New Japan Pro Wrestling
Road to Sakura Genesis – Night 3
March 30, 2021
Korakuen Hall
Tokyo, Japan

Watch: NJPW World

Taking stock of things, let’s list it all out:

  • A senselessly convoluted, disjointed, self-defeating build to Wrestle Kingdom that was accidentally self-referential in pursuit of a double dome story
  • A dehydrated program with SANADA literally based around the idea of counting to two (SANADA managed most nights)
  • A byzantine, frustratingly esoteric philosophical conflict, based upon a wrestler choosing to contest a secondary title instead of the primary one
  • An anathematized cleansing of 50 years of lineage and historical consequence
  • The always ill-fated advertised title revelation, a surefire recipe for knee-jerk revulsion

To be clear, this is not the sum of New Japan. New Japan is replete with engaging programs and characterizations at the moment, though concealed by the intense loudness of the discouraging material. The point of the list above, purposely presented in the most unflattering perspectives?

New Japan is taking Kota Ibushi for granted in the worst way.

Throughout the last five months, since Power Struggle 2020, which seems like it might as well be Precambrian with how goddamn long ago that seems, Ibushi has been burdened with all of this. Simply because… he’s Ibushi? So why not?

He’s had to endure pitiful characterizations that made him look like an officious dope, espouse the nebulous justifications for sweeping changes that has confounded the fans, and, soon, navigate the vicious waters of a remarkably dense booking schedule.

What struck me was the prolonged look he gave the former titles as he handed them over to begin this show. It’s been revealed and confirmed that none of this has been Ibushi’s idea, though it is unclear how compliant or buttressing he has been in the process. It’s easy to interpret a ruminative, mournful solemness in the way he pensively stared at the belts one last time. He groaned a bit to start his promo, and I half-expected a bunch of red dots to emerge focused on his brain stem like that scene in Sherlock where Sherlock and Moriarty were definitely not flirting by a pool.

He’s been made to look like a fool, a charity case, delusionally sacrilegious, and now an iconoclast. Because he is Kota Ibushi and world things slide off him due to his preternatural ability and genuineness.

One hopes that, now that the titles have been officially merged and a new era proclaimed, that Ibushi can simply be allowed to move on.

IWGP World Heavyweight Championship Belt Unveiling

Yes, it looks like a Gundam helmet. Or the sunglasses Kamina wears in Gurren Lagann. Or the butterfly belt. Or Cody’s tattoo. Or a vague composite of all the other belts. Or some Super Sentai bollocks.

And there are some major fucking flaws in the minor details of this thing.

  • For one, there’s no place for a nameplate. How is that on the editing floor of the laundry list of historical connections rattled off upon its unveiling? I swear, it was like a seventh grader who just learned color and/or objective symbolism giving a presentation eating up an entire 45 minute class period to explicate every goddamn item on their poster project and what it means, down to the square centimeter. The Twitter feed read like the worst artist’s statement at the most pretentious art school final year installation imaginable.
  • The side plates are perfectly square.
  • The angles of the wings along the top of the main belt shape are too low on either side, resulting in an unfortunately flat design.
  • The middle portion of the main belt piece is far too cluttered, with an overlap of a sword (which you can barely identify), the big letters, the globe, and the logo (which looks like a glued on laundry token)
  • The silver portions, so exquisitely rendered in the V4 belt, flank the center design with crass austerity. It’s just a lot of flat, sparse, empty silver space. It looks like hammered and polished sheet metal.

And yet, I’m here to almost point out that, despite looking fairly cheap upon close scrutiny, and gaudy in its holster upon initial unveiling, the belt looks pretty goddamn good around Ibushi’s shoulder as he wants out. From a normal distance and with the natural curvature it takes on when being worn, it looks clean, sleek without sterility, pleasantly symmetrical, and almost subdued in the shape. I’d still like a bit more idiosyncratic angularity in the execution of that basic shape concept, but in motion, this belt is perfectly fine.

It’s not a bad little belt, and y’all are the cachinnating coterie of pricks from Charlie Brown Christmas. You better hope you can wave your hands over your godawful tweets and make them better like the kids did to Chuck’s tree. In the meantime, I’ll be waiting here for everyone to come around on this thing.

I consulted with an actual artist who lives with me and is my wife, to get a professional opinion on this. The kind of depth you won’t find anywhere but here on the Voices of Wrestling! Her response:

“All wrestling belts are tacky and unrefined, because that’s what wrestling is. None of these things are displays of class. You waste way too much time on this. Why does Tanahashi look like a pheasant…”

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

Unlike Master Wato a day before, Tiger Mask proudly walked out alongside the Young Lions. Tiger Mask does not give a fuck, which is probably why Naito, despite being in full holding-pattern frivolity, did not even hint at mocking Tiger Mask.

