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    Monday, December 5, 2016

    #MustWatchMonday (12/5/16): AJPW is Alive and Well

    Before NJPW was the biggest Japanese wrestling promotion around, the 1980s and the 1990s were pretty much dominated by All Japan Pro Wrestling. At the time, they were led by its Four Pillars: Kenta Kobashi, Mitsuharu Misawa, Akira Taue, and Toshiaki Kawada. The matches these four have had with or against each other are pretty much required viewing for anyone looking to delve into puro.

    Things weren't all flowers and rainbows however, and due to various political disputes within the company, Misawa eventually left and formed Pro Wrestling NOAH. And then, just as they were about to recover, Keiji Mutoh left and formed W-1. Both these men brought with them a significant part of the AJPW roster, gutting the promotion and leaving them without all their top draws. AJPW became a shell of its former self. A crowd of around 1,500 would have been a massive success, which pales in comparison to the tens of thousands they used to draw in their glory days for their big events.

    After all the talent departures and changes in management, when the dust cleared, Jun Akiyama took over the company. Akiyama is regarded by many to be the unsung hero of the AJPW glory days, a Fifth Pillar if you will. Akiyama took the company in a different direction, moving it out of Tokyo, and working with a bevy of other promotions such as DDT and BJW, even mending relations with W-1 to a certain extent. What also kept the company alive despite all the crippling blows was that the work between the ropes always stayed incredibly solid, and was completely devoid of shenanigans and outside interference.

    While the company didn't really see a rebirth, they had momentum, and they had an ace that they were molding and preparing. Enter Kento Miyahara. He debuted in Diamond Ring back in 2008, and moved over to AJPW in 2013. Miyahara's talent was clear to anyone who watched him, and he had an aura about him that, much like Kazuchika Okada, just screamed ace. His story featured him rising up the ranks of the promotion, being able to beat anyone except for Akebono, who was the Triple Crown Champion at the time, as well as Suwama and Akiyama. The story with Akebono was cut short due to the sumo legend's departure from the company. In his stead, Suwama became the champion. In an additionally unfortunate twist, however, Suwama injured his Achilles, and had to vacate the title. Because of this, a tournament was held to see who would become the next Champion and in the finals of this tournament were Zeus and of course, Kento Miyahara.

    In a great hard-hitting match, Miyahara won the Triple Crown Championship, fulfilling his destiny. He would go on to have multiple successful defenses against many established wrestlers such as Daisuke Sekimoto, Jun Akiyama, Takao Omori, Kengo Mashimo and Ryouji Sai. Despite the strength he displayed as champion however, there was a huge question mark concerning his reign because he never beat Suwama for the title. 

    With that in mind, AJPW planned their biggest show in quite some time, New Explosion 2016, which was to be held in Sumo Hall (Ryogoku Kokugikan), a venue which is normally reserved for bigger wrestling events such as the bigger NJPW PPVs, or when WWE comes to visit. It was a ballsy move on AJPW's end, and would be a barometer for the health of the company and how it would do in the coming months. The show would be main evented by the champion Kento Miyahara defending his Triple Crown Championship against the returning ace, Suwama.

    Suwama worked over Miyahara in the first half of the match, and Miyahara couldn't quite get the upper hand on him, with Suwama just knowing how to handle the young champion. In the end however, Miyahara prevailed over his senior, and firmly established himself as the new ace of AJPW. In a another swing of good fortune for the promotion, the event drew around 6,000 fans, which was way more than anyone could expect.

    With all this, AJPW showed that while it might never get back to the heights of its glory years, it can compete in the very crowded field that is Japanese pro wrestling. On another note, with Kento Miyahara, Katsuhiko Nakajima and Kazuchika Okada being the top champions for AJPW, NOAH and NJPW respectively, we can see that we're entering a new generation of Japanese wrestling. I, for one, can't wait for it all to unfold.

    Brandon Sy is a PhD student in Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics currently based in Sydney. Since he wasn't allowed to watch wrestling as a kid, he's been overcompensating ever since. Despite being a huge fan of Japanese wrestling, he still holds a soft spot in his heart for WWE's Kane. He's good for recommending matches from pretty much anywhere, whether it be Japan, Europe, the US or Mexico. He'd be ecstatic if you watched Dragon Gate though.
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    Item Reviewed: #MustWatchMonday (12/5/16): AJPW is Alive and Well Rating: 5 Reviewed By: bodonium
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