NJPW Sakura Genesis Report: Ibushi vs. Ospreay, Henare joins United Empire

Originally published at NJPW Sakura Genesis: Ibushi vs. Ospreay, Henare joins United Empire

Welcome to this POST Wrestling report for New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Sakura Genesis 2021 from Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo. The attendance was 4,500, much more than the G1 Climax final (2,900) in the same building.

  1. Jado, Tanga Loa & Tama Tonga vs DOUKI, Zack Sabre Jr & Taichi – A basic tag match with the usual dirty tricks from the GOD
  2. YOSHI-HASHI, Tomohiro Ishii, Hirooki Goto, Toru Yano & Kazuchika Okada vs Dick Togo, Taiji Ishimori, Yujiro Takahashi, KENTA & EVIL – A basic tag match with some sub-par exchanges between Ishii and Takahashi
  3. X, Jeff Cobb, Great-O-Khan vs Shingo Takagi, SANADA & Tetsuya Naito – A good tag match, very successful in establishing X – Recommended
  4. Satoshi Kojima & Kazuchika Okada vs Bad Luck Fale & Jay White – A decent under-card tag match that built up White vs Tanahashi
  5. IWGP Jr Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: Yoshinobu Kanemaru & El Desperado (c) vs Roppongi 3K (Sho & Yoh) – A very good match based around Yoh’s knee injury – RECOMMENDED
  6. IWGP World Heavyweight Championship: Kota Ibushi (c) vs Will Ospreay – A great match where Ospreay relies on aggression to overcome Ibushi’s superiority – RECOMMENDED

The show started with Hiromu Takahashi running out to the ring and saying Good Evening. He then played hype man by running down the bigger matches on the card. He did a great job of hyping things up and bringing some much-needed energy and charisma to the start of the show.

Jado, Tanga Loa & Tama Tonga vs DOUKI, Zack Sabre Jr & Taichi

After a sneak attack, the Bullet Club controlled DOUKI early on. A Tornado DDT let DOUKI tag in Taichi, who decided to forgo the usual hot tag and he just throttled everyone. When Taichi tagged out it was down to Zack Sabre Jr vs Tanga Loa. Sabre Jr’s European uppercuts failed to achieve the desired results, so he went back to submissions. When the GOD attempted to use their usual dirty tricks to win the match, Taichi gained control of the iron fingers. Tama Tonga’s focus on getting them back led to Sabre Jr pinning him with the European Clutch. After the match, New Japan Chairman Naoki Sugabayashi confiscated the Iron Fingers. Hopefully, he will banish them to the nearest recycling bin.

Zack Sabre Jr pinned Tama Tonga (10:10)

A basic tag team match in the never-ending feud between Dangerous Tekkers and the Guerillas of Destiny. My hope is that the Iron Fingers get thrown in the bin. Then again, I wouldn’t be surprised if they rehashed the old WCW “TV Title in the trash” angle and Ryusuke Taguchi ended up discovering the damn thing while dumpster diving.

YOSHI-HASHI, Tomohiro Ishii, Hirooki Goto, Toru Yano & Kazuchika Okada vs Dick Togo, Taiji Ishimori, Yujiro Takahashi, KENTA & EVIL

YOSHI-HASHI and Hirooki Goto teamed up early on before all of CHAOS joined in. A brawl let the Bullet Club isolate YOSHI-HASHI. Things got heated when KENTA brought in YOSHI-HASHI’s big stick. That backfired as YOSHI-HASHI hit a Lariat and tagged in Tomohiro Ishii. Yujiro Takahashi vs Ishii became the focus of the match. Proceedings broke down repeatedly with CHAOS helping Ishii multiple times. Yano fought off both EVIL and Togo before putting a bag over Togo’s head and rolling him up for the win.

Toru Yano pinned Dick Togo (11:37)

This was fun at times, playing into the build between YOSHI-HASHI and KENTA. While the match seemed to build towards some matches, it was ultimately nothing special as few people got enough time to do anything. The sequences between Ishii and Takahashi stood out as it felt like a very obvious and clunky take on New Japan’s counter sequences. At times it looked like they were having a hoedown.

