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READER ALERT: For all the latest wrestling happenings, check out our News & Rumours section.

All Japan Pro Wrestling's Annual Carnival Tournament
All Japan Pro Wrestling's Annual Carnival Tournament

March 24th to April 15th
Finals: April 15th at Nippon Budokan in Tokyo.


Back in January, SLAM! Wrestling broke new ground with its in-depth coverage of New Japan Pro Wrestling's Annual Tokyo Dome Spectacular. Providing history and analysis, predictions and full results of the show, SLAM! Wrestling set a new standard of international wrestling coverage. Well, we're at it again. We are pleased to provide a preview of All Japan Pro Wrestling's annual Carnival Tournament. Fans unfamiliar with this renowned event should check out our story on its history. In handicapping this year's tournament, we've taken a look at the top eight wrestlers in the tournament, examining their past performances and what their chances are this year. And because this is such a special event, we've got insights and predictions from a panel of experts: SLAM's own international wrestling junkie John Molinaro and Live Audio Wrestling's Jeff Marek & Dan "The Mouth" Lovranski.

A LOOK AT THE FIELD


Vader

Best move(s): Vader Bomb, Moonsault
# of previous Carnival appearances: 1
Best showing: Won in '99
Outlook for this tournament: Last year's tournament winner, Vader recently dropped the Triple Crown title to Kenta Kobashi. Because he's the top heel in the promotion, he'll be kept strong and will likely advance to the semi-finals.

Toshiaki Kawada

Best move(s): Jumping High Kick, Stretch Plum
# of previous Carnival appearances: 8
Best showing: Won in '94 & '97
Outlook for this tournament: Kawada missed last year's tournament due to an eye injury. He faces booker Misawa in the first round, a match that usually takes place in the finals. The veteran could be a surpise pick to win it all.

Mitsuhara Misawa

Best move(s): Tiger Driver, Elbow Suicida
# of previous Carnival appearances: 9
Best showing: Won in '95 & '98
Outlook for this tournament: The booker and cornerstone of the promotion. He's made this tournament his own the past few years. This time, he's passing the torch. Could lose in the 1st round to Kawada or advance to the semis where he would put Akiyama over.

Steve Williams

Best move(s): Doctor Bomb, Oklahoma Stampede
# of previous Carnival appearances: 6
Best showing: Finalist in '94
Outlook for this tournament: He and Vader are getting a monster push in the promotion right now as the top foreign heels. Misawa will keep him strong here, and could have him put Akiyama over in the semis, thus elevating the young star. Outside chance he could win it all.

Akira Taue

Best move(s): Nodowa, Release German Suplex
# of previous Carnival appearances: 9
Best showing: Won in '96
Outlook for this tournament: A slow, plodding veteran, Taue's work rate has dimished greatly over the last year. His job here is to simply put over whoever All Japan wants to elevate. Little chance of winning the tournament.

Jun Akiyama

Best move(s): Northern Lights Suplex, Double Arm DDT
# of previous Carnival appearances: 7
Best showing: Finalist in '98
Outlook for this tournament: This tournament is all about elevating Akiyama to the next level. Misawa wants to make this rising young star the future of the compnay. An appearance in the finals is a virtual lock.

Kenta Kobashi

Best move(s): Moonsault, Brainbuster
# of previous Carnival appearances: 9
Best showing: Finalist in '97 & '99
Outlook for this tournament: Denied for so long, this could be his year to finally get the monkey off his back. He just won the Triple Crown title and by having him win the tournament, he'll be going into May's Tokyo Dome show as a strong champion.

Johnny Smith

Best move(s): His Pummeling forearm blows
# of previous Carnival appearances: 2
Best showing: 6th place in '91
Outlook for this tournament: Darkhorse of the tournament. If Misawa is looking to throw in some surprises some people, Smith will be the one to score some upsets. He deserves to be elevated and an appearnce in the semis would do a world of good for him and the promotion.


CARNIVAL TOURNAMENT PREDICTIONS

Full Tournament Schedule

1st round Match John Molinaro Jeff Marek Dan "The Mouth" Lovranski
Tamon Honda v Johnny Smith Smith Honda Smith
Mike Burton v Masao Inoue Burton Inoue Burton
Akira Taue v Steve Williams Williams Williams Williams
Jun Akiyama v Takao Omori Akiyama Akiyama Akiyama
Jun Izumida v Wolf Hawkfield Izumida Izumida Hawkfield
Vader v Yoshihiro Takayama Vader Vader Vader
Mitsuharu Misawa v Toshiaki Kawada Kawada Misawa Kawada
Kenta Kobashi v Johnny Ace Kobashi Kobashi Kobashi


What the experts say

  • John Molinaro: The most intriguing match from the first round is the Misawa vs Kawada bout. I see Kawada going over setting up a second round match with Vader. Johnny Smith will get a semi-push, winning his first round match before losing to Kobashi in the 2nd round. Steve Williams will be pushed strong, beating Taue in the first round and advancing to the semis against Akiyama. Vader will advance to the semis, and he'll job to Kobashi in the semis. This tournament is mostly about elevating Akiyama to the next level, so he'll advance to the finals after beating Williams in the semis.

  • Jeff Marek: It looks pretty obvious that Akiyama is going to get the major push and this tournament will probably be a coming out party of sorts for him. The only question for him in the first round is will he face Steve Williams or Akira Taue? Pick 'em. I say Williams. The top half of the bracketing looks really thin. Akiyama will walk through this and get to the finals. Where the tournament does get interesting is at the bottom half of the bracketing. It's really strong. Miasawa vs Kawada in the opening round is a little bit of a shock. You have Triple Crown Champion Kenta Kobashi basically getting a bye to the semi finals and taking on the winner of Vader and either Misawa or Kawada. The winner of all this, I figure, takes on Jun Akiyama.

  • Dan "The Mouth" Lovranski: What I see happening in the first round is the total build up of the foreigners, with Akyiama, Kawada and Kobashi being the only Japanese surviving. If the tournament is set up to elevate Akiyama, this makes perfect sense. He survived all the top gajins and now he can stand at the top. This appears to be more about getting Akiyama over. I see Steve Williams coming out strong, just so he can be fodder for Akyiama later. His status is legendary and that counts for a lot when you're building up someone new. Kobashi will beat Vader in one semi-final, Akiyama over Williams in the other.



    WHO WILL WIN?

      John Molinaro Jeff Marek Dan "The Mouth" Lovranski
    FINALIST A Akiyama Akiyama Akiyama
    FINALIST B Kobashi Kobashi Kobashi
    WINNER Kobashi Kobashi Akiyama


    What the experts say

  • John Molinaro: Kobashi has done everything in All Japan, except win this tournament. This is his year. He'll go over Akiyama (who will get a major push in this tournament and be elevated to the next level) in the final, setting up a rematch for the main event at All Japan's annual May spectacular at the Tokyo Dome (where I think Akiyama will win the title).

  • Jeff Marek: Here's my semi-final matchups: Steve Williams vs Jun Akiyama (Look for Akiyama to take a beating but come out on top) Mituharu Misawa vs Kenta Kobashi (it's a yearly classic). I look for an Akiyama/Kobashi final. Former tag champions against each other always makes a good story. Akiyama will look strong (and get in a couple of Exploder suplexes) in the match but look for Kenta Kobashi to win it all.

  • Dan "The Mouth" Lovranski: I see Akiyama beating Triple Crown champion Kobashi and becoming the number one contender by winning the tournament. Should be a hot match too!!!


    History of the Carnival tournament




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