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  • Connor Ewens

Let's Review: NJPW Sakura Genesis 2023

Updated: Apr 12, 2023

I forgot how much I loved watching New Japan Pro Wrestling. Japanese wrestling is such a performance based style, they still have storylines but it still feels like a legitimate contest. It also means the booking and commentary are less likely to bullshit you, which is always nice. Sakura Genesis is the successor for the formerly known Invasion Attack, which ran from 2013 before changing its name in 2017. The event is held annually in Tokyo at Ryōgoku Kokugikan.

Sanada won the New Japan Cup earlier this year, which granted him a shot at the IWGP World Heavyweight Champion, Kazuchika Okada. In their 9 previous meetings, Sanada has only won once, during the 2019 G1 Climax. Okada is in is 7th Heavyweight Championship reign after beating Jay White at Wrestle Kingdom 17 in January. Sanada actually debuted nearly exactly 7 years ago during Okada's championship defence against Tetsuya Naito, helping the latter win the gold and joining the Los Ingobernables de Japon stable. A lot of history between these two.

Elsewhere on the card, Hiromu Takahashi is in his 5th reign as IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion. He's determined to prove he is above the rest of the division by having a stacked schedule of defences as we approach the Best of the Super Juniors. He has bested YOH and Lio Rush in the past, Zack Sabre Jr announced after his last defence he would be facing TMDK's newest member Robbie Eagles. Eagles has been targeting Hiromu's knee recently with his finishing submission 'Ron Miller Special'. We also have Aussie Open looking to knock off Bishamon for the IWGP Tag Team Championships. Bishamon defeated FTR at Wrestle Kingdom for their second title reign, Hirooki Goto's third, whereas Aussie Open recently lost the NJPW Strong Openweight Tag Championships to the Motor City Machine Guns.

Zack Sabre Jr became the inaugural NJPW Television Champion at Wrestle Kingdom 17, defeating Ren Narita in the finals. Shota Umino has been improving his skills tremendously over the last few years. He picked up a victory of Zack Sabre Jr in the New Japan Cup, earning himself this title opportunity. Mercedes Mone, FKA Sasha Banks, took the wrestling world by storm by signing for New Japan after walking out of WWE, looking to further establish women's wrestling overseas. She dethroned KAIRI at Battle in the Valley for the IWGP Women's Championship. She defends her belt against two of Stardom's finest talents, Hazuki and AZM. We also have some traditional multi-man tag matches earlier in the card. Let's skip through the cherry blossoms. Let's review.

April 8th 2023- NJPW Sakura Genesis

-Our English commentary team is Kevin Kelly & Chris Charlton

Shinnichi Champion Grand Pix Celebration Match

Shinnichi Champion is a NJPW variety show on TV Asahi. They won some kind of grand prize from a recent poll. One of the hosts opened the show as the opening match would be in celebration of the poll victory. The entrants will be announced in real time. First we have Toru Yano, a member of CHAOS, a master of the comedy match and by far the greatest salesman on the New Japan roster. On the opposing team we have YOH, former 5 time Junior Heavyweight tag champion and also a member of CHAOS. Next on Yano's team, the Great-O-Khan who is the current Undisputed British champion for RevPro, a former 2 time tag team champion and member of United Empire, he very much does not like Toru Yano. El Desperado comes out for team 2, he is the current NEVER Openweight 6-man champion as a part of Strong Style, alongside Minoru Suzuki & Ren Narita. The final member of Yano's team, its Suzuki! Another wrestler who doesn't like Toru Yano and will face against his tag partner. The final member for the other team is Hiroshi Tanahashi, who is Yano's tag partner. Interesting to see how this plays out.

Yano wants nothing to do with Khan or Suzuki and stays well away. Suzuki & Desperado start the match with a handshake before locking up. This was a fun opener that played off the rivalries and alliances against each other very well. Yano continues to be one of the most entertaining members of the undercard. Frustrations built between YOH & Desperado as well as Suzuki and Khan. It reaches its limit as Suzuki & Khan start battering each other on the outside, leaving Yano alone. Yano & his partner Tanahashi mix it up, Yano gets out of dodge and avoids conflict. A disagreement between YOH & Desperado sees them fight with each other and Tanahashi tries to play peacekeeper. Yano takes advantage with a low blow and a roll-up combo to steal a victory. I was pleasantly surprised by this match. An entertaining way to start the show.

