New Japan Pro Wrestling
Sakura Genesis 2024
April 6, 2024
Ryogoku Sumo Hall
Tokyo, Japan

Watch: NJPW WORLD

Meet our previewers

Suit Williams: Suit has been…a bit down on New Japan since Wrestle Kingdom. But there are some promising signs, and Suit is here to cover them all as part of a jam-packed weekend. You can read Suit’s long-form previews and reviews of wrestling from around the world here at Voices of Wrestling. You can also find his weekly reviews of AEW Collision over at F4WOnline. Follow Suit on all social media platforms @SuitWilliams.

J Michael: J. Michael has reached his limit with cover songs. He humored the concept for a few decades; he thought it was just one of those AV Club, Tiny Desk Concert, NPR-core twee nonsense phases. But enough is enough. He heard a cover of B-52’s “Deadbeat Club,” which was fine, except that they didn’t include Fred Schneider’s vocals in the chorus. He can’t remember the band, but he thinks they should be imprisoned. They must be the type of people that drink out of mason jars.

Jazz and hip-hop don’t count. Interpolations and uncredited re-writes don’t usually count. And, of course, Christmas songs definitely don’t count. All Christmas songs are good. Even Bruce Springsteen is good when it’s a Christmas song.

The only good covers:

  • Sugar Hill Gang’s cover/reworking of Incredible Bongo Band’s cover of the Shadows’ “Apache”
  • Black Star’s cover/reworking of Slick Rick’s “Children’s Story”
  • Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band’s cover of “The Sound of Music”
  • Chavez’s cover of School House Rock’s “Little Twelvetoes”
  • Andrew Lloyd Webber’s cover of Pink Floyd “Echoes” (expanded and renamed “The Phantom of the Opera”)
  • David Bowie’s cover of Modern Lovers’ “Pablo Picasso”
  • Ciccione Youth’s cover of Madonna’s “Into the Groove” (renamed “Into the Groovey”)
  • Chaka Khan’s cover of Prince’s “I Feel for You”
  • The Minutemen’s cover of Steely Dan’s “Doctor Wu”

Anyway, enjoy the nothing J. Michael offers @ryugu_jo 

Ryusuke Taguchi and El Desperado vs. TMDK (Kosei Fujita and Zack Sabre Jr.)

Suit: ZSJ was one of my picks to win the New Japan Cup, as I think he’s due for an elevation to the top foreigner spot in New Japan. He didn’t win the Cup, and he’s challenging Matt Riddle for the TV Title in Chicago, so he’s sticking in his spot for right now. But Zack is a guy, much like my other pick to win the Cup in Shingo, with talent that is desperately needed at the upper end of these New Japan cards right now. He teams with Fujita against Despy and Taguchi, and I think he gives a wacky submission to Taguchi to score this opening match fall. Prediction: ZSJ & Fujita

J. Michael: Something peculiar is going on with El Desperado: he’s pairing off with heavyweights. And sure, a big part of this could be the inherent weirdness of the New Japan Cup tour, with undercards replete with arbitrary two-on-two tags and tags that don’t actually build towards anything. The havoc involved in balancing the undercards and filling out a show is never more explicit than on the New Japan Cup tour. But there seems to been some intent with Despy’s match-ups.

For instance, on Night 2 we saw this opener:

El Desperado, Oleg Boltin, Shota Umino, Togi Makabe & YOH defeat House Of Torture (EVIL, Ren Narita, SHO, Yoshinobu Kanemaru & Yujiro Takahashi) (w/Dick Togo) (7:50)

The pairings ended up odd in that one. HOT presented two juniors, with one of them, SHO,  having just upended Desperado for the Junior title in one of the most oafishly baffling  decisions made on the brutal New Beginning tour. And yet, Desperado paired off with EVIL, not only a heavyweight but a faction leader. Later in the tour, he would pair off with Taichi instead of DOUKI, even though he was the only junior on his team. 

Of course, there were also times when he just paired off with DOUKI, or Hiromu. DOUKI himself paired off with Ishii at points on that tour. And Desperado’s former mentor Yoshinobu Kanemaru had a straight up singles match on March 31st against Shingo Takagi. We could simply be caught in some very strange times right now, with a roster that feels a bit spartan.

