New Japan Pro Wrestling Strong
Windy City Riot
April 12, 2024
Wintrust Arena
Chicago, Illinois


Meet our previewers:

John Carroll: John apologizes for skipping one of these New Japan previews for the first time in ages, but they were busy seeing the New York Rangers win yet another game, this time in a 4800-seat college arena in the middle of the desert. Pretty fun! You can follow them on Twitter @toshanshuinla because it’s almost playoff time baby.

Warren Hayes: Warren spent the entirety of writing this review listening to a delightful playlist of The Smiths. We promise you, he’s doing fine. He is human and he needs to be loved just like everybody else does. Check out his podcast on YouTube or your favorite podcast app, or follow him on BlueSky.

Strong Survivor Match
Matt Vandagriff vs. Zane Jay

John: We’ve got two pre-show matches before the main card at Windy City Riot, kicking off with what’s become a traditional Strong Survivor match on these US shows. Just like the last Strong show I attended live (last October in Las Vegas), it’s once again Matt Vandagriff taking part in this. He actually picked up the win back in Vegas, so we’ll see if he can go 2-for-2 in front of me here. Matt had been around for a little while on the US indies, actually going back to 2017 or so, before joining up with the Strong academy last year. Meanwhile, I can’t really find much info on Zane Jay who doesn’t even have a Cagematch profile yet, but he did main event the last Academy Showcase against Bad Dude Tito a few weeks ago (in a losing effort). Vandagriff also has an Academy Showcase main event under his belt (he lost to Rocky Romero in the main event of the 10/11/23 show), so I think we can kind of assume these are two students they’re a little higher on than some of the others. Anyway, let’s go with Zane Jay to win this one, why not. Prediction: Zane Jay

Warren: Matt Vandagriff is really the only one of these two competitors who I am familiar with and that’s only because of his win in the last Strong Survivor Match in the Battle in the Valley pre-show where beat Goldy. And he’s also on a winning streak with these matches it seems. Prediction: Matt Vandagriff

Pre-Show Match
Mina Shirakawa & Viva Van vs. Trish Adora & Alex Windsor

John: Our other pre-show match is a ladies’ encounter, featuring STARDOM’s Mina Shirakawa, two wrestlers who recently spent time in the Academy in Viva Van & Trish Adora (and Trish has obviously been getting a lot of TV time in AEW & ROH this year as well), and Revolution Pro’s Alex Windsor. Honestly, this is a pretty great collection of international women’s talent for a pre-show match! I’d be surprised if this wasn’t a pretty solid contest at minimum. I’ll go with the team of Trish & Alex to pick up the win just because they’re both a little more established than Viva, who seems like the most likely fall taker to me. Prediction: Trish Adora & Alex Windsor

Warren: We have a STARDOM champion, a RevPro stalwart and two Academy-trained and well-traveled women all coming together in this match. It’s quite the lineup, and I’m a little shocked it’s on the pre-show, frankly. I’ve long been a fan of Trish Adora and it’s great to see how far she’s come. Am I overthinking this by assuming they’ll likely want to keep Shirakawa looking strong in Western markets seeing she might have Forbidden Door aspirations with Toni Storm? Cross-promotion booking, baby! Prediction: Mina Shirakawa & Viva Van

Minoru Suzuki vs. Ren Narita

John: Opening up the main card will be a surprising match that was just added to the show a few days ago. When Ren Narita turned on his World Tag League partner Shota Umino to join House of Torture last December, it almost seemed like an afterthought that he was also turning his back on his fellow STRONG STYLE members Minoru Suzuki & El Desperado. Both Suzuki & Despy voiced their displeasure at the time, but the heat was clearly on Narita turning on his friend and dojo classmate Umino, not the other members of his weird little Hontai sub-unit. In the months that followed, Desperado appeared opposite Narita in some multi-man tags but never got a singles match with him, while Suzuki actually vanished from New Japan entirely. His last NJPW appearance was way back on December 10th, 2023, teaming with his World Tag League partner Yuji Nagata and the Monstersauce team of Lance Archer & Alex Zayne to beat BULLET CLUB in an 8-man tag on the last night of that tour. Since that final NJPW appearance Suzuki has kept more than busy: he appeared on the DDT/BJW New Year’s Eve six-man tournament, did a handful of AJPW & other independent shows in Japan to start 2024, showed up on AEW TV to face Adam Copeland of all people, did a quick European weekend swing through the UK & France, showed up in MLW to challenge Satoshi Kojima for their World title, wrestled Maki Itoh on Tokyo Joshi’s big Wrestle Princess show, and finally came back to the US again for appearances in ROH & GCW on Wrestlemania weekend. He’s really been all over the place, but again, not a single New Japan appearance in 2024 so far. Until now!

