Originally published at https://www.postwrestling.com/2019/04/02/under-the-big-top-a-look-at-all-japan-pro-wrestlings-2019-champion-carnival/
Under the Big Top – A look at All Japan Pro Wrestling’s 2019 Champion Carnival
by WH Park
The Champion Carnival is All Japan’s annual round-robin league tournament and the biggest event on their touring schedule. Winning the Champion Carnival is one of the most prestigious honors in Japanese wrestling and a shot at the Triple Crown Champion is one of the prizes.
Last year’s Carnival was a very successful event for AJPW – both in the ring and at the box office. A large part of that was the number of intriguing match-ups offered to fans by booking outside talents like Naomichi Marufuji, Yuji Hino, and Shingo Takagi.
Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons none of those wrestlers will be participating in this year’s tournament. Instead, we’ll have outside talents like Yuji Okabayashi, Daichi Hashimoto and Takashi Yoshida. This year will also see a larger number than usual of foreign talent making their debuts in the Carnival like Gianni Valletta, Sam Adonis, and Joel Redman.
Let’s look at each participant and see what their chances are for winning.
Yuma Aoyagi (23)
Debuted in December of 2014 against Kento Miyahara after only 8 months of training in the All Japan dojo.
He’s been allied with both Miyahara and long-time tag partner Naoya Nomura in the Nextream stable for several years. Aoyagi and Nomura were the All-Asia Tag Team champions until Nomura abruptly left Nextream and dissolved their partnership.
He’s one of the most popular young wrestlers on the roster and this is his first time in the Carnival. It’s unlikely he’ll win his block, but I predict a good showing and some key wins over big names.
Shuji Ishikawa (43)
Trained in the DDT dojo and made his debut in 2003. He wrestled in both DDT and the Big Japan Pro Wrestling deathmatch division for a large part of his early career. He made his first appearance for All Japan in 2015 as a freelancer.
Ishikawa would be a mainstay on the mid-card until 2017 when he entered and won his first Champion Carnival. Off the heels of that win, he would challenge and defeat Kento Miyahara to become the Triple Crown Champion. He would hold the belt for 3 months during which time he solidified his position as a top guy in the company
He is one-half of the current World Tag Team champion team of The Violent Giants with Suwama. He should do well overall in his block but has only an outside chance of winning the whole thing.
Dylan James (27)
James is a New Zealand native that was trained by Bubba Ray and D-Von Dudley. He started working in Japan straight away in the Zero-ONE promotion. He would wrestle primarily in Zero-ONE until going full-time with All Japan last year
James had a good showing in his first Carnival last year finishing with 6 points and getting wins over Zeus and Suwama. I think he’ll have a similar showing this year and has at least a decent chance of winning his block as the company seems to be firmly behind him.
Atsushi Aoki (41)
A last-minute replacement for the injured Kengo Mashimo.
One of the main people in All Japan’s Junior division and in their office. He’s pretty much a plug-in and play guy they could slot in for Mashimo on such short notice. I figure Jun Akiyama can book Aoki with similar, if not the same, results that they planned for Mashimo who I didn’t figure to win A Block at all.
Kento Miyahara (30)
Miyahara is the current Triple Crown champion, the proverbial ace of All Japan, and on the short list of the best wrestlers in the world at this point.
Miyahara will be entering his sixth Champion Carnival and since winning his first Triple Crown has always been a favorite to win it. But somehow the Carnival remains the one accolade that he hasn’t achieved yet.
He’s been having a stellar year so far with high-level title defenses against KAI, Suwama, and Naoya Nomura. He also teamed with Daisuke Sekimoto to face Hiroshi Tanahashi and Yoshitatsu at the Giant Baba Memorial show in February. He could be riding this momentum and finally add Champion Carnival winner to his already impressive resume.
Yuji Okabayashi (36)
Okabayashi is one of the biggest stars in Big Japan and is one-half of one of the most successful Japanese tag teams in recent years with Daisuke Sekimoto. He and Sekimoto lost the World Tag Team titles back to the Violent Giants in an excellent match.
He will be entering his first Carnival this year and finally getting a singles push in All Japan.
Okabayashi is my current favorite to win A Block and the entire Carnival. I think he would freshen up the main event scene in All Japan as well as his own career.