Jeff Cobb, Great-O-Khan & X vs Shingo Takagi, SANADA & Tetsuya Naito

Great O-Khan grabbed a microphone after his entrance, mocked Tetsuya Naito, and introduced the United Empire’s newest member; Aaron Henare, the Ultimate Weapon. The newly renamed Toa Henare looked pretty cool with a new entrance jacket, sunglasses, and black leather gloves.

Henare looked strong early on with a range of vicious strikes. He was dominant against Tetsuya Naito, who was isolated by the Empire. Shingo Takagi tagged in and tried to double clothesline Jeff Cobb and Henare, but they were too strong. He eventually cleaned house, but it was much harder than expected. Cobb had fun exchanges with both Takagi and SANADA before he tagged in Henare.

The Empire’s newest member unloaded with punches to the gut and a sit-out side slam. The match broke down in a great sequence, which played with the structure and flow of this trope. SANADA got caught with the Tour of the Islands and Henare pinned him with the Streets of Rage (a modified Death Valley Driver). After the match all 3 members of LIJ were laid out and O-Khan attacked Naito’s knee with a chair.

Aaron Henare pinned SANADA (9:51)

This match had 1 main aim; getting over Henare as the newest member of the Empire. It achieved that in spades. Henare’s new look immediately gave him an aura of being both cool and intimidating. In terms of inside the ring, he had changed his style and his actions perfectly matched the character. By toning down the energy and adding a sense of menace he felt like a different wrestler. All in all, it was a very successful match for the repackaged Henare.

The match itself was good, well laid out to make Henare and Undisputed Empire look strong. Even Takagi’s hot tag did a great job of making Henare look tough while also working as a hot tag. I appreciated how the formula of the match breaking down was tweaked, with the UE gaining control via O-Khan fending off Naito. The finish and the post-match did a good job of making the stable feel dangerous.

Satoshi Kojima & Kazuchika Okada vs Bad Luck Fale & Jay White

Before the match, Jay White and Hiroshi Tanahashi had their usual Abs-based showdown. Tanahashi tried to control the match with a headlock but it devolved into hair-pulling. Kojima tagged in and both he and Tanahashi showed off their pectoral muscles. Gedo interfered to let Jay White hit Kojima with the Deadly driver. White then mocked Kojima by doing his own machine-gun chops. The Bullet Club isolated Kojima and White continued to mock him with chops. Kojima would fight them off and tagged in Tanahashi.

White got the better of Tanahashi but a Bladebuster only earned a 2 count. Fale manhandled Tanahashi but Kojima saved him from the Bad Luck Fall. Tanahashi would escape the Grenade by using the Twist and Shout. Kojima offered a helping hand… well, helping Lariat, and Tanahashi pinned Fale with the High Fly Flow.

Post-match, Tanahashi applied the Texas Cloverhold to Jay White and accepted Jay Whites challenge for the NEVER Openweight Championship. He called his Cloverhold the JTO, which may be soon forgotten due to the connotations with a certain New Japan Persona non grata.

Hiroshi Tanahashi pinned Bad Luck Fale (10:05)

This was a simple tag match, but it was decent due to the efforts of the face team. Neither White nor Fale had the time to fall into bad habits or be overexposed. The finish was great as it was that simple, decisive tag team finish that you don’t see a lot of these days.

IWGP Jr Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: Yoshinobu Kanemaru & El Desperado (c) vs Sho & Yoh

Roppongi 3K debuted a new entrance theme, this time without Rocky Romero’s dulcet tones. This was Yoh’s first match since June 2020. Yoh and Desperado started things off with a display of technical wrestling, including an enjoyable exchange trade of headlocks. Yoh showed off the strength of his left leg after flipping out of a head-scissors. Roppongi 3K isolated Desperado before the IWGP Jr Heavyweight Champion targeted the leg where a torn ACL had kept Yoh on the shelf for 10 months. Yoh tagged in Sho, who focussed on kicks. The tide turned for the Champions when Yoshinobu Kanemaru pulled Sho out of the ring. At the same time, Desperado went back to work on Yoh’s leg.