While Suzuki was off globe-trotting, Desperado quietly announced that STRONG STYLE was officially ending (after briefly trying to forcibly recruit SHO from House of Torture- if SHO had lost his junior title challenge to Desperado back at New Beginning, he would have been forced to join the “unit”, but we all know what happened there). So with his sub-unit officially over and Suzuki seemingly enjoying his time as a true freelancer again (as opposed to a freelancer who mostly works NJPW besides the occasional outside date), it somehow made it all the more shocking when this match was suddenly announced. Suzuki will not only finally reappear in New Japan, but he’ll do it stateside, and he’ll do it opposite his once-protégé Narita. This completely out of nowhere match is suddenly one of my most anticipated of the night. Who wins it likely comes down to a simple question: do they have future plans for Suzuki, even if just in the US? Or is this going to be a one-and-done for him for now? I’ll go with Suzuki getting a surprising win here in his reappearance (especially with Narita not having many of his HoT mates to back him up, with most of the rest of the unit on the Taiwan show later in the same weekend), if only to set him up doing something else at the upcoming Resurgence show in Los Angeles next month. Prediction: Minoru Suzuki

Warren: Congratulations to Minoru Suzuki for landing his first NJPW booking of 2024! Now he gets to beat up someone who seemed positioned to be his protogé back when that Strong Style faction was a thing (did you blink? You missed it!). While I may loathe House of Torture, it’s hard to argue that Ren Narita’s shitheel persona has given him that spark of personality that deeply eluded him as the “Son of Strong Style.” His days of being a Shibata facsimile may be over (at least, for now), but his anointment as one of the Reiwa Three (plus Uemura) still covers him more than that Spirit Halloween cloak he wears. Even if his alignment with HoT implies that he rejects NJPW’s branding, I still feel he’s one of the elected, with the expectations that go along with it. In that sense, this match could be an opportunity to “do something” with Narita in his position as one of the young guys entrusted with carrying the future of the promotion. A win against the plane-hopping Suzuki would be a good place to start. It’s no real skin of NJPW’s lion-marked butt as they clearly have no plans for the King of Pro-Wrestling and it would be done in front of a crowd who truly do love Suzuki. Gotta start somewhere, gotta start simple. Prediction: Ren Narita

NJPW Strong Women’s Championship
Stephanie Vaquer © vs. AZM

John: Giulia had reigned as the Strong Women’s Champion from all the way back on July 5th, 2023 (when she defeated the likely accidental first champion Willow Nightingale, following the freak injury in the Willow/Mercedes tournament final), racking up nine successful title defenses across STARDOM & NJPW shows alike. But with Giulia finally leaving the Bushiroad orbit and now seemingly on her way to NXT (gotta learn where that hard cam is sister!), her reign as champion was ended at the hands of CMLL’s Stephanie Vaquer on Night 2 of STARDOM’s Cinderella Tournament, on March 10th at Korakuen Hall. Stephanie will now attempt to make her first defense of the title against another STARDOM wrestler in AZM, who has already unsuccessfully challenged for this belt once before (losing to Giulia on the 12/2/23 STARDOM show in Nagoya). I don’t see the second time being the charm for AZM, as Stephanie will likely get to hold onto this belt for a while given that she’s been a mainstay on these Strong shows for almost a year now. Prediction: Stephanie Vaquer

Warren: The one true winner from that Strong Women’s Championship tournament last year was, and continues to be, Stephanie Vaquer. Her knockout match against the freshly-Fed-freed Mercedes Moné was a true-to-form breakout moment for American fans. The luchadora enamored the base with her hard hitting, fast-paced, gritty style, raising her profile as fans to this day demand to see her on TV more (psst… she wrestles most Fridays and it’s easy to watch). While there is certainly buzz around Vaquer, STARDOM’s high speed stalwart AZM seems to be making the most of her little tour of the US and maximizing her own exposure here. Working with a current (dare I say) Internet Darling only has the potential to raise her stock, even if I don’t see her defeating Vaquer. Besides, Vaquer is still destined to hold the Strong Women’s title, and that might be happening sooner than later. Prediction: Stephanie Vaquer

NJPW Strong Openweight Tag Team Championship 4-Way Open Challenge Match
Guerillas of Destiny (ELP & Hikuleo) © vs. TMDK (Shane Haste & Mikey Nicholls) vs. West Coast Wrecking Crew vs. Tom Lawlor & Fred Rosser

John: I remain firmly on Team “I don’t see the point of having three separate sets of two-man tag titles” (nevermind the fact that this promotion also has a 6-man tag title on top of that!), but at least when the Strong Tag Titles are defended on Strong shows they seem a little less out of place than they do on standard Japanese events. Here we have a four-way tag match that includes the new Lawlor/Rosser team of former rivals, Lawlor’s (I guess?) now-former Team Filthy mates Nelson & Isaacs, the classic TMDK duo of Haste & Nicholls and the only GOD team left standing in ELP & Hikuleo. There’s really no shortage of ways they could go here, but personally I would like to see Haste & Nicholls win the belts. They’ve been extremely solid together since reforming their team in New Japan and seemingly can’t catch a break in their endless tag title challenges, so it would be nice to see them win the Strong belts at least. I’m pretty over ELP & Hikuleo as a team too. Prediction: TMDK

Warren: I’m trying my best to find reasons to care about this match. Let me try some gratitude journaling to see if it helps. 

  • I’m grateful for Lawlor and Rosser who are great staples of Strong and should be rewarded as such. 
  • I’m grateful that the o.g. TMDK is in this match. 
  • I’m grateful for Royce Isaac’s sideburns. 
  • And I’m grateful for… um… puppies? 

Man, I’m not sure I feel better. The stuff that I don’t care about overwhelms me: I don’t care about the fourth-rung NJPW tag titles, I don’t want to see Hikuleo anymore, I’m not a fan of multi-man matches for titles, and I want ELP to crack the code and free the superstar wrestler that’s in there somewhere. I’m super annoyed at this match. Prediction: Tom Lawlor & Fred Rosser

Shota Umino vs. Jack Perry

John: This feels shockingly low on the card for a match that has been built up as much as Umino vs. Perry, with the very first angle happening all the way back on January 13th at Battle in the Valley, Perry beating Umino in their first meeting to knock him out of the New Japan Cup in the very first round (with a little help from House of Torture of course), and Umino & Perry being at each other’s throats in tag matches ever since. All that to go on sixth from the top? Kind of surprising to me! But anyway, hopefully they’re able to have a better encounter here than they did back in that aforementioned NJC match, which was very much just a baseline competent professional wrestling encounter. With Perry’s AEW return seemingly increasingly imminent (the Young Bucks keep namedropping him on TV and apparently will be airing the actual, honest-to-god footage of Perry’s backstage fight with CM Punk from All In last year on this week’s Dynamite, so I expect him to be introduced as the fourth member of the new Elite any day now), he likely will be giving Umino his win back here on his way out of the territory. Despite the fact that his in ring output has been nothing special, I for one will miss the first and so far only white man to ever be in the House. Godspeed, Scapegoat. Godspeed. Prediction: Shota Umino

Warren: Seems like we’re about to get the big climax to the ongoing rivalry between these two guys that has permeated Perry’s suspension in NJPW. I’m with John, I think his return to AEW is imminent and this might be his NJPW swan song. At least, for now. But what a moment it’s going to be when he steps out in front of a Chicago crowd a week after CM Punk vilified him while on the MMA Hour. Chicago is not going to stand for El Hijo de Dylan McKay one bit. Which is good, in return, for ol’ Shooter, who could absolutely use a hot crowd to prop him up and continue his ascension. I really liked their NJ Cup match and felt it was building to something really nice until the House of Torture reared their stupid faces and did stupid things that are stupid. Since the Japanese contingent isn’t around, maybe the match won’t be mired in nonsense and these guys can flex their skills proper? But who knows, they may have recruited six new guys by this time in the show. In any extent, Jack Perry is likely leaving the territory, putting a guy over like it should, and Shota comes out of the feud looking like a winner. Prediction: Shota Umino