Ryoji Sai (38)
Sai entered his first Carnival in 2016 which is when he made All Japan his base while still freelancing in other promotions. Before that, he was a long-time Zero-ONE wrestler. A solid person on the card but there really is nothing special about him. He’ll get a couple of wins but there is zero chance he’ll win A Block.
Gianni Valletta (29)
Valletta is a wrestler from Malta who works primarily in Europe. He came to All Japan in July of 2018 and this is the first time in the tournament. His gimmick is that he’s a dollar-store version of Bruiser Brody who likes to hit people with his chain. Absolutely no chance he wins.
Zeus was trained by Gamma and started his career in Osaka Pro Wrestling. He worked there, Hustle, DDT, Zero-ONE before joining All Japan as part of the Big Guns tag team with Bodyguard. They have won the World Tag Team titles four times and Zeus is a former Triple Crown Champion.
Always in the top mix in All Japan he should point well in his block, but he has a marginal chance of winning in my eyes.
Sam Adonis (29)
Adonis was trained by his brother, WWE announcer Corey Graves. He worked the American independent in relative obscurity and first received notoriety working in Mexico for CMLL. It was in Mexico where adopted a pro-Trump character in order to play off of the current political and racial tensions between the two countries.
In Mexico, he also developed a working relationship with Ultimo Dragon that led Adonis to All Japan in 2017 for one tour. He came back in 2018 to participate in the Lucha Fiesta tour organized by Dragon and All Japan. Now this year he’ll make his first appearance in the Carnival.
I know nothing about Adonis outside of the pro-Trump character he does and a controversial incident at a 2018 RevPro show in England that ended getting him banned from that company.
My big hope is that Adonis tones down or completely leaves the gimmick at home and decides to show people his wrestling while he’s in Japan. A pro-Trump gimmick will not resonate here in either a negative or positive way. It turns Adonis into a cartoonish comedy wrestler which is not a good look for someone wanting to make name for themselves in All Japan.
Zero chance of winning.
Joe Doering (36)
Doering has been a mainstay and favorite in All Japan since 2007. He briefly joined WWE’s developmental system in 2010 and after leaving that system he rejoined All Japan
Doering’s first Carnival was in 2008 and like Miyahara, he’s never won the Carnival. This in spite of being a two-time Triple Crown holder and multiple World Tag Team champion.
He did make it to the finals in 2017 before losing to the winner, Shuji Ishikawa.
He has a good chance of finally getting that Carnival win this year.
Daichi Hashimoto (26)
The son of Shinya Hashimoto. He was trained by Masahiro Chono and Shinjiro Otani. The early part of his career saw him working in Zero-ONE for several years before leaving to become a freelancer. He then worked for the Inoki Genome Federation for a while before finally settling in Big Japan.
Hashimoto formed a successful tag team with Hideyoshi Kamitani called Okami. It was this tag team that would lead to him appearing in All Japan on several occasions, notably in the World Tag League.
He is a former Strong Division Heavyweight champion but had a very lukewarm reign.
A good tag team wrestler but he’s yet to find his groove as a singles competitor.
2017 was his first time in the Carnival and 2019 will mark his second time participating
Very unlikely he’ll win his block or point very high in the league portion.
Jake Lee (30)
Lee was trained by Keiji Muto and made his All Japan debut in 2011 under his real name of Lee Che-Gyong. He left All Japan and wrestling all together in October of the same year. He then pursued a career in MMA for several years before finally returning to All Japan using Jake Lee as his new ring name.
Because of his size and the MMA-based style he was slotted to be a top guy of a new generation along with Miyahara. They would form a stable with Naoya Nomura and Yuma Aoyagi called Nextream. He would suffer an injury in late 2017 and return in May 2018.
Upon his return, he left Nextream and formed a new unit called Sweeper. All Japan was clearly positioning him to become a rival of Miyahara and join at the top of the card.
Perception of Lee has been mixed at best. He hasn’t set the world on fire with his performances and has been tagged with the label of showing little to no personality in his matches. That is why this year’s Carnival is so important for him. Not only does he have to be pushed strongly but he has to have killer performances as well to show not only the All Japan office that he deserves the spot a the top but the fans as well. At 30, the clock is closing in on midnight for him to take the step to the next level.
