NJPW Sakura Genesis 2018 Review

Zack really wanted a cold beer. Credit: NJPW

It’s a busy time for New Japan. When the New Japan Cup came to an end, they headed straight to America for Strong Style Evolved and now they’re back in Japan for Sakura Genesis. There is no rest for the wrestlers. Let’s not complain, because Sakura Genesis sees Zack Sabre Jr step into the main event and the latest chapter in the Scurll vs Ospreay feud. The Brits are taking over! Let’s dish out some stars.

The Young Bucks (Matt and Nick Jackson) defeated The Bullet Club (Chase Owens and Yujiro Takahashi)

This is the second time recently where one match has randomly not had photos on New Japan’s site. No idea why.

New Japan loves sending the Bucks out first with this one having the added oomph of it being another Bullet Club vs Bullet Club contest. It’s especially interesting as The Bucks are on the opposite side of things from Chase Owens who seems to be pretty established as Team Kenny. Fuck knows what Yujiro is; I’m willing to bet he doesn’t have a clue what’s going down.

I might use this review to rave about Matt Jackson. He has turned selling that back into art. Even the way he walked down to the ring was different, almost cautious as if every step was causing him pain. It’s a masterclass, and while I don’t think The Bucks have to prove themselves anymore, it should be the final nail in the coffin of the crap people throw at them.

That worked as the added sparkle to a pretty straightforward outing. Chase continues to shine, picking up all the slack that Yujiro inevitably left hanging (his momentary burst of passion during the New Japan Cup seems to have worn off) and he’s a good boy, what more needs to be said?

This was significant in one other way, as it marked Matt and Nick’s first win since moving to heavyweight. It was an effective way to say that while they might have lost to The Golden Lovers, they’re not at the bottom of the division. As for the storyline, post-match they all shook hands showing Bullet Club – or at least the section inhabited by these four – is fine.

Verdict: Three And A Quarter Stars

CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii and Toru Yano) defeated Suzuki-gun (Taichi and Takashi Iizuka)

It’s not often Yano gets out-shticked. Credit: NJPW

There is one way to book this and make it work. That way involves Ishii bulldozing through the two Suzuki-gun trolls and getting the win before anyone who took a toilet break gets back to their seat.

Sadly, they didn’t do that. Even more sadly, Taichi was back to his antics and pulled out the old ring hammer shtick. I’ve enjoyed brawler Taichi since his move up a weight class, but that wasn’t what we got here.

If you’re the person that enjoys Iizuka and Taichi’s crap then maybe you’ll enjoy this. If not skip it, the finish doesn’t even involve Ishii dropping anyone on their head.

Verdict: One And A Half Stars

The Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa) defeated Taguchi Japan (Rysuke Taguchi, Togi Makabe and a piece of shit) to retain the NEVER Openweight Six-Man Titles

Fale stops to have a chat. Credit: NJPW

If you have any spare money, please consider donating to Mo’s legal fund. While she’s reached her goal, you never know with these things and any cash not used will be going to charity.

If you’re unaware why I am pushing you in that direction, then please read this article and discover why Michael Elgin is a piece of shit.

Verdict: Fuck Michael Elgin

Hiroshi Tanahashi, David Finlay and Juice Robinson defeated CHAOS (Jay White, Hirooki Goto and YOSHI-HASHI)

They do not get along. Credit: NJPW

Something has snapped in Young David’s head, and Jay White is responsible. He’s been picking up victories with a fire that was missing before. The commentary team were putting it over too, so it seems like his time is finally coming in New Japan. Despite that, White still has the advantage. There’s a cruelty to Switchblade that Finlay might not be able to overcome and those nine straight wins speak for themselves. His desperation to destroy Jay will be his downfall as he walks into Switchblade’s trap.

Elsewhere, Juice and Goto might not have quite as much heat as those two but are just as capable of creating magic. They’re going all out to put over the idea that Juice only needs to hit one Pulp Friction to take that belt from Hirooki’s waist and I’m very intrigued to see whether that will happen.

He hit the Pulp Friction on Goto in this one, seconds after Finlay got the Stunner on White and seconds before Tanahashi connected with a High Fly Flow to YOSHI-HASHI. All of which unsurprisingly was the finish. They did a great job of furthering the two feuds involved (particularly in the case of White vs Finlay) and set Tanahashi up for his role later in the night. Well played all around.