Mustafa Ali vs. Hiromu Takahashi

John: This was one of the original two matches announced for Windy City Riot way back in January, along with the main event of course, and I have little doubt that the Chicago native making his New Japan debut against the almost universally beloved Hiromu helped sell some tickets too (for those who don’t know this show has sold over 6,000 tickets to date, making it NJPW’s biggest US success since G1 Supercard by quite a wide margin). Of course, there really isn’t much backstory to this one besides Mustafa doing his politician gimmick in a challenge video (which Hiromu gave a pretty funny mocking response to, pointing out quite accurately that Ali bringing up Darryl & Naoru was really out of date on his part). Besides some teases from Hiromu that he’d like an X Division title shot against Ali, who won the belt in TNA on February 23rd, there hasn’t really been much else to speak of in way of buildup here. Sometimes that’s okay though, so let’s just sit back and enjoy a first time ever match. Does Hiromu win this one to set up a future X Division title shot after all? Or does he continue his recent cold streak in singles matches against Ali? I do tend to lean toward Hiromu winning, if for no other reason than to throw the LIJ fans a bone given how the main event is likely to go. Prediction: Hiromu Takahashi

Warren: I really had high hopes for the liberated Mustsafa Ali to tear the world asunder with his unchained skills. I had those X Formerly Twitter videos of him sparring at the gym right at the front of my mind, excited to see him unhitch the wagon and let it barrel headlong. But he’s not quite catching fire, is he? His TNA work is… fine and well done and competent, but not unlike another of his peers in a similar situation (see Nemeth, Nic), it seems like shaking the WWE house style is trickier than expected. I’m hoping a willing and motivated Hiromu shows up to shake something out of Ali. But that depends on Takahashi, who can be a little on-and-off sometimes. Though he did have a tremendous 2023, so maybe I’m just projecting some insecurities (damn you, Morrissey!). These are two wrestlers who I personally really, really like, so the concept of their first encounter is really enticing. It can’t not be good, but I want it to be great. Prediction: Hiromu Takahashi

Riot Rules Tag Match (No DQ Tornado Tag, Partners to be revealed on entrance)
Eddie Kingston & X & X & X vs. Gabe Kidd & X & X & X

John: Gabe Kidd has been in an on-and-off feud with Eddie Kingston for quite a few months now, but you’d be forgiven if you forgot about it given that both men have been quite busy elsewhere lately. In Eddie’s case it was losing two-thirds of his triple crown, as he dropped the Continental title to AEW newcomer Kazuchika Okada (yeah, remember that guy?) in a completely odd title match on Dynamite (odd in that the Continental belt had never been defended separately from the other two since Eddie won the league, we had no idea it even could be defended separately, and AEW itself offered absolutely no in-canon explanation as to why Okada was only challenging for one of the three titles that literally everyone else had previously challenged for together) and then also lost the ROH World title to Mark Briscoe this past weekend. So that leaves him with just one belt, as yes, he is somehow still the NJPW Strong Openweight Champion after winning that title all the way back on July 5th, 2023. In Gabe’s case, he was busy losing his longtime tag team partner to an apparent retirement and then challenging Shingo Takagi for the NEVER Openweight Title last weekend at Sakura Genesis, delivering a scathing shoot-style promo in the process- one that may have hit some folks a little too close to home.

Kidd had challenged for all three of the then-Continental Crown (yes, for some reason Gabe Kidd was allowed to challenge for all three titles but Kazuchika f’n Okada wasn’t- like I said, it makes no sense!) at Battle in the Valley in January in a wild match that ultimately went to a double count out. Even though he’s got another target now as well, presumably he still has his sights set on taking the Strong title from Eddie (he had previously said quite clearly he didn’t care about the other two belts anyway- which again, he still challenged for, for some reason!), but rather than getting a championship rematch in Chicago we’re getting an eight-man mystery tag instead. So, who shows up here? Who knows? Will Eddie bring in any unannounced friends from AEW/ROH? One would think Kidd’s partners will be BC guys (Chase Owens you can stay home please), but maybe that’s even assuming too much? It’s awfully hard to predict a match when we only know a quarter of the participants, but I’ll go with team Kidd to get the victory here as we build to another Eddie vs. Gabe title match, likely for Resurgence in LA next month. Prediction: Team Kidd