But, on March 31st, not only did Desperado pair off with Taichi, they started the match. Clearly, Despy has inhabited an openweight area since losing the Junior belt. Like we said, it was probably just the circumstantial imbalances that the New Japan Cup presents, and obviously they are not making any moves with the Super Juniors coming up, but it’s something to keep an eye on. He will be the heavyweight in this match, paired against another faction leader (and another former intimate SZG teammate). Prediction: TMDK

Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI and Hiromu Takahashi) vs. BULLET CLUB (Gedo and David Finlay)

Suit: David Finlay returns after an illness took him out of the New Japan Cup. Given how things worked out, I would posit that Finlay was meant to make the final, so I expect him to get a fall here and challenge whoever wins the main event for either Dontaku or Resurgence. Prediction: Finlay & Gedo

J. Michael: The way they’ve structured the beginning of this event, with their two top Juniors (and two of their most popular wrestlers, period) battling heavyweight faction leaders, back-to-back, is the sort of humbly transparent, lucidly inspired things they’ve done all year. It’s totally contrived, but its the hand of a matchmaker, not booker.

We are adamantly in the Never Heavy party of Desperado-Hiromu future thought. Quixotic as it is, we still believe a somewhat equal-footing Junior division could happen with these two on top and the promising group underneath them. So, we’d rather not look towards the current situation, where neither guy has anything going on right now, as some sort of enticement to a soft launch into the Heavyweights. Hiromu just got pinned by BUSHI on April 3rd, for fuck’s sake.

Even so, this is a really captivating match-up: the zealously earnest, unreachably endearing Hiromu vs. David Finlay, whose entire character yearns to grasp the converse, to embody a sort of cold, austere, calculated deliberateness. And, unfortunately, it hasn’t endeared him to anyone. He’s been great, but debilitating timing in things have hamstrung him and quelled his momentum. And so, in a way, the interplay between these two isn’t going to be a test for Hiromu, but Finlay.  Prediction: BULLET CLUB

Just 5 Guys (DOUKI, Yuya Uemura, and SANADA) vs. United Empire (Callum Newman, Great-O-Khan, and Jeff Cobb)

Suit: Whichever show doesn’t have David Finlay challenging for the title threatens to see a challenge from SANADA, as he’s unfortunately in the top mix now. I can’t do another SANADA title match after the thorough bed-shitting at New Beginning, but unfortunately, I can’t really see another outcome here. Maybe Jeff Cobb scores a fall to be a roadblock for someone, but my expectation is for SANADA to come out of this with something to do in May. Prediction: Just 5 Guys

J. Michael: Great-O-Khan’s match with Tanga Loa is listed on Cagematch thusly:

NJPW King Of Pro-Wrestling Title Rural Revitalization In Hamamatsu 2 Out Of 3 Falls: Great-O-Khan (c) defeats Tanga Loa [2:1] (14:32)

Cagematch, repent! The anguish you must have caused so many people by evoking a sense of hope, a feeling of confidence that one could endure that match, because, in the end, one would only have to endure the torment for 14 minutes.

NOT SO, MOTHERFUCKER! Yeah, that’s 14 minutes, for sure… into the third fall. Prior to that, you had a ten minute period where they did the stipulation where every count was registered as a point, a gimmick this company has fallen in love with over the last year or so. Then, a five minute eating contest, where the two shoveled local delicacy potstickers into their goddamn mouths, replete with GOK doing some sort of Kobayashi Shake to make the slop in his stomach… compact? And then, a 14 minutes strap match where both guys sold their full tummies, or feigned projectile vomiting, or fought off the itis, all with painfully dyspeptic expressions. 

In total, the match latest 38 minutes from the opening bell to the final one, when GOK touched the fourth corner. And that it, the fourth corner he touched, because it wasn’t a four-corners-in-succession match. No, you just had to touch a corner once and it counted (each corner had a picture of each guy, removed once they touched that corner). That’s how much happened in the match: it took 14 minutes for one guy to touch all four corners just once.

