NJPW Sakura Genesis Report: SANADA wins IWGP World Heavyweight title

SANADA defeated Kazuchika Okada to become IWGP World Heavyweight Champion. Merecedes Mone, Hiromu Takahashi and BISHAMON all defend their championships at Ryogoku Sumo Hall.

Photo Courtesy: NJPW

Springtime in Japan is a marker for many things, including the beginning of the new fiscal year. With graduation season finished at the end of March, the new academic year starts as the cherry blossom petals begin to fall. Although New Beginning occurred a month after Wrestle Kingdom and New Year Dash, the New Japan Cup and Sakura Genesis felt like the proper launch of the new season of NJPW. For the first time in a long time, a very full and energized Ryogoku Sumo Hall awaited to see what would unfold next. English commentary was provided on NJPW World, with the incomparable Kevin Kelly and Chris Charlton.

Between the Road to Sakura Genesis and NJPW sending a delegation to Los Angeles for Mania Week, every seemed surprisingly refreshed and excited. Prior to the show, NJPW held a press conference and contract signing for the championship matches. 

Recent Related Event Reports

Road to Sakura Genesis 2023

Highlights (4/2) Korakuen Hall

  • Boltin Oleg’s Official Debut 6-Man Tag: TMDK (Zack Sabre, Jr, Robbie Eagles & Kosei Fujita) defeated Hontai (Shota Umino, Ryusuke Taguchi & Boltin Oleg) (10:15) – ZSJ submitted Oleg with a cross arm breaker
  • KOPW2023: Ultimate Triad (1/NTL): Shingo Takagi © defeated Aaron Henare (38:15) – Stipulation: must obtain one pinfall, one submission, and one 10-Count KO to win; Takagi completed all three requirements and this match should be added to your viewing queue if you haven’t seen it already – Highly Recommended 

Highlights (4/3) Korakuen Hall

  • Special Tag Match: Dream Tag (Kazuchika Okada & Hiroshi Tanahashi) defeated Just 2/5 Guys (Taichi & SANADA) (8:27) – Tanahashi pinned Taichi with a Samson Clutch
  • NEVER 6-Man Championship (1/NTL): STRONG STYLE (Ren Narita, El Desperado & Minoru Suzuki) © defeated House of Torture (EVIL, Yujiro Takahashi & SHO) (24:43) – Desperado pinned SHO after Pinche Loco

Pre-Sakura Genesis Verdict: After recovering from a remote Mania Week and the Road to Sakura Genesis shows I was looking forward to this show. I was cautiously optimistic because on paper, this card was quite robust. The undercard 6-man tags seemed to tie up loose ends from the New Japan Cup as well as felt like a launching point for stories that started brewing during the Road To series.   

Spoiler-Free Synopsis

  1. Shinnichi Champion NJPW TV Special Match: Celebrating 50 Years of TV Asahi broadcasting NJPW! – Worth a Watch
  2. 6-Man Tag Match: United Empire vs. House of Torture– Worth a Watch
  3. 6-Man Tag MatchLIJ vs. Just 3 Guys – Worth a Watch
  4. 6-Man Tag Match: GoD feat. Grand Master vs. Bullet Club – Recommended*
  5. IWGP Women’s Championship (1/60): The CEO caught between a rock and a hard place – Recommended
  6. NJPW World TV Championship(1/15): Frontman vs. Roughneck – Recommended
  7. IWGP Tag Team Championships (1/60): Aussie Open vs. Bishamon – Highly Recommended
  8. IWGP Jr. HW Championship (1/60): The Sniper of the Skies vs. The Ticking Time Bomb – Highly Recommended
  9. IWGP World Heavyweight Championship (1/60): The Rainmaker vs. The Gift – Highly Recommended

Shinnichi Champion (NJPW TV) Grand Prix Celebration 6-Man Tag Match: Yano Toru, Minoru Suzuki & Great O’Khan defeated Hiroshi Tanahashi, YOH & El Desperado  (13:10) – Yano pinned Tanahashi after nefarious means.

