Next month, assuming it doesn’t also get cancelled, All Japan Pro Wrestling will hold the Champion Carnival ! 10 wrestlers will take part in the tournament this year, all the way from September 12th to October 5th, with potential favourite Naoya Nomura still not ready to enter the field.
Without any further ado, let’s dive into this preview !
Just in case you are stumbling upon this article wondering what the Champion Carnival is and how it works, here is a quick rundown :
Just like New Japan’s G1 Climax, the Carnival sees its participants placed in two blocks, here of five wrestlers (which is much less than usual) facing each other once, due to the specific circumstances. The two men finishing at the top of each block face each other in the final in order to determine the winner. A win grants two points, a draw grants one and a loss leaves you empty.
The winner, if not the current Triple Crown champion, gets a title match against said champion.
Got it ? Well then, let’s dive into both blocks !
A block :
- Jiro « Ikemen » Kuroshio (Freelancer), 1st entry
We’re kicking this off with someone who will most likely « play spoiler » here in the A block, in the Ikemen himself. In a block filled with very serious competitors, Jiro brings his more comedic shtick on the table, making you wonder how he will impact the block. Hard to expect him make many waves, but don’t be surprised if ends up catching someone off guard and take two points away from somebody who needs them !
Key match-ups : Suwama, Jake Lee, Zeus.
- Zeus, 7th entry, 2016 finalist
Here we have somebody in dire need for big singles momentum in Zeus. The most prominent member of Purple Haze, which has had a hard time taking over so far, will look to make it back to the final, with the intent of winning it all this time around. The added motivation of having a direct confrontation with Triple Crown champion will help, as beating Suwama alone could grant Zeus a ticket back in the top title scene.
One thing we could be wondering about is whether or not Zeus will require any kind of outside help from, let’s say, Izanagi.
Key match-ups : Suwama, Jake Lee, Kuma Arashi.
- Suwama, 15th entry, 2008 winner, 2006, 2012, 2015 finalist, World Tag Team Champion, Triple Crown Champion
By far the most experience man in the whole tournament, Suwama would be an even bigger favourite to win the block if he hadn’t defeated Kento Miyahara for the Triple Crown title on March 23rd. But that fact, adding to other people being in diminish his case. Now, the leader of Evolution and « Five Crown King » should still deliver bangers left and right, and whoever manages to beat him could earn a shot at the Triple Crown down the road.
Key match-ups : Jake Lee, Zeus, Jiro Kuroshio, Kuma Arashi.
- Jake Lee, 4th entry, 2019 finalist
Jake comes off two failed title challenges against Miyahara and looks to get back on track, so, of course he’s a favourite to go back to the final, with the intent of winning there this time. However, making the final again would almost have to guarantee a tournament win as well as becoming Triple Crown champion. With Suwama now being the champion, this changes things for Jake Lee, as another path to becoming champion just opened up. Now, Jake has only won once against Suwama before (during last year’s Royal Road tournament, which he ended up winning), and he will have to beat him twice to become champion. Can Jake Lee repeat what he did last year ?
Key match-ups : Suwama, Zeus, Jiro Kuroshio.
- Kuma Arashi (Freelancer), 1st appearance
Lastly, the other man which could play spoiler in the block, but also someone who could heavily benefit purely by looking great against Suwama, Zeus and Lee, is Enfants Terribles’ Kuma Arashi. Like Kuroshio, you probably shouldn’t expect him to finish high in that A block, but expect him have a really good run, even in defeat, and likely put on some really, really good performances along the way.
Key match-ups : Suwama, Jake Lee, Zeus.
B block :
- Shotaro Ashino (Freelancer), 1st entry
Moving on to the first man in the B block, and the man who bursted right into the All Japan landscape this year : The former WRESTLE-1 top figure Shotaro Ashino. Likely looking for some momentum back following the loss to Suwama, this tournament is the perfect opportunity for Ashino to keep cementing himself as one of the top figures in the company moving forward.
By the looks of things, he is the favourite to come out of the B block.
Key match-ups : Kento Miyahara, Shuji Ishikawa Yuma Aoyagi, Yoshitatsu.
- Yoshitatsu, 3rd entry, GAORA TV Champion
Next is a man ruling over his own kingdom, possessing the GAORA TV prize, Yoshitatsu. Is there much to expect from Tatsu in the tournament ? Probably not besides a potential upset win to prevent one of the favourites from advancing, but the matches themselves should be pretty good, which is all we will ask for.
Key match-ups : Kento Miyahara, Yuma Aoyagi, Shotaro Ashino.
- Kento Miyahara, 7th entry, 2018 finalist, 2019 winner
Next is the defending Carnival winner and former Triple Crown champion, the best of the best, Kento Miyahara. Obviously THE guy to beat in the B block, everyone else will look to take advantage as Kento, since losing the title to Suwama, has been going in a different direction, so he may not be as big of a favourite to make the final as he could have been. Still, defeating Kento won’t be an easy task for anybody looking specifically for a win against him.
Key match-ups : Shotaro Ashino, Yuma Aoyagi, Shuji Ishikawa.
- Shuji Ishikawa, 4th entry, World Tag Team Champion, 2017 winner
Here we have the other half of the World tag team champs, who just fell short from winning the Triple Crown against his partner Suwama, Shuji Ishikawa. This field may allow the All Japan’s resident grizzly bear to sneak back in the final, and he looks like the big scarecrow to defeat besides Miyahara.
