Jake Lee’s Rocky Royal Road
Jake Lee finally reached the top of All Japan Pro Wrestling at Champions Night on the 26th of June 2021. Holding all three belts that make up the original Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship and the current Triple Crown he ended the show standing tall. It took a while, and it was a very rough journey to get there but he finally did it.
Jake is one of the most popular wrestlers in All Japan. His height sets him apart, he’s a great wrestler and, let’s be honest, he is not bad to look at. His factions have always been fan favourites. But for Jake getting to the top of All Japan hasn’t been easy. He has had multiple road bumps, but Jake’s main issue might just be his biggest rival is the ace of All Japan, Kento Miyahara. Kento has been there and done that before Jake even got a sniff at the Triple Crown Championship.
Jake’s first run in All Japan was very short lived. After joining the dojo in January 2011, he only wrestled ten matches before leaving the company after setting his sights on a career in MMA. Not finding the success he hoped for, he re-joined AJPW in May 2015.
Seven months after returning Jake joined up with Kento Miyahara and Keiichi Sato and together they started Nextream. He and Kento proved a capable tag team, earning two tag team championship title matches and finishing as runners up in Worlds Strongest Tag Determination League in 2016. But for all the tag team success Jake had, his singles career wasn’t great. In the 2016 and 2017 Champion Carnival he finished with one win and five losses. In the Royal Road tournament, he was eliminated in the first round. He got his first Triple Crown match in 2017 against champion Shuji Ishikawa but lost.
His first title came in mid-2017 when he and Naoya Nomura defeated then champions Zeus and The Bodyguard to capture the World Tag Team Championships. But in a rematch less than a month later Jake suffered a left ACL rupture that put him on the shelf for nine months.
Leaving Nextream and new factions
When Jake returned in 2018, he left Nextream and started a faction called Sweepers with members including Koji Iwamoto and Nomura, who had also left Nextream. He had more success and became a fan favourite. He and Iwamoto won the All Asia Tag Team belts twice. He also won Royal Road 2019 tournament and faced Kento for the Triple Crown in a losing effort. At the end of 2019 they decided to disband the faction as Jake felt the group was drifting apart.
JIN was announced on 21st of December, 2019, with three members: Jake, Koji and Nomura. Fuminori Abe from BASARA and Ayato Yoshida from 2AW joined shortly after. JIN had all the potential in the world but unfortunately for them an injury to Nomura in February 2020 and Covid stopped them in their tracks. Koji and Jake kept teaming together into 2020–21. While with JIN, Jake had his third Triple Crown match and his second against Kento. This time he stood more of a chance. He was older and more experienced. Fans in the arena and online were ready for a new champion. Kento was now getting closer and closer to breaking Kawada’s defence record. They fought in front of a packed Korakuen Hall. Unfortunately for Jake this resulted in his third Triple Crown loss. Once again Jake got close, but Kento was just on another level. Their rivalry now seemed one-sided, since twice in four months Kento has defeated Jake in Triple Crown matches. Something had to change for Jake.
2021 marked the biggest turning point in Jake’s career yet. On the last day of Excite Series in February, Jake Lee, Koji Iwamoto and TAJIRI defeated the Enfants Terribles team of Shotaro Ashino, Koji Doi and Kuma Arashi. After the match Arashi and Doi, alongside the rest of Enfant Terribles, beat down their leader Ashino. Looking for help, Ashino crawled over to Jake but instead found another enemy as Jake joined in the attack. Koji tried to pull Jake away and reason with him, but it was to no avail as Jake betrayed Koji and attacked him. This was a huge shock. The crowd, who at this point was only allowed to clap, made audible noise at this betrayal. JIN was over. Jake left with the old Enfants Terribles and TAJIRI and began a new chapter in his career. This is where Total Eclipse was born.
From then on Jake’s stock skyrocketed. He was once again the leader of a faction, but this was different. He gained a new attitude, attire and finisher. His mannerisms changed inside the ring. He added an evil laugh and grew back his facial hair to really complete the look.
