All Japan Pro Wrestling’s Ōdō Tournament (Royal Road Tournament) began in mid-2013 following the Keiji Muto and Wrestle-1 exodus from AJPW. The tournament was originally created as a way to jump start a company that had suffered major losses to its roster, and has now become an annual event.
Like New Japan Pro Wrestling’s New Japan Cup, the winner of AJPW’s Ōdō Tournament gets a title shot. However unlike the New Japan Cup, the Ōdō Tournament isn’t used to create new challengers and elevate talent as much. The six previous tournaments winners—Akebono, Go Shiozaki, Jun Akiyama, SUWAMA (twice), and Kento Miyahara—were already main eventers when they won.
However, this year has a chance of being different.
AJPW needs to create new stars and in the Champion Carnival this year, Jake Lee and Naoya Nomura both got big boosts. Miyahara also needs fresh challengers seemingly gone through the whole roster as well as several outsiders. Now is the time to finally use the Ōdō Tournament to create a new star.
Another different from the New Japan Cup: the promotion’s top champion takes part in the tournament. Presumably should they win they get to name their next challenger, but we haven’t had that situation come up yet, and it’s extremely unlikely that it happens this year.
The tournament begins on 9/14 in Sanjō and runs until 9/23 with the semi-finals and finals occurring the same night in Nagoya. Here is the list of participants, some of my thoughts about them, and what I think the likelihood of each one winning is.
Ōdō Tournament 2019 Bracket
Ōdō Tournament Participants
Kento Miyahara (7th appearance, 2018 winner)
Miyahara is currently the Triple Crown Champion. He also won this year’s Champion Carnival as champion. While Miyahara is the undisputed ace of AJPW and seems destined to beat the all time Triple Crown defense record in his current reign, he needs new challengers so the idea of giving him the win here simply to demonstrate how dominant he is seems like a waste but he could put someone over in the finals to set up a title match. Likelihood of winning: Extremely unlikely, but making the finals is possible.
Joe Doering (5th appearance)
Doering has been a stalwart of AJPW since 2007. Unfortunately, injuries seem to be taking their toll. It was rumored that Doering was suffering from a shoulder injury during this year’s Champion Carnival and his performances and generally short match lengths certainly suggested as much. However, he has not seemed to improve all that much since then. If his current condition hasn’t changed he will probably not be put into any big main events but if he manages to defeat Miyahara in the first round, he will probably end up putting over someone in the quarter or semi-finals. However, what could be in Doering’s favor is that Miyahara has not defended the Triple Crown against him during this current reign. Maybe missing the last tour has given Doering a chance to heal up. Likelihood of winning: Extremely unlikely, but not impossible.
Jiro “Ikemen” Kuroshio (1st appearance)
The Ikemen makes his debut in the Ōdō Tournament. Kuroshiro is no stranger to AJPW though. While not a regular, he is a former GAORA TV Champion and makes several appearances in the promotion per year. Kuroshiro is probably in this to try to draw a decent attendance for the early rounds of the tournament. His best possible result is probably making it to the quarter-finals if he gets past Yoshitatsu in the first round. While popular, with all the WWE rumors swirling around him, it makes no sense for AJPW to give him a push. Likelihood of winning: Nil.
Yoshitatsu (2nd appearance)
Yoshitatsu has redeemed himself since joining AJPW. Once the butt of jokes during his final days in NJPW, he has finally found his footing. While not an elite level worker, he is capable of being a good tag wrestler and has had some great singles matches against the right opponent (check out his Triple Crown challenge against Miyahara from June 30). And while the fans love him, he probably isn’t going any further than the quarter-finals at a time when the promotion needs to create new challengers for Miyahara. Likelihood of winning: Nil.
Naoya Nomura (4th appearance)
Nomura has had a great year. He has really been elevated thanks to two incredible Match of the Year level Triple Crown title matches against Miyahara and nearly making it to the finals of the Champion Carnival while picking up some important wins against established names along the way. Since we are only days past Nomura’s latest (unsuccessful) Triple Crown challenge, I think it’s safe to say he has zero chance of winning the whole thing. But he could easily make it to the semi-finals or even finals. For example, Nomura vs. Jake Lee in the finals is a scenario that I could see as possible and would continue their story of being partners and rivals all at the same time. Likelihood of winning: Nil, but making the finals is possible.
