New Japan Pro Wrestling
Sakura Genesis 2021
April 4, 2021
Watch: NJPW World
Meet our previewers
John Carroll: John thinks the new IWGP belt looks perfectly fine, but “perfectly fine” doesn’t exactly cut it when you’re replacing one of the greatest championships in wrestling history. Follow them on Twitter @toshanshuinla or their podcast @wrestleomakase, and don’t forget to check out the Wrestling Omakase Patreon this month for daily coverage of the AJPW Champion Carnival tournament!
Jeri Evans: Will irrationally glare with burning disdain at the new IWGP belt that is as innocent as it is gaudy. It’s only crime being replacing the magnificent of one of the best looking championships ever. She will one day overcome this disdain, but today is not that day……..tomorrow isn’t looking all that great either. She can be found on Twitter at @TheJerriest_Jer.
Suzukigun (Dangerous Tekkers & DOUKI) vs. BULLET CLUB (Guerillas of Destiny & Jado)
John: GOD is back after a brief return home after they beat the Dangerous Tekkers by DQ back at New Beginning in Hiroshima, and it looks like they’re being paired right up with the Tekkers again for a tag title match during the upcoming Dontaku tour. A lot of this show is about building that tour, which I guess makes sense when you have approximately five hundred upcoming shows to sell- an entire Road To tour including some big stops (like the new Yokohama Budokan), two Satsuma no Kuni shows, and finally the two-night Dontaku event itself. And that’s not even getting into the two WRESTLE GRAND SLAM events at Yokohama Stadium and the friggin’ Tokyo Dome in May, or Dominion in Osaka Jo Hall a week after THAT! So yeah, New Japan needs a lot of matches to headline a lot of shows coming up, and it’s thus no surprise that Sakura Genesis kind of got the short end of the stick here, with just two title matches on top of an undercard of multi-man tags. But anyway, the real question here is a pretty simple one: when will we finally get the massive Jado-DOUKI blow off?? Seriously, they’ve been building that match for MONTHS! Prediction: Suzukigun
Jeri: Poor Sakura Genesis feels lacking, and part of the reason for the lacking is NJPW is about to jam pack their schedule and are going to need big time matchups. As a result this show’s undercard is the underwhelming side of underwhelming. I don’t know what to really say about this match. I’d love for Suzukigun to get a nice victory, I’d love for Dangerous Tekkers to be tag team champions once more, I’d love to be able to give you a in depth analysis of this match…..actually that one is a lie. It’s an opening match, it’s two heel factions, there’s going to be a lot of cheap shots and being massive dicks to each other. It should be fine. Prediction: Suzukigun
CHAOS (Kazuchika Okada, Toru Yano, Hirooki Goto, Tomohiro Ishii & YOSHI-HASHI) vs. BULLET CLUB (EVIL, KENTA, Yujiro Takahashi, Taiji Ishimori & Dick Togo)
John: Okada continues to be down cycled something fierce, as even after beating EVIL in the main event of the Castle Attack Night 1 show, he’s been paired up with him again in sort of a zombie feud- it just continues to stagger along even though it’s already dead. Bizarre for sure. We’ll see if he gets something of note to do on the Dontaku tour, or if they continue to leave him on the backburner. Surely he must have something major coming up for that WRESTLE GRAND SLAM/Dominion trio we just mentioned, right? Meanwhile, the focus of this match is the continued build for an upcoming NEVER 6-Man Title match, as KENTA, Yujiro and Ishimori seem set to challenge Goto, Ishii & YOSHI-HASHI some time during the Dontaku tour. Given how thin things will have to be spread out, it wouldn’t surprise me to see it headline a show- maybe one of the bigger Road To shows, or perhaps even one of the Satsuma no Kuni nights. BC has picked up some wins in this feud already, but with Togo sticking out like a sore thumb as a pin eater I think CHAOS gets a little measure of revenge here. Prediction: CHAOS
Jeri: Hi Dick Togo! Thank you for showing up, we really needed someone to eat a pin. At least, that’s how I see this going. Always feels weird when certain wrestlers feel aimless, and that’s how Okada feels right now as he’s at opposite ends with EVIL once more ( . . .Yay?). The NEVER 6-Man Title is what is going to get build here, which is the correct call, and this could be a lot of fun even with certain wrestlers standing out in a not so good way. I’m not going to say it’ll approach great or anything, certain actors in the match will prevent that from happening, but if they can keep all parts moving at a good pace and compact things, this will be good. Hopefully we’ll get some Okada direction soon. Also, will someone suffer the indignity of losing to YOSHI-HASHI’s submission. Seriously, even the money clip is better. Money clip still sucks though. Prediction: CHAOS
Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, SANADA & Shingo Takagi) vs. United Empire (Great-O-Khan, Jeff Cobb & X)
John: The most obvious question here is, of course, who United Empire’s X will be. The safe bet is Toa Henare, who has gone out of his way to act like he’s back in New Zealand on social media, but stealth-eyed fans have noted some possible discrepancies in his posts, so we could be in swerve city here. Henare would actually feel slightly disappointing given the sheer level of hype O-Khan has given this mystery participant (saying he’s someone who has the potential to eventually surpass himself and Ospreay, for example), but he could undoubtedly use the fresh coat of paint and a chance to be something other than “fiery underdog babyface who loses every match he’s in”, because boy is that played out after literal years of it by now. His attitude in his last few promos did seem to be indicating a heel turn might be imminent, as well, as he seems increasingly frustrated with said losses.
