NJPW Sakura Genesis 2017
April 9, 2017
Ryōgoku Kokugikan
Tokyo, Japan

Watch: NJPW World

Meet our previewers:

  • Matt MacLean: An often silent but always opinionated voice on wrestling, you can follow Matt @shining_wiz13 on Twitter for lukewarm takes on wrestling and an obnoxious amount of political commentary.
  • Rich Kraetsch: The face that runs the place. The place, of course, being the website you’re reading right now. Follow him on Twitter @VoicesWrestling.
  • John Carroll: John just got back from Anime Boston where they taught the otaku masses about the DDT Ironman Heavymetalweight Championship. The masses were extremely receptive to a piece of chicken as champion, actually! Right now they would rather be asleep than writing this preview at work, but you do what you have to do. Follow their twitter @toshanshuinla if you like garbage.
  • Aaron Bentley: The southerner hated by southern wrestling fans. You can find him taking wrestling way too seriously on twitter: @AaronBentleyVOW.

David Finlay, Jushin Thunder Liger and Manabu Nakanishi vs. Hirai Kawato, Katsuya Kitamura and Tomoyuki Oka

Matt MacLean: If you’re anything like me, you love your openers to feature young lions getting the hell beat out of them. Therefore, again if you are anything like me, you’ll enjoy this opener. And while Kitamura is a spectacle of human beefiness, and Oka seems destined to be a top player, my favourite of the new faces is “River People” Kawato. He may never amount to more than a midcarder, but he’s improved since his debut, and particularly since his return from injury. On top of that, the crowd is starting to get into him a little bit. He’s got the young lion fire thing down, and that’s just plain fun to watch. He’s going to get killed here, but still. Prediction: Finlay, Liger & Nakanishi

Rich Kraetsch: Like Matt, some of my favorite matches on a standard New Japan show are the openers, particularly multi-man tag openers. Often you’ll get a nice blend of legends, young lions all presented in a compact match structure with no bullshit. The result is never in doubt but that adds to the intrigue because you want to see HOW they get to the result not if they get to the result. Prediction: Finlay, Liger & Nakanishi

John Carroll: Let me echo Matt here because I think Kawato has clearly turned a corner. The crowds have been so into his fiery babyface act (especially at Korakuen) that it’s almost single-handedly made otherwise nothing opening tags and six-mans into really fun matches over the past month or so. If he’s able to keep it up and keep improving, he’ll go a long way toward filling the Tanaka- and Komatsu-sized holes that I think we’ve all had in our hearts for a while now. Here we have our latest Kawato opener, but this time with a couple added twists: 1) Kawato’s partners are the beefier young lions, Oka & Kitamura, as the three will team together for the first time (on television at least) & 2) it’s in the legendary Sumo Hall, the first time any of the three young lions will be wrestling at this holy ground. I’m more excited for this than I was for literally anything from Wrestlemania week. Is that weird? I feel like it’s probably weird. Prediction: Finlay, Liger & Nakanishi

Aaron Bentley: Kawato has frequently teamed with Liger of late, so this will be a chance for the young man to show the master just what he’s learned. Apart from their interactions, I expect Oka and Nakanishi to pair off, as they had a fun match back at the 45th Anniversary Show. These young lion openers are always the best part of NJPW undercards and there’s no reason this should be any different. Kawato is the youngest lion, so he will likely take the fall. Prediction: Finlay, Liger & Nakanishi

Bullet Club (Hangman Page, Tama Tonga, Tanga Roa and Yujiro Takahashi) vs. Tiger Mask, Tiger Mask W, Togi Makabe and Yuji Nagata

Matt MacLean: GoD, a pimp, a hangman, King Kong, anime characters, and justice all walk into a bar…… Not sure what the punchline is, but even this match isn’t much of a joke. The BC B team (or is this the C team?) may not get the juices flowing, and Makabe is likely to disappear pretty quickly, but you’ve got Kota Ibushi in a multi man match. You KNOW he’s going to do something memorable at some point. His presence here, beyond being the sole reason for this match having any interest, is interesting. So far in his NJPW run as Tiger Mask W, Ibushi has either wrestled anime villains or had a run at Okada. Now, he’s back in the undercard – hopefully this makes him one step closer to regular NJPW status, which gets us one step closer to an Ibushi/Omega showdown…at the Dome perhaps? Prediction: Tigers Mask, Makabe & Nagata