Verdict: Three And A Half Stars

Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki, Lance Archer and Davey Boy Smith Jr) defeated Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, Sanada and Evil)

You’re bringing it on yourself, Naito. Credit: NJPW

LIJ vs Suzuki-gun is the new LIJ vs CHAOS or LIJ vs Taguchi Japan. Christ, we get a lot of LIJ matches. Still, nice to see Evil back.

Fans now have signs asking for Lance Archer to spray water at them. He’s done a cracking job getting that over. He also hunted down a fleeing Don Callis to soak him which was amusing.

It was another case of colliding feuds as KES want Sanada and Evil’s belts while Murder Grandpa is attempting to skin Naito alive. It’s a state of affairs that Naito is terrifyingly unbothered about. I’m convinced he’s going to die.

In fact, Naito seems to be enjoying winding Suzuki up. It’s a fascinating dynamic as the challenger is in the champ’s head, but by being in his head, he only seems to be inviting him to concoct more inventive ways to torture him. An angry Suzuki is an evil Suzuki.

While all those shenanigans took the attention away from the Tag Title feud, we got a bit of that too, with KES looking dominant against the LIJ men. They hit both of them with Killer Bombs and got the victory over Evil. It’s no surprise, as they’ve been booked incredibly strongly since their return, and that Wrestle Kingdom rematch is inevitable now.

Afterwards, Naito grabbed a mic and rolled into the ring to taunt Suzuki. He told him that the belt looked better when he was throwing it around than it does now before getting all Tranquillo. Suzuki returned and stood over Naito, calling him a piece of shit. Things are getting tasty between these two.

Anyway, this was alright. There was a slight feeling of having seen it all before, so I’m glad New Japan have finally booked Naito vs Suzuki. Mainly because the longer they drag it out, the more chance there is that Suzuki ends up murdering everyone’s favourite Ingobernable.

Verdict: Three Stars

Suzuki-gun (El Desperado and Yoshinobu Kanemaru) defeated Los Ingobernables de Japon (Hiromu Takahashi and Bushi) and Roppongi 3K (SHO and YOH) to retain the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Titles

God, those trousers are shiny. Credit: NJPW

In a nice touch, Roppongi 3K attacked before the bell. It’s refreshing to see a young babyface team adapting to their opponents rather than continually being put on the back foot.

I complained the first time these three teams were placed together before doing similar in the build-up to this one. There’s a critical difference between the two of them, though. I enjoyed the first match whereas this time it felt something was missing. It never came together and was a series of spots that never gelled.

Not that this was a complete disaster. In fact, it was still enjoyable. I’d watch Hiromu Takahashi slap a wall while the triple German Suplex/Sunset Flip spot was executed perfectly. I’m even okay with them continuing to screw Takahashi out of titles because I have faith that the moment when he finally wins one will be beautiful.

Despite all that, something didn’t work. I wanted fiery insanity and was left feeling cold. Maybe I’m a grump so feel free to tell me I’m wrong in the comments, but there was some magic missing here.

Verdict: Three And A Quarter Stars

Will Ospreay defeated Marty Scurll to retain the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title

Fuck. Credit: NJPW

Death, taxes and Marty Scurll beats Will Ospreay.

There was a pattern to Ospreay vs Scurll matches. It doesn’t matter whether they take place in PROGRESS, ROH or NJPW. Ospreay is a real-life superhero, flying around the ring, wowing the fans and doing incredible things. Then, none of that matters, because while Ospreay is very good, Scurll is very smart. He doesn’t need to outfly Will. He can outthink him. What Scurll lacks in athleticism he makes up in viciousness.

The key word to all of that is was. For this was a different Will Ospreay. Right from the start, he was more vicious and focused than we’ve seen in the past. It was what led Scurll to retreat in the early-goings, calling for a time-out. He was caught off-guard by the change in style to the man he thought he knew like the back of his hand.

It didn’t mean it was an easy fight for Will, though. He had never defeated Scurll in a singles match where there was a title on the line which is one hell of a stat when you consider how often they’ve fought. It’s also the kind of record that doesn’t go without a war. When Scurll did take charge, he did what he does best. He floored the champ, working over his neck and coming up with all manner of fun ways to inflict pain.