Honestly, it was fine. At least it had conviction. The crowd enjoyed it. It didn’t have to be broadcast, especially since GOK’s whole Maoist concept of Rural Revitalization Plan seemed to be predicated on these matches not being broadcast, existing solely for the live crowds (and also, Hamamatsu is a coastal city with a population over 750,000 people, which New Japan visits multiple times a year). But there was a charm to it. It’s hard to dislike either guy.

Anyway, these are six of the most reliable wrestlers on the roster. And yes, that includes SANADA, even if we’d personally rank him 6th out of this group. Do yourself a favor and watch the Ishii vs. Newman portion of the six-man gauntlet from the April 3rd Korakuen show. Magnetic stuff.  Prediction: Just 5 Guys

IWGP Junior Tag Team Championship 3 Way Match
BULLET CLUB War Dogs (Drilla Maloney and Clark Connors) (c) vs. Intergalactic Jet Setters (Kevin Knight and KUSHIDA) vs. Catch 2/2 (Francesco Akira and TJP) 

Suit: The three Jr. tag teams that have feuded for these titles for the better part of a year all battle in this tornado tag match. This harkens back to the days of 2014, where New Japan would stick the same four Junior teams against each other in some form or fashion in every opener. Forever Hooligans, Time Splitters, Young Bucks, ReDRagon, just mix and match them and give them 12 minutes to start the show. Good times.

Anyway, I don’t have much of a feel for this one. War Dogs/Catch 2/2 has been run into the ground, so I’d put the belts on the Jet Setters to get the titles on a somewhat fresh team. Prediction: Intergalactic Jet Setters

J. Michael: We truly must be back if the Junior tag division is passing the belts around like trich at a Christian youth center, with tornado scramble multi-man title matches at the big events. There is zero reason for Catch 2/2 to be involved here, except that they are still the best team in the division, and one of the best in the world, even if they’ve lost the spark of 2022.

Oh, and they also are actually on the shows, you actually get the feeling they are actual roster members. TJP has had 31 matches in New Japan this year. Francesco Akira has had 39 New Japan matches this year. New Japan has run 41 events this year. He missed Battle in the Valley, and Night 3 of Fantasticamania. He’s missed one fucking show run in Japan all year. Clark Connors: 18. Drill Maloney: 16 (though he also wrestled through an arm injury). Knight and KUSHIDA aren’t even New Japan wrestlers anymore.

So yeah, chalk another one up to this company’s fetish to put their belts on foreigners that aren’t around, a fetish as potent as ever.  

It would be weird to just put the titles back on Catch 2/2. In their conflicts with War Dogs over the last nine months , they’ve lost a Super Junior Tag League match, a coffin match, two title matches, and a cage match. Throw the goddamn towel. On the other end, though, the IJS haven’t wrestled in Japan since November, and they barely team together in Impact. Their four matches leading up to Sakura Genesis is double the times they’ve teamed in their home promotion in 2024. Knight just keeps getting better, smoother, lustrous in the ring. Somehow, he seems to have even more torque to his spring. Losing him is one of the lowkey self-inflicted tragedies of 2024.

Against our better judgment, we’re voting for stability, though it’s equally likely they just do a title change, then do another one in Chicago, then another one at Dontaku, then another one at STRONG Resurgence, then another one at the Super Junior Final, then another one at Dominion… Prediction: My Dogs 4 Real

IWGP Tag Team Championship
BULLET CLUB (Chase Owens and KENTA) (c) vs. Bishamon (YOSHI-HASHI and Hirooki Goto)

Suit: I tried coming up with some witty way of talking about this match, but I can’t come up with anything. Owens and KENTA are an uninspired pairing of the two worst workers on this roster, and I would much rather go over tread ground than go anywhere else with these two as champs. Put the belts on Bishamon and just go from there. Prediction: Bishamon

J. Michael: Who cares?

Anyway, the rock has been miraculously pushed aside. The tomb is empty. Backstage KENTA, our King of Kings, has resurrected after a long and creatively desolate 2023, pretending to make out with the fat cameraman off-screen, bullying YOSHI-HASHI, treating the Defy title like the Ten Pounds of Gold, obsessing over the video’s Youtube thumbnail, and going five to ten times longer than anyone else in these things. 

