NJPW Sakura Genesis review
April 9 2017
We’re in Tokyo, Japan at the Ryogoku (known internationally as Sumo Hall). This is the first ever Sakura Genesis, with the event taking Invasion Attack’s spot on New Japan’s calendar. Hosts are Kevin Kelly & Don Callis.
Hirai Kawato, Tomoyuki Oka & Katsuya Kitamura vs. Manabu Nakanishi, Jushin Liger & David Finlay
There’s nothing like a fresh crop of Young Lions! Kitamura is fucking jacked. I’m aware NJPW have big hopes for all three of them, especially Oka, but Kitamura looks like he started lifting weights in the womb. There’s a rumble of discontent for Kawato not being in position for a spot and watching big Nak have to cover for it is pretty embarrassing. The crowd don’t seem too happy about a lot of Young Lion mistakes during the course of the match. We’ve been spoiled rotten with the last few classes of Young Lions. It’s Oka who looks most at home, although Kitamura hits more high spots, thanks to his ridiculous muscle structure. Finlay picks him off with a Stunner, outta nowhere, for the duke. These Lions need some work, Kawato especially.
Final Rating: *1/4
The Bullet Club (Guerrillas of Destiny, Yujiro Takahashi & Chase Owens) vs. Togi Makabe, Yuji Nagata, Tiger Mask W & Tiger Mask IV
Tama Tonga has taken to dressing like a low rent Roman Reigns. Tama’s offence genuinely works against Tiger Mask (both of them) due to the lack of peripheral vision granted by the mask. Nagata is starting to actually show signs of aging. Which is probably overdue. He’s 49 years old this year and has looked evergreen for some considerable time. His dropkick looks difficult and his bumps are very deliberate. He’s definitely getting too old for shit, which upsets me because a few years ago, when he could still go, New Japan had a chance to push him and didn’t. Now that chance has gone forever. Once your bumps have gone you’re basically finished. Nagata still has his kicks but once you’re passed stand up there’s not a lot left. As the match plods along I start to get irritated at it. This is a long show, you don’t need the lower undercard matches to extend beyond their usefulness. It would be a shame to not see Tiger Mask W throw out his trademark triangle moonsault though. Slip that in there. TM4 gets caught with the Gun Stun and Tama gets the pin. Tama is looking better than last year when he worked his way into G1. Tama suggests that one of the two Tiger Mask’s should retire.
Final Rating: **3/4
Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki, TAKA Michinoku & El Desperado) vs. CHAOS (YOSHI-HASHI & Roppongi Vice)
Suzuki might be a heel but his music is so awesome he gets clapped to the ring. MiSu is another guy who’s getting up there in age, at 48 years old, but he barely bumps as it doesn’t suit his approach to wrestling. He could carry on wrestling his style for another ten years. YOSHI-HASHI makes the terrible double error of 1. Turning his back on MiSu and 2. Bringing him a weapon! Rocky is the star for the CHAOS team, bantering and clotheslining to his hearts content, until Suzuki shuts that down too. Suzuki-gun has had CHAOS in its sights since coming back from NOAH but with Okada busy elsewhere Suzuki finds himself marginalised.
He doesn’t look happy about it. First a two-year stint in NOAH, now this! He doesn’t even get the win here with YOSHI-HASHI putting TAKA away with Karma. If I was Suzuki I would build a new faction and throw this one in the fucking ocean.
Final Rating: **1/2
IWGP Junior Tag Team Championship
Suzuki-gun (Taichi & Yoshinobu Kanemaru) (c) vs. Gedo & Jado
Normally I’d be opposed to the booker of a promotion putting belts on himself but in this case I’ll make an exception. Callis makes a sound point by saying that Gedo should be focused on Okada’s title match later and his appearance here could cause problems. Miho Abe is the only good thing about the champions.