Rich Kraetsch: Funny how things work out isn’t it? After running away from stardom with New Japan Pro Wrestling and wanting to escape the mundane of the pro wrestling business, Kota Ibushi is right back there, in a mundane multi-man tag, and again with NJPW. Of course, he just so happens to be wearing a Tiger Mask now. You have to go back to King of Pro-Wrestling 2015 to find the last Kota Ibushi match that didn’t truly “matter” or wasn’t some type of special attraction. Prediction: Tiger Masks, Makabe & Nagata

John Carroll: Yeah, I have no clue why you waste one of Ibushi’s rare NJPW appearances on this trash either, but that’s what we’re doing apparently. I actually kind of assumed the Okada loss was going to be his blow off, but I think we’ve still got something like another 3 months of the anime to go (they’re up to episode 26 now and the show is scheduled for a 39-episode run), so maybe they’ll just keep bringing Ibushi back under the hood as long as the show is on the air. At least they improved the mask enough for Ibushi to have an easier time wrestling under it. Anyway, this match will be okay, I guess? Does anyone actually still care about the Bullet Club outside of Kenny and mayyyybe Fale? Prediction: Tigers Mask, Makabe & Nagata

Aaron Bentley: Is there any way to come out of this match with a GOD vs. Tiger Masks feud? I would happily sign up for a three match series. Assuming that doesn’t happen, the best we can hope for here is the match focusing on GOD and Ibushi, with Nagata in a starring role. Maybe Page’s guaranteed shooting star press to the outside will take him out of the rest of the match, along with Yujiro and Makabe. Prediction: Tiger Masks, Makabe & Nagata

Chaos (Beretta, Rocky Romero and Yoshi-Hashi) vs. Suzuki-gun (El Desperado, Minoru Suzuki and Taka Michinoku)

Matt MacLean: I’m usually pretty good at being positive about things in NJPW, but Suzuki-gun really stretches my limits. Even here, where the team is made up of three guys I actually like, the whole is lesser than the sum of its parts. So, instead of dwelling on that, how good has Beretta been for the better part of the last year? I wasn’t overly enthused when he first started teaming with Rocky, but he’s seriously become one of the most consistently good performers in the junior division. Though, how a guy that size is a junior while Kenny Omega and Zack Sabre, Jr are heavyweights confuses the hell out me. Suzuki-gun silliness aside, this will be fun if entirely forgettable. Prediction: Suzuki-gun

Rich Kraetsch: How is it that arguably the three best in-ring wrestlers in Suzuki-gun have been relegated to B-team status on this show? It’s just not fair, dammit. But hey, I’ll manage because this match has a chance to be really good. When the worst wrestler in a six-man match is Taka Michinoku, you know you’re in for a treat. Prediction: Suzuki-gun

John Carroll: Suzukigun isn’t as bad as you think it is, it’s really just three guys dragging things down for everyone else. Unfortunately two of those three are the unit’s only current champions, but hey, at least we don’t have Iizuka on this show! Hurray! These three dudes are all pretty good, although I will say Desperado is a guy who never lives up to my opinion of him once I’m actually watching him wrestle. In my head he’s pretty good, and then when I watch him it’s always “oh, more stomping huh? we still doing this?”. TAKA is pretty great though, and Suzuki is still Suzuki, so I doubt this will be unwatchable or anything. But if you were clamoring for this SZKG return before it happened, I find it hard to believe you’re still all that excited about it now. Prediction: Suzukigun

Aaron Bentley: If Beretta can maintain the motivation he’s had for awhile now, Trent vs. Suzuki suddenly sounds bizarrely interesting, doesn’t it? I expect this match to vastly exceed expectations, but I generally enjoy TAKA, so that may be clouding my judgment. Regardless, everyone on the CHAOS team always works hard in these matches, so it will be fun if nothing else. SZKG has largely been on the losing side of these matchups lately, so I predict that continues. Prediction: CHAOS

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship
Suzuki-gun (Taichi and Yoshinobu Kanemaru) (c) vs. Jado & Gedo

Matt MacLean: I still get a kick out of Gedo, but good lord I am not looking forward to this. This may actually be the match with the least cumulative talent to take place in a New Japan ring this year. See – Suzuki-gun turns me into a negative nelly. Prediction: Suzuki-gun