One of my favorites to win B Block and the entire tournament.
Naoya Nomura (25)
Nomura is a product of the All Japan dojo and is one of the most promising young wrestlers on the roster, if not all of Japan. In my opinion, he has surpassed Jake Lee in terms of promise for becoming a viable long-term start for All Japan.
He has good size to him and is an excellent power wrestler who can do some impressive moves from the top rope including a beautiful Frog Splash. The only negative on him was a lack of a killer instinct in his matches. That stain has now been removed thanks to an amazing performance he had with Kento Miyahara for the Triple Crown. Even though Nomura lost the match, he won the minds and hearts of the fans who saw a fire and passion that wasn’t evident before.
Even though Nomura just lost a TC match against Miyahara it’s not without precedence for All Japan to do the same match so close to each other. He’s just a smidge below Lee as a favorite to win B Block and the whole thing.
Joel Redman (32)
An English wrestler is best known for being one-half of the inaugural NXT Tag Team champions with Adrian Neville (PAC).
Not much is known about him since he left NXT/WWE in 2014 so it was surprising that All Japan had hired him for this tour.
I am curious how Redman will do in Japan in general and in the Carnival specifically since I know nothing about him.
Zero chance he wins the block, but he might pick up at least one significant if they’re interested in bringing him back in the future.
The Ace of All Japan until being replaced by Kento Miyahara.
Suwama is part of The Violent Giants who are the current World Tag Team champions.
He’s on the downward tail of his career in my estimation but can still be called upon to be a gatekeeper for the younger talent.
Still, he should be getting some significant wins and should get no less than 6 points in the tournament.
Slim outside chance he’ll get the win.
Takashi Yoshida (36)
The artist formerly known as Cyber Kong follows his former stablemate, Shingo Takagi, in representing Dragon Gate in this year’s Carnival.
A staple of the various heel factions in Dragon Gate for the last 13 years this will be his highest profile spot among other heavyweight wrestlers.
Yoshida lost his mask and Cyber Kong gimmick back in 2017 to Masato Yoshino. I kind of feel he lost a lot of his appeal with those things as he’s yet to impress me with any of his matches in recent years.
He’ll probably get 4-6 points as a “thank you” bone to throw to Dragon Gate but he won’t be winning his block.
It’s Yoshitatsu let’s be realistic…
Ok just kidding. To be fair… no, seriously he’s not winning…
Ok, to be fair Yoshitatsu has been doing much better since joining All Japan after he left New Japan. He’s slotted as Miyahara’s regular tag partner and has won the tag titles with him and is pushed as an upper mid-card guy.
Yoshitatsu will probably get 4-6 points and level out there. Nothing more, nothing less.
These are my most anticipated matches from each block.
Here is the broadcast schedule of the Carnival if you subscribe to AJPW.tv:
April 4 – Tokyo Korakuen Hall (LIVE)
April 6 – Chiba Kisarazu Citizen Center (VOD)
April 7 – Nagoya International Congress Center (LIVE)
April 9 – Kunibiki Messe Multipurpose Hall (LIVE)
April 10 – Hiroshima JMS Plaza Multipurpose Studio (VOD)
April 11 – Across Fukuoka Event Hall (LIVE)
April 13 – Osaka Edion Arena 2nd Stadium (LIVE)
April 14 – Osaka Edion Arena 2nd Stadium (LIVE)
April 15 – Ishikawa Kanazawa Distribution Center (VOD)
April 16 – Shizuoka Act City Hamamatsu (VOD)
April 17 – Tokyo Shin-Kiba 1st Ring (LIVE)
April 20 – Hokkaido Hotel Sapporo (LIVE)
April 21 – Hokkaido Hotel Sapporo (LIVE)
April 23 – Miyagi Sendai PIT (VOD)
April 24 – Niigata Aore Nagaoka (VOD)
April 25 – Tokyo Korakuen Hall (LIVE)
April 28 – Tokyo Korakuen Hall (LIVE)
April 29 – Tokyo Korakuen Hall (LIVE)
Thanks to Matt McEwen for his proofreading and editorial help