Since the Wrestle-1 split of 2013, All Japan Pro Wrestling has been plagued by a lack of depth on their roster. For several years the company had to fill their midcard with both aging veterans and indie types whose limitations in the ring were obvious. The company managed to make one big star and draw for them during that time in Kento Miyahara. But they needed to make more.
Through the chaos and the ups and downs of the company, the dojo has always managed to turn out talent that has potential and that bodes well for the company’s future.
2014 saw the debuts of Naoya Nomura and Yuma Aoyagi who both (assuming Nomura returns from injury) have clear main event potential.
Though not everything has been golden among All Japan’s dojo graduates since the Wrestle-1 split. Keiichi Sato who debuted in 2015 and is definitely a solid wrestler, decided to depart the company when his idol, Kotaro Suzuki left the company. All Japan kept booking Sato for a while as a freelancer but he hasn’t appeared in the promotion since January 2020. He has recently popped up in GLEAT where hopefully he gets to show off his considerable skills.
Yusuke Okada debuted in 2017 and quickly attract attention from many hardcore fans who saw tremendous potential in him. Because of the departure of Jun Akiyama, he lost his biggest supporter backstage and eventually left the company in January 2021 after being buried in the booking for months previously for alleged heat he had with others in the company. But once he popped up in DDT, it didn’t take long for him to show everyone that he was still an incredible wrestler.
More unfortunate was the very short career of Kazuki Ebina. He debuted in April 2018 and only wrestled four matches. The reason given was that he was unable to handle the pressures that go with being a pro wrestler and that was causing him crushing anxiety. There has been speculation that Ebina leaving was in part due to the culture at the dojo as the late Atsushi Aoki was the head trainer at the time and he came up through the Pro Wrestling NOAH dojo when it was infamous for hazing and bullying. In a press conference soon after this all happened, Takao Omori suggested that how the dojo would be run was to change without directly coming out and saying it had a direct impact on Ebina’s departure.
However, since Ebina’s brief tenure in the company, the dojo has been solid and turned out some promising talent. Since November 2018, All Japan has graduated six wrestlers from their dojo and still has another one training in it. That is an impressive feat by a company the size of All Japan that has also seen recent backstage turmoil with the tragic death of Atsushi Aoki and then Jun Akiyama’s resignation as company president and later jump to DDT.
While All Japan’s dojo has shown incredible resilience, the company has also wisely picked up some young talent that has bolstered the depth of their roster and can also be major players in the future.
The improvement in the quality of All Japan’s undercards in just two has been considerable and these young wrestlers are leading the way. Let’s now take a look at nine young wrestlers in All Japan that make up the young core that will take them into the future.
HOKUTO OMORI, 26
Debuting in November 2018, Hokuto Omori was the first of the latest wave of All Japan dojo graduates. It was clear early on that the company had big plans for him. As soon as he graduated from young boy status, he joined Enfants Terribles and then Total Eclipse when the former group split up. He is also the first of the new crop of dojo graduates to win a championship, when he won the All Japan TV 6-Man Tag Team Championship with TAJIRI and Yusuke Kodama this past June.
Omori has developed into a good wrestler so far, but some will no doubt be turned off by elements of his heel persona. While he plays a heel quite well, he relies on low blows and using chairs when the referee is distracted in matches. That kind of thing doesn’t always go over well with dedicated fans of All Japan who are expecting a traditional puroresu product.
Omori’s ceiling is hard to predict at this point. He is still slotted as a Jr. heavyweight, though he is a larger one. However, the heavyweights in All Japan tend to be bigger than in other Japanese promotions so he may have trouble transitioning to the higher weight class. But ultimately if All Japan cannot find similar-sized replacements for wrestlers like Suwama and Shuji Ishikawa who are entering their late 40s, the company is going to have to pull the trigger on smaller heavyweights. Omori would greatly stand to benefit if that were to happen.
- Hokuto Omori vs. Dan Tamura, Asunaro Cup Finals, July 13, 2020
- Hokuto Omori vs. Hikaru Sato, June 2, 2021
- Hokuto Omori vs. Ryuki Honda, August 15, 2021
ATSUKI AOYAGI, 21
Atsuki Aoyagi, the younger brother of Yuma Aoyagi, debuted in January 2019 against Dan Tamura who also debuted in the same match. While the elder Aoyagi looks on track to be a future Triple Crown Champion, it is highly unlikely that Aoyagi the younger will someday attain that same accomplishment due to his size. However, there is little doubt that Aoyagi could be All Japan’s future Jr. Heavyweight ace.
At first, Aoyagi seemed to lag behind his dojo classmates Omori and Tamura. He struggled to show any kind of discernable style or even just solid in-ring work and charisma. But beginning in the second half of 2020, he has emerged as an exciting high flyer with a beautiful Moonsault and Firebird Splash. His matches on the undercard have gone from skippable to must-see. If he is this good already at 21, it will be incredible to see him in a couple of years.