Rich Kraetsch: Remember when I said three of the best workers in Suzuki-gun were relegated to B-team status. Well, inexplicably, and what I can only assume is some type of cruel joke Taichi and Kanemaru has become the A-team. Taichi and Kanemaru. I’ll give Kanemaru the benefit of the doubt, when he wants to, he can still deliver. Taichi is the pits. Arguably the worst in-ring wrestler in the company—or until they find the missing Captain New Japan—Taichi brings so little to the table it’s frustrating. It’d be enough if he just sucked in the ring and dragged all of his matches down but he also adds the element of bullshit, ref distractions and cheap wins. On this night, they’ll defend their titles against Jado & Gedo. Hey, the moments when Gedo and Kanemaru face off should be fun… right? RIGHT?! Prediction: Suzuki-gun

John Carroll: I’m still waiting for this mythical Kanemaru who can still deliver to show up in New Japan, but I guess that’s neither here nor there. I should apologize to El Desperado for what I said about him in the last preview- the REAL king of doing nothing but stomps is Yoshinobu friggin’ Kanemaru. Anyway, I’m never going to be able to top my preview from the show where these two bums won the junior tag titles, so I’m not even going to bother trying. They’re going to win again, and if you’re smart you won’t even watch this dumb match. (Note that I am not smart, so I almost certainly will.) Prediction: Suzukigun

Aaron Bentley: I’ve been finding the bright side of every match so far. That ends here. There is nothing to look forward to in this one, other than whoever accompanies Taichi to the ring. Gedo is great at a lot of things, and he’s still quite a good worker, but he can’t save this. Prediction: Suzukigun

Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale and Kenny Omega) vs. Chaos (Tomohiro Ishii and Toru Yano)

Matt MacLean: Yano will do Yano, and depending on how you feel about that, will either bring the match down a level, or add some comic relief. The rest of this match is really interesting. Fale is coming off a run to the finals of the NJ Cup, which means he’s got his credibility for the year, but he’s not a focal point here. The focal point is Kenny Omega looking to avenge his loss to Ishii in the opening round of the NJ Cup. Anything that leads to a rematch of that burner is AOK in my book. Prediction: Fale & Omega

Rich Kraetsch: Can we get a change.org campaign going to remove Tomohiro Ishii from this tag team? What was once my most anticipated part of every NJPW has become one of the most tiresome. Yano and thereby the association of the two has really sunk Ishii. On the positive side, being in a jokey tag team allows him to rest up and heal injuries so he’s more fresh when the next big time singles match or G1 Climax comes calling. Still, I can’t help but feel Ishii wasting away. If everyone had their working boots on in this match, it could be pretty fun. Unfortunately, I think we’ll have rainbow Omega which means goofy Omega ergo probably not a match you’ll remember even a few minutes after it’s over. For the record, I’m not always against goofy Omega and I actually enjoy the shtick but you have to temper expectations the second you see those darned pants. Prediction: Fale & Omega

John Carroll: I don’t care if I’m the last person left alive who still enjoys Toru Yano, he can shrug his way onto my wrestling show any day. I know, I get it, it’s the same thing all the time, but it’s still a nice little change of pace in a promotion that has a tendency to take itself way too seriously sometimes. I also don’t know why people are acting like they’re this tired of Yano already; you just got an extended break from him while he was off in NOAH, didn’t you?! Don’t tell me you were watching Suzukigun-era NOAH! No one but me and a handful of other masochists was inflicting that on themselves! Anyway, yeah, the match. Kenny is clearly in a holding pattern right now (he can join the club with Tetsuya Naito, I guess) but you could do worse for holding patterns than a mini-feud with Tomohiro Ishii. This should be a wacky mix of serious wrestling action and complete comedy from Omega and Yano. Prediction: Fale & Omega

Aaron Bentley: Good news, John: there are at least two people left who still enjoy Toru Yano! I say bring on the antics. On your normal NJPW show with 30 multi-mans on the undercard, I’m always happy to see Yano come out and break up things. We know the focus here will be on Ishii and Omega, but somehow silly Omega/Yano theatrics will have to give way to a finish where either Omega or Ishii pins the other. I guess Omega needs to get this fall to set up their singles rematch, but that doesn’t fit with the way Yano has nut-shotted his way into wins for he and Ishii. I’m going against traditional Gedo booking because I think Yano will again secure the victory. Prediction: Ishii & Yano

Los Ingobernables de Japon (Bushi, Evil, Sanada and Tetsuya Naito) vs. Taguchi Japan (Hiroshi Tanahashi, Juice Robinson, Ricochet and Ryusuke Taguchi)

Matt MacLean: Faction fatigue is a real thing, and NJPW and booker Gedo are really suffering from it since the return of Suzuki-gun. The key symptom has been LIJ multi-man matches. It feels like there’s a six or eight man match on every card. That being said, they’re the most over group in the company, and a quiet start to the year likely means a noisy second half. In the meantime, we get some fun and meaningless matches like this to kill the time. Prediction: LIJ