The Champions isolated Sho in the ring while knocking Yoh off the apron at every opportunity. Sho’s fiery temper allowed him to fight off both opponents and he tagged in Yoh. The damage to the left leg hampered Yoh’s attempts to take on Kanemaru, and the Champions were relentless in targeting the perceived weakness. Sho tried to save Yoh from a Figure Four leg lock but he was dragged out of the ring and Yoh had to crawl to the ropes.

A Moonsault earned Kanemaru a 2 count and the Deep Impact DDT would have won the match if Sho had not broken up the pin. Another Figure Four attempt was countered with a cradle for a 2 count. Yoh fought off Kanemaru but ate a spear from Desperado. Roppongi 3K combined with the double knees but an attempt at the 3K was broken up by Desperado. This led to the challengers hitting Desperado with the 3K.

Kanemaru fought off another double-team attempt and hit a Superplex for a 2 count. A Deep Impact attempt was countered with a Superkick by Yoh. A double stomp Shock Arrow had the match won but Desperado broke up the pin. Yoh then pinned Kanemaru after using the Direct Drive (Double Underhook brainbuster). Just like that, Roppongi 3K are the new IWGP Jr Tag Team Champions.

After the match, Yoh got on the microphone and challenged El Desperado to a match for the IWGP Jr Heavyweight Championship.

Yoh pinned Yoshinobu Kanemaru (20:48)

This was a very good Tag team title match. The story of the Champions attacking Yoh’s previously injured leg was a good choice for the focal point of the match. Yoh sold well and the crowd was into the story. The action was well-paced and the finishing stretch was very satisfying without being excessive. The selling by Yoh was great at times, although it was occasionally forgotten. You could see how much this return meant to Yoh as he was in tears after the match.

All four wrestlers did well in their roles and the match avoided a lot of the cheating tropes that are occasionally used by Kanemaru and Desperado. This was another good match featuring Desperado and I look forward to his match against Yoh.

IWGP World Heavyweight Championship: Kota Ibushi (c) vs Will Ospreay

The match started with a long feeling-out process. Ibushi clearly had the advantage while grappling, and he also had the answers when Ospreay upped the pace. For the first few minutes, the Champion had an answer to everything that Ospreay tried. The desperate challenger had to crotch Ibushi on the top rope to gain an advantage.
On the floor Ospreay threw Ibushi into guardrails, using a backdrop suplex on the guardrail. Ospreay scurried back into the ring to try and get Ibushi counted out. He upped the intensity with strikes and tried to wear down Ibushi with holds. Ibushi fought back after dodging a knee drop, using big moves like the rarely seen Schoolboy suplex.

Ospreay had to up his game as Ibushi seemed to have the advantage at every turn. A tree of woe dropkick by Ospreay hurt Ibushi’s legs, giving Ospreay time to hit a springboard forearm. Even then, Ibushi constantly seemed to have the answer for Ospreay’s big moves and both men were down after a big Ibushi Lariat. A sit-out Last Ride earned Ibushi a near-fall. Ospreay avoided the Kami-Go-Ye by ramming his head into Ibushi’s stomach.

After winning a strike exchange Ospreay angered the Champion by using Kawada kicks. That flipped the switch in Ibushi’s brain but Ospreay cuts him off. Ibushi went for an avalanche Huracanrana but Ospreay draped Ibushi on the ropes. That was followed by a Shooting Star Press to the hung-up Ibushi and a second SSP for a very close near-fall.

