New Japan Pro Wrestling
Road to Sakura Genesis – Night 2
March 29th, 2021
Korakuen Hall
Tokyo, Japan

Watch: NJPW World


It’s not the worst they’ve done at Korakuen since the State of Emergency. It’s only the third worst! Out of 19 shows run in this goddamn building in 2021.

Of course, there was little reason to attend this show. The card was uninspiringly pedestrian and the match-ups either stale or incomplete. SHO teaming without YOH. A seemingly grafted-on Master Wato to a meaningless LIJ opener. More Tanahashi vs. Jay White.

That also meant there was little reason to watch this show, either. It would be arduous at best to accurately attest culpability to the Bea Priestly angle for either metric, but it is tempting to wonder if some, especially in the West, simply reasoned that if they simply ignore everything for just one more week, things can move on.

I came across the old children’s book Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears the other day, and I couldn’t help connect the two stories. Why Mosquitoes… is a cumulative cause-and-effect mythical story that explains the titular question. It ends with a string of circumstances that, over the course of the story, escalated from a purportedly innocuous lie to the sun ceasing to rise. The circumstances are laid out at the denouement.

I now directly steal the concept to explain New Japan at the current moment, March 2021: Why Gedo’s Fucked Up Main Event Booking Offends Western Sensibilities. We pick things up in medias res as Jerry Jarrett laments to King Jim Barnett that he is not to blame for this drivel:

“I didn’t hear you, or even see you,” said Jerry Jarrett. “Nick Gulas told me such a big lie, I Couldn’t bear to listen to it (or pay my wrestlers a living wage). So I put sticks in my ears (and cinched my wallet with bamboo strips).”

“Nge, nge, nge,” laughed Jim Barnett. “So that’s why you had sticks in your ears (and bamboo wound airtight around your wallets), my boy!”

“Yes,” said Jerry Jarrett. It was Nick Gulas’ fault.”

And so, King Barnett told the IWC:

“So, it was Nick Gulas

who swindled Jerry Jarett,

who appropriated Jerry Lawler,

who booked Eddie Gilbert,

who influenced Gedo,

who rocketpacked EVIL,

who disillusioned Kazuchika Okada,

who frustrated Will Ospreay,

who infuriated the locker room,

who alarmed the Western Audience-

and now Kota Ibushi won’t bait the fandom so that the engagement can rise each morning”

This show was pretty drab, yeah.

On a brighter note, the first bit of Despy merch on this show was a Pyonsuke, not a Despy bear. The first Pyonsuke is seen at 11:42 of the Japanese commentary VOD, whereas the Despy bear is first seen at 12:20. Considering the attendance at Korakuen, Desperado was represented by a discomforting percentage of the audience.

Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI, Shingo Takagi, SANADA & Tetsuya Naito) def. Gabriel Kidd, Yuya Uemura, Yota Tsuji & Master Wato

You first notice that Wato placed as much distance as possible between himself and the Young Lions during the entrance. That camera held as long as it possibly could, and Wato must have been just glued to a monitor waiting for that cut so he could walk through the curtain. Why, these gentlemen? Surely I am aligned with them, but please make no equivalencies… Me, a Young Lion? Preposterous! I have a robe and pant legs, my friend!

Naito’s entrance was decidedly more woeful. It was imbued with his holding-pattern irreverence, but also the stark realization that this crowd had absolutely no juice. They clapped along with his entrance theme. I mean, we know they did. We could see people clapping on camera. Many people, in fact. And yet, the resultant sound was like a small coterie of passengers stuck on their third delay at an airport gate sarcastically applauding a pre-boarding call. This Korakuen crowd sounded like 15 people tops, and, unfortunately, they were trying. This was the best they could do as a collective.

This was the moment that one realized that this show was going to move at a glacial speed with a sober amount of detectable enthusiasm. It would be even drabber than it looked on paper.

Unfortunately, that bit of entrance minutia was the most applicably notable aspect of this contest, which had absolutely no reason to exist besides the fact that LIJ have absolutely nothing else to do and it would be malfeasance if New Japan ran a card without them. Consider that for a second… LIJ, in its entirety, is devoid of programs at the moment. You talk about equivalencies, right now LIJ as a unit has as much to do as fucking Wato.

There were worthwhile things to see in this match. You got to witness LIJ stomping Tsuji like that scene in Kids, (my #4 Favorite Multi-Man Unit Dopey Group Exercise Spots). Gabriel Kidd and Shingo Takagi had a blistering exchange, with Kidd looking more than credible standing next to Shingo (as he should, considering he openly demanded this match before the Cup). The file on what Gabriel Kidd is capable of when he is distinctly dedicated to a specific match-up is growing, and that file is very complimentary.

The best sequence was the ending, admittedly the best possible outcome for a match of such minuscule consequence. Uemura was largely absent from this one, but remember: Uemura will always look the best, somehow. In this case, he nearly caught SANADA with a textbook O’Connor Roll with bridge. SANADA returned the favor, and because his version is more famous and (for now) more handsome, he won. It was a wonderful final few minutes between those two. How marvelous it is when SANADA is in there with a superior opponent.

