New Japan Pro Wrestling
Sakura Genesis 2021
April 4, 2021
Ryogoku Kokugikan
Tokyo, Japan

Watch: NJPW World

Well, this show is happening. I use to not feel that way about the majority of NJPW shows. It was never just happening, they would be a happening. The buzz, excitement, anticipation. The knowledge you are about to get some of the highest quality in pro wrestling. This feeling doesn’t come as easily or quickly in 2021. This card does not present solutions to this problem.

An underwhelming undercard of which the highlightwas arguably who the mystery partner of the United Kingdom would be. This show was highlighted by the main event I’d love to be excited by but due to circumstances, I am not. No matter though, I am the magic writing girl of Voices of Wrestling and I have a job to do. NJPW shows this year have been uneven with great efforts often followed up by mediocre follow-ups. We have had some of the most uninspired Road To Shows of all time in these stretches, and they have done nothing to garner interest or excitement for many. NJPW which seemed to have gained some goodwill during the New Japan Cup manage to let it slip through its grasp within an instant due to one stupid post-match Oscutter. I go into the proceedings with low expectations and nowhere near the highest of hopes. But this is Sakura Genesis, we have an IWGP World Heavyweight defense on the line (the first of this lineage) and I will do my best to recommend or suggest you avoid it. I hope is for the undercard to exceed, and for the main event to be of such quality I can temporarily ignore the bad taste in the back of my mouth.

WE START WITH AN HIROMU SIGHTING and my heart flutters. Hiromu is not ready to return but he comes out to announce taking part in the Japanese commentary. So much energy, so much life, so much charisma. Ahhhhh, I can’t wait for him to return and bring a much-needed spark back into NJPW. He better bring that entrance ring coat back as well. It will be mine, oh yes, it will be mine. Hiromu is one hell of a hypeman and his excitement almost succeeds and making me look more forward to the show. We need him and his personality to be ready to go sooner than later. That said, don’t rush back, be the timebomb we all love and you’ll be ready to explode with your talent once more all over NJPW.

DOUKI, Zack Sabre Jr. & Taichi def. Jado, Tanga Loa & Tama Tonga

I can tell I’m in for a potential slog this show as my attention found itself hard to be found during this match. It was inoffensive and fine as an opener. Tanga Loa continues to be the more improved and better member of G.O.D, and I’m beginning to desire to see him get more singles opportunities. He may sink when/if given them but I want to see him get them. His pairing up and go against Zack Sabre Jr is probably my favorite portion of this opener. I wouldn’t mind seeing a one on one between the two. My least favorite thing in this match was anything and everything involving Jado. Zack ends up pinning Tanga Loa which means they lay claim to another title shot. While I’m interested in the possibility of another Dangerous Tekkers title reign (I would love it actually) it would mean another match-up with G.O.D and I’m burned out. It’s a testament, and not a good one, to the state of the tag team division of NJPW that we are rehashing so soon and so often on various matchups. The match as always could be good, could be very good, but meh. **1/4

YOSHI-HASHI, Tomohiro Ishii, Hirooki Goto, Toru Yano & Kazuchika Okada def. Dick Togo, Taiji Ishimori, Yujiro Takahashi, KENTA & EVIL

FIND SOMEONE who is made happy by you the way KENTA is made happy by YOSHI-HASHI’s stick. I wish I could achieve such pure unadulterated joy in my life. This match continued to plant seeds and prepare us for a NEVER six-man title defense. Low key confession, that might be one of my favorite titles to watch get defended right now. That, may not exactly be the best news because it’s pretty condemning toward the rest of the divisions but it’s the truth. YOSHI-HASHI’s lone title reign will eventually end but I am glad it has gone on as long as it has, and I legit look forward to when he and his partners defend them. Speaking of which, I enjoyed the YOSHI-HASHI interactions with KENTA this match. I’d love to get a one on one with them as well. I have a feeling it would catch us off guard with quality. This match was a step up above the opener, thank goodness. That’s not the greatest of praise, but there was a better sense of energy and urgency in this match. The matchups gelled, everyone worked hard. The pace and speed of the match kept my mind from drifting off and not focusing on the in-ring action, which can happen when you got so many moving parts. Hell, I think I enjoyed this. Yano wins via Yano shenanigans, which I didn’t disdain? Okay, this is all approved. ***1/4

Jeff Cobb, The Great O-Khan & Aaron Henare defeated Shingo Takagi, SANADA & Tetsuya Naito

I know we all have opinions on the Great O-Khan, can we at least agree his theme music rules? That out of the way X is . . . TOA HENARE with a new look, theme music, and everything. He is now known as Aaron Henare.

