New Japan Pro Wrestling
Sakura Genesis 2018

April 1, 2018 (4:00 pm JST)
Ryogkoku Sumo Hall

Watch: NJPW World

Meet our previewers

  • John Carroll: John just got back from Long Beach on Tuesday at like 10 p.m., they’re home for all of a day, then it’s right onto a train on Thursday for Boston for an anime con. The weeaboo traveler life is not for everyone, but they can take it. Follow them @toshanshuinla if you want to hear about their attempts to bring puroresu to the weeb masses (they’re presenting not one, but TWO panels on Japanese pro wrestling this year!). Also follow their podcast @wrestleomakase, which is good.
  • Taylor Maimbourg: Taylor has returned to the East Coast from his sojourn to the West Coast for Strong Style Evolved, and he is longing to be back in warm weather.  The only thing that gives him warmth now is previewing another New Japan show. Follow him on Twitter @tamaimbo.
  • Alex Wendland: Alex continues to write and edit for VOW on a sporadic basis. Find him on Twitter @AlexWendland.

Yujiro Takahashi & Chase Owens vs. The Young Bucks

John Carroll: The Young Bucks go from main eventing Strong Style Evolved last weekend to jerking the curtain here, in a continuation of the ongoing BULLET CLUB split storyline. Interestingly enough the “Team Cody” side of the BC has become increasingly isolated, which I don’t think a lot of people necessarily expected going in. While no one on the Tongan/OG side of the BC has specifically said they’re with Team Kenny, before Tanga Loa’s match with Cody & Scurll at SSE he actually went so far as to say that if they were on anyone’s team it’s definitely not Cody’s, which felt like a big deal. Now we’ve got two more members of that contingent, Yujiro & Chase, taking on the Bucks here. Chase has been the friendliest member of the Tongan contingent to the Golden☆Lovers from the start, owing mostly to his former team with Omega (and Kenny hitting a sweet jump shot on an episode of Being the Elite). Yujiro comes along for the ride here despite showing no real opinion so far. The Bucks, meanwhile, seem to be Team Cody for now, although there’s a real split starting to emerge there. Nick shook hands with Kenny after their match at SSE while Matt did not, and on the last episode of BTE Nick stated that he didn’t think they could trust Cody while Matt seemed far more willing to forgive his post-match transgression of throwing Nick down (an inversion of the original angle where Kenny threw Matt down). It’s complicated, folks! And this is a lot more fun than the damn nWo split ever was. Anyway, the Bucks are winning this of course. Prediction: The Young Bucks

Taylor Maimbourg: Sometimes I wonder if some of these Bullet Club teams are picked randomly out of a hat, as Chase Owens, who has been spending more and more time with the Golden Lovers, teams with Yujiro, who to this point couldn’t be less involved in the destruction of the Bullet Club. As for the match itself, it seems clearly set up to serve one purpose: get the Young Bucks their first victory as a heavyweight tag team again the bottom rung of the New Japan heavyweight tag division. Keep an eye out for dissention with the Young Bucks, as New Japan and Being The Elite stories seem to both be trending towards a blowup (and breakup?) between Matt and Nick over where their allegiances lie in the BC split. I could see Matt attacking Chase post-match as some kind of sign to Kenny. Prediction: The Young Bucks

Alex Wendland: The obvious outcome is The Young Bucks earning a solid win and advancing the Bullet Club implosion just a little bit. Alternatively, there’s a growing rift between the Bucks themselves–Matt has seemingly sided with Cody, while Nick sees through #TeamCody and has seemed more inclined to side with Kenny. Still, the opening match on a New Japan show the week before Kenny and Cody go one-on-one in New Orleans for ROH doesn’t seem like the best time to throw a huge wrinkle into the storyline, especially a Young Bucks split. I’d wager on the first outcome. Prediction: The Young Bucks

Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano vs. Taichi & Takashi Iizuka

