Yuji Nagata (永田 裕志 Nagata Yūji, born April 24, 1968) is a Japanese professional wrestler signed to New Japan Pro Wrestling. He is known for his perennial tweener status, currently a solid fan favorite, and his stiff, shoot style wrestling technique.
A two-time IWGP Heavyweight Champion and World Heavyweight Champion, Nagata is the fourth longest-reigning IWGP Heavyweight Champion with a reign of 392 days. He held the record for most successful title defenses with 10, until Hiroshi Tanahashi broke the record at Wrestle Kingdom VI. He is the only wrestler to have won Japanese professional wrestling's three biggest singles tournaments; New Japan Pro Wrestling's G1 Climax, All Japan Pro Wrestling's Champion Carnival and Pro Wrestling Noah's Global League. He is also a former holder of Noah's top title, the GHC Heavyweight Championship.
Amateur wrestling career
Before turning professional, Nagata was a successful amateur wrestler. Competing in the Greco-Roman style, Nagata represented Japan in the Asian Championships twice, placing fifth in 1993 and placing fourth in 1994, in one World Cup at the Espoir level in 1988, and in the 1991 World Championships, placing twenty-first.
Professional wrestling career
New Japan Pro Wrestling (1992–1997)
Nagata joined New Japan Pro Wrestling in April 1992 and trained in the NJPW Dojo. He debuted on September 14 of that year, facing Hiroyoshi Yamamoto. Nagata increased in stature during the 1995 inter-promotional angle pitting NJPW loyalists against UWF International wrestlers. Taught the shoot-style by Kazuo Yamazaki, who had returned to NJPW after leaving UWFI, Nagata learned the style that has been his trademark ever since.
World Championship Wrestling (1997–1998)
Nagata joined the American World Championship Wrestling promotion in February 1997 as an arrogant villain. He was managed by Sonny Onoo, who also acted as his translator. He began feuding with Ultimo Dragon, with Nagata repeatedly injuring Dragon's shoulder. The two rivals faced one another at Halloween Havoc on October 26, with Nagata forcing his smaller opponent to submit with an arm submission hold. They faced one another in a rematch at WCW World War 3 on November 23, with the added stipulation that, should Dragon win, he would receive five minutes alone in the ring with the interfering Onoo. Nagata was able to pin Dragon following a distraction by Onoo, thus ending their feud.
In 1998, Nagata teamed with Kensuke Sasaki and entered a tournament for the number one contendership for the WCW World Tag Team Championship. Nagata and Sasaki won the tournament, but were unable to win the titles in their subsequent title match. Nagata left WCW in August 1998 and returned to New Japan.
Return to NJPW (1998–present)
Upon his return, Nagata began challenging for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. On September 23, 1998, Nagata fought Scott Norton for the vacant title (the previous champion, Masahiro Chono, had suffered a neck injury) in Yokohama, but was defeated.
On August 28, 1999 in Tokyo, Nagata and Manabu Nakanishi defeated Shiro Koshinaka and Kensuke Sasaki for the IWGP Tag Team Championship. They held the title until July 20, 2000, when they lost to Satoshi Kojima and Hiroyoshi Tenzan in Sapporo, Hokkaido. Nagata and Nakanishi feuded with Kojima and Tenzan for several months, but were unable to regain the title. On January 4, 2000, his mentor Kazuo Yamazaki retired and Nagata served as his final opponent, winning the match.
In March 2000, Nagata formed an ill-fated stable known as Fighting Club G-EGGS, with all the stable member having legitimate sporting backgrounds. The stable included Manabu Nakanishi, Nagata's tag team partner and co-IWGP Tag Team Champion at the time, Masakazu Fukuda, Yutaka Yoshie and Brian Johnston. Fukuda died in April 2000 from a brain hemorrhage suffered during a match with rookie Katsuyori Shibata, and was honored with a ten-bell salute and a tribute show in September of that year. Johnston's participation in the group was largely limited after he suffered a stroke, and Nagata eventually disbanded G-EGGS on June 16, 2001.
