Monday, April 10, 2017

NJPW Sakura Genesis Review

NJPW Sakura Genesis
April 9th, 2017 | Ryogoku Kokugikan Sumo Hall in Tokyo, Japan | Attendance: 10,231

The former Invasion Attack, Sakura Genesis took place from another show in Sumo Hall. Several big matches are on the card, including a Heavyweight Title shot for the always awesome Katsuyori Shibata. Also of note, this was a huge success for NJPW as apparently this was the largest crowd they’ve drawn in Sumo Hall in about a decade. 

I’ve always loved the Sumo Hall venue.

David Finlay, Jushin Thunder Liger and Manabu Nakanishi vs. Hirai Kawato, Katsuya Kitamura and Tomoyuki Oka
This was a special pre-show match, giving the young lions a chance to prove themselves. Liger, as always, was seriously over. The lions attacked before the bell but had things quickly turned around on them. Finlay and Liger did their thing, but I got a real kick out of watching Nakanishi vs. Oka. It was like someone wrestling their future self. I like the young lion team because you had badass Oka, jacked Kitamura and wild man Kawato. Liger got pissed and launched Kawato into the guardrail hard. Finlay got left alone with Kitamura and finished him with a stunner at 7:00. I was surprised he took the fall and not Kawato. This was exactly what I expected. Good fire from the lions and the veteran team (weird to say that with Finlay on it) was fun. [**½]

Post-match, Kawato got in Liger’s face again. I’m hoping we get a singles match involving them at some point.

The Bullet Club (Chase Owens, The Guerrillas of Destiny and Yujiro Takahashi) vs. Tiger Mask IV, Tiger Mask W, Togi Makabe and Yuji Nagata
My favorite Yujiro girl was with him. SIX STARS! Owens replaced Hangman Page here in less exciting news. As usual in a match like this, everyone got some shine but the lesser guys (I’m looking at you Roa), were given minimal time. Nagata took a short heat but dumped Roa over, probably still pissed from their awful NJC match. Makabe came in and ran wild, but you know Makabe in these matches. Minimal effort and no bumping. Things broke down late and we got the old Ibushi triangle moonsault. Tiger Mask IV was left alone and got tripped by Owens, leading to the Gun Stun finish at 8:40. This was better than expected because most guys brought energy. Roa, Yujiro and Makabe didn’t to as much and the match never felt boring. [**¾]

CHAOS (Roppongi Vice and YOSHI-HASHI) vs. Suzuki-Gun (El Desperado, Minoru Suzuki and TAKA Michinoku)
Remember when Roppongi Vice was the best they’d ever been and had the titles? Then they dropped them to a boring team who is now facing an even more boring team later tonight? Good job, Gedo. In a move that surprised nobody, Suzuki-Gun attacked before the bell. This featured a lot of typical Suzuki-Gun antics. Brawling outside, cheap shots and Minoru choking someone with a steel chair. Suzuki lit Romero up with brutal kicks and chops. The highlight of this was YOSHI against Minoru. I’d love a G1 match between them this year. After some late chaos (pun intended), YOSHI beat TAKA with Karma at 6:50. I won’t even complain about yet another Suzuki-Gun loss because they’ve been so bad this year. This was inoffensive and helped by YOSHI and Minoru having some good interactions. [**]

IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: Taichi and Yoshinobu Kanemaru (c) vs. Gedo and Jado
My expectations for this match are lower than low. Taichi’s lady is nowhere near as fine as Yujiro’s. Just like I thought, I couldn’t get into this. It had the tropes I expected with Taichi doing a bunch of cheating, random shenanigans and dull work from both teams. El Desperado ran out to save his boys from duel crossface submissions, so RPG Vice came out to send him packing. Kanemaru tapped to a crossface but Taichi’s girl distracted the referee. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Kanemaru pinned shitty Jado with a flying DDT at 10:26. Look, I know I used to complain about the same retread of teams and styles in the Jr. tag division, but I’ll gladly take those over this shit. The challengers are a shit team and they should never book Jado to work again. Gedo’s fun in singles or multi-man tags. The champions continue to suck the life out of every match. [¼*]

After the match, they seemed to set up RPG Vice getting a title shot. Please, get the titles off Suzuki-Gun.