Many of us predicted this choice as a possibility. I fucking love it. Predictable as hell but the right call. I am ready for the elevation! LONG BEEN READY! Henare was pumped up for this match. Didn’t take long into the proceeds for me to realize this match fucking ruled. Everyone was on point and fired up. Hard-hitting, energetic, exciting. I’m definitely into getting more Naito versus O-Khan in my life and this match did its job in getting me interested in that. Cobb/Shingo interactions reminded me of their incredible affair at Wrestle Kingdom and I realize I wouldn’t mind a rematch at some point. Even Sanada brought the fire, and Sanada and fire aren’t always words that go hand and hand.

Henare feels like a completely different wrestler in the best way possible. He is reborn and his interactions with Sanada were great. The repackaging was predictable but it was necessary and it in one match is already paying dividends. He doesn’t deserve this, he’s earned it. He’s been hard-working, he’s been patient, and his time has come. There is very little downtime in anything in this match, it just keeps going, keeps engaging, and even with its pace, it manages to find ways to speed up and increase intensity. Henare collects the scalp of SANADA and fuck yes to all of that! This fucking ruled. ****

Post-match The United Kingdom beats up LIJ, targetting Naito’s knee with a chair. They stand tall while LIJ lays before them broken. Here for it.

Satoshi Kojima & Hiroshi Tanahashi def. Jay White & Bad Luck Fale

Going in, you know the big goal for this match is getting us interested in another Tanahashi/White match-up, this time for the Never Open Championship. This is a match-up that rarely does it for me so asking this is a tall order. Jay White, and his fabulous abs, can be an amazing prick. Hitting Kojima with his own rapid-fire chops in the corner ruled. Despite my disinterest in more Tanahashi/White credit where credit is due they did their best to fuel me with interest. Tanahashi is still great, not that I ever need that much reminding, and he is just able to enhance almost any situation he’s placed in. They at one point did the fighting for wrist control spot which I think looks pretty dumb and wish they stop it entirely. I’m ready for Jay White to leave the bullet club, or get kicked out. I think it’s time for him to go solo, and it was what I was hoping for after Wrestle Kingdom but alas it did not happen. Maybe losing to Tanahashi, if he loses to Tanahashi, can be the breakaway point? A girl can dream. Back to this match, this was some of the better Jay White/Tanahashi interactions for me.

This match also had the participation of Bad Luck Fale (Well the bad part of his name is correct). His participation was minimal, which is a significant ingredient in Bad Luck Fale performances not bringing things down. Bad Luck Fale also ends up doing the honors after a lariat and high fly flow in what turned out to be a fun tag match. I may almost be excited for Jay White/Tanahashi after this match…almost. Good stuff, and I got to confess despite my skepticism and low expectations I have dug the undercard so far. ***1/4

Post-match Tanashi put’s Jay White in an submission and forces him to tap out to prove he can. He then challenges him and puts the title on the line.

IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championship
SHO & YOH def. Yoshinobu Kanemaru & El Desperado (C)

We arrive at the semi main event and my hopes for a YOH heel turn were set in place. We get a new theme and that immediately dashes my hopes. They wouldn’t give them a new theme just to break them up immediately, would they? When someone comes back from injury, there is always a legit curiosity about how they perform, and how they look. YOH is in incredible shape, and he performs quite well. This might be the best I’ve ever seen him appearance-wise. His current look allows me to take him more seriously instantly and I approve of it. It is not surprisingly a lot of attacks against YOH in this match focuses on his left knee. SHO and YOH clicked back together instantly, as all great tag teams are capable of. SHO gets beaten down in a long control segment to build interest in watching YOH tear the house down once tagged in.

YOH got the inevitable tag and did a good job on offense while also selling the work done on his knee. All of that is appreciated, the little touches and things always get my approval. Kanemaru and El Desperado did a good job of pacing and controlling the speed of the match. Their work was solid, targeted, and their control spots never got to the point of boring me and causing my interest to wane. Kanemaru, Desperado has proven over and over again they are a great tandem. It’s neither team’s fault I’m burned out as them as IWGP Junior tag champions. I hope in the near future we can get more blood, new blood, new combinations inserted into the division. Both tag divisions are in need of it.

Fifteen minutes past and it didn’t feel like fifteen minutes. YOH got beaten down for a second extended beat down, his leg being a big focus once more. This had turned into a solid semi-main event. YOH continued selling the damage to his knee impresses me. He makes sure to make it clear to everyone it is damaged and hurt. The match continued to approach the conclusion with SHO and YOH taking out El Desperado and isolating Kanemaru who tries to hold on. They hit Sky X right at the twenty-minute mark and I think that’s it but El Desperado returned to assure it wasn’t. YOH though puts Kanemaru away immediately aftward and SHO and YOH regain the titles they were never defeated for. A feel-good ending for a feel-good return. He won with what I would call a butterfly lock brainbuster? It looked great. You know what, this felt right. The heel turn, if it ever comes, can be later. I ended up enjoying this and am glad YOH is back. My question now is who are the first challengers? ****

IWGP World Heavyweight Championship
Will Ospreay def. Kota Ibushi (C)

I have feelings about this match-up, I think we all do. As a reviewer, I will try to be objective. Been a while since such a potentially great main event has me so uninterested and with a taste in my mouth that is sour. I sincerely feel no matter the result, no matter the quality, no matter the outcomes the discourse is going to be infuriating no matter what the viewpoint is. Ibushi’s title reign has been marred by the merging of the titles that continues to receive negative reactions. Ospreay, while a great wrestler, brought the discourse and criticism of him back to the forefront for his out-of-the-ring personality and actions due to one stupidly done angle. He has not done anything, nor has NJPW, to fan those flames away. As I went into this match I wondered could they through their combined talents get me into this match despite my aversions?