Warren: Sometimes, I feel like I’m on an island when it comes to Gabe Kidd. It’s a nice little island. Not too hot or humid, nice cool nights, perpetually cold fizzy drinks to enjoy, a PS5 and incredible wifi. I enjoy this island I’m on. Just like I enjoy Gabe Kidd’s work. I actually enjoy the intense, unhinged thug. There’s a lot of guys out there in pro wrestling who could do with just a fraction of the intensity and fierceness that he brings. I mean, you don’t have to threaten to stab your boss, per se, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t perk up my ears. I’ve felt that his feud with Eddie had this really interesting vibe to it, seeing that these are two wrestlers who don’t have much of a filter and speak from the heart in their own different ways. It’s as though Kidd is what Eddie could be if he were to succumb to the darkness inside him. Kingston teeters on this darkness as he often reminds us, and 2024 might be the year Kingston dips closer to it, as he seems doomed to lose all the titles he worked hard to win in 2023 (but that’s okay, Kingston is better in the chase than being the chased). Maybe losing the Strong championship in 2024, to Gabe Kidd no less, might be a catalyst for this decline.

In the meantime we have this team match and we’re not sure who’s going to be joining up. One can assume the War Dogs will be side by side with Kidd, but the fact that this is being booked as surprises means that it may be more than just, say, Finlay and Connors and Moloney. As for Eddie’s side, your guess is as good as mine. But I think we need a little more gas on this fire as we head towards an inevitable 1-on-1 between our two main protagonists at Resurgence. Prediction: Team Kidd

NJPW WORLD TV Championship
Matt Riddle © vs. Zack Sabre Jr.

John: This one really feels like it came out of left field, as I think most people assumed Zack Sabre Jr. was moving up to bigger and better things after he dropped the NJPW WORLD TV title to Hiroshi Tanahashi at Wrestle Kingdom. But here he is again just a few months later, challenging the man who beat Tanahashi for the belt that Zack helped put on the map. Riddle hasn’t appeared in New Japan since the weekend where he beat Tanahashi for the TV title back in Sapporo, and has not exactly received a warm reception from a lot of the Western NJPW fanbase, so one would think Zack will be the solid crowd favorite here. With some rumblings that New Japan isn’t entirely pleased with Riddle at the moment, perhaps Zack takes his old belt right back from Riddle in Chicago. Prediction: Zack Sabre Jr.

Warren: The dubiousness of Matt Riddle being completely absent from NJPW programming up until this point cannot be understated. I know it’s not unusual for wrestlers to have unexplained absences from programming (see Nemeth, Nic), but Riddle’s is conspicuous if only because the NJPW WORLD TV title fills a role of creating content for NJPW’s various social media endeavors. Like John said, fans here in the West have not embraced the arrival of Riddle and much less his title win, and what little performances he’s had, while fine, aren’t tearing the house down either.

As far as ZSJ goes, I was under the impression that dropping the NJPW WORLD TV title was a sign of him “losing up” on the card. I had committed to my mind that he didn’t need to win the NJ Cup to challenge for the title because he was going to be slotted in a better spot. A shot at Dominion, perhaps? A G1 win? As it stands, these scenarios are hard, very hard maybes. Now it seems he’s back to 15-minute land, in a position where he has a solid chance to win the title back. Frankly, in retrospect, he was a perfect pick to be the inaugural champ because he truly defined the title and what it could represent. His predecessors don’t quite fill the shoes. Prediction: Zack Sabre Jr.

Nic Nemeth vs. Tomohiro Ishii

John: Nic Nemeth is yet another wrestler who won a belt on the New Beginning tour and then immediately vanished from our sights in NJPW (boy, aren’t we all clamoring for another absentee white person champion in the main event too??), as he defeated David Finlay to win the just-established Global title for, uh, some reason. Seriously, what was the point in building Finlay up as well as they did over the course of MONTHS just to have him immediately lose his new title?! He was the entire catalyst behind the creation of the new white belt when he destroyed the old US & UK belts in a memorable angle all the way back at Power Struggle in November, he pinned Will Ospreay clean in the middle in a three-way match with Jon Moxley at Wrestle Kingdom (a surprisingly awesome three-way match, I might add!), and then ultimately ran Ospreay out of the company in an extremely memorable faction warfare cage match. It finally felt like this guy had some real momentum for the first time since the start of his big heel singles push, and then they immediately put him back off the rails by having him lose his new title to the artist formerly known as Dolph Ziggler. 