Bad Luck Fale and Kenny Omega vs. Tomohiro Ishii and Toru Yano
Kenny Omega still had his “house show” tights on. Yano was Yano and ran scared from Fale. Omega worked him over, but took time to stare down and point at Ishii. I’m thinking we get Ishii/Omega II at Wrestling Dontaku. Fale shrugged off some Ishii offense and knocked him down with a forearm. There were some comedic moments with Omega and Yano. Usually, I’d be okay with this but it’s the kind of thing that sometimes make Omega feel like less of a star. Since losing at WK, he should be a motivated character but instead he seems perfectly content to wallow away in these tags. He and Ishii had some fun exchanges here at least. Yano saved Ishii from a One Winged Angel but Omega kicked out of a lariat. He hit the V Trigger and finally got the One Winged Angel to win at 10:18. Fine enough tag with some strong moments. I just wish Omega would come across better as a character. He should demand Ishii in an effort to get back on track towards the Heavyweight Title. Hopefully, they go again at Wrestling Dontaku. [**¾]

Juice Robinson and NEVER Openweight Six Man Tag Team Champions Hiroshi Tanahashi, Ricochet and Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI, EVIL, SANADA and IWGP Intercontinental Champion Tetsuya Naito)
Finally, the match quality should tick upwards. Considering the strong reaction Naito gets in Sumo Hall, I’m surprised he wasn’t in a higher profile match. Most of these guys have been in the ring with each other for months now, so the chemistry is great. They all move in and out almost effortlessly. Ricochet is a relatively new addition to these and is welcome. SANADA had a counter for Taguchi’s ass attack, dropkicking his rump. He then tied Taguchi up in the ropes, which was funny. They built a hot tag to Ricochet, which was a blast and included an awesome DDT spot with SANADA. After some fun stuff involving Tanahashi, Juice and Naito went at it. The teams traded great stuff before Juice blocked a Naito low blow. He hit a big strike, lariat and then Naito took the Pulp Friction right on his head. Juice used that to score the upset at 11:30! This ruled and was what the show needed. Juice finally overcomes Naito and gets the big win on a big stage. The action was non-stop and the addition of Ricochet gave this series the shot in the arm it needed. I liked this just as much if not more than the recent NEVER Six Man Title match. [***¾]

With Naito down, Juice picked up the title and officially challenged him for it.

IWGP Tag Team Championship: TenKoji (c) vs. War Machine
I didn’t watch any of the World Tag League last year, but this was the only match in that tournament I was even remotely interested in. The hoss tag teams went toe to toe from the start. It felt like a contest to see who was manlier. Kojima got worked over until Tenzan, who called Sumo Hall his home turned things around. They used their veteran knowhow to combat the power of War Machine. Hanson got to come in and do his corner clothesline barrage. The crowd loves TenKoji but they dig War Machine too. Hanson missed the big moonsault and took a Kofi cutter, but kicked out. It looked to be over when War Machine caught Kojima with a popup powerbomb and Hanson took out Tenzan but it wasn’t enough. The challengers survived some of the best offense from the champs before hitting Fallout to cap a flurry at 14:06 to win the titles. The best IWGP Tag Title match since Power Struggle. We were treated to two teams hossing it out and I loved it. Give me more of this in the division. [***¾]

Post-match, they shook hands and War Machine agreed to give TenKoji a rematch.

NEVER Openweight Championship: Hirooki Goto (c) vs. Zack Sabre Jr.
As he has been, Sabre came out with his three titles. I watched the second half of this show with English commentary. It’s awful to hear Kelly constantly say that Goto won “the big one” at WK this year. That was never his story. He could win titles (IWGP, Tag) and big matches (G1 finals and New Japan Cup tournaments). He couldn’t win the Heavyweight Title. They grappled early on, playing into Sabre’s strength. What I liked most about it was how it was typical Sabre work, but with added aggression. Like being with Minoru Suzuki is rubbing off on him. The NJPW crowd hasn’t seen a ton of Sabre’s work, so they popped for some of his impressive submission skills. Each time Goto had a shot at momentum, Sabre found a way to trap him and stop it. Goto hit USHIGOROSHI but then Suzuki-Gun got involved. Goto fought them, including Minoru, off and survived the pin he lost to a while back. Goto powerbombed out of a triangle choke and won with the GTR at 16:16. This was one its way to being awesome. Sabre’s style made for a different kind of NEVER Title match and it made a junior look like he had a strategy to beat a heavyweight. The Suzuki-Gun run ins hurt things and Sabre lost a lot of the momentum gained during the match by losing this way. [***½]

This was all a setup for Suzuki and Goto to brawl, setting up a future match. Is this the new thing now? When you lose to Okada, you go for a consolation prize? Naito got the IC, Goto got the NEVER and now Minoru is going for the NEVER too.

IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship: Hiromu Takahashi (c) vs. KUSHIDA
These two had a fantastic match at Wrestle Kingdom. KUSHIDA dove onto Takahashi during his entrance before hitting a dropkick. When the match officially began, KUSHIDA put on the Hoverboard Lock and looked like he could win within seconds. Takahashi got free and hit a sunset flip bomb outside. A corner DVD and Time Bomb later and he retained in a mere 1:56! I was pumped for this rematch but I loved this booking decision. Hiromu is getting a monster push and just destroyed the “ace” of the division in the kind of match NJPW rarely does. I’m all for it. Hiromu has a legitimate claim to wrestler of the year so far. [NR]

Ricochet showed up and challenged Hiromu, saying the title should be around the waist of a king. That should rule.

IWGP Heavyweight Championship: Kazuchika Okada (c) vs. Katsuyori Shibata
Finally. Finally, Shibata was getting a proper main event shot. I loved how cocky Shibata was in the early stages. He outwrestled Okada on the mat and dared him to do it back. He got in Okada’s head from the opening bell. Nothing fancy from Shibata either. Just headlocks. No frills, just the way he likes it. Okada had to resort to an unclean break, which drew boos. They went to strikes and guess what? Okada was again out of his league. Shibata turned to submissions, transitioning from one to another like he did against Sabre. Okada finally got going when things spilled outside. However, Shibata absorbed everything Okada had and asked for more. Okada got going again, only to have the Rainmaker countered. The crowd chanted “Shibata” loudly. Another forearm exchange reiterated that Shibata’s a MANLY MAN and Okada isn’t near his level. Okada wanted to beat Shibata at his own game though, on a mission to prove he deserves to be the “ace”. He kept trying with the strikes before using Shibata’s basement dropkick. Shibata responded with an Okada style dropkick. Shibata popped up from everything Okada gave, then dumped him on his head with a German. In one of the best moments all year, Shibata NO SOLD THE RAINMAKER! He ate it, then headbutted Okada so hard he busted himself open again. I LOVE YOU SHIBATA! Okada survived an octopus hold but got put in the sleeper and thrown over. In a disrespectful but amazing spot, Shibata did his own Rainmaker style slap. Seeing Okada get the shit beat out of him is a favorite thing of mine. As Shibata looked to win, Okada pulled him into a desperation Rainmaker. He held the wrist and fought him off to hit a second. Shibata went down with a glazed look. Okada hit a third and Shibata tried a forearm but couldn’t manage it. That was enough at 38:09 for Okada to retain. You know, when I heard this match when as long as it did and that Okada retained, I expected not to love it. I did though. I think it would’ve been better if it were a bit shorter but I liked how Shibata was just flat out better for most of the match. He had the upper hand in every category and just kicked Okada’s ass. Shibata’s had awesome 15-20 minute matches before but this was his best 30+ minute work. Props to Okada for this being some of the best character work I’ve seen him do. He heeled it up the right amount and seemed obsessed with proving he’s the best at everything, even if it meant Shibata murdered him with strikes for a while. The fans being totally behind Shibata added to the late drama, though since it’s Okada, I didn’t believe the outcome was ever really in doubt. Still, this was the best Okada match I’ve seen in years (only the Ishii one last year was close), Shibata’s best since WK10 and the best IWGP Title match since Ishii/Naito last year. [****¾]

To ruin all the fun, Bad Luck Fale came out and attacked Okada, setting up a shitty main event for the next PPV. I’m guessing they have a lame match like last September (that goes too long) so Fale can soften up Okada for the Omega rematch, which should come at Dominion. Maybe Omega is champ when NJPW comes to the States, though Okada probably wins it back shortly after.

Overall: 7/10. As usual with NJPW shows, the final few matches is there this delivered. The main event was spectacular and better than I expected. Shibata feels more like a star than ever. The Takahashi angle was also fantastic, while the IWGP Tag Titles and NEVER Openweight Title matches both delivered. The Juice/Naito stuff was great and that multi-man tag lit things up. Everything before that though is pretty easy to skip. Outside of the awful Jr. Tag Title situation nothing was bad, but the rest of the first half saw nothing particularly good either.