Uemura and SANADA picked up where they left off from Night 2, with a really fun and well-executed tease of an O’Connor Roll from Uemura that received an audible reaction from the very sparse crowd, even though the attempt was thwarted by SANADA holing the ropes and casting the Young Lion off. Honestly, the rest of the participants in the match could have just left after the introductions and this match probably would have been a half-star higher.

Despite his sagacity at avoiding any provocation of Tiger Mask, Naito still amused himself thoroughly. His toy concept this mini-tour is placing Tsuji in elevated Boston crabs, which is how he won this contest.

In contrast, SANADA and Shingo treated their Young Lions with respect. By beating the hell out of them, yes, but that is simply how the respect manifested. LIJ this presented the dichotomy of Young Lion relations: you either engage with them earnestly and allow them to exhibit their fiery strength or, like Naito, you treat them as subhuman fodder to workshop your latest bits. Either one works.

BUSHI’s gear with all the skulls made him look like he was covered in stickers, like some middle schooler’s notebook, or a weathered guitar case. The color scheme made him look like a clown. Like all good clowns, he did just enough to get by without frightening the children.

Another prolonged staredown occurred in the post-match. I suppose, if you are a reprehensible optimist, you can point to things that that as proof of this show’s need to exist. This stuff won’t lead to anything directly, but… I dunno… something about what  Jesus said about mustard trees and mustard seeds, or something. Don’t quote me on that. ***1/2

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

If there’s anything to watch from the past two nights, it is this match.

For one, there were 8 Despy towels and 1 Despy pyonsuke doll during the Suzuki-gun entrance, that I could perceive. I believe Desperado was firmly second behind Naito on this night, as far as what made camera.

Also, this match had a unique story! SHO went somewhat berserk at the onset of the match, and was smoldering throughout. This led to an unsettling and truculent beatdown of Despy in the corner, which Despy sold like literal death. He was comatose underneath the buckles, to the point that Wato had to essentially help him up. Despy’s selling was phenomenal, a languid kick-out and the way he listlessly reversed the irish whip of Wato were brilliantly accomplished. They came across naturally like he was conscious enough to perform these automatic functions but completely devoid of the capacity to do so. He continued to sell the effects of this assault for the bulk of the match, gradually regaining his senses, exploding in ferocity upon doing so. Just masterful.

One has to be extremely careful when employing actual academic critical techniques and lenses to professional wrestling, but I have to allude to one here. TS Eliot’s objective correlative was devised because the miserable Anglophilic bastard needed some egghead explanation for why he didn’t like Hamlet. His answer: Hamlet’s response to everything in the play “exceeded the facts” as presented. It’s a tricky concept but not difficult to grasp, as it truly unfolds the delicacies of any story medium and explains the internalized storytelling devices we all understand.

Wrestling, though, is propelled by the violation of the objective correlative. Think about it: what would wrestling look like if everyone reacted to everything in wrestling with an appropriate or justifiable emotional response? The whole system would collapse. Wrestling is defined by emotional excess. That said, the OC does help explain why some things in wrestling fail so spectacularly, or why some things seem puzzling.

In this case, why was SHO so fervently belligerent to Desperado here? Nothing from Night 2 would explain this, and neither would the backstage comments. Everything on Night 2 was putridly orthodox. SHO’s emotional response on Night 3 exceeds the facts. In this case, he literally defines Eliot’s concept. Desperado and Kanemaru didn’t antagonize him in an outlandish manner on Night 2. Frankly, if anyone should be aggravated it’s them; they didn’t make the challenge, YOH did! Maybe this is establishing something in SHO that will pay off at Sakura Genesis.

It still seems a bit vacant with YOH there, and nothing will seem tangible until we get to Sakura Genesis and see for what they are holding YOH back.

As an addendum to the Edward II historical reenactment yesterday, Taguchi was liberally battering people with his maraging steel anus today. I guess the scar tissue formed that rapidly, providing even more strength to what is, to the rest of humanity, a sensitive area.. ***1/2

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

This exact match happened on Night 1 of the Road to Sakura Genesis. This exact match happened on Night 2 of the Road to Sakura Genesis. This exact match will happen at Sakura Genesis.

This match had more personality than Night 2’s rendition, for better or worse. The lights went out, triggering Yano’s haunted memories of the New Japan Cup (and ours of having to watch).

KENTA, the most captivating character in professional wrestling, did a lot of work with his staff Bo-chan. Compare this to the work done by Tama Tonga with the Iron Glove weeks back. Tama’s character work was fun and purposely outlandish, but KENTA’s fairly similar routine with a stolen prop is, like KENTA, otherworldly.

To that point, in the post-match KENTA executed a series of amateur tracheotomies to various members of CHAOS with Bo-chan. What came across more than anything? BULLET CLUB follows KENTA’s persona more than anyone. The overall vision is aligned with Jay White as the accepted leader, but KENTA’s presence is so overpowering that everyone follows his pace. White cleverly eschews this by acting alongside KENTA, but that is the best he can do. It makes them the more entertaining tag team in the world, but also emphasizes just how sensational the formerly austere, surly KENTA has become. And, by the way, do not forget that when he wants to, his promos are also a level of profundity above all others.

