Dawn of the Aoyagi Era
When people think of modern day All Japan wrestlers it’s a pretty good bet that the first wrestler that comes to mind is Kento Miyahara. He is the ace after all, so it makes sense. Other wrestlers could be Suwama, Jake Lee and maybe even Shuji Ishikawa. But another name is emerging as a popular All Japan wrestler. Someone who it looks like the Triple Crown Championship is in his not-so-distant future. And that person is Yuma Aoyagi.
Yuma has had a pretty fortunate career so far. He joined the All Japan Dojo on the 1st of April 2014 and made his debut on the 14th of December the same year. Funnily enough his debut opponent was a man who would become an integral part of Yuma’s career, Kento Miyahara. He was decked out in rookie blue tights, but these were special as they belonged to Jun Akiyama who gifted them to Yuma.
He won the Tokyo Sports Newcomer Award in 2017 which include previous winner like Mitsuharu Misawa, Keiji Mutoh and Kenta Kobashi.
He joined Nextream with then tag team partner Naoya Nomura and things just went uphill from there. They won the All Asia Tag Team Titles twice, once in 2017 and once in 2018, and their popularity soared.
Nomura and Jake Lee left Nextream leaving Kento and Yuma the only members.
It’s no secret Yuma is my favourite wrestler. My twitter account is filled with GIFs of him and his Nextream faction mates and I’m all aboard the Yuma hype train. Hell, I could say I’m even the conductor of that train. To see him grow from someone who was just Kento’s sidekick to fully fledged main eventer has been a joy. But for me there were two matches in 2021 that showed his potential and got people talking about Yuma as a future leader of All Japan.
Birth of Evil Yuma
Before we get to 2021, we have to take it back one more year to 2020.
The first match in Yuma’s story didn’t even feature him. On the 3rd of January 2020 Kento defended his Triple Crown Championship against rival Jake Lee. Naoya Nomura was in Jake’s corner while Yuma was in Kento’s. At this point Kento was already well over the 400-day mark in his reign. It was a fierce battle with the match going just over 30 minutes. Kento eventually defeated Jake and picked up his 9th defence. After the match Yuma jumped into the ring and helped clasp the belt around Kento’s waist. But instead of moving to the side afterwards he grabbed the Triple Crown adorned waist and delivered a German suplex. The crowd, commentators and people watching at home were shocked. The camera crossed back to Yuma and on his face was a self-satisfied smile. He was happy. This was his time to make a name for himself and who better against than Kento. In his short shorts and long socks Yuma destroyed Nextream and his partnership with Kento.
Hero vs Sidekick
The stage was set. Yuma would have his first Triple Crown title match on day one of Excite series. A new Yuma came down to the ring that day. He had new gear and a new look. The crowd reacted positively to this change, they liked it.
Yuma walked around the ring before getting in. His hands were clasped together, – every now and then giving some audience members a thumbs up. He looked nervous, taking a couple of deep breaths. Kento on the other hand was ready. Big main event title matches are like second nature for him.
Once the bell rang a loud Kento chant broke out which slowly turned into a Yuma chant. The two went full force the entire match. Yuma targeted the arm while Kento was able to push through all the pain. The last couple of minutes were tense as each man hit big moves but one shutdown suplex from Kento and it was over. Kento offered to shake hands but instead Yuma threw his ice pack at him.
In Yuma’s first Triple Crown match he looked good. He was focused and on the ball. But he still wasn’t ready. He would get there but this was not the day.
Kento would go on to lose the belt in his next defence against Suwama and, unfortunately for Yuma, nothing much would happen in his story until the Champion Carnival finals eight months later.
On the 5th of October Kento lost to Zeus is the finals of Champion Carnival. While he was down on the mat Yuma came out from the back to bring him back to his feet and escort him backstage.
Yuma and Kento were back together and just in time, as Tag League would kick off the following month.
The newly reformed Nextream’s tag league got off to a rough start. Their first two tournament matches resulted in losses but from there it was only up. The remaining five tournament matches were all wins with Yuma getting three out of five of the wins which included the most important one.
On the final day Nextream faced off against Koji Iwamoto and Jake Lee from JIN. Yuma tapped out Koji with End Game. It was Yuma, not Kento that won the tournament. This was a huge step forward for him. Kento and Yuma seemed happy and like they were getting along. They even fixed each other’s hair while they were posing for photos.
2020 was a crazy year for Yuma. Starting the year off he betrayed Kento and went off on his own and ended the year by winning tag league with Kento.
SLAYING OF THE (VIOLENT) GIANTS – 2nd January 2021
January signifies a new year and a new beginning for All Japan. Two new signees joined the company, new challenges are made, and new champions are crowned.
The first main event of the year Violent Giants defended their World Tag Team Championship belts against Tag League winners, Nextream. An added stipulation was that if the Violent Giants lose, they would split up.
Nextream had momentum on their side. During Tag League Nextream defeated Violent Giants but this was still a tough challenge. Violent Giants were a very successful tag team, winning the World Tag Team Titles four times and Tokyo Sport awards for tag team of the year three times.
It was time for the main event as Kento’s music started to play. Yuma walked out looking ready to go and sporting blue hair. He took a lap around the ring before getting in, while Kento was doing his usual long entrance.
Nextream gained early advantage with Yuma and Kento double teaming Shuji. Yuma kept running to the Giant’s corner over and over again, hitting Suwama off the ring apron. This made Suwama mad and when Yuma got cocky and tried again Suwama catches him and applies a chock hold. From there it was pretty much beat-up-Yuma day. He did try to fight back but the Giants hit harder and faster. They did a good job keeping Kento out and Yuma isolated. He managed to get a tag to Kento after a drop kick and when Kento got in he clears house.