It was a period which defined the story of the contest. Suddenly, Will was clutching at his neck, yelling out in pain as he ran the ropes and his head was jarred by the impact. Ospreay was competing with Matt Jackson for excellence in selling a body part. Despite that, he fought on. Determined not to lose yet another title to Marty Scurll and digging deep to make sure it didn’t happen. The tricks that he’d fallen into a million times before (the finger break and the Oscutter reversal into a Chicken Wing) didn’t work. Will had learnt his lessons.

As Will adapted, Scurll was forced to change with him. To get even nastier than usual. It started with him tombstoning Will on the outside, leaving him screeching with pain. The count-out seemed inevitable but Scurll wasn’t happy with that, he brought Will back into the ring and continued to torture that neck.

It didn’t matter, though, because as the pain got worse, Will’s determination seemed to increase with it. He began to fire up, letting out roars of agony to kick-start that adrenaline.

Then disaster struck. It started when Will went for an Oscutter which allowed Scurll to push him over the top rope. On the way down his head bounced off the apron, a horrible wrenching blow that looked awful. That was only to be the appetiser. Just a few seconds later Will and Scurll were on the apron together. As Marty charged towards him, Ospreay used his momentum to leap backwards in a Spanish Fly and at the same time drive his own head into the apron.

When Ospreay came up blood was staining his blonde hair. I genuinely have no idea how he kept going. This wasn’t about storytelling or putting on a great match. It was about how the hell a man who had essentially piledrived himself onto the apron and busted open his head was able to wrestle still.

Yet, keep going he did. Not only did he keep going, but he also went into a final sequence that was genuinely outstanding. It was big move after big move. When Kevin Kelly said Ospreay ‘will not quit, he will not die’ there was far too much reality in those words. At one point Scurll was stamping on his head, each blow making me flinch as Callis screamed for Red Shoes to end it.

Scurll and Ospreay were writing another chapter in their tale, and Ospreay was determined to finish it. As they ticked over the thirty-minute mark, Marty dropped him on his head once again and set up for another Tombstone. Somehow, Ospreay flipped out of it, hitting a Stunner on his way down. Then, in what can only be assumed to be instinct, he took off, charging towards the corner before leaping from the second turnbuckle into an Oscutter. Three seconds later he broke the record that had stained his career.

You take the Spanish Fly spot out or have it come off perfectly, and this is still astonishing wrestling. It’s two men telling a story that has defined their careers. When you include it, and with it the injury Ospreay received, it is breathtaking.

Death, taxes and Marty Scurll vs Will Ospreay equals astonishing wrestling.

Verdict: Five Stars

The Bullet Club (Cody and Hangman Page) defeated The Golden Lovers (Kota Ibushi and Kenny Omega)

Nailed it. Credit: NJPW

Remember when Cody used to come out to silence? That’s not the case anymore. He’s embraced his role as New Japan’s scumbag and revels in the boos he’s receiving. You can talk about Ibushi and Omega all you want, but without the threat of Cody ruining their happiness, their relationship is half as interesting (which is still pretty interesting).

The story was that Cody and Hangman were looking to weaken Kota and Kenny before their clashes at ROH Supercard Of Honor (in a rare example of NJPW building to an ROH show). They weren’t interested in playing by the rules, or even that bothered about winning. Instead, it was about hurting Kota and Kenny. About showing the world that our favourite team is not as special as we think it is.

Which from a storytelling point is what all of this is about. Cody is the jilted lover, the man desperate to prove he’s just as good as the new one. Page, meanwhile, feels betrayed. It was finally his chance and, in his head, Kenny stole his moment. He is convinced that Cody understands him and he provides the same unflinching loyalty to him that he once gave to Omega.

That combination of crazed violence and loyalty gave The Golden Lovers one hell of a war. Cody was bending every rule in the book and early on it looked like he was about to drive Omega through a table with an elbow. That brought the Bucks out, who despite their war at Strong Style Evolved, can’t entirely give up on their old brother in The Elite. They questioned Cody and served as enough of a distraction for Kenny to escape. Not that he made it very far, as Hangman later booted him off the apron and through the same table.