Could Ospreay/Ibushi succeed in a mixture of high expectations of match quality, and low expectations in good taste. Despite the negative reactions would NJPW consider Ospreay to be world champion at the end of this show, and prepare for the responses afterward. Despite my personal feelings on Ospreay I would never deny his talent, he is admittedly in my favorite match this year (so far), but as I try to do better and be better I can’t ignore his problematic attitudes and inability to understand or improve upon it. In not the best ways, I was intrigued by how this match would be and how the results and aftermath would play out.

It played out with Will Ospreay winning the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship clean as a god damn whistle. I have so many feelings about this outcome, but I can’t deny the journey. The match itself was great. Paced well, excellently wrestled. The little things such as body language, facial expressions, interactions were on point. There were near falls that caused me to lean forward and gasp when they did not end the match. This was not a high octane affair, this was a drawn-out, pace, well-timed contest between two wrestlers who click and know each other well. Some of the strikes and exchanges caused me to sink into that state where I bought the events on screen. I ended up not seeing this as a staged event, I saw this as two competitors trying to prove who was the better. When Ibushi attempted a top rope poisonrana only for Ospreay to land on his feet and stare him down, daring HIM TO BRING IT, I almost got chills. I didn’t want them, I did not want them. I did not want to be fucking invested in this match but I was. We must deal with truth, and the truth is this match drew me in, pulled me in closer and closer as the conclusion was reached.

The conclusion snapped me out of it all. My fears recognized. NJPW continues to misread the room, take the signals being sent as a positive, and placed the title on Will Ospreay. Or maybe from their standpoint they did read the room, weighed the consequences, and came to the conclusion there would be very little? From a wrestling and work standpoint did he earn it? Yes, in the world of pro wrestling where morals and ethics continue to prove secondary he probably earned it. This should be a moment where we applaud a man for his great work and reaching one hell of a milestone, instead, it snaps me out of how much I was enjoying the affair, how much I thought the match was of high caliber. I don’t feel sickened, but I feel deflated, defeated, disappointed. The shit you shouldn’t fear about a match you absolutely loved, and disdain yourself for doing so. This isn’t how I want pro wrestling to make me feel. I don’t care if his Oscutter to Bea was an angle, I don’t care if it was a tactic for heel heat. I don’t care if Ospreay is a great wrestler,  and I don’t care that it was inevitable he becomes world champion. Everything is timing and this was not the right time.

I appreciate the clean ending, I appreciate the work, I appreciate that both men had a hell of a match, but I cannot and will not ignore that NJPW has looked upon the reactions, the complaints, the uneasiness and said “WE DO WHAT WE WANT AND YOU’LL COMPLAIN BUT STILL WATCH.” I get that sinking feeling in my gut they are right. I will keep watching, I already have so much invested in my Tokyo Dome trip. It’s, it’s the reality I’m part of the problem and I have no solutions to offer. Reality often sucks.  Great match, but a great match I end feeling unsatisfied, unhappy.

Beyond the Ospreay drama and critiques, Ibushi losing in his first defense of the unified title feels wrong, feels incorrect. Maybe there is a story to be told there, but for now, I cannot develop it in my mind. Ibushi is the first unified champion, and he lost in his first defense. An unfulfilling ending to an unfulfilling reign.  Maybe I’m being too dramatic. All I know is this was an amazing match, and I am utterly disappointed in it. I love pro wrestling, I don’t always like it. I feel absolutely no happiness in the high rating.  ****1/2

Shit, there’s a post-match, Ibushi gets taken out by Cobb (maybe a program?) and Ospreay challenges Okada. With that said Okada and Shingo BOTH COME OUT. Ospreay will face Shingo and then Okada afterward. If nothing else I can say at least we got some big-time challengers lined up.

Final Thoughts

NJPW Sakura Genesis 2021 was better than anticipated. The undercard was fun, there were developments, X did not disappoint… SHO and YOH satisfied me with their feel-good reuniting and winning back of their titles. The main event was great, I can’t pretend otherwise, but I will never recommend it, I will never go back and rewatch it, and while I’ll never stop striving for pro wrestling to be better, as the show ends with Ospreay’s shit-eating facing expressions, perhaps it never will be.