Rich Kraetsch: Per our friends at Cagematch.net, Tetsuya Naito has had 22 TV/PPV matches in NJPW this year. The number of those to feature two or more of his Los Ingobernables stablemates: 17. 14 of those 22 featured Hiroshi Tanahashi, 13 of 22 had KUSHIDA and 12 of the 22 for Ryusuke Taguchi. Enough, Gedo. Enough. Prediction: LIJ

John Carroll: We really couldn’t have gotten a throwaway IC Title defense on this show, booker man? You’re telling me Naito couldn’t have faced Sabre instead of Goto or something? I get that you don’t NEED both titles defended on this show, but there’s no rule that says a Naito defense here means we can’t have one at Dontaku too. As it is, we’re definitely long past the point of overkill on these LIJ multi-mans. With all that said, Taguchi Japan is one of the most fun developments to happen in this promotion in quite a long time, so I’m always down for more of them in my life. If you aren’t reading the post-match promo translations for Taguchi’s stuff, you really should be. Prediction: Taguchi Japan

Aaron Bentley: Hey, Ricochet is back! Let’s ignore this interminable string of LIJ multi-mans and focus on Ricochet! I was lucky enough to see Ricochet in person a few times during WrestleMania weekend. He has been somewhat forgotten with the rise of guys like Will Ospreay, but he may still be the best at his style. The NJPW audience treats the Kentucky native like a star, and he’ll shine here as always. Prediction: LIJ

IWGP Tag Team Championship
Tencozy (Hiroyoshi Tenzan and Satoshi Kojima) (c) vs. War Machine (Hanson and Raymond Rowe)

Matt MacLean: Tencozy were never meant to be tag champs in 2017, but they’re on a fresh little run here. While Tenzan just loafs around, Kojima is slicing up opponents and making the most of some unexpected time in the spotlight. I think that spotlight might be coming to an end here though. While War Machine have been a bit crusty in NJPW, they fall short of being out and out heels. But they’ve been toasting their legendary opponents in the lead up to this match. As much as I love Kojima, I fear he’ll be feeling pretty crumby when all is said and done here. Prediction: War Machine

Rich Kraetsch: Over the last handful of years, no team has been more protected in New Japan Pro Wrestling than Tencozy. As research in Voices of Wrestling’s NJPW 2016 Year in Review eBook (cheap plug) showed, Tencozy literally does not lose. Unless, of course, it’s a tag title match. That changed when Tencozy shocked the world in March, winning the titles for a seventh time. Prepare for a regression to the mean, Tencozy returns to their losing in title match ways and War Machine nabs their inaugural IWGP Tag Team Title reign. Prediction: War Machine

John Carroll: It’s time for our yearly gaijin IWGP Tag Team Champions, so here you go. They’re better than the Kingdom and more over in Japan than the Briscoes, but if you aren’t sick of this booking pattern by now I’m not sure what it’s going to take. Just make your damn tag titles mean something, Gedo! We could be watching barnburner tag title matches with teams like Naito/SANADA and Tanahashi/Juice, just to randomly pick four guys who are doing NOTHING on this show. Nothing against this match, it’ll probably be fine, but I’m beyond sick of these belts meaning virtually nothing. Anyway. Prediction: War Machine

Aaron Bentley: I’ve loved War Machine (goofy face paint aside) since I first saw them in Ring of Honor, and that love lives on. Kojima never seems to slow down, so I’m sure we’ll see a good pace and hard-hitting action as a great appetizer for the meat of this card. War Machine as champions is fresh and they should inject some life into this division. Prediction: War Machine

NEVER Openweight Championship
Hirooki Goto (c) vs. Zack Sabre Jr.

Matt MacLean: Zacky Four Belts? Never say NEVER. Zack appears to be the antidote to my issues with Suzuki-gun, but I don’t doubt there will be some shenanigans on the go here too. The question is how hard a push is Zack going to be getting here? Winning the NEVER belt was a big deal for the perennial loser, but it doesn’t feel like it the cumulation of his career as a runner up. It would be a very Goto thing to lose his precious to an undersized interloper cheating his way to the top. I legitimately do not know how this will come out, but if you make me pick… Prediction: Goto

