NJPW Sakura Genesis
April 8, 2023
We’re in Tokyo, Japan at the Ryogoku Kokugikan. This is my first New Japan show since 2020. I did watch a January 4 main event (Naito vs Ibushi, whenever that was) and hated it. Let’s see what they’ve been up to since. Hosts are Kevin Kelly and Chris Charlton. A fine commentary team.
El Desperado, Hiroshi Tanahashi & YOH vs. Great-O-Khan, Minoru Suzuki & Toru Yano
Tana in a throwaway opening trios match on a big card? Times have changed. Suzuki, who was fading 3 years ago, is less of a shock given his advancing years. NJPW has done something interesting here by having conflicting stables within the teams, which beats the shit out of the normal boring undercard antics. The historically poor relationship between Suzuki and Yano is particularly well exploited. Despy and YOH get into it and Yano nut shots Tanahashi and rolls him up for the win. Sublime master thief does it again! ***
United Empire (Aaron Henare, Francesco Akira & Jeff Cobb) vs. House of Torture (EVIL, SHO & Yujiro Takahashi)
House of Torture seems to be a Bullet Club offshoot with all the natives in it. I thought United Empire were heels but apparently not as House of Torture work heel. Now this, this screams “filler”. House of Torture, during this very short outing, reveal they do all the stuff in heel group wrestling that I can’t stand. Cobb overpowers Yujiro and SHO to win. This sucked. Akira mouths off in Italian post-match. I know enough Italian to know he told KUSHIDA to go fuck himself.
There’s two more of these filler trios matches, which I just skip. They didn’t interest me 3 years ago. They don’t interest me now. Brother Mort once suggested there was never any point in watching trios matches on these undercards. I agree, sir. There is a bit in the Bullet Club tag where David Finlay and El Phantasmo get into it, as team mates. Bullet Club, as a concept, should surely be over by now. KENTA hits GTS on ELP. Ishimori punts ELP in the fork and that’s his bid for Bullet Club leader over. There’s more interesting angle development than actual wrestling.
IWGP Women’s Championship
Mercedes Mone (c) vs. Hazuki vs. AZM
A belt created to appease Sasha Banks and Allan Cheapshot. It’s time for Mone to showcase women’s wrestling in New Japan. A truly groundbreaking achievement. Hazuki retired in 2020, which made me very sad because she fucking rules. But she came back and now she’s wrestling for a title in NJPW. AZM is a ten-year veteran. She’s 20. The Japanese obsession with girls wrestling is bizarre.
This is the Mone shot.
The match has some sensational three-way ideas. Various roll up combinations and it has some wonderful mat work. I never thought I’d see a deliriously happy Sasha Banks working against Stardom’s stars. She was already a generational talent for her WWE work. To go outside of the comfort zone and work with Stardom workers is just wonderful to watch. She doesn’t dominate the style of the match either, fitting into the high paced high-octane style of her opponents. She just blends right in there. Some of the three-way spots don’t work. Like AZM attempting a double armbar. The logistics of it just don’t work. However, the three-way hit rate is high. Mone has learned to throw lumber too. Her forearm strikes are ace. Her striking improvement since moving to Japan is palpable. AZM feels like the star of the match. Aside from slipping on the ropes once, she nails everything. Hazuki and Mone have less chemistry and some of their bits are little awkward. Mone breaks up a pin by jacking AZM into the Moneymaker on a fallen Hazuki. Finish is a little bit awkward but still made sense. This was great! ***¾
POST MATCH: Mayu Iwatani comes out here to challenge. They’re wrestling at the Stardom show on April 23. “This is my country now, I’m the princess of Japan”.
NJPW World Television Championship
Zack Sabre Jr. (c) vs. Shota Umino
I don’t even know what this belt is. New Japan has 100 belts. Chris Charlton says it was designed to be a belt for young up and comers, but Sabre won it and hasn’t lost it. The best part of the title is the 15-minute time limit. All matches should have a 15-minute time limit. They start fast with pins and pin counters before Sabre takes charge with his technical superiority. Sabre looks heavier than he used to. As Sabre is working heel, Umino gets decent chunks of aggressive mat work leaving Sabre scurrying into the ropes.
