We’ve got two (televised) stops on the road to this Sunday’s Sakura Genesis, as New Japan returned to Korakuen Hall.

Quick Results
SANADA, Tetsuya Naito, Shingo Takagi & BUSHI pinned Yuya Uemura, Yota Tsuji, Gabriel Kidd & Master Wato in 9:47 (**¾)
El Desperado, Yoshinobu Kanemari & DOUKI submitted Tiger Mask, Ryusuke Taguchi & SHO in 11:08
Taiji Ishimori, EVIL, KENTA, Bad Luck Fale & Yujiro Takahashi pinned Hirooki Goto, Kazuchika Okada, Toru Yano, Tomohiro Ishii & YOSHI-HASHI in 12:54 (***)
Jay White, Gedo & Jado pinned Satoshi Kojima, Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Jay White in 12:41 (***¼)
Will Ospreay, Great-O-Khan & Jeff Cobb pinned Tomoaki Honma, Kota Ibushi & Yuji Nagata in 14:58 (***¼)

It’s a fairly short road to Sakura Genesis – which takes place on Sunday April 4 this year. In fact, the shows today and tomorrow are the only ones that are being streamed on NJPW World, as we’ve only got four stops on the tour. Let’s get going…

Master Wato, Yota Tsuji, Yuya Uemura & Gabriel Kidd vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, SANADA, Shingo Takagi & BUSHI)
LIJ in the opener is an odd sight, but here we are, with none of the crew having much to do before Sunday’s match – where they too are on the back burner as the focus is on “who’s the United Empire’s new member?”

The Young Lions get fed up of waiting for LIJ to start, so they jump start things, with Tsuji finally getting his ring time with Naito. He comes close with a dropkick, before Naito escaped a suplex and fired back with a neckbreaker… a high-angle Boston crab followed, but Wato kicks it apart before he’s tossed outside.

LIJ put the boots to Tsuji before they began to exchange tags as they isolated him. BUSHI’s in for some chops, before a missile dropkick off the middle rope landed… my feed drops, and recovers with Master Wato charging at BUSHI in the corner, following up with a gamengiri and a springboard uppercut for a two-count.

Wato elbows out of a knee breaker, then lands a kick for a two-count. Recientemente’s blocked as BUSHI returned with a swinging neckbreaker, before Shingo tagged in and countered out of some headscissors. Wato lands a head kick after getting free, then a spinning enziguiri as Gabriel Kidd came in with shoulder tackles.

Kidd trades elbows with Shingo, but gets punched into the ropes before he returned with a slam and a back senton for a two-count. A suplex from Kidd is blocked as Shingo fought back with the jab/elbow/lariat combination, before SANADA tagged back in… Kidd has some luck, dropkicking away Shingo, then suplexing SANADA before Uemura tagged in to try his luck.

He ducks clotheslines and elbows down SANADA, before a suplex gets Uemura a two-count. That’s followed up with Uemura going for a Kanuki suplex, but it’s blocked as a Shingo DDT prompted some four-on-one from LIJ as they flooded the ring. The ring fills and clears, leaving us with Uemura prone for a Skull End… but he drops down to roll-up SANADA for two-counts, before an O’Connor roll and a Japanese leg clutch ALMOST got the upset. From there, SANADA returned the favour though, and gets the win with the Japanese leg clutch. A decent enough opener, but one that went entirely the way you expected, with the nice bonus of Tsuji finally facing Naito too. **¾

SHO, Tiger Mask & Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Suzuki-gun (El Desperado, Yoshinobu Kanemaru & DOUKI)
YOH returns to in-ring action on Sunday – walking straight into a title shot too – so here we’ve got SHO & Friends for the warm-up matches.

DOUKI and Taguchi start, with Taguchi working a wristlock early as he took DOUKI down to the mat. A Fireman’s carry keeps him there for an armbar, but there’s an escape and a stand-off, before Taguchi ran wild with hip attacks… only for Taguchi to get carried away as he eats three low dropkicks.

Suzuki-gun take it outside, with the guard rails coming into play… while Taguchi just gets crotched on the ring post before DOUKI tries to sodomize him with his pipe. NOT a euphemism.

That leads to a count-out tease, but Taguchi pops up in time to beat the count as Desperado begins to stomp away on him. They keep Taguchi in the corner as Kanemaru comes in for an atomic drop, following up with a Boston crab for good measure… but Taguchi breaks it in the ropes. DOUKI’s back to rake the eyes before he avoided a rolling hip attack… only to fall to it eventually as Taguchi looked to buy himself some time.