For those wanting a little background on Tsumugi Mitani, Shinnichi Champion, and how we got to this match, check out my New Japan Cup Review. Long story short, with the success of winning the semi-annual fan vote and celebrating 50 years of TV Asahi broadcasting NJPW, the TV announcer and show host got to fantasy book a match. While she didn’t get all of her favorites like Jay White, KENTA, ZSJ, and TJP, she was able to pull together a chaotic 6-man tag with six names that were conspicuously absent from the match card: YOH, El Desperado, Minoru Suzuki, Great O’Khan, Toru Yano and Hiroshi Tanahashi. Many of these names were instrumental in the success of NJPW TV growing in popularity as many of them are repeat guests, especially El Desperado and Great O’Khan.

What I loved in this match was that Yano was stuck with two of his terrifying forever rivals: Suzuki and O’Khan as his tag partners while his actual World Tag League Tag Partner, ‘Hiroshi’ was saddled with the volatile pairing of YOH and El Desperado. This match was simply fun and exceptionally low stakes… for now. With Best of the Super Juniors next month, YOH and Despy got a jump start, turning on each other during the match, and while the melee ensued Yano used nefarious means to roll up Tanahashi with a schoolboy and then proceeded to apologize profusely.

I sincerely hope that NJPW and TV Asahi take time to subtitle all three seasons of Shinnichi Champion because it’s a great way to introduce fans to the variety of personalities we don’t get to see inside the ring. Yes, it’s silly and lighthearted, but that is what is great about Japanese variety TV programming. Personally, I have loved seeing Mitani’s journey from TV announcer to a pro-wrestling fan. 

What’s Next?

  • Hiroshi Tanahashi will head to the US with Kazuchika Okada to face NJPW STRONG Openweight Tag Champions Motor City Machine Guns (Alex Shelley and Chris Sabin) and Aussie Open (Mark Davis and Kyle Fletcher) in a triple threat match.
  • El Desperado & YOH are getting a head start on Best of the Super Juniors 30, scheduled to start in mid-May.
  • King of the British, The Great O’Khan, will likely have another defense of his RevPro UK British Heavyweight Championship in the near future.  

6-Man Tag Match: Jeff Cobb, Aaron Henare & Francesco Akira vs. EVIL, Yujiro Takahashi & SHO (8:01) – Cobb pinned SHO after a Tour of the Islands

This was one of the matches that wrapped up some linger NJC loose ends, but the highlight was SHO vs. Jeff Cobb. The Murder Machine continually expands his comedy wheelhouse as he tries and fails spectacularly at his attempts to get any offense on Cobb. It seems that United Empire might be the next group caught in the House of Torture vortex moving toward Dontaku and Super Juniors. I’m still blown away at seeing Jeff give SHO a Tour of the Islands with a Dick Togo hanging onto his back for dear life. 

I hadn’t realized the Ambassador of Aloha gave House of Torture a group rate on the Tour of the Islands!

What’s Next?

  • United Empire is busy as ever! Catch 2/2 (TJP & Francesco Akira) accepted JET SETTERS’ (KUSHIDA & Kevin Knight)’s IWGP Jr. Tag Challenge. Date TBA
  • SHO will likely represent House of Torture in BOSJ30 next month. With the 10th Anniversary of Bullet Club next month, it is likely HOT will get involved. 

6-Man Tetsuya Naito, BUSHI & Shingo Takagi vs. Taichi, Yoshinobu Kanemaru & DOUKI (9:20) – Kanemaru submitted BUSHI with a Figure 4 Leg Lock

At the heart of this match is what LIJ look like without SANADA in the picture. Each of the members of LIJ reacted differently to his departure. With SANADA in the main event, the match also focused on the potential troublemakers waiting in the wings for Hiromu’s IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship with BUSHI, DOUKI, and most crucially, Yoshinobu Kanemaru 

What’s Next?

  • Business may be picking up for LIJ and Just 5 Guys as the roads to Best of the Super Juniors and the G1 wait ahead. Naito will go to the US next weekend for the Collision series of shows. Shingo Takagi will face Punch Drunk Istria in Adelaide (4/14) and Jack Bonza in Sydney (4/15) as part of the Tamashii tour in Australia.

