We’ve got the first appearance of the new IWGP World Heavyweight Championship as New Japan prepares to head into Sakura Genesis this weekend…
Tetsuya Naito, Shingo Takagi, SANADA & BUSHI submitted Yota Tsuji, Yuya Uemura, Gabriel Kidd & Tiger Mask in 10:05 (**¾)
SHO, Master Wato & Ryusuke Taguchi pinned DOUKI, El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru in 10:56 (***)
KENTA, EVIL, Bad Luck Fale, Yujiro Takahashi & Taiji Ishimori submitted YOSHI-HASHI, Kazuchika Okada, Tomohiro Ishii, Hirooki Goto & Toru Yano in 13:04 (**)
Jay White, Gedo & Jado submitted Tomoaki Honma, Yuji Nagata & Hiroshi Tanahashi in 11:55 (**½)
Kota Ibushi, Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan pinned Jeff Cobb, Will Ospreay & Great-O-Khan in 13:27 (***¼)
We’re back at Korakuen Hall for a card that I had to make sure wasn’t a direct copy of yesterday’s. It isn’t, but it’s very much in the vein of “sure, look at my homework, but change some of it so it’s not obvious who you copied from.” Korakuen Hall’s been reconfigured with minimal seating opposite the hard camera. Ticket sales must have been low again.
But first, we open with the presentation of the new IWGP World Heavyweight Championship. Kota Ibushi’s out with his two old belts, which he hands over to Naoki Sugabayashi for the final time… (complete with almost a regretful pause over the Intercontinental title belt) and in exchange, we get the new IWGP World Heavyweight title show reel, which merged both belts lineages together… and the presentation of the shiny new title belt:
Yeah. My initial reaction is mixed. Beauty is the eye of the beholder, and at least it’s not a spinner… but yeah, I’m not a fan of change where it’s not needed.
Tiger Mask, Yota Tsuji, Yuya Uemura & Gabriel Kidd vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, SANADA, Shingo Takagi & BUSHI)
It’s nice of BUSHI to come out in his pyjamas, eh?
We’ve a jump start as payback for yesterday’s Young Lion stuff… and it’s Naito choking out Tsuji on the outside. That’ll show him. In the ring, Uemura tries an O’Connor roll on SANADA before a dropkick took him down, with Kidd coming in to try and capitalise.
SANADA turns it around with a low dropkick, as we head back outside with Naito throwing Tsuji into the guard rails as Shingo popped up Kidd onto the edge of the ring. Back inside, knees to the gut from Shingo take down Kidd, before things broke down with the pair trading chops. It keeps Shingo ahead, but Kidd’s back with an elbow before suplexing Shingo in the middle of the ring.
BUSHI tags in and eats a Kidd dropkick, before Tiger Mask came in and took down BUSHI with a crossbody off the top. He rolls through into the LIJ corner and is instantly attacked, but clears his way free as BUSHI returned with an overhead kick in the ropes… before an armdrag off the top sent BUSHI flying for a near-fall.
A dropkick in the ropes restores order as BUSHI tagged in Naito, but Tiger Mask finds a way through with a Tiger Driver. Tsuji’s back in to charge through Naito, before a slam and the Mount Tsuji splash landed for a near-fall, but Naito returns with an enziguiri and a neckbreaker, before rolling Tsuji into a Boston crab.
It’s broken up, but Tsuji returns with a spear, prompting LIJ to hit the ring – bedlam ensues before Naito caught Tsuji with Esperanza off the top rope, before the Boston crab eventually forced the submission as Tsuji ran out of steam. Decent enough as LIJ float aimlessly through this tour. **¾
SHO, Ryusuke Taguchi & Master Wato vs. Suzuki-gun (El Desperado, Yoshinobu Kanemaru & DOUKI)
We keep up the build for Sunday’s IWGP junior tag title match… and there’s still no YOH, even at ringside.
SHO attacks Desperado before the bell as their early exchanges led to SHO taking him to the corner for a barrage of elbows. Desperado switches around, but gets choked with SHO’s boot before Kanemaru and DOUKI makes the save. A double spear puts paid to them as Desperado keeps getting stomped on in the corner.
SHO pushes aside the referee repeatedly as Desperado’s laying motionless… to the point where Taguchi comes in to try and pull SHO away. Master Wato tags in to try and pick up Desperado, at which point things stayed weird. A knee to the gut drops Desperado for a two-count, before Desperado reversed an Irish whip, sending Wato into Kanemaru, who pulled him outside for trips to the guard rails and a slam on the floor.
Desperado stays down as DOUKI does two men’s work in throwing folks to the rails. When things calm down, DOUKI smashes Wato with a back elbow for a two-count, before Kanemaru came in and trapped Wato with a half crab before Desperado popped back up on the outside and traded elbows with SHO before he got thrown into the railings.