In August 2001, Nagata won the eleventh annual G1 Climax tournament, defeating Keiji Mutoh in the finals by submission. Nagata had entered the tournament twice before, but was eliminated in semi-final matches on both instances. Nagata challenged for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship once again after it was vacated by the injured Kazuyuki Fujita on January 4, 2002, but lost to Tadao Yasuda on February 16, 2002, in a tournament final. Nagata defeated Yasuda for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship on April 5, 2002 in the [Nippon Budokan. Immediately following his victory, Nagata was attacked by Pro Wrestling NOAH mainstay Yoshihiro Takayama. He held the title for thirteen months (setting a record for most successful title defenses in the process) before losing to Takayama on May 2, 2003 in the Tokyo Dome.
On January 4, 2004, he defeated Kensuke Sasaki after 12 minutes of intense action at the Tokyo Dome. In April 2005, Nagata formed "Team JAPAN", a group of former amateur wrestlers with a grudge against the younger generation of wrestlers in NJPW. On December 11, 2005, Nagata challenged Brock Lesnar for his IWGP 3rd Belt Championship but was defeated.
On June 28, 2006, Nagata was announced as a participant in the 2006 G1 Climax, his eighth appearance in the tournament. Nagata challenged for the Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship at the January 4 Dome Show entitled Wrestle Kingdom in Tokyo Dome against the current Triple Crown champion, Minoru Suzuki. Nagata lost after Suzuki applied the Saka-otoshi. He did not submit, but was knocked-out by the hold.
On March 21, 2007, he won the third annual New Japan Cup, becoming the first man to win both the New Japan Cup and the G1 Climax Tournaments. On April 13, 2007, Nagata defeated Hiroshi Tanahashi to win the IWGP Heavyweight Title, marking his second reign, and the first time he has held the belt since April 2002. On October 8, 2007, Hiroshi Tanahashi beat Yuji Nagata at Tokyo Sumo Hall to win the IWGP title. In January 2008 Yuji faced Kurt Angle for the IGF version of the IWGP Heavyweight Championship and lost by submission.
Nagata returned from an undisclosed injury in the Summer of 2008 to lead New Japan against Zero1 as New Japan's ace. Yuji feuded particularly with the World Heavyweight Champion Masato Tanaka and on October 13, on a New Japan event, Nagata defeated Tanaka to win the World Heavyweight Title following two Backdrop Drivers. He recently defended the belt successfully against Kohei Sato. Nagata made his V2 title defense on December 16 against Tatsuhito Takaiwa.
Following this victory, it was announced Nagata would defend the belt at the January 4 Dome Show entitled Wrestle Kingdom in Tokyo Dome III. At the event, Nagata again overcame Tanaka to make his third defense of the title in 11:41 after a Backdrop Suplex Hold.
On February 15, Nagata defeated Hirooki Goto at New Japan's ISM tour in a match that was supposed to happen at last year's ISM tour show. Nagata lost the World Heavyweight Title on February 27 to Shinjiro Otani after a Dragon Suplex Hold. The following day, Nagata and Hiroshi Tanahashi would defeat Masahiro Chono and Goto. After the match, Nagata announced his participation in the New Japan Cup and intended on winning so he could challenge the winner of the Tanahashi-Angle IWGP Title match. Nagata would make his way to the semifinals of the tournament, before losing to Hirooki Goto. In the fall of 2009 Nagata formed the stable Seigigun ("Blue Justice Army") with Wataru Inoue, Mitsuhide Hirasawa and Super Strong Machine.
