NEW JAPAN PRO WRESTLING
SAKURA GENESIS 2023
APRIL 8, 2023
RYŌGOKU KOKUGIKAN
TOKYO, JAPAN

Watch: NJPW WORLD

Nearly seven years to the day of making his New Japan debut, history repeated itself as SANADA cost Kazuchika Okada the IWGP Heavyweight Title. But instead of the title being handed to another man as he stood in the shadows, SANADA was the man in the spotlight, standing tall as the 7th IWGP World Heavyweight Champion. There will be skepticism on whether SANADA can finally pay off the potential that so many people have seen in him. Hell, I’m not even sure I’m fully bought into Top Guy SANADA. But what I do know is that it was time for New Japan to fish or cut bait.

New Japan had SANADA on the bench for years. Fans had lost interest, and for a while, it looked like SANADA himself had as well. But a fresh coat of paint, a new unit, and a New Japan Cup win had given him motivation and his best chance at finally breaking through to the next level of stardom in this promotion. And unlike certain promotions last weekend, New Japan struck while the iron was hot and gave the guy the title. I’ve said it for a long time about EVIL, and I’ll say it here for SANADA: you can’t blame New Japan for trying to get new names in the mix at the top of the card. While EVIL’s push was marred by COVID robbing New Japan of the heated crowds that would have made the House of Torture run somewhat tolerable, SANADA has the benefit of vocal crowd support and a much less match-intrusive unit. Now it’s up to him to deliver. He’s being given the ball and he has to run with it, or else he’ll find himself right back on the bench as a challenger of the month. It’s SANADA’s time to change everything, and he has to make the most of it.

TALES FROM THE UNDERCARD (NAMES IN BOLD INVOLVED IN THE FALL)

  • Shinnichi Champion Grand Prix Celebration Match: Toru Yano, Minoru Suzuki, & Champion of the British Great O-Khan def. YOH, El Desperado, & Hiroshi Tanahashi – This was a mystery vortex-style six-man tag, done in celebration of a New Japan-affiliated TV show winning some type of award. There were parejas increibles shenanigans, leading to Yano pinning Tanahashi after a ball shot.
  • United Empire (Aaron Henare, Francesco Akira, & Jeff Cobb) def. House of Torture (EVIL, SHO, & Yujiro Takahashi) (w/Dick Togo) – In an awesome finish, Jeff Cobb hit the Tour of the Islands on SHO while Dick Togo was on his back. After the match, Akira officially accepted the Jr. Tag Title challenge of the Jet Setters – Kevin Knight and KUSHIDA – on behalf of Catch 2/2.
  • Just 5 Guys (DOUKI, Taichi, & Yoshinobu Kanemaru) (w/TAKA Michinoku) def. Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI, Shingo Takagi, & Tetsuya Naito) – Kanemaru submitted BUSHI with the Figure Four while his partners tied up the other two with submissions. Keep that in mind for later. DOUKI was particularly aggressive towards Naito, calling him out for a singles match after the bell.

BULLET CLUB (DAVID FINLAY, EL PHANTASMO, & KENTA) (W/ GEDO) DEF. GUERRILLAS OF DESTINY (HIKULEO & TAMA TONGA) & MASTER WATO (W/ JADO)

Wait a minute? Shouldn’t this be in Tales from the Undercard? Normally, a non-descript undercard tag like this would be, but the post-match was the story here. Throughout the New Japan Cup tour, El Phantasmo had questioned the validity of David Finlay’s leadership of the Bullet Club. This rift in the group came to a head here.

During the match, the two were on completely different pages, with Finlay cutting off Phantasmo’s usual dicking around. After the match, Finlay laid out Tama Tonga with the NEVER Openweight Title and was laying in the shots to him. After a good long while, Phantasmo tried pulling him off only to get punched by Finlay. Those two then got into a scuffle that got broken up by KENTA and Gedo. KENTA then turned on Phantasmo with a Go To Sleep before holding him up for a shillelagh shot. Taiji Ishimori, Phantasmo’s tag partner in Bullet Club, came out and feigned stopping the attack. But that was only to boot Phantasmo in the nuts and help hold him in place for the final shillelagh shot to officially kick him out of Bullet Club.

