All Japan Pro Wrestling (AJPW) was one of two wrestling promotions (the other being New Japan Pro-Wrestling) to split off from the Japan Pro Wrestling Alliance (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 presentation and angles than NJPW's more WWE-like "sports entertainment" atmosphere (although, ironically, everything else about the promotion, primarily the wrestling style, was much more Americanized than New Japan). It was co founded by Akio Sato and Giant Baba, the latter of whom gained a reputation as a booker 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.
The 1990s, 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).
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 Mutoh, 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 successful era for AJPW, as it saved it from the closure and gave it back its place among the big promotions.
In 2011, Mutoh would resign his presidency of All Japan, and was succeeded 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 Women's Pro-Wrestling was a separate organisation.
Tropes associated with All-Japan Pro Wrestling:
- Ass Kicking Pose: Keiji Mutoh and his "Puroresu Love" stance.
- Ass Kicks You: 1979 dojo graduate Shiro Koshinaka was the first known male in puroresu to adapt the diving hip attack.
- Author Avatar: Keiji Mutoh, Akio Sato and Giant Baba.
- B Show: B-Banquet is the catch all B show for all All Japan, although there are more specific examples, such as Samurai TV having Royal Road Club as a B show to King's Road.
- Bald of Awesome: Keiji Mutoh and Taiyo Kea.
- Big Bad: TARU. One might expect it not to be the case with the Voodoo Murders, given Big Daddy Voodoo but not, still TARU.
- Big Damn Heroes: AHII during his debut, which wasn't expected, given his rough appearance.
- Big Fun: Yutaka Yoshie, as opposed to the meaner Big Daddy Voodoo or (usually)more serious Akebono.
- Big Good: Giant Baba increasingly became viewed as such as his in ring career wound down. With his passing Mokoto is often looked to as such, even when she isn't actually running things.
- The Brute: Big Daddy Voodoo for the Voodoo Murders.
- Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Your half of the All Asia Tag Team Champions, Hikaru Sato. Alright, he wrestles in cat ears but same principle
- Character Overlap: Bad Ass Translate Trading(BATT) was a Power Stable whose membership included both All Japan and New Japan pro wrestlers and rose up a year after Masanobu Fuchi had promised to "knock down the walls" between them.
- Charlie Brown from Outta Town: Kazushige Nosawa lost a "banishment match" to Mazada, not long after his 2005 return to all Japan. Then "Space Lone Wolf" would appear, only to be unmasked in December to reveal, NOSAWA!
- Commuting on a Bus: Despite being one of the founders of the company, and having and 18 month tag team title reign with Takashi Ishikawa, the large majority of Akio Sato's wrestling career was spent in foreign countries, mostly popping in and out of All Japan.
- 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.
- Crossover: The roster was apart of GAORA 20th Anniversary ~ Super Fighting Spirit 2011 along with Dragon Gate's and wrestlers representing Oz Academy.
- Dark Is Not Evil: Don't let the rib bones, black, red and horns fool you, AHII's a pretty nice dude.
- 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.
- Dreadlock Warrior: Kareteka Willie Williams
- Everything's Better with Samurai: The "Samurai Japan" stable, which oddly from a Japanese promotion on had one Japanese man among it's members, MAZADA. TANAKA was Mexican while AKIYOSHI (also known as Super Kendo) and YAMADA were from the Dominican Republic.
- Evil Makeover: Nobukazu Hirai's transformation into Hate, though as said, he doesn't look any worse that AHII, who is a good guy
- Yoshihiro Tajiri and The Great Muta are both expies of the Great Kabuki. Muta did it first, did it much more closely and added much more to the gimmick, the point there ended up being more Muta expies than Kabuki expies but he was still impressed enough with Tajiri to form a tag team with him.
- With his bald head, wrestling championship wins and high-impact moves, 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.
- Foreign Wrestling Heel
- The "Gaijin", or "Foreigners"(more accurately "Outsiders"), including Abdullah the Butcher, Bruiser Brody, Steve Williams and Stan Hansen, who were also all Monster Heels.
- Terry Funk, Dory Funk Jr. and Mil Máscaras were pioneers in that they were major gaijins who underwent heel face turns that stuck.
- Later Foreign Wrestling Heels that have wrestled for All Japan inculde René Duprée, Big Daddy Voodoo and the late Lance Cade.
- 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 unsuccessful example. In 2012, New Japan Pro Wrestling's new MMA-loving owner Kidani forced the team Laughter 7 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.
