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AJPW Champion Carnival preview: TOTAL ECLIPSE

All Japan Pro Wrestling’s annual Champion Carnival gets underway this Friday in Osaka. Last year’s tournament originally had a stellar lineup, including outsiders like Takashi Sugiura, KAI, & Davey Boy Smith Jr., but had to be altered due to the pandemic. What we ended up getting was the most disappointing major Japanese round robin tournament in years.

This year’s Carnival looks to be a different story, with a greatly improved cast of competitors compared with last year’s, and a single block lineup ensuring loads of exciting matches. With some major realignments in 2021, including Jake Lee’s brand new heel stable, TOTAL ECLIPSE, Shotaro Ashino’s heel turn, and Violent Giants breaking up, this year’s Carnival looks to set the tone for AJPW going forward. Here’s my breakdown of the tournament chances for all ten competitors.


The current Triple Crown champion has held the title for over a year. He’s had an underrated reign, despite his clear aging. While his defenses feel copy-and-paste, they’re consistently enjoyable.

Whomever wins the tournament will almost certainly defeat Suwama for the Triple Crown. Because of this, and because Suwama’s already champion, he has almost no chance of winning this tournament. However, look closely at who he beats and loses to get a sense of who might challenge him next. It works the other way, too: if Suwama defeats Kento Miyahara or Yuma Aoyagi, look for he and Shotaro Ashino to challenge for the tag titles.

Likelihood of winning: Low

Kento Miyahara

It has been a quiet year for Miyahara. After losing the Triple Crown to Suwama last March, he had a nice run in the previous Carnival before winning the tag titles in January. We have had a sore lack of Miyahara singles matches recently, so this Carnival will be a great opportunity to see him in form.

Miyahara is AJPW’s top star. As such, you can never truly count him out of a tournament like this, similar to Kazuchika Okada in New Japan. And he’s a current tag team champion. He will almost certainly finish near the top of the standings and is as good a bet as anyone to reach the finals. But him winning the whole thing would be more surprising than you might think.

Likelihood of winning: Low

Yuma Aoyagi

The other tag champion in the NEXTREAM partnership is Aoyagi. He’s been pushed extra this year, submitting Suwama to win the tag titles with Miyahara back in January before doing the same to Zeus in a title defense last month. Unfortunately, I think his push is also what prevents him from being a likely Triple Crown winner. He’s already challenged Suwama this year. And it would be surprising to see AJPW go back to the “double champ” status so soon after breaking up Violent Giants.

Like his partner Kento Miyahara, I expect Aoyagi to finish high in the standings of this tournament. More than winning it, however, I’m interested NEXTREAM will lose to, which will set up tag team championship matches for the rest of the year.

Likelihood of winning: Low


Arguably, AJPW’s five top stars are Zeus, Suwama, Miyahara, Aoyagi, and Jake Lee. Of the five, Zeus feels like the most aimless. He was dominant in winning last year’s Carnival, but failed in his customary Triple Crown challenge. The stable that backs him up isn’t strong at all.

Zeus can be a transcendent, one-of-a-kind wrestler in the right position. His matches with Miyahara are almost always excellent. But without a “to the moon” style of push, he’ll lose momentum quickly. He should have a strong showing in the tournament, though. Look for a surprise loss to Koji Doi to set up an All Asia tag title defense in the future.

Likelihood of winning: Low

Shuji Ishikawa

Despite what some fans have said, Ishikawa’s aging is much more apparent than Suwama’s. He doesn’t move that well anymore, evidenced in his long deathmatch with Jun Kasai last month. Something to keep in mind is his longtime association with Kohei Sato as Twin Towers. It’s easy to see those two partnering up to work towards a tag title match later this year.

Unfortunately, the current GAORA TV champion is not going to win the Carnival and challenge for the Triple Crown.