Toru Yano, Minoru Suzuki & Great-O-Khan win via pinfall (13:10)


House of Torture (EVIL, SHO & Yujiro Takahashi) vs United Empire (Jeff Cobb, Aaron Henare & Francesco Akira)

House of Torture are a sub-group within Bullet Club since 2021 when SHO joined the infamous faction. United Empire formed in 2020 when Will Ospreay and the Great-O-Khan turned on CHAOS during the G1 Climax. EVIL, former Los Ingobernables de Japon (LIJ) member, declared himself leader of Bullet Club when Jay White was absent but new addition David Finlay has since been appointed leader of BC. Akira is one half of the current Junior Heavyweight tag champions with TJ Perkins.

A well executed but very formulaic tag match here. HoT tried and failed to subdue Jeff Cobb who powers out of most offence they throw at him. There's a nice exchange between Cobb and the significantly smaller SHO. Cobb's dominance cannot be stopped, as he hits his Tour of the Islands finish with HoT member Dick Togo hanging on his back. Impressive finish. This was nothing more than alright.

United Empire win via pinfall (8:01)


-Post match, Francesco Akira accepts a challenge by KUSHIDA & Kevin Knight for a title shot.

Los Ingobernables de Japon (Naito, Takagi & BUSHI) vs Just 5 Guys (Taichi, Kanemaru & DOUKI)

LIJ have been a prominent faction in Japan, less members than the others but just as successful. Their small numbers always made them feel more like a family compared to other groups. They avoided any dissension for 5 years when EVIL left for Bullet Club, but most recently Sanada decided to leave LIJ to join Just 5 Guys. Sanada wanted to be a top guy and felt he would always be second below Naito in the faction. After the disbanding of Suzuki-gun, Taka Michinoku and the 3 competing in this match formed their stable of Just 4 Guys. With Sanada joining them to make 5, J5G have the potential to be fierce competition in New Japan.

LIJ felt a bit more heelish than usual, especially Naito who had an aura of viciousness behind his offence, I assume bitter that one of his members has crossed enemy lines. We got some great exchanges between Naito & DOUKI, where Naito was extra brutal to some jeers from the crowd. Shingo & Taichi had a solid encounter, calling back to their rivalry over the King of Pro-Wrestling Championship last year. This was another well worked match that came just shy of being good, but this is just the beginning of the LIJ vs J5G story I think. We have a trio of stereo submissions towards the end, BUSHI taps to the Kanemaru kneebar.

Just 5 Guys win via submission (9:20)


-Post match, DOUKI keeps his submission on Naito past the bell and a mini fight spills out. We see DOUKI and Naito argue as well as some choice words between Taichi & Shingo. The war has just begun.

Bullet Club (Finlay, El Phantasmo & KENTA) vs Hikuleo, Tama Tonga & Master Wato

Things haven't been running so smoothly for Bullet Club recently. Since Finlay's addition and White's expulsion, there's been resistance to Finlay's leadership and they haven't been getting the results they want. KENTA is the current STRONG Openweight Champion. Tama Tonga was a founding member of Bullet Club before he was booted out under White's leadership, alongside his brother Tanga Loa. The Guerillas of Destiny went from prolific tag team into a stable when Jado sided with them over Bullet Club, as did their other brother Hikuleo. Tama is the current NEVER Openweight Champion after defeating Karl Anderson at Wrestle Kingdom 17. Master Wato is a youngster who was a former IWGP junior tag champion alongside Ryusuke Taguchi, he has feuded with Bullet Club in the past during his reign as champion.

Another pretty standard tag formula, the story of Bullet Club dissension being more intriguing than the in ring action. Specifically, David Finlay and El Phantasmo are at odds as Finlay tries to show him up multiple times. Their bickering gives the faces the opportunities to go on the attack. Hikuleo is impressively fast for someone of his size. 1000x better than the lumbering Omos that WWE has. Even with the fractured alliance, Bullet Club pull though as El Phantasmo beats Master Wato with the CR2. An average match with good storytelling.