In comes SHO to clear the decks, taking down Kanemaru with kicks before Kanemaru looked to respond with a suplex. SHO blocks it and hits one of his own, only for Kanemaru to return with a basement dropkick to spin SHO down to the mat. Desperado’s back with stomps, but he gets speared as SHO manages to tag out to Tiger Mask. A crossbody off the top from Tiger Mask leads to DOUKI coming in… but he can’t do much as Desperado almost fell to a crucifix pin. Taguchi helps out with hip attacks to set up for a Tiger Driver, but Kanemaru breaks it up as Tiger Mask looks to finish off Desperado with a Tiger suplex.

That’s broken up in the corner as DOUKI comes in to distract… some three-on-one turns the tables as Tiger Mask has to kick out after a knee breaker, before Desperado went for Pinche Loco. It’s blocked as Tiger Mask returns with a head kick, only for Desperado to return with a spinebuster and Numero Dos for the submission. By the numbers, as there’s only so much you can do when the big match on Sunday’s being built around a returning star… **½

Bullet Club (EVIL, KENTA, Bad Luck Fale, Yujiro Takahashi & Taiji Ishimori) vs. Kazuchika Okada, Toru Yano, Hirooki Goto, YOSHI-HASHI & Tomohiro Ishii
KENTA’s still got YOSHI-HASHI’s bo staff from the New Japan Cup finals… while Toru Yano’s entrance alone is now at absurd lengths.

We’ve a jump start as KENTA moaned about how long things were taking… and he heads outside after YOSHI-HASHI, while Okada’s teamed up against by Yujiro, Fale and Ishimori. The feed drops out and returns with Toru Yano removing a corner pad, only for EVIL to stop him. EVIL kicks at thin air as he then went to throw Yano into the corner… Yano blocks and takes him in instead before bopping him on the head.

Dick Togo throttles Yano with a towel in the ropes as he tried to do his thing. Things quickly break down as YOSHI-HASHI comes in to start some triple-teaming from the NEVER trios champions on EVIL, sandwiching him with thrust kicks before Yujiro and Ishimori came in to take a pounding. While Okada air-drums. After that calmed down, KENTA kicked YOSHI-HASHI in the ropes… then took him outside into the guard rails for more of a beatdown, with YOSHI-HASHI being kept outside by the Bullet Club corner before he was thrown in so EVIL could try and get a pin… which amounted to a two-count. From there, EVIL’s chained-up abdominal stretch goes into the crowd thanks to this being a five-man team today.

The feed drops and picks up as Fale charges away all of the CHAOS lads, forcing Yano to scarper rather than meet the same fate. When we calm down, YOSHI-HASHI is still in trouble as the Bullet Club lads keep standing on him in the corner… eventually YOSHI-HASHI gets free for a suplex, then tags out to Ishii, who runs into a boot from Yujiro.

A second boot is caught as EVIL’s attempt to run in was stifled by the rest of the CHAOS team… ditto Fale. Yujiro bites back on Ishii, then hits a reverse DDT as KENTA cleared the decks… before a Fisherman buster dumped Ishii on his head for a near-fall. After kicking out, Ishii rebounded with a scoop slam to Yujiro, then a backdrop suplex before tags took us to Ishimori and Goto.

Goto charges down Ishimori as CHAOS floods the ring, leading to a superkick-assisted ushigoroshi on Ishimori for a near-fall. EVIL tries to attack Goto, but that just sparks a Parade of Moves before a GTR was stopped by KENTA & Yujiro. They double-team Goto before an eye rake from KENTA and a shot from YOSHI-HASHI’s staff left him laying, with Ishimori then picking up the pieces with a Bloody Cross for the shock victory. That’s another loss for one of the NEVER trios champions as we continue to play “guess who?” as it regards their next challengers out of the Bullet Club. ***

Bullet Club (Jay White, Gedo & Jado) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi, Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan
Wait, Gedo’s now “the blacksmith”? There’s a few jokes here, but I’m touching none of them…

After the White/Tanahashi pose-off, we get going as White and Tanahashi start us off. The opening tie-up is a struggle, as White tries to back Tanahashi into the ropes, but he hits a proverbial brick wall before taking him by the hair into the ropes. Tanahashi returns the favour, then scared everyone with his biceps before White attacked from behind.

Gedo and Jado come to help out, but Kojima and Tenzan level it up as they take them outside before White’s triple-teamed in the corner. A Tenzan brainbuster lands for a two-count, before Mongolian chops dropped White… only for Jado’s Kendo stick to stop TenKoji in their tracks.

White clams some two-counts on Tenzan after all that, before Jado came in to rake Tenzan’s eye on the rope. Old school. Some punches from a chinlock follow, before Jado’s chops and eye rakes left Tenzan on all fours. Gedo’s in for more of the same, raking Tenzan’s eyes with his boot before a fist drop hurt Gedo. Because Tenzan’s got a hard head. Headbutts from Tenzan lead to a Mountain bomb on Gedo as Tanahashi tagged in and immediately knocked White off the apron. A leaping forearm takes down Gedo, with a flip senton off the middle rope leading to a two-count, before Gedo counters a Slingblade with an inside cradle.