The ELP mega-push begins. He’s got three targets. His former partner and friend Ishimori, the mini-boss KENTA, and the big bad Finlay, who will probably have the NEVER Title before long. He’ll have the support of the native Japanese crowd. Now it’s only a matter of time before El Phantasmo becomes the next big foreign babyface in New Japan.

IWGP WOMEN’S Championship: MERCEDES MONÉ © DEF. AZM & HAZUKI

This was Moné’s first successful defense of the IWGP Women’s Title.

As someone who doesn’t watch STARDOM, I was impressed with AZM and Hazuki. The High Speed style they employed with constant submission and flash pin attempts resulted in some cool three-way spots with Moné in the middle. Moné held up her end of the bargain, solidifying her spot as one of the premier women’s wrestlers in the world. After the KAIRI match at Battle In The Valley, working a three-way match with two new opponents in front of a Japanese crowd that she had never worked in front of before was a massive challenge. But she came across like a big star, and the match held up despite the challenges. Moné won by grabbing AZM as she was rolling up Hazuki and hitting her with the Moné Maker on top of Hazuki. ****

After the match, Mayu Iwatani made it clear that she would make the next challenge for the title on April 23rd at the STARDOM Yokohama Arena show. Mercedes slapped her in the face and left her lying.

NJPW WORLD TELEVISION Championship: ZACK SABRE JR. © (w/ Kosei Fujita) DEF. SHOTA UMINO

This was Sabre’s fourth successful defense of the NJPW World TV Title.

Coming into this match, I was disappointed with Sabre’s title defenses. The time limit never felt like a factor, as Sabre would toy with his opponents with submissions for 10 minutes before the finishing stretch came. But this match broke that formula and gave me exactly what I was hoping to get with this title. The pace of this match quickly picked up, leading to an intense and dramatic closing stretch.

I was expecting a time-limit draw, as the story coming into this match was Umino needing to figure out how to beat Sabre in half the time he had in the New Japan Cup. Instead, the story coming out of it was Umino needing to become his own man with his own style. Umino was in control with three minutes left, having survived Sabre’s submission attempts and flash pins. The Death Rider didn’t score the win for him, and after a hangman DDT, he went for the Death Rider again. But Sabre turned it into a backslide and rolled through it to steal the win and retain the title. ****

This was a big step in Umino’s development. After the clunker at New Beginning against Naito, a performance like this in a spot like this will raise his stock in the eyes of a lot of fans. Meanwhile, Sabre moves on to Capital Collision next Saturday, where he made a challenge to Filthy Tom Lawlor for a title defense in an effort to make the World in NJPW World mean something.

IWGP TAG TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP: AUSSIE OPEN (KYLE FLETCHER & MARK DAVIS) (w/ Aaron Henare, Francesco Akira, Great O-Khan, & Jeff Cobb) DEF. BISHAMON (HIROOKI GOTO & YOSHI-HASHI) ©

Bishamon failed in their third defense. Aussie Open become the 98th IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Champions.

This match ruled so much. A few minutes in, Kyle Fletcher did a top rope moonsault from the top rope to the floor and smashed his head onto the bottom of the metal barricade. He came up with a bad cut on his head and tagged out to Davis. After a minute, Fletcher re-emerged with blood seeping through the tape that was hastily applied to him on the floor. The blood ended up being fortuitous for them, as the Ryogoku crowd got behind the challengers once they saw how hard the challengers were fighting. By the end of the match, the crowd was booing Bishamon because they were pulling for Aussie Open so hard.