Key match-ups : Shotaro Ashino, Kento Miyahara, Yuma Aoyagi.
- Yuma Aoyagi, 2nd entry
Lastly, someone who has everything to prove in the tournament, Yuma Aoyagi. For his second entry, Aoyagi has a nice opportunity to cement himself as part of the top players in All Japan. The rematches against Kento and Ashino are ones to anticipate, and you can bet that Yuma will look to get one really big win over one of these two, at the very least !
Key match-ups : Kento Miyahara, Shotaro Ashino, Yoshitatsu.
Must-see matches :
- Suwama vs Kuma Arashi ~ 12.09
- Kento Miyahara vs Yoshitatsu ~ 12.09
- Suwama vs Jiro Kuroshio ~ 13.09
- Zeus vs Kuma Arashi ~ 13.09
- Yuma Aoyagi vs Shotaro Ashino ~ 13.09
- Suwama vs Jake Lee ~ 15.09
- Kento Miyahara vs Shotaro Ashino ~ 15.09
- Suwama vs Zeus ~ 21.09
- Jake Lee vs Kuma Arashi ~ 21.09
- Kento Miyahara vs Yuma Aoyagi ~ 21.09
- Shuji Ishikawa vs Shotaro Ashino ~ 21.09
- Zeus vs Jake Lee ~ 26.09
- Kento Miyahara vs Shuji Ishikawa ~ 26.09
Val’s prediction :
I wouldn’t dare say that the tournament, with such a reduced field, is that much easier to predict, or at least try to, compared to the original field… But it doesn’t seem impossible to see where things could go. First things, let’s discuss the two block winners.
For the A block, the battle lies between Zeus and Jake Lee. These two are in need of momentum when it comes to singles competition. On one hand, Purple Haze still needs to truly assert themselves as a dominant group, and their leader making it to the Carnival final would help in that sense. On the other hand, JIN is the uprising « face » faction at the moment, and with Naoya Nomura out, there is only Jake Lee to do something big for them.
In terms of story, both men hold losing records against Suwama, which they will have to beat in order to make the final, so it is easy to assume that whoever doesn’t beat the current Triple Crown champion will then chase from behind, as Lee’s match is on the 15th, and Zeus’ on the 21st. The two will face each other on the 26th, so this should be the deciding match. Now, who do I think will advance ? Jake Lee, for a rather simple reason which will be detailled later on.
Moving on to the B block, I wish there was somebody I could truly believe in besides Shotaro Ashino. I guess Shuji Ishikawa could make a run, and there would be something rather interesting to tell if he were to face Jake Lee, but let’s stick with the hottest man in All Japan in Ashino. The leader of Enfants Terribles needs to bounce back following his hot start, which was stopped by Suwama last June. In a block where he’ll get to face the likes of Miyahara, Ishikawa or Aoyagi, Ashino seems in the perfect spot to claim the B block, and reach the Carnival final in his first participation. That alone, even if he were to lose to the A block winner, would be a big accomplishment and indicative of the bright future we are all imagining for him in All Japan.
Based off what I just typed, my predicted final match-up would be Jake Lee vs Shotaro Ashino, and I like to think this is the perfect match-up you can have. While Ashino has been butting heads with every single All Japan top stars, very few have had more intense moments with him than Jake Lee, while still not having a singles match together. Ashino has faced Suwama and Aoyagi, and will get to face Miyahara and Ishikawa in his block matches. The last available name on his hit-list should be Lee.
As for Lee himself, he has been taken by surprise by Ashino in tag matches, and JIN took a few losses to Enfants Terribles early on. You can bet that not only Lee will be motivated to make the final again, but the prospect on getting one over Ashino is something you might not wish to overlook.
Lastly, to give out a winner, mine would be Jake Lee. Obviously because, with the prospect of a match with Ashino, he would have a real drive to win, and make a point of not taking his opponent lightly. Also, the fact Suwama is the current champion pleads in Lee’s favour quite a lot. Evolution and JIN (also back when it was Sweeper) have been butting heads for a long while now, yet there hasn’t been a truly big match to capitalize on this feud between factions, and their leaders. Suwama did face both Lee and Nomura in last year’s Carnival, but he never faced them for the Triple Crown, so a Lee vs Suwama match for the championship would make sense to keep elevating this rivalry, especially with a potential momentum shifting block match happening on September 15th.
Now, to make a case for Ashino, winning the Carnival would mean a quick rematch with Suwama. That would be interesting and indicative of the will to push Ashino to the moon, by, most likely, having him win the title. That, just like a potential Jake Lee title reign, would provide for interesting stories to tell in the future.
Assuming we do get Lee and Suwama for the Triple Crown next, it is hard to think Jake Lee wouldn’t be your winner. He has been losing all his Triple Crown matches, which were all against Miyahara, and the momentum provided by the Carnival win (especially with a first over the champion in the tournament) could be enough to propel Lee as the next Triple Crown champion.
While Suwama as champion has yet to take part in all the potential stories he could be involved in, especially with someone like Ashino, the build has been there for longer with Jake, and him as champion will provide for very interesting stories to tell. What will happen once Naoya Nomura returns ? When will Jake and Kento clash again over the title ? Could Jake beat Kento with the roles reversed ?