6-Man Tag Match: KENTA, El Phantasmo & David Finlay  defeated Tama Tonga, Hikuleo & Master Wato vs. (8:46) – ELP pinning Water after CRII

This match was another wrap-up from New Japan Cup, but the key point was the post-match fallout. Despite getting the win for Bullet Club and displaying rare babyface tendencies, the stress between ELP and David Finlay over who was ascending to the throne of Bullet Club finally came to a breaking point. Finlay reminded Tama Tonga that he has a receipt from NJC for a NEVER Openweight Championship match in the form of smashing Tonga in the face with the belt. KENTA followed suit going after Hikuleo with the STRONG Openweight Championship. What was unexpected and out of character, was ELP intervening and trying to pull The Rebel off their former BC compadre, leading to a fight between them. 

Just when you think KENTA is doing to diffuse the situation, he adds fuel to the fire, but dropping ELP with a Go2Sleep. A wild Taiji Ishimori appears and we have a fleeting moment of maybe The Muscle Chihuahua will stand by his Cutest Tag Team Partner. Instead, we learn that friendship and loyalty as dead as he follows up with nefarious means before helping KENTA pull ELP to his feet for Finlay to deliver a shot with the shillelagh.

For now, it seems ELP is now a BC ronin, much like Tama, Tanga Loa and Hikuleo, with Finlay assuming control of BC with Gedo at his side. My only concern is with the recent debut of Jay White in AEW under the Bullet Club banner alongside Juice Robinson… who is to say if The Catalyst is truly gone or has managed to find a loophole to weasel his way back.

What’s Next?

  • Bullet Club is on the Road to Wrestling Dontaku, where they will either celebrate ten years together or implode all together, just in time to prepare for Forbidden Door II. 
  • ELP is currently factionless, but with his potentially new babyface lease on life, he could find his way to TMDK, STRONG STYLE or even in Hontai with the rest of Gedo’s broken toys from burned bridges. We’ll have to see.

IWGP Women’s Championship (1/60): Mercedes Moné defeated AZM & Hazuki (13:53) Moné pinned AZM after Moneymaker; Champion’s 1st Successful Defense

AZM and Hazuki dictated the pace of this match, pushing Mone to keep up in a High Speed Championship caliber match. Both AZM and Hazuki were able to showcase what they do day in and day out in STARDOM. Although Mercedes was the champion, the stand out for me throughout the entire match was AZM. There were some fun spots involving rapid, rolling exchanges and flash pin attempts. AZM even had a stacked double Numero Uno which made my arms hurt from 7000+ miles away.

Hazuki was a solid addition, but since she had recently lost her Wonder of STARDOM Championship challenge against Kamitani, I had difficulty wrapping my head around why she was injected into this match if she wasn’t ultimately the one getting pinned at the end. This was a decent first defense for Mone, albeit a bit confusingly booked. Hazuki felt placed in the match to give the impression that AZM as High Speed Champion would be protected, however, Mone pinned AZM cleanly. If that was the intended finish, why was Hazuki in the match when it could have easily been a singles match?

Again, I wished they would have kept Mayu calling her shot out until after the conclusion of this match because with STARDOM heavily promoting All-Star Grand Queendom as the first women’s wrestling show in Yokohama Arena in twenty years, and the bulk of STARDOM’s title matches and press conference held prior to Sakura Genesis, this could have had more impact. With Mayu calling dibs on the winner several weeks back, I felt the potential of AZM and Hazuki as contenders evaporate, very much like it had for Tam vs. KAIRI at the Dome, when it was announced a month before their match that Mercedes was “coming to Japan.” It just made the outcome of this match feel like a foregone conclusion before the bell even rang. I’m just relieved they were given around fifteen minutes.

What’s Next?

  • Mercedes Moné will face Mayu Iwatani at STARDOM’s All-Star Grand Queendom at Yokohama Arena on April 23. Iwatani and KAIRI main evented Historic X-Over in Ariake Arena in the IWGP Women’s Championship Tournament Finals (11/20/22).
  • AZM will defend the High Speed Championship against OedoTai’s Saki Kashima on April 14th, the night before the Cinderella Tournament Finals (4/15). Neither she nor Hazuki have a match scheduled for All-Star Grand Queendom, but there has been a Yokohama Rumble announced for the show. Hazuki recently challenged Saya Kamitani for the Wonder of STARDOM Championship as well. Hopefully, they’ll be in the conversation for the 2023 Five Star Grand Prix which usually overlaps with the G1. 

