When I was approached about interviewing a member of the DDT roster of my choice, one name stood out above the others. That’s not a knock on the other wrestlers at DDT, it’s one of the most stacked and talented collections of talent in any promotion in the world. But when one’s given the opportunity to speak to one of the greatest wrestlers, not just living today, but of all time then that’s the only reasonable course of action.
Jun Akiyama is a legend of pro wrestling. Since debuting for All Japan Pro Wrestling in 1992, he has had one of the most storied careers of any Japanese wrestler and continues to have a strong and fruitful career as a wrestler with DDT today. His list of accomplishments is as long as it is impressive: two-time Triple Crown Champion, three-time GHC Heavyweight Champion, and a former KO-D Openweight Champion.
I didn’t know what to expect from the interview. It was conducted via email, with a representative from DDT’s English PR department as the conduit and translator. The format, plus the language barrier, meant I had no clue what Akiyama’s responses would look like once they came through.
Akiyama answered in concise, matter-of-fact statements befitting a man who led a stable called Sternness. Even in those responses though, the weight of Akiyama’s legacy in pro wrestling shines through.
For example, when I asked what he thought of the influence he and the Four Pillars had on the western wrestling world, he simply said, “I’ve heard many wrestlers over in the west were influenced by the Four Pillars era.”
It’s a simple statement, but one that speaks to a massive impact on the industry. The tape trading culture of the 90s and early 2000s informed so much of the pro wrestling that would define the 21st century. The top wrestlers of the King’s Road era helped shape the hard-hitting hybrid style of independent pro wrestling done by the likes of Samoa Joe, Chris Hero, Bryan Danielson, and many more.
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One way that Akiyama’s had a direct influence on the world is through his move set. Any wrestler today that hits an Exploder Suplex or its wrist clutch variant is probably cribbing straight from Akiyama. The Blue Thunder Driver has been taken and adjusted by the likes of both El Generico and John Cena.
The importance of a unique and memorable offense is something Akiyama wants to impart onto future generations. As a part of DDT, Akiyama’s been a major part of training the company’s future prospects. He describes his involvement with them as “basically wrestling with them and advising how to improve their in-ring performance.”
When asked what lessons he wanted to leave this new crop with, he answered, “Thinking of and using unique moves no other wrestlers have come up with. Basically, incorporate something different when you step through the ropes.”
Influences and Mentees
One wrestler who’s been very vocal about the influence that Akiyama and his contemporaries have had is Eddie Kingston. The AEW wrestler often speaks fondly of the King’s Road era, and has been very vocal about wanting to wrestle Akiyama. “That man is a legend. Should be treated as such and spoken of as such,” Kingston told Fanfyte last year. “I would chop him, smack him, hit him, suplex him just like he would to me. And we would fight and it would be great because I just like fighting in that ring. I know I would learn something from him in the King’s Road style.”
Word of Kingston’s open challenge has reached Akiyama. He recently provided Japanese color commentary for Kingston’s match against Konosuke Takeshita on AEW Rampage. “I can feel the respect towards the King’s Road style through [Eddie Kingston’s] wrestling. His match with Takeshita was amazing.”
Despite his influence on the wider wrestling world, Akiyama’s attention doesn’t often stray to other parts of the world.
“I rarely watch matches across the pond, but recently I’ve began watching Takeshita doing his best over at AEW,” he said.
Akiyama spent much of his first two years in DDT competing with Konosuke Takeshita. Upon entering the company, Akiyama formed the Junretsu stable to combat Takeshita’s then stable All Out. Akiyama would then dominate the rivalry with two back-to-back singles victories over Takeshita, once at Ultimate Party 2020, and then again in the finals of the 2021 D-oh Grand Prix. Takeshita would finally topple Akiyama in the main event of Wrestle Peter Pan 2021 to end Akiyama’s KO-D Openweight Championship reign.
“He can handle his own,” said Akiyama of Takeshita’s recent run in the States. “He’s doing really well, against whoever he’s being put up against.”
New Home Promotion, New Challenges
This weekend, Jun Akiyama wrestles on his third consecutive DDT Wrestle Peter Pan event. Akiyama’s career has undergone a revitalization of sorts since joining up with DDT in 2020. After reducing his on-screen presence in his last home promotion of All Japan, the switch to DDT yet again thrust Akiyama back into the main event spotlight. Within less than a year of joining the company, Akiyama had already won the KO-D Openweight Championship.
“I felt I had to make the KO-D Openweight Championship something more prestigious while I was champion,” he said of his run with the title.
Among the highlights of Akiyama’s reign was a hard-hitting battle against Kazusada Higuchi. After winning the match, Higuchi did Akiyama the honor of strapping the KO-D Title around his waist. Over a year later, when Higuchi had his own moment of glory winning the title for the first time, Akiyama did the same.
“My thought was basically: ‘I leave DDT to you going forward!’ and [saying] thank you for putting the belt on my waist back then.”
Beyond his usual achievements in the heavyweight scene, the switch to DDT also provided a refreshing change of scenery for Akiyama. After spending decades of his career at the highest levels of some of the most traditionally minded promotions in Japan, Akiyama now found himself in a company where the best of heavyweight wrestling met insanity such as single lighttube deathmatches, dance parties, and fighting sex dolls.
“[My very first impression of DDT was] they felt like a unique promotion that is willing to try all sorts of ideas in wrestling,” said Akiyama. “In a good way it hasn’t changed one bit.”
In spite of his grand reputation though, Akiyama hasn’t shied from the wilder elements of DDT. Already in his run, he’s competed in a mid-match trivia battle, wrestled against and with sex doll superstar Yoshihiko, and even embodied the role of Antonio Honda while teaming with Konosuke Takeshita and Tetsuya Endo. Far from staying in his wheelhouse of hard-hitting heavyweight wrestling, Akiyama has continued to push the boundaries of what he’s capable of in pro wrestling.
“I have to approach these wide variety of matches in a different way and this has been an enjoyable challenge for me.”
Wrestle Peter Pan
This weekend, at DDT Wrestle Peter Pan, Akiyama faces yet another new challenge. For the first time, Jun Akiyama will wrestle in an intergender match as he teams with Saki Akai to fight the team of Chris Brookes and ASUKA. For Akiyama though, he’s approaching it with the same focus and drive as any match in his career.
“Even if there’s a female wrestler in the match,” said Akiayama, “I don’t think anything will change in terms of what to expect in the match or what to do in the ring.”
Three decades into the game, Akiyama is still operating at a level that most pro wrestlers couldn’t reach on their best day. When asked what fuels him to stay so motivated, he simply said, “My [desire] to keep up with the younger wrestlers keeps me going.”
A simple sentiment that carries a heavy burden.
Jun Akiyama wastes no time on words, there’s always more work to do.