His turn came at the right time, less than two months before the start of Champion Carnival. If you are unfamiliar, Champion Carnival is arguably All Japan’s most popular tournament. It is a heavyweight round robin tournament, and the winner receives a Triple Crown Heavyweight title shot.
All eyes were now on Jake as fans were eager to see the new Jake Lee. No one knew what to expect.
But before Champion Carnival there was still one more monthly tour, Dream Power Series. This was where we got our first look at Total Eclipse. Gone was the smiley, happy Jake. In his place was a dark and brooding Jake. He was slower in his entrance, in starting a match and in picking his spots in the ring. He hit a little bit harder, was more brutal, especially with his knees strikes. In his first match as Total Eclipse leader he showed that nothing would get in his way to get to the top. In the five v five elimination match he didn’t care that he eliminated teammate Koji Doi as long as Suwama was also eliminated.
Total Eclipse tore through Dream Power Series winning six out of six matches. Leading into Champion Carnival they were on fire, especially Jake.
Champion Carnival 2021
Jake was one of the favourites to win but when it comes to All Japan tournaments you can never count out two people: Former ace Suwama and current ace Kento. They are both big names with a rich history in tournaments and championships. Of course, there are dark horses like Zeus but Jake, Kento and Suwama were front runners.
Jake started off his tournament with a shock win. In just under four minutes, he defeated the man who he took his faction from, Shotaro Ashino. His first loss was on day two, thanks to then Triple Crown champion Suwama.
On day ten, three wrestlers were tied with three losses and five wins. Jake, Suwama and Kento. Suwama was knocked out of the running, losing to Shuji in the match before the main event. Now it was down to two. It was a fierce battle with both men giving it their all. Jake fought for his life trying to win over the ace. Even resorting to grabbing the rope with his teeth to force a break as Kento had Jake’s hand locked behind him.
After almost 30 minutes, Jake hit the D4C on Kento and, for the first time in his career, won Champion Carnival. It was no doubt the biggest win of Jake’s career, but it came without any cheers from fans, no streamers thrown in the ring. Just a few All Japan wrestlers scattered around an empty Korakuen Hall. There was no doubt he couldn’t enjoy this win to the full extent but he looked determined and ready for the Triple Crown Championship, no matter how hard it was to get.
Champions Night One
The road to the Triple Crown Championship was almost complete but not before a couple more speed bumps. Firstly, Champions Night, which was scheduled for 15th of May, was pushed back over a month due to the state of emergency to the 26th of June. Fans who have been waiting years for Jake’s moment had to wait a little bit longer.
But the biggest bump in the road was just six days before the show. Suwama tested positive for Covid and vacated the Triple Crown Championship. Two days later it was announced the new main event would be Jake Lee vs Kento Miyahara vs Yuma Aoyagi in a Tomoe match. Instead of a triple threat match only two men start and the person who won would move on to the next match while the loser had to leave and head to the back. The only way to win was to get two consecutive wins.
Champions Night One: Main Event
Kento and Yuma started the main event, with Kento coming out victorious. Jake Lee made his way out next. Walking through the banners and down the ramp, he was dressed in new big match entrance gear that could only be described as old timey knight crossed with Star Wars. A smile crossed Jake’s face as he looked at the already exhausted Kento. He toyed with his opponent for a while, brushing off hits and taking his time. Kento did work his way back but with a backdrop Jake won. Now he was only one win away from becoming champion, but he still had to go through Yuma. The two went at it as soon as the bell rang. Kicks and forearms galore. Yuma worked over Jake’s arm for most of the match to prepare for his finisher End Game. But locking in his submission spelled the end for Yuma; Jake was able to lift Yuma while End Game was still applied and delivered his finishing move, the D4C. Yuma was unable to kick out, three seconds later the bell rang, and Jake was declared the 64th Triple Crown Heavyweight Champion. He was draped in gold, wearing the modern day and original three belts that make up the Triple Crown.