Bullet Club win via pinfall (8:46)


-Post match, Finlay and KENTA continue the assault on the Tongan brothers. Phantasmo pulls them off leading to a brawl between Finlay and ELP. KENTA plays peacekeeper, until SWERVE! KENTA hits him with a GTS. They're setting up an attack on him but Taiji Ishimori, ELP's tag partner, comes out to stop it. Except, DOUBLE SWERVE! Ishimori absolutely hoofs ELP in his plums and Finlay hits him with a shillelagh. They do a 'too sweet' over his prone body, El Phantasmo is officially Bullet Club no more. I'm intrigued to see how ELP manages on his own, and if he will align with any other factions instead. I'm sure this will be good for him going forward.

Mercedes Mone (c) vs AZM vs Hazuki for the IWGP Women's Championship

I haven't watched Mercedes Wrestle since her departure from WWE. Her match against KAIRI was well received so I'm excited to see her here. AZM is shortened from Azumi, she is a 2 time and current High Speed champion for World Wonder Ring Stardom. She's already made a name for herself as one of the best performers in modern women's wrestling, and she's only 20 fucking years old. Hazuki is another talented Stardom performer, a former High Speed Champion as well as numerous tag championships alongside the likes of Io Shirai and her opponent here, Azumi.

These 3 work a fast pace from the off and its damn entertaining. There's no allegiances as they all take turns with double team offence. There's a bit where Hazuki offers Mone a handshake, she ignores and offers AZM a handshake, which she only accepts if Mone calls her by her real name, which was a nice little bit. Plenty if creative tandem offence be it reversals, technical moves or aerial offence. AZM hit a big dive taking out Mone but just came short from taking out Hazuki which although not planned actually made sense with the match since Mone would be down for some time after the move. Some great solo exchanges between all 3 women. The double submission attempts were great. The constant near falls were great. It was all very great. Mone retains after rolling up Hazuki with the Money Maker. A brilliant match that went full speed all the way. It's not the cleanest match, there's some iffy moments but they barely hurt the match as mostly it was excellent.

Mercedes Mone retains via pinfall (13:53)


-Post match, Mayu Iwatani enters the ring and congratulates Mone, but promises to take the title off her down the line. Mone responds with a slap and leaves. That match has real 5 star potential.

Zack Sabre Jr (c) vs Shota Umino for the NJPW Television Championship

He's from bloody Britain innit? Fellow Englishman ZSJ is probably the best technical wrestler on the planet, from a skill standpoint. He's so good that his matches can sometimes be considered a bit boring, it totally depends on his opponent. After his championship victory, he was approached by The Mighty Don't Kneel and he joined their ranks. I first saw Shota Umino when he was allied with Jon Moxley, I'd like to see them reunite in the future. Out of the most recent batch on young lions in the last 5-10 years, he was the one that impressed me the most.

15 minute time limit for TV Championship matches. Umino goes straight at ZSJ, understanding he needs to try get a win as quick as possible. ZSJ gains control over the match with his submission offence, gradually breaking down the arms of Shota. Umino fights valiantly through Sabre Jr's technical offence and fires back towards the latter stages. He fires up and hits some big moves but only gets nearfalls. Umino gets caught out though and ZSJ gets the win with a roll-up. This was very good, surprisingly fast-paced Nd the short time limit really makes it exciting as the challenger scrambles to get a victory. After the bell they exchange some words privately followed by a handshake. I love a bit of sportsmanship.

Zack Sabre Jr wins via pinfall (13:35)


Bishimon (Hirooki Goto & YOSHI-HASHI) (c) vs Aussie Open (Mark Davis & Kyle Fletcher) for the IWGP Tag Team Championships

I first saw Aussie Open when I watched NJLW Royal Quest back in 2019, they impressed me then. After watching some of their performances over the last couple of months, they're impressing me even more. This is the third major tag team championships they have competed in over the last week, competing for ROH and Impact respectively. I was glad to see Yoshi-Hashi win the tag belts with Goto. I always felt he was an under-appreciated member of CHAOS. Goto is a veteran with 5 NEVER Openweight title wins to his name, as well as 2 Intercontinental title reigns and 6 various tag championship wins.

