All Japan Pro Wrestling
Royal Road 2015 Final
September 26, 2015
Tokyo Korakuen Hall – Tokyo, Japan

The Royal Road Tournament is a tradition that began in All Japan two years ago, and is a short single elimination tournament now held in the fall. The tournament has sixteen wrestlers, including both Heavyweights and Jr. Heavyweights. Not all of the tournament was televised, but either way, we are jumping straight to the semifinals and finals, with both taking place on September 26th. There are a few other matches as well, but no title matches, which allowed the tournament to shine. Let’s get to the action!

Masanobu Fuchi and Yohei Nakajima vs. Naoya Nomura and Yuma Aoyagi

Three young guys and one super old guy I really don’t want to watch wrestle. This would be like if New Japan did their Young Lion matches, but with Kengo Kimura in the match as well: it just basically ruins what could be a fun match. Obviously it is Fuchi I am talking about, as while Nakajima is not particularly young he has not been in All Japan very long and is only 30. Nomura just debuted in 2014, as did Aoyagi, so those two are basically rookies still learning as they go. Of course I don’t expect a lot from an opener but hopefully something fun happens.

Nakajima and Aoyagi kick things off and trade wristlocks, Aoyagi clubs Nakajima in the chest but Nakajima strikes him back. Shoulderblock by Nakajima but Aoyagi replies with a hiptoss as neither can get a clear advantage. Nakajima tags in Fuchi, Irish whip by Aoyagi and he dropkicks Fuchi a couple of times. Aoyagi tags in Nomura and they take turns dropkicking Fuchi until he falls out of the ring. Nakajima comes in but he eats a double dropkick, as the young wrestlers are left alone in the ring. Fuchi returns but Nomura dropkicks him, Nakajima comes in and he trades elbows with Nomura. Jumping elbow by Nomura but Nakajima blocks the suplex and hits a back kick. Northern Lights Suplex by Nomura, but it gets two. Nomura goes off the ropes but Nakajima levels him with an enzuigiri. Aoyagi is tagged in, corner backflip by Aoyagi and hits a dropkick for a two count. Aoyagi goes for a fisherman suplex but Nakajima blocks it and hits a vertical suplex. Sliding Kick by Nakajima and he makes the tag to Fuchi. Fuchi hits a delayed bodyslam on Aoyagi but Aoyagi dropkicks him back. Aoyagi goes up top and he hits a missile dropkick, but Fuchi still doesn’t go down. Either because he is a veteran or it hurts him to bump. Nakajima runs in but so does Nomura, Nakajima tries to fight them both off but Fuchi walks over and hits a backdrop suplex on Aoyagi. Release German by Nakajima to Aoyagi, Fuchi covers Aoyagi but Nomura breaks it up. Another German by Nakajima, inside cradle by Fuchi to Aoyagi and he gets the three count! Fuchi and Nakajima pick up the big win.

Aside from the typical unnecessary ending (why an inside cradle after two killer suplexes?), this was a pretty decent opener. Nomura seems to have a lot of potential: for a new wrestler he looked pretty good. Nakajima was making sure it was as memorable as it could be as he planted Aoyagi with those suplexes, probably not a good idea for long-term health but fun to watch anyway. For an opener with a weak link, pretty watchable.

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Royal Road (Semifinal): Akebono vs. Shuji Ishikawa

To recap how they got here, Akebono defeated The Bodyguard and Suwama to reach the semifinal. Ishikawa had two upsets to get here, as he downed Takao Omori and Kento Miyahara. Ishikawa is officially affiliated with Union at the time of the event so he was an invading wrestler, but he had wrestled in All Japan a couple other times in 2015. Ishikawa is the underdog once again here, against the massive Triple Crown Champion Akebono.

Ishikawa starts the match thinking it would be a fun idea to try to knock over Akebono, which naturally doesn’t work. Body avalanche by Akebono but Ishikawa hits a lariat. Akebono knocks Ishikawa to the mat and hits an elbow drop, leading to Ishikawa rolling out of the ring to re-group. Akebono surprisingly goes out after him and punches Ishikawa but Ishikawa throws Akebono into the railing. Ishikawa returns to the ring with Akebono very slowly following, lariat by Ishikawa in the corner and he hits a backdrop suplex. Running knee by Ishikawa, but Akebono kicks out of the cover. Ishikawa goes off the ropes but Akebono hits a swinging side slam, Ishikawa is up first and he elbows Akebono in the side of the head. Ishikawa goes for a piledriver but just kind of drops Akebono, and he covers him anyway for two. Elbows by Ishikawa but Akebono slaps him and hits a weak lariat. Elbow drop by Akebono but it gets a two count. Akebono barely hits a piledriver, he covers Ishikawa but it gets two. Back up they trade strikes, Akebono wins the exchange and he hits a much better Yokozuna Final Impact for the three count! Akebono moves on to the finals later tonight.