But let’s say it’s not Henare. Who does that leave us with? Shota Umino is obviously another big possibility, as he’s virtually gone into the witness protection program since the start of the pandemic prematurely ended his British excursion last March. O-Khan’s nearly hyperbolic level of hype would make a little more sense to me for Umino than Henare, as Umino is clearly someone who the company sees a lot of promise in (rightfully so, in my opinion) and would be a strong addition to the team. It also makes sense from the perspective that UE might be the new unit for bringing young native heels back from excursion, the same way CHAOS and LIJ were at times before them. It’s a time-tested way for the company to both get new guys and a new unit over at the same time, and it makes sense when you think about it since a new unit, just like new guys coming back, should be picking up a lot of wins. I suppose Ren Narita would work for many of the same reasons as Umino, but unlike Umino he’s actually got something going on right now on an active excursion, and it thus seems a little early to bring him back.
So Henare or Umino it is, then? Maybe! Dark horses might be wrestlers from the US who are Strong regulars, and frankly as a non-viewer I’d be hard pressed to tell you much about them. But I’m not even sure if they can get anyone new into the country given the current Japanese border situation- it’s unclear to me if they can get anyone new work visas right now. Something totally out of left field like a turn by YOH right before he’s scheduled to team with SHO for the junior tag titles, or a turn by someone else active on the roster that we’re not expecting, seems far less likely to me. Still, this mystery is easily the most intriguing thing on an otherwise pretty sleepy looking show to me, so I’m excited to see who it is. Meanwhile, I expect the Naito vs. O-Khan feud to heat up again, with a rematch from their New Japan Cup 1st round encounter likely for either the Dontaku tour or maybe even held off all the way for one of those GRAND SLAM/Dominion shows instead. It wouldn’t even shock me to see Naito himself get pinned here again, maybe with help from the new X. There’s no obvious pin eaters on the LIJ side at all, so the UE team will be picking up a pretty big scalp no matter what. Prediction: United Empire
Jeri: X GONNA GIVE IT TO YOU! I have no clue who X is, I must admit I have failed you all as a previewer by not putting too much time into who X is. Truth is, I just want to be surprised, and I hope it’s a good surprise. They keep teasing he has the potential the be very powerful so that leads me to believe it’s either a young lion or someone who hasn’t had much time in NJPW proper. Maybe someone from the NJPW USA shows? What I do know is we’re probably going to start working our way toward another Naito versus O-Khan match which is extremely fine by me. I loved their first match and have no problem getting more. LIJ is bringing their heavy hitters in this match (Yes for all intents and purposes I’m calling SANADA a heavy hitter) so the United Empire is about to pick up a damn good victory. I would have whomever X is get the pin to really show how important and what a game changer to the United Empire he is. I’m going to just throw out the random guess of Umino, but finding out who it is has managed to be one of the things I’m most looking forward to on the show. Not sure if that speaks highly of how much I like surprises, or just how thin this show is. Prediction: United Empire
Hiroshi Tanahashi & Satoshi Kojima vs. Jay White & Bad Luck Fale
John: Yet another match on this card to build a future match on the next tour, Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Jay White for the NEVER title seems like a near-lock to headline Night 1 of Wrestling Dontaku to me (with presumably the next IWGP World Heavyweight Title match headlining night 2). I can’t say it’s a feud that fills me with excitement or anything so far though- these two have wrestled each other plenty in their careers and their New Japan Cup match was fairly disappointing by their standards. Jay White in general just continues to feel like he’s stuck in a holding pattern to me- he just sort of feels like a rerun, much like this feud. Anyway, this match will be fine I’m sure, except for the fact that it has Bad Luck Fale in it. But he’ll probably only tag in for like thirty seconds anyway. Prediction: Jay White & Bad Luck Fale
Jeri: I’m quite interested in Tanahashi/Jay White even though their matchups together have never really excited me. I can’t imagine wh-it’s the abs. I will spare you thrusting in this review but…..abs. For real though despite never finding their matches to light me on fire it’s still a big time match up and potentially a Dontaku night 1 headliner. So hopefully we’ll get plenty of interaction here to build up to that. Bad Luck Fale being in this match guarantees to me it’ll be dragged down a few pegs, even if he’s not in that long. I need more progression when it comes to Jay White. He’s great, he’s entertaining, cuts one hell of a promo, but I’m waiting for him to start blazing forward but right now he feels like he’s on a treadmill, running his ass off but going nowhere. Hopefully that changes. Prediction: Jay White & Bad Luck Fale
IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championship
El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru © vs. Roppongi 3K
John: YOH coming back straight into an IWGP Jr. Tag Title shot both makes sense (since he and SHO never lost the titles in the first place- there’s probably at least a 50% chance you forgot about it since it happened like midway through 2020, the year that felt like it was actually fifty years long- I forgot about it too until I thought about it for a second) and speaks to the crazy lack of depth in the junior division at the moment. Anyway, there’s really only two ways for this match to go. One way is YOH has a triumphant return as he and SHO win the junior tag titles back, which would break a 4-way tie for the second-most title reigns as a team (R3K, Gedo & Jado, Roppongi Vice and Apollo 55 all have four reigns each; they would still trail the Young Bucks’ seven reigns though). The other way, and I think what a lot of people are expecting and/or hoping for, is for YOH to turn heel on SHO, cost them the match and the titles, and kick off a feud we’ve all kind of been waiting for. There’s really no point in having SHO & YOH get along together fine and just come up short against Desperado & Kanemaru (now watch that happen of course), especially with Despy busy as the singles junior champion right now. So which one is it- do we get a YOH heel turn or a fifth Roppongi 3K title reign? I want the YOH heel turn pretty badly, but at this point I’m getting used to New Japan disappointing me lately, so…. Prediction: Roppongi 3K
Jeri: There’s really not much to pick from in the Jr. Heavyweight division is there? Don’t get me wrong, Roppongi 3K getting an immediate shot on YOH’s return is fair and makes sense, just… yeesh. I really don’t want Roppongi 3K to win the titles back. Feels like a major step backward for both. Is that weird? That WINNING a title feels like a step backward? I just am ready for both to be singles wrestlers and attempt to break out and become singles stars. SHO was looking quite good on his own at times (and at other times seemed to flounder) and I’m ready for some heated SHO versus YOH action. I’m not sure if we’re getting that, especially when it comes at the price of Despy two belts which is a price I’m not sure I’m willing to pay. Up to this point I found it easy to predict, here it’s difficult as I can see it going both ways. I want the heel turn, but I can see it coming a bit later with YOH turning his back on SHO after a sudden end of their reign slightly later on. So we’ll go with that. Prediction: Roppongi 3K
IWGP World Heavyweight Championship
Kota Ibushi © vs. Will Ospreay
John: I don’t even know what to say about this one. It’s hard to imagine a company doing more to make a main event title match between two quite good pro wrestlers (and for whatever else you think about Ospreay in particular, it would be pretty foolish to argue he wasn’t at least that) less appealing than New Japan has for this one. Take your pick on the list of fuck ups, folks! Is it Kota Ibushi’s character going from loveable babyface ace to domineering god, somehow able to convince the company to seal one of the greatest championships AND belts in history (and a perfectly good IC belt too) in favor of a new title with an awkward name (“International Wrestling Grand Prix World Heavyweight” sounds redundant in English, and for whatever reason “IWGP sekai hebikyuu” has yet to sound natural from literally any Japanese speaker who’s said it) and a belt that’s, uh, received mixed reviews at best? Is it Will Ospreay, the man who already entered this feud as a less-than-beloved figure (for good fucking reason), being presented as dumping his valet and real life girlfriend via a sudden burst of violence right after winning the New Japan Cup (to a reaction of pin-drop awkward silence)? You can trot out whatever defense of that stupid angle you want, but to plenty of people who already didn’t like Ospreay, it felt like rubbing their faces in his continued push to the top of the company despite his myriad issues involving women just as he reached his latest apex. That’s not “good heat”, that’s the kind of thing that made yet more people decide they were done with the company at a time that’s far from their peak anyway (and filled with other very recent controversies, like almost bringing Marty Scurll in before getting talked out of it at the last minute), and I can’t really blame them.