John Carroll: Poor Taichi’s heavyweight run has fallen off fairly quickly here, as he’s gone from matches with Naito & Tanahashi (where he killed it with both, in my very biased opinion) to this kind of nothing tag team match on the last number of cards. I wish NJPW would just fly in Chuckie T more often and let him be Yano’s regular tag team partner, because that team is a hell of a lot more fun than this odd couple Ishii/Yano team ever is. Actually “odd couple” probably makes this team sound more interesting than it actually is, because Ishii just kind of ignores Yano’s schtick in these tag matches and it’s never remotely fun. Oh man, can you imagine Trent coming back from injury and giving us a Yano/Best Friends NEVER 6-man title run? I really want this now. Anyway, Ishii & Yano win a weird amount of their tag matches, but I don’t know who on the other team is taking a fall here (Taichi shouldn’t be taking falls as a heavyweight yet and Iizuka is way more protected than you probably think he is), so I’m just gonna say they pin Yano here. Prediction: Taichi & Iizuka

Taylor Maimbourg: Unlike John, I actually really enjoy the team of Ishii and Yano, and I was pretty bummed to see Killer Elite Squad put a halt to their growing momentum by beating them handily last week. It appeared for a bit that Ishii and Yano were ramping up for a shot at the tag team titles, and I hope the loss to KES was just a temporary setback and they are able to get back to their winning ways against the Suzukigun odd couple of Taichi and Iizuka. Give Ishii and Yano a few more wins and they could challenge the winner of KES and EVIL/SANADA. Prediction: Tomohiro Ishii and Toru Yano

Alex Wendland: We’re all finally resigning ourselves to the fact that Ishii is going to be doing Toru Yano things until the inevitable heat death of the universe, but the Killer Elite Squad loss was tough even if it did make sense. Taichi, on the other hand, has been ascendent in 2018 and even had a couple of good singles matches this year. A tag team push, even if it doesn’t result in a championship and they ultimately fall to KES, could give him a Baretta-like boost in the rankings. Unfortunately, that tag push seems like it would include Iizuka, who I find insufferable. Prediction: Taichi & Iizuka

NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Titles
BULLET CLUB (Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa) © vs. Taguchi Japan (Togi Makabe, Michael Elgin & Ryusuke Taguchi)

John Carroll: How humiliating must it have been for Michael Elgin to be left off an NJPW card in his own country? You earned every bit of that snub, pal. Anyway, this is the kind of sneaky six-man title match that you’re not really at all excited for going in but ends up being a fun ***1/4-ish level affair. I think the Taguchi Japan team has a real shot at winning this, which I think would be unfortunate as I like it when these titles have some stability and the BC trio is a perfectly fine champion team. I’m gonna go with what I want to happen here, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if it went the other way. Prediction: BULLET CLUB

Taylor Maimbourg: I have absolutely no interest in watching any wrestling match that involves Michael Elgin. I hope Bullet Club retains so that it is less likely I have to watch Michael Elgin wrestle. Prediction: Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa

Alex Wendland: This has Classic NJPW Fun and Ultimately Meaningless Three-and-a-Quarter Star Multi-Man written all over it. I’m kind of surprised that G.O.D. and Fale being the only Bullet Club members to hold titles during this gigantic storyline hasn’t become more of a sticking point, but then again they’re holding the NEVER Openweight 6-Man titles, so it could turn into a pretty epic self-own. It seems the NJPW office is sticking with Michael Elgin, but sticking any gold on him doesn’t seem likely considering they’re hiding him and pushing him down the card. Prediction: BULLET CLUB

Hiroshi Tanahashi, Juice Robinson & David Finlay vs. CHAOS (Hirooki Goto, Jay White & YOSHI-HASHI)

