All Japan Pro Wrestling was one of two wrestling promotions (the other being New Japan Pro Wrestling
) to split off from the JWA in the 1970s
. All Japan was established in 1972. It competed with NJPW for supremacy in the wrestling field, employing a more "real sport"-based approach to professional wrestling storylines than NJPW's more WWE-like "sports entertainment" atmosphere (although, ironically, everything else about the promotion, primarily the wrestling style, was much more westernized than New Japan). It was run by Giant Baba, who as booker gained a reputation for his ability to slowly but surely build talent up into superstars.
AJPW was known for having a relatively small ensemble of top wrestlers at any given time: The 1980s
were defined by the wars between the teams of Jumbo Tsuruta
& Genichiro Tenryu
against Riki Choshu in the heavyweight division, with some spectacular showings in the junior heavyweight division by Tiger Mask II, a talented wrestler who was given the Tiger Mask gimmick recently bought from NJPW. American superstar Stan Hansen
installed himself as a main eventer, and remains a huge celebrity in Japan to this day
. AJPW also had a deal with the American organization NWA, so hometown hero Jumbo had numerous opportunities to churn out classic matches with American greats like Harley Race
, Ric Flair
and Ricky Steamboat
. After Choshu left for NJPW, Jumbo and Tenryu began feuding with each other in a series of classics.
, however, are the best-remembered era of AJPW. After Tenryu jumped ship (to the short-lived Super World Sports, which cross-promoted with the WWF but ultimately failed; Tenryu never returned to AJPW while Baba was alive), Giant Baba had Tiger Mask II dramatically unmask and enter the heavyweight division under his real name, Mitsuharu Misawa
. Misawa took on the role of plucky underdog against Jumbo, and after Jumbo's health cut the feud short Misawa became the promotion's top star, with his former partner Toshiaki Kawada becoming his archenemy and foil. The extended feud of the 90's featuring Misawa and Kawada, alongside the supporting players Kenta Kobashi
, Akira Taue, and Jun Akiyama, led to a lengthy series of matches that are well-known for receiving copious five star ratings from Dave Meltzer
, wrestling's most popular critic.
The down side of all of this main event quality was that AJPW had a notoriously shallow roster. Misawa, Kobashi, Kawada, and Taue (also known as the "Four Pillars"
) were the top of the heap for an entire decade; in that time, Akiyama failed to satisfactorily break through to the top level. The main events were filled out by Foreign Wrestling Heels
such as Dr. Death Steve Williams
, Johnny Ace
, Gary Albright and Stan Hansen
. The undercard wrestlers and their matches were largely held to be very forgettable, and all of the Meltzer-endorsed classics involved some combination of Misawa, Kawada, Kobashi, Taue and Akiyama. Additionally, the promotion's later years started a Lensman Arms Race
of Finishing Moves
that is credited with kicking off the bigger-is-better attitude toward offense. While matches in the early 1990s were known for their epic storytelling, the late 1990s were characterized by death-defying falls on concrete and dangerous head drops (culminating in Kenta Kobashi's famous Burning Hammer, and eventually Misawa's death by broken neck on a botched move).
After Giant Baba's death in 1999, Misawa started his own promotion, Pro Wrestling NOAH
, and took all of the AJPW native roster with him except for Kawada and older veteran Fuchi. The company was eventually taken over by former NJPW star Keiji Muto
, who spent the entire 2000s decade
trying to drag the company out of the financial hole created by Misawa's departure. This era, called "Puroresu Love", saw the AJPW turn into a more sports entertainment-based company, getting working agreements with all sorts of merchandising sponsors and having part in bizarre experiments like the first WRESTLE-1 and the more successful HUSTLE
. It also featured a improvement in the dojo and a bigger openness in order to revitalize its roster, producing new talents and bringing freelancers from the independent circuit and abroad. Opinions aside about its quality, the Puroresu Love was a technically succesful era for AJPW, as it saved it from the closure and gave it back its place among the big promotions.
In 2011, Keiji Mutoh would resign his presidency of All Japan, and was suceed by Masayuki Uchida. Mutoh's decision to resign came after he took the blame for a real-life incident where TARU assaulted Super Hate backstage at a All Japan Pro Wrestling show, which led to Super Hate suffering a stroke after competing in a match.
2012 would see Mutoh sell the promotion to IT magnate Nobuo Shiraishi and his Speed Partners IT firm. After declaring himself company president ahead of schedule while Mutoh and others were on excursion to Canada, Shiraishi went on to publicly badmouth other wrestling promotions, a cardinal sin which alienated AJPW from the rest and left the company stuck for freelance talent. To make things worse, Mutoh took himself and his allies in the company to reform WRESTLE-1, with AJPW barely scraping together a roster after some deft freelance acquisitions, including the return of Akiyama, young star Go Shiozaki, and sumo legend Akebono Taro, among others. It couldn't stop the damage being done, however, and by 2013, the company was playing to audiences of 100-200 people outside of Tokyo.
The final straw for the relatively newly-minted roster, however, was Shiraishi's continued craziness and egocentrism, and its effect on business and the All Japan legacy, which led to Akiyama garnering Motoko Baba's support and financial backing in an unprecedented move, effectively seizing control of the operation as Shiraishi was preparing to declare bankruptcy. All Japan Pro Wrestling relaunched in 2014 under its English name, after identifying itself as "Zen Nihon Puroresu" for 42 years, with Akiyama as president, and wrestlers like Suwama and Fuchi in directorial positions. The company now has the arduous task of rebuilding ahead of it, though recent renewals in crowd numbers and new sponsorships have revitalised it. Meanwhile, new talent acquisitions like Kento Miyahara and Yohei Nakajima have helped the company stay fresh and begin to plan for the future, as it attempts to emulate the legendary booking of Giant Baba.All Japan Womens Pro Wrestling
was a separate organisation.
