NJPW Sakura Genesis

April 9th, 16:00 from the Ryogoku Kokugikan (Sumo Hall), Tokyo

The newly-christened Sakura Genesis is headlined by Okada vs. Shibata for the IWGP title, Hiromu Takahashi and KUSHIDA face-off once more for the Junior belt, and Zack Sabre Jr. attempts to get his hands on some New Japan gold, challenging Hirooki Goto for the NEVER title. Let’s get to it.

Here we go…

Pre-show match: Jushin Thunder Liger, David Finlay & Manabu Nakanishi vs. Hirai Kawato, Tomouki Oka & Katsuya Kitamura

The experienced team won, of course, with Finlay using the Stunner on Kitamura for the pin, but the “young” boys team (Oka – 25, Kitamura – 31) did get some time to shine. The most interesting part of this short warm-up match was the dynamic between Liger and Kawato. They’d been teaming on the tour prior to this show, with Liger demonstrating some tough love towards his trainee, frequently berating and slapping him. Kawato used today’s match, during and after, to retaliate a little. I hope we see a singles match between the two before long. **1/4

Tiger Mask W, Tiger Mask IV, Yuji Nagata & Togi Makabe vs. Bullet Club (Chase Owens, Yujiro Takahashi, Tanga Loa & Tama Tonga)

A good exchange between Tiger Mask W and Tama concluded with a standing corkscrew moonsault by the former for a two-count. Next came Nagata and Yujiro, but Bullet Club rushed the ring and Nagata got a cane to the head to keep him down. An Exploder eventually facilitated the hot tag and you better believe Makabe ran wild on the Guerrillas of Destiny (both of whom have switched to regular wrestling gear, in case you were wondering). In came Tiger Mask IV and a Tiger Driver on Tama earned two, then a springboard dropkick and triangle moonsault from Ibu… I mean Tiger Mask W cleaned house, but Bullet Club again cleared the ring and Tama Tonga caught Tiger Mask IV with the Gun Stun for the win. A solid and energetic opener. Might Kenny Omega and Tiger Mask W cross paths sooner rather than later? **3/4

CHAOS (Baretta, Rocky Romero & YOSHI-HASHI) vs. Suzuki-gun (TAKA Michinoku, El Desperado & Minoru Suzuki)

Naturally, Suzuki-gun attacked before the bell, but failed to take advantage, and El Desperado was the first to be isolated. Romero landed the Forever clotheslines, but Suzuki grabbed the rope-assisted armbar and the brawl that followed put Suzuki-gun back in control. After surviving some hard slaps, a mule kick from Romero allowed the tag to Yoshi-Hashi, whose comeback was cut short by Suzuki’s elbow strikes. In came Taka, but after Baretta prevented the piledriver, Yoshi-Hashi landed the left-handed lariat and followed with Karma for the three-count! Post-match, Suzuki showed his displeasure by battering the young boys with a chair, the big meanie. The boys from CHAOS were over, which was nice to see, but Minoru Suzuki needs a big win, and fast. **1/2

IWGP Junior Tag Team Championship

Suzuki-gun (Taichi & Yoshinobu Kanemaru) (c) vs. CHAOS (Jado & Gedo)

Roppongi Vice lost the titles at the 45th Anniversary show, so their stablemates, the veterans Jado and Gedo, are here to try and get them back in the CHAOS fold.

J & G made a quick start with stereo crossfaces and displayed little moral integrity by choking their opponents on the outside. Taichi’s ladyfriend interjected, however, and Taichi was soon back in the ring, using Gedo’s own beard against him. Kanemaru’s DDT got two, then Taichi did his usual bit with the ringbell hammer, before miscommunication allowed the hot tag to Jado. Back suplex on Kanemaru for two, but the rope-hung DDT was blocked and the Suzuki-gun boys got rolling. Gedo stopped the rot with a knee to Kanemaru’s groin, then Jado locked in the crossface and went for a pin, but El Desperado pulled the referee out of the ring! Roppongi Vice were back to even the odds, and Jado’s rope-hung DDT almost got the win. Back to the crossface, but Taichi’s ladyfriend involved herself once more, and a bunch of nonsense culminated in a moonsault from Kanemaru for a near-fall. The Deep Impact DDT connected soon after for the win. The crowd seemed into it – this is the first all-Japanese match for these belts in years, after all – but this did nothing for me. **

The post-match face-off suggests Roppongi Vice will get their rematch.