John Carroll: As we’ll talk about in the next match as well, they’re saving a lot of title matches for the Dontaku tour, including the Juice-Goto NEVER title match. I thought that at least had a shot at being on this show but instead we’re going to have to wait until one of the Dontaku shows (probably the Hi No Kuni show on 4/29) to get that battle. At SSE we also got a surprising challenge from David Finlay to his old rival Jay White for a US Title match, which he specifically requested be at Korakuen Hall (smart move, since the crowd will probably actually be into it there, whereas they likely wouldn’t at a Dontaku show in Fukuoka). So this is your standard hype tag match, with YOSHI-HASHI and, of all people, Hiroshi Tanahashi just along for the ride. YOSHI is screaming to take a pinfall here, as it would make no sense to pin either title challenger, but maybe they really shock us and let Finlay pin White to really heat up that title match? Prediction: Tanahashi, Juice & Finlay

Taylor Maimbourg: I am really excited for this match for a number of reasons. First, I’m happy to see Jay White working a show where he isn’t in a featured match. I understood holding him back prior to his match at Wrestle Kingdom, but I feel that New Japan’s selective booking of him has made it difficult for him to build any momentum when it comes to both character and in-ring work. His match against Adam Page at Strong Style Evolved was technically sound, but without any prior build in the weeks leading up to it, it fell a bit flat. It would have helped to have White on the New Japan Cup to build up the match a bit, and I think having White on this tour building his match with David Finlay will help that match immensely. Second, I’m excited to finally see Finlay put in a big spot. Anyone who has kept up with these previews knows that Finlay’s inability to rise about lower card fodder in New Japan has baffled me for a long, long time, and I’m happy to see him finally getting a shot to deliver in a big (or at least pretty big) match. Just like Juice did a few years ago, I think David Finlay could surprise a lot of people now that he’s being put in a spot to deliver. Also, I think this match could be pretty dang good! Prediction: Hiroshi Tanahashi, David Finlay and Juice Robinson

Alex Wendland: This match is going to advance a few storylines all at once when Juice Robinson pins Hirooki Goto. Fit Finlay’s Irish Son David Finlay will have a team win over the United States champion heading into his title shot. Juice Robinson will have yet another pinfall over Hirooki Goto as he challenges for the NEVER Openweight title. Jay White can advance his reputation as a team killer by subtly sabatoging CHAOS. Of course, like John said, the real gutsy move would be to have Fit Finlay’s Irish Son David Finlay pin White, but you lose out on the other storylines by doing that. Prediction: Hiroshi Tanahashi, David Finlay and Juice Robinson

Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, EVIL & SANADA) vs. Suzukigun (Minoru Suzuki, Davey Boy Smith Jr & Lance Archer)

John Carroll: Speaking of matches saved for Dontaku, I’m not shocked at all that we’re left waiting for Naito-Suzuki. That’s pretty much the biggest possible Intercontinental Title match you can do right now, so there’s no reason to burn that as a semi-main when it should be more than enough to headline a show on its own. Their feud that began back at the New Japan Cup tour has been one of the best things about New Japan at the moment, with Naito’s antics getting under Suzuki’s skin to the point that the champion is calling out his challenger. This plays right into Naito’s character of “I’m bigger than any belt, fighting me is more important than any title”, and it’s an interesting change of pace for Suzuki after he had just spent his last two feuds with Makabe & Goto being the one ignoring someone else’s challenge. Their exchanges have of course been awesome and heated, and there’s no reason why that won’t continue to be the case in front of a typically hot Sumo Hall crowd. Meanwhile the other big story here is of course the return of EVIL from injury, as we also prepare for an IWGP Tag Team Title match with he & SANADA against the Killer Elite Squad, again likely on one of the Dontaku shows. Expect hot fighting with a hot crowd here in a match that should be quite fun. I’m thinking for a finish it’s going to be KES pinning either EVIL or SANADA to continue putting heat on that tag team title match. Prediction: Suzukigun