It wasn’t only the Lovers who suffered. Cody suffered a brutal cut above his eye which also looked cool as hell. The red started to stain his hair in a very Flair like fashion, it was accidental but damn did it work. Both this and the previous match benefitted from the unintentional blood as it did a great job of putting over how violent these matches were.

Despite that blood, Cody and Page had more tricks up their sleeve than Kenny and Kota could deal with it. Every time The Golden Lovers seemed to get a bit of momentum they were cut off. They were cut off right up until the finish when Cody was able to roll-up Ibushi, grab a handful of tights and sneak out with the win.

They weren’t content with that, and after the bell, Cody went to get a chair as Hangman held Ibushi’s arms behind his back. While Kenny was able to get there before any damage was done, the message was clear, these four men are going to war.

Verdict: Four Stars

Kazuchika Okada defeated Zack Sabre Jr to retain the IWGP Heavyweight Title

Everyone falls. Credit: NJPW

This could not have been more different from the matches that came before it. While those were frantic wars with men trying to hurt each other as much as possible, this was a chess game, played by two grandmasters.

And for a long time, Zack seemed to be the grandmaster with the advantage. Okada tried to wrestle Sabre which was dumb. He was trying to lock on his new Cobra Clutch, but it was slipped out of like it was nothing. Grappling a man like Sabre is asking for trouble, you’re going to lose.

Something that Okada finally seemed to acknowledge. He stopped trying to play Zack’s game and started playing his own. Dragging him to the outside, throwing over the barrier and leaping after him. It should have been the turning point.

Except ZSJ didn’t just have an answer to Okada’s submission offence. He had a response to his standard game too. Back in the ring, Okada went for the Reverse Neckbreaker and ZSJ struck, wrapping him up and bringing him to the mat. He wrenched on that Rainmaker arm, and Okada was back in danger.

It was a theme that became common as we got deeper into the contest. Every time it looked like Okada was about to get going, Zack cut him off. On the second go around he hit the Reverse Neckbreaker and then when he followed up with an Elbow Drop ZSJ was there again, catching that arm out of the air and going back to twisting and turning. Okada’s multiple title defences are impressive. However, it also meant that Sabre knew his every move. We all do.

That turning point finally did come. Okada won all those defences because he’s the best and when Zack gave him a chance he connected with one of those patented dropkicks, a second later he hit the second one and followed up with a Tombstone. As he struck the Rainmaker pose, Sabre was waiting, and his legs snaked out and grabbed that arm. This time, Sabre couldn’t take advantage. Before he could tie Okada up, he stopped, grabbing his neck and flexing his hand. ZSJ was hurt, and it would prove decisive.

Before we get to that, Zack proved he’d been studying more than Okada’s most recent matches. The only time Okada has tapped out in his New Japan career was to a Nakamura armbar, and Sabre went for that exact same move, seemingly capturing Okada in a hold he couldn’t escape from.

A lot of years have passed since that moment, though, and Okada has learnt his lesson. He struggled to his feet, throwing Sabre off and hitting a Rainmaker. As they hit the mat, he kept hold of the wrist, pulling Zack up and striking again. He wanted one more to complete the set, and it was almost his downfall, Zack slipped under his arm and locked in the Octopus, wrenching back on Okada’s limbs. However, that previous injury proved too much, he couldn’t keep it on, and Okada powered out pulling Sabre up and hitting the Spinning Tombstone. We all know what comes next, one more for those sitting in the back and Okada is still your champion.

Another absolutely outstanding piece of professional wrestling. I’m so close to going five stars on it too, but there were a few little niggles that kept it from that level. The Rainmakers bumped looked a bit dodgy while I think you can ask the question of why Okada would go out and play Zack Sabre Jr’s game. While that’s the difference between outstanding and perfect, complaining about outstanding is churlish.

Verdict: Four And Three Quarter Stars

Overall Show

Poor Will. Credit: NJPW

A slightly disappointing undercard as while I enjoyed bits of it, it never seemed to get going with a lot of it being fine at best. However, from Scurll vs Ospreay onwards, this was outstanding. Three very different matches all brimming with storyline and aggression. It turned it from a mediocre outing into a show of the year contender. God, I love New Japan.

 

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