On May 3, 2010, at Wrestling Dontaku 2010 Nagata and Wataru Inoue defeated No Limit (Tetsuya Naito and Yujiro Takahashi) and Bad Intentions (Giant Bernard and Karl Anderson) in a three-way match to win the IWGP Tag Team Championship. On June 19 at Dominion 6.19, Nagata and Inoue lost the Tag Team Championship to Bernard and Anderson in a three-way elimination match, which also included No Limit. In September Mitsushide Hirasawa left for a learning excursion to Puerto Rico and his spot in Seigigun was given to newcomer King Fale. On October 22, 2010, Nagata and Inoue entered the 2010 G1 Tag League. After four wins and a loss, Nagata and Inoue won their block and advanced to the semifinals of the tournament, where, on November 7, they defeated the IWGP Tag Team Champions, Giant Bernard and Karl Anderson. In the finals of the tournament Nagata and Inoue defeated Tetsuya Naito and Yujiro Takahashi to win the 2010 G1 Tag League, ten years after the first time Nagata had won the tournament. As a result of their victory, Nagata and Inoue received a shot at the IWGP Tag Team Championship on December 11, 2010, but were defeated by the defending champions, Bad Intentions. The following day Minoru Suzuki returned to New Japan and re–ignited his old feud with Nagata by attacking him after a match. On January 4, 2011, at Wrestle Kingdom V in Tokyo Dome, Nagata defeated Suzuki in a grudge match. On March 13, Nagata entered the 2011 New Japan Cup, defeating Giant Bernard in his first round match. On March 19 Nagata defeated Masato Tanaka in the semifinals of the tournament and finally, on March 20, Shinsuke Nakamura in the finals to win the 2011 New Japan Cup and become the number one contender to the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. Nagata received his shot at the IWGP Heavyweight Championship on April 3, but was defeated by the defending champion, Hiroshi Tanahashi. The following week Nagata entered All Japan Pro Wrestling's 2011 Champion Carnival and on April 13, defeated Seiya Sanada in the finals to win the tournament, becoming only the fourth man to have won both the Champion Carnival and G1 Climax tournaments. On June 18, Seigigun member Mitsuhide Hirasawa, now working under the ring name Hideo Saito, returned from his Puerto Rican excursion, turning on Nagata and joining CHAOS. The following day Nagata received the shot at Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship he had earned by winning the Champion Carnival, but was defeated by the defending champion, Suwama. In August, Nagata took part in the 2011 G1 Climax and after picking up five victories, he went to the final day of the tournament with a chance of reaching the finals. However, a loss to former protégé, Hideo Saito, who had lost all eight of his previous matches in the G1 Climax, eliminated him from the running for a spot in the finals. On September 19, Nagata seemingly wrapped up his rivalry with Saito by defeating him in a singles match, but was then attacked by his CHAOS stablemate, Toru Yano. On October 10 at Destruction '11, Nagata defeated Yano by rolling him up for the three count. Following the main event, Nagata came out to challenge Hiroshi Tanahashi for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. However, after Tanahashi had accepted the challenge, he was attacked by Yano, who proceeded to steal the championship belt. After Tanahashi had defeated Yano for the title, he successfully defended it against Nagata on December 4, tying his record of ten successful defenses in the process.
On January 4, 2012, at Wrestle Kingdom VI in Tokyo Dome, Nagata teamed with Wataru Inoue in a tag team match, where they were defeated by the All Japan Pro Wrestling team of Masakatsu Funaki and Masayuki Kono. During the match, Nagata broke Funaki's orbital bone, sidelining him from in-ring action for an estimated six months. Afterwards, Nagata began making more regular appearances for All Japan, feuding with Funaki's protégé, Kono, in anticipation of Funaki's return in the summer. In April and May, Nagata took part in All Japan's 2012 Champion Carnival, suffering his only round-robin loss against Kono. On May 7, Nagata was defeated in the semifinals of the tournament by Taiyō Kea, who went on to win the entire tournament. On July 29, Nagata was defeated by Masakatsu Funaki in a grudge match. On September 9, Nagata celebrated his 20th anniversary in professional wrestling with an event, which saw him, Jun Akiyama and Masaaki Mochizuki defeat Kazuchika Okada, Shinsuke Nakamura and Yujiro Takahashi in the main event, with Nagata pinning Takahashi for the win. In November, Nagata took part in Pro Wrestling Noah's 2012 Global League, where he won four out of his six matches, with a loss to GHC Heavyweight Champion Takeshi Morishima on the final day, costing him a spot in the finals. From November 20 to December 1, Nagata and Masaaki Mochizuki took part in the round-robin portion of the 2012 World Tag League, finishing with a record of four wins and two losses, narrowly missing advancing to the semifinals of the tournament. On January 4, 2013, at Wrestle Kingdom 7 in Tokyo Dome, Nagata defeated Minoru Suzuki in another chapter of their long rivalry. Afterwards, Nagata started a new rivalry with Kazushi Sakuraba, From late October to early November, Nagata took part in Pro Wrestling Noah's 2013 Global League, defeating Takeshi Morishima in the finals on November 10 to win the tournament and become the first wrestler to have won the G1 Climax, the Champion Carnival and the Global League Tournament. As a result of the win, Nagata received a shot at the GHC Heavyweight Championship, but was defeated by the defending champion, KENTA, on December 7. Nagata received another shot at the title on February 8, 2014, and defeated Takeshi Morishima to become the new champion. He lost the title to Naomichi Marufuji in his fifth defense on July 5.