Oh my, this match! Look, if you can’t pick up your opponent, don’t try to do power moves to them. Especially if the power move is supposed to actually hit, as then it just looks really bad. This wasn’t good, Akebono is extremely limited and needs to just do slow speed brawls, not matches against other large opponents that he is supposed to do things against like lift. This made them both look like two of the worst wrestlers in the world, which I know they aren’t, but the match layout didn’t do either of them any favors. Don’t watch this if you want to have any respect for the current Triple Crown Champion.

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Royal Road (Semifinal): Jun Akiyama vs. Yuji Hino

I can assure you this match will be better than the last one. To get here, Akiyama defeated Go Shiozaki in the first round of the tournament and Atsushi Aoki in the second round. Hino, a wrestler from K-DOJO, upset Zeus in the first round and beat Yoshinobu Kanemaru in the second round to reach the semifinals.

Akiyama and Hino begin the match pushing each other and trading chops until Akiyama gets tired of the game and lariats Hino to the mat. Akiyama throws Hino out of the ring but Hino throws Akiyama into the railing before hitting a running chop. They trade blows out on the floor with Hino getting the better of it, they return to the ring and Hino applies a reverse chinlock. Hino clubs Akiyama in the chest and hits the SOS for a two count cover. Irish whip by Hino and he hits a chop followed by a big senton for another two. Hino dares Akiyama to hit him so Akiyama hits a few elbows, but Hino chops him back. Akiyama boots Hino back and hits a jumping knee off the second turnbuckle, jumping knee in the corner by Akiyama and he hits the running knee for a two count. Grounded necklock by Akiyama but Hino gets a foot on the ropes to force a break. Akiyama hits a lariat but Hino doesn’t go down and hits a lariat of his own with more success. Hino goes for an exploder but Akiyama blocks it, Hino and Akiyama trade strikes, Akiyama goes off the ropes but Hino catches him with a belly to belly suplex. Hino goes for a powerbomb but Akiyama back bodydrops out of it, Hino goes off the ropes but Akiyama catches him with an exploder. Back up, lariat by Hino and he covers Akiyama for two. Hino goes up top and he delivers the diving body press, but Akiyama barely gets a shoulder up. Hino picks up Akiyama but Akiyama slides out of the powerbomb attempt and hits a jumping knee. Akiyama knees Hino in the back of the head and hits a release German, running knee by Akiyama but Hino kicks out. Akiyama hits an exploder but Hino gets back to his feet and hits his own exploder, leaving both wrestlers down on the mat. They both return to their feet at the same time and trade elbows, Hino goes off the ropes but Akiyama hits a jumping knee. Another knee by Akiyama but Hino just won’t stay down, and in fact dares Akiyama to do it again. So he does but Hino gets back to his knees for another one, knees by Akiyama and he covers Hino, but Hino gets a shoulder up. Akiyama picks up Hino and drops him with a wrist-clutch exploder, picking up the three count! Jun Akiyama moves onto the finals later against Akebono.

I thoroughly enjoyed this one, it was a bit ridiculous at times but it was the entertaining kind of ridiculous. Even though Hino is from K-DOJO he has a great aura and cockiness to him, and he was completely believable against Akiyama. Akiyama getting increasingly frustrated at Hino’s stubbornness was fun to watch and everything clicked. I doubt anything else on this card will be able to touch this, just a really well laid out match from start to finish. Recommended

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Go Shiozaki, Miyahara, Takao Omori, and Yoshie vs. Suwama, Zeus, KENSO, and The Bodyguard

Not a ton of backstory here. Suwama and Miyahara are part of a regular team (Xceed), as are Zeus and The Bodyguard (Big Guns). The other guys are mostly just to fill out the match with a pair of faces or heels, depending on the team. KENSO recently became a freelancer, as he did not re-sign with All Japan, but since then he has mostly stayed in All Japan anyway. He doesn’t normally team with these wrestlers so they are not actually friends, which may be an issue.