Here are the top KENTA moments from the New Jacan Puc tour:

March 6th: (On YOSHI-HASHI) He’s truly one of a kind… Because he’s so damn ugly. I lost. I can’t even call him ugly to his face anymore. People that unsightly are one in a million. He was so determined. As if he was fighting for his uggo status.

March 11th: (On the SANADA vs. YOSHI-HASHI match) I know this may sound funny, but I’m fascinated by those who are ‘born-and-bred’. It’s contradictory to my own position. I mean, at this point in his career, he should see it for what it is. SANADA came in as an outsider, while YOSHI-HASHI’s always been waving the Lion Mark flag. That’s the clash I’m interested in. Aren’t you? 

When that gift-giver faced Naito, he talked about failing and then realizing a dream. But I don’t think that way is a dream fulfilled. If my dream was to wrestle here, I’d keep at it until I passed and debuted here. Fight under this banner. Win a title here. That’s a dream fulfilled.

That’s the dream I want Ugly to realize in today’s match.

March 16th:  Think I can get the thumbnail spot today? I’ve been pretty carefree, but let’s try to toughen up a bit…

When fans see this thumbnail, they’ll say, “Huh? What happened to KENTA?” “He must have gotten into a hot scuffle.” Then, they’ll watch the video and see that no such thing happened! What do you think about that tactic?

March 17th: Getting older is scary. I worry about stuff like that.

You know, the other day… (looks around, starts whispering)… Miss. Shimoda… She was there in the dressing room… I was just passing through, but I thought I heard somebody start talking to me. So I look over, and guess what? She was talking to herself! Seriously! In a loud voice, too.

I just said, “Don’t worry, I heard nothing.” But is that what happens? You get a bit older and start talking to yourself like a madman? Seriously. Getting older is scary… I don’t wanna grow up!

March 20th: (On YOSHI-HASHI and DEFY) He kept going on about DEFY and… He kept saying he didn’t give a damn about it. I’d be really ticked off if I were one of the DEFY staff. I mean, he’s just running his mouth for no reason. But he obviously must be interested.

What was he trying to get at? Not cool, man. Think about how the DEFY people are gonna feel. It’s rude. You got no idea about how hot DEFY is in America. I’m truly happy to be their champion. And he just runs his mouth.

Just think before you speak, man. He said he wasn’t interested… Do you know how the belt feels? Just listen… 

(Holding up belt in front of his face) “Who the hell are you, anyway?! I don’t want you to challenge for me!” You can spend your whole life swimming in the New Japan lake, Uggo! You’re ugly!” 

That’s probably what the belt would say. Wouldn’t it? (Cameraman nods) Why are you acting like you understand?!

Prediction: BULLET CLUB

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
SHO (c) vs. YOH

Suit: We start our run of House of Torture matches, starting with SHO defending the Jr. Title against YOH, who stole the belt from SHO after he won it. They’ve been heavily, HEAVILY featured during this past tour, so it makes sense from that regard. It sucks because the House of Torture sucks, but that’s something that we all know. The House’s whole thing is stealing titles, so YOH is giving them some of their old medicine. YOH grew on me last year with his work in Super Juniors and his team with Lio Rush, but I have no interest in this version of SHO or revisiting Roppongi 3K. Super Juniors is coming up soon, and with the finals being at Dominion instead of a stand-alone show, it tells me that SHO will retain here and keep the title until after the tournament. Prediction: SHO

J. Michael: Every once in a while, you’ll see someone call wrestling “performance art.” Dumb, uncultured, or both, it happens. Wrestling is a performance, for an audience, that much is true, but it is as much performance art as it is a Socratic lecture, a pop culture convention, or a swim through the Ganges river. At times, it feels like all of those things, especially the latter, but it isn’t truly any of them. Marina Abramović is not walking through that door. James Luna is not walking through that door. Wrestling is not performance art.