And, I ask, for what? Nemeth hasn’t even appeared in New Japan since that weekend in mid-February! He’s not defending his title here, since he still owes Hiroshi Tanahashi a title shot that was apparently supposed to happen at Sakura Genesis, but didn’t due to Tanahashi having an ankle injury. So here we have just a normal singles match with Nemeth and Ishii. Will it be good? Probably, it’s a Tomohiro Ishii singles match after all. But did Nemeth need to win the Global title and destroy David Finlay’s momentum to set up a normal ass singles match with Ishii? Or even to set up another title shot for our barely-duct-taped-together company President? No, no he did not. But anyway. Prediction: Nic Nemeth

Warren: I, for one, welcomed the arrival of Nic Nemeth in NJPW earlier this year. Pigeonholed for years in WWE despite being a very capable wrestler, him leaping on the opportunity to work NJPW got a slight fist pump and an approving nod out of me. I was ready to see what this guy, who is likely financially set-up for life, could do in a puro environment. Obviously he decided to take this path because he had something to prove, right? He must have wanted to show all the doubters back in Stamford and the nerds online that he still had “it.” I could only applaud that kind of decision. So far, he’s only had two matches and they’ve both very WWE-ish in execution. I can’t blame the guy who’s been working the same house style for two decades to need some time to shake it off and adapt to NJPW’s ways, but then he’d actually need to, you know, wrestle in NJPW once in a while. His absenteeism has not done him any favors, especially considering the fact that he is currently a champion in the company.

I think that’s what irks the most, truly. This belt, as convoluted as its genesis may be, does find its roots in one of the most electric rivalries of 2023 with Kenny Omega and Will Ospreay, delivering two all-time great matches, and a terrific angle with David Finlay to actually bring the title into being. Finlay defeated two of the most well-known wrestlers in the world to become the inaugural champ. There was an attempt at giving the new title some gravitas, only to have it whisked away with an immediate changing of the guard to a milk-carton champion. If the reasoning behind the change was to get in on a well-known American wrestler to bump up interest in the upcoming American dates, it’s a thought process I don’t understand. Placing focus on North American wrestlers for NJPW shows is missing the entire point, as I would assume most people who buy tickets for a NJPW show want to see the Japanese workers who seldom cross the Pacific for live appearances.

Getting back on track here, I’m still hoping for the big Nic Nemeth puro breakout moment. Outside of getting on the road and hitting a tour to really shake the WWE style, if there was one guy it could happen with, it’s with top-tier worker and Fighting Spirit embodiment Tomohiro Ishii. It’s kind of a make-it-or-break-it in my mind for Nic. If it’s not gonna happen with Tom Ish, I don’t know if it will. It’s not as much about the title as it is about Nemeth embracing this new environment. Prediction: Nic Nemeth

IWGP World Heavyweight Championship
Tetsuya Naito © vs. Jon Moxley

John: Tetsuya Naito has been IWGP World Heavyweight Champion for just a little over three months now. He won the belt at Wrestle Kingdom, where he drew 27,422 fans to see him face SANADA in the main event (outdrawing the previous year’s Kazuchika Okada vs. Jay White main event by more than 1400 fans). He’s since made two defenses, against SANADA at New Beginning in Sapporo (a show that drew 5,355, outperforming 2023’s New Beginning in Osaka tour-ender with Okada defending the same title against Shingo Takagi by about 1300 fans) and against New Japan Cup winner Yota Tsuji at Sakura Genesis (a show that drew 6,632, outperforming the previous year’s 6,510 for Okada defending against SANADA- and maybe could have outdrawn it by even more if they hadn’t used a new smaller seat set-up). So here we have a champion whose numbers are slightly up from last year’s numbers on shows where he’s headlined, despite the fact that New Japan Pro Wrestling has- you may have heard- lost two of its absolute top stars in the company, Okada & Ospreay, to their “partner” promotion in America in the last two months. It would have been hard to blame Naito if attendance had suffered a slight drop given those extremely challenging circumstances, but instead he’s not just maintaining the same numbers so far, he’s actually drawing a little better.

