With the announcement that Jon Moxley would face Yuji Nagata for the IWGP US Championship on the May 12 edition of Dynamite, I came to a realization. I have never seen a Yugi Nagata match. The man has a career that spans decades, he’s won major championships, yet I missed seeing any of it. Today I rectify that oversight with a look back at a match from 2008 as Nagata challenges Kurt Angle for the IWGP Heavyweight championship.
Yuji Nagata is considered by some to be one of the greatest Japanese professional wrestlers of all time. Prior to his match with Angle, he had already been a two time IWGP Heavyweight Champion in addition to several other titles and accolades. His background in amateur wrestling (Greco-roman style) would compliment Angle’s own amateur background. As for Angle, he may be considered one of the greatest American professional wrestlers of all time. Having already won an Olympic gold medal in wrestling, Angle’s transition to professional wrestling was smooth as well as surprisingly successful. Originally conceived as a comedy goof he quickly developed into a legit main-event worker. After leaving WWE, his debut in TNA was a turning point (PPV pun intended) for the company. Angle won the TNA Heavyweight Championship in October of 2007, and the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in June of the same year. Well, a version of it anyway.
In one of the more convoluted championship histories, Kurt Angle had won the title off of Brock Lesner after Brock had been stripped of the title by New Japan. Why did Lesner still have the belt if he’d been stripped of it? Because he didn’t give the physical belt back to New Japan. It was this belt that Lesnar lost to Angle at the inaugural IGF event (Antonio Inoki’s new federation). Angle then defended this belt (sometimes referred to as the IWGP 3rd Belt Championship) against Nagata at NJPW’s Wrestle Kingdom 2 show. During this same show the NJPW IWGP Heavyweight belt (with the original lineage) was won by Shinsuke Nakamura. This show is also notable as it was a cross promotional show between TNA and NJPW. In the United States it was featured as “Global Impact” for DVD release.
On to the match! (Quick note, as I was watching a version of this match from the TNA Global Impact broadcast, I missed some of the action as they went to commercial. The official time is 18:29, while I only recorded 16:11 of it). The style of this match very much fits into the Japanese tradition. Slower paced with focus on submissions and no excessive high spots. The only dive attempt comes from an Angle moonsault that he misses. Minimum amount of taunts and fouls as well. Angle uses his Angle Slam finisher just a bit past the halfway mark but it wasn’t enough to keep Nagata down. Ultimately it’s the grapevine variation of the Ankle Lock that gets the win for Angle.
Points for offense: Strikes =1pt, Strikedowns =3pts, Grapples =4pts, Dives =5pts, Submissions = 1pt/5sec, Finisher = 10pts.
I was impressed by Nagata in this match. Seeing him go step for step with Kurt Angle proved to me that he’s legit and his reputation was well earned. Nagata would go on to win the IWGP belt and defend it at Wrestle Kingdom 3. He continues to wrestle to this day while also working as a trainer for NJPW. Kurt Angle’s career would be tied to the success of TNA, for better or worse. His signing with the company was a high point and it really felt monumental for both Angle and TNA. Sadly, through mis-management and personal demons, both Angle and TNA would find themselves floundering by the mid 2010s. Angle would return to the WWE in 2017 where he would have his retirement match at WrestleMania 35.
As for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, its confusing history was streamlined when Nakamura beat Kurt Angle in February of 2008 thereby unifying the 3rd and 4th belts. It would be this version of the championship that would be the top belt in NJPW until it was merged with the NJPW Intercontinental Title during the reign of Kota Ibushi.