NJPW World TV Championship (1/15): Zack Sabre Jr © defeated Shota Umino (13:35) – Jackknife Pin AKA “THEFT & SHRUBBERY”; ZSJ’s 4th Successful Defense

With his upset over Zack in the New Japan Cup, Shota Umino had the chance to deal double damage, but also slam the breaks on ZSJ’s momentum as NJPW World TV Champion. The only thing not working in his favor was the unofficial third opponent in the match: the taciturn 15-minute time limit. I love matches with stakes, but what I love more is the added pressure of having to fight one’s opponent within a compressed time frame. Zack and Shota looked great and this match was very fun. 

Zack is the Savant of Submissions because he managed to counter every single thing Umino attempted to throw him off his game with smooth as organic silk flow and laser-focused accuracy. I would like more matches to have shorter time limits because I am finding this championship in particular very riveting as its pushing people to get very creative in order to beat the buzzer.

What’s Next?

  • ZSJ heads to the United States for the Collision shows this coming weekend.
  • Shota Umino is down, but certainly not out. We’ll have to see what is in store for him. 

IWGP Tag Team Championships (1/60): Aussie Open (Mark Davis & Kyle Fletcher) defeated Bishamon (Hirooki Goto & YOSHI-HASHI) (15:30) – with Fletcher pinning Goto after Corealis; Bishamon’s 3rd Defense

It’s been a long run of patience for Aussie Open. After their breakout run in last year’s World Tag League, fans were shocked when Bishamon went to the Dome, as back-to-back WTL Champions to face FTR. However, fans waited this long for an AO run in New Japan, so giving them a little while longer to simmer into a rolling boil was precisely what they needed. This match started quick, carrying over a little pent up frustration from the New Japan Cup as well as lingering sentiments from WTL. 

This match felt like a proper passing of the torch from the seasoned veterans in Hirooki Goto (43) and YOSHI-HASHI (40) to Mark Davis (36) and Kyle Fletcher (24), the future of the IWGP Tag Division. I did fret when I saw how Fletcher smashed the back and side of his head on the guard railing, but they did have medical check on him and patch him up, so they could continue the match. To Bishamon & Mark Davis’ credit, they did a fantastic job monitoring Fletcher’s condition throughout the remainder of the match, often intentionally working a slower pace to ensure things were handled as safely as possible (and to avoid a referee or doctor stoppage). 

Aussie Open brings out the best in Bishamon. We were treated to G1/King of NJC Spring Hirooki Goto and NEVER 6-Man/G1 YOSHI-HASHI courtesy of Davis and Fletcher. This was one of my favorite matches on the entire show and having 90% of United Empire at ringside to help cheer them on, only made it that much more sweet and satisfying.

What’s Next?

  • Aussie Open will head to the US for Capital Collision, where they will compete in a triple threat tag match against Okada/Tanahashi and Shelley/Sabin for the NJPW STRONG Openweight Championships.
  • Hirooki Goto will Go To… Australia for the Tamashii shows next weekend. He’ll face Chris Basso in Adelaide (4/14) and will tag with Richard Mulu against Fale’s Rogue Army (4/15) in Sydney.

IWGP Jr. HW Championship (1/60): Hiromu Takahashi © defeated Robbie Eagles (21:12) – Timebomb II/Pin Combo; Hiromu’s 3rd Successful Defense

The speed at which their exchanges moved, reminded me of several of Hiromu’s other rivals: Ospreay, Dragon Lee, and KUSHIDA. The match went by quickly. Almost too quickly but they did so much in this match. Simply put: Hiromu and Robbie are everything I love about Junior Heavyweight wrestling. Hands down. While Robbie had to sit the All-Star Jr. Festival out, he certainly made his case to be in the next one after this absolute showstopper of match. A couple of lucky fans almost caught Robbie as he nearly soared over Hiromu into the first row. 

This new TMDK-ified version of The Sniper feels like the sweet spot between Bullet Club Era Eagles and CHAOS/Flying Tiger Robbie. It’s been a while since a foreign wrestler has won a Super Junior, so I am wondering if it could be Robbie’s time!  

What’s Next?