Ibushi tried to hit Ospreay with the lawn dart but his back gave out. An Ibushi super Reverse Rana was countered by Ospreay landing on his feet but Ibushi hit a regular Reverse Rana that sent Ospreay out to the floor. Ibushi followed that up with the Swandive German Suplex for a near-fall. A desperate Ospreay managed to hit a Spanish Fly and he was confident but groggy. An Oscutter earned another near-fall. Ibushi escaped the Stormbreaker and hit the Kami-Go-Ye but Ospreay kicked out. A second Kami-Go-Ye was countered into a cradle and then Ospreay went on a fast-paced rampage. A Hidden Blade let Ospreay land the Stormbreaker and he pinned Ibushi to become the new IWGP World Heavyweight Champion.

After the match, Jeff Cobb hit Ibushi with the Tour of the Islands. Ospreay talked about how he had proved his doubters wrong, saying that he apologizes to absolutely no one and that he does what he wants because he has the power. He challenged Okada as he wanted revenge for his loss at Wrestle Kingdom. Okada came out but so did Shingo Takagi, to a huge gasp. Takagi interrupted proceedings, cutting a promo and claiming that he will be IWGP Heavyweight Champion. Okada refused to speak and offered the microphone to the new Champion. Ospreay claimed that he would take on Takagi first, then Okada.

Will Ospreay pinned Kota Ibushi (30:13)

For many people, this will be a great match. It was full of athleticism and high spots that are expected from both Ibushi and Ospreay. The structure added to the match as Ibushi repeatedly had Ospreay’s number and the challenger needed to rely on intensity and viciousness to succeed. I can see people pointing out that Ospreay was technically fighting from underneath a lot and it could be a valid criticism to point out that certain parts of the structure didn’t suit Ospreay as a heel.

Many of the big spots were spectacular at times, but my favorite parts were some of the smaller touches. The way that Ospreay first got control of the match, and the ensuing attempt to get a count-out, suited Ospreay. Those elements are the things that he needs to do more of if he is to be a successful heel Champion.

The structure is not overly obvious and your interest in the match will hinge on your opinion of Ospreay and his style. Some will love the flashiness, action, and athleticism. Others will bemoan the length and how it is more style over substance.

Show Summary

The under-card of this show was very good. New Japan’s repackaging of Henare feels like the best repackaging since Hiromu Takahashi’s return. It suits him well and I expect a lot from Henare in the next 12 months.

The Jr Tag Team Championship match was great. It may not have been overly flashy but the emotional story of the heels attacking Yoh’s injured leg was a great core for the match. It felt like a perfect return for Yoh and we will see where his (and Sho’s) 2021 goes from here.

The main event will be as divisive as the new Champion. Lots of people will love the match, and some will hate it. It will do little to change the minds of the detractors of the wrestlers involved. The result is brave and there will be a lot of people disliking it. However, I think that we can all agree that, back in January 2020, no one saw Ospreay winning his first IWGP Heavyweight Title in these circumstances. This was an obvious endpoint for New Japan, and it could be seen as signs of being tone-deaf to certain elements of the Western fan base. It is on the reader to decide how they feel about the decision.

The final thing is that it is now obvious what the focus of May’s Wrestle Grand Slam shows at Yokohama Stadium and the Tokyo Dome will be. A rematch of Shingo Takagi vs Will Ospreay seems set for Yokohama Stadium and the winner of that match seems destined to face Kazuchika Okada at the Tokyo Dome.

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I’ve been having a little more trouble than usual committing to watching these big shows live, but I was glad to do so today with strong and notable card through and through.

I was pretty shocked at the title change, but once the United Empire was actually out there through the match, it felt like a tell. Still, seeing Ospreay be crowned is a surprising sight, but I’m here for it. The match was great and I think you can explain away him fighting from underneath by his post-match comments: He defeated New Japan’s self-proclaimed deity (added points for Kevin Kelly’s reaction), and if that’s the comparison point, it works for me.