In the ring, Kanemaru sidesteps a dropkick from Wato but can’t avoid a leg lariat. In comes Taguchi for hip attacks to Kanemaru and DOUKI, eventually dropping Kanemaru for a two-count before the Three Amigos were completed. Taguchi rolls up and prepares for a Bummer-Ye, but Kanemaru rolled him up for a two-count, then hit an atomic drop before Taguchi avoided a dropkick… then fell into Kanemaru’s groin.
Tags get us back to SHO and DOUKI, with the latter eating a corner clothesline and some kicks. Desperado runs in with a spear to take out SHO, before a spinebuster leads to DOUKI’s springboard splash for a two-count. DOUKI grabs his pipe and swings for SHO, but Master Wato flies in with a springboard uppercut to make the save, starting a Parade of Moves.
DOUKI nearly nicks it with a loose inside cradle on SHO, but it’s a lariat from SHO that turns things back around before the Shock Arrow gets SHO the win. If you can get past the weirdness around the winded Desperado, this turned into a nice little trios match to set up Sunday. ***
Bullet Club (EVIL, KENTA, Bad Luck Fale, Yujiro Takahashi & Taiji Ishimori) vs. Kazuchika Okada, Toru Yano, YOSHI-HASHI, Hirooki Goto & Tomohiro Ishii
We start… with the lights going out.
When they come back up, the Bullet Club had cleared the CHAOS apron and were putting the boots to Yano for a brief moment as Dick Togo eventually emerged as the guy who’d done the trick again. Yano quickly tags out to Goto, before Ishimori came in and thumbed Goto’s eye.
Goto charges down Ishimori as YOSHI-HASHI runs in to help with a double-team, in the way of a double shocker tackle before YOSHI-HASHI was hiptossed onto Goto. The rest of CHAOS come in to club away on KENTA and Yujiro, then Fale, but Fale monsters up and kicks them away before charging through Goto and YOSHI-HASHI.
We spill outside… then return as KENTA tagged in to keep working on Goto. Yujiro’s in with a low dropkick before elbows on Ishii ended with Yujiro biting and throwing Ishii to the outside. Goto’s still legal, and he gets cornered by Fale’s body blows before a shoulder block knocks Goto back down.
An elbow from Fale misses, as Ishimori’s attempt to help ended with him taking a clothesline. Okada tags in to drop Fale with a DDT, before a slam attempt eventually sees Okada take down Fale. So much for that bad back, eh? KENTA tags in next to throw some right hands at Okada’s head as my feed drops badly.
We’re back with YOSHI-HASHI getting attacked from behind as Yujiro hits a reverse DDT. An errant big boot drops KENTA, before Ishii tries to capitalise, eventually doing so countering a reverse DDT into a brainbuster. Everyone gangs up on KENTA with clotheslines, leading to a top rope Head Hunter from YOSHI-HASHI for a near-fall.
A Parade of Moves breaks out as we head towards the finish, with Goto and YOSHI-HASHI charging down Fale before YOSHI-HASHI’s powerbomb was escaped by KENTA. He followed up with a clothesline before he took YOSHI-HASHI’s bo staff… and swung again. YOSHI-HASHI ducks and returns with a superkick, before the ref grabs the staff. The ref misses Yujiro decking YOSHI-HASHI with the pimp cane, before Game Over forces the meekest of submissions. This felt really unfocused at times, outside of “let’s build to KENTA using YOSHI-HASHI’s stick”, as they’re, erm, building to a NEVER trios title match that hasn’t been announced yet. **
Bullet Club (Jay White, Gedo & Jado) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi, Yuji Nagata & Tomoaki Honma
Once again, White mocks Tanahashi’s physique in the pre-match pose downs…
Tanahashi and White start us off, as I swear I heard Tanahashi scream “show me power” as he got taken into the ropes. Right hands and kicks from White take Tanahashi into the corner before a springboard crossbody out of it put Tanahashi ahead. My feed drops again, returning with Nagata tagging in to aim for White with kicks… a front kick in the corner connects, only for Jado to come in and fall to a stuttering dropkick.
Jado hits back with a Kendo stick to the back of Nagata as the match spills outside for the obligatory brawl. Back inside, White tries to beat Nagata with his own Nagata Lock II crossface, but it ends in the ropes as Jado tagged in to lay in some punches for a two-count. Nagata fights back with some right hands, but Jado rakes the eyes before my feed dropped out again. Good.
It recovers as tags get us back to Tanahashi and White, as the pace picked up with the match moving faster than a stuck boat in the Suez Canal. They catch each other’s kicks and negotiate a settlement… but White tried to con his way free, only for Tanahashi to hit back with a leaping forearm. A dropkick has White down, before he snuck back in with a DDT on Tanahashi.