With his stronger than expected performance in this year’s Royal Road Tournament including a huge upset victory against Takao Omori, expect Aoyagi to become PWF World Jr. Heavyweight Champion sooner rather than later. A long-term rivalry against Francesco Akira could come to define All Japan’s Jr. Heavyweight division in the 2020s.
- Atsuki Aoyagi vs. Koji Iwamoto ©, PWF World Jr. Heavyweight Championship, October 24, 2020
- Atsuki Aoyagi & Rising HAYATO vs. Zeus & Izanagi ©, All Asia Tag Team Championship, March 8, 2021
- Atsuki Aoyagi vs. Shotaro Ashino, Royal Road Tournament Quarter-Finals, August 24, 2021
DAN TAMURA, 22
Dan Tamura (or as I like to call him, Dan the Man), debuted in January 2019 against Atsuki Aoyagi. From the very beginning even when he showed inexperience in the ring, he always brought a fighting spirit that is incredibly endearing.
Tamura also has a unique look as a wrestler. While other young wrestlers are either bulking up or are svelte, Tamura has a skinny fat body that has only marginally improved since his debut. Add to that a prominent snaggletooth, and he’s hardly either the most intimidating wrestler or a heartthrob. But Tamura makes it all work. That is in part due to his Power Jr. style that invokes Tatsuhito Takaiwa at times.
Tamura can be a little sloppy at times and has botched not a few times (though he is doing so less and less as time goes on), but he is an incredibly fun wrestler to watch. He is always darting around the ring hitting shoulder blocks. He regularly tries to suplex opponents much larger than himself (and sometimes succeeds). Added to this is how strangely endearing his facial expressions are. Going toe-to-toe with much larger wrestlers and never backing off has made Tamura a fan favorite even though he takes a lot of pins.
I think Tamura will be a cult favorite for years to come. He will probably get a run with the PWF World Jr. Heavyweight Championship but is unlikely to be the focal point of the division. While I don’t really see a heavyweight future for Tamura, I don’t think it is out of the realm of possibility that he ends up in a prominent tag team one day as his never say die style works really well in tag settings.
- Dan Tamura vs. Hokuto Omori, Asunaro Cup Finals, July 13, 2020
- Dan Tamura vs. Koji Iwamoto ©, PWF World Jr. Heavyweight Championship, August 30, 2020
- Dan Tamura vs. Tatsuhito Takaiwa, Jr. Battle of Glory 2021 First Round, June 2, 2021
FRANCESCO AKIRA, 21
It is incredible to think that Francesco Akira, who is only 21 years old, will have been wrestling for six years as of this month. He has risen from obscurity on the Italian indies to being arguably the most well-known wrestler on this list. That’s a credit to TAJIRI’s scouting skills and Akira’s hard work.
Akira first appeared in All Japan in February 2019 and worked several tours while also returning home to Italy. Once the COVID-19 pandemic began, he remained in Japan and really upped his game. He added more muscle to his small frame and really began to show great improvement in his in-ring work. He also served as the de facto link to All Japan’s international fanbase, giving interviews to many outlets around the world. His appearance in the documentary, This is All Japan Dojo, only added to his popularity, especially among international fans.
And there’s little doubt that the company likes him a lot. This year he got to win the Jr. Battle of Glory Tournament and then the PWF World Jr. Heavyweight Championship having great matches along the way. At first, the shortness of his title reign baffled a lot of people, but then Akira announced that in September he would be headed over to WXW in Germany for their Catch Grand Prix. He certainly deserves to be able to go back home to see his family now that vaccines in Europe are widely available. He’s announced that he is taking bookings in Europe from September to December, so I would expect him to return to All Japan in January and immediately be back at the top of the Jr. division. Akira will have a top spot in All Japan’s Jr. division for as long as he wants, assuming no other Western promotion comes calling for him.
- Francesco Akira vs. Susumu Yokosuka ©, PWF World Jr. Heavyweight Championship, February 11, 2020
- Francesco Akira vs. El Lindaman, Jr. Battle of Glory 2021 Finals, June 3, 2021
- Francesco Akira vs. Koji Iwamoto © , PWF World Jr. Heavyweight Championship, June 26, 2021
RISING HAYATO, 22
Rising HAYATO, like Franceso Akira is a credit to All Japan’s ability to scout young talent outside the promotion. HAYATO, who will mark the fifth anniversary of his debut in October, is affiliated to Ehime Pro Wrestling, a small indie based in Ehime Prefecture. Owing to his boyish good looks and previous dabbling in bodybuilding, HAYATO had a decent resume for a wrestler out of a small indie. Before appearing in All Japan, HAYATO had wrestled for Pro Wrestling NOAH, Big Japan, Osaka Pro, FREEDOMS and DDT.