Sam Adonis (1st appearance)
Adonis has gained a lot of notoriety for his pro-Donald Trump gimmick while working in Mexico. When he works in All Japan, he ditches the Trump stuff and just plays a cocky and narcissistic heel and does it pretty well. He’s also a decent worker. I wasn’t expecting much from him when I learned he was going to be in this year’s Champion Carnvial, but he certainly exceeded my expectations by the end of it. He’s not going to make a more limited opponent look amazing, but he is a competent worker who has had very good matches in AJPW against talented wrestlers like Nomura. He’s facing Nomura in the first round which I think probably means an early exit for Adonis. But even if he manages a big upset at first, which isn’t impossible, I doubt he would go past the quarter-finals. Likelihood of winning: Nil.
Dylan James (2nd appearance)
James has steadily made a name for himself since arriving in AJPW in March 2018. He has slowly but surely improved his work and has become a great big man. He’s been a World Tag Team Champion with Ryouji Sai and won the 2018 Real World Tag League with Joe Doering. His performance in this year’s Champion Carnival was a revelation. He had some awesome matches against Yuji Okabayashi, Shuji Ishikawa, Zeus, and Kento Miyahara. You would think his performance would lead to an even bigger push that was not the case. He got a World Tag Team Championship challenge with Joe Doering against Violent Giants in June but that was about it. He’s also eaten a fair number of pins in multi-man tag matches over the past few months that made little sense. While he challenged Miyahara for the Triple Crown in June 2018 in a good but not great match, he has improved considerably as a worker since then. His match against Zeus has a good chance of being the best match of the first round based on how great their Champion Carnival match this year was. I think the Ōdō Tournament would be a great opportunity to re-establish him as a dominant monster gaijin. I don’t think you can count him out in this tournament considering that by AJPW standards, James facing Miyahara against for the Triple Crown again is fresher than a lot of other possible match ups. Likelihood of winning: Possible.
Zeus (6th appearance)
Zeus just challenged for the Triple Crown in July. He also recently won the World Tag Team Championship with Ryoji Sai. He also had two Triple Crown matches against Miyahara in 2018 including a title win. Zeus’ 84 day reign as Triple Crown Champion didn’t seem to draw as well as the promotion wanted so he dropped it back to Miyahara after only one successful defense. Zeus remains an upper midcarder and certainly has a chance to advance a round or two here, but he will end up putting someone over in this tournament at some point. Also, AJPW these days also doesn’t like to push someone too hard as a singles wrestler if they are holding a tag title. I’m actually leaning towards James beating Zeus in the first round, but I wouldn’t bet a lot of money on it. Likelihood of winning: Nil, and making the finals is unlikely but not impossible.
SUWAMA (7th appearance, 2016 & 2017 winner)
SUWAMA has been cycled down from the absolute top of the card as the former ace. However, he is now a mainstay of the tag team division. His tag team with Shuji Ishikawa, the Violent Giants, have been dominant when they have been the World Tag Team Champions. He has already challenged for the Triple Crown this year, back in February. As someone that has reached the finals three times, and won the tournament twice you can never really count him out to go far. And giving AJPW booking logic these days, he may get a big push here as he is no longer a tag team champion. However, he faces Jake Lee in the first round, and unlike Nomura, Lee has yet to defeat SUWAMA in a singles match and this would be a good opportunity to elevate Lee. Likelihood of winning: Nil, but making the finals is possible.
Jake Lee (3rd appearance)
Lee made it to the finals of the Champion Carnival this year but fell to Miyahara in a phenomenal match. However, Lee has been unable to consistently deliver like his partner/generational rival Nomura. He is far from a bad wrestler but often That being said, given the circumstances of AJPW needing to create new stars, I think there’s a pretty good chance Lee can win this. AJPW has already done Miyahara vs. Nomura twice this year, and I could see them having Lee win the tournament to do another match against Miyahara. At least in this case, the match would be a little fresher as Lee has never challenged Miyahara for the Triple Crown, only facing him in tournaments. But even if Lee win the Ōdō Tournament whether or not he is finally accepted as a main eventer will depend on the quality of his performances and his ability to demonstrate a fighting spirit. What seems to be the most obvious strike against Lee, is that he is currently one of the All Asia Tag Team Champions. Getting a big push while holding that title, doesn’t really happen and while I have nothing more than a gut feeling about this, I think he’s also holding that title because the company is not as sold on him as a future main eventer as they are on Nomura right now. That being said, I think he is the frontrunner to win this. Likelihood of winning: Very possible.