Rich Kraetsch: Everyone in this preview is required to make a Zacky Four Belts reference, so here’s mine. That was it. Okay, we’re done. This match, on paper, could steal the show. That seems wild to say when freaking Kazuchika Okada and Katsuyori Shibata are your main event but I truly believe it. Sabre is one of the best in the world and has delivered thus far in New Japan. Goto, after years of languishing and being unfairly criticized, has finally found balance in his career and is putting together the best six month run of his entire career. This year alone Goto has been in a handful of ****+ matches and this should be yet another one to add to his tally. I’m not saying it WILL steal the show but don’t be shocked if it does. I will, however, be shocked if Sabre wins. Goto retains, for now. Prediction: Goto

John Carroll: Combining a belt I barely cared about with a dude who has basically turned “good but totally forgettable” into a friggin’ art form has not been a good combination. I regularly forget both Goto and this title exist, so I think it’s probably time for a change here. Zack winning would at least finally give that whole “openweight” thing some meaning, and let Goto move on to, I dunno, whatever it is he’s gonna be doing next. Probably continuing to just kind of exist, I would imagine, in his good but totally forgettable way. Prediction: ZSJ

Aaron Bentley: Rich and Joe have hammered for what seems like years now this simple truth: NJPW depends on the NEVER belt to headline tertiary shows. Is there any reason to believe Zack Sabre Jr. can headline New Japan shows? No, of course not. I’m much more interested in seeing ZSJ as champ, and the possibility of SZKG interference looms large, but I can’t imagine Gedo counting on Zacky Three Belts to draw houses. Prediction: Goto

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
Hiromu Takahashi (c) vs. Kushida

Matt MacLean: A lot of new NJPW fans missed out on Takahashi as a young lion, as he was on excursion in Mexico by the time the access boom happened. But once he popped back up on NJPW radar – with an amazing match against Dragon Lee at Fantasticamania – it was clear he would be a major player in the junior division when he finally returned home. But how many people figured he would be THIS good? His match against KUSHIDA at Wrestle Kingdom is overshadowed by the greatness that followed it, but it was probably the best junior match in NJPW this decade. He’s been nothing less that good since, and now we get a rematch against the former ace of the division. KUSHIDA certainly played a role in reestablishing the juniors as near-top of the card draws, but is his time at the top done? I’m hoping Takahashi retains here and the division gets shuffled up a bit, with Ospreay, Ricochet, and Dragon Lee lurking around for title shots against Takahashi. I’d be ok if Takahashi held the title until at least the Dome in January. Prediction: Takahashi

Rich Kraetsch: We’ve seen some of our Twitter timeline put this match down as predictable, much of the same, too soon after their last match. Hey, maybe, but I have trouble complaining about another match between these two. Their showing at Wrestle Kingdom was overshadowed by one of the best matches in wrestling history and probably won’t be fully appreciated until the end of the year when people do re-watches. I’m all for them getting another chance to shine on a big stage, even if it it’s a match we saw only a few months ago. KUSHIDA is one of the better big match performers in the company, NJPW’s junior ace and a hell of a worker with solid crowd investment. And Takahashi, well, you’ll be able to count the amount of times he almost dies in the match. I’ll set the over/under at 2.5. Prediction: Takahashi

John Carroll: Yeah, I don’t know why anyone would complain about getting this match again. Too soon? Well, I mean, the way the NJPW schedule works it’s not like there’s THAT much time available for them to do this: pretty soon it will be BOSJ time and all the juniors will be busy with that, and then they’ll be in nothing but multi-man tags for the G1. It was pretty much here or Dominion if you wanted to see this before September (I guess they could have done it at Dontaku too, but this match feels way too big for Dontaku to me), so no big deal that they chose here over Osaka. KUSHIDA is a Tokyo guy anyway. As for how it’s going to go, I really want to say I think Hiromu is retaining, but the way Gedo tends to book tells me that KUSHIDA is probably regaining the belt here. KUSHIDA wins the belt back here, Hiromu wins BOSJ, and we build to match three between these two seems like a likely scenario to me. Prediction: KUSHIDA

Aaron Bentley: It’s time for Gedo to establish that Hiromu is the guy here. KUSHIDA had his run as the ace of the junior division, and unfortunately, he has been eclipsed. I love KUSHIDA, but Hiromu is a much more interesting character and worker. Run with it! KUSHIDA isn’t quite as unconcerned with his health and safety as Dragon Lee, but there is still the likelihood here of 2-3 absolutely insane Takahashi spots. There is no chance this disappoints. Prediction: Takahashi