- Fully Absorbed Finale: The Unified Triple Crown Heavyweight Title was created in 1989 after NWA International champion Jumbo Tsuruta, beat Stan Hansen, who already held both the Pacific Wrestling Federation Heavyweight Title and NWA United National Title. The three belts would then be replaced by one.
- Game-Breaking Injury: Akebono didn't just beat Low Ki, he nearly ended his career for real
- Game of Nerds: Known to recruit fairly heavily from baseball. The fact that Giant Baba was a baseball player before becoming a pro wrestler likely has nothing to do with this.
- 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, the even larger Butch Masters and the even larger André the Giant. Later, the sumo legend Akebono and Big Daddy V
- Gondor Calls for Aid: After Misawa and 92% of the native wrestlers of All Japan announced they would be in NOAH full time after Summer Action Series 2000, Mokoto Baba announced that Genichiro Tenryu, whom Giant Baba had barred from the promotion before he died, would be returning and when he did, he closed down WAR and brought the promotion's roster with him.
- Gratuitous Spanish: 'Los Mexico Amigos' and the various incarnations of the stable, where several All Japan Wrestlers took up "Lucha Libre" gimmicks or otherwise (poorly) disguised themselves with masks. "Viva Mexico!"
- Greater-Scope Paragon: Initially it was The Pacific Wrestling Federation, a governing body behind all AJPW title matches, including defenses of titles brought in from overseas. However the PWF was downgraded after All Japan joined the National Wrestling Alliance and deferred to their board of directors.
- Horny Vikings: Played with by Cyber Viking, whose horns were curved enough that he wouldn't have to worry about accidentally goring anyone on a ship (or in a wrestling match) and who looked more like a knight than anything.
- Irony No one was happy about the Bruiser Brody situation in WWC, All Japan guys least of all, but morality aside the loss of foreign talent that resulted and nearly killed that company didn't teach All Japan, who nearly fell into the same booking complacency. It ended up being an unexpected loss of local talents that almost did AJPW in though.
- 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.
- Lesser Star: 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.
- Licensed Game
- Zen-Nippon Pro Wrestling, aka Natsume Championship Wrestling.
- Virtual Pro Wrestling was billed as a WCW series but the "Empire Wrestling Federation" section of the roster is made up of All Japan wrestlers. Empire was supposed to be a Bland-Name Product but was in actuality the name of a real pro wrestling company in California USA, whom Japanese promotions would recruit from after WCW went under.
- All Japan is among the companies the King Of Colosseum series pools for its rosters.
- Lightning Bruiser: Shuji Kondo and Suwama.
- Made of Iron: Yoshihiro Takayama.
- Masked Luchador: Mil Mascaras, Dr. Wagner Jr., El Olimpico, Dos Caras Jr.
- Mecha-Mooks: Robo Hayashi and ROBO Michinoku
- 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.
- New Year Has Come: New Year Giant Series and the New Year NWA Series. The latter stopped, predictably, after AJPW left the NWA.
- 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.
- Paint It Black: Los Mexico Amigos to Mexico Amigos Black, one of the things they changed in an effort to recruit Minoru Suzuki. Suzuki himself inverts this, going white when he wants to get serious.
- Paper-Thin Disguise: While members of "Los Mexico Amigos" had trained in the country, some of them tried to pass themselves off as actual Mexicans. Not even the other wrestlers were really fooled.
- TARU as "The Great Ruta". As to be expected, he was no match for the real thing.
- In 2007, All Japan did a series of shows that parodied The Inoki Genome Federation.
- Power Trio: Minoru Gundan started as one between Kazushige Nosawa, Mazada and of course, Minoru Suzuki
- 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?
- Tournament Arc: Their best known singles competition is the round robin known as the Champion Carnival, where the winner receives a shot at the Triple Crown belt. The tag league variations could be considered better known if not for the fact a few other companies run them since they're all following the JWA.
- Training from Hell: Minoru Suzuki kidnapped "El Nosawa Mendoza" in 2007, partially for the purposes of this trope and partially to force him to give up the "Mexico Amigos Black" gimmick.
- Truce Zone: Somehow or another they can manage to get mobs full of wrestlers who hate each other to pose peacefully while pictures are taken.
- Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny: Mutoh's declaration of war against Shinya Hashimoto and Pro Wrestling ZERO1.
- 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.
- White Mask of Doom: Giant Baba's on and off rival/tag team partner The Destroyer enjoyed a twenty year run living up to his namesake in AJWP. Midway through his run he was joined on the roster by Dr. Wagner, who also went after Baba.
- 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, after having introduced them via six person tag match more obviously pitting Último Dragón and BUSHI against Dark Dragon and Black Bushi.