Yuma Aoyagi (3rd appearance)
If you look at AJPW from afar, Aoyagi sort of seems like he is part of a young and upcoming Three Musketeers like cohort with Nomura and Lee. That’s not quite the case. Aoyagi has not really been elevated or given big wins over established names like the other two have. He is the fall guy when he teams with Miyahara and Yoshitatsu in multi-man tag main events on spot shows. His Champion Carnival record this year was 3-5 for 6 points. However, he is really talented. He is able to carry average wrestlers to a good match. He deserves to begin the ascent up the card and finally score some big wins. Not only does he deserve it, the company needs it. He’s facing KAI in the first round which would be a huge win for him, and frankly should be done since KAI isn’t around much in AJPW these days, but I somehow doubt that will happen. As much as I have identified wrestlers in this tournament who deserve a push, I feel he is the least likely to get one right now. Likelihood of winning: Nil.
KAI (2nd appearance)
KAI started the year off in AJPW hot. He had a Match of the Year Contender vs. Miyahara for the Triple Crown on January 3 that had Dave Meltzer raving about it. Many have called it the best match of KAI’s career. But from there, he’s only made sporadic appearances for AJPW, spending the bulk of his time in Dragon Gate instead. If it were up to me, I’d have Aoyagi beat him in the first round. But I think for now, AJPW likes to keep him semi-protected so he can main event the occasional show or challenge for titles. He will probably win in the first round, but I would be shocked if KAI advanced beyond the quarter-finals. Likelihood of winning: Nil.
Gianni Valletta (2nd appearance)
Some people want you to think that Valletta is a polarizing figure that some people think is actually good while others proclaim him one of the worst wrestlers out there. First of all, the Valletta fan club isn’t real. It’s all internet irony. Second, he is a passable wrestler, certainly not one of the worst out there. He has in fact improved since he has been in AJPW, but again he’s not going to be making anyone’s year end lists. Like last year, I don’t see him making it out of the first round in order to give a little bit of a rub to Taishi Takizawa in the role of outsider. Likelihood of winning: Nil.
Taishi Takizawa (2nd appearance)
Takizawa was in the 2016 edition of this tournament. He beat a much younger and greener Naoya Nomura in the first round before falling to SUWAMA in the quarter-finals. Takizawa only very occasionally appears in AJPW, less than some of his other 2AW (formerly K-Dojo) colleagues do. But since AJPW and 2AW continue a working relationship, expect Takizawa to make it to the quarter-finals again, but it’s very unlikely he goes beyond that. Likelihood of winning: Nil.
Ryoji Sai (4th appearance)
Like with Zeus, I doubt Sai is going far here now that he is a tag team champion. History isn’t on his side either. Sai hasn’t made it past the quarter-finals in any of his previous appearances in the tournament. He faces Shuji Ishikawa in the first round which to the hardcore AJPW fan is both hilarious and frightening. Those two had a 30 minute draw in the Champion Carnival earlier this year that was probably the worst match of the tournament. While not actively bad, it was certainly one of the most boring matches I’ve ever seen. If they want to make up for that match, they should do a sprint here. That style of match is what Sai has looked best in singles matches recently. And Ishikawa is the kind of opponent that can do a great spring that features tons of big moves. But I think Sai is going to be falling to one of Ishikawa’s big moves here and not making it past the first round. He is certainly not winning this thing. Likelihood of winning: Nil.
Shuji Ishikawa (4th appearance)
Ishikawa is turning 44 years old in less than two weeks, but has barely lost a step in the ring. Despite an embarrassing match against Sai in the Champion Carnival earlier this year, he still had some great matches in that tournament, and had a near Match of the Year Candidate showdown with Miyahara for the Triple Crown back in May. He has also tore it up as a tag team wrestler with the Violent Giants this year. While Miyahara and Ishikawa could probably have a **** match in their sleep, I doubt they would go back to that match so soon, so don’t expect Ishikawa to win. However, I could definitely see Ishikawa making the semi-finals or finals to help put over someone like Jake Lee or Dylan James. Likelihood of winning: Nil, but making the finals is possible.