Thanks to Irving for supplying the following statement:
As everyone knows by now, All Japan has officially announced that the promotion has been purchased by Japanese investment firm, Speed Partners. This comes after almost 10 year’s worth of speculation as to All Japan’s financial situation due to very questionable choices made early in the Muto Regime, choices that haunted the promotion right up until last November when SP purchased the company for a reported 200 million yen.
In order to understand the meaning of this transfer of power, one must know the history behind the reasoning of All Japan being sold off to a company most would think know little about professional wrestling. In 2002, New Japan legend Keiji Muto transferred to AJPW out of protest to the company’s increasing focus on the MMA world. At this time, the company was viewed as having been saved as not only did Muto join, he brought along top young star Satoshi Kojima, top junior Kendo Kashin, former WCW cruiserweight Kaz Hayashi, and a few key members of New Japan’s booking team. By September of 2002, Motoko Baba, widow to All Japan founder Giant Baba, transferred her stocks to Keiji Muto, and the Muto-era was off to a bang. However, record house attendances and new blood weren’t enough to keep things smooth sailing for long as poor booking choices such as Kojima and Taiyo Kea not getting victories over Genichiro Tenryu, the failed W1 project with MMA promotion K1/FEG, and of course the Goldberg/Kronic fiascos ruined any momentum All Japan had quickly built for itself (lets not forget about spending money on the rights to use Metallica music at their shows..).
Throughout 2003 through 2008, the promotion experienced hellacious growing pains which saw overhauls in fight producers (bookers), talent, and numerous scandals (some of which I have never disclosed) rock the promotion. All this in spite of dramatically changing the way the promotion was booked, and having successful stints, such as recapturing national television (“Pro-Wres LOVE” from 2004 to 2005), and the incredible 2005 year (the year of package pro-wrestling and “gaijin heaven”). It just seemed the promotion couldn’t catch a break. The mighty blow being served after waning popularity caused them to withdraw from Nippon Budokan, the holy place for All Japan.
Muto kept things afloat over the years through numerous sponsorships. Some partnerships were heavily scrutinized, like the deal made with a soft-porn company, while others worked in their favor akin to their relationship with Sanrio. The Sanrio deal would eventually turn from less of a sponsorship after initially funding All Japan’s Sumo Hall events from 2006 to 2007 into more of a merchandising deal, allowing them to use the Hello Kitty brand to spawn creative merchandising and branding concepts, but it was apparent that without real money, All Japan was doomed.
Now, for all Muto did wrong, he did do right as well, securing Kohei Suwama, who is now the ace of the promotion, and focusing on building a healthy dojo that was churned out almost 20 recruits since 2002. Taking the booking and making it meet the wrestling, which for a while was lacking, and making the product one of the most interesting groups in all of Japan. All this while groups such as the Kensuke Office, Voodoo Murders, F4, GURENTAI, and RO&D flourished and kept the group alive when the money was dead.
Fast forward to 2011. Everything that happens is for a reason, and when Jun Akiyama made claims that he wanted to challenge for the TC, won, and immensely enjoyed his stint in the group, the wheels were set in motion. Rumors of Akiyama wanting to transfer to All Japan ran amuck on the Japanese boards, but everyone wondered where the group would get the money, and quickly dismissed any notion of it actually happening. Deals aren’t made overnight, and in November of 2012, news broke that Jun Akiyama and 4 more of NOAH’s main wrestlers wished to leave the promotion and head for All Japan. Again, money was discussed amongst fans, little did we know that the deal was already done.
On 2/25/2013, All Japan held a press conference to announce that it had been sold to Speed Partners with a wealth of details being announced. One, that the deal was sealed in November of 2012 (the same month Burning turned down contracts from NOAH). Enter Nobuo Shiraishi, president of SP, and now president of All-Japan Systems, the new governing body for All-Japan. Shiraishi has already made headlines with his optimistic, yet stern approach to revamping All-Japan. Already threatening anyone who didn’t pull their weight on the card to be removed (directly aimed towards KENSO), and requesting Shuji Kondo be made a permanent heavyweight. He has also stated that he planned on evaluating every freelance wrestler participating in All Japan, and would remove them too if they did not add to the promotion. Couple all of this with promising to make All Japan an island unto itself as of this April, and aiming towards running the Tokyo Dome and knocking New Japan off of it’s #1 status within a year. He has also made revelations of a Dome tour in three years, and that the group has been in serious negotiations with national tv networks TBS, and yes, NTV.
Shiraishi while radical has been also reasonable, stating that any staff member already on good terms with the company would be kept on, so it doesn’t seem that any personnel will be thrown out in favor of those who don’t know what they’re doing (ala WCW). This means that Muto and Masayuki Uchida will stay around has leaders of the actual wrestling, but it looks like Shiraishi will have final say over what is produced.
It is an exciting time for All Japan fans, and after covering the group since 2004, I somewhat can breathe a sigh of relief that this group will have the chance to prove what a lot of us have already known for years. That they too can be on top!