For the first time since 2019, the Jr. Battle of Glory returns in round-robin format. Since the pandemic, All Japan has been running shorter tours with the exception of the Champion Carnival and Real World Tag League, so this tournament has been a bit shafted. There was no Jr. Battle of Glory in 2020 and last year, it was a two-day single elimination tournament held in Shin-Kiba 1st Ring. The last winner won’t be competing this time, because it was now IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Champion Francesco Akira.
While All Japan books some great freelance talent in its Jr. division like Seigo Tachibana and Oji Shiiba, they have opted to keep things in-house with their contracted roster members plus Hikaru Sato (who is basically a regular roster member) giving us a six-man, one block tournament.
All Japan is in a weird place right now. Kento Miyahara is having another Triple Crown reign, though still in its early days that is shaping up to be great. But there’s also still plenty of Voodoo Murder bullshit that will turn off many people.
But a recent success of the company has been the Jr. division and its new young champion. The fortunes of this division have waxed and waned in recent years, especially after the departure of Koji Iwamoto and some downright dumb booking decisions. Now it’s exciting and full of young hungry talent. This tournament would be a good jumping on point to see what these wrestlers can do.
It should be noted that all of the matches in this tournament have a 10-minute time limit so be prepared for a lot of draws, but that also ensures plenty of fast-paced action. The tournament gets underway on the same dates as the Real World Tag League, eight shows between November 13 and December 7. But unlike the RWTL there will be a finals for the top two finishers that will happen on the last night of the RWTL. I assume that like All Japan’s other tournaments, there will be no tie-breakers so there will be a playoff if need be to determine the finalists if there are ties in total points among more than two wrestlers at the top. The RWTL preview will be following up this piece very soon.
Let’s take a look at the participants.
ATSUKI AOYAGI (PWF WORLD JR. HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION)
Since about mid-2021, the younger Aoyagi brother has really come into his own. He has put together a great high-flying offense and has developed a ton of charisma. It was clear that he was distinguishing himself as the company’s new Jr. ace and at the 50th-anniversary show this past September at Nippon Budokan, he finally won the Jr. Title by defeating Tiger Mask. His two subsequent defenses of the title against Rising HAYATO and Minoru Tanaka have been tremendous. Aoyagi is one of the best, if not the best thing going on in All Japan right now.
At the October 30 show in Shin-Kiba 1st Ring which finally allowed some cheering in All Japan, he was also one of the most over wrestlers on the roster and the crowd was full of people with his merchandise. For the first time in a long time, All Japan has a real Jr. ace, and he will only be turning 23 this December.
It was Aoyagi that also requested this tournament happen after his defense against Tanaka. It seems as if after some extremely rough patches for the Jr. division in recent years, there is something brewing that could truly be great and Aoyagi is the right man for the job to make this happen.
While he probably won’t win the tournament, you can’t completely rule it out. Aoyagi could win to establish his dominance and then call out a big name outsider to face him next.
Don’t let his strange haircut or bare feet fool you, Sato is one of the most underrated wrestlers in the world. He has been a constant fixture in All Japan’s Jr. division since 2010 and is a former three-time PWF Word Jr. Heavyweight Champion, with his most recent reign coming earlier this year. While technically a member of Pancrase Mission, he has been working a large majority of the shows that All Japan runs every year since 2013.
While it should have been Sato and not Tiger Mask putting over Aoyagi’s big title win, at least there is still that match to do. So does Sato finally win a Jr. Battle of Glory to make that happen? I think it’s a real possibility. Heating Sato up to have Aoyagi finally defeat him in a title match later on seems like a very smart play. I’m not convinced he’s the leading choice to win this, but he is certainly up there.
HAYATO took a big step forward in 2022. While the potential was always there, he hadn’t quite put it all together yet. Back in January, HAYATO challenged SUGI for the Jr. title and the match wasn’t very good. HAYATO blew some spots and looked nervous. But instead of letting that eat him up inside, he redoubled his efforts and started getting really good. He’s even been in a match this year that will finish in my top ten best matches of the year (w/Kento Miyahara vs. Yuma & Atsuki Aoyagi from May 14). Not only has his work improved, but HAYATO recently debuted a new ikemen gimmick which seems to have gotten over with the audience given some of the reactions to him on the October 30 show.
HAYATO will probably be a player going into the final night of block action, but given he already challenged Aoyagi for the title back in early October (in a must-see match), I don’t think he is going to win this. But make no mistake, he is going to be Aoyagi’s generational rival (they are both the same age), and it will be their spectacular matches that puts All Japan’s Jr. division back on the map.
Omori is in a strange place. He’s great in the ring, and he has some charisma, but he hasn’t been able to quite develop big star charisma even though he’s tried a bunch of different poses and has even donned a Horse mask as a comedy gimmick. He definitely deserves an A for effort even if his character work hasn’t totally landed. But he’s also straddling the edge of Jr. and heavyweight. He’s bulked up quite a bit this past year and has often been placed in situations with other heavyweights. I thought he was going to officially move up soon but then he got announced for this tournament. The one thing working against him as a heavyweight is that All Japan has a lot of tall native roster members in it, probably more than any other wrestling company in Japan. That’s something that probably hasn’t helped Shotaro Ashino either, and won’t help Omori. Now if this was NOAH, he’d be fine as he’s a little taller than Kenoh and Katsuhiko Nakajima. Anyway, I digress.
That all being said, the company has generally been behind Omori and I think he is the leading candidate to win the tournament. Plus Aoyagi vs. Omori is a match that hasn’t been done very much, so it also has a fresh factor should he win the tournament and challenge for the Jr. Title.
In my heart, Dan is the man. He’s got this goofy charisma and he plays a great sympathetic babyface that can take a beating. But that’s about it for him. It’s clear by now that he’s never going to rise above a second or third match on the card guy on a big show. He’s an All Asia Tag Team Champion at best, and will probably never win the Jr. Title. His work is solid but unspectacular. However, I will always root for him.
I don’t think he comes close to winning the tournament but it wouldn’t shock me if he defeats Aoyagi during the block stage to set up a later (unsuccessful) title challenge down the line.
Inoue, who debuted this past January has been a great addition to the roster. 11 months into his career, and I think he’s further along than the last crop of rookies that consisted of Aoyagi, Omori and Tamura were at that point.
His work is crisp and he continues to add new moves to his arsenal. There is definitely some charisma there but he needs to refine it some more and come up with a much more clearly defined persona.
I’m excited to see his matches in this tournament and think he could be the glue that holds the whole thing together with his valiant but ultimately losing performances. He probably loses all of his matches in this, but his progression in the tournament via his in-ring work will be his story for him.
AJPW Jr. Battle of Glory 2022 Predictions
Winner: Hokuto Omori
Possible: Hikaru Sato, Atsuki Aoyagi
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