Omori and Zeus are the first two legal men and Omori shoulderblocks Zeus to the mat. Shiozaki and Suwama are tagged in and they trade strikes until a wild brawl breaks out between all the wrestlers. KENSO is feeling so frisky he hits a pescado before action slows back down with Zeus and Shiozaki ending up in the ring as the legal men. Zeus chops Shiozaki in the corner but Shiozaki fires back, Irish whip by Zeus and he hits a jumping shoulderblock. Lariat by Zeus in the corner, he gets on the top turnbuckle but Shiozaki dropkicks him as he jumps off. Shiozaki tags in Omori, Omori boots Zeus and follows that with a heel kick. Zeus elbows Omori into the corner but Omori avoids his charge and hits a backdrop suplex. Omori goes off the ropes but Zeus catches him with a spinebuster. Zeus tags in Suwama, not really by choice, and Suwama lariats Omori in the corner. Belly to belly suplex by Suwama and he gets a two count. Omori and Suwama trade blows, lariat by Omori but Suwama fires back with a discus lariat. Suwama goes for a powerbomb but Omori reverses it into an Axe Guillotine Driver. Omori tags in Miyahara while Bodyguard is also tagged in, and Bodyguard trades elbows with the young All Japan wrestler.

Dropkick to the knee by Miyahara and he hits another dropkick, jumping elbow by Miyahara and he hits a Northern Lights Suplex for two. Shoulderblock by Bodyguard and he lariats Miyahara in the corner before hitting a flapjack for a two count. Elbow drop by Bodyguard but that gets a two count as well, they return to their feet but Miyahara manages to tag in Yoshie. Yoshie and Bodyguard trade lariats, running butt smash by Yoshie and he hits a rolling senton. Bodyguard and Yoshie trade chops back up until Bodyguard hits a powerslam, giving him time to tag in KENSO. KENSO slaps Yoshie in the corner, big boot by KENSO but Yoshie hits a shoulderblock. Yoshie tags in Shiozaki, Shiozaki chops KENSO in the corner and he hits a vertical suplex for a two count. Shiozaki and KENSO trade chops, but after a miscommunication KENSO throws Bodyguard out of the ring then slaps Suwama (they aren’t really good friends). KENSO chokes Shiozaki with his boa belt but Shiozaki fires back with a lariat, then everyone takes turns attacking KENSO. Another lariat by Shiozaki, but KENSO barely gets a shoulder up on the cover. Go Flasher by Shiozaki, and he gets the three count! Team Shiozaki picks up the win.

This was only amusing at the end, as everyone realized that KENSO is selfish and no one liked him. Up to that point it had some solid hits but was lacking much structure. It was probably a bit longer than it needed to be; but when you have eight wrestlers, it has to be a certain length or some wrestlers end up doing nothing at all. Cute ending but overall just a normal eight man midcard tag.

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Atsushi Aoki, Hikaru Sato, and Minamino vs. Kotaro Suzuki, Kanemaru, and Ultimo Dragon

While these are both hodgepodge teams, they are the cream of the crop in the Jr. Heavyweight division in All Japan. Kotaro Suzuki dominates the division, with recent wins over Ultimo Dragon and Kanemaru (so naturally they are teaming together). He also has wins over Aoki and Sato, so Minamino is the only wrestler involved that he has not beaten in a title match. Aoki and company are the bad guys so to speak here, with Minamino in particular being an unfriendly person.

They kick things off with a brawl with Aoki and Kanemaru staying in the ring as legal, and they trade holds then elbows. Back elbow by Aoki but Kanemaru tags in Dragon, Aoki pushes Dragon into the corner and tags in Sato. Dragon flips around Sato and hits an armdrag but Sato applies a leg hold. Minamino and Suzuki are tagged in next, Minamino levels Suzuki and chokes him with his wrist tape. Minamino tags in Aoki as they work over Suzuki, but Suzuki gets the better of Sato and tags in Kanemaru. Kanemaru kicks Sato and then clears the apron, going after Aoki on the floor and hitting a DDT. He gets back in and elbows Sato but Sato kicks him back. Sato is attacked in the corner, Dragon comes in and he takes Sato to the mat. Kanemaru is tagged in next as the Suzuki team takes turns on Sato, but Sato suplexes Dragon and he tags in Aoki. Aoki throws Dragon in the corner and he hits an elbow smash, Kanemaru and Aoki end up on the floor again and this time Aoki suplexes Kanemaru. Aoki returns to Dragon, he slams Dragon to the mat and covers him for two. Dragon fights back and dropkicks Aoki, Irish whip by Dragon and he hits a back bodydrop. Aoki clubs Dragon back but Dragon hits a spinning headscissors and tags in Kanemaru.

