This year’s Royal Road Tournament is its ninth iteration. The single-elimination tournament has been held every year since 2013 with the exception of 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the Champion Carnival to October that year. Unlike last year’s 32-man tournament, the format reverts to the usual 16. While the winner of the tournament always receives a shot at the Triple Crown, this year with it being All Japan’s 50th anniversary, not only does the winner get a title shot, but it happens at the Nippon Budokan at the 50th anniversary show. This will be All Japan’s first show at the Budokan since February 22, 2004 when Shinya Hashimoto unsuccessfully challenged Toshiaki Kawada for the Triple Crown.
Despite All Japan having a strong first half of the year, where they began to pick up buzz again internationally after a lackluster period during the pandemic, All Japan has seen interest drop again because of the controversial decision to have Suwama, back as a member of the Voodoo Murders, defeat Jake Lee for the Triple Crown in Lee’s first defense of the title. There is enough talent in this tournament to get more eyes on All Japan, but there is also the chance of further pushing the company into irrelevancy if certain booking decisions are taken.
For this preview I will offer up my prediction of all of the tournament matches but also provide some other possible scenarios with the consideration that this tournament is setting up the main event for the Budokan.
KENTO MIYAHARA VS. TARU
This is no doubt the most controversial match of the first round. This match was originally announced as Miyahara vs. Suwama, but on the July 18 show in Osaka, the company ran an angle where Suwama announced he was boycotting the tournament and would face the winner at Budokan. TARU stepped up to replaced Suwama and laid out the stipulation that if Miyahara loses, he must re-join Voodoo Murders, which he was a member of in 2013.
Having Miyahara lose here is a monumentally stupid idea, akin to when Stone Cold Steve Austin turned heel. Miyahara is undisputedly the company’s top draw and has a sizable female fanbase. Now is not the time to do this, and it leaves the company’s top draw out of the main event of the Budokan. The only scenario where I could ever see Miyahara turning heel is at some point in the future when Yuma Aoyagi is established as a true top guy, you might be able to pull off Miyahara turning heel on him.
So while I was unfortunately correct about Suwama winning the Triple Crown from Jake Lee, I am still going with Miyahara in this one. Expect lots of cheating and bullshit from Voodoo Murders in this though. Miyahara will truly be a miracle workers if he can pull something passable out of TARU. Prediction: Kento Miyahara
JAKE LEE VS. REN AYABE
A battle of tall guys. Ayabe is a nice little wrestler for his experience level, though tall (billed at 6’7”/200cm), skinny guys like him are sometimes clunky in the ring. While he is awkward at times, he does show some ring awareness. I think there is a chance that All Japan ultimately signs him as that is what happens to a lot of JUST TAP OUT wrestlers.
Lee is obviously winning here, but it will be interesting to see how Ayabe hangs with him. A future contract could depend on it. Prediction: Jake Lee
ATSUKI AOYAGI VS. TAKUYA NOMURA
This match is going to whip. Everyone knows Nomura is great, but Aoyagi has really reached a new level in 2022, putting on strong performances every time out. I’ve got high expectations for this match though it could end up under-delivering if they don’t get much time.
Nomura will win here, because not only is Aoyagi a Jr. Heavyweight, but I think Aoyagi will be facing Tiger Mask for the PWF World Jr. Heavyweight Championship at the Budokan. Prediction: Takuya Nomura
YUMA AOYAGI VS. NAOYA NOMURA
Given how much Nomura’s return to All Japan has been built around feuding with Aoyagi, it’s surprising that this match is happening in the first round. That being said, it will probably be another banger between these two.
The result will be interesting. If this feud is to continue, and everything suggests that it is, I expect Nomura to emerge triumphant and possibly plant the seeds for a blow off match at the Budokan. Prediction: Naoya Nomura
NAGOYA INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE HALL
NAGOYA, AICHI, JAPAN
SHUJI ISHIKAWA VS. CYRUS
All Japan, where the big boys play! Cyrus has been solid enough so far during his run with the company, though they really haven’t put him in any spots where we can get an idea of how good he actually is. He’s been doing call backs to Vader and even uses the Vader Bomb as his finisher. The company seems high on him, and for that reason, I think he is beating Ishikawa here.
This will be a test to see if All Japan has anything with him here, as his performance in a singles match against one of the company’s top names (and booker) will be important for his future trajectory. I wonder if he finally debuts his moonsault in All Japan in this match. Prediction: Cyrus
SHOTARO ASHINO VS. DAN TAMURA
These guys had a really good singles match back in December 2020, and Tamura has only improved since then, so this could be the sleeper match of the tournament. There’s no way Tamura is winning this one though. Prediction: Shotaro Ashino
TAKAO OMORI VS. RYUKI HONDA
This also has the potential to be a sleeper match of the tournament. Honda is young, hungry and rising up the card, while Omori is a solid veteran hand who is happy to put younger talent over (and he’s popular in the locker room for this reason). Honda obviously wins, but this match will be about the journey getting there. Prediction: Ryuki Honda
YOSHITATSU VS. YUJI NAGATA
All Japan celebrates its 50th anniversary… by taking us back to 2006 New Japan. But seriously, I have somewhat high expectations for this match given their history. I think Yoshitatsu will work hard here, and while Nagata is showing his age more and more these days, he’s still a very good professional wrestler. Nagata will win here, and the question will be, just how far he will go in the tournament? Prediction: Yuji Nagata
SHIN-KIBA 1ST RING
KENTO MIYAHARA VS. CYRUS
The matches from here on forward will obviously depend on whether my expert predictions are correct or not.
