The first Jon Moxley vs. Wheeler YUTA match was a slaughter.
The bell rang and Mox cut the kid’s head off with a massive lariat. He never loses the advantage from there. It’s less than a minute before Moxley hits the Paradigm Shift and gets the pinfall victory. As far as squash matches go, it really doesn’t get anymore textbook than that.
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This match represented a kind of shift for Moxley at the time. Violence had always been a key part of his presentation, but this was the first time in AEW where he felt like he was steamrolling through people. He followed up this win with another gruesome and decisive victory over 10 in the AEW World Championship Eliminator tournament. All signs seemed to indicate that Moxley vs. Danielson was the intended finals of that tournament, and Moxley’s demeanor in the run up had some buzzing about a potential heel turn.
That’s all well and good for Moxley, but that squash was more than a little disheartening for Wheeler YUTA fans. He hadn’t been built up much by AEW at that point, so he definitely could afford such a decisive loss, but those that had followed his indie career up until then knew that he had more in him than just being a very good TV jobber.
The rematch comes four months later. Things have changed.
YUTA’s had a little more time to settle in with AEW, mostly by racking up wins on the company’s YouTube shows. But more than that, Moxley is fresh back from his hiatus. The time off has visibly done wonders for Mox — he’s leaner and more explosive than ever. Taking time away has perhaps allowed Moxley to become the best wrestler that he’s ever been in his career.
The February 2nd, 2022 bout between these two started with YUTA trying to get the jump at the bell, trying to get ahead of Mox early and cut off an early attack at the pass. It didn’t stun or debilitate Moxley for long, but it caught the veteran well enough that it’s clear — we have a much more even contest here than last time.
At the very least, YUTA’s actually able to get some offense in. Most of this is YUTA trying to finesse the bruiser, using smooth takedowns inspired by lucha libre and British wrestling. Some of it works, some of it doesn’t. At no point in the match does the viewer ever consider that Mox is in danger of losing, but it’s nice that the young gun gets to show what he can do.
It’s a perfectly harmless TV match, giving an up and comer some time with a big star, and it works as just that.
Light applause, good for YUTA, now onto more important things.
Bones Cracking Like Thunder, Blood Raining
Which brings us to the third match in this trilogy, on the April 8, 2022 edition of Rampage.
At this point, Wheeler YUTA has been put through the ringer in his attempts to join the Blackpool Combat Club. To end March, he wrestled Bryan Danielson in a match that I’ve written about previously. In short, it was a great match but one that still highlighted the enormous gulf between YUTA and those he sought to fight with. More than skill, what made YUTA stand out was his defiance — spitting in Dragon’s face
On April 1st, YUTA won the ROH Pure Championship at Supercard of Honor. It’s an easy way to get him a victory, as well as a championship of some importance, while still tying things into the story with Regal’s boys. Bryan Danielson famously retired the Pure Title after unifying it with the ROH World Title in 2006, lending YUTA some shine via lineage and history.
The final test came in the form of Jon Moxley at Rampage. On the Dynamite beforehand, Mox promised “the sound of bones cracking like thunder and raining blood.”
This match delivered on that promise in spades.
It’s a hot start with YUTA just flinging himself into Moxley with a reckless suicide dive before Mox can even step into the ring. It’s yet another evolution of the story these two have been telling since last October. YUTA has learned that every advantage must be fought for, straight ahead and vicious or don’t bother at all. Unlike his attack at the bell in the second match against Mox, this one works to its full advantage. Mox is immediately on his backfoot, and YUTA gets to control the early moments.
On a slightly meta note, it’s also funny to see YUTA take immediate control with a suicide dive — a move that Mox himself has a mixed relationship with. YUTA’s dive looked wild and dangerous, something that Mox doesn’t always achieve with his own take on the maneuver.
The big turning point is Mox stomping YUTA’s head into the ringside steps, busting YUTA up real good. Blood’s not something YUTA’s had to deal with in his career up to this point, and to see him just gushing from this wound made it clear that he was in deeper waters than ever before. Some of the footage on the Fite stream also made it look like Mox might have gotten in there to give YUTA another cut, just to really get that blood flowing.
From there, it’s not a match told in carefully laid out details, it’s just a wild scrap. YUTA does so well to put over both the physical and emotional effects of the blood flow. Not only is his unsteady selling of the blood loss great, there’s also moments where he’s visibly motivated by the sight of his own blood on his hands. It’s never given too much focus, which means it never has the chance to drift into melodrama. Instead, it feels like an organic occurrence, like we’re watching a man truly access an inner reserve he didn’t know he had.
It’s great too how a lot of YUTA’s smoother techniques couldn’t find purchase in this match. Violence takes precedence. YUTA himself established that tone with his early attack but, Mox finds incredibly petty ways to torment the kid, like driving flat palm strikes right into YUTA’s nose before cranking on it. At the same time, YUTA’s own signature arsenal gets distilled down to something more urgent and primal. When he does his sideways skinning of the cat on the bottom rope, he can’t go right into the German suplex as he usually does. Instead, it’s just enough to get him back into the ring with a chance, instead of being a cut off maneuver on its own. It’s only much later that YUTA gets to hit a German, and without the frill of the rebound, it comes off twice as impactful and important.
Perhaps the best compliment I can give this match is that at every turn, it feels like it is YUTA’s fight. The Danielson match saw Dragon lead the kid through a great bout, and it highlighted the gap between where YUTA and Bryan are in terms of skill. This match, in contrast, is not about the gap between YUTA and Mox. Rather, it’s entirely about the gap between YUTA of the present and YUTA of the past.
It’s hard to watch this match and not feel like something’s changed in the young man, even in relation to his highly lauded independent work. A far more visceral aspect to his work came through here, one that works in perfect harmony with the fiery babyface determination he’s proved so adept at projecting in the past.
This match stands much more than the others that fall into this broad series. Not just the trilogy between Mox and YUTA, but also the matches Danielson had with Moriarty and Garcia. All of those read like showcases, demonstrations of how these up-and-coming wrestlers could match up against the well-established greats. This match allows one of those wrestlers to push past the ceiling of “potential” and discover new realms of possibility.
Wheeler YUTA felt larger and more important in this match than he has in his entire career. It feels like a career best for him, one expertly guided and complemented by the heavy hands of Jon Moxley.
It’s not only one of the best matches of the year, but also one of the most successful. In February, YUTA was just another warm body for Mox to wrestle on Dynamite. During this match, beyond the sounds of bones cracking like thunder and blood raining, there’s the sound of YUTA’s name being cheered by thousands.