On February 14, 2015, Nagata returned to the title picture in his home promotion, when he unsuccessfully challenged Shinsuke Nakamura for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship at The New Beginning in Sendai. From July 23 to August 15, Nagata took part in the 2015 G1 Climax. Though finishing with a record of only three wins and six losses, Nagata closed his tournament with a big win over reigning IWGP Intercontinental Champion Hirooki Goto. On May 3, 2016, at Wrestling Dontaku 2016, Nagata won his first NJPW singles title in nine years, when he defeated Katsuyori Shibata for the NEVER Openweight Championship. He lost the title back to Shibata on June 19 at Dominion 6.19 in Osaka-jo Hall. From July 22 to August 13, Nagata took part in the 2016 G1 Climax, where he finished with a record of three wins and six losses. A year later, Nagata took part in his final G1 Climax, where he finished with a record of one win and eight losses. Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter wrote that Nagata had "probably his best in-ring tournament even though he was booked to lose eight of his nine matches", adding that many had him as the tournament MVP. After losing his final G1 match to Bad Luck Fale, Fale showed him respect by bowing down to him and leaving the ring immediately after.
In March 2021 one month after Jon Moxley defended his IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship against KENTA, Moxley would challenge Nagata for match for his title in which Nagata later accepted Moxley's challenge with their match taking place on All Elite Wrestling's weekly series AEW Dynamite. On May 12, 2021 at AEW Dynamite Nagata unsuccesfully challenged Moxley for his IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship but after the match both men would show respect to each other and their match would become the second title match to take place in another US-based wrestling promotion with first being Kenny Omega against Yoshi-Hashi on October 15, 2017 at NJPW and Ring of Honor (ROH) co-produced event Global Wars: Chicago.
Nagata is married to a woman named Chieko.
- Finishing moves
- Backdrop Hold (Bridging belly-to-back suplex)
- Drive Screw (Swinging vertical suplex)
- Nagata Lock I (Reverse figure-four leglock)
- Nagata Lock II (Crossface)
- Nagata Lock III (Crossface /Scissored armbar combination)
- Nagata Lock IV (Chickenwing over the shoulder crossface)
- STF – WCW
- Thunder Death Driver (Kneeling crucifix powerbomb)
- Signature moves
- Cross armbreaker
- Guillotine choke
- Justice Knee (Step-up high knee to a cornered opponent)
- Lifting DDT
- Multiple kick variations
- Rolling wheel
- Running arched big boot
- Spinning wheel
- Multiple suplex variations
- Exploder of Justice (Exploder, sometimes while applying a wrist-clutch or from the top rope)
- High-angle belly-to-back
- Northern Lights
- Overhead belly-to-belly
- Shining wizard
- Shirome (Seated armbar, with theatrics)
- Sleeper hold
- Sonny Onoo
- "Blue Justice"
- "Mr. IWGP"
- Entrance themes
- "Mission Blow" (NJPW; 1998–present)
Championships and accomplishments
- All Japan Pro Wrestling
- New Japan Pro Wrestling
- IWGP Heavyweight Championship (2 times)
- IWGP Tag Team Championship (2 times) – with Manabu Nakanishi (1) and Wataru Inoue (1)
- NEVER Openweight Championship (1 time)
- G1 Climax (2001)
- G1 Tag League (2000) – with Takashi Iizuka
- G1 Tag League (2010) – Wataru Inoue
- New Japan Cup (2007, 2011)
- New Japan Rumble (2015)
- Naeba Prince Hotel Cup Tag Tournament (2001) – with Jushin Thunder Liger
- Samurai! TV Openweight Tag Team Tournament (2005) – with Hirooki Goto
- MVP Award (2002)
- Outstanding Performance Award (2001)
- Singles Best Bout (2001) – vs. Keiji Mutoh on August 12
- Singles Best Bout (2002) – vs. Masahiro Chono on October 26
- Tag Team Best Bout (2000) – with Manabu Nakanishi vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan and Satoshi Kojima on October 9
- Tag Team Best Bout (2001) – with Jun Akiyama vs. Hiroshi Hase and Keiji Mutoh on October 8
- Pro Wrestling Illustrated
- PWI ranked him #8 of the top 500 singles wrestlers in the PWI 500 in 2002
- Pro Wrestling NOAH
- Pro Wrestling Zero1-Max
- World Heavyweight Championship (1 time)
- Tokyo Sports
- Fighting Spirit Award (2011)