Ayato Yoshida vs Yuji Okabayashi : Yoshida’s crowning and breakout moment ?

July 5th will be where the 2AW Openweight championship is defended next. Yuji Okabayashi, Big Japan Pro Wrestling’s star and current champion, faces off against the future of Active Advance Pro Wrestling, the Next Generation Ace which you may have seen against the likes of Yuji Nagata and Shota Umino in New Japan two years ago, Ayato Yoshida.
After crushing Shu Asakawa to win the title and defeat both Taishi Takizawa and Tank Nagai to retain it, will the Golem make Yoshida the next victim of his overwhelmingly dominant run ? Let’s discuss the matter at hand !

First things first, since this piece is my first covering 2AW, let me give you bits of context surrounding the promotion and and Yoshida’s rise within it. The promotion is the now rebranded Kaientai Dojo, which was led by Taka Michinoku. As most of you probably know, Taka had to leave his position within K-Dojo as well as in New Japan Pro Wrestling around two years ago, and went on to create a new promotion called Just Tap Out (which I recommend you check out !). As for Ayato Yoshida, he already was the rising star of the promotion during the latter days of the K-Dojo era, facing the likes of Kengo Mashimo and Taishi Takizawa earlier on in his career for the STRONGEST-K championship. He even defeated Taka Michinoku himself in a tournament final to claim his first opportunity to challenge for the title. Yoshida would finally get to the top of K-Dojo on April 13th 2019, when he vanquished the then champion Shu Asakawa to win the championship. Sadly for Yoshida, he could only hold the championship for 43 days, as K-Dojo would cease to exist as we knew it rather shortly after he finally made it as the next top star.
After the promotion’s rebranding in June, a tournament was organized during the summer to crown the first ever 2AW Openweight champion, which would be the promotion’s newest top championship, culminating on September 1st in Korakuen Hall. There, Yoshida met Asakawa once again, but the fortune was reversed as the TEMPEST member picked up the victory to be crowned champion. Since then, Yoshida worked his way back up, most notably becoming the first ever 2AW Tag Team champions alongside his Sirius Roar partner Tank Nagai. There again, Yoshida wouldn’t remain a champion for long, only holding the belts for 40 days.

Moving on to the match with Okabayashi. He and Yoshida will be having their first singles match, and have crossed paths multiple times in tag matches since the latter started wrestling in 2015. The story of the match is rather simple : Last February, Okabayashi came to 2AW to challenge Shu Asakawa for the Openweight title, setting up their match a month later. Okabayashi ran through the champion and defeated him in approximately 15 minutes, winning the championship in dominant fashion. As said prior in this piece, BJW’s resident golem went on to vanquish two of 2AW’s biggest, quite literally, threats in Taishi Takizawa and Tank Nagai, two former STRONGEST-K champions. It was after the defence against Nagai that Yoshida confronted the outsider, setting up their upcoming match. Okabayashi responded by asserting his status as champion, putting the belt in front of the challenger’s face, in a not so babyface-like manner, taunting the young challenger.
During the semi-main event of the latest GRAND SLAM event on June 9th, Okabayashi and Yoshida were on opposite sides, and the tension was palpable between the champion and the challenger. Lots of talking, attacks while not being the legal men in the match, and of course, some intense interactions when they were. In all honesty, I would tell you one preview match isn’t enough to build the title match up, in the sense that these two are really putting effort in to make their match feel big and important. As I just typed, the tension is indeed palpable and it would only be better if they were to clash once or twice more prior to July 5th. Sadly, the current circumstances with the virus prevent promotions from running too many shows so far.

Now that pretty much all you need to know in the veil of this match has been put to light, let’s discuss the potential end result. Can Ayato Yoshida vanquish one of the biggest (there again, literally) obstacles he ever had to face in his young career to cement himself as the future of 2AW ? Or will Okabayashi keep on reigning supreme ?
This is rather hard to say, as both men could very well leave the 2AW Chiba Square with the belt, and it wouldn’t be shocking. However, let’s still make a case for both guys. For Yoshida, like alluded to prior, him winning the Openweight championship would be heavily symbolic in more ways than one. He is the one portrayed as the next man to stand against the invader, the overwhelmingly powerful champion that is Okabayashi. He is “2AW no mirai” (which means future for those who have no notions of Japanese), to quote the Samurai TV lead commentator, the Next Generation Ace. This next GRAND SLAM event will also be the event celebrating 2AW’s first anniversary, the first event in front of fans since Asakawa and Okabayashi collided in Korakuen Hall. There is legitimate symbolic in the young future Ace of the promotion winning the title from the dominant outsider holding the belt he is ultimately destined to win. Even more so when it’ll be the first time fans can be in attendance again, at a time of celebration.
Now, there also is a legitimate reason as to why Okabayashi could absolutely retain. When we look at the people Okabayashi has yet to defend the Openweight title against, one name pops out instantly : Kengo Mashimo. The former 6 times STRONGEST-K champion, Ace of Kaientai Dojo for most of his career and, arguably, a Japanese indie legend at this point. Mashimo returned to his home promotion, now rebranded, last March, and has been kept away from the top title ever since. Assuming Yoshida isn’t crowned champion on July 5th, we could very well see Kengo Mashimo come out and be the next one to try and take down Okabayashi, in a clash of titans. These two men never collided one on one before, and what better way to keep raising the title’s growing prestige than booking such a big match while it is still possible ?

Now, Mashimo could very well be the next challenger even if Yoshida manages to become champion. These two are no stranger to each other and there is also tension to build around for an eventual title match, which would also greatly raise the title’s prestige, if it were to happen. In regards to them facing off, in their three singles matches during the K-Dojo era, Mashimo always picked up the win over Yoshida, most notable retaining the STRONGEST-K title in 2017, and winning the Kaioh tournament in 2018.

The very last thing I would like to quickly touch upon in regards to this match is making a bit of parallel between Ayato Yoshida and Takuya Nomura. You might remember Nomura facing Okabayashi for the BJW World Strong Heavyweight title last year, in a match which is considered to be one of the best of 2019. That match kept elevating Nomura to the status of future star besides the loss, not only within his own promotion, but within the entire realm of Japanese wrestling. Could Yoshida, who will be facing the same man Nomura faced a year ago, benefit in similar ways by providing a breakout performance of some sort ? Could this match end up being one of the best of 2020 ?
I know I believe in the positive answer to both of those questions.

In the end, when it comes to this match, one thing is really certain : It will be a top notch wrestling match between one of the best wrestlers in the world, and one of the best rising stars in Japan. What are your thoughts regarding this match ? Do you think Yoshida will become 2AW Openweight champion ? Or do you think Okabayashi keeps on reigning as the dominant invader ?

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