Taylor Maimbourg: I spent a good amount of time in the preview for Strong Style Evolved ranting and raving about the fact that I was absolutely petrified that KES getting a tag team title shot meant that we were returning to the world of endless three way tags. Now that it looks like that is not the case, I have to offer up a mea culpa and say that I’m pretty excited for this match. I’m happy to see EVIL back, as I thought that the LIJ tag champs were working pretty well before EVIL went down. I’m interested to see where the title defense happens, as I think it could take some people by surprise quality-wise if it’s third or fourth from the top on a bigger show. Oh yeah, this match is also building something else – Minoru Suzuki vs. Tetsuya Naito. It’s one of the biggest matches New Japan can pull out of its hat, and at this point, I could see New Japan waiting to pull the trigger on it until it’s really needed. Minoru’s post-match brawls and Naito’s devil may care attitude could keep these undercard preview matches hot for at least a month or two. Prediction: Suzukigun

Alex Wendland: You know what’s wild? Minuro Suzuki went from a 2017 that left many questioning his future as a featured player to having a Wrestler of the Year-level 2018 and becoming one of the five-or-so guys who can trade wins and losses at the top of the card without anyone so much as batting an eyelash. He’s been incredible, and I’m the moron who questioned the man’s future in widely-distributed ebook that many people voted for in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter awards. Similar to Suzuki’s re-rise, Suzukigun as a whole has become so much better without the incessant interference and by being the big, bad dudes they’ve always been Killer Elite Squad is going to pin one of the tag champs in this match to set up the title shot and Suzuki is going to slam Naito into the guardrail a bunch to set up their Intercontinental title match. Prediction: Suzukigun

IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Titles
Yoshinobu Kanemaru & El Desperado © vs. Hiromu Takahashi & BUSHI vs. Roppongi 3K

John Carroll: Sigh. It’s really something that the moment the IWGP Heavyweight tag team title division finally escapes the endless repetitive 3- and 4-way match booking from last year, the junior tag team title division gets to receive that “honor”. Is there, like, a Yakuza boss who really loves multi-way tags and has threatened Gedo’s life unless he books them at all times? That’s as good an explanation as any for why we’re getting this crap again instead of either 2 vs. 2 tag match. We got Kanemaru/Despy-3K non-title already, would it have really killed them to give us the Kanemaru/Despy-Hiromu/BUSHI match straight up here and let R3K challenge the winners? Apparently so, because here we are with this crap again. Anyway, let’s just say R3K win the titles back, because why not at this point. Prediction: Roppongi 3K

Taylor Maimbourg: I know there’s a segment of wrestling world that really loves El Desperado, but I am not part of that segment and I was bummed to see the Suzukigun team win the belts at the 45th Anniversary show. Then, to make matters worse, New Japan is going to run ANOTHER three-way with the exact same teams. I know I offered a mea culpa during the preview of the last match, but if the curse of the three way match is just moving to the junior tag division, I will take that mea culpa back in a heartbeat. I’m hoping that either LIJ or RPG3K wins and we can kick Suzukigun to the curb and get back to normalcy. Prediction: Hiromu Takahashi and BUSHI

Alex Wendland: I guess this is a match that needed to happen? A lot of people have disliked the Young Bucks being involved in so much of top end of the Jr. Heavyweight Tag, but they brought gravitas to the matches. This is just kind of blowing in the wind. I’m sure the work will be exciting with Hiromu Takahashi doing insane things, but Roppongi 3K has just sort of “been there” when they’re not wrestling Matt and Nick. Despite being the top guy in the match, I don’t think Takahashi is going to be carrying the Jr. Heavy tag belt around. He’s doing this until Marty Scurll and Rey Mysterio get their shit in. Prediction: Roppongi 3K

IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship
Will Ospreay © vs. Marty Scurll

John Carroll: I’ve made my feelings on Marty Scurll known by now, I think: I like him a lot as an oddly lovable comedy dipshit, but as a Serious Title Contender™ I think he’s pretty awful. God knows I could have gone several lifetimes without seeing this particular matchup again, which brings out the worst in both guys in my humble opinion. They both treat this less like a fight and more like a whimsical day at the local theater; if that’s your thing, that’s cool, but it sure ain’t mine. Booking-wise though it makes sense that Scurll would get a one-on-one match for the title, since he lost the belt to Will in a four-way and has beaten him in one-on-ones matches like a thousand times, including their last meeting for this very title back at Power Struggle in November. So I got no problem with the match being booked, I just know I’m unlikely to enjoy it. Anyway, William had better win this. Prediction: Will Ospreay