White charges at Tanahashi with an uppercut ahead of the Blade Buster for a two-count, before Tanahashi’s attempted response led to him taking down White with a Dragon screw. Honma’s back in to chop away at White, aiming high as well, before an attempted Kokeshi was rolled away from, with White ending up taking a suplex instead.
Counters lead to White coming back with chops, before he ran into a leaping Kokeshi. A regular one misses though, as a Parade of Moves broke out… leading to Honma actually landing the Kokeshi on White for a two-count. Honma then goes for a swandive Kokeshi and misses, with White then pouncing on him with a grounded Dragon screw before he rolled him into the HTO for the submission. They’re building up to White submitting Tanahashi for the title – since he’s brought back the TTO on this tour – but man, this match was positively glacial at times. The drink’s been watered down a little too much… **½
After the match, Tanahashi was challenged for a title shot… he refused, so White cracks Honma with a Kendo stick.
United Empire (Will Ospreay, Jeff Cobb & Great-O-Khan) vs. Kota Ibushi, Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima
The first time Ibushi wrestles with the new title… and Ospreay calls for a jump start as we get going.
Things calm down as Ibushi tries for headscissors on Ospreay… they’re blocked, so he hits a high kick instead before Tenzan tagged in. Kojima’s in too as Ospreay’s bounced with Mongolian chops, before a falling headbutt from Tenzan landed for a one-count.
Ospreay catches Tenzan in the gut and tags out to Cobb, who takes some more Mongolian chops before a brainbuster was blocked. A dropkick takes down Tenzan as the rest of the Empire hit the ring, leaving Tenzan alone as Cobb hits some Mongolian chops. O-Khan comes in for more of the same, leaving Tenzan on his knees.
Tenzan blocks a suplex attempt before he reverses it… in comes Kojima for all of the Machine Gun chops, but the top rope elbow’s stopped by a charging Cobb, who then takes a DDT instead. O-Khan’s still legal, but he takes another Kojima DDT as a Koji cutter’s blocked, with O-Khan countering out for a sleeperhold.
Kojima fought free and lays in some elbows before finally bouncing O-Khan with the Koji cutter, as tags bring u snack to Ospreay and Ibushi. They pick up the pace as Ibushi’s diving kick has Ospreay down, before a standing moonsault led to a two-count. Ospreay gets his feet up in the corner, and comes back with a reverse Bloody Sunday for a two-count, before a springboard forearm drops Ibushi for a two-count.
Ibushi blocks an OsCutter, but his counter of a German suplex is escaped… as was Ospreay’s attempt at a Storm Breaker. He connects with a hook kick, only for Ibushi to return with a clothesline. Cobb tags in and takes Ibushi to the corner for a diving uppercut, before a running suplex drew a two-count. Ibushi tries to fight back, but Cobb just swats him down. Another high kick from Ibushi finds its mark, taking Cobb into the corner, only for Cobb to charge back as the Empire swarm the ring.
The Spin Cycle drops Ibushi for a two-count, but Ibushi stops himself from running into a Tour of the Islands, and instead hits an overhead kick to down Cobb. Ibushi looks for a Kamigoye, but O-Khan breaks it up with an Iron claw that drew in Tenzan. Mongolian chops stop Tenzan before O-Khan ran into a TenKoji Cutter, continuing the Parade of Moves going, until Ospreay hung himself up in a Tree of Woe for some kicks.
Cobb looks to make the save, but Ibushi escapes a Tour of the Islands and gets kicked in the head. Tenzan and Kojima hold Ospreay in the corner as a Kamigoye lands… and that’s enough to put Cobb down for the pin. That’s the Empire’s first loss as a trio, with Cobb taking the fall as Ibushi got some momentum going into Ryogoku Kokugikan on Sunday with his new belt. ***¼
The post-match trash-talking ended with Ospreay declaring that he “is New Japan Pro Wrestling”… and that’s it. I told you it was a brief tour – Sakura Genesis takes place on Easter Sunday, April 4, with a 9am start time in the UK (4am East Coast, 1am Pacific).
A so-so show, but the big draw for today was the unveiling of the new IWGP title belt… and it’s fair to say that opinions are heavily split on it. I’m not going to unsee the “Cody’s neck tattoo” version of the belt, that’s for sure. It’s clear at this point that the new belt is just underscoring the fact that the last, golden era of New Japan is firmly in the rear view mirror… and what we’re dealing with is very much a down period, at least in a creative sense. We’ll never know how crowds would have truly reacted to a lot of this stuff in normal circumstances, but the overall mood around New Japan right now isn’t positive at all.