And yet, for some reason, people seem convinced that Jon Moxley taking the title off of Tetsuya Naito here is not just likely to happen (and not to spoil my prediction, but just based on the fact that Naito doesn’t seem to have any obvious challengers lined up for not just Wrestling Dontaku but also Resurgence in Los Angeles, where the promotion has already promised yet another title match, I agree it’s quite likely), but that it’s a good idea and should happen. Why? On what basis? Again, you have the most popular wrestler in the company who’s finally the champion again after another three long years of waiting, and his title reign is drawing strong crowds in two countries (again, this show with Naito on top has already sold almost 6,200 tickets in Chicago, and Resurgence in LA has a decent advance for next month of 1,821 already even though no actual matches have been announced so far), and it’s apparently a good idea to rush the belt off of him? To put it on an AEW guy, when god knows what type of schedule you’re going to be able to get out of him? 

I’m not even arguing this anymore as a perception thing because, as Gabe Kidd himself very astutely pointed out in his controversial promo last weekend, any battle for New Japan to be seen as anything more than All Elite Wrestling’s little brother (and bonafide farm system) has basically been lost at this point. So if they want to put their World title on an AEW guy now on top of it, well, at least Moxley is actually a protected main eventer in that company. It could be worse. What I take issue with here is why you would want to end Naito’s title reign that’s drawing so well at the gate, at a time when A) you really have no other headliners on your own roster to speak of except maybe Tanahashi, who’s even more beat up than Naito is & B) you really have no idea how much longer you’re going to be able to get out of Naito at anything close to a top level, all for yet another part-time white person champion. How many of those do we need in NJPW at once? Did we not all have enough of a white guy holding the top belt in New Japan and barely showing up on the tours when it was Kenny Omega and Jay White doing it? I really don’t know anymore. Whatever, enjoy your reign as IWGP World Heavyweight Champion Mox. I really have nothing against the guy (even though it may have come off like I did in the last three paragraphs- I like Mox, really!), I just find this whole thing perplexing. But it all feels as inevitable as it feels completely misguided. Though I will add that if they’re just doing this to set up putting the belt back on Naito in a rematch at Dominion or something, that would make a little more sense to me I guess. Prediction: Jon Moxley

Warren: I’m adding my bit after John wrapped up their thoughts, so I will avoid re-litigating the astute points they make, many of which I agree with. For the sake of our little collaborative get-together here and keeping things interesting for you, our gentlest of readers, I will devil’s advocate this a tad.

What if putting the title on Jon Moxley is the right idea? I’m not arguing that Naito was a bad idea in the slightest, as the metrics show it is far from being a bomb, nor am I challenging Naito’s unparalleled popularity. But Moxley is also a popular presence to the NJPW crowds. He’s shown to get really good reactions from the crowd, he’s always positioned high on the card, and has shown love for Japan and NJPW, to the point that he has a resident card. I’m pretty sure he didn’t get that just because he really loves visiting the shinto shrines in Wakayama. Mox’s relationship always seemed to run deeper than the AEW and NJPW partnership. If they were to “belt him up,” it wouldn’t be as left-field of a situation than if they did it to, say, Samoa Joe or MJF. While I do find validity in the “NJPW is AEW’s little bro” feelings, Mox’s relationship doesn’t feel like that. It’s more authentic, more organic. He comes across less like an AEW star in NJPW but more of a big time gaijin who’s part of the family.

The “occasional” aspect of it is a legitimate concern, as well, particularly considering the statuses of Riddle and Nemeth. However, Mox isn’t currently involved in any AEW program, as focus has primarily shifted to Swerve, Joe, Ospreay, Moné, the Bucks and Danielson’s Dream Match Parade. It seems plausible that he could be free to do tours unfettered, home life obligations notwithstanding. Could he do better or at least equal business as Naito? Couldn’t be any worse than SANADA!

And perhaps, just perhaps, NJPW sees value in having their top belt being held by a beloved pro wrestler who is frequently on American TV. As I posited earlier, the company still wants to make entryways into the United States and it sees AEW as the way to go. It’s not as if their numbers on AXS TV are setting the ratings world afire. They don’t have the mindshare they once had in pre-AEW days. It’s safe to assume NJPW recognizes that its growth lies in captivating fans in North America since they still haven’t given up on NJPWoA or STRONG or whatever they want to label it. Wrestle Kingdom subscription spikes. NJPW could do a lot worse than belting up Moxley. Prediction: Jon Moxley

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