Imp’s NJPW Adventure – Sakura Genesis (aka Britain Rules the Wrestling)



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Imp’s NJPW Adventure
Sakura Genesis

(aka Britain Rules the Wrestling)

Royal Britannia, Britannia rules the waves. And now New Japan! If anything Sakura Genesis was an amazing showcase for British wrestling, with Ospreay & Scurll tearing it up over the Junior title and Zack Sabre Jr swimming with Kazuchika Okada in the main event. With this and the WWE United Kingdom Championship, British wrestling is really making waves at the moment. What a great time to be a fan!

Not forgetting the incredible storytelling behind the Omega and Cody feud, making their clash at Supercard of Honor this Saturday one of the most highly anticipated matches of the year. And that’s taking place over WrestleMania weekend, a time with multiple matches people are extremely hyped for. Making my choice of which show to watch genuinely difficult, Cien Almas vs Aleister Black or Omega vs Cody? I genuinely can’t decide, what a fantastic time to be a fan!

With the biggest weekend in American wrestling just round the corner, NJPW put on a show that will be most likely remembered as one of the best of the year because of its final 3 matches. With each match seemingly getting better and better as the card went on, this show really took me by surprise. The card looked solid going in, but this being WrestleMania season it felt like the hype had gone a little under the radar. But when it comes to New Japan, word of mouth is a wonderful thing. And my God, did they give us an event worth talking about.

 

IWGP Jr Heavyweight Championship
Will Ospreay (C) vs Marty Scurll
Well, holy crap this match had some insane moments! The craziest spot of which people all over my Twitter feed were cringing over, that scary Spanish Fly off the apron. I didn’t notice at first, but Ospreay’s head hit the apron on rotation and seemed to buckle nastily. The collision caused blood to run down the right side of his face for the rest of the match, causing the Ariel Assassin to look like he’d well and truly been through a war come his eventual victory. Ospreay was understandably a little shook, the spot looked nasty as hell, but damn did it add to the match. Like Owens v Zayn from a couple of years ago, one scary botch ended up giving the rest of the match an incredible sense of danger.

After a minute of “Holy shit! Is he okay?” Ospreay got into the ring and Scurll was absolutely relentless, viciously going after Ospreay’s head and neck. Marty had been targeting that area for the majority of the match, so after the scare every heelish assault had such a greater effect. One spot in particular, he stomped the Champion’s head into the mat again and again and again and again. With the live crowd calling for the ref to stop the assault, the atmosphere for the closing minutes was amazing.

There’s one important narrative when it comes to this match that Don Callis described perfectly, “There’s only a few certain things in life: death, taxes and Scurll beats Ospreay.” Across multiple promotions, numerous matches over many years, the story has been that The Villain has always seemed to have the Ariel Assassin’s number. From Progress to ROH, Ospreay was never able to win. Scurll has been his kryptonite of sorts, so when he was battered and bloody inside the Ryogoku Kokugikan he was surely done, right?

Ospreay may be one of the greatest comeback guys today, he’s brilliant at hitting highly athletic counters that get the live crowd behind him so damn strongly. They’re dying for him to overcome his kryptonite by the end, but when he’s already hurt and THEN gets his head stomped into the mat and trapped in a Chicken Wing, is there really any way out but to submit? Never underestimate the power of flippy shit! Ospreay dug in deep and managed to pull out some amazing counters, eventually hitting his finisher the OsCutter (a springboard Cutter) jumping off the second turnbuckle for the surprise three.

I say surprise, because even though the underdog story was playing out before our eyes, Ospreay just doesn’t beat Scurll. And even though Ospreay only won the IWGP Jr Heavyweight title back on January 4th, I was fully expecting The Villain to once again take down the champion. It’s what he does, Scurll beats Ospreay. But not this time, Ospreay finally conquered the one man that’s seemingly had his number hisole career. NJPW are really getting behind Ospreay, so expect a lot more big things for that man. As long as he doesn’t hurt himself first, please don’t land on the apron like that again!

 

Golden Lovers vs Cody & Hangman Page
It’s the little details in this Omega vs Cody rivalry that I love so, so much. Like back at Super Strong Style Evolved, Cody gave has fellow Bullet Club besties custom belts with their names on to wear. However, come Sakura Genesis only one half of the Young Bucks is wearing their belt. It’s not addressed, you start to put the pieces together yourself. Is Nick having doubts about Cody? What about Matt, is he wearing the belt because he has doubts about Kenny? If you watch Being The Elite on YouTube they address things a bit more head on, but when you’re watching their doing so many little things that feed into the story.

This match was no different, but there was one fantastic sign that what they are doing is working, Cody got booed out of the arena. The Japanese crowd HATED the American Nightmare, which was more than likely aided by their love for the Golden Lovers. Easily the most popular tag team in the company, Kenny Omega & Kota Ibushi are white hot and NJPW are rightly treating them as one hell of a big deal.

This match was first damn entertaining, but also secondly a fantastic final set up for Omega vs Cody at the ROH Supercard of Honor show this Saturday. Cody maintained his heat with a dastardly roll up, Omega evermore the babyface fighting for what’s right. This match teased things so damn well, for me the best set up has been Omega once again holding his opponent up for a One Winged Angle on the apron, teasing driving them through a table. Two matches in a row this has been teased, something tells me the pop is going to be huge when Omega eventually hits the damn thing Saturday night.

