Sakura Genesis is, in essence, only a 2 match card (3 if you are feeling generous, including the United Empire mystery partner 6-man). However, I feel there is enough to talk about with this article serving the primary function of previewing the Sakura Genesis card, as well as recapping and noting on-goings of the New Japan Cup’s closing, and the road to Sakura Genesis itself which will play into these, and future, stories.
With two non-televised and two Korakuen Hall tag team centric shows, this tour has been refreshingly short. Compared to the tiresome Castle Attack tour (and the scheduled Wrestling Dontaku ventures), it’s a nice pit-stop of a tour. The culminating show, NJPW Sakura Genesis 2021, takes place on Easter Sunday (April 4th), and the card is as follows:
Suzuki-Gun (DOUKI, Zack Sabre Jr. & Taichi) vs. BULLET CLUB (Jado, Tanga Loa & Tama Tonga)
CHAOS (YOSHI-HASHI, Tomohiro Ishii, Hirooki Goto, Toru Yano & Kazuchika Okada) vs. BULLET CLUB (KENTA, EVIL, Dick Togo, Taiji Ishimori & Yujiro Takahashi)
Los Ingobernables de Japon (Shingo Takagi, SANADA & Tetsuya Naito) vs. United Empire (Jeff Cobb, Great-O-Khan & Mystery Partner)
Satoshi Kojima & Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. BULLET CLUB (Bad Luck Fale & Jay White)
IWGP Junior. Heavyweight Tag Team Championship:
Suzuki-Gun (El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru) (C) vs. Roppongi 3K (SHO & YOH)
IWGP World Heavyweight Championship:
Kota Ibushi (C) vs. Will Ospreay
For me, the most intriguing story in NJPW at present is that of Jay White and Hiroshi Tanahashi. They lock horns in a tag match at Sakura Genesis, as their eventual singles meeting gathers more and more gusto the longer we wait. The story has evolved slightly from a “my abs are bigger than yours” contest, to one which resembles their previous feud, as White brings back to the forefront the “Tanahashi Tap Out” story. He showed a minutia of respect towards the Ace but the returning TTO t-shirt proves it is nothing more than an extract from Switchblade’s elaborate textbook of mind-games.
Add to this the fact that Tomoaki Honma tapped to the TTO on the March 30th show, and you have a feud which is getting more exciting due to the long wait between spark and eventual conclusion.
KENTA stealing YOSHI-HASHI’s staff is remotely entertaining, but it is simply something for them both to do whilst they aren’t in programs of any real meaning. KENTA’s character work has been increasingly fun recently, so I’m all for this sort of work from him.
The only other note of interest is the opening tag. G.O.D return to face-off against Dangerous Tekkers (with Jado and DOUKI joining the respective sides), so we should expect to see a furthering of their rivalry. Their last title encounter desperately under-delivered, so another attempt is in order as they are very capable of producing a great tag team match in the right environment. We’ll have to wait and see on this one.
United Empire’s Mystery Partner
Toa Henare? Robbie Eagles? A Young Lion?
The contents of this match are baseless, with it just being a standard undercard tag only noteworthy for its mystery partner element. There are multiple candidates for ‘X’, with Henare seemingly the popular choice thus far.
Cobb, O-Khan, and the mystery wrestler are facing off against three L.I.J heavyweights, so it sees to it that the sixth competitor will also be a heavyweight. This tips the hat towards Henare, or one of the bulkier Young Lions (though the latter is much less likely).
Robbie Eagles is an interesting possibility, as his obvious history with the faction’s leader, Will Ospreay, gives him an undeniable motive to join the group.
If I was forced to hazard a guess, my prediction would be Toa Henare. He’s the most sensical option for a couple of reasons: he is a little stale in his babyface role, so a heel turn would re-energise him, and importantly, the seeds have already been planted for a potential heel turn. An impactful new member will certainly elevate the United Empire further still, so fingers crossed we get just that.
IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championship:
Suzuki-gun (El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru) (C) vs Roppongi 3K (SHO & YOH)
YOH’s back baby!
This match should be good, and there is a tangible possibility of a YOH turn, adding a very interesting wrinkle to the encounter.
It’s a strange addition to the card in all honesty, as due to YOH’s injury, Roppongi 3K haven’t had a tag team match since June 2020, yet they have been thrust back into the title picture immediately on their return. This speaks to the shallowness of New Japan’s Jr. division, but all would be forgiven if the match is either very good or leads in an interesting direction (i.e. YOH turns heel). YOH’s injury has kept him out of action since 2020’s empty-arena New Japan Cup, where he lost to BUSHI in his sole match, – an 8 month absence – making his return to action evermore exciting.
Despy and Kanemaru are a great pairing and I expect them to carry the titles through this match-up, and into a longer reign, so I am expecting some form of Roppongi 3K break-up. They have had a good run, but perhaps the ship has sailed and they need to split into singles competitors completely.
IWGP World Heavyweight Championship:
Kota Ibushi (c) vs Will Ospreay
In the aim of transparency, I don’t really want to write about this match (nor am I that keen on watching it), but it’s the main event so I feel obliged. It’s clearly a historic match, with the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship being defended for the very first time. Through virtue of winning a mostly fantastic New Japan Cup 2021 tournament, Will Ospreay punched his ticket for this main event championship match.
Whilst the match itself will surely be great (it is Ibushi vs Ospreay after all), the build-up must not be overlooked as it looms large over the match like a dark shadow.
When New Japan Pro Wrestling saw it acceptable to broadcast an angle which was a simulation of domestic violence, they crossed a very serious line. It was a disgusting, disgraceful, abhorrent, wrong, and a wholly unacceptable angle.
This is very hard to look past in previewing the title match. There has been fantasy booking about whether or not Bea Priestley will return and cost Ibushi or Ospreay the match, so we’ll have to wait and see. However, regardless of what happens, the angle at New Japan Cup close was totally ill-judged and disgusting – this must not be forgotten.
I’m going to close my preview talking about the most important part of NJPW right now – the birth of the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship. This has been very controversial and dividing within the fanbase, as the dissolving of both IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Championships has faced valiant backlash.
There is no going back now, as the World title is here to stay. Ibushi has been recognised as the first Champion, with Ospreay possibly the second. I’m not sure which way the wind will blow in this main event, as both men could reasonably be the victor, so it’s interesting from that angle. However, I am not a fan of the unification idea, nor am I a fan of the new title belt itself (I think it’s a nominable downgrade on the IWGP Intercontinental and Heavyweight designs), so it’s a completely disappointing storyline from my point of view.
Unfortunately we have ended on a couple of negatives, but the card promises a couple of bright spots, with the Jr. title and mystery partner tags. It’s not a big NJPW show by any means, but it should be good quality for the station it’s at, as it takes a backseat to the very busy couple of months the promotion has ahead of them.
When: Sunday April 4th @ 9am GMT/4am EST/1am PST
How to Watch: Available live on NJPW World for only 999¥ per month (roughly £7.50/$9.30)
Notes: English and Japanese commentary will be available live!