Saying that 2016 has been quite the year for professional wrestling would be a bit of an understatement. In a year where so much has happened, where so many major stories have developed, a story that hasn’t gotten much coverage to this point, and probably won’t any time soon, is the resurgence that All Japan Pro Wrestling has seen.
All Japan is not a major promotion anymore and hasn’t been in years, so even though there are people who cover it (specifically us here at VOW and the fine folks over at Wrestling With Words), it’s not getting any sort of mainstream coverage.
All Japan was dead in the water last year and the early part of this year, almost to the point where it just wasn’t as fun to watch, even if the in-ring was there. Drawing poor crowds, losing talent left and right, it seemed they couldn’t catch a break no matter what they did. They’ve done everything they could do to get back to their feet this year, their bad fortune has gone away to an extent, and with that came this small resurgence.
Suwama and Jun Akiyama went to battle in January over Akiyama’s Triple Crown title, a battle in which Suwama won but suffered an ankle injury in the process. This lead to him having to vacate the title, giving both Zeus and Kento Miyahara a chance to win their first singles title in the promotion. The decision to give Miyahara the belt was one even I as one of his biggest supporters questioned. He’s clearly who All Japan views as the next ace, so having him go over Zeus in a dry match at Korakuen Hall to win his first Triple Crown wasn’t exactly my favorite decision at the time.
However, fast forward a few months, and that’s all long forgotten as Miyahara is now, in my humble opinion, the best champion in all of professional wrestling at the moment. He’s everything not only a champion, but an ace should be. His matches never fail to deliver. In fact, his big matches are some of the best matches of 2016. He’s carried the promotion on his back for six months and will continue to do so for what I’m hoping is a very long time.
All Japan has also gone into the works with several different promotions as a rebound of sorts after losing loads of talent late last year, bringing in some of BJW’s biggest stars like Daisuke Sekimoto, Yuji Okabayashi, and Shuji Ishikawa have become regulars in All Japan, alongside K-DOJO ace Kengo Mashimo. I can’t speak to many tickets Mashimo is moving, but I think it’s safe to assume that the BJW guys do a decent job, specifically Sekimoto and Okabayashi, two of the most popular wrestlers in all of Japan. On a smaller scale, they also use local talent on their shows in Osaka, which may not seem like much, but is a very smart move on their part. Osaka fans like Osaka locals, it only makes sense.
My point here is not that All Japan is back to where it was 20+ years ago, not even that All Japan is doing tremendous business, but that All Japan has done a nice job of bouncing back from such huge blows and is doing just fine right now, much unlike it was for a while. I was never one of the people who thought they were going to throw their hands up and pack it away, but I didn’t expect to be sitting here in August 2016 writing about how much better they’ve been as of late; but I’m happy that I am.
Here are some matches to look out for this month:
ALL ASIA TAG TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP
ATSUSHI AOKI & HIKARU SATO (C) VS. TAKAO OMORI & KAZUHIRO TAMURA
The team of Tamura and Omori intrigues me to no end, being that Omori is one of my favorite tag team wrestlers of all time and Tamura is one of my favorite wrestlers at the moment. I can’t not see them working well together, and it gives both something to do, which is pleasing in itself. I’ll be interested in seeing how they fair against the newly crowned tag champs here.
AJPW WORLD TAG TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP
DAISUKE SEKIMOTO & YUJI OKABAYASHI (C) VS. KENTO MIYAHARA & JAKE LEE
Miyahara vs. Okabayashi is a match that needs to happen eventually, and probably will at some point. Miyahara always works well with the big bruisers like Sekimoto and Mashimo, so one could only imagine how good he’d be against the bruiser of all bruisers Okabayashi. Their interactions alone should be enough to sell you on this match, but you also have Sekimoto in there, who’s always a joy to watch, and then you have Jake Lee who will take the beating of all beatings. I like the classic All Japan booking of putting the main event stars in tag matches in between title defenses, so I dig what they’re doing with this team of Miyahara and the ever improving Jake Lee. Huge expectations for this one.
YOHEI NAKAJIMA VS. BILLY KEN KID
I mean, hey, it’s Billy Ken Kid and Yohei Nakajima. I doubt they’re given any more than seven minutes, but there’s no way the match won’t be incredibly fun.
SUWAMA VS. ZEUS
Smart of All Japan to put Suwama in tag and minor singles matches for a month to let him garner some momentum and get his footing back before putting him in a semi-main event singles match with Zeus upon return. The match itself I’m sure will be very good, but what’s even more important is the booking of Suwama. As announced recently, he’ll be facing Miyahara in the first round of the Oudou tournament next month, a he’s expected to win. A strong win over Zeus will help set up the win over Miyahara, so that’s exactly what I’m expecting to happen here.
AJPW WORLD TAG TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP
DAISUKE SEKIMOTO & YUJI OKABAYASHI (C) VS. JUN AKIYAMA & DAICHI HASHIMOTO
Look, if you’re not looking forward to this, I don’t know what’s wrong with you. Hashimoto and Akiyama make for an excellent tag team, and to tell you the truth, I would not mind them winning here. Will they? Probably not, but it doesn’t seem all that impossible. All four of these guys are going to beat the living hell out of each other for 15+ minutes and it is going to be utterly fantastic. What more can I say?
TRIPLE CROWN CHAMPIONSHIP
KENTO MIYAHARA (C) VS. RYOUJI SAI
I’ve always seen Sai as a solid professional wrestler but absolutely nothing to write home about. With that said, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed him in All Japan this year and am perfectly fine with him getting a random shot at the title. Miyahara has ran through challengers and doesn’t seem to have many left leading up to the Sumo Hall show, unless they decide to do the Okabayashi match, which I think they should. Miyahara brings the best out of everyone he works with, so my expectations are set relatively high for this.