents it, is all about chaos. The world title isn’t a necessity, and he could have started the feud with Moose after costing him the belt. The Moose-Hardy storyline doesn’t need the title. In fact, the possibility exists it could even drag down the angle.

TNA is still determining its direction after parting ways with former president Scott D’Amore, who led the company into its most successful era in over a decade. Remember the buzz surrounding the product in January when Kazuchika Okada and Will Ospreay appeared in a TNA ring? Alexander even defeated Ospreay, which was a phenomenal bout. Continuing to go with the best possible matches–for a company that is full of talented wrestlers–would have laid the foundation for its identity. Instead, after watching a women’s title match at Rebellion overflowing with unnecessary outside interference (for those interested in a Knockouts title match pitting the wildly talented Jordynne Grace against a rising talent in Steph De Lander, this was not it, focusing far too much on wrestlers not even part of the match), it is clear TNA is in the process of figuring out where it fits in the wrestling space.

Putting Nemeth in a spot where he could be the best in the world and take on all opponents, while Moose pivoted to a feud with Hardy that kept him prominently featured without being champion, would have made a lot of sense. Also, Hardy is a legend, so he doesn’t need to win, ensuring Moose remains in a strong position.

Instead, the company moved in an altogether different direction at Rebellion.

Tweet of the Week

Nicely done with the misdirection in his writing–and congrats to Balor, who WWE is fortunate to have on their team.

Justin Barrasso


Justin Barrasso has been writing for Sports Illustrated since 2014. While his primary focus is pro wrestling and MMA, he has also covered MLB, NBA, and the NFL. He can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com and followed on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.