Under The Big Top - A look at All Japan Pro Wrestling's 2020 Champion Carnival

Originally published at https://www.postwrestling.com/2020/03/18/under-the-big-top-a-look-at-all-japan-pro-wrestlings-2020-champion-carnival/

Under The Big Top – A look at All Japan Pro Wrestling’s 2020 Champion Carnival

By: WH Park

Amid several big stories involving Japan and the Puroresu scene, All Japan Pro Wrestling is preparing for their big annual spring tournament: the fabled Champion Carnival.

The first – and biggest – story is the Coronavirus’ effect on Japan, Asia, and the rest of the world. This has led many wrestling promotions in Japan to cancel or reschedule shows in the first two weeks of March.

The other big story is the recent news that former AJPW President Jun Akiyama will visit the WWE Performance Center to act as a guest coach. Add in reports Akiyama has been talking to HHH since the WWE summer tour of Japan in 2019 and this has led to speculation that All Japan might be involved in a potential launch of a satellite NXT brand in Japan.

I’m going to take this time to focus the discussion back to the Champion Carnival itself as the company has released the full list of participants and the makeup of the two blocks. The Carnival is scheduled to start on April 6th which, as of this writing, spared it from having to be canceled and/or rescheduled.

A couple of the big themes of this year’s Carnival seems to be youth and freshness as we see five new names enter the tournament, with just over half the field under the age of 35. Six of the participants are also freelancers or on loan from other companies.

A Block

Kento Miyahara (31)

Last year’s winner, Miyahara is enjoying an epic run with the Triple Crown championship. He’s tied Toshiaki Kawada’s 10-defense reign and in fact, looks likely to break that record soon. He’s considered to be the “Ace” of All Japan and it’s top drawing star.

Miyahara is entering his seventh Champion Carnival, as last year’s winner and current champion, I don’t think his chances of going all the way this year are all that strong.

Zeus (38)

Someone continually in the top mix of the promotion as a multiple Tag Team Champion and a former Triple Crown Champion. He recently turned heel and became the leader of a unit called Purple Haze. I think with this new role he’s going to be slotted as a mid-card/upper mid-card guy so I don’t really like his chances of being a factor at the end of the Carnival.

Shuji Ishikawa (44)

A member of the Violent Giants tag team (along with partner Suwama), Ishikawa is enjoying another reign with the World Tag Team Titles. He is reportedly also the current booker of All Japan. Recent additions to the roster seemingly have his fingerprints all over them and this years Carnival line-up seems like the work of a new voice in management. With all that being said I seriously doubt he’s going to push himself, at the age of 44, to be an emerging new main eventer or even a challenger to Miyahara.

Yoshitatsu (42)

Recently, Yoshitatsu has signed as a full-time roster member of AJPW. He is the current Gaora TV Champion (a completely worthless title) and the UCE Wrestling Corona Premier Intercontinental Championship (seriously that’s the name of this title and it even uses the Corona beer font and is an even more worthless title). He did have a pretty good Triple Crown challenge against Miyahara back in June of 2019, however, and remains a solid player in the upper mid-card.

I’d be absolutely gobsmacked if he makes it to the final four point-getters, let alone win the whole thing.

Yuma Aoyagi (24)

After recently breaking off with Kento Miyahara and Nextream, Aoyagi had a very good match against Miyahara for the Triple Crown. He’s kind of cooled down since that challenge and I doubt All Japan will have him in line to challenge Miyahara again already.

He really upped his game in-ring and as a character in the build-up to his Triple Crown match. He should do really well in points and I see him getting key wins, especially with his new grounded chicken wing/neck crank submission.

Kai (36)
Kai makes his return to the Carnival after being absent from last year’s event due to his commitments with Dragon Gate. Has had a quiet 2020 so far but I can see All Japan using the tournament to re-establish Kai as a player with some hot matches and key wins.

Joel Redman (33)

Redman makes his second appearance after a successful debut in last year’s edition.

Since the last Carnival, Redman has become a popular talent among the All Japan fans and has shown himself to be one of the most underrated and under-utilized wrestlers in the world.

An excellent technical wrestler and a true gentleman (sorry Jake Lee) I think All Japan has only scratched the surface with his potential. I’m hoping he gets a strong push in the tournament, without necessarily having to win it.

Shigehiro Irie (31)

Irie is making his Champion Carnival debut. He originally made his name in DDT from 2008 to 2018 before going freelance and traveling around the world honing his craft. A very agile and hard-hitting wrestler he’s been making more regular appearances for AJPW and is a member of the heelish Purple Haze unit along with Zeus.

He’s a former All-Asia Tag Titleholder (with Keisuke Ishii) and is familiar to the fans of All Japan.

I see him doing well overall in the tournament but it remains to be seen how serious the company is about him going forward.

Takashi Sugiura (49)

This is Sugiura’s Carnival debut. A stalwart of Pro Wrestling NOAH and one of it’s biggest stars, Sugiura is the biggest name in the A Block outside of Miyahara.

He’s the current GHC National Champion and one of the best wrestlers in the world right now.