This match, if it does happen, seems like a decent main event for a show in a venue like this one. You can expect Miyahara to take a beating and then make a valiant come back to defeat the monster foreigner. Prediction: Kento Miyahara
SHOTARO ASHINO VS. YUJI NAGATA
Now we’re cooking with gas. This is the kind of match up that Nagata’s recent run in All Japan has been building up to and I think the chances we actually get it are very strong, dare I say, ironclad.
The match should kick ass, though Ashino will once again be doing a job in a high-profile singles match. At least he’s been doing good work as a tag team champion. Prediction Yuji Nagata
HODOGAYA PUBLIC HALL
YOKOHAMA, KANAGAWA, JAPAN
JAKE LEE VS. TAKUYA NOMURA
This will be another strong match in the tournament. These guys have complimentary styles, with both being influenced by shoot style. While I don’t think Nomura winning is out of the question, Lee should really be kept as strong as possible following his embarrassing Triple Crown loss to Suwama. Prediction: Jake Lee
RYUKI HONDA VS. NAOYA NOMURA
Honda joined the company from the wreckage of Wrestle-1 after Nomura was injured, so this will be their first ever meeting. The possibility of this match is really exciting, and it should deliver. I think Honda’s rough but loveable persona will mesh well with Nomura’s invader act. It should be very hard hitting. Nomura will win here, but I hope we get to see these two square off many more times in the future. Prediction: Naoya Nomura
KENTO MIYAHARA VS. YUJI NAGATA
This is the biggest match that you can do with Nagata in All Japan. So are they going to give it away on this show as part of the semi-finals? I think so, as it will get people in the door even if the actual finalists are unknown. It should be a tremendous match, though semi-final matches like this where the finals are the same show, often don’t get that much time, usually about 10 to 12 minutes.
I am predicting that Miyahara wins here. Some will be skeptical given how New Japan protects their talent, but Nagata seems like someone they would allow Miyahara to beat. Not to mention Takaaki Kidani took a very public shot at New Japan’s training system so you have to assume that some in New Japan management aren’t the biggest Nagata fans these days, and Nagata has publicly expressed his displeasure with how he has been used in New Japan in recent years.
That being said, Nagata could end up winning this whole tournament especially if Miyahara does lose in the first round and turn heel. Prediction: Kento Miyahara
JAKE LEE VS. NAOYA NOMURA
Former partners and tag team champions seem likely to square off in the other semi-final. They have plenty of chemistry and history together so this will likely be a strong match, with the caveat of how much time these semi-finals get.
Given that Nomura has not only targeted Yuma Aoyagi but has also called out Lee and Miyahara, I think a Nomura victory is quite possible and is necessary to keep Nomura’s invasion angle going. Prediction: Naoya Nomura
KENTO MIYAHARA VS. NAOYA NOMURA
Other than doing a Miyahara vs. Yuma Aoyagi final, I think this is the strongest possible finals they can do, given they are extremely unlikely to do another Miyahara vs. Jake Lee match so soon.
Given that these two have produced the strongest singles matches of the Miyahara era of All Japan, this match will be a real test to see just how good Nomura still is after returning from a herniated cervical disc that kept him out of action for nearly two years. I thought Nomura was one of the best wrestlers in the world and was destined for great things when he was injured. This match will tell us if he still has that potential. And if Nomura does make it to the finals, it may suggest that he will end up rejoining All Japan as a full time roster member.
Miyahara will win this to set up yet another Triple Crown match against Suwama at the 50th anniversary show. Not exactly inspired booking, but there are worse options that could have been chosen now that Suwama won the Triple Crown. Prediction: Kento Miyahara
OTHER POSSIBLE SCENARIOS
The second likeliest result is Yuji Nagata winning the tournament, perhaps against Jake Lee or Yuma Aoyagi in the finals. It is incredibly stupid to do an outsider vs. a heel on the biggest show you’ve had in years. Not to mention, Suwama going over in that scenario is stupid, and so is an outsider triumphing on the 50th anniversary show. Nagata is also working Jun Akiyama’s 30th anniversary show earlier the same day, and it seems strange for someone who is going to be in the main event of the Budokan to pull double duty. Not to mention, what if some freak accident, even a mild injury like a sprained ankle happens to Nagata on the DDT show? That is a bad booking decision and is risky.
As far as dark horse candidates go, there’s Yuma Aoyagi and Jake Lee. With Aoyagi it could be the chance to finally give him the Triple Crown. Lee makes sense to get revenge on Suwama and that would reduce his geekiness. I will add Shotaro Ashino to this list as well given his history with Suwama, but he is less likely than either Aoyagi or Lee because he is a tag team champion, but is worthy of consideration if you are ranking possible winners.