Will Ospreay and Marty Scurll stole the show as Zack Sabre Jr. received his New Japan Cup reward, challenging for the IWGP Heavyweight title at Sumo Hall.

I’m guessing the New Japan video editor was overworked, as the package leading into the show was distinctly… different. Crowd shots and match graphics slowly giving way into clips of the bigger feuds. Oh, and lots of Cody shoving people.

Credit to whomever made that “Just Tap Out, Mate” banner for Zack, by the way…

Bullet Club (Chase Owens & Yujiro Takahashi) vs. Young Bucks (Matt Jackson & Nick Jackson)
A seemingly benign opener, with these Bullet Club vs. Bullet Club matches becoming all the rage these days. Kevin Kelly may want to watch his video screen when he’s commentating, as saying “oh man, it’s great” when the camera’s zooming in on Pieter’s rear end is… a look that can easily be taken out of context!

The match started out friendly, but Chase and Yujiro quickly attacked the Bucks from behind.. .and that backfires as the Bucks quickly get into their groove with their double-team stuff, wiping out Chase and Yujiro with duelling planchas. Commentary was keen to push the story of Matt’s back, saying that he needs to take time off, and continuing to work through it was just meaning he was going to be a little off the pace tonight.

That meant that Nick was forced to spend a lot of time in the ring as Chase and Yujiro isolated him, using frequent tags before Nick started to kick his way back in, waffling Chase with a step-up kick into the corner… only to be pulled out of it with a backbreaker as Chase turned the tide. Finally Matt gets the tag in, and lands a leaping double clothesline, then steps on Yujiro for some sliced bread on Chase, before a Superkick Party was cut short… and eventually turned into a Sharpshooter.

Kayfabe, Matt’s not that smart for keeping that move with a bad back, eh?

A double spear works though, as the Bucks land a springboard splash and a standing moonsault for a near-fall, and now Nick’s in with superkicks and topes, as Matt struggled with the Meltzer Driver, giving Yujiro enough time to pull down Nick in the springboard. Chase nearly nicks the win with the Jewel Heist trapped-arm lariat, before Nick superkicks away a package piledriver attempt.

Matt’s back to the Sharpshooter, with Nick throwing in a springboard facebuster and a tornado DDT to Yujiro on the outside, as Chase finally tapped. I do like the story they’re telling with both of the Bucks, with Nick slowly having to do more work as Matt’s back injury from almost three months ago continuing to wear him down – and I’d expect that to split the Bucks at some point, metaphorically, at least. ***¼

Suzuki-gun (Takashi Iizuka & Taichi) vs. Toru Yano & Tomohiro Ishii
Gotta love how Taichi lips-syncs Iizuka’s music as they had the customary New Japan Mash-Up. Oh God, this means they’re going to be a regular tandem…

Yeah, there’s a jump start, with Iizuka stomping Yano out of the ring while Taichi choked on Ishii with his mic stand. Taichi trades up for kicks, but he’s quickly met with a suplex, before Iizuka gets to work with a chair, nailing Ishii in the ropes and then taking Yano into the crowd with one. Meanwhile, Taichi’s going back to his gimmicks, using the bell hammer on Ishii, grinding it into his eyes, before Ishii was taken back inside for some double-teaming.

Eventually the referee Kenta Sato pulls Taichi away from Ishii in the ropes, only for Taichi to rush back with a kick into the corner before those long trousers come off. Iizuka decides to snack on the head of Ishii, who bites back as a hot tag to Yano came calling… and the first order of business was to remove the turnbuckles.

Taichi whacked Yano with the padding, before sending him into that exposed corner. Yano returns with a beard grab to Iizuka, who responded by shoving the ref and grabbing some rope to choke with. Out comes the funky oven glove, but Yano avoids it and nearly wins with a backslide, before a second attempt misses, with Yano eventually getting the win with a clothesline-assisted schoolboy. This was just there… although if Yano and Ishii keep getting tag wins, they surely have to be on the verge of a tag title shot in what’s becoming a division that’s as crowded as (insert favourite over-sold venue here!) **½

NEVER Six-Man Championships: Taguchi Japan (Ryusuke Taguchi, Togi Makabe & Michael Elgin) vs. Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale & Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa) (c)
Welcome back once again, to Makabe’s dubbed theme!

Fale was rocking the soon-to-be-replaced Bullet Club original logo, as the cameras focused on Taguchi’s new tattoo before we started with Elgin and Tanga locking each other up into the corner. Tanga responds to some chops by Flair/Fargo strutting it out, before attempting to escape a headlock with a back suplex… but Elgin clings on like he’s holding onto a bad decision.