Tropes associated with All-Japan Pro Wrestling:
- Ass Kicking Pose: Keiji Mutoh and his "Puroresu Love" stance.
- Author Avatar: Keiji Mutoh and Giant Baba.
- Bald of Awesome: Keiji Mutoh and Taiyo Kea.
- Big Bad: TARU.
- Big Damn Heroes: AHII during his debut.
- Big Fun: Yutaka Yoshie.
- The Brute: Big Daddy Voodoo.
- Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Hikaru Sato.
- Create Your Own Villain: It was rumored that the infamous one night wrestler Raja Lion (who was billed as a Pakistan karate champion) was actually some tall guy that Baba found working in a curry shop. This certainly would explain the subsequent match.
- Delinquent Hair: TAKA Michinoku during his heel run.
- Determinator: Kenta Kobashi's defining characteristic. He lost his first sixty-three matches as a rookie to define this, and even well into his prime, he would often lose matches only after sustaining twice as much punishment as was theoretically humanly possible.
- Expy: With his bald head, wrestling championships and high-impact moveset, Taiyo Kea is one to Kurt Angle. It helps that their faces are very look alike.
- Faceless Goons: Voodoo Mask, played by three different wrestlers.
- Facial Markings: Kamala, the Great Kabuki, Kamala II, The Road Warriors
- Fat Bastard: Ryota Hama as a heel.
- Five-Bad Band: Voodoo Murders, in its beginning.
- Foreign Wrestling Heel: The "Gaijin", or "Foreigners", including Abdullah the Butcher, Bruiser Brody, Steve Williams and Stan Hansen, who were also all Monster Heels.
- Recent Foreign Wrestling Heels that have wrestled for All Japan inculde René Duprée, Big Daddy Voodoo and the late Lance Cade.
- Fragile Speedster: AHII.
- Follow the Leader
- Ring of Honor openly admitted to drawing heavily from All Japan's round robins for its own Field Of Honor and Round Robin Challenge events.
- A bizarre unsuccesful example. In 2012, New Japan Pro Wrestling's new MMA-loving owner Kidani forced the team Laughter7 to the roster to give some shoot-style flair to the company; unsurprisingly, the stunt failed and Kidani had to back down from his position. A year later, All Japan Pro Wrestling's new MMA-loving owner Shiraishi proclaimed he would turn AJPW into shoot-style and would mix it MMA; unsurprisingly, the idea was rejected by everybody and Shiraishi had to (partially) back down from his position. Even Kidani himself called at the move.
- Game-Breaking Injury: Akebono didn't just beat Low Ki, he nearly ended his career for real
- Gentle Giant: Giant Baba, the legendary and beloved late owner of AJPW. As Mick Foley once stated, it looked like his moves couldn't break an egg, and the real person was said to be serious, but never cold and calculating like his rival Antonio Inoki.
- The Giant: Giant Baba, of course. Later, the sumo legend Akebono and Big Daddy V
- Jerkass: Minoru Suzuki, in a self parody of himself.
- Jobber: Nobutaka Araya had a long career in the low card.
- Lensman Arms Race: AJPW was one of the bigger victims (after the U.S. indie scene) during the development of the King's Road wrestling style. After the original finishers "wore off" and guys started recovering from them more quickly, newer, more devastating finishers had to be invented. Then another generation came out. Mitsuharu Misawa likely died because of extended usage of this, and the rest of the main eventers from then are near-crippled as well.
- Lightning Bruiser: Shuji Kondo and Suwama.
- Made of Iron: Yoshihiro Takayama.
- Masked Luchador: Mil Mascaras, Dr. Wagner Jr., El Olimpico, Dos Caras Jr.
- Mighty Glacier: Akebono isn't exactly fast, or even particularly high of stamina. You want to take a count out victory/loss, that may be your only option. Also Ryota Hama.
- My Friends... and Zoidberg: Akira Taue. Misawa, Kobashi & Kawada are all workrate legends for their famed abilities in the ring. Taue, by contrast, was merely above average, and often looked clumsy and ungainly in the ring compared to the others. He's well-known as the least-gifted of the four, and most of his Five-Star matches were tag bouts involving the others (in fact, every single one of them, including his lone one-on-one Fiver, involved Misawa). He still had some classics, but they were never on the level of the singles combos of the other three.
- Non-Action Big Bad: TARU. Although he wrestled regularly, his in-ring work used to be just doing cheapshots and coordinating the run-ins of his pals.
- Real Song Theme Tune:
- Something Completely Different: Masakatsu Funaki and Minoru Tanaka, as MMA-trained shoot wrestlers, had a fighting style divergent from the traditional one found in AJPW.
- Take That: At the same time New Japan runs its World Tag League, All Japan runs its Real World Tag League. Coincidence?
- Unstoppable Force Meets Immovable Object: Until Keiji Mutoh's era, All Japan was a predominantly heavyweight company, and used to feature them and superheavyweights pitted against each other. The fact that its founder was Giant Baba makes it more clear.
- Akebono and Big Daddy Voodoo were similarly gigantic wrestlers from opposite factions, and clashed several times, with Akebono pinning him most of the times.
- In 1987, Baba faced a fellow giant, Pakistani karateka Raja Lion, in a Different Style Fight. Luckily for the crowd, Baba won the fight by submission.
- Vocal Dissonance: Mr. 450 and especially Low Ki have voices much deeper than their relatively small frames would suggest.
- Writing Around Trademarks: Big Daddy Voodoo.
- You Go Girl: Hosted the first ever women's professional wrestling match in Taiwan between Makoto and Cheerleader Melissa.