This has all the looks of a Jay White/EVIL reign for Ospreay, but as in the many discussions about reigns we’ve had on this site, I’m all for shorter reigns if it means crowning a guy when the moment is right. The United Empire is on fire, and with the unexpected momentum of Cobb and O’Khan, you can certainly argue Ospreay needed to take an equivalent step upwards to maintain his lead at the top of the group; and he doesn’t seem out of place at all being the champ. I had assumed they built up the two stadium shows as well here, but forgot that Wrestling Dontaku is coming up as well…so it seems like Ospreay’s title progression will be going over Shingo there, then revenge against Okada in Yokohama, leading to the big rematch with Ibushi at the Tokyo Dome, where I expect it to flip back. Dominion will seem under-fed by this, but maybe you do the rubber match.

In terms of forecasting a title switch as well, 3K coming out to a new theme shined a bright light there (also it wasn’t great). You had to get the other belt off Desperado, but it’s another bad look for NJPW’s tag divisions that the two champs have held the titles, what, 12 combined times?

The other notable event was the Aaron Henare reveal (and by the look, they could have called him Chono Henare). He felt like a big deal for the first time in this company and wasn’t out of place at that level throughout the match. It was really shit or get off the pot time with Henare with many of his Young Lion contemporaries on the cusp of a return and it’s welcome that Act 1 went off flawlessly. It’s taken some time but New Japan has seemed to figure out how to refresh their singles divisions from within during this period and it should do them a lot of good when Okada and Naito are healthy again and some international players can get involved.


Very successful repackaging of Henare.

I very much enjoyed the main event despite my feelings towards Ospreay outside the ring, in addition to the tone-deaf build for this match at the Cup Finals, so I’ll leave it at that. I think both he and Ibushi are incredibly talented. I’m more bummed about Ibushi having such a short reign after the long chase for the title. Good build for the big matches next month.

Roppongi 3K’s new theme sounds like a worse version of the music for when the Guardians show up in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

A one-match show with that one match very much delivering, but I ended up enjoying the undercard a fair amount. Very pleased to see Henare finally getting some direction. His new gear is very Chono esq, and he looked very good in the match. Surprised to see Ibushi lose the title so quickly, but I guess they can do some sort of redemption arc where he leans humility after going around calling himself the Wrestling God. Ospreay vs Shingo and Okada as our next two title matches? That’s something I can fuck with.

Not a New Japan expert and always thought Ibushi came across as a bit boring and doesn’t carry himself as a main eventer but I thought New Japan were high on him. Or did they just give him the title for “the moment” of him winning the title because it’s a nice end to a story?

I honestly don’t think this is a refection on Ibushi at all, but rather their long-term motivation to make Ospreay a main eventer as soon as possible and the timing was right. I’m generally expecting Ibushi to be champion again before the G1.

The booking is just baffling. Outside of an injury to Ibushi this doesn’t make sense (to me at least). The belief that a long term story ends with a title victory is so shortsighted. After the crap storm that was Naito, Evil and Jay White main events, Ibushi on top of the card seemed like the perfect move. A fresh champ turning in great matches regularly. But no. Once again NJPW can’t get out of its own way.

Ibushi earned the right to succeed or fail as champion in a pivotal time for NJPW. He was given neither. Imagine if he was given a 6 month run? Tanahashi, Suzuki, Ishii, ZSJ, Kenta as challengers? It makes you drool. Now he’s in a program with Ospreay’s heater. That is a crime.

To me Ospreay doesn’t have more heat because of this. Yes the NJPW title is in the hands of someone who can turn in a great match (until the faction interference makes him Jay White 2.0). But it was taken from someone just as good or better. At some point, a promotion’s main title should mean something. And the past 2 years, questionable booking has cost that title a lot of reputation points that Okada and Tanahashi worked hard to bank in the last decade.

Ospreay might have a great title run. The problem is that it’s at Ibushi’s expense. A time limit draw would have been so much better here.

I don’t know…

I’m hoping they keep it on Ospreay until next year at Wrestle Kingdom where Okada takes it off him, after Okada wins the G1.

This should help in establishing Ospreay as a top star in the company and also bring Okada back up as their guy.

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