Like all CHAOS multi-mans, this was well-structured. Heroically, Kazuchika Okada fought through his slipped discs to bodyslam Fale. ***1/4

BULLET CLUB (Jado, Gedo & Jay White) def. Yuji Nagata, and Tomoaki Honma & Hiroshi Tanahashi

This match simply exchanges dads from the main event of Night 2. In this case, Nagata and Honma slot down and Tencozy slide up. The benefit of this is Nagata being in this match. The detriment: most of his time in the match was being controlled by Jado. Another detriment: this configuration yields exactly one person who can move at a brisk speed.

Thus, there’s very little to analyze in this match. Jay and Tanahashi began with a lock-up that lasted one-fifth the time of yesterday’s extended collar-and-elbow. The crowd, without enough manpower to generate much audible response, came alive during the White-Tanahashi portions of this match. That’s about it.

The most interesting aspect of this match was Tanahashi’s refusal of Jay White’s request to challenge for the NEVER Openwight title. Honestly, it’s not exactly clear whether Tanahashi was repulsed by the idea of granting Jay a title shot, or by the notion of having to defend the NEVER Openweight title at all, thus requiring him to acknowledge the belt’s existence and his status as champion. ***

Kota Ibushi, Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan def. The Empire (Great-O-Khan, Jeff Cobb & Will Ospreay)

Things were considerably more serene in this match. Night 2’s confrontation was smoldering in the interactions, with Will’s blustery monologues and Ibushi’s remarkably sour expression. Today, there was almost a lighthearted airiness to the match, and the emphasis was placed upon the physical belt.

This was the more anticipated main event of this two-night set, harkening back to the salad days of January 2021, when Ibushi’s main program was a good-natured discourse between two himbo prophets and The Empire-Tencozy feud carried the company. Unfortunately, this match also reminds us of the culmination of that rivalry, particularly the supposedly binding stipulation regarding the Mongolian chops of Tenzan. Tenzan’s flagrant use of them, especially against the faction that seemingly deprived him of them, reminds one of the ephemeral vacuousness of life. So much time and vigor wasted on a completely disregarded program.

Kojima, on the other hand, reminds one of the current state of wrestling. In scale, it is depressing. One is presented with the idea that dads are hoarding championships, holding every major title but the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship. And yet, the best of the bunch is right here! Ut the fucking strap on Kojima. And sure, Akiyama is actually the best of the bunch, most likely? Who cares? For the sake of this bit, the best is Kojima so give the beefy son of a bitch a run with the new championship!

Unlike yesterday, which used Ospreay’s speed to highlight Ibushi’s even more explosive velocity, Ibushi spent more time in the ring with Cobb. Cobb’s burly throws and power allowed Ibushi to lean into his resolve and perseverance. It also provided a very cool ending, where Ospreay was hung upside-down in the corner, forced to witness his stablemate eat an ardent Kamigoye.

The wholesomeness of Ibushi interacting with Tencozy, offering them the new belt out of deference, with their bemused approbation, is the panacea for all the other hogwash surrounding this program. ***1/4


Divorced from context, that this card is essentially indistinguishable from the night before coupled with the thick miasma of new belt antipathy, Night 3 of the Road to Sakura Genesis was a successful show. Every match had some distinctive aspect that prevented it from approaching the engulfing aridness of the night before. If you have the choice of watching either show, watch this one (and read my review of night 2). If you watched night 2, there is no substantive, justifiable reason to watch Night 3, besides the belt balderdash.

Neither show, separately not combined, truly feels like a useful primer for Sakura Genesis. That might, in fact, make it the proper lead-in. Sakura Genesis is a two-match show; certain Road To shows have had stronger cards this year. Yet it carries the Sakura Genesis name, although to many, this is like many things in New Japan at the moment; a valued name and a hollowed-out interior.

It feels like we are jumping across to get athwart a torrential, frothing river with New Japan right now, and none of those stones seem sturdy enough to make the leap. And yet… I believe they are. Willfully casting aside the Ospreay nonsense, there is a bounty of intriguing things happening or in their nascent stages in this company. I have a sneaking suspicion we will come out of Sakura Genesis surprisingly energized, considering that we have the X reveal, something to do with SHO and YOH, and a match between Will Ospreay and Kota fucking Ibushi.

And yet, this is all obfuscated by the insane scheduling.

Following Sakura Genesis, there is a month of Road To shows, and then a mind-boggling six-week stretch with three major shows and two dome shows. One hopes this forces us to reevaluate our perceptions, but one also fears that Sakura Genesis is a baleful portent of what’s to come.

George Carlin once wondered whether anyone ever stops and takes a look at things anymore. Whether anyone takes things in and, possibly, even remembers them? Carlin recorded those words exactly 25 years to the day before this show. At the time, New Japan was gearing up for their second Tokyo Show of the year in 1996, which came in late April… after a three-week break.