Or is it?! Famed coprophiliac Yohei Komatsu IS walking through that door, and at 3:14 into the promotional VTR for this match, YOH (whose New Japan blog is titled “Dignity, by YOH”) makes one hell of an attempt to confirm that wrestling can be performance art after all. He’s been plugging away at this concept every since last year, where he suddenly became Daffy Duck. But this one is special: disembodied mannequins, Michael Bolton-esque destruction of an Epson projector, and some of the most shamelessly explicit pujoshi-bait ever captured, all against some kind of Nancy Graves/Wassily Kandinsky/Willem de Kooning backdrop. You get the feeling that it takes YOH at least 3-4 hours to read a chapter of Blue Period.

As Suit noted, YOH stole the belt, pushing SHO to madness, consumed by incandescent anger. Of course, they betrayed this a bit by having SHO be the only person to rationally deduce that YOH always hides from his pursuers behind the backstage comment sponsor wall, all the way back to last year’s BOSJ. Of course,  this time YOH wasn’t there

We definitely did not need yet another House of Torture belt theft story. By our count this is the fourth in six months. And yet, this match is a comfort blanket to us. SHO’s Marty Feldman Face nonsense is the best of HOT, YOH’s equally cartoonish persona is oddly endearing, and it’s been fun to watch them circle around each other. We may, fingers crossed, finally get a worthwhile YOH vs. SHO match. Either way, the winner should lose to either Desperado or Akira, whomever wins the BOSJ.  Prediction: SHO

Special Tag Match
Shota Umino and Jon Moxley vs. HOUSE OF TORTURE (Jack Perry and Ren Narita)

Suit: Jon Moxley roars back into Ryogoku, teaming with his protégé Umino to mix it up with Ren Narita & Jack Perry. Umino & Perry have a singles match at Windy City Riot, and Moxley is wrestling Naito at the same show, possibly for the World Title. It won’t take a rocket scientist to figure out how this one is ending unless they do some kind of DQ nonsense which is always on the table with the House. It’ll be fun to see Mox back in Japan, and you know this will have the wild element that Mox always brings. Prediction: Moxley & Umino

J. Michael: You’d be hard pressed to find a tag team pairing in this company less compelling than Jack Perry and Ren Narita. Perry’s ingratiating himself, growing throughout the New Japan tour, but he’s still only one tour in, working in an entirely different way than he ever has in the public eye. Narita’s fucking homegrown and he feels no more resonant in the company than Perry. This heel turn has been fine, it’s in its infancy, but he feels like the same old drab Ren, where you can’t tell if he’s purposefully laconic or not.

Shota’s one year removed from his breakout in NJC 2023, though his progression has felt stagnant at times: a good run in the G1 Climax, even if it was just win trading with other young guys. Vital components, for sure.  A tag team with Narita that lasted a month. An alliance with KENOH’s paramore Kaito Kiyomiya. A nice run against Narita, followed by an unfortunate one against EVIL. His promos are still top notch and his in-ring is much better now that the crowds are behind him more. His haircut is atrocious at the moment. And, as usual, when things get hectic he calls on his mentor Jon Moxley.

The Moxley/Umino thing is future money. But as with the R3M+1, slow and steady will win the race, even if some of the internal steps are frustrating, or opportunities are missed along the way. Right now, we’re at the point where Umino has escaped a large chunk of the inherited mannerisms and trademarks of Moxley, and feels like an actual individual. For now, Moxley exists to help his disciple.  Prediction: Death Rider Jacket Guys

NEVER Openweight Championship
EVIL © vs. Shingo Takagi

Suit: The House of Torture run mercifully ends here, as Shingo challenges EVIL for the NEVER Openweight Title. Kanemaru was made the special ref after an angle at Korakuen Hall. With Umino still feuding with the House, I think he’ll be the one to dethrone EVIL and win the NEVER Title. Once again, Shingo feels like less of an entity than he should. The man is an excellent pro wrestler and a credible top name, having been a World Champion and a Tokyo Dome main eventer. I will scream from the rooftops for Shingo to get more opportunities, especially in this current transitional period of the promotion, but I know it will be for naught. Shingo is the new Ishii. A nice spot to have, but a lesser spot than what he’s capable of. Prediction: EVIL

J. Michael: There is no coherent way to encounter, discuss, or analyze House of Torture. There are so many inherent contradictions and paradoxes. They are popular enough to place in magazine polls or whatever, but not popular enough to draw with SANADA, but popular enough to draw well on mid-tour G1 shows, but have never been tested at bigger venues (like this one, for instance). They seem popular in only a handful of places, but those places are the most critical to the company. 