Elgin keeps ahead with a dropkick out of the corner, followed by that dopey double-hand cover that you hated from the Fire Pro games, before it was time to head outside for the guard rail spots. Well, we’ve not had them in the first two matches! Fale uses the microphone to choke Elgin with, before using said mic to tell the English commentary team that (Elgin) has “one of those faces you just want to punch”.

The Bullet Club trio kept Elgin isolated in the wrong corner, with Fale clubbering him, before fighting out of a bodyslam as Mike thought to do something other than tag out. A missed splash in the corner gave Elgin a shot, as he lands an enziguiri and tags out to Makabe who clears house, nailing a lariat for a two-count. More tags take us to Taguchi and Tama, with the former badly whiffing on a hip attack as the April Fool… then sidestepped a flying Tama!

Both of the Guerrillas were in the ropes and in prime place for hip attacks, ahead of a dropkick to Tama and a Bummer-ye sliding hip attack for a near-fall. Taguchi’s series of avalanches backfired as the rest of the Bullet Club took him into a corner for clotheslines and body attacks of their own, before snuffing out a brief Taguchi comeback, which included a 619 for reasons… Tama nailed a Gun Stun to secure a successful title defence. Yeah, my stream cut-out a little at the worst possible point! Decent enough as a match, but these trios matches at the best of times are just “there” it feels. ***

Hiroshi Tanahashi, David Finlay & Juice Robinson vs. Hirooki Goto, Jay White & YOSHI-HASHI
Poor Tanahashi’s in a lot of these matches with no direction as of late (depending on what happens in the main event, ahem!) – but at least we’ve got teases for Finlay/White and Robinson/Goto in this trios match.

Finlay and White start by throwing bombs at each other in the middle of the ring, but Switchblade escapes… only to get followed outside as Finlay just turfs him into the guard rails. Back inside, the tide changes when White threw Finlay into the turnbuckle, and everyone else hits the floor for duelling whips into the guard rails, with Juice and Tanahashi eating the steel… as did Finlay.

Back in the ring, White keeps sledging Finlay as YOSHI-HASHI was in the ring, before Goto kept it up as the CHAOS trio cut Finlay off from any possible tags. Eventually Finlay got the hot tag out to Juice, who was more than happy to take down Goto, going airborne with a crossbody while Tanahashi gave him a sneaky side-eye from the apron. Juice looked to ape the ushigoroshi, but that backfired as he was taken into the corner for a spinning heel kick instead.

The ushigoroshi quickly followed from Goto, before tags out took us to YOSHI-HASHI and Tanahashi… who caught a boot and dumped YOSHI with a Dragon screw! A missed Slingblade is countered with YOSHI’s Head Hunter running Blockbuster, as Tanahashi gets triple-teamed with corner attacks, leading to a Bunker Buster/GTR combo for a near-fall. From there, we get teased finishers, leading to Juice landing Pulp Friction to Goto, before Tanahashi finished off YOSHI-HASHI with a Slingblade and a High Fly Flow for the win. Fun, but of course it was the pairing that had nothing going that finished the match! The other two pairings are going to lead to some inspired matches down the line, even if Finlay is likely to remain the David Starr to Jay White’s WALTER… ***¼

Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, EVIL & SANADA) vs. Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki & Killer Elite Squad (Davey Boy Smith Jr. & Lance Archer)
I’m digging the new Naito mask – although whether it’ll just be for big shows remains to be seen…

Meanwhile, Out of Context Kevin Kelly yelled “get set to get wet” when Lance Archer came out. I’m not touching that with a barge pole!

Of course, Suzuki stomped the hell out of Naito at the bell, continuing his bid to try and have Naito react and demand a title match. There was a reaction of sorts, as some double-teaming got Suzuki down, then into the corner as LIJ tried to wear him down. It didn’t work though, as Suzuki seemed to be laser-focused on Naito, whom he eventually caught in an armbar in the ropes as Suzuki-gun took over.

An big Irish whip took Naito over the guard rails and into the English commentary table, where Suzuki and a chair quickly followed, before they returned to the ring so Suzuki could try and wrench off Naito’s heel. Davey Boy Smith Jr. comes in and misses a Tennessee Jam legdrop off the top, allowing Naito to hit a tornado DDT… only for Suzuki to rush back in. Naito shrugs that off and tagged in the dropkicking SANADA, who sent Archer to the outside for a nice plancha! Smith nearly nicks the win with a Northern Lights on SANADA, who kicked out and came back with a springboard dropkick to the baby bulldog, before EVIL’s back in with a bulldog and a back senton to Archer.