The announcers talked about the challenges Aussie Open faced to even get into New Japan. Davis tearing his ACL. The pandemic shutting down borders. Years of time spent hoping they would get their chance. A cut on Fletcher’s head wasn’t going to stop them. A World Tag League loss wouldn’t stop them. Nothing was going to stop Aussie Open from getting to New Japan, and on this night, Bishamon wouldn’t stop them from reaching the top of New Japan. After the double lariats, Fletcher pinned Goto after Coriolis to win the titles. The emotion was visible in both men as they were handed the titles. It took far longer than it should have, but the cream always rises to the top. Aussie Open is the cream of the crop, and they now stand tall at the top of New Japan as the IWGP Tag Team Champions. ****1/4

Backstage, Zack Sabre Jr. made a challenge on behalf of Mikey Nicholls and Shane Haste for a future tag title shot. Meanwhile, Jeff Cobb challenged Sabre for a TV Title shot. Sabre explained that he made a challenge for next Saturday, but did promise Cobb a singles match, champion or not. The ol’ Gabe Sapolsky special from the former EVOLVE Champion.

IWGP JUNIOR HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP: HIROMU TAKAHASHI © DEF. ROBBIE EAGLES (w/ Kosei Fujita & Zack Sabre Jr.)

Hiromu’s march to V12 continues, as this was his third successful defense of the Jr. Title.

This match was very good, but it was odd. Eagles was surgical in picking apart Hiromu’s leg, tearing at it like a dog with a bone. Hiromu kept fighting it and fighting it, but he didn’t have an answer for it at all. Eagles ripped at Hiromu’s leg with the Ron Miller Special, with the crowd rabid at the expectation of a title change. Then, Hiromu just…won. He fought through the submission, hit his big moves, and pinned Eagles with the Timebomb II. It just didn’t feel connected with the rest of the match. It was just time for Hiromu to win the match, so he did.

Gripes aside, Eagles is such a boon to an already rejuvenated junior division. I’ve said it before, but with Catch 2/2’s tag title reign, alongside the re-introduction of foreigners like Eagles and Lio Rush, on top of the elevation of guys like Douki and Master Wato, the New Japan junior division is as fresh and as lively as its been in years. Don’t be fooled because Hiromu is still on top, this division has transformed into one that is incredibly exciting. With Hiromu doing some of his best work since his broken neck, I am absolutely buzzing for this year’s Best of the Super Juniors. ****

IWGP WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP:

SANADA (w/ DOUKI, TAICHI, TAKA MICHINOKU, & YOSHINOBU KANEMARU) DEF. KAZUCHIKA OKADA ©

Okada fails in his third defense. SANADA becomes the 7th IWGP World Heavyweight Champion.

At the New Japan Cup finals, Okada said that while SANADA had a new group and a new look, he was still the same old SANADA. Okada’s dickhead tendencies shone through in this one, as he had so little time for SANADA that he tried several times to win this match with the Money Clip. SANADA was going to blow it like he always did. Okada was 8-1 against SANADA. Okada had never lost to SANADA when the title was on the line. Nothing was gonna change.

But it did. SANADA fought out of the Money Clip. He fired up off of an Okada shotgun dropkick. He countered the Rainmaker with a pop-up cutter before hitting two Moonsaults for a nearfall. SANADA went for something that looked a lot like Destino, but after Okada countered it, he hit a Shining Wizard as the crowd fired up in the hopes of a new champion. Okada pulled off the Cobra Flowsion, but in one motion, SANADA countered the Rainmaker with the Deadfall DDT to win the match and finally become IWGP Champion. ****

After the match, Hiromu Takahashi came out. He wanted to fulfill his dream of becoming IWGP Heavyweight Champion while still holding the Jr. Title, so he made the first challenge to SANADA. SANADA accepted, on the condition that Hiromu defend the Jr. Title first against Yoshinobu Kanemaru. Hiromu accepted the conditions, so we’ve got two title matches on the horizon. We’re entering a brave new world, one where Just 5 Guys are the ones leading the way.