IWGP Heavyweight Championship
Kazuchika Okada (c) vs. Katsuyori Shibata

Matt MacLean: In a way, I understand why people complain about the slow burn booking style that NJPW utilizes. But on the other hand, I know how damned excited I am for this match to FINALLY happen, and I wonder why people need the instant gratification of burning through big time matches as soon as they become plausible. Shibata has FINALLY ascended to the point where he has earned an IWGP title shot. Since his return to NJPW, he has slowly rebuilt his reputation within the company, proving to be a reliable performer and a popular draw. Over the past year plus, since officially signing a New Japan contract, he has been groomed for this moment. His NEVER title run, his disrespect, feud, and subsequent acceptance by the Third Generation, and finally his win in the NJ Cup to earn this shot. I can see multiple ways for the rest of 2017 to play itself out, but one of the most interesting paths is directly in front of us here – a Shibata win, making him a truly made man for the rest of his career, an Okada run to his third G1 victory, and Omega beating Shibata in the fall to set up a role reversal rematch at the Dome. I REALLY like that scenario, so…. Prediction: NEW IWGP Champion, Katsuyori Shibata!

Rich Kraetsch: For years, Joe Lanza and I (Voices of Wrestling flagship podcast) have fought tooth and nail with the groundswell of people who wanted a Katsuyori Shibata push. Beginning as early as the 2013 G1 Climax, people wanted Shibata to become a main eventer, to become a big-time player in the company. A yearly tournament wouldn’t go by without 30-40% of participants picking Shibata to win — whether it be the New Japan Cup or G1 Climax. People were ready for Shibata on top almost immediately upon his return to the company. It wasn’t that Joe or I didn’t think Shibata was a rare talent. Quite the contrary, actually. It was his unique presence, acute in-ring awareness and unmistakable silent charisma that made us want NJPW to wait. Wait until the time was right. That time is finally right. After spending last year proving himself to various NJPW legends, Shibata has emerged as the representative of everything that is good and pure about New Japan Pro Wrestling, everything great about the famed Lion Mark. He’s graduated to the main event and he’s graduated to a match with IWGP Heavyweight Championship Kazuchika Okada. One of our arguments for holding onto the Shibata push was the eventual matchup with Okada and the importance of finally doing it after all these years.

Shibata vs. Okada has been the most protected matchup in NJPW over the last half decade. Only 43 times since Shibata’s return have the two been in the same ring. Only once have the two faced off in a singles match (2013 G1 Climax). Compare that to Okada’s greatest rival, Hiroshi Tanahashi. The two have seen one another in the ring exactly 200 times since Okada’s arrival in the company. New Japan smartly held off for this match and this moment to mean something big. They kept them away in subsequent G1 Climax tournament, they held them apart in New Japan Cups and they didn’t spoil a singles match on some run-of-the-mill show throughout the year. They saved it for Sumo Hall. My excitement for the match itself has made it hard to compartmentalize and make a prediction for — I’m not even sure who I want to win, let alone who I think WILL win. My heart says Okada retains but can NJPW resist the temptation to create another mega star in Shibata? Prediction: Okada

John Carroll: Let’s not get too revisionist history with Shibata here. It’s nice that NJPW saved his big push up until they needed it, but that had just as much to do with a locker room backlash over a guy who walked out during the promotion’s darkest days getting pushed as it did with anything else. In hindsight I get why that looks like a grand plan or a stroke of genius, but that’s also doing a disservice to Shibata himself and what he had to overcome in his return to New Japan to make it to this point. He managed to win over enough people in the back with his efforts since returning and once again becoming a full-timer that they felt comfortable enough finally pushing him at a level he has been over at for years. So here we are then: Shibata and Okada, finally one-on-one for the first time since a G1 match from nearly four years ago, in one of the greatest buildings in the world. If that doesn’t get you pumped, I’m not sure what exactly it is you’re doing reading this preview. As far as predicting a winner here, my heart says Shibata but my head says Okada. Always go with your head, kids. Prediction: Okada

Aaron Bentley: I’ve been excited for this match for so long. There is no New Japan match fresher or more intriguing than this. I put it down in my calendar: Okada. Shibata. 1/4/2018. Tokyo Dome. Wait, what? It’s April 2017!? This match isn’t happening in the Dome?? I hate to say this, but Okada/Shibata happening now somewhat dampens my excitement for it. I know that’s stupid; the match is still the match, but I wanted it for the first time on the biggest stage, with everything on the line. Presumably, that match is still coming, and the result here will spoil the 1/4 main event. Does Okada get his revenge or does Shibata, finally, overcome his last obstacle to greatness within New Japan? I choose the latter. Prediction: Okada