This coming Saturday, 10/16/2021, All Japan Pro Wrestling will hold Champions Night II, which will bring back to the forefront, for the Triple Crown Championship, challenger Kento Miyahara vs. champion Jake Lee.
The history of any pro wrestling promotion worth its salt can be traced by the rivalries that define the company. In the 1990s, the greatest rivalry of the Four Pillars of Heaven Era of AJPW, an era of many great feuds, was unquestionably the tale of the late Mitsuharu Misawa v. Toshiaki Kawada. The two high school chums who both became national amateur wrestling champions, then star students in the All Japan dojo, defined an era of Japanese pro wrestling that is still very much revered to this day, especially once their partnership dissolved and their rivalry in the ring began.
AJPW has not had a true generational rivalry since that feud, one which ended initially in 2000 when Kawada declined to join Misawa in forming Pro Wrestling NOAH, somewhat revived in the middle of the decade, and ended for good following the tragic in-ring death of Misawa in 2009.
A Potential Successor
It was not for a lack of trying on AJPW’s part, but through the Keiji Muto era of 2002-2012, there was a distinct lack of fresh young stars to excite the declining audiences. The likes of Suwama, KAI, former sumo rikishi Ryota Hama, Seiya Sanada, and T28 (now better known as BUSHI in NJPW) tried their best, but it just didn’t take. Even subsequent post-Muto ownerships of AJPW (of which there were several) didn’t have an easy time of it.
This tide started turning in August 2013, when a young freelance wrestler named Kento Miyahara was announced to be taking part in the Oudou (Royal Road) Tournament.
Kento Miyahara, born 2/27/1989 in Fukuoka, had a background in judo when he began his career in pro wrestling through Kensuke Office, aka Diamond Ring, run by Kensuke Sasaki. As is traditional for dojo trainees in Japan, he lost his debut match on 2/11/2008, to All Japan’s Seiya Sanada. He would then work for not only Kensuke Office, but Pro Wrestling NOAH and Mexico’s IWRG, hyped as “the next Sasaki.” Miyahara would later describe his time in Diamond Ring as unpleasant. History will show this would not be the first time a trainee would have an unpleasant experience under Kensuke Sasaki.
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Miyahara officially went freelance following his excursion into AJPW, where he would lose his first round match in the Oudou tournament to perennial Triple Crown champion Suwama. Miyahara quickly joined up with Go Shiozaki, who defected from NOAH to AJPW earlier that July, coming together with Atsushi Aoki and Kotaro Suzuki to form Xceed. Shiozaki & Miyahara would go on to that December’s finals for the World’s Strongest Tag Determination League, but would fall to the team of Suwama & Joe Doering.
Kento officially signed his contract with AJPW in January 2014, paying dividends for Miyahara. On 3/18/2014, Miyahara made his first-ever challenge for the Triple Crown, losing to then-champion, the former yokozuna Akebono. On 8/16/2014, Miyahara & Kotaro Suzuki would win the All Asia Tag Team titles, Kento’s first championship as a wrestler. Despite the partnership with Suzuki, Kento would once again pair with Go Shiozaki in December 2014 in that year’s World’s Strongest Tag Determination League as well, but would lose once again, this time to Jun Akiyama & Takao Omori.
2015 started off for Miyahara as a downer, as he & Suzuki would lose the All Asia Tag Team belts to Mitsuya Nagai & Takeshi Minamino on 1/3/2015. However, he would once again challenge for the Triple Crown, losing to his stable leader Go Shiozaki on 3/27/2015. Despite this, Kento & Shiozaki as a tandem would finally come good, as they became World Tag Team Champions on 5/6/2015, beating Akebono & Yutaka Yoshie for the titles.
A major turning point came for Miyahara on 6/4/2015, when he pinned Suwama in a Captain’s Fall 6-man tag team match. Afterwards, Kento declared he would be the youngest-ever Triple Crown Champion, challenging Akebono on 6/21/2015, but alas, that challenge failed as well. He would not have to wait very much longer to make that vow a reality.
Sadly for Miyahara, he would have to vacate the World Tag Team titles on 9/28/2015, as Go Shiozaki quit AJPW to return to Pro Wrestling NOAH after a two-year absence. Following that, Kotaro Suzuki would leave AJPW, which was having another bout of financial difficulties during this time, in November 2015, leaving the Xceed stable dead in the water.
Miyahara partnered with Suwama in the 2015 World’s Strongest Tag Determination League, which would end in victory for the pair, but also betrayal as Suwama would beat down Miyahara in favor of his new Evolution stablemate, Naoya Nomura. Miyahara would then make the first of two pivotal moves as we headed into 2016.
The first would be teaming with another wrestler around his age, swearing a generational change in this time of turbulence for All Japan. That wrestler would be the other half of this generational rivalry equation: Jake Lee.
The Other Half
Jake Lee was born in Kitami, Hokkaido on 1/19/1989, a Zainichi-Korean whose given name is Lee Che-Gyong. He began his career in pro wrestling as a product of the AJPW dojo during Keiji Muto’s tenure. under his given name, with a loss to Taiyo Kea on 8/17/2011. He got his first in-ring victory a mere three days later against Yasafumi Nakanoue. Sadly, in October 2011, after only ten matches, an injury compelled Lee to retire from pro wrestling, instead making his way to Power of Dreams to become an MMA competitor for a few years.
He decided to make a return to pro wrestling, rejoining All Japan on 5/21/2015, now taking on the Jake Lee ring name. In December, Lee joined Miyahara’s new unit, called Nextream. Here we begin to see direct parallels, as Misawa & Kawada came together in 1990 with others (including Kenta Kobashi) to form the Super Generation Army, including the direction their careers would take.
