By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)
He probably didn’t have it.
And that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with that.
If you had seen his work on NJPW Strong (or MLW and ROH) before becoming All Elite, then you may have viewed him as a good young prospect. He didn’t quite stand out above everyone else, but he also didn’t necessarily fade to the back, either. He was a guy with long tights that held his own with anybody who hopped in the ring with him.
Then he moved to AEW and was thrown into a Best Friends faction that isn’t quite what it used to be. While Orange Cassidy will forever be perpetually over with live crowds, we haven’t seen that group be main players for a while now. Plus, there’s always a ceiling for those types of acts in pro wrestling. They’re funny and entertaining until they’re not. And once they’re not, that’s usually the end of the road.
Making matters worse was that Yuta wasn’t even really used in that faction. And then that faction joined another faction in Chaos. But Chaos doesn’t really have an AEW presence and is only really known to New Japan fans. Yet there he was, being the last guy in line in an oversized group that spans two companies and continents.
You don’t want to say he was directionless, but you also don’t want to claim that direction felt present.
But then …
Well, then, Friday happened.
The hype train for the Jon Moxley vs. Wheeler Yuta match on the most recent Rampage began early and became fervent. And the hype train is a tricky thing in pro wrestling because sometimes it’s worth it and sometimes it’s not. Sometimes, these things live up to expectations and sometimes, they don’t. But when they don’t, it means the wrestlers involved take more than two steps back. Not fulfilling the hype means more bad than actually fulfilling it means good.
Or, most of the time, at least.
That’s because despite all the hype prior to Rampage’s main event on Friday, Wheeler Yuta vs. Jon Moxley actually surpassed the chattering leading up to it. It somehow defied the lofty expectations and proved to be every bit as good as those who saw it in person said it was. It did the impossible, it defied pro wrestling history and came through in a big way.
And how did it do that?
A PERFECT FORMULA
It did that with a combination of blood, drama, wrestling and passion.
This was one of the best matches in Rampage’s short history and that’s partly because it came out of nowhere. Moxley, along with William Regal and Bryan Danielson, are in start-up mode with this Blackpool Combat Club stuff, so while Moxley and Danielson could be in any main event or title picture, they are simply trying to get an idea off the ground currently.
Pair that with Yuta, who, as I said, has barely been a bit player in AEW, and you could be forgiven for thinking there wasn’t much of a recipe for special. That’s not to say a good match couldn’t be had, it’s just to say that the marquee doesn’t necessarily light up when you list that match on it. That’s said with all due respect, of course.
And maybe that’s why this thing was as good as it was. It’s like going to see a band that you kind of like in concert and then end up being blown away by an unknown opening act. There’s a certain magic to the equation that just writes itself and it cannot be duplicated. Surprise love is oftentimes better than expected love.
And the love on Friday night was pure. From the opening bell to the final ounce of blood that Yuta shed, that match was one of the biggest treats in AEW all year. Not just because it was unexpected, but also because it was just that good. The punishment that Yuta took made for impeccable storytelling and elevated him to an entirely new level.
Actually, come to think of it …
Perhaps that’s why this match meant so much: It featured the making of a man.
We didn’t just get the fantastic wrestling and the addicting drama; we also got to see someone nobody thought was going to be a primetime player at this point in his career become a made man — and this coming after he won the Ring Of Honor Pure Championship the weekend prior. There’s something about seeing a wrestler have unexpected success that draws even the most cynical fan in.
Think back to when the 1-2-3 Kid beat Razor Ramon and Sean Waltman’s career was never the same. Perhaps the biggest, most lasting upset in Monday Night Raw history, it immediately made thousands of people fall in love with one underdog at the expense of one of the company’s biggest heels.
The beauty of what happened last Friday is that the moment came at the expense of nobody. Jon Moxley won the match and he didn’t lose anything in the process, either. Sure, Yuta kicked out of two finisher attempts, but there is no way the Paradigm Shift lost any luster because of it. And Moxley didn’t have to look weak to make Yuta look strong. If anything, Moxley came out as more of a badass than he’s ever been for beating up a guy as hard as he did.
Yuta, meanwhile, proved he could hang with a star and, more importantly, not back away from such a lasting opportunity. It’s one thing to be given a chance, but it’s another to take that chance and deliver like you’ve never delivered before. Wheeler Yuta isn’t the only person to wrestle Jon Moxley, but he might be the only one that took that experience and demanded he be elevated after doing so.
And it wasn’t just because of the blood, either. It was because of the heart and determination that he showed while fighting his way toward a loss. The blood helped, sure, but it wasn’t the story of the match. That came down to something as old as time: Respect. Yuta was willing to fight for it, and Yuta earned it because of as much.
So what’s next for him?
Well, it appears he’s now part of the Blackpool Combat Club, if only because he was willing to write the faction’s initials in his own blood on his own chest after the match (speaking of which, is that going to be the entry fee for the club — to bleed with a member? Moxley and Danielson did it to start the thing and now Yuta followed suit). The true question will be what role Yuta plays in the group. Will be overshadowed by his superstar stablemates, or is this the first in a long line of steps toward his own superstardom?
Only time can answer those questions. And, to be fair, it’s kind of silly to even be asking them currently. Because for now, only a few days after his coming out party on Rampage, we should all just take a moment to appreciate what he did to become a part of the faction to begin with. That guy earned his place next to Moxley and Danielson by doing the only thing he could have done to get there and that’s wrestle.
Wrestle violently. Wrestle passionately. Wrestle honestly. And wrestle like he never wrestled before.
So, again, I’m not saying Wheeler Yuta didn’t deserve your attention before Friday’s Rampage. I’m just saying that now that he has it, I, for one, can’t wait to see what he does with it.