Live crowds respond to their diablerie, but for about 5-6 seconds, clearly having fun but also just following cues, rarely reacting spontaneously (or much beyond the first one or two choruses of booing). The 3/31 show brought both of these ideas together: the crowds in Hamamatsu responded, but it was at best 1/3rd of the crowd. That’s actually bad news for the HOT Haters, because that itself is a big step in the right direction. Last year they were getting absolutely nothing on these smaller Road to Shows. That aspect is not going to shrink.

They come across like some kind of internal yearning within the booking crew for Old School Heat, Brother, but there’s hardly any precedent for such lampshaded heelwork. If anything, it’s most reminiscent of Attitude Era Russo-riffic wrestling, where no one bothered to care until the run-ins commenced, one eye always towards the curtain. We think it’s supposed to evoke a territory wrestling feel, but it’s so comically performative that they might as well pour out of the back screaming “IT’S FAKE! THIS! THIS RIGHT NOW! FAKE FAKE FAKE! BOO OUR FAKE MISCONDUCT YOU PAVLOVIAN LOSERS!” That’s the only way to engage with it. 

Their fans revel in the transgressive irony of it all, but can also be pretty sensitive. The further you glare at the House, the more you might get positivity gatekeeped towards the door, or tadpole toddler-brained responses, assuming that any attempt at analyzing this group is a bad faith exercise in justifying animosity. It’s hard to find consensus on how or why it works, or doesn’t, and the difference between the two. Why one EVIL match can be awesome and fun, and another abysmal, is elusive, an unsolvable enigma. In that way, the HOT fans are the smartest of all, because they treat it the way it’s meant to be treated. 

We’re in the midst of a phase where HOT are so diffused throughout the card that things feel hopeless if you despise them. But, as we have advocated in the past, this was absolutely necessary. Maybe not this much, granted, but HOT had lost so much in 2022-2023 that something bold needed to happen to change the perception of them, or soon every venue would stop responding to them. The Keystone Cops thing needs refreshing, habitually. 

And so, we’ve had to endure two relentless months of HOT’s artifice-exposing antics. EVIL, who actually did get robust responses on 3/31, and pretty much evokes 85% of the responses HOT gets, stole the NEVER title, then won the NEVER title, then made his usual tournament run. They’ve spread out the matches, as on this card, where we are seeing upwards of three HOT matches a night. They are endemic to the mid-card, but lately they have literally been the entire mid-card, and sometimes the entire upper-card. When New Japan commits, they fucking commit.

Thankfully, this culminating match has the best possible match-up. Because, despite the more famous nature of the EVIL vs. Naito matches, EVIL’s matches against Shingo have been equally good. There’s a bizarre chemistry between these two, where Shingo effectively brings out the thudding brawler in EVIL, and EVIL brings out the jocular side of Shingo. The match they just had in New Japan Cup was a hilarious version of this, with Shingo taking multiple gimmicks in succession (mist, then whiskey, then powder), leading to the pin. 

We know what to expect for this match. The winner should be EVIL, but they’ve played hot potato with this title enough that no prediction is safe.  Prediction: EVIL




IWGP World Heavyweight Championship
Tetsuya Naito (c) vs. Yota Tsuji

Suit: Everyone and their mothers wanted New Japan to give one of their young core stars – Yuya Uemura, Ren Narita, Shota Umino, Yota Tsuji – a harder push. I want to challenge that take. Are you sure they haven’t pushed these guys enough?

Yuya Uemura showed up five seconds ago, and he’s already the first of the four to score a singles win at Wrestle Kingdom. Ren Narita was in the initial TV Title tournament, getting to the final at Wrestle Kingdom 17. He spent the year with a decent push, winning the NEVER Six-Man Titles before turning heel and joining House of Torture. Barring catastrophe, Shota Umino is a stone-cold lock for future stardom. His first match back was a US Title match against Will Ospreay. He teamed with Tanahashi & Keiji Mutoh in Mutoh’s last New Japan match at Wrestle Kingdom 17. He and Narita spent the first half of the year feuding with Kazuchika Okada – until Okada decided he didn’t want to do that anymore – before having another excellent US Title match against Ospreay at Power Struggle.

