When Jon Moxley showed up on the Jan. 29 NJPW Strong to set-up his first IWGP United States title defense in almost a year, many figured it would be a way to get the belt off him.
The pandemic had made it nearly impossible for him to do much with New Japan in 2020, and while COVID restrictions are easing, Mox is soon to become a father for the first time in a few months. He’ll probably be limiting his own travel soon. KENTA’s been set-up as the #1 contender since last August. He’s carried the story IWGP U.S. championship story on his own since. As NJPW’s first emissary to AEW, KENTA seemed poised for big things in 2021. Their showdown on the Fri., Feb. 26 edition of Strong looked like a logical time to do the title change.
Suspense created by that line of thinking helped make their main event showdown a thrilling affair. So did they way the two men kicked each other’s asses for 15 minutes.
Mox took the fight to KENTA at the bell, and it didn’t take long for the action to spill to the floor. The challenge briefcase came into play there, as the champ went to piledrive the Bullet Club member onto it, only to be thwarted and get DDT-ed into it himself.
A running knee off the stage gave Mox a chance to pay KENTA back for double stomping him through a table on Dynamite earlier this month, but it was again the American who ended up with splinters in his back.
Both men barely beat the 20 count after that, and it looked like KENTA would polish Mox off – first via pinfall after another double stomp, then via submission. But the champ evaded the GTS and survived Game Over. A flurry of strikes from Moxley put KENTA on the ropes. He gave a defiant middle finger salute, but couldn’t kick out after Death Rider.
Conventional wisdom had this as the middle stop on Moxley’s paternity leave tour. Instead, the longest IWGP United States title reign in history continues. KENTA looked badass in the loss, but a six month quest still ended in defeat.
What’s next for either man? The Forbidden Door remains open, so the possibilities seem endless…