Taylor Maimbourg: At the beginning of 2016, Will Ospreay and Marty Scurll had a series of matches that absolutely wowed me. Those matches lead me to getting into the UK wrestling scene, and because of that, I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for this particular matchup. The story of Marty having Will’s number seems to lend itself to a highly dramatic story here, but it seems fairly obvious that Will is retaining, so I am finding it a bit hard to get hyped up for this match. I know it will be an excellent match, but it’s an excellent match I’ve seen so many times, and at a time when the junior division is chock full of talented people, it doesn’t blow my hair back to see another round of Ospreay-Scurll. Why not do Ospreay/TAKA? TAKA deserves a reward for absolutely KILLING it as Zack Sabre Junior’s hype man, and a match between TAKA and Ospreay would be a nice mirror of the CHAOS-Suzukigun battle going on in the main event. Oh well. Prediction: Will Ospreay

Alex Wendland: Will & Marty is trying very hard to be the Western Dragon Lee/Hiromu feud. I haven’t seen anything rise to that level, but they’ve done a nice job of bringing that deeply seeded hate for each other to new audiences. Though I think they blew the Will Ospreay win in New Japan way too early, Marty should be Will’s kryptonite for years before Will smartens up. Since the cat is already out of the bag, however, there’s no going back. Ospreay has so much more to do in the division with Mysterio and a one-on-one with Hiromu and Marty is a main player in the hottest pro wrestling storyline in the world. Should be a pretty definitive win for Ospreay. Prediction: Will Ospreay

Golden☆Lovers vs. Cody & Hangman Page

John Carroll: This is an interesting choice for a semi-main here, in that it likely signals NJPW isn’t concerned with ticket sales at this juncture. There hasn’t been much word on how tickets have been moving; the official English website has the ringside & 2F special listed as completely sold out, which is normal (both categories often sell out just from the fan club presale for Ryogoku these days), and 2F normal as just a few left, which is good, but both the Arena A & B seats (i.e. the sumo boxes that make up a huge chunk of the arena) have no such listing on there. But if New Japan is worried, booking a non-title semi-main like this wouldn’t really signal that. Anyway, what we have here is another match in the BC split storyline, and oddly enough it’s building up a main event on a Ring of Honor show the following week, of all things. This a pretty lackluster semi-main event for a Sumo Hall show, for sure. I have little doubt it will be a good match, but doubt it’ll be much more than that. Page seems destined to take the pin. Prediction: Golden☆Lovers

Taylor Maimbourg: Is this the first case of New Japan building up Ring of Honor matches on a major (or fairly major) show? I can’t think of any other examples, but even if it has happened, it’s a rare occurrence. This match builds both Kenny vs. Cody and Kota vs. Page, which, even though they are happening in Ring of Honor, are pretty major steps in the Kenny Omega/Cody/Bullet Club situation. It may not be a marquee match per se, but in the semi-main event slot, I have a feeling all four wrestlers will be pulling out all the stops. Both Kota Ibushi and Adam Page are mad men, and I wouldn’t be surprised to both of them pull off wild moonsaults somewhere in the confines of Sumo Hall (maybe the entraceways?). Cody has seemingly been taking the metaphorical L a lot in his feud with Kenny, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him pick up a fluke victory over the GoldenLovers here to put some doubt into Kenny’s mind heading into his match with Cody at Supercard of Honor. Prediction: Cody and Hangman Page