Archer responds with what looked to be an inverted Razor’s Edge, but it’s broken up by Naito… who gets taken into the guard rails again by Suzuki as EVIL gets planted with a Bossman Slam inside the ring. More from Naito sees Suzuki almost wreck the guard rails as he took them a la Bret Hart, and that interaction between those two continues as they wreck each other’s run-ins. Glorious!

Suzuki has Naito trapped in a heel hook on the floor as KES thwarted a Magic Killer, only to reply with a sidewalk slam/splash combo for a near-fall. SANADA takes a Killer Bomb, as does EVIL eventually, and the KES take their win back from WrestleKingdom. This was fun – thanks to the ongoing Naito/Suzuki interactions – and you have to think KES are getting a title match out of this in the not-too-distant future. ***½

After the match, Naito got the mic… thanks to Chris Charlton for the translation of sorts, as Naito called the Intercontinental title worthless. Well, he did spend large parts of last year trying to destroy the damn thing. If Suzuki wanted rid of it, then he can just give him the belt… and that line irks Suzuki, as you’d expect, who called Naito a piece of crap, laying on the ground. Meanwhile Naito just laid there without a care in the world as MiSu held the belt aloft…

Then pulled the timekeeper’s table over the guard rails and whacked a Young Lion with a chair. Just because.

Right, now it’s time for some G1 Climax 28 dates:

July 14-15 in Ota Ward Gymnasium, Tokyo
July 16 in Sapporo
July 19-21 in Korakuen Hall
July 22 in Hachioji, Tokyo
July 26 in Niigata
July 27 in Shizuoka
July 28 in Aichi
July 30 in Kagawa
August 1 in Kagoshima
August 2 in Fukuoka
August 4-5 in Edion Arena, Osaka
August 8 in Kanagawa
The final three days – August 10-12 in Budokan Hall, Tokyo

BE A SURVIVOR is the tag line. Which is apt for all of us who’ll be watching every day of this!

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI & Hiromu Takahashi) vs. Roppongi 3K (SHO & YOH) vs. Suzuki-gun (El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru) (c)
BUSHI’s got a new mask for this, complete with mini versions of the tag title belts. Bless.

Roppongi 3K got the match going before the bell, attacking BUSHI and Hiromu before diving into the champions on the outside. The bell finally goes as SHO and YOH put the boots to Desperado, with a double-team suplex getting an early two-count. Rocky Romero tries to get involved, but gets chased away by Hiromu, as BUSHI started to go to work on YOH.

LIJ landed a nice double hiptoss into a facebuster on YOH for a two-count, before a STF from BUSHI was nonchalantly stomped away by Despy as YOH went from the LIJ frying pan into the Suzuki-gun fire. The pace slowed down a lot here as Kanemaru barely gets a count out of YOH with a suplex, as YOH tried to fight back and make a tag out to SHO, who got no reaction as he nailed Kanemaru with a dropkick.

Despy gets a spinebuster for his woes, but the ring starts to fill as all of a sudden the pace was turned up as SHO nails Hiromu with a spear. YOH’s back in with a dropkick, then a Dragon screw to BUSHI and a flying forearm to Hiromu as Roppongi 3K took over. A plancha from YOH lays out Kanemaru as SHO looked for a deadlift German on Hiromu, before giving one to BUSHI. Rocky Romero somehow found his way back into the ring as Hiromu stomps on him… which makes me think we’re getting Hiromu/Rocky down the road…

Roppongi 3K get quick revenge on Hiromu with duelling leaping knees as they double teamed him, but Kanemaru’s attempt to spray them with whiskey backfires as it’s superkicked away amid a massive sunset-flip stacked-up German suplex to spark a parade of moves. Hiromu ends the Parade with a Time Bomb for a two-count… then hits it again, only for the ref to be pulled out at two after SHO was spiked!

