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Atsuki Aoyagi: The Making of a Junior Ace

2 years ago

Atsuki Aoyagi: The Making of a Junior Ace

By: Jessie T

When Koji Iwamoto exited All Japan Pro Wrestling in December 2021, he left a massive hole in the junior division. Gone was their junior ace.

In Iwamoto’s last match on December 16, 2021, he partnered with Black Menso-re to take on the team of two men who will soon be big players in the junior division: Rising HAYATO and Atsuki Aoyagi.

Before the match, Atsuki tweeted, “I am frustrated and am also grateful. But rather than telling you that, I think the best thing is to have a match where I can show that. Atsuki Aoyagi will carry ‘the future’ of All Japan Pro Wrestling juniors, so you can be at ease, so please, everyone come and see ‘the future’ at Korakuen Hall”.

There was no passing of the torch moment. Iwamoto didn’t take the pin fall; he just gave a speech and that was it. The show just moved on to the next match.

Afterwards on Twitter Atsuki wrote, “In this tournament where so much happened, I wonder how many people remember me saying ‘Leave All Japan Pro-Wrestling junior to me, Atsuki Aoyagi!’ and I wonder how many people felt that they can, and want to, believe in me.” Followed by, “Knowing that there’s still a long way to go, so why don’t I keep saying it until the day comes”.

Atsuki was motivated to become a wrestler after watching his older brother Yuma Aoyagi in an All Japan ring. He entered the dojo in April 2018 and under the watchful eye of dojo coach Jun Akiyama he made his debut at the first show of 2019. In blue rookie trunks, knee pads, and boots, he and fellow debuting rookie Dan Tamura took on the Evolution pair of Hikaru Sato and Atsushi Aoki. The two teams exchanged handshakes, referee Kyohei Wada rang the bell and Atsuki Aoyagi’s wrestling career officially began.

It wasn’t the smoothest of starts. Clearly nerves played a part as he had a few slip ups but his opponents kept him on track. The second time he tagged in was a lot better. He looked more comfortable, but like many other rookies he fell to the dreaded Boston Crab. He tapped out very quick and his first ever match was done.

The turning point in Atsuki’s career came on the 21st of September, 2020. In an eight man tag, Atsuki pinned Hikaru Sato to win a title shot against junior champion Iwamoto. Not only did he win, but he did so with a Firebird Splash. This dazzled the clap-only audience as they made audible noise for the move and win. Astuki Aoyagi had his first ever title shot.

On the 24th of October, Atsuki burst through the curtain as the song “Peace Sign” by My Hero Academia played in Korakuen Hall. No more basic theme and, more importantly, no more rookie gear. The blue trunks were gone as Atskui had shiny new blue, gold, and white shorts. He did his best but was no match for the champ. Iwamoto fist bumped his chest after the match and shared a few words. Atsuki may have lost the match but this was a huge step forward in his career to becoming junior ace.

The next big moment came in January 2021. After his singles match with Rising HAYATO ended in a double K.O., Kento and Yuma approached them both backstage and made an offer for them to join Nextream. They accepted. Nextream has always been a popular stable and this immensely helped raise Atsuki’s name and position in the junior rankings. He formed a team with Rising HAYATO and together they found some success, but never when it came to titles.

Atsuki got his second chance at the junior heavyweight title when he faced SUGI on the 7th of September. SUGI wrestled more his style compared to Iwamoto, another high flyer to test his skills against. This was a much better showing compared to his previous challenge but he still couldn’t win, though he was getting closer.

The beginning of 2022 for the junior division was a mess. Iwamoto was gone and Super Crazy, who was junior champion, lost the belt on the second show of the year to another outsider, SUGI. But one major announcement got all the fans and wrestlers talking. All Japan would be going back to the Nippon Budokan for the first time in 18 years. This venue will play an important role for Atsuki.

After SUGI–now in his second reign–successfully defended the junior title against Rising HAYATO, Atsuki and Andy Wu were out to challenge next. Atsuki said the belt belonged around the waist of an All Japan wrestler as this is the 50th year of the company. SUGI chose Wu, walked away and Atsuki was left in the ring alone.

Between now and Budokan a couple of major things happened. Atsuki and Rising HAYATO broke their tag team up and Atsuki announced he was leaving Nextream and following his brother, who also had left the faction. In the junior title scene, Tiger Mask from NJPW defeated Hikaru Sato to win the title at Champions Night 3. This was Atsuki’s chance to re-enter the title picture.

After a successful defence against Hokuto Omori, Atsuki was out to challenge Tiger Mask. He called himself the last bastion of All Japan. The last defender. Fans were agreeing with Atsuki and more were coming around to his side. Tiger Mask was an outsider and shouldn’t be leading the junior division into Budokan.

4,780 fans made their way to the Nippon Budokan on September 18th 2022. Atsuki’s debut partner Dan Tamura had just won his first belt and now it was Atsuki’s time to win his. He came to the ring in new silver and gold gear with freshly dyed bright pink hair. With his brother cheering him on from ringside, Atsuki pushed Tiger Mask to his limits and in the end climbed to the top of the ring post and hit the move that kicked off his junior title journey: the Firebird Splash.

Atsuki told us back in 2021 that he will carry the future junior division of All Japan and in 2022 he made good on that. At only 22 years old and under four years into his career, Atsuki stands at the top of the All Japan juniors as their junior ace.