CHAOS (Toru Yano & Tomohiro Ishii) vs. Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale & Kenny Omega)

Even Fale must pay heed to “Break!”, although he soon took advantage outside the ring, then stood on Yano’s formidable gut back inside. Double axehandle and a swift elbow drop for some two-counts for Omega, before Yano tried in vain to remove the turnbuckle pads. He and Omega then engaged in some simultaneous hair-pulling, but referee Tiger Hattori finally got them to stop but doing some of his own! Excellent.

They battled with turnbuckle pads, much to the crowd’s delight, and finally Ishii entered the match. He was sent into the exposed buckle, but rallied before Omega landed a frankensteiner. Finlay Roll/moonsault combo for two, but Ishii escaped the double team and sent Fale to the floor with a clothesline. Snap dragon suplex from Omega, who then nailed the V-Trigger knee. A low blow from Yano prevented the One Winged Angel, and Ishii’s huge lariat brought a near-fall! Fale got involved and Omega’s running knee earned two, before he was finally able to nail Ishii with the One Winged Angel to avenge his loss in the New Japan Cup. First half silly, second half serious, this was a fun match with plenty of enjoyable interractions. ***1/4

Taguchi Japan (Ricochet, Ryusuke Taguchi, Juice Robinson & Hiroshi Tanahashi) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japón (BUSHI, EVIL, SANADA & Tetsuya Naito)

Taguchi Japan claimed the NEVER 6-Man titles from LIJ in a four-star match at Korakuen Hall this past week, and here, with Juice and Naito added, Los Ingobernables will be looking for a measure of revenge.

Evil and Tanahashi started off, then Taguchi’s deceptive silliness enabled the never-ending choo-choo-train of team corner splashes to Bushi. “That’s too silly!” determined LIJ, and Sanada literally kicked Taguchi’s ass before tying him up in the ropes with the Paradise Lock. In came Naito for a brief flurry against Taguchi and Juice, before Sanada was back and Taguchi’s ass attack enabled the hot tag. Ricochet ran wild, sprinting across the ring, taking care of everyone in spectacular fashion and the crowd loved it! Tanahashi was in and landed a double Dragon Screw before Evil cut him short, getting the better of a quick exchange with lariat. Juice and Naito went at it, with a leg sweep and senton earning a two-count for the American, before LIJ’s teamwork enabled his isolation. Reverse DDT from Naito for two. The Sling Blade from Tanahashi triggered a parade of signature moves, ending with Juice’s huge lariat to Naito! The Pulp Friction connected, dumping Naito right on his head and – holy shit – Juice got the three-count! Wow. An absolutely massive win for Juice, easily the biggest of his career, and he followed by challenging for the Intercontinental title. Taguchi may be the best manager in all of sport. This was wild. ****

We get a “Summer can only mean the G1!” advert, running through the dates and venues of the tournament, then it’s time for the…


IWGP Tag Team Championship

TenKoji (Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan) (c) vs. War Machine (Hanson & Raymond Rowe)

Having replaced Togi Makabe and the badly injured Tomoaki Honma, TenKoji won the titles in a nice (if bittersweet) moment at the 45th Anniversary show in March. War Machine have impressed since debuting for New Japan in last December’s World Tag League and this title shot is certainly warranted based on their efforts.

Rowe and Tenzan collided like bulls, then Hanson and Kojima did the same, with Hanson’s cartwheel and lariat putting the challengers in control. A running splash earned two, then Rowe slammed Hanson onto Kojima for another pin attempt, broken up by Tenzan. The beatdown continued, with Hanson using his impressive beard as a weapon, before Kojima landed a DDT and the tag was made. Tenzan obliged the crowd with Mongolian chops and a suplex for two, and the Mountain Bomb connected for the same. The spinning heel kick brought Kojima back, and the machine gun chops and diving elbow to Rowe brought yet another two-count. Rowe fought back, but TenKoji escaped and landed the 3D before Hanson accidentally landed a middle-rope splash his own partner. Spinebuster from Kojima, but Hanson blocked the follow-up and tagged in for his own brand of Forever clotheslines, which drew applause from the crowd. Seated senton out of the corner then he went all the way up top only to miss the moonsault! Koji Cutter – two-count only. Double team slam from War Machine for a near-fall and oohs from the crowd. Kojima was kneed in the face but fired up to nail a lariat before collapsing. German suplex and a knee strike from Rowe, and the double team Fallout connected for the win to give us new tag champions! Rowe, in particular, seemed nervous at the start, but they found their groove soon enough, with Hanson looking especially impressive. It felt like the match ended just as it was reaching its peak, and with a few more minutes could’ve been something great as opposed to merely good. Still, a strong effort all round and just reward for the War Machine boys, who clearly love being in Japan. ***1/2