Tanahashi gets back up for a Dragon screw, before White stops a Cloverleaf by pulling Tanahashi’s hair… he then tags in to kick away on Tanahashi’s legs ahead of a Dragon screw on the mat. Another one cuts off an attempted comeback, before the TTO was pushed away… with White then taking a Twist and Shout.

Kojima gets the tag in and instantly corners White with Machine Gun chops, before my feed again drops. It returns with White taking a Koji Cutter, before a uranage from White nearly wins it. Tenzan breaks up the pin, then took a Mongolian chop or two as White then ran into a TenKoji Cutter for a near-fall as the ring filled, then emptied, before White took a Cozy lariat for a near-fall.

A second one’s countered into a sleeper suplex… with White then putting away Kojima with a Blade Runner for the win. Kojima got a lot closer to a win than I expected here, but in the end it’s Jay White picking up steam ahead of his NEVER title challenge. ***¼

United Empire (Will Ospreay, Great-O-Khan & Jeff Cobb) vs. Kota Ibushi, Yuji Nagata & Tomoaki Honma
Ibushi and Ospreay look to start us off here at a slow pace, as Ibushi tries to take down Ospreay as they scrambled for a hold.

A front facelock from Ibushi leads to them breaking in the ropes, but there’s a cheapshot from Ospreay as they head to the mat… and finally break clean. Ospreay slaps Ibushi, then tagged in O-Khan, before Nagata tagged in as Ibushi let cooler heads prevail. Nagata and O-Khan scramble, but it’s elbows from O-Khan before kicks from Nagata took him into the ropes. O-Khan goes for the ear and throws Nagata into the ropes for a shoulder tackle, but Nagata responds with kicks to the legs… only for Cobb to grab him in the ropes as the Empire swarmed the ring.

On the outside, Ospreay hurls Ibushi into the rails, before things returned to the ring with Cobb stretching Nagata. Honma runs in and gets charged into the corner, before Nagata got similar treatment. He’s cornered so O-Khan can take a seat, before Ospreay tagged back in to help double-team Nagata.

A backbeaker drops Nagata for a two-count, before Ospreay went after Ibushi on the apron. Poking the bear. Stomps keep Nagata down ahead of a knee to the back and a chinlock, which drew in a calmer Ibushi to just kick the hold apart. O-Khan throws Ibushi outside as Nagata stayed in the ring to trade strikes with Cobb, leading to an Oklahoma Stampede attempt from Cobb, which Nagata escaped and countered with an Exploder.

Ibushi tags in and springboards at Cobb… then rolled by as he looked to go for Ospreay, before a diving kick off the ropes took down Cobb. A standing moonsault gets a two-count, before Cobb caught Ibushi with a backdrop suplex. Ospreay wants back in to take advantage, elbowing Ibushi into the corner before a reverse Bloody Sunday landed for a two-count.

Ospreay goes for a Storm Breaker, but Ibushi blocks… so Kawada-ish kicks knock him back as Ibushi eventually returned with an elbow strike. The pair trade elbows as Ospreay pulled ahead, only to get caught with a backflip kick. A tag brings in Honma to chop away on Ospreay, but O-Khan snuffs that out before a Flatliner/DDT combo took out two-thirds of the Empire.

Nagata’s back to help out, booting Ospreay in the corner before an Exploder and a Kokeshi landed for a two-count. Another slam from Honma looked to set up for a Kokeshi off the top, but O-Khan grabbed him in a head claw and pulled him down for an Eliminator… only to have to make do with a big boot as we started a Parade of Moves.

The smoke clears as Ospreay goes for a Storm Breaker, but Honma back body dropped free before he ran into a superkick. That gets a two-count, before the London Falling – Fireman’s carry sit-out facebuster – gets a two-count on Honma. Ibushi makes a save but gets taken care of by Cobb, as Ospreay then put away Honma with a Chelsea Grin – a forearm to the neck – and a Storm Breaker. Solid, but entirely expected given how they’ve been using Ospreay lately. ***¼

Tomorrow, we’re back at Korakuen Hall for a show that’ll feature the unveiling of the new IWGP World Heavyweight Championship belt. Angle alert. As for the wrestling, we’ll see Kota Ibushi, Satoshi Kojima and Hiroyoshi Tenzan team up to take on the United Empire in a slightly changed line-up from today…

A rather sedate, run-of-the-mill show today, with little there to pique your interest. Tomorrow’s show technically being the go-home should offer something different, but I can see why people would handwave these shows going into Sakura Genesis.