She’s a good deal classier than the Bullet Bunny that Yujiro was dragging around earlier. “Gedo has a lot of heat with the boys” says Callis, throwing back to his ECW gimmick. Gedo should get more involved in Suzuki-gun. Move Suzuki out, put Gedo in charge. Call it Beard-gun and make all the guys grow beards. Especially that sleazeball Taichi. “Whatta ya say, you bitch” yells Gedo as he chokes Taichi on the barrier. As a babyface unit they have debatable charm and moral fibre. The normally crack NJPW cameramen miss Kanemaru legdropping Gedo into KUSHIDA’s dad’s lap. I can totally understand though as the ringside camera was ogling Miho. The typical Suzuki-gun bullshit occurs throughout, especially with the ring hammer and Desperado just leaping into the ring during the match. Kanemaru kicking out of the draping DDT, which put Honma in hospital, is fucking ridiculous. When you accidentally get a move that over then use the damn thing. Kanemaru taps out and the ref misses that, distracted by Miho, the bloody pervert. As Jado starts doing superhero kick-outs I’m literally boiling mad at this terrible piece of shit match going even longer. Kanemaru even has the fucking TEMERITY to win with a DDT, after kicking out of the murderous one. Fuck all these guys and fuck this match.
Final Rating: DUD
Bullet Club (Kenny Omega & Bad Luck Fale) vs. CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano)
Kenny is in house show mode, because this isn’t an important match. They centre the contest around Yano’s antics while everyone else has a breather. If you can get away with taking it easy, with the crowd still responding, then go for it. Especially Ishii who takes such a thrashing in big matches. It’s nice to see him have a ‘night off’. I know people consider his team with Yano to be a ‘waste’ but if it prolongs his career by a few years we’re cool. Omega seems at home doing all the goofy stuff and it’s telling he doesn’t take his shirt off.
Obviously the Ishii-Omega interactions are a highlight but they don’t go at a breakneck pace. The storyline seems to stem from Omega and Fale having issues. More importantly is Omega seems to blame Fale for not being in position. Omega manages to sneak some tremendous psychology into the falls, by looking beaten and not paying attention to the count. When someone isn’t watching the ref it makes me think the match is over and makes the kick-out more of a shock. Ishii eats the One Winged Angel, which no one kicks out of, and Omega gets the pin. The structure of this was part comedy, part storyline but there was enough in-ring action to make it passable.
Final Rating: ***
Hiroshi Tanahashi, Ryusuke Taguchi, Ricochet & Juice Robinson vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, EVIL, SANADA & BUSHI)
Apparently Taguchi’s latest bout of weirdness is believing this is a game of football, hence a pre-match huddle and his team being called “Taguchi Japan”. Which creates the surreal visual of Tanahashi requesting crowd support and hearing “Ta-Gooch-Ee” in response. Tana is on the back-burner, in terms of push, happily riding his “one true ace” persona while languishing in mid-card tags. He’s a bit-part player in Taguchi’s playground here. To see Tana and Ricochet reduced to this is quite surreal. Taguchi brings an even more surreal approach to his wrestling, almost exposing the business by showing what he’s expecting to happen and posing instead, leaving SANADA looking flummoxed. Then Ricochet does a shit-load of dives. It’s all so fluid it’s easy to forget that everything he does is extremely difficult. Despite the individual successes, it’s tough to argue with LIJ, who are a fluid unit. Taguchi remains the star through all of this, doing a sensational missed butt attack where he flies out of the ring. Then there’s Juice who looks great against Naito and floors the IC champ with Pulp Friction. Juice pinned Naito! One of the biggest upsets of 2017 and it should help set up Robinson as a challenger to Naito’s IC strap.
