|Quotes • Headscratchers • Playing With • Useful Notes • Analysis • Image Links • Haiku • Laconic|
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 & Geni'ichiro 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 Heel such as "Dr. Death" Steve Williams, Johnny Ace, Gary Albright and Big Van Vader. 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 Mutoh, who spent the entire 2000s decade trying to drag the company out of the financial hole created by Misawa's departure.
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 TRAU assaulted Super Hate backstage at a All Japan Pro Wrestling show, which led to Super Hate suffering a stroke after competing in a match.
All Japan Womens Pro Wrestling was a separate organisation.
Tropes associated with All-Japan Pro Wrestling:
- 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 his only Five-Star matches were tag bouts involving the others. He still had some classics, but they were never on the level of the singles combos of the other three.
- Author Avatar: Keiji Mutoh and Giant Baba
- The 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.
- Foreign Wrestling Heel: The "Gaijin", or "Foreigners", including 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.
- 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.
- Lensman Arms Race: One of the bigger victims (after the U.S. indie scene). 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 are near-crippled as well.
- Writing Around Trademarks: Big Daddy Voodoo