In all honesty, there are at least two holds where Shota should tap out. Just based on Sabre’s focus during the match and the ring positioning. He also does strikes with his injured arm, which shouldn’t be happening. Umino also spends the whole match trying to get the Death Rider. He finally gets it and Zack just kicks out and wins with a roll up. Haha. I’m not sure they nailed the storytelling here. Umino should have just tapped out when he had his arm worked all match and was stuck in the middle of the ring. ***
IWGP Tag Team Championship
Bishamon (Hirooki Goto & YOSHI-HASHI) (c) vs. Aussie Open (Kyle Fletcher & Mark Davis)
Bishamon beat FTR in a sprint at Wrestle Kingdom. It was nice moment for them but they’re better positioned as chasers than champs. The belts have changed hands a lot over the last three years. It needs a new strong dominant team to run with them. Enter Aussie Open. They’re the best gaijin team to come after the belts since War Machine (FTR aside, may have forgotten about them). They hit this match at top speed, determined to get a bunch of shit into their allocated time. Kyle Fletcher hits his head on a rail very early in the match and bleeds heavily from the back of his head.
Fletcher looks angry about it. I have seen injuries end pushes. It must have been going through his head that he couldn’t finish here. He comes back in and immediately hits his tailbone on the apron. That spot ended Ricky Steamboat’s career. The head taping, with blood seeping out from underneath, gives me big Terry Butcher vibes. Fletcher’s fighting spirit in this match is an ideal demonstration of it as a concept. He leans into Goto’s forearms. Aussie Open get over huge during the match due to the circumstances. Goto gets beaten with the Fidget Spinner and Aussie Open win the straps! ****
This match was aided by Fletcher’s legitimate head injury. He had to fight against that as well as his opponents and it gave the match a surprising amount of fire and passion. Easily MOTN.
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
Hiromu Takahashi (c) vs. Robbie Eagles
I spend the first couple of minutes trying to figure out if I’ve seen Hiromu live. The answer is yes, twice in fact, at York Hall. On one occasion against the now cancelled Martin Scurll. When I was last watching wrestling Takahashi had just come back from a potentially career ending injury.
This match is in a tricky spot because they should base their match around speed but the last match was so fast paced, they can’t really follow it with more of the same. So, they switch gears and Eagles works the leg. New Japan, in the modern era, does not have a good track record of good limb matches. It doesn’t even have a good track record on this show. The dumbest spot is Eagles doing a 450 Splash to the leg, Hiromu raising his knees to stop it and effectively injuring himself to injure Eagles. You know, you could just move? Does this fit into the narrative that Hiromu isn’t in full possession of a functioning brain? Perhaps. They then do a bunch of weird no selling. Including a DVD into the corner where Hiromu jacks Eagles up on his bad leg. Also a 450 on the leg, which had been teased all match, finally arrives and leads to a Hiromu roll up near fall. Also, a superkick using the injured leg to stand on. Hiromu instead employing the Rob Van Dam school of selling. Where the injury means nothing short of occasionally holding a sore leg. Hiromu eventually just jacks Eagles up, putting all his weight on the injured leg, and finishing with Time Bomb II. This fucking stank. I feel bad for Robbie Eagles but then, all modern wrestlers need to not do leg matches. There hasn’t been a good leg match in a major promotion in years.
IWGP World Heavyweight Championship
Kazuchika Okada (c) vs. SANADA
SANADA’s latest attempt to be The Man, has involved him leaving LIJ, shaving off his shit beard and joining Just Five Guys. Okada won the belt just a few months ago, beating a departing Jay White.
The comparisons to Hirooki Goto are inevitable and if SANADA fails here, he’s a geek. SANADA’s best match, ever, was arguably the Okada match from 2019 G1. Which is the only time SANADA has beaten Okada. They go very slowly here with SANADA working the neck. The opening ten minutes is glacially boring.
Then we get a lot of this sort of thing. Designed to wear Okada down in a lengthy match and make him weaker without having him have to specifically sell something. They both grind away at what are essentially rest holds for the entire middle section of the match. Just as they look like they’re going for a hot finish the match ends. It’s a bizarre main event. A full two thirds of it are completely superfluous. Nowhere near either man’s best work. The last like 2 minutes are really good. That’s about it.
While this will go down as a historically important show, especially with SANADA being crowned champion, I didn’t think it was a good show. The main event was bad. The Hiromu match, in the semi main, was stupid. Take the poor selling from Umino away and the Sabre match is ok. The show peaked with the tag titles and a good Mone title defence. Albeit somewhat sloppy around the edges. SANADA winning the big one felt strangely flat, and I blame a boring match structure for it.