Behind the replay, we miss a belt shot from Desperado, who wasn’t the legal man for those who care, as he finished off with Pinche Loco on SHO for the win. A bit of a flat finish to a pretty good match throughout as the juniors worked at an inconsistent pace – with more of the focus seemingly being put on Romero/Hiromu than the match at times. ***

IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship: Marty Scurll vs. Will Ospreay (c)
You know how we had Finlay/White earlier – this is the same, but British. Scurll has had Ospreay’s number as of late, except for that one time WCPW had Ospreay win…

They don’t go flying out of the gates, as Ospreay took Scurll down to the mat with holds, leading to some nice sequences with ever-increasing pace until they squared off. Nice! Scurll outsmarted Ospreay during a dropdown, trying to pull him into a Chicken wing before falling to a handspring armdrag… and Jesus wept, this is too quick for even me to type!

Ospreay sent Scurll packing to the outside, but a faked-out dive is caught with Marty teasing a finger snap, only to get sent back down with a gamengiri as he was forced to catch Ospreay with a Sasuke Special. That’ll serve him right for shirking it in the Tokyo Dome! Will took too long to capitalise though, and gets caught with a neckbreaker in the ropes, then a superkick off the apron as the Villain decided to clap like an otter on the apron.

Scurll took Ospreay into the guard rails, because New Japan, before slamming him into the ropes as somewhere Glen Joseph’s wishing he could have thrown in a Rick Martel reference. The Jado rope-hung DDT followed for a near-fall, as did a Torture rack, which apparently focuses on the neck more than the back (I don’t want to find out, thanks), following up with a slingshot into the bottom rope as Marty tried to decapitate the champion.

Out of nowhere, Ospreay fought back, nailing a handspring enziguiri to take down Scurll, working his way into the Shibata-ish dropkick… but Marty moves away and gets an enziguiri and an over-the-top 619 ahead of the springboard forearm, stopping to sell before switching a Cheeky Nando’s into a German suplex out of the corner. Problem was, that neck was quickly becoming a bullseye for Scurll, who tore into him with a tornado DDT, before Ospreay landed a Stundog Millionaire to keep the Villain at bay.

Marty’s back with a finger snap, but that’s countered as Ospreay stopped himself from leaping into a chicken wing, before the pair fought over a backslide. Another chicken wing is elbowed away, but instead we get a pumphandle Tomorrow Driver as Scurll kept on that neck, getting another near-fall. A hook kick from Ospreay was just a distraction as Scurll stayed in control, clubbing away on the neck with axehandles, before a neckbreaker got countered into a backslide for a near-fall. Scurll skins the cat… and dragged Ospreay almost into a tombstone on the apron, before deciding to spike him on the goddamn floor!

The referee starts a count-out as Ospreay was wincing on the floor, but Scurll rolled him back in… only for Will to kick out. Ospreay had some fight left in him, clocking Scurll with a forearm, only to fall for the Just Kidding superkick. Will counters a counter to his own Spanish Fly, instead dropping Scurll with a powerbomb as he looked to be getting that out of his system ahead of New Orleans next weekend.

Ospreay keeps up with a diving corkscrew kick, but he’s thrown to the outside as he went for an OsCutter. Another apron superkick is thwarted when Will charges the apron with a big boot, as he looked to follow up with a brainbuster onto the hardest part of the ring… before instead nailing a Spanish Fly to the floor, with Ospreay cutting himself as he spiked his own head on the apron during the bump. God. Damn.

Both men narrowly beat the count out, but Scurll rolled into the path of a corkscrew star press off the top… but it’s not enough! We pass the 25 minute mark as Ospreay, with blood trickling down his head, missed a shooting star as Scurll was draped in the ropes, before a superkick to the back of the head almost caused the title change. Ospreay’s still got something left in him, exchanging near-falls on roll ups before landing an OsCutter, but his head and neck was causing too many problems for him to even attempt a cover!

A Ganso Bomb-style piledriver is next for Scurll, but Ospreay’s able to get up, only for Scurll to snap his fingers, land a superkick and some stomps to the head before locking in a chicken wing until Will got to the ropes. Scurll keeps up the head drops with a reversed snapmare driver, but a tombstone’s wriggled out of as Ospreay gets another Stundog Millionaire, before leaping out of the corner for an OsCutter for the win! How in the world?! Will Ospreay, still standing, retains, and that’s the demon slayed! As a Brit, this is the sort of wrestling that gives you a warm fuzzy feeling inside… ****¾

This is going right up there with the best matches of the year, no questions asked, but good God, how scary was that Spanish Fly? FOLLOW. THAT.

Post match, having wiped the blood off his face, Ospreay called out KUSHIDA. Luckily he was on Japanese commentary. Noting he’d slain the dragons of Hiromu and Scurll, he wanted another crack at KUSHIDA to