After capturing the New Japan cup in March 2017, Katsuyori Shibata cashes in his title match against the reigning IWGP Heavyweight Champion, Kazuchika Okada. Takahashi defends his IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship versus the former 4-time champion, Kushida, and Tetsuya Naito crosses paths with Juice Robinson once again in tag team action…
Togi Makabe, Yuji Nagata, Tiger Mask W & Tiger Mask
Tama Tonga, Tanga Roa, Yujiro Takahashi, Chase Owens
(Winners: Tonga, Roa, Takahashi and Owens, via pinfall)
Yoshi-Hashi, Rocky Romero & Beretta
Minoru Suzuki, El Desperado & Taka Michinoku
(Winners: Yoshi-Hashi, Rocky Romero & Beretta, via pinfall)
Yoshinobu Kanemaru & Taichi (C)
Jado & Gedo
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship
(Winners: Yoshinobu Kanemaru & Taichi, via pinfall)
Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano
Kenny Omega & Bad Luck Fale
(Winners: Kenny Omega & Bad Luck Fale, via pinfall)
Hiroshi Tanahashi, Juice Robinson, Ryusuke Taguchi & Ricochet
Tetsuya Naito, Sanada, Evil & Bushi
(Winners: Tanahashi, Robinson, Taguchi & Ricochet, via pinfall)
Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima (C)
Raymond Rowe & Hanson
IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship
(Winners, and new champions: Raymond Pike & Hanson, via pinfall)
Hirooki Goto (C)
Zack Sabre Jr.
NEVER Openweight Championship
(Winner: Hirooki Goto, via pinfall)
Hiromu Takahashi (C)
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship
(Winner: Hiromu Takahashi, via pinfall)
Kazuchika Okada (C)
IWGP Heavyweight Championship
(Winner: Kazuchika Okada, via pinfall)
Sakura Genesis was the first New Japan Pro Wrestling show of 2017 that didn’t feel padded out by an underwhelming undercard. From Wrestle Kingdom 11 through to the New Japan Cup 2017, each NJPW show has felt inconsistent, with main events and co-main events blowing the roof of each venue, but the low-card and mid-card matches leaving a lot to be desired. Whilst Sakura Genesis went hard on the tag team matches yet again (a staple of NJPW), most of them served a purpose in setting up future angles, making each part of the show feel like it mattered. That’s not something I often write about when discussing NJPW.
We were presented with a solid opener, with Bullet Club (Tama Tonga Tanga Roa, Yujiro Takahashi and Chase Owens) getting a very unpopular pinfall victory. Chase Owens was the difference maker here, with his constant interference doing enough to help his team secure victory. There was also a certain bunny outfit that every reader must make an effort to see, if you enjoy a lady dressed up in costume!
Minoru Suzuki was the star of the show in match #2, bringing a brutally tough and aggressive style to his 6-man tag match. This contest broke down quite often, particularly when Suzuki was not the legal man, and often saw brawls at ringside. The story here was all about Suzuki though, which continued long after his team lost the pinfall, with the hard-hitting wrestler wiping out the ring few with chair shots after they wouldn’t let the sore loser back into the ring to attack Yoshi-Hashi, Beretta and Romero.
Jado and Gedo failed to win the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship, following a defeat against current champions Kanemaru and Taichi. This one saw lots of interference on behalf of Jado and Gedo, to the point where Kanemaru tapping out went unnoticed by the referee, before Taichi levelled things with a weapon. From that point, it was clear the champions would retain, and we got a hint of who their next challengers would be when they had a stare down with Beretta and Rocky Romero following the match.
At this point in 2017, I can’t help but feel that Kenny Omega isn’t doing a whole lot. Following his showing at Wrestle Kingdom 11, and the media hype that followed, one would’ve assumed NJPW would push him hard, but instead he’s simply hung around in the mid-card, not doing a whole lot. Whilst his contract issues in January no doubt played a part in cooling him down, one can only hope that this has been done just to buy time until his inevitable rematch with Kazuchika Okada, who is currently racking up title defences before he drops the title (presumably to Omega, but who knows?!).
Omega’s team-up with Bad Luck Fale was a decent affair, but needed to overcome the silliness of Toru Yano very early on. I can imagine, no I can see, that Yano is great entertainment for the live audiences, but for this viewer at home, he does nothing. In fact, he makes me feel sorry for serious people like Omega, Fale and Ishii who have to compete with him. It’s silly fun for the crowd, I get it, but it just doesn’t fit with the television presentation that NJPW are presenting.
