Inside New Japan Legend Yuji Nagata’s Arrival in AEW to Face Jon Moxley

The Week in Wrestling: a behind-the-scenes look at how Jon Moxley’s match against Yuji Nagata came together, an interview with new IWTV independent wrestling champion Wheeler Yuta and more.
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Jon Moxley on watching Yuji Nagata: “It took me about two seconds to determine I wanted that match”

For the first time since 1998, the American audience has a chance to watch the greatness of Yuji Nagata on TNT.

Nagata makes his AEW debut Wednesday on Dynamite against Jon Moxley, who is New Japan Pro-Wrestling’s reigning IWGP United States champion. This match also marks Nagata’s return to TNT, where he wrestled for WCW in 1997 and ’98.

A two-time IWGP heavyweight champion, Nagata has played an integral role for New Japan over the past 29 years. Physical and hard-hitting, he has brought a distinguished presence to the world of wrestling. Even at the age of 53, Nagata remains smooth, crisp and believable in the ring.

“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,” Nagata says through a translator. “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.”

This meeting has roots in February 2020, when Moxley was in Japan to defend the U.S. title. Before his match against Minoru Suzuki at The New Beginning in Osaka, Moxley peeked through the curtain during the show-opening eight-man match.

“I was watching Nagata kick the piss out of guys,” Moxley recalls. “Up until that point, I thought of Nagata as one of those guys where it felt like our paths would never cross and our timelines would never intersect. I’d have put him in a category of Kurt Angle or Bret Hart, where I would have loved to work with him but we couldn’t because we’re from two different eras. But as I was watching him, I thought to myself, ‘F---, Nagata can still go.’ ”

Moxley quickly observed that stylistically, the intense Nagata would be a perfect opponent and jumped at the opportunity to work with someone of such a prestigious stature.

“It took me about two seconds to determine I wanted that match,” Moxley says. “Then I went back in the locker room because I had a lot of s--- on my mind before wrestling Suzuki. That match was a success, and as I was heading to the bus at the end of the night, I saw Gedo, the New Japan booker.

“I went up to Gedo and said, ‘I’m just throwing this out there, putting it into the ether. Maybe one day, if I can get in the ring with Nagata, that would be really cool.’ I wasn’t asking for anything major. I didn’t want a blood feud where he came to my house or where I’d have to attack him. I just wanted to share the ring with him. Two hours before that, I saw him move around the ring like a cat. And Gedo looks at me and goes, ‘Ohhhhhh, I will keep that in mind.’ ”

New Japan and AEW were both equally pleased with the working relationship with Kenta, who appeared on Dynamite in February and wrestled a well-received match against Moxley on New Japan Strong. That momentum has continued, and the Nagata-Moxley match was initially scheduled to take place on Strong.

Strong is a great hour of professional wrestling, and it’s great for the young guys and it’s great for the fans,” Moxley says. “I love being a part of it. I heard from [New Japan’s] Rocky Romero, who told me Gedo still wanted to do me against Nagata, and that he was flying him out to America for Strong. So that was our plan, and I thought that was f------ awesome.”

Shortly after learning that Nagata was coming to America, Moxley informed AEW owner Tony Khan of the news. Khan immediately shared Moxley’s enthusiasm for the match, and then asked a question that will come to fruition tonight on TNT.

“Tony asked, ‘Why not do it on Dynamite?’ ” Moxley says. “And I said, ‘If we can, then f--- yeah, that would be bigger, especially for a legend like Nagata.’ We both loved that it would be a chance for Nagata to be back on TNT. Before I knew it, Tony talked to New Japan, and now it’s happening. And it’s a chance to celebrate his career.”

The match on Dynamite will mark the first time Nagata and Moxley meet in a singles match. They tagged against one another on Friday’s episode of NJPW Strong, when Moxley teamed with Chris Dickinson to defeat Nagata and Ren Narita. Moxley ended the match when he covered Narita after hitting him with the Death Rider, the DDT that is known as the Paradigm Shift in AEW, but then got locked in Nagata’s Nagata Lock III submission after the match, adding even more fuel to the fire for their meeting on Dynamite.

After setting the wrestling world aflame over the past two years, Moxley is eagerly anticipating a chance to make magic in the ring with Nagata, a true legend of the business whose matches are marked by their unrelenting pace and physicality.

“You would not believe the amount of texts I received from people in every company, every single one, even people that don’t normally text, saying, ‘I can’t believe you get to work with Nagata,’ ” Moxley says. “That’s only reinforced what a privilege it is to share the ring with him on Strong and Dynamite.

“We’re at a point here where anything can happen. We have the opportunity to see a legend here in Nagata. It makes me think of what else is possible.”

Nagata has history in the United States, previously wrestling for WCW when the company had a working relationship with New Japan. He was connected to WCW from 1994–98, including a pay-per-view match at Halloween Havoc in 1997. That was a card featuring significant star power, headlined by Hollywood Hogan against “Rowdy” Roddy Piper in a steel cage, in addition to the classic pitting Rey Mysterio against Eddie Guerrero in a title vs. mask match. The show opened with Nagata defeating Último Dragón by submission, a match that Nagata considers among his favorites.

“I have a lot of fond memories of that match,” Nagata says. “Último Dragón was a big international star, and to go toe-to-toe with him and show what I could do with my own offense was definitely a privilege.”

The privilege is now being extended to Moxley, one of the premier stars in the industry. His match against Nagata marks an opportunity to showcase his brilliance against a global star while also bringing unique content to AEW, a promotion that is offering a whole new world of opportunity to its roster.

“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,” Moxley says. “This dude is the definition of fighting spirit, what New Japan’s all about, and I don’t roll over for anybody.

“We’re going to take our shots and see who falls down first, and it could very well be me. But to be dropped by one of the greatest to ever do it, then what a way to go out. If this is the end of my U.S. title run, then I’m going out in a blaze of glory, trading shots with a legend, live on Dynamite. He doesn’t f--- around, I don’t f--- around. I’m pretty stoked about it.”

Moxley’s defending the title against Nagata is a pay-per-view–caliber match, which is an added delight to those who will be tuning in to this week’s Dynamite.

“I’m going to let the match do the talking,” Nagata says. “Experience it for yourself, and enjoy.”

UFC’s Michael Chandler: “I want to be the same kind of ambassador for this sport that Ric Flair was for pro wrestling”

Michael Chandler will compete Saturday against Charles Oliveira in the main event of UFC 262. The winner will be crowned the new UFC lightweight champion, a title that was vacated after Khabib Nurmagomedov announced his retirement from the sport.

Chandler is a three-time Bellator lightweight world champion. Yet despite a plethora of accolades in Bellator, Chandler only received significant attention when he made the move from Bellator to the industry-leading UFC. He dazzled in his Octagon debut, making quick work of an extremely dangerous opponent in Dan Hooker in January at UFC 257.

There are certainly parallels to be drawn between Chandler and the legendary “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, who wrestled much of his illustrious career away from Vince McMahon’s WWE, until he added to his legend when he signed with the company in 1991. Surrounded by icons like Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage and Roddy Piper, it was Flair who won the famed Royal Rumble match in 1992 to become WWF champion.

Following the victory, Flair cut a backstage promo where he proclaimed, “I’m gonna tell you all, with a tear in my eye, this is the greatest moment of my life.” Chandler’s victory speech in the Octagon was similar, stating, “I’ll tell you all this, this is the greatest moment of my professional life.”

The similarities, Chandler confirmed, were no coincidence.

“I got a FaceTime from Flair after that, and he said, ‘Brother, I’m getting a bunch of press; everybody is comparing myself to you,’ ” Chandler says. “I said, ‘Ric, I’d never compare myself to you. You’re the greatest of all time.’

“I’m a huge Ric Flair fan, so that was pretty special. He gave me some pointers on what to say in the future, and we formed a friendship out of it, too. If my name can be thrown around with the likes of his, I’m tickled by that. I want to continue this ride, win the world title and continue working hard and being an ambassador for this sport. I want to be the same kind of ambassador for this sport that Ric Flair was for pro wrestling.”

