In 2013 All Japan held the first Royal Road Tournament largely as a vehicle to get Akebono over as a credible main eventer. He would end up winning the tournament in dominant fashion and then went on to beat Suwama for the Triple Crown title a month later. The match drew an atrocious 2,563 fans in Ryogoku Kokugikan and was the last time All Japan ran the building until 2016.
The Akebono era in many ways was the low point for the promotion, which has been on the path to recovery ever since they went all in on Kento Miyahara as their ace. By now the Royal Road Tournament is the only reminder of that era and now going into its sixth iteration has firmly established itself as AJPW’s secondary tournament after the Champion Carnival.
All Japan Pro Wrestling
Royal Road Tournament 2018: Night 1
September 15, 2018
Sanjo City Health Welfare Center
Sanjo, Niigata, Japan
Naoya Nomura def. Keiichi Sato
This was your standard opening match fare, so let’s talk about Keiichi Sato for a second. He started off as an All Japan dojo trainee in 2015, with endorsements from both Jun Akiyama and Kenta Kobashi. However, only three months after his debut he quits the promotion and soon turns up in Wrestle-1. After a big debut teaming with Keiji Muto, Akebono and Ryota Hama against New Wild Order, he forms a tag team with Kotaro Suzuki, which doesn’t do much of note and he is out of the promotion within six months. He then ends up working mainly in FMW before he is let back into All Japan in August 2017.
Since then he has mainly been on opening match job duty, while he earns back the trust of the promotion’s top brass. However, the fact that they let him back in the promotion at all and that they included him in Jake Lee’s Sweeper faction shows that they still think he has a lot of potential. They have a nice back and forth match before Naoya puts Sato away for the quick win.
Atsushi Aoki, Hikaru Sato & Kanjyouro Matsuyama def. Atsushi Maruyama, Black Menso-re & Black Tiger VII
Kanjyouro Matsuyama is a local Niigata wrestler that I have to profess I am not very familiar with. However, he looks like a fat version of the Brahmin Brothers who I’m not a fan of. However, he turns out to be surprisingly agile for someone his size. This match takes forever to get going, with an absurd amount of pre-match comedy. But it kicks into high gear immediately when it finally starts. Matsuyama does a legitimately impressive turnbuckle to turnbuckle top rope walk. From there Aoki and Maruyama take most of the match. After some more comedy including Hikaru Sato, Black Menso-re & Black Tiger VII getting tied up in streamers by Matsuyama, Aoki catches Matsuyama with a clutch and pins him.
Violent Giants def. Zeus & Gianni Valletta
Violent Giants are one of my favorite tag teams going right now and I am a big fan of the Zeus story. However, Gianni Valletta’s dollar store Bruiser Brody act does nothing for and seeing the lack of reaction from fans when he attempts to scare them during his entrance neither does the audience in Japan. This ends up being a slow and plodding match. After their somewhat disappointing Triple Crown match it seems that Zeus and Shuji Ishikawa don’t have much chemistry right now, which is just a shame. Valletta attempts to cheat using his chain. However, he gets hit by the Giants’ backdrop into knee strike combo before falling to the Fire Thunder Driver.
Royal Road Tournament First Round Match
Ryouji Sai def. Yuma Aoyagi
Sai has been a solid upper mid card hand in All Japan in the last couple of years. He is also one of the few guys in All Japan that is in his thirties, as most of the roster is made up of over 40 year olds like Jun Akiyama, Takao Omori and Atsushi Aoki and young wrestlers like Kento Miyahara, Jake Lee and his opponent in this match 22 year old Yuma Aoyagi. Aoyagi has tremendous baby face potential and is clearly someone the promotion has big plans for in a few years down the line. Here he got to play the heel role at first as he DDTed Sai in the floor multiple times and then continued to work over his neck. However, Sai overpowers him and Yuma gets to do what he does best, which is getting beat up and selling. Yuma gets to kick out of a top-rope superplex, but Sai immediately hits him with the Akagawa Bridge for the win.
Sweeper (Jake Lee, Dylan James & Koji Iwamoto) def. Jun Akiyama, Takao Omori & Joe Doering
Aw yeah, time for some sweet Sweeper six-man tag team action. Everyone in the faction has a clearly designed roles, which has made for some very enjoyable multi-man matches with them involved. Early on Dylan James get to show off his power before we transition into the passion of Koji Iwamoto. Grumpy Uncle Jun beating up Juniors is one of my favorite things in wrestling and Iwamoto was over huge with the crowd here. This had some good old heels cheating during an abdominal stretch, with Akiyama pretending to shake Iwamoto’s hand to keep him from reaching the rope. However, Jake Lee is the guy getting the push here so he gets to pin Omori after the Giant Killing knee. I expect Lee to go far in the Royal Road tournament, but I don’t think he’ll win it. Whoever wins is most likely taking the title off Zeus at Ryogoku Kokugikan and I don’t think Lee is ready for that spot yet. Nevertheless, you can pencil in Jake Lee as a early favorite for the Champion Carnival next year.
Royal Road Tournament First Round Match
Kento Miyahara def. Yoshitatsu
This was tag team partners facing off. However, the difference in stature was made very obvious here as Kento Miyahara took most of the match. Nevertheless, they told a good story with Kento throwing everything he has at his opponent but Yoshitatsu just refusing to go down. Yoshitatsu continues his way better than it has any right to be run in All Japan. In the end Miyahara finally manages to catch Yoshitatsu with the Shutdown German Suplex to put him away and move on to the next round. Overall very enjoyable match.
Overall, Royal Road Tournament 2018: Night 1 was a solid outing from All Japan. The undercard was entirely skip-able but both tournament matches delivered and the Six Man Tag in between was good. You won’t find anything blow away on this show but if you want to keep up with All Japan you should check out the second half of the show.