In February 2016, Kento Miyahara ascended to being the new face of All Japan Pro Wrestling. Suwama had won the Triple Crown on 1/2/2016 from Jun Akiyama, but injury forced him to vacate a mere ten days later. Kento would defeat Zeus on 2/12/2016 to fill the vacant title. From here, the parallels between Miyahara and Misawa’s roles in this story should start becoming apparent, as Miyahara would go on to successfully defend the Triple Crown eight times in his first reign, to Misawa’s seven. However, Miyahara’s reign would last “only” 464 days, as opposed to Misawa’s 705 days from 8/22/1992 – 7/28/1994. It was a reign that captured the hearts and minds of the AJPW faithful, and others as well, drawing favorable comparisons to another long-reigning champion of that time period, New Japan’s Kazuchika Okada.
Miyahara’s inaugural reign would end on 5/21/2017 to the 2017 Champion Carnival winner, Shuji Ishikawa. It would not be long before Miyahara would regain the title, on 8/27/2017, however this was to be a more transitional reign, dropping it to the ace of the previous era, Suwama, on 10/9/2017.
In contrast, Jake Lee was the low man in Nextream, often the one taking falls. It was not for a lack of opportunities for Lee, but he seemed to come up short. Teaming with Miyahara, the pair would fail in several World Tag Team title challenges; they would make the finals of the (renamed) Real World Tag League in late 2016, but lost to Takao Omori & Manabu Soya. Lee would also have a rough go of it in singles competition, getting eliminated in the first round of the 2016 Oudou tournament, and only getting 1 win for 2 points in both the 2016 and 2017 editions of Champion Carnival. Lee got his first-ever shot at the Triple Crown on 6/11/2017, losing to Shuji Ishikawa. He would also eventually begin teaming with another member of Nextream, Naoya Nomura, finally winning the World Tag Team titles on 7/17/2017, defeating Zeus & The Bodyguard. Unfortunately, Lee would injure his knee in this match, taking him out the rest of 2017, forcing the vacating of the titles.
As Kawada would eventually split from the Super Generation Army to form the Holy Demon Army with Akira Taue, so too did Jake Lee leave Nextream upon his return in Spring 2018. Instead, he would form the Sweeper unit with Koji Iwamoto, Keiichi Sato, Ryoji Sai & Dylan James. Here is where the rivalry with Miyahara would begin to pick up steam.
A Generational Clash
Miyahara would begin his third reign as Triple Crown champion on 3/25/2018, defeating Joe Doering. Miyahara and Lee would face one another in their first major singles match on 7/1/2018, a non-title warm-up match for Miyahara that he would win. Miyahara would lose the Triple Crown to Zeus at the end of July, on 7/29/2018. After that, Miyahara v. Lee would take place again in the 2nd round of the 2018 Royal Road Tournament, on 9/22/2018, with Miyahara once again defeating his ex-stablemate, on his way to winning not only the tournament, but regaining the Triple Crown from Zeus, for another lengthy reign at 519 days, tying Toshiaki Kawada’s record of 10 successful defenses before losing to Suwama, again, on 3/23/2020.
The feud would pick up in 2019, as Kento would defeat Lee on 4/29/2019 in the finals of the 2019 Champion Carnival, Miyahara’s first time winning the yearly tournament. Within five months, however, a major turning point in the feud came, as Jake Lee defeated Kento Miyahara in a singles match for the very first time on 9/23/2019, the Finals of the 2019 Royal Road tournament. After that, Lee, who by that time had dissolved Sweeper and formed a new stable called JIN with Koji Iwamoto, Naoya Nomura, Ayato Yoshida & Fuminori Abe, would unsuccessfully challenge for the Triple Crown once more against Miyahara on 1/3/2020.
Lee would also participate in Big Japan Pro Wrestling’s Ikkitousen Strong Climb tournament in early 2020, however due to the COVID-19 pandemic, several of his matches were cancelled and were granted as draws, which advanced him to the semi-finals. He would lose to Quiet Storm by countout there. The rest of his 2020 would be fairly quiet, not winning either Champion Carnival or the Real World Tag League (with Koji Iwamoto). On 2/23/2021, Lee turned on Iwamoto and JIN, coming together with heel unit Enfants Terribles, fresh from betraying their leader Shotaro Ashino, becoming the new heel stable TOTAL ECLIPSE.
This new attitude for Jake Lee has proven successful for him, especially against Kento Miyahara. In what would amount to the Final of this year’s Champion Carnival, Lee defeated Miyahara to win the tournament for the first time, 12pts to 10pts. He was then due to face Suwama for the Triple Crown at AJPW’s Champions Night event. First, the event was moved from 5/16/2021 to 6/26/2021, as Tokyo Ota Ward Gymnasium opted not to run events during the state of emergency that was in place (shows for NJPW and NOAH got cancelled as well).
Then, days before the match, champion Suwama tested positive for COVID-19 and vacated the title. Thus, a 3-way round-robin match was set between Jake Lee, Kento Miyahara & Yuma Aoyagi, that saw Jake Lee beat Kento Miyahara once again in 2021 (and Aoyagi!) to become the 64th and current reigning Triple Crown Champion.
Although this article is at an end, this story is not. Lee just made his v2 defense of the Triple Crown against Suwama. Miyahara immediately challenged afterwards, and that match will be this coming Saturday 10/16/2021. Whether or not history will remember this as fondly as Mitsuharu Misawa v. Toshiaki Kawada, or even Hiroshi Tanahashi v. Kazuchika Okada, remains to be seen. But for now, let’s just kick back and see what All Japan Pro Wrestling can make of its first real, actual generational rivalry in decades.