Kanemaru lariats Aoki in the corner and dropkicks him in the knee, Kanemaru goes up top and he hits a diving bodypress for two. Flapjack by Kanemaru but Aoki gets away from the brainbuster and hits a dropkick. Aoki tags in Sato, Sato kicks Kanemaru into the corner and slams Kanemaru to the mat for a two count. Kanemaru and Sato trade elbows, Kanemaru gets on the second turnbuckle and delivers the Deep Impact for two. Sato gets away from Kanemaru and applies a cross armbreaker, but Kanemaru gets into the ropes. Sato goes off the ropes but Kanemaru boots him and hits a lariat. Sato tags in Minamino, and Minamino throws Sato into the referee so Suzuki can be double teamed. Double handspring elbow by Suzuki and he hits a jumping elbow on Minamino in the corner followed by a jumping knee smash for a two count. Rebound elbow by Suzuki, and Minamino is hit with a double tiger feint kick. Headscissors by Dragon, cover by Suzuki but Aoki breaks it up. Suzuki picks up Minamino, Minamino wiggles away and Aoki hits Suzuki with a missile dropkick. Dragon comes in and hits an enzuigiri on Sato, jumping knee by Minamino to Suzuki and he gets a two. Suzuki snaps of off a quick victory roll and a crucifix pin, but both get two. Suzuki keeps trying and he eventually gets the Endless Waltz applied for the three count! Suzuki and company win the match.

This was a pretty standard six man tag match. The only notable thing was Minamino channeling KENSO in being about as mean to his teammates as he was to his opponents. I never really liked thrown together tag team matches, why is Suzuki working with two people who just tried to take his title? Why is Minamino teaming with Sato? All Japan has such a small roster that they have to put wrestlers together even if it doesn’t really make sense. So the action was fine but ultimately meaningless, just midcard filler.

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Royal Road (Finals): Akebono vs. Jun Akiyama

We already saw both of these wrestlers earlier tonight, as Akebono defeated Ishikawa in one of the worst matches I’ve seen in a while between two veteran wrestlers, and Akiyama defeated Hino in a really entertaining match. Match structure is one of Akiyama’s strength so I am assuming this will be more like the latter match. The winner gets a big trophy.

Akiyama begins the match trying to knock over Akebono, but it doesn’t work and Akebono shoulderblocks him to the mat. Akebono stands on Akiyama’s chest and gets him in the corner, Akebono charges Akiyama but Akiyama kicks him back. Akiyama sits on the top turnbuckle but Akebono pushes him off the top down to the floor. Akebono goes out after him and he throws Akiyama into the railing before hitting a modified chokeslam. Back in the ring, body avalanche by Akebono in the corner and he hits an elbow drop for two count. Akebono goes for a piledriver but Akiyama blocks it and they trade slaps to the chest. Akiyama applies a front necklock as we see that Akebono is bleeding from the side of the head (he bleeds a lot), running knee by Akiyama and he gets a two count cover. Akiyama goes for an exploder but Akebono blocks it and lands on top of him. Body press by Akebono, but Akiyama kicks out at two. Akebono picks up Akiyama and hits his version of a chokeslam, elbow drop by Akebono but again Akiyama gets a shoulder up. Akebono goes for a piledriver but Akiyama back bodydrops out of it and hits a series of knees. Exploder by Akiyama and he hits a running knee to Akebono’s shoulder. Another running knee by Akiyama, he hits a series of short-range knees and then one final running knee for the three count! Akiyama wins the tournament!

This wasn’t very good either. One of Akebono’s weaknesses is taking running strikes: those running knees at the end barely brushed his shoulder and certainly didn’t come close to his head, making it a bit of a lame way for the Triple Crown champion to get pinned in a tournament final. Up to that point Akiyama did his best and it was generally quite watchable. Some of the moves looked weak (Akebono’s chokeslam should probably go) but when Akebono was sticking to squishing and Akiyama was focusing on strikes/submissions it worked well. Some decent parts and certainly better than Akebono’s first match of the night, but still not the most exciting way to end the tournament.

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Final Thoughts:  Akebono being in one-third of the matches here got it off to a bad start right off the bat. He is probably the most limited main event wrestler in the world today. When he is focusing on strikes and squashing he is very good, but when he goes out of those boundaries is when his matches tend to go downhill. He has bad knees so can’t bump incredibly well and he struggles doing power moves due to his general size and age (remember that he is 46 and still 300+ pounds which is being conservative). The lone bright spot of the event was Akiyama/Hino which I thought was great, but nothing else here stood out. If you’re a big (no pun intended) Akebono mark then knock yourself out, but it is not a show I could ever recommend. Akebono has been wrestling long enough that he should know his limitations better by now, this was not a great showing by the Triple Crown champion.

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