The last two tags happened midway through. Yuma and Suwama were tagged in and went to war. Shuji and Kento popped into the ring every so often, but the focus was on their partners. Like any good big stakes All Japan main event the last ten minutes were intense. Big moves and close three counts from Yuma and Suwama.
Suwama lifted Yuma up for one last backdrop to put this match away but Yuma reversed it into End Game and he was not letting go. Suwama was desperate to break free while Shuji on the outside was held back by Kento. Yuma used all his remining strength to pull Suwama’s arm behind his back and fully lock in End Game. Suwama clawed at referee Kyohei Wada trying to reach anything that can help him, but he was fading fast. Wada checks for any sign from Suwama but this is over and he calls for the bell. Yuma just beat his day two opponent and won for Kento and himself the World Tag Team Championships.
The first time I saw Yuma wrestle was the first day of Tag League 2019 where he and Kento faced off against the Violent Giants. Yuma got hit in the face with streamers from a fan and then destroyed by Shuji and Suwama. Fast forward just over one year later and he choked out Suwama, won the World Tag Team belts and broke up the tag team of Shuji and Suwama.
THE FINAL BOSS – 3rd January 2021
This was Yuma’s big moment. Not only was this for the Triple Crown Championship but this was his first big one on one match in front of fans that didn’t involve Kento as his opponent.
With the staff quickly trying to clean the ring up from a Jun Kasai match, the screen played a great video package. It documented the day before with backstage videos of before and after the match. It included footage of Suwama and Yuma arriving today and warming up in the ring. A clock started counting down from 10 and when it hit zero Yuma’s music started playing and he burst through the curtains.
Calling this a 180 from his first Triple Crown match would be an understatement. Yuma looked confident and happy clapping along with fans. He tried to hide a smile but failed. He was ready and made you believe he could win and become a five crown champion.
As he completed a lap of the ring, he got back to the ladder that led to into the ring. And, in a moment that I am sure nobody but me cares about, it wasn’t his brother or a rookie holding the ropes open but Kento. The person that Yuma betrayed literally one year ago to the day. The ace of the company doesn’t just hold the ropes open for anyone. Hopping in the ring and posing, Yuma zipped open his vest and showed off the World Tag Team Titles he won yesterday.
Suwama made his way to the ring and now it was time to get serious. Lariats, forearms, suplexes and backdrops dominated this title match. Yuma was determined, still riding the high after winning the titles the day before, but Suwama was looking for revenge.
The first half was mostly Suwama. He battered Yuma, throwing him around like he weighed nothing. It seemed that every time Yuma gained any momentum Suwama was there to stop it. When he moved Yuma to the ring apron that’s when Yuma went on the attack. Bouncing Suwama off the ring ropes, hitting a DDT and attacking the neck and arm, getting ready for End Game. Back in the ring he looked focused, delivering a beautiful drop kick followed by a German suplex. From then on it was a back and forth contest with both men fighting their hardest and trying to push through the pain the other inflicted on them. Just like the previous night, the last ten minutes or so were action packed.
It began with Yuma delivering more German suplexes, while Kento was screaming for him at ringside. Suwama fought back with an attempt to power bomb Yuma that was reversed into a DDT. He got some very near falls following a spin kick and his rockstar buster. Now he was looking to put Suwama away as he locked in End Game but couldn’t get it fully locked in. Suwama fell back on the mat and Yuma scrambled to the cover, but he kicked out. Yuma tried another pin attempt which resulted in another kick out. One more try with both of Suwama’s legs hooked and once again he kicked out.
This is where things really heated up. Yuma got back to his feet laughing and smiling but took a massive back drop for his troubles. From then on it was backdrops galore. Yuma managed to hit another spin kick, but it only stunned Suwama for a second as he fired back a huge lariat that nearly took Yuma’s head clean off. One more nasty lariat and a backdrop spelled the end for Yuma couldn’t kick out before Wada counted to three.
There was a very small chance Yuma would walk out with the Triple Crown, but he showed he is ready. Ready to lead All Japan into a new era, a younger era. After all Yuma is almost 20 years younger than Suwama.
The Next Chapter
Yuma is aware how much he has grown and how it’s now his time. He made it known to everybody on the 6th of February 2022. Yuma declared the Aoyagi Era will begin soon. He is determined to go after the titles whether it be the Triple Crown or a Tag Team championship. You have to believe his main focus has to be the Triple Crown.
He has a lot of heart and passion for All Japan. He oversees try outs and trains the new rookies as the dojo coach. He acts goofy at time but knows when to get serious. But all the heart and passion in the world doesn’t help when there is one major problem in your way. It’s the same problem Jake has and that’s Kento.
Yuma doesn’t have a one on one win over Kento. But this year there are two things Yuma could take away from him, one obviously being the Triple Crown. The second is very time sensitive. If Yuma does win the Triple Crown Championship before the 18th of October, he will become the youngest Triple Crown Champion. The person that holds that record now? Of course, it’s Kento. Kento did forgive and forget Yuma betraying him, but he has a big ego. He might not be able to forgive Yuma taking away his titles.
Now that 2022 is here and it’s the 50th anniversary of All Japan it’s the perfect time for change. While thinking fondly about the past and legendary wrestlers like Giant Baba and the four pillars it’s also time to move into the future. And the future of All Japan is Yuma Aoyagi.