Juice Robinson lost the IWGP United States Title to Jon Moxley in Moxley’s New Japan debut this past weekend at Dominion. For both men, it’s a rebirth.
Not everybody who loses their championship can turn their failure into a success. Take a look at the current crop of former champions in WWE.
Sasha Banks disappeared from television after losing the Women’s Tag Team Titles; The Revival won the Tag Team Titles only to be turned into a joke after dropping the belts to Zack Ryder and Curt Hawkins on the WrestleMania pre kickoff show; and Daniel Bryan went from WWE Champion to kicking off pay-per-views in non-title tag team matches. (Side note: This also speaks to WWE’s larger problem with tag teams.)
It’s easy to pick something that WWE does and ridicule it for being bad, boring, or brutally offensive. It’s even easier to pick out the poor storyline and character development which see an amazing crop of talent shuffled to the background and largely forgotten. Luckily, not every promotion treats their performers this way.
In New Japan, it’s easy to see the truth of “wins and losses matter” come to life. Singles matches are held for shows and situations that absolutely require them and, save for the forever war between the necks of Tetsuya Naito and Kota Ibushi, rematches aren’t always guaranteed.
It made sense, then, that when it was revealed that Jon Moxley was the tormentor of Juice Robinson the wrestling world nearly exploded. Moxley, fresh off of his WWE run as Dean Ambrose, had just shocked and awed by debuting for AEW at Double or Nothing. Now, it seemed, he was setting his sights on opponents on another continent.
The stories wrote themselves – what would happen when Jon Moxley showed up in New Japan? What would he do to Juice Robinson? It wasn’t a question of “if” he could capture the United States Title – it became a question of “how quickly” could he defeat Juice.
Rightfully, Juice was furious. No slouch on the cerulean blue mat, he’s had victories over Jay White and Cody to start his pair of US Title reigns. At 237 days, he also clocks in at the most combined days with the gold. At Ryogoku Sumo Hall, though, Juice fell to the debuting Death Rider in one of the former champions most brutal affairs in a New Japan ring.
From the outset, Juice showed something different. He walked to the ring with more purpose than joviality opting to wear the expression of a frustrated, determined fighter than that of the fun-loving, crowd-pleasing Flamboyant One.
In the ring, Juice removed his entrance garb to reveal a freshly shorn head. Gone were the trademark dreadlocks in favor of a short, cropped cut. Still, the eyes of Robinson told the story. He came to Sumo Hall to fight with every ounce of his being.
What followed was one of the hardest-hitting IWGP United States Title matches in the short history of the championship. From the word “go”, Robinson and Moxley bit, punched, and battered one another with the prize hanging in the balance.
Robinson was split open early by the teeth, fists, and elbows of Moxley but persevered for a (perhaps ill-advised) dive from the top of the entrance structure. Juice hit the floor more than he hit Moxley but still fought to his feet showing the steely resolve that had brought him to the gold twice already.
Surviving Moxley’s savagery of being put through tables and struck with chairs, Juice turned up the torture himself to put the challenger through a table of his own. While at times it seemed as though all of the blog posts and articles were right and Moxley would run through Robinson like a locomotive through the night, Juice kept fighting back.
Meeting back in the ring, Moxley eventually gained the advantage long enough to spike Juice head-first with his double-arm DDT finisher. To the shock of Moxley and the crowd, Juice shimmied out at two. Moxley struck again, this time with an implant version of the double-arm DDT, and put the champion out for the three count.
Moxley had arrived and done what everyone assumed he would do – he defeated Juice Robinson for the IWGP US Title. But, it wasn’t a total loss for Juice.
In post-match comments, Robinson delivered one of the most heartfelt and passionate promos I’ve seen from him. Always one to shoot from the hip and speak his mind, Juice’s promos are always entertaining to listen to. His larger than life character always shines through in a way that sets him apart from anybody else on the New Japan roster.
This promo, though… it was different. It wasn’t fun to watch or listen to. It was devastatingly truthful and born out of being hurt. The hurt wasn’t brought just by Moxley but by the fans and writers who pushed him to the side for the new hotness of a Jon Moxley with his newfound freedom.
Juice let his emotions run wild as he told the truth of everything that had happened: he had become an afterthought in the lead-up to the match, Moxley beat him viciously, and he had lost the IWGP US Title. In that loss, though, it was clear that Juice had found his strength.
Harkening back to his FCW and NXT days, the incensed former champion declared that the last vestiges of CJ Parker had been killed. There was no longer any part of himself that reflected his previous persona.
The Juice that stood before us shouting into microphones and cameras was a different Juice than we’d ever seen in New Japan Pro Wrestling.
He made it clear that he would work to get back to where he should be – but that place shouldn’t be back to the US Title. Or, at least, it shouldn’t only be back to the US Title. The G1 Climax is quickly approaching and this could be the summer Juice needs to step into the next part of his career.
In Juice’s post-Moxley world, it may be time to leave the United States Title in the rearview to look toward loftier goals. While a G1 Climax win may not be in the cards for Juice, a strong showing in the tournament could open him up to opportunities for the NEVER Openweight and Intercontinental Titles down the line.
Just as Moxley kickstarted a new life for himself with a victory in Tokyo, so has Juice by way of losing the title that has defined him and, possibly, held him back. More than anything, though, the Juice Robinson we saw after June 5, 2019 is one who lives and breathes in stark contrast to the Juice Robinson we saw before June 5, 2019.
The new Juice Robinson is one who knows pain, who knows loss and who knows what it means to be swept to the side for the allure of someone new. Juice can now carry those scars, both physical and emotional, into battle as the biggest tournament of the summer heats up.
Time may be up for Juice Robinson’s IWGP US Title reign, but that doesn’t mean time’s up for Juice Robinson as a whole.