Juice Robinson and Tetsuya Naito are clearly heading toward an IWGP Intercontinental Championship match, after Robinson challenged him following a successful pin on the reigning champion. Their tag match was good entertainment, with Ricochet easily stealing the show once he got tagged in. A flip here, a flip there… Ricochet makes it look easy, and legit.
Quite why the referee allowed the early 4-on-1 in-ring beatdown by Taguchi’s team is a mystery, but it is a refreshing change from some North American companies who have the referee call for a DQ the moment there is any hint of a law infringement. Crowd were hot for this, particularly after Ricochet’s star turn, and they seem to really be behind Juice Robinson’s run at Naito. In the case of the latter, he was put away cleanly by Robinson, and whilst I doubt Robinson is taking his championship, this has been an enjoyable rivalry which should give us a good match down the road.
Tenzan and Kojima’s run with the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship came to an end, with War Machine putting them away in a good match. The hits were hard in this one, and all four men likely woke up with some bruises the next morning, but no one can fault the effort put in by any of them, and it was a good start to War Machine’s run with the championship.
Zack Sabre Jr. did what he does best, and put on a technical wrestling clinic against Hirooki Goto. Some of the knots his put Goto in were crazy, and he spent about 90% of the championship match working on Goto’s arms, much to the distress of the crowd. This was a really good match, but Goto’s superman recovery really put me off. The champion had been having his arms worked for the entire match, almost tapping out on numerous occasions, but then suddenly found the strength to hit a few power moves on Sabre Jr.? It’s the kind of babyface fightback I hate in professional wrestling and, after all the work that Sabre Jr. did here, it cheapened the whole experience. That said, for any fan of wrestling, the disappointing finish to the match wouldn’t ruin what came before it at all, it just felt underwhelming.
Kushida versus Hiromu Takahashi was over almost as quickly as it began. Kushida wiped out Takahashi whilst the latter was making his entrance, and proceeded to beatdown the current reigning IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion at ringside, before rolling him into the ring to begin the match. Seemingly out of nowhere though, Takahashi found his bearings, and managed to take immediate control, dominating from that moment onward. After he nailed a stiff sunset flip to the outside, smashing Kushida’s head down hard onto the thing mats at ringside, Takahashi quickly put his opponent away and took the win in less than four minutes. A surprisingly fast victory, but still an entertaining match, with the possibility of a future mouth-watering Takahashi/Ricochet championship match teased afterwards.
Finally, it was time for the main event: Okada versus Shibata. This was a long, tense affair, with Shibata often in control, and putting on a technical masterclass that quite possibly bettered what Sabre Jr. had done earlier in the show. Okada would make his attempts at a comeback, but this really was all about Shibata trying to seize the moment and become IWGP Heavyweight Champion.
The chops and kicks were stiff as hell, and this had a big fight feel like nothing I have seen in professional wrestling for quite a while. From the crowd, to the commentary, to the action in the ring… everything felt like you were watching a legit fight between two heavyweights. It was brutal viewing, but you could not take your eyes off it for a second.
A lot has been written about Shibata’s stiff head butt to Okada, which was such a low-key moment that wasn’t dwelled upon or followed up on within the story of the match. It was an unnecessary spot in the match, and has apparently led to Shibata being told he will not be medically cleared to ever wrestle again. Whether that last part is a work or shoot is unknown at this point, but all signs currently point to it being legitimate. If that’s the case, a silly moment in an otherwise perfect match has now cost wrestling one of its finest performers in 2017, and you have to wonder why both men even agreed to it in the first place. Quite frankly, Okada is lucky it didn’t have any lasting impact on his own health too.
That said, let’s not let one small incident take away from a match that was breathtaking viewing. Both men left it all in the ring, and Okada’s eventual victory just gave even more legitimacy to his title run. Without question, Kazuchika Okada is currently the best Heavyweight champion on the planet, and quite easily putting on the best main events in the sport. The man is a legit superstar, and is having such a superb run with the IWGP Heavyweight Championship that whomever eventually takes it from him will be an immediate superstar too. I tell you, when Okada’s contract eventually comes up, WWE will be throwing money at him.
To round things up, Sakura Genesis was an entertaining show right from the start, and ended with one of the best professional wrestling matches of 2017. With a huge summer ahead for NJPW, it’s events like this that will help them gain notice across the globe, and if they keep putting on main events like they have been, they fully deserve to start getting greater worldwide recognition.
Match of the Night
Kazuchika Okada vs. Katsuyori Shibata
NJPW Sakura Genesis 2017 Rating: