a concise summary of the promotion's journey to present day
All Japan Pro Wrestling was formed on October 21st, 1972 when Giant Baba split away from the Japanese Wrestling Association and created his own promotion. Many other wrestlers from JWA joined him, and he even had a contract with Nippon TV upon having their first event. When JWA folded the next year, even more wrestlers joined All Japan and by the middle of 1973 they had a full slate of native wrestlers. Like New Japan and the JWA before them, All Japan was dependant on gaijin wrestlers (foreigners) to fill their cards, as a major drawing point was their native wrestlers against the invading wrestlers from America and Europe.
With the blessing of the great Rikidozan's family, in 1973 Giant Baba received the original NWA International Heavyweight Championship belt and created the PWF Heavyweight Championship, which would be All Japan's primary singles title until it was joined by two other belts in 1989. The NWA International Tag Team Championship found its way to All Japan in the mid-70s, until they created their own Unified World Tag Team Championship when the NWA International Tag Team Championship was combined with the PWF Tag Team Championship. All Japan added a Jr. Heavyweight Title in in 1986, and All Japan was often the home of the All Asia Tag Team Championship, giving the promotion a full array of championships.
Besides Championships, during much of the 70s and 80s it was the tournaments that were the most coveted prize in All Japan. The Champion's Carnival first took place in 1973, a yearly round robin tournament (it didn't take place from 1983 to 1990) to crown the best heavyweight in All Japan. During the 70s and early 80s, Giant Baba himself was the most frequent winner as he won it 7 times (his main gaijin rival Abdullah the Butcher won it twice). For tag team wrestlers, the World's Strongest Tag Team League was first held in 1977 and crowned the best tag team in All Japan, with Americans Dory Funk, Jr. and Terry Funk faring well in the 70s and 80s along with Giant Baba and Jumbo Tsuruta. For many years, these two tournaments were the premiere events in Japan and attracted the best wrestlers from the US as well.
As the 90s began, All Japan entered into a transition phase, as stars Jumbo Tsuruta and Giant Baba were getting older and the younger generation was given the opportunity to step up and take their place. In what turned out to be one of the greatest group of wrestlers to ever wrestle in one promotion at the same time, the torch was passed to Mitsuharu Misawa, Kenta Kobashi, Toshiaki Kawada, and Akira Taue to lead All Japan into the 90s. And lead they did, as they sold out the Budokan for most of the 90s and put on some of the most highly praised matches in professional wrestling. Called the "Four Pillars of Heaven," they dominated the tag team and singles division, with none getting stale as they all had each other to feed off of. When Jun Akiyama joined them in 1993, in terms of in-ring matches, in the mid-90s All Japan had no competition in the world as they also had great gaijins such as Steve Williams and Stan Hansen to play off of. It was a great period for All Japan and for wrestling in general.
By 1998, the Four Pillars of Heaven were beginning to slow due to their intense style, but they finally entered the Tokyo Dome in May and with an attendance over 50,000 people, Kawada defeated his long time rival Misawa for the Triple Crown Championship. The following year, it was Misawa that won the title at the Tokyo Dome as he defeated the behemoth Big Van Vader. Something far more significant to All Japan happened in 1999 however, as founder Giant Baba died on January 31st. The promotion then was run by Motoko Baba, who had a very different vision for the promotion then many of the wrestlers. Mitsuharu Misawa was named the President, but the title was taken away from him in 2000 due to disagreements with Motoka Baba. This lead to Misawa breaking away from All Japan and creating Pro Wrestling NOAH. The damage was far worse then just Misawa leaving however, as every single native wrestler besides Masanobu Fuchi and Toshiaki Kawada also left the promotion and All Japan also lost their TV deal. It was a dark period for All Japan, and many wondered if the promotion would close due to a lack of wrestlers and television time.
Motoka Baba scored one small victory after the grand exodus, as in the summer of 2000 she got Genichiro Tenryu to return to All Japan, something that Giant Baba vowed would never happen after Tenryu had left the promotion a decade earlier to form SWS. Now with three native wrestlers and a lot of Freelancers and American wrestlers, All Japan continued to forge ahead. In the fall, they entered into a feud with New Japan Pro Wrestling, the first time the promotions had put on full cards with their stars competing against each other. This proved to be very successful and carried well into 2001, including a New Japan wrestler (Keiji Mutoh) winning the All Japan Triple Crown and the All Japan World Heavyweight Tag Team Championship. For now All Japan seemed to be safe from closing, as the feud with New Japan had kept the crowds coming and wrestling was still strong enough in Japan to support all three of the larger promotions.
In January of 2002, perhaps the most significant event happened to All Japan after Misawa and company left, as Baba signed Keiji Mutoh from New Japan to become the promotions's star and President (Satoshi Kojima joined the promotion as well). This lead to a new style in All Japan, as Mutoh took the promotion in more of a "sport's entertainment" direction and away from the King's Road style from the 80s and 90s. The new All Japan hit some bumps along the way, including misusing Bill Goldberg and having a wrestler refuse to give back the tag team championship, but by 2005 the promotion's product was more consistent. Unfortunately by 2005, All Japan's attendance had dropped and the promotion seemed to be in trouble again, but they got through the tough time and by 2007 had new sponsors and seemed to have recovered.
After Misawa and most of the other wrestlers left the promotion, there was a lull where All Japan didn't have any new young wrestlers coming out of the Dojo, but finally in 2004 they started having success as wrestlers such as Suwama, KAI, Yamato, T28, Kono, and Hama debuted from 2003 onward and helped strengthen the promotion. With established stars Kojima, Mutoh, Funaki, and freelancer Minoru Suzuki anchoring the promotion, the young wrestler were given time to grow and by 2010 were set up to help lead All Japan. While still without a great TV schedule, All Japan has operated consistently since 1972, making it one of the longest running promotions in the world.