Then there’s Yota Tsuji, who has been pushed about as hard as someone can be pushed without winning a title. He debuted at Dominion TEN MONTHS AGO in a World Title match against SANADA and got over immediately. He too had an excellent US Title match against Will Ospreay before entering a feud with Uemura, ultimately taking his hair in the first chapter of what should be a generational rivalry between the two. Now, after winning the New Japan Cup on his first attempt, he will get his second World Title shot in a year against Naito.

There are problems with New Japan right now, and I’m not gonna pretend that there aren’t. Hell, I’ve spent the last month screaming about them. The midcard is stale and the highlighted heel unit has go-away heat with Western fans. But they are doing a great job getting the next generation of guys over, starting with the readiest one of them all in Tsuji. He walks into Sumo Hall on Saturday ready to kickstart the next generation of New Japan and take the torch from his unit leader.

Does he get it done? I don’t think so. Naito is the A-1, tippy-top guy in New Japan right now. While he completed his big arc at the Tokyo Dome, he’s now the big ticket seller and money mover for New Japan. He’s main eventing Windy City Riot next week against Jon Moxley, a show that’s sold over 5,000 tickets. There’s an announced World Title match for Resurgence in Long Beach in May that I assume he’ll be on top. He’s gonna have a run on top until it is 100% time to move the belt, and that time is here and now. Tsuji will be fine, and the company will take care of him. But right now, it’s Naito’s time to reign. Prediction: Tetsuya Naito

J. Michael: Suit’s right. They could and should have done more with Okada, or Okada should have done more with them, and there has been no sense of urgency, but Tsuji winning the New Japan Cup assuages a lot of those concerns. Results justify everything in wrestling, small and large scale. Tsuji’s nine months, in totally, tell a carefully crafted and structured nurturing of a sprouting superstar. A big, supernova debut. Minor struggles and setbacks. The typical grind of the returning wrestler to consistently beat the established guys. And now, a tournament win. 

Tsuji gave an interview begging the other guys to come up to his level, which is great stuff. In print, Tsuji comes across brilliantly, like the dickhead he looks like. It doesn’t work as well when he’s vocalizing it, but the ideas are there. He should be the dickhead that main event Dominion in his return match, acting like it’s the other guy’s fault they are behind. Which, for the record, one of them isn’t (Shota), and another one of them beat him in a Wrestle Kingdom singles match (Uemura). One guy needs to be the fixed point, and Tsuji’s taken to the role beautifully. 

Unfortunately, his second World title challenge appears as predictable as his first. For one, it would be lunacy to take the title off Naito right now. Attendance numbers are trending up, and the numbers pretty much begin to rise at the very beginning of 2024. In our estimation, most of the increases are the result of Naito as champion.

But then, they gave up the ghost, or Tsuji did on his own, with this V4 Resurrection/Intercontinental Funeral bunkum. If you missed it, that was the thrust of Tsuji’s post NJC press conference: he wants to separate the titles again… to deactivate the Intercontinental title and carry around the V4 belt. Which is funny, since it’s been the fucking years since this issue was settled, the guy who merged them can’t even walk anymore, and Tsuji’s opponent, the man who fought to prevent Ibushi from merging the titles, gave an interview with VOW/Fightful’s Scott Edwards where he’s just like, “lil’ bro, it’s over.” 

These starry-eyed declarations are usually very clear code for: this guy has zero chance of winning. Let’s add to that the 1972 interview, where Tsuji insinuates that, before he retires the INC belt for good, he wants to have a match with Shinsuke fucking Nakamura, the man forever synonymous with the title. Even so, we can enjoy this match for what it will be: a spectacle between guys with big movesets and impeccable instincts, which may be light in the middle, but will be bookended by brilliance. If they interactions in the lead-up matches are any indication, this is going to be a barnburner.  Prediction: Tetsuya Naito

Listen to Voices of Wrestling’s NJPW podcast: Super J-Cast!

Powered by RedCircle