After the match, there is some excessively long loitering from the Young Lions. Naito had made them cross by troll-crabbing Tsuji on the outside after the bell, only to have it broken up by Wato. A while back, Wato broke up one of Naito’s 25-count pins on Honma; he really is Naito’s anti-tranquilo killjoy, isn’t he?

Naito also faked a knee injury on the way to the back, seemingly to pester Takagi. Didn’t he learn anything from last month’s worked-real-worked-real injury? ***1/4

Suzuki-gun (DOUKI, Yoshinobu Kanemaru & El Desperado) def. Ryusuke Taguchi, Tiger Mask & SHO

Edward II, of course, was an English monarch of the 14th Century, the famed Distant Mirror century. Edward II was a very unfortunate Edward, a relatable but impuissant monarch sandwiched between two Edwards that were defined by cavalier, sanguine strength. E2 married Isabella, daughter of the repugnantly reckless, avaricious cretin King Philip IV of France. Isabella eventually grew tired of Edward’s ineffectual nonsense and turned to nobleman Roger Mortimer. They led a successful coup, which resulted in Edward’s imprisonment and mysterious death shortly thereafter.

A fairly unbelievable but persistent legend then developed which claims that Edward was murdered by means of a red hot poker administered in a most unsavory fashion to his funky weapon. This was supposedly retribution for the attention given by Edward to his favorite, Piers Gaveston, the last time in history that someone was sexually attracted to a Brit named Piers.

The story is almost certainly nonsense, and yet somehow we find the memorable portion of this match, which I remind you is meant to build interest and story pacing toward a world tag team title match, centered around Ryusuke Taguchi’s resilient anus. I’ve mentioned this in the past: based on Taguchi’s offense one has to presume that this character has diligently coarsened his orifice to the point where it has the strength and durability of maraging steel. That would make DOUKI’s attempt to reenact the mythical death of Edward II a seemingly foolish enterprise. Logically, there was no way that pipe had a chance.

And yet stunningly, against the monoliths of credulity and Taguchi’s granite perineum, DOUKI succeeded in his endeavor.  He incapacitated Taguchi with a fervent attack, pipe to cavity. Certainly, Despy Lancaster and Queen Isabella Kanemaru admired the work, leaving Taguchi for dead. The question now becomes, who avenges Taguchi? Edward III, son of Edward II, quietly bided his time after the murder of his father, enduring all sorts of garbage from the reprehensible Mortimer. Then E3 reached adulthood and swiftly executed the SOB (to his mother’s horror). Does this mean Wato is going to hang DOUKI? Is Wato the best choice for this? Taguchi needs some damn sons.

This is the first time Desperado has come out on World as champion. The Anniversary Show doesn’t count, of course. Speaking of counting, I counted 8 towels and someone wearing a full Despy mask during the Suzuki-gun entrance. I didn’t do a full tally, but I believe this place him behind only Naito and maybe Tanahashi as far as on-camera merch. But please, tell me more about his weakness in the market. I beg of you, Dave from San Jose, continue to take three-week-old victory laps that only reveal how little research you have done into SOE attendances. Now if you will excuse me, I’ll be over here letting my bias distort my judgment on all that research I’ve done.

This is another unfortunate bit of necessarily inane booking; the match is severely diminished by the absence of YOH, but one must assume that whatever they have planned for Sakura genesis will only work by withholding YOH until the event. Remember, New Japan’s booking is only irredeemably fucked up in the main event and anything involving Okada. The Juniors have been competently handled this whole time. Of course, YOH being deferred to April 4th seems almost too telegraphed, but no other solution seems logical except for a major angle to occur.

Unless, of course, R3K just win the fucking belts again. Guess you could do that.

I’m not sure how any of this, or SHO’s goofy mannerisms, are supposed to build a title match, but the sequence in the closing stretch between Tiger Mask and Despy was fun. It was cleverly arranged and immaculately executed. Worth skipping over everything else to witness. ***

BULLET CLUB (Taiji Ishimori, Yujiro Takahashi, Bad Luck Fale, KENTA & EVIL) def. CHAOS (YOSHI-HASHI, Tomohiro Ishii, Hirooki Goto, Toru Yano & Kazuchika Okada)

Once again, another match with perfectly competent work out shadowed by character work. The expression KENTA exhibits as he walks out with that dopey staff is undeniable proof that he is the best character in wrestling at the moment. The effortlessness with which he commands a room, through such innocuous balderdash, is sensational.

Unit gimmicks were stretched to their breaking point. CHAOS did a double back-drum spot (my #6 and #8 Dopey Unit Spots), while BULLET CLUB extended the abdominal stretch chain halfway to such a degree that KENTA was halfway home to Florida by the end of it.