For a man about to hit 50, he’s in tremendous shape and wrestles like a man half his age. A veteran of multiple tournaments in NOAH and New Japan he’s my pick to not only win this Block but the whole tournament. Dare I say he’s also who I would personally pick to dethrone Kento Miyahara for the Triple Crown.

B Block

Suwama (43)

This will be Suwama’s 15th Champion Carnival having been in all of them save one since 2005 (he missed 2016). He’s only won once (2008) and his days as reliable main eventer are behind him.

Currently one-half of the World Tag Team Champions along with Shuji Ishikawa, he maintains a high position on the roster as a tag team wrestler.

Still, he’s looked at as a legend among current fans and should do well overall. Since he’ll have already challenged Miyahara before the tour it’s unlikely they’ll have a rematch regardless of the outcome of their March 23 match at Korakuen.

Jake Lee (31)

Last year’s finalist against Kento Miyahara.

Lee has shown a great deal of improvement in his wrestling and more importantly in his character. He’s become livelier and shown more personality over the last 12 months. These were areas where many people were critical of him and thought would hinder any ascension to the main event level.

He’s one half of the All-Asia Tag Champions along with Koji Iwamoto. These two are also part of the popular JIN unit which also features Naoya Nomura, Fuminori Abe, and Ayato Yoshida.

Lee is likely to go far in this year’s tournament and is again a favorite to win the whole thing.

Ryoji Sai (39)

A mid-carder basically. Nothing much to be said about him. Zero chance he’ll win the block let alone the tournament.

Gianni Valletta (30)

Valletta makes his second appearance in a Carnival though I don’t know why. He had some of the worst matches of last year’s tournament (worse than even Daichi Hashimoto). He got wins over Yuji Okabayashi, Ishikawa and even Miyahara. The most generous thing I can say is that he’s the Toru Yano of All Japan in the way he’s used but at least Yano has some comedic value.

Complete dud and waste of time.

Hideyoshi Kamitani (28)

This is Kamitani’s second appearance in the Carnival having previously participated in the 2016 edition.

A Big Japan Pro Wrestling talent, he’s well-known for his tag team of Okami (Wolf) with Daichi Hashimoto.

His generic look belies a very good wrestler who has a very good power game.

I’m looking forward to him being in this year’s CC though I doubt he’ll get more than 4 to 6 points.

Ayato Yoshida (27)

Yoshida is making his Carnival debut.

Trained in the Kaientai Dojo dojo by TAKA Michinoku and others. Yoshida caught many people’s attention during a brief run in New Japan Pro Wrestling as a “Young Lion” being paired with and against Shota Umino.

As TAKA’s involvement with K-Dojo ended so did Yoshida’s involvement with NJPW.

He re-surfaced in the K-Dojo spin-off promotion – 2AW. This has led to him appearing regularly for All Japan and he’s even joined the JIN unit.

Known for precise kicks and a style reminiscent of Katsuyori Shibata, he’s been tagged as a potential future star in Puroresu as a whole.

I think he’ll do well overall but I’d be pleasantly surprised if he made it to his Block finals.

Yoshida is probably the person I’m most excited to see matches from in B Block.

Lucas Steel (24)

This is Steel’s Carnival debut.

A relative unknown out of Hull in the UK, Steel has immediately impressed fans with his immense size (6’6”, 252 lbs.), impressive agility, and sheer ring presence.

As a member of Purple Haze, he’s already challenged for the World Tag Team titles with Irie as his partner and looked great in the ring with Suwama and Ishikawa.

He kind of reminds me of Mike Awesome with his style and his mullet.

I can see him getting a similar run as Dylan James did in last year’s tournament.

Someone to keep an eye on.

Davey Boy Smith Jr. (34)

Smith is making his All Japan and Carnival debut here.

A tag specialist in New Japan along with Lance Archer in the Killer Elite Squad until he had a falling out with the company in 2019, this Davey Jr.’s first major tour in Japan since parting ways with NJPW. He has mostly been working regularly as a tag wrestler with his cousin, Teddy Hart, and as a singles competitor in MLW.

An immensely talented wrestler who is tailor-made for working in All Japan I can see him getting a huge push right out of the gate and going far in the CC.


A replacement for the injured Naoya Nomura.

Obviously well-known for his run in ECW and WWE, he’s been a mainstay in many different companies since returning to Japan in 2006.

With his best days long behind him, TAJIRI’s reputation these days is for phoning it in for the majority of his matches and overdoing the mist spot.

Still, he’s a name to the fans and was probably easy to schedule.

Won’t do well and will likely have some of the worst matches this side of Valletta.

Here are some of the matches I’m most looking forward to in each block:

A Block:
Miyahara v Kai, Redman, Irie, Sugiura
Sugiura v Zeus, Ishikawa, Irie
Aoyagi v Redman, Irie, Kai

B Block:
Suwama v Lee, Kamitani, Yoshida, DBS Jr.
Lee v Kamitani, Yoshida, Steel, DBS Jr.
Kamitani v Yoshida, Steel, DBS Jr.
Yoshida v DBS Jr.
Steel v DBS Jr.