Jake was finally the Triple Crown Champion. Now it was time to prove that he could do it. Prove that he could be the number one in All Japan and potentially the new ace. Prove that turning his back on his long-time friend, joining Total Eclipse and changing his demeanor inside and outside the ring was the right move. And of course, because nothing has been easy for Jake, he had to follow two historic Triple Crown reigns. Kento’s 519-day reign where he tied for most defences with Toshiaki Kawada and Suwama’s reign where he broke his own record for the most Triple Crown reigns.
Jake becoming champion did not mean his problems had ended. A number one contender’s match between Ashino and Shuji was scrapped because Shuji tested positive for Covid. Instead, Ashino was put in the number one contender’s spot.
In Jake’s first defence he was slow and calculated and seemed to treat Ashino as a joke at points. He was in control for the majority, targeting Ashino’s arm. Ashino did make a comeback, but the damage was done, and a backdrop followed by a D4C gave Jake his first successful defence. He passed the first hurdle.
Two big things happened on the 21st of September: Jake’s second defence and a number one contender’s match.
Kento fought Zeus for the right to face the Triple Crown Champion at Champions Night 2. Kento was different in this match. More serious, less playing to the crowd and even bringing back his old cross arm breaker move, Snake Limit. Kento defeated Zeus and moved to the main event of Champions Night 2.
Suwama, who won Royal Road tournament to face the champion, was Jake’s second challenger. Suwama is on his way to become a legend in All Japan. There are two people Jake had to defeat to really cement his reign and make people take this seriously. One of them was Suwama and the other is his rival, Kento.
This was a more back and forth match than Jake’s first defence. Suwama did what he does best in big matches and batted Jake, while Jake resorted to multiple DDT’s to put Suwama down. It was an action packed last five minutes with the two trading backdrops before Jake hit a D4C. Jake fought hard to clear the second hurdle. Not only a successful second defence but defeating Suwama.
Champions Night 2
His third championship defence was his toughest yet as he faced his biggest rival, Kento Miyahara. Jake didn’t have the best record against Kento, being 5 – 2 in single matches and 0 – 2 in one-on-one single championship matches. This was a must win to beat the ace and finally get a championship win. To become AJPW’s leading man.
Both Nextream and Total Eclipse members were in their respective leader’s corners cheering them on. This was a very physical match inside and outside the ring. Jake controlled for much of the match, but Kento showed why he is the ace, managing to always get back up and keep on fighting. Jake was meaner and more focused than ever. His kicks and strikes hit harder, he got in the referee Kohei Wada’s face and never let up the attack. Kohei Wada got knocked out but surprisingly there was no interference by any man on the outside. Total Eclipse could have run in and attacked Kento to give Jake an advantage, but this moment was about the two rivals and Jake’s quest to finally get the championship win over Kento. To show people he could do it. That he could defeat Kento.
Towards the end of the match Kento kicked out of a D4C, and Jake two Shutdown Suplex. Both men were spent, sweat dripping from their faces, exhausted. At one point Yuma was going to throw in his shirt, in place of a towel, to end the match and save Kento from any more pain. Jake went for one more knee to the mid-section but before he could cover the bell rang as the time limit was reached. Jake vs Kento ended in a 60-minute draw. Jake was the Triple Crown Champion and had his hand raised in the end, but it was bittersweet. Jake could go the distance with Kento but still could not get the win against him. The record now stands at 0-2-1. The Kento v Jake feud is still not over and will last for years.
Jake’s career up until now has been a roller coaster full of ups and downs. With all the challengers thrown Jake’s way he still managed to make it through and ended the year the Triple Crown Champion. 2022 could be Jake Lee’s year. It is All Japan’s 50th anniversary and we can be sure he will step up and take center stage. And maybe, just maybe he can get that elusive win he has longed for and finally step out of Kento’s shadow.
Image credits: @alljapan_pw