Yujiro continues to confound. He wills audiences into silence. He met his match in King of Korakuen YOSHI-HASHI here, though. YOSHI-HASHI’s Korakuen powers are too overwhelming; crowds rallied behind him as he canceled out Yujiro’s formidable anti-heat potency. It’s sort of like that scene in Grendel when the overconfident Grendel sneaks up on a sleeping Beowulf, but Beowulf was only feigning sleep and literally ripped Grendal’s arm off. That was on display here.

Taiji Ishimori pinning Goto, even with subterfuge, is a somewhat shocking result. Ishimori has been awesome for way longer than he gets credit for, well before the pandemic. In fact, the checkered reputations of both of these guys haunts them, even when the product presented continually refutes it. But this certainly raises some brows. Ishimori appeared to have a match with Desperado on the docket, but this suggests a NEVER Six-Man match as well.

After the match, KENTA attacked YOSHI-HASHI with the staff. Okada pulled KENTA off, and KENTA threatened Okada with the staff like it was a sword. Personally, I think KENTA needs to sit down in his en guarde much more, and drop the tip more assertively. Remember KENTA, it’s all in the fingers, not the wrist. ***1/4

BULLET CLUB (Jado, Gedo & Jay White) DEF Satoshi Kojima, Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Hiroshi Tanahashi

I wonder if we can get a count on the number of times the NEVER Openweight Title has touched Tanahashi’s bare skin. If we’re talking erasing lineage, we will eventually erase Tanahashi from this lineage without even resorting to Stalin-esque editing. After the match, it was hard to tell whether the Ace was more exhausted by the idea of facing Jay White yet again, or the idea of having to hold this title. The momentum created by Suzuki and Shingo for this belt has utterly disintegrated.

This match began with a 63-second collar-and-elbow tie-up between Tanahashi and White. So, just in case you were wondering what happens when Jay decides not to forego his Zbyszko-esque stalling: he goes to the exact opposite extreme. It was fine work between these two but they did not betray much heading into the big event in five days.

The nightmarish scenario of Jado vs. Tenzan happened. Both of these men move like they need greased lubricant liberally applied to all of their joints, ballasts, and sockets. And I’m not talking the piffle you get at the box store. I mean, heavy-duty Crown and Chassis machine-grade lubricant. If you are greasing these motherfuckers, you better make sure that lube works down to -40 Celsius, and so help me if it has a low stability after 10,000 worked strokes (I swear, that is the actual terminology).

Jay pinned Kojima here, and that is not favorable at all. There are at least three other people you should have pinned here over Kojima. Even so, this one was energetic throughout, and Tanahashi relentlessly engaged the crowd (again, without enough people to produce tangible results). ***

The Empire (Great-O-Khan, Jeff Cobb & Will Ospreay) def. Kota Ibushi, Yuji Nagata & Tomoaki Honma

Will’s characterization makes it incredibly hard to focus on anything substantive in this match.

The work? Stupendous. The Empire continued to display inventive, invigorating combinations, just stringing together offense that amplifies the strengths of each member. They also manage to emphasize the strengths of their opponents. Because the trio is so versatile, they can match 90% of the opponent’s capability. And so, instead of providing a counter-balance to their adversaries, they actually tilt an imbalance; by outdoing such brilliant aptitudes, the faces look exponentially more impressive.

Against Nagata, strength of striking and power was used to amplify Nagata’s legendary potency in those areas. When Nagata confronted O-Khan in the center of the ring, there was a tension of strength resonant in their opposition that brought out the best in Nagata.

Against Ibushi, Ospreay took things to the ground, and one left with an appreciation for the outrageous speed of Ibushi. Ospreay moved with enough velocity to impress but made it so that he couldn’t match Ibushi (as few can even at 100%).

And yet, one longs for the salad days of February, when the convolutedness of Ibushi’s title program was solely centered around the titles, and the worst in-ring gibberish we had to endure was Tanga Loa denouncing “tricky dicky” behavior. Currently, we must persist through Will’s babble about how we, “don’t know him anymore,” and that he’s, “not who (we) remember.” It seems like we’ve already established this ages ago, although after last week some wonder where the change actually is.

Ibushi’s part of the story appears to be a disdainful exasperation at Will’s hogwash, though it’s hard to grasp exactly what motivates Ibushi to find Will so offensive. Was he that appalled by the Priestly thing? He certainly didn’t exude that response when it occurred, though maybe if he wouldn’t gotten more than five minutes’ notice, allegedly, he might have been able to parse the emotions of the scene.

Unfortunately, in the face of this Will employs the second facet of this characterization: his self-appointed Fidei Defensor status. In the match and in the post-match promo, Will’s secondary thrust is theological indignation at Ibushi’s self-appointed God status. Apparently, this show was attended by the Japanese Zarathustra Society, because they seemed almost too eager to applaud when Will declared that God does not exist.

As noted in the New Japan Cup review by Neil and I, wouldn’t this have been enough? ***1/4


You would not regret watching this show if you chose to do so. I am telling you, though: choose not to. There are sprinkled moments throughout this show worth seeking out, but not so transcendent that they are imperative to watch. Once again, New Japan delivered a show that met expectations on paper, sadly.