Likelihood of winning: Nonexistent

Jake Lee

The hottest wrestler in AJPW right nowis Lee, whose new TOTAL ECLIPSE stable has given him an edge that many felt he was missing. Lee’s always been talented, but was also portrayed as a notch below AJPW’s true top stars. I believe that changes with this year’s Carnival, as Lee is without a doubt the most logical choice to win the tournament and end Suwama’s reign.

It feels like the TOTAL ECLIPSE story is what was meant to be told with the Enfants Terribles invasion last year. Unfortunately, due to the uncertainty of the pandemic, there’s a possibility that AJPW’s bookers pulled the plug on a potential heel champion. We haven’t had a first-time Triple Crown champion since Shuji Ishikawa in 2017. That streak will be broken after this tournament and Lee’s eventual title victory.

Likelihood of winning: High

Shotaro Ashino

The Lee-Ashino double turn made all the sense in the world, as both men badly needed a character shakeup. The AJPW faithful clearly respect Ashino for his work during the pandemic, as evidenced by their ovation after his failed Triple Crown challenge in February. No longer having to lead a stop-and-start heel stable, Ashino is free to be the strong style prodigy he showed he could be in Wrestle-1.

Ashino is the closest thing we have to a dark horse in this. He has a special rivalry with Lee that’s ready-made, plus has a unique relationship with Suwama, the current Triple Crown champion. It would not shock me to see him make it to the tournament finals, nor would it surprise me if he beat Lee on Night One of the tournament. But Ashino having three title challenges in the span of a year feels too much, especially compared with Lee’s storyline.

Likelihood of winning: Low

Koji Doi

Doi is the freshest face in this year’s tournament, somebody who really has yet to receive any sort of extended spotlight in a major promotion. He’s clearly this year’s Kuma Arashi-equivalent, the heavy heel who will lose most of his matches. However, I think Doi is a better wrestler than Arashi, and makes more sense as a stable’s #2 man, backing up LEE in TOTAL ECLIPSE.

It’s not controversial to say Doi won’t win this tournament. The more interesting things to look at will be his match quality and if he picks up any major upsets along the way.

Likelihood of winning: Nonexistent

Kohei Sato

As a regular for Zero1 over the years, Sato has one of the biggest chances of his career at 44 years old in this year’s Carnival. He doesn’t really work like anyone else in this tournament. He’s a technical brawler who is unafraid to bleed or throw headbutts. Whether he busts those out or not is something to look out for.

Sato challenged for Suwama’s Triple Crown championship earlier this year in a mildly disappointing effort. For Sato to stand out, he really needs to bring the violence, because his look and presence aren’t that of a superstar performer. He will get a chance on night 1 with a big-time main event against Suwama once again. Because Sato already challenged for the title this year, he won’t win the Carnival.

Likelihood of winning: Nonexistent

Shinjiro Otani

The most surprising entrant in this year’s Carnival is Zero1 co-founder, Otani. He’s not winning the tournament, but as a Zero1 guest, would he be content to go, say, 3–6 throughout this tournament? To me, Otani beating any wrestler in this tournament other than Doi would be an upset.

Otani can still work wonderfully at 48 years old. He had a great match with Hayato Tamura at Zero1’s anniversary show this year. I look forward to to him in the tournament this year.

Likelihood of winning: Nonexistent

Overall, this feels like an easy tournament to predict. I would be floored if Jake Lee doesn’t win the Carnival and take the Triple Crown from Suwama.

Predicted Standings:

Jake Lee – 12 points (6-3 W/L record) (WINNER)
Kento Miyahara – 12 (6-3) (runner-up)
Yuma Aoyagi – 10 (5-4)
Suwama – 10 (5-4)
Zeus – 10 (5-4)
Shotaro Ashino – 10 (5-4)
Kohei Sato – 8 (4-5)
Shuji Ishikawa – 8 (4-5)
Shinjiro Otani – 6 (3-6)
Koji Doi – 4 (2-7)

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