Unfortunately for Kenny, both times so far he has ended up the one going through the table, so could his desire to hit the move on Cody be his downfall? Whichever way it ends, the spot has been set up magnificently. As for Cody, he certainly was the villain of the piece. This match was the perfect display of his devious nature, he will do anything to win and doesn’t care how he does it or who he hurts in the process. An abusive, yet charismatic leader who would surely lead the Bullet Club down a dark path.

Also Omega & Ibushi have amazing chemistry as a tag team, how they land/roll/jump/flip at pretty much the exact same time is unbelievable. How do they do it? And they hit the Cross Slash (double Triangle Moonsaults to the outside) flawlessly this time, such an awesome sight when they hit that right. An amazing team and the desire to push the story aspect in their matches is really paying off, there’s so much to get invested into.

Oh yeah, and shush it Disco Ineferno.

 

IWGP Heavyweight Championship
Kazuchika Okada (C) vs Zack Sabre Jr
Ladies and gentlemen, Zack Sabre Jr has arrived. New Japan Pro Wrestling did it again! They made me believe that the challenger had the champion’s number and we were finally going to see the IWGP Heavyweight title change hands. Even though it was pretty much a certainty Okada was going to win, they still made me believe. ZSJ seemed to have counters for all of Okada’s moves, especially the Rainmaker (of which he countered into a submission several times). I was starting to ask myself what the champ could possibly do to defeat the challenger, but as I’ve stated before, no man is yet to kick out of the Spinning Tombstone + Rainmaker combination. That story did not change at Sakura Genesis.

Sabre Jr feels like a star, New Japan have built him the Suzuki Gun member so damn well over the past month. Afte beating Naito, Ibushi, SANADA & Tanahashi with submissions in the New Japan Cup and then Sunday’s main event with Okada, he is a made man. Setting up the future whilst also carrying on the legacy of the present, something I’ve come to realise NJPW are great at. This match truly felt like that, a similar feeling to Okada’s defence against SANADA back in February.

Maybe it was because Zack Sabre Jr is so different from any of the other challenges Okada has faced, but the British star felt like one of the toughest challengers to date. Okada to work damn hard to really hit any of his offence, ZSJ had counters for almost everything. Even the moves the champion was able to hit were him trying to find a way to power out of one of his opponents inventive submissions. So many times Okada looked to have found a way out, only for Sabre Jr to grab his arm and contort the thing into such an unnatural position. When thinking about it, Okada’s best escape ended up being the ropes. He couldn’t escape, but he could use his opponent’s concentration on transitioning the submissions to his advantage and roll over to the ropes.

For me this is when Okada started to get back into the match, when every time Sabre Jr got him a painful submission he managed to roll to the ropes. ZSJ dominated most of the match, but he was never able to make the champion tap out. A phrase his mouth piece Taka Michinoku has started using as a catchphrase these past couple of months, a pairing that appears to be getting over with the fans rather quickly. For all the creative submissions Zack Sabre Jr brought to the match, Okada always found a way out. Eventually Okada was able to counter a said submission into a Spinning Tombstone, followed by a Rainmaker for the three.

Sure Okada won, but his opponent was on top for the majority of the match. With the champion only able to have a few fleeting moments of momentum, getting more into it was the match progressed. This legendary reign continues and yet another star is made in the process, but Okada’s not broken all the records yet. After the match Tanahashi comes out, the rivalry that made Okada a star. Tanahashi still holds the record for the most title defences in a single reign at 12, Okada is on 11. Any guesses why Okada hasn’t faced Tanahashi since Wrestle Kingdom 10?

The feud that was white hot and making Meltzer blush back in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 14 has popped up once again. Okada defending his incredible reign, wanting to prove that he is the true Ace and always was. Tanahashi was nothing and will be forgotten in the shadow of Kazuchika Okada. Whilst Tana is defending his own legendary legacy, to truly become the best Okada must beat the man where it all started.

Will Okada’s cocky attitude cost him? Or is he really the true Ace that will knock down that final record? Interestingly this is taking place at Wrestling Dontaku, not NJPW’s big event of the early Summer, Dominion. I can’t help but wonder why…

And that’s it! Okada’s IWGP Heavyweight Championship run is nearing the 700 days mark, a remarkable feat. Who on Earth is going to defeat him? If it’s Tanahashi that would be hilarious, in his day he was compared to John Cena and even had the ‘LOL TANA WINS’ meme. But no, that would be like Cena beating Reigns at WrestleMania 35. Hilarious, but totally the wrong thing to do.

Side note: Naito challenged Suzuki Gun leader Minoru Suzuki for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship. Would be interesting to see the semi-face version Naito with that belt, after the straight up heel version trashed the thing last year. That said, there seems to be a mini push for the ultra-heel group at the moment, so I won’t get my hopes up.

This Thursday LIVE at 2EST/7GMT I will be playing Worst Case Scenarios for WrestlMania on LOP Radio with Ash from Wrestling Shorts! Sure to be a fun one.

And I’ll see later you in column form for a written version a over the weekend!

Follow Imp on Twitter: @TheDamnImplicat