It starts of with big moves almost immediately, all 4 men bringing the fight to each other. Disaster nearly strikes early on, as Fletcher hits a huge moonsault to the outside, but cracks his head against the steel guardrail. It absolutely gushes with blood, leaving Davis on his own while ringside doctors attend to him. An unfortunate accident that actually added to the match, the odds even more against Aussie Open walking away with gold. The crowd are firmly behind the Aussie's. The injury has amped Fletcher up, and he's full of fire as he explode with offence after a tag. They exchange nearfalls, as Aussie Open continue to escape Bishimons finishing move. They exchange stiff strikes before Aussie Open isolate Yoshi-Hashi, finishing him off with the Koryallis to win and crown new champions! This was an excellent match, made even more brutal and dangerous by the very legitimate injury. Hopefully Fletcher's skull heals up quickly. #thoughtsandprayers

Aussie Open win via pinfall (15:30)


Hiromu Takahashi (c) vs Robbie Eagle for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship

Takahashi is one of my favorite performers in New Japan. I mean, he managed to get a toy cat named Daryl over, that's star power right there. He is one of the stars who are keeping the Junior Heavyweight division as good as it is, as per his promise to Jushin Thunder Liger after his retirement match. Robbie Eagles is a 15 year veteran, only getting his well earned flowers in the last 5 years. He has trained wrestlers such as Kyle Fletcher & Matty Wahlberg AKA Grayson Waller. Eagles was a part of CHAOS thanks to his friendship with Will Ospreay, before leaving to join TMDK.

A much slower paced match here than expected, Eagles absolutely dominates Takahashi. He constantly targets the knee so that he can lock in and win using his submission. I just didn't like how little offence Takahashi got, and also the slow pace prevented him from being his absolute best. This is still a good match though, even if the selling of the leg was inconsistent at times. Takahashi gradually fights back, scrambling for a way to end the match. He manages to win using his Time Bomb II. Still a good match, just not exactly what I expected or wanted.

Hiromu Takahashi retains via pinfall (21:12)


Kazuchika Okada (c) vs SANADA for the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship

If you're not accustomed to New Japan, Okada is like the Roman Reigns of New Japan except he wasn't rejected and hated by fans for like 5 years. Okada just churns out 5 star matches with ease at this point, it's almost like second nature to him. I always quite liked Sanada, I think everyone saw main event potential in Sanada and it was just a matter of when. We got a glimpse of Sanada as a singles championship when he won the US Championship but he had to vacate that due to injury.

Big epic fight feel here, as you'd expect from an Okada match. It was slow starting as they work over each other, Sanada has eyes on locking in his Skulls End finish. Commentary big up that Okada isn't even trying to use the Rainmaker, seeing Sanada as beneath him. The match begins to gain some speed towards the final third as Sanada begins to throw everything he has at Okada, who seems to answer everything. Plenty of reversals and false finishes as Okada gears up. Sanada constantly ducks the Rainmaker, but Okada also dodges the Skulls End. A slick reversal encounter ends with Sanada hitting a Deadfall for a 1-2-3! He finally did it! This was an excellent match even with a slow start. It's neither of these two best match together but it was still an awesome match with an awesome result. I'm excited to see what's in store for the future of New Japan

Sanada wins via pinfall (26:58)


Overall- 67.8%

This was a very good show. The opening match was surprisingly more fun than expected. The other tag matches are more significant for their storyline development rather than in-ring performances. Everything else was either really good, or really excellent. It's great to see Mercedes is still tearing it up. Aussie Open put in a star making performance winning the tag championships. Sanada finally gets his opportunity at the big time with a huge victory. It seems he is set to defend his newly won title against Hiromu Takahashi at Wrestling Dontaku, I'm certain he will retain as I predict we're heading towards a Naito vs Sanada showdown. This show is a strong recommendation from me.

MOTN: Bishimon vs Aussie Open

Thank you for reading, I will be reviewing Impact Wrestling's Rebellion PPV next, then I have a reprieve until early May shows like Wrestling Dontaku & Backlash. I chose not to review NWA 312 because it didn't seem like it was worth my time. I watch A LOT of wrestling as it is. Thanks again, lemme know what you thought of the show and until next time. See ya!


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