Final Rating: ***1/2
IWGP Tag Team Championship
TenKoji (c) vs. War Machine
My loss of interest in the tag titles was some time ago and there has been almost nothing to bring me back for years and years and years. Every booker and promotion has a weakness and heavyweight tag teams have never been a big deal for Gedo. War Machine could potentially be the saviours of the entire division. If there’s one story New Japan understand it’s the powerful gaijin team that are hard to beat. Gallows & Anderson played that role for two years. Before them it was Killer Elite Squad. The difference is that War Machine are actually really good. I used to consider Hanson the weak link but he’s improved drastically over the last 24 months. Now War Machine are a legitimately great team. TenKoji have been a team for a lot longer but they demonstrate less tag team continuity. Instead content to live and die on their individual strengths. Both men are legends in New Japan, with lengthy top tier careers. They give their all to keep the superior War Machine at bay, including a load of double teams. Hanson tries like hell to steal the show, including a sick looking missed moonsault and a fucking tope suicida. 300lb men shouldn’t be able to do such things. Kojima gets isolated and Fallout sees the belts switch. War Machine were wonderful here. Could they be saviours of the IWGP tag division? Based on this – yes. It certainly helped that TenKoji put them over huge and War Machine respond with respectful bows. This is a team that not only won the titles but won over the crowd.
Final Rating: ****
NEVER Openweight Championship
Hirooki Goto (c) vs. Zack Sabre Jr.
Zacky Three Belts went and turned heel shortly after debuting in New Japan. They clearly like him as they put Zack over Shibata and now he’s in a title match with Goto.
He’s arguably a bigger star than Goto, carrying the PWG, Rev Pro and EVOLVE belts coming into this. Sabre has potential to be a big star in New Japan due to his different style. Nobody works that technical mat style like Sabre does. Especially given his European approach to mat grappling. Goto is underrated on the mat and can hang with Sabre, preventing Zack from getting any early holds on him. Goto wants stand-up where he can overpower Sabre. That doesn’t last long and Zack takes it to the mat where he dismantles Goto aggressively. Someone with technical superiority can often dominate a match regardless of the reputation of his opponent. The way NJPW put over Sabre’s moves is fantastic. The shoulder wrenching spots leave the crowd in pain with Goto. They can sense his pain and his struggle.
Goto finds himself in desperate condition on more than one occasion with Sabre tying him in knots and doing vicious submission holds on the shoulder that the fans are clearly not familiar with. There is a collective freak-out whenever Sabre wrenches back on a hold. It feels like Goto could submit at any moment. If the Shibata match was an introduction to Sabre for NJPW fans, this is the making of him as a threat. It gets to the point where the crowd are wondering what move Sabre will pull out next. There’s still the central issue: Suzuki-gun being there to prevent Goto’s comebacks. This whole segment takes away from Sabre’s hard work, and indeed Goto’s hard work in selling the offence. Then Goto just fires up and hits the GTR to retain. This was going so well until the last few minutes where the booking dismantled all the logic of the wrestling. I’m not a fan of that. Plus where do they go from here? Goto vs. that young up and comer Suzuki? They’ve lost sight of what this title means. Suzuki looks madder than hell about Goto holding the belt up in front of him though. At least the set up works.
Final Rating: ***3/4
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
Hiromu Takahashi (c) vs. KUSHIDA
Ever since the Timebomb went off Hiromu has been the focus of the junior division, which must surely irritate KUSHIDA, who’d been top dog since Kota Ibushi left town. These two had a blinder at Wrestle Kingdom when Takahashi won the title. KUSHIDA aims for a repeat by hitting a dive so dangerous that he collides with a bouncing ball (as part of Hiromu’s entrance) and the guardrail. There are zero fucks given. No concern for safety is in KUSHIDA’s thinking. Hiromu’s response is to hit a Sunset Bomb and kill KUSHIDA into the floor. We’re in for a crazy night of junior action. Only we’re not as Hiromu hits the Timebomb twice and gets the pin in a couple of minutes. Holy shit. Way to put over Hiromu! He squashed KUSHIDA. The crowd are absolutely in shock about that. Ricochet runs Takahashi off and challenges him for the title.
Final Rating: **1/2
IWGP Heavyweight Championship
Kazuchika Okada (c) vs. Katsuyori Shibata
This match has the kind of big fight feel that you rarely ever get. Shibata has been built up since returning to New Japan for this moment. Meanwhile Okada has been built up as a big match wrestler to allow people to face him in big matches. In the same fashion that John Cena was unbeatable in WWE for so long in order to create big matches whenever he was challenged by a newcomer.