Alex Wendland: This match is a little surprising in the sense that NJPW has been exceptionally careful at keeping Kenny Omega and Cody physically separated for the great majority of the Bullet Club storyline. Watch the main event post-match from Strong Style Evolved and pay attention to the close coordination in how Omega leaves the ring, Cody arrives, Cody leaves, and Omega returns. I know this isn’t a title match and that’s surprising for the semi-main on a show of this magnitude, but the Golden☆Lovers are going to fill as many seats as the Intercontinental or United States titles for what will be the fourth match of their reunion, just the third in Japan. Cody, for his part, has finally gotten over in Japan and has been an incredible antagonist to Omega. I don’t foresee the Golden☆Lovers dropping a match, but Cody will absolutely sacrifice Hangman Page to make some larger point before their ROH match, expect copious post-match shenanigans. Prediction: Golden☆Lovers

IWGP Heavyweight Title
Kazuchika Okada © vs. Zack Sabre Jr

John Carroll: Yes folks, it really is this easy: if you want to make a new challenger, have him beat a bunch of top stars with his move. Pro wrestling booking only looks complicated these days because the international market leader doesn’t know its ass from its elbows. Sabre probably has, realistically, almost no chance to win the title here, but after watching him submit star after star with Orienteering with Napalm Death, won’t there be a little something in the back of your mind when Okada struggles to get out? I’m sure Sumo Hall will be going nuts at that point as well, which will certainly help. Kayfabe-wise Zack would almost be the perfect person to beat Okada, as he’s a completely different opponent than anyone else he’s faced so far and it would totally make sense that someone like this is the one to finally stop Okada’s epic title reign. But Okada seems like a mortal lock to at least tie the title defense record, if not break it, and this is indeed that tying defense of number eleven. Zack winning this would thus be one of the most shocking finishes in wrestling history, and I just don’t see it happening. I’ll be interested to see how the match turns out though; Zack’s style by its nature requires his opponent to do a lot of selling, and Okada’s selling of submission moves in particular is probably one of the weaker parts of his game. If this ends up with Okada laying around in submission moves doing his over-the-top screaming for the better part of 40 minutes, like in that awful New Beginning 2017 title match he had with Minoru Suzuki, I think it could easily end up being a pretty bad main event. Hopefully the two of them pull something much better than that out of their hats here. They’re definitely capable. Prediction: Kazuchika Okada

Taylor Maimbourg: I might be the No. 1 Kazuchika Okada fan at VoW, but if there is one nitpick I have about his title reign, it’s that his matches sometimes lack a strong face-heel dynamic to get me to really invest in Okada retaining the title. His two biggest defenses have been against Kenny Omega and Tetsuya Naito, two wrestlers who are heels in name only. Now comes Zack Sabre Jr., and now Okada finally has a strong true heel opponent. Sabre has spent the last few weeks walking around New Japan like he runs the place, and all I want is for Okada to choke the life out of him with the Cobra Clutch and leave him in a heap in the center of the ring. At first glance, this seems like a major clash of styles, but I could see Okada leaning on his lucha libre training to turn this match into a grappling showdown. Whatever may happen, this will probably join the long list of excellent matches in this record-breaking reign. Prediction: Kazuchika Okada

Alex Wendland: Zack Sabre Jr. entered the second tier of New Japan stars with this NJ Cup run. He now slots in just below the Okadas, Tanahashis, Naitos, Omegas and (apparently) Suzukis of the world. It’s a great place to be and a G1 like his NJ Cup could bring him into that upper echelon if they really want to run with him. To be honest, the NJ Cup was the first time I really, truly enjoyed watching Sabre. More often than not, his style creates matches that make his opponents look foolish and amateurish so that he can create certain spots. Something changed over the past few months, however, and his contortions are looking more natural while he’s done a great job giving himself to opponents more–even in wins. In most other title reigns, even other Okada reigns, this would be a great time to test out a Sabre victory and give Okada a little refresh, but there are larger things than Zack Sabre Jr. afoot at the top of NJPW cards. Okada and Tanahashi are barrelling towards history. Expect a great match from Sabre and Okada, but main event isn’t for a few months yet. Prediction: Kazuchika Okada