And after all that, what’s supposed to have brought people back to the table or gotten them excited to watch this match? Ospreay’s stilted heel promos that sound like the sort of thing a teenage edgelord would recite to his bathroom mirror? Ibushi looking like he was about to cry as he actually handed over the two IWGP belts, making it perfectly clear the actual human being is probably about as excited about this change as most of us are? Frankly, whether or not the match is good or not almost seems beside the point now. It’s a horrible build to a main event I just have no desire to see.
So who wins? I dunno. Ibushi would kind of look like an idiot losing this new title in his first defense, but I could certainly see Ospreay being this year’s quickie heel champion to establish him as a top guy. There’s certainly a ton of shows on the calendar that need title matches, so you could easily envision a scenario where Ospreay wins the belt here, gets his one defense in at Dontaku Night 2, and loses it back to Ibushi at WRESTLE GRAND SLAM in Yokohama (and then we head off to do Ibushi/Okada or something like that at the Tokyo Dome). I really go back and forth here though, because at the same time Ibushi-Shingo looks like something they’re still quietly building to as well, as Kota sort of noticed Shingo Takagi at the commentary table and made a point to mention him on the mic following his win over Jeff Cobb on the final Korakuen. Shingo beat him in the G1 and would make sense as a Dontaku challenger (a title shot they very often give to the New Japan Cup runner-up anyway), but you could also always do Ospreay-Shingo again too. But on the other hand, Ibushi won the last tag warm-up before Sakura Genesis, which usually doesn’t spell well for the winner!
I don’t know, you really can flip a coin here. I’m gonna go with my heart and say Ibushi wins because I really don’t want him to lose his first defense of the IWGP Diva Nightmare Championship, but an Ospreay win sure wouldn’t surprise me. Whatever. This just sucks ass. Give me Naito vs. EVIL over this shit any day. Prediction: Kota Ibushi
Jeri: Whew, I don’t know. In a perfect non shitstorm world I would be looking forward to this match. This should be a great match, it could be a great match. It potentially from a workrate standpoint has MOTY caliber potential. This should be a match I’m giddy about, gathering my plushies and facing them toward the TV so I can have some sad mid-life crisis single white woman wrestling watch party all the while munching on Asiago Cheese and Triscuits (Cheddar will be the flavor of the weekend) and chugging copious amounts of coffee that directly makes my anxiety worse. You know, normal viewing patterns. I should be marking out, screaming holy shit, yelling about how my tits are unable to remain calm.
Instead this match annoys me, irritates me, puts a grumbling in my thoughts that fuels my mouth to want to rant. The bad taste in my mouth from the post-match of Shingo/Ospreay still remains at the back of my throat. It is the backwash ruining a perfectly good beverage. The tone deaf responses from Ospreay out of character combined with his mediocre heel promos do not put my confidence or interest in this match at any higher. Not to mention the muted and negative response to the merging of the titles into a new lineage and this match existing comes with baggage NJPW should’ve been smart enough to avoid, but they decided to keep putting their chips in. You got to know when to hold them, know when to fold them, and NJPW is doing neither of those things. In fact, I’m calling it right now, they are going to misinterpret everything and we are about to have an Ospreay title reign, even if it’s short.
I’m hoping I’m wrong, off base, completely missing the mark. I hope you all can point at the wrong corner and have me put the wrong hat on while I sit staring at the wall wallowing in my wrongness. I want to be wrong so bad, so hard, so much. I really want to laugh at “damn, I was really far off on that prediction” because I don’t want the title change here. But Ibushi’s reign, after so long of clamoring for it, hasn’t really been well received due to the titles merging, and NJPW has been tone deaf about the reaction to Ospreay. I can totally see their reactions to the Ospreay thing as the kind of heat to CAPITALIZE on instead of shying away from and giving him the title as a reward. I can then see Ospreay cutting a middling promo about how he doesn’t care what we think or what he did blah blah blah. I can also see Bea coming back costing Ibushi the title and Ospreay brag about how he fooled all of us with his master plan or some bullshit like that. Either way, I see me hating this, I see Twitter exploding, and I see discourse finding new and fascinating ways to be awful and disappointing. Match will be great, and I should be looking forward to a great match. I should be excited for a great match. I should be so looking forward to talking about, analyzing, critiquing this potentially great match. Instead I am left disappointed, saddened, upset, and facing the reality NJPW will make yet another poor decision. Ospreay is potentially about to be champion, and if he doesn’t here it’s not a matter of if but when. Maybe down the line as things simmer down, cool off, fade away I’ll be content with it or at least more accepting. At this precise moment it’s probably the poorest decision NJPW can make in the main event scene. I love pro-wrestling but sometimes I don’t like it. I have a feeling at this moment I’m not going to like it. Prediction: Will Ospreay