While Okada gets an elaborate entrance, complete with money raining from the ceiling while Shibata stands stoic in a neutral corner. Shibata is a defiant anti-establishment man, like Naito was last year, but he’s far more focused on being a wrestler. Whereas Naito was a character. They both have legitimate gripes about a lack of push but Naito was far more vocal about it. They start slow and there’s an extensive feeling-out process. Shibata decides to invite Okada to grapple with him on the mat where he can control. Okada is a smart wrestler but he also has a substantial ego so he’s drawn in. As Shibata controls it becomes clear the crowd want him to win and Okada slips into a more familiar heel-ish persona. Not outright, as he’s the face of the company, but he has no issues with his opponent being the crowd favourite. I like that Shibata incorporates British wrestling into his mat game, having learned from multiple matches with Zack Sabre Jr. Meanwhile Okada brings the psychology by realising he’s in a tough fight and refusing the clean break on the ropes, a trademark of his babyface run. This changes the atmosphere in the building like you wouldn’t imagine. The crowd go from being on the fence to actively booing Okada. The champ is prepared to sacrifice his own popularity to ensure the challenger, who perhaps lacks a little personality, gets the babyface love. Shibata works the leg while Okada takes the neck. While Shibata quickly releases on a rope break, Okada refuses. There are parallels here with Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart. From Okada being the cockier of the two, and his collection of star ratings, to Shibata’s pure wrestler gimmick.
The story they tell is gripping with Shibata being outstanding on the strikes and submissions and Okada meeting him with attitude. Every time Shibata lands a kick it puts him one step closer to besting Okada. The champ recovers from the knee abuse but is then met by arm abuse. Shibata switching targets seems to be an attempt to prevent the Rainmaker. The case in point proven when Shibata is able to stop the Rainmaker in mid move. Although given that Okada had previously done the pose everyone counters that version of the Rainmaker. When both guys have tried and failed to get a psychological advantage they just go ahead and wail on each other. This is the best part of the match. Okada wanting to take Shibata’s surliest shit is awesome.
Okada’s speed and aggression, not to mention theft of Shibata’s corner dropkick, is wonderful. Okada wants to prove he’s better. In every possible way. So Shibata steals his dropkick and punches him in the face. The corner stomps and boot scrapes are fucking incredible. As is Shibata refusing to sell for a dropkick. Okada tries for the ‘holding the wrist’ business but Shibata counters that by HEADBUTTING HIS WAY OUT.
Shibata busts himself open doing that and his reaction is amazing. He looks happy with what he’s achieved. He’s a fucking lunatic. Given the opening Shibata wears Okada down with submissions and kicks. It’s such a strong performance from him, slowly dismantling the companies top guy. Shibata does the wrist control thing, lifting Okada’s greatest moment and turning it against him.
Okada takes offence at that, grabs Shibata’s wrist as he’s running to hit the PK and he nails the Rainmaker to retain. This was an absolute war.
Final Rating: *****
Post Match: Bad Luck Fale jumps Okada. Clearly setting himself up as the next challenger. Okada has worked the Fale feud before and it’s always been decent but let’s face it, it’ll be a comedown after this match.
Tangent: Shibata hit the headbutt so hard that he gave himself a subdural hematoma and could barely walk out of the ring. He needed to get surgery done. Watching him stagger out of the arena, clearly seriously hurt, is disturbing viewing. Let’s hope he learns a valuable lesson from this.
Sakura Genesis benefitted from a huge main event that was well constructed and well built. I can’t help but think Shibata will be back for another shot at some point. The way this was built up was so good and the match delivered in spades. Clearly New Japan have a very strong sense of belief that Okada is the man to take them forwards and when you look at his body of work it’s hard to argue with that sentiment. The undercard for this show was patchy but consistently entertaining (apart from the junior tag). They also made a point of making stars here. Shibata, Sabre, Hiromu and War Machine. All impressed and improved their status with New Japan. It was a big night for the booking and while it didn’t consistently land it was consistently ballsy. I’d rather the interference got clipped from the NEVER title match in particular and basically all Suzuki-gun angles suck. Other than that I’m pleased with how things are going.