HAYATO has steadily improved, but generally is the pin eater for his team in tags. However, it is still a vote of confidence in him by All Japan to put him in NEXTREAM with Kento Miyahara and the Aoyagi Brothers. HAYATO is currently slotted into the Jr. division, but like Hokuto Omori, he is a larger Jr. heavyweight that could also be a smaller heavyweight if need be. HAYATO is a very good, but not great pro wrestler. All Japan has shown a willingness to push wrestlers that they didn’t train high up the card if they are exceptional talents like Kento Miyahara or Shuji Ishikawa. HAYATO’s future position on the card will come down to just how good he can become. Though expect him to be around in the company for a while either way.
- Rising HAYATO & Atsuki Aoyagi vs. Zeus & Izanagi ©, All Asia Tag Team Championship, March 8, 2021
- Rising HAYATO vs. El Lindaman, Jr. Battle of Glory 2021 First Round, June 2, 2021
- Rising HAYATO vs. T-Hawk, Royal Road Tournament 2021 First Round, August 15, 2021
RYUKI HONDA, 21
Ryuki Honda made his debut in September 2018 in Wrestle-1. His run in that company was that of your typical rookie, losing a lot in opening matches. After the closure of Wrestle-1, Honda first popped up in All Japan in September 2020 and in January 2021, it was announced he had signed with the company.
From the jump in All Japan, Honda has worked hard and his improvement has been clear. After taking plenty of losses, in the last couple of months he is getting more direct wins of his own and has been moving up the card. He’s also added some bulk to his frame and suplexes to his move set that will serve him well.
Out of every wrestler on this list, I think he has the most upside to be a heavyweight star, and given how quick it took for All Japan to start to move him up the card, they see it too.
- Ryuki Honda & Shotaro Ashino vs. Kuma Arashi & Koji Doi, May 21, 2021
- Ryuki Honda vs. Zeus, July 13, 2021
- Ryuki Honda vs. Hokuto Omori, August 15, 2021
JUN & REI SAITO, 34
The Saito Twins entered the All Japan Dojo in December 2020 and were fast-tracked to debut in June 2021. The reasons for the fast track and the fanfare for their debut they got should be obvious. They are ex-Sumo wrestlers that are both about 6’3” in height. At 34, they are pretty old to be debuting in pro wrestling, but their size and Sumo pedigree are going to be alluring to a Japanese pro wrestling company. They also are half-American and speak English which could be helpful for All Japan’s on-and-off attempts to cultivate their international fanbase.
The Saitos have already developed a cult following. There were Saito towels that could be seen in the crowd as soon as that merchandise was released. Their Sumo-influenced style is definitely a throwback to a different era in puroresu and that is part of their charm. They are something really different these days. Now to be clear, they are incredibly awkward at times, even compared to other rookies at a similar level of experience. But there are still moments in their matches where they and their opponents are just wailing on each other that are a lot of fun.
Thus far, Jun is showing more promise than Rei, who tends to be a lot more awkward and unsure of himself in the ring. If these two begin to show any kind of improvement over the next few months, I expect for them to be quickly pushed as All Asia Tag Team Champions by the first anniversary of their debut, which is a fast push by normal standards, but I think All Japan knows they have to get the most they can out of them sooner rather than later. While there are plenty of questions about how well they can develop, I generally think it will be fun to watch their career trajectory.
- Jun Saito & Rei Saito vs. Ryuki Honda & Takao Omori, June 9, 2021.
- Jun Saito & Rei Saito vs. Zeus & Izanagi, June 20, 2021
- Jun Saito vs. Rei Saito, June 26, 2021
RYOMA TSUKAMOTO, 24
Ryoma Tsukamoto debuted on July 22, making him the newest wrestler on this list. Tsukamoto had previously trained for eight years at the Animal Hamaguchi Dojo and it shows. He moves around the ring very smoothly for a rookie. And despite his 5’7” and 100kg frame, throws a great dropkick.
But the fact he is only debuting in All Japan now, probably has something to do with his height. Tsukamoto is a big Tetsuya Naito fan, but the New Japan Dojo has been known for its strict height requirements for those looking to enter it.
Tsukamoto has the opportunity to prove why New Japan is wrongheaded in such requirements. After only three matches, he has shown to be far superior in in-ring work to where the other recent All Japan Dojo graduates were at the same point.
While Tsukamoto’s height will still be a factor in just how high up the card in All Japan he can rise to, his skill and the fire he is already showing will no doubt make him a popular figure who could be the heart and soul of All Japan’s midcard for years to come.
- Ryoma Tsukamoto, Jun Saito & Rei Saito vs. Osamu Nishimura & Ryuji Hijikata & Takao Omori, July 22, 2021
- Ryoma Tsukamoto, Yuma Aoyagi, Ryuki Honda, Jun Saito & Rei Saito vs. Black Menso~re & Dan Tamura & Devil Murasaki & Izanagi & Takao Omori, August 18, 2021
- Ryoma Tsukamoto vs. Yoshitatsu, August 24, 2021