  • Hiromu Takahashi isn’t simply satisfied with the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship. More on that later. First things first, he and Naito are headed to the US for Collision in DC & Philly.
  • Robbie Eagles heads back to the drawing board, but with the banner of TMDK, he’s got a solid support system. He’s one of me top picks for winning BOSJ30.

IWGP World Heavyweight Championship (1/60): SANADA defeated Kazuchika Okada © (26:58) – Dead Fall/Pin Combo; Okada’s 3rd Defense

After regaining the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship at Wrestle Kingdom, Okada shifted from white hat baby face, reaching for the villain’s black hat. It started with Kaito Kiyomiya in January, and without the Supernova nearby, SANADA quickly went from “Okada’s Rival” to “Kiyomiya’s Proxy” by the way Okada treated him in the lead-up to and throughout the entire match. SANADA took a risk leaving the comfort and popularity of LIJ, and reinvented himself in the unlikely choice of Just 5 Guys. However, getting a haircut and a shave and a costume upgrade wouldn’t mean anything if after all that, he couldn’t actually beat Okada. 

Okada was prepared for SANADA, but his arrogance was certainly his downfall in the match. By underestimating SANADA and intentionally favoring the use of the Money Clip over The Rainmaker, Okada’s strategy seemed to remind SANADA who was holding the belt and the win/loss record.  This was one of my favorite Okada/Sanada meetings, but at the same time, it felt a little more reserved yet heated at the same time. It was finally SANADA’s time because Okada made him work hard for it, daring him to pry the belt from whatever would be left of him after the match. 

I sort of hoped for Okada to be the one to fasten the belt around SANADA’s waist, but I think the story at the moment, is Okada truly underestimated his old rival. We’ll have to enjoy seeing Okada figure out who he is once more without the World Heavyweight Championship. Maybe it’s time for a revival of Balloon Okada or at least matching gear with Tanahashi if they’re going to be challenging for tag championships together.

What’s Next?

  • SANADA was previously advertised for Capital Collision alongside LIJ’s Naito and Hiromu, so we may need to wait until the post-Sakura Genesis Press Conference to find out when he’ll defend next. Although Hiromu did challenge him for the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship, it seems that the date will be in the future after Takahashi defends against Yoshinobu Kanemaru
  • Kazuchika Okada will tag with Hiroshi Tanahashi at Capital Collision (4/15) in a triple threat match for the NJPW STRONG Openweight Championships against MCMG (Shelley/Sabin) © and NEW IWGP Tag Champions Aussie Open (Davis/Fletcher).

What’s Next?

The entire schedule for the G1 Climax 33 was announced during the broadcast. The series will run from July 15 to August 13, concluding with back-to-back nights on August 12th & 13th. Further details and listing of participants are to be released at a later date. 

If you want even more in-depth detailed analysis and a play-by-play, join Bruce Lord and myself over at the POST Wrestling Cafe! We unpack everything that transpired at Sakura Genesis, and look forward to the year ahead for NJPW as POST’s Most Unlikely Tag Team!

Next Weekend!

Capital Collision (4/15) Washington, DC

  • Kick-Off Tag Match (1/20): TMDK (Shane Haste & Bad Dude Tito) vs. WCWC (Royce Isaacs & Jorel Nelson)
  • 10-Man Tag Match (1/30): Tomohiro Ishii, Rocky Romero, Clark Connors, The DKC & Lio Rush vs. KUSHIDA, Volador Jr (CMLL), Mike Bailey (IMPACT), Gabe Kidd & Kevin Knight
  • Singles Match (1/30): Fred Rosser vs. Juice Robinson
  • Singles Match (1/30): AR Fox vs. David Finlay
  • NJPW WORLD TV Championship (1/15): Zack Sabre, Jr. © vs. Tom Lawlor
  • Singles Match (1/30): Tomohiro Ishii vs. El Desperado
  • Tag Match (1/30): Tetsuya Naito & Hiromu Takahashi vs. SANADA & Yoshinobu Kanemaru
  • NJPW STRONG Openweight Championship (1/30): KENTA © vs. Eddie Edwards (IMPACT)
  • NJPW STRONG Openweight Triple Threat (1/30): MCMG (Alex Shelley & Chris Sabin) © vs. Aussie Open (Mark Davis & Kyle Fletcher) vs. LOVE & MONEY (Kazuchika Okada & Hiroshi Tanahashi)