The (online) week in wrestling

  • Blood & Guts was a fantastic display of professional wrestling. I do, however, wish that the production surrounding the finish was treated differently. Viewers saw too much of Jericho after he fell off the top of the cage, and for too long. Had the show gone off the air right after the fall and a close-up of MJF, it would have been a more effective finish.
  • The past two weeks of main events on Raw have been predictable with DQ finishes, but it has built to a solid title match among Bobby Lashley, Drew McIntyre and Braun Strowman for Sunday at Backlash. But after losing his NXT title to Karrion Kross, I still don’t understand why Finn Bálor was not brought into the title picture on Raw. 
  • One highlight of Raw was the Damian Priest–John Morrison match. Morrison reminds me of a modern-day Rick Martel in WWE; even if the powers-that-be don’t see him as a world champion, his matches and segments are just so damn good. 
  • Roman Reigns defends his universal title at Backlash against Cesaro, which is the biggest match of Cesaro’s career. Also, it’s great to have Jimmy Uso back on SmackDown.
  • Jinder Mahal just hasn’t been able to stay healthy. Hopefully that does not define this upcoming run.
  • Trish Adora headlines this Sunday’s Let’s Talk About Wrestling card for WWR+, taking on Willow Nightingale. There are plenty of women who could emerge as the breakout star of the show, particularly Megan Bayne. 
  • If you haven’t already watched, this Laredo Kid–Arez match is worth your time. 
  • Humberto Carrillo had an especially frightening moment on Raw, but fortunately, according to Mike Johnson of PWInsider, the injury was not as serious as initially feared.
  • Quinn McKay has constantly brought value to Ring of Honor through the way she interviews and highlights talent. Her in-ring debut against Angelina Love was also fantastic.
  • Pat McAfee did a pretty solid job channeling the spirit of Vince McMahon. 
  • Is there a better promo in wrestling than Eddie Kingston? 

Wheeler Yuta wins IWTV independent wrestling championship

Wheeler Yuta became the new IWTV independent wrestling champion on Thursday, defeating Lee Moriarty at Beyond Wrestling’s Project Reality show in a match that lasted more than 52 minutes.

The 24-year-old Yuta becomes the eighth person to hold the title, joining a distinguished list that includes Orange Cassidy, Jonathan Gresham and Kris Statlander. After winning the title in March, Moriarty had a shorter title run than usual for those that hold the IWTV Independent Wrestling Championship, dropping the belt in his third title defense.

“It was physically taxing, and I was exhausted by the end,” Yuta says. “The longest match I’d had up to this point was 22 minutes, but it didn’t have the stakes or length of this. I was so focused on wrestling in the moment. We fed off the crowd’s energy, and that changed the way we wrestled. The crowd gave us so much energy, especially as we got deeper and deeper into the match.

“This past week, it’s been a whirlwind, but I always believed I’d reach this stage. Lee’s just hitting his peak, and it was amazing to win the title from him.”

The IWTV title has been defined by its larger-than-life champions, but Yuta and Moriarty have the chance to further enhance the meaning of the belt with a signature feud.

“This title is a big piece of our rivalry,” Yuta says. “We want to build the prestige of the title even more, and I can’t wait to fight him again for the championship. Throughout this title’s lineage, there have been very distinct points where the champions were the absolute best. With myself and Lee, there is no limit to where this can go.”

A nine-year veteran, Yuta was trained by WWE’s Drew Gulak, who taught him the finer techniques of pro wrestling. Throughout his career, Yuta has completely dedicated himself to his craft. His work continues to become sharper and his look more defined, which has led to opportunities with New Japan on Strong and in Ring of Honor.

Yuta’s next title defense has not yet been announced, but he plans on setting a very high standard in his matches, showcasing why he is the right person to represent indie wrestling for IWTV.

“I want to make all of the past champions proud,” Yuta says. “All of those names are engraved on the side of the title, and I’ve been looking at that. They all carried it and built this into something important, and now it’s my opportunity to make it mean even more.”

Tweet of the Week

Miro’s run in AEW hasn’t clicked yet. He has the chance to change that tonight.

Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.