Post-match handshakes and War Machine bowed to their opponents.

NEVER Openweight Championship

Hirooki Goto (c) vs. Zack Sabre Jr.

Sabre Jr. made an instant impact in his New Japan debut at the 45th Anniversary show, beating Katsuyori Shibata for the Rev Pro title thanks to Minoru Suzuki’s interference and joining the Suzuki-gun stable as a result. At the following day’s Korakuen Hall show, he pinned Hirooki Goto in a tag match and thus earned today’s title shot.

It took a minute or two, but Sabre Jr. was able to worm his way into a couple of tentative arm holds, leveraging Goto’s power to his advantage. Goto soon tired of that, though, and took to strikes and a headscissors to ground his opponent. After countering to a kneebar, however, Sabre Jr. stomped Goto’s fingers and it was then that he found the opening to begin dismantling his opponent’s various appendages, with the left arm singled out for special attention. Uppercuts stunned Goto and a leg-trap twist ripped at his shoulder, but he eventually found respite with a spinning heel kick in the corner and backdrop for two. Sabre Jr. climbed out of a fireman’s carry and into the Kimura lock before Goto countered that into a suplex. Goto went up for the diving elbow, but Sabre Jr. countered that straight into the double armbar, from which Goto scrambled to the ropes. Kicks to the arm, uppercuts and a Pele kick to the arm led to the Octopus Hold, but Goto desperately powered into the Ushigoroshi. Minoru Suzuki interfered while El Desperado distracted the referee, but the piledriver was blocked and Goto cleaned house only to be caught in Sabre Jr.’s European Clutch! Two-count only. Gogoplata from ZSJ, but Goto broke the hold, nailed the inverted GTR and then the regular version for the three-count. Goto retains. Could’ve done without the run-in, but I appreciated the stylistic distinctiveness and that they worked slow, relying on the crowd to pay attention, which they absolutely did. Sabre Jr. remains Zacky Three Belts. ***1/2

Suzuki attacked again post-match, and a pull-apart brawl ensued.

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship

Hiromu Takahashi (c) vs. KUSHIDA

This Wrestle Kingdom rematch comes after Hiromu’s successful title defences against Dragon Lee and Ryusuke Taguchi. On March 7th, Kushida pinned Hiromu in a tag match, becoming the first person to do so since the latter’s return at the end of last year.

Kushida immediately nailed Hiromu with a dive, sent him shoulder-first into the ringpost, then dropkicked him off a chair on the outside. Back in, he successfully applied the Hoverboard Lock, but Hiromu put him out on the apron and followed with the sunset flip powerbomb to the outside! Time Bomb! Death Valley Driver into the turnbuckle! Time Bomb again for the three-count and Hiromu retains in under two minutes! Crazy. A frantic and shocking all killer, no filler sprint. I don’t think I can rate this, but I loved it.

Post-match, Hiromu removed Kushida’s wrist tape and ate it! And then Richochet came out and challenged! Oh yeahhh, I am all over that.

IWGP Heavyweight Championship

Kazuchika Okada (c) vs. Katsuyori Shibata

Shibata won the New Japan Cup to earn this opportunity. This was something Okada had patronisingly suggested he do back in 2014 and Shibata has not forgotten that remark, referring to it several times leading up to today’s match. These two have only met once before in a singles match, during the G1 Climax tournament in 2013, and it’s fair to say the there have been no punches pulled in the build up.