Collision in Philadelphia (4/16) 2300 Arena, Philadelphia, PA

  • Tag Match (1/20): El Desperado & Volador, Jr. vs. Delirious & Kevin Knight
  • ROH PURE Rules Match (1/20): Alex Coughlin vs. Tracy Williams
  • 6-Man Tag (1/20): TMDK (Zack Sabre, Jr., Shane Haste & Bad Dude Tito) vs. Team Filthy (Tom Lawlor, Jorel Nelson & Royce Isaacs).
  • Tag Match (1/30): Fred Rosser & Rocky Romero vs. SANADA & Yoshinobu Kanemaru
  • Special Singles’ Match (1/30): Orange Cassidy (AEW) vs. Gabriel Kidd – if Cassidy retains his AEW International Championship at Dynamite, this will become a championship. Replaces Kidd vs. Eddie Kingston (removed due to injury)
  • Tag Match (1/30): Tetsuya Naito & Hiromu Takahashi vs. KENTA & Chase Owens
  • IWGP US Championship Contenders Tournament (1/60): Lance Archer (AEW) vs. Juice Robinson (AEW)
  • 6-Man Tag Match (1/30): Hiroshi Tanahashi, Tomohiro Ishii & Lio Rush vs. United Empire (Mark Davis & Kyle Fletcher & TJP)

After the US shows, NJPW will begin the Road to Wrestling Dontaku on April 20th. At this time, no matches or championship defenses have been confirmed. The follow teaser video was release by New Japan Pro-Wrestling, All Japan Pro-Wrestling & Pro-Wrestling NOAH simultaneously, leading many to think the mid-week announcement could be something akin to the ALL TOGETHER shows held after the Great Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami in 2011.

NEW! The IWGP US Championship Mini-Tournament – Winner to face Kenny Omega; features four former US Champions 

  • Round 1: Lance Archer vs. Juice Robinson (4/16) Collision in Philadelphia, PA
  • Round 1: Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Will Ospreay (5/21) Resurgence in Long Beach, CA
  • Round 2: Collision Winner vs. Resurgence Winner (6/4) Dominion, Osaka, JP
  • Kenny Omega vs. Dominion Winner (TBA)* – most likely at Forbidden Door II (6/25) in Toronto, Canada

2023 Domestic Schedule

  • Road to Wrestling Dontaku 2023 (multiple venues 4/20-21; 23-27; 4/30-5/1)
  • Hirooki Goto’s 20th Anniversary Show (4/22) Sports Center, Mie Prefecture 
  • Wrestling Satsuma no Kuni (4/29) Kagoshima
  • Wrestling Dontaku 2023 (5/3) Fukuoka International Center
  • Best of the Super Juniors 30 (multiple venues 5/12-5/28) – Finals on 5/28 at Ota Ward Gymnasium; Participants/Format TBA
  • NEW! Dominion (6/4) Osaka-jo Hall
  • New! New Japan Road (6/10-18)
  • NEW! G1 Climax 33 (multiple venues 7/15-8/13) – Finals on 8/12 & 13 at Ryogoku Sumo Hall; Participants/Format TBA

2023 NJPW STRONG Live/International Schedule

  • Capital Collision (4/15) Entertainment & Sports Arena, Washington, DC
  • Collision in Philadelphia (4/16) 2300 Arena, Philadelphia, PA
  • Resurgence (5/21) Walter Pyramid, Long Beach, CA
  • Forbidden Door II (6/25) Scotiabank Arena, Toronto, Canada

We’ll keep you POSTed on all the upcoming ongoings in NJPW and STARDOM! So keep an eye for my STARDOM Cinderella Tournament and All-Star Grand Queendom Reports as well as Dream Slam Monthly!

About Karen Peterson 113 Articles
Occasionally drops by wrestling podcasts, but remains rather elusive. Joined the Japanese wrestling fan scene in summer 2017, and continues to work on bridging the language gap between fans. Outside of wrestling, she’s a dog mom, perpetual Japanese learner, and when conditions permit, world traveler. Never skips dessert.