Shibata grounded Okada, mounting him and going for the arm before Okada got to the ropes. Shibata then laid out on the mat, inviting Okada to try and do the same to him. Didn’t happen, and Shibata almost grabbed an armbar, sending Okada to the floor for a rethink. Back in, Shibata twisted out of Okada’s holds, thoroughly outwrestling the champ and earning the crowd’s chants. A tight side headlock wrenched at Okada’s cheek, and Shibata went back to it after Okada had momentarily freed himself. Okada responded to a rope-break with an elbow strike, drawing boos, so Shibata hit back with a high kick. Elbows from Shibata, back elbow from Okada, and the Main Event Elbow Battle resulted in Okada being smashed to the mat! The figure-four was applied, with Okada dragging himself to the ropes, then Shibata went to the bow-and-arrow, drawing another rope break. Okada dropkicked Shibata to the floor, earning some respite for the first time in the match, and Shibata was whipped into the barrier, kicked over it, and Okada connected with the barrier-hung DDT to stay in control. Back in, a neckbreaker earned two and Okada applied a modified necklock, holding on beyond the rope break to more boos. A low dropkick and back elbows in the corner had Shibata asking for more before landing a huge elbow strike of his own. A pair of high running kicks led to the corner dropkick, then Shibata took Okada outside, where he repeated the dropkick, this time against the barrier. The abdominal stretch was applied, followed by a series of kicks to the chest and arm, but Okada replied with a back elbow, DDT and leaping elbow for two.

Diving elbow avoided, tombstone attempt reversed to a Sleeper, Okada with the flapjack. This time the elbow landed and the Rainmaker was signalled, but Shibata countered to the leg-hook STO! They laid into each other with elbow strikes, getting to their feet for more, and again Shibata floored Okada! European uppercuts from Okada now and the reverse neckbreaker connected, then he headed up top and delivered a huge missile dropkick. The pin attempt was transitioned into an armbar by Shibata, then he peppered Okada’s right arm with kicks before slapping Okada right on top of his head! Okada sat cross-legged, Shibata joined him, and the slaps commenced, drawing fury from Okada who then nailed Shibata’s own corner dropkick! Elbow strike from Okada, dropkick from Shibata! Shibata stomped the shit out of Okada in the corner, but the attempted PK was met with The Dropkick! A crazy sequence followed, with both men dropped on their heads only to get up and kick the other square in the face. The Rainmaker was blocked with kicks – Shibata refused to go down – and a disgusting audible headbutt made the challenger bleed his own blood. Octopus Hold applied, taken to the mat, and Okada slowly, desperately tried to drag himself to the ropes, partially escaping and finally able to get the break. Kick to the chest from Shibata and the Sleeper was applied. Okada got to his feet, but sank back down again. Sleeper suplex! Shibata picked him up, Rainmaker-style slap! Kick after kick after kick. Brutal. And then, just as Shibata went to deliver the PK, Okada clasped his wrist and drew him back into the Rainmaker! Okada tried another, but Shibata fell forward, so a definitive third finally put Shibata on his back and earned Okada a ridiculously hard-fought victory at 38 minutes.

Okada survived again, which I’m sure will aggravate some people, but if you’re the ace of the company you need to be able to defend the title, and all four defences in his current reign (Marufuji, Omega, Suzuki and now Shibata) have come against distinctive opponents, demonstrating just how versatile a champion he can be. And yet, the mask of The Rainmaker is starting to slip. More and more he’s struggling to put these guys away. Him hitting the Rainmaker clothesline is becoming less a matter of underlining his dominance, and more about escaping with the title in the only way he knows how. It’s fascinating to watch.

I loved that Shibata imposed himself on the feel of the match, because this was as much a battle between styles as it was between opponents, and it says a lot about both men that I assumed the result was a foregone conclusion, but came away disappointed that Shibata had fallen short. The incredible crowd response was the cherry on top. Fantastic. ****3/4

Post-match, after Shibata had slowly made his way to the back, Bad Luck Fale rushed the ring and attacked the exhausted Okada. “You want a fight, I’ll give you a fucking fight!” I’m not sure how the losing finalist of the New Japan Cup gets a title shot, but I’m not going to argue with him.

Final thoughts: I enjoyed this a lot, and much of that was because of the booking, with Juice’s pin on Naito and Hiromu demolishing KUSHIDA the highlights in terms of surprises.  Everything from after the Jr. tag title match is worth your time, with the main event again stealing the show in spectacular fashion.

I’ll be back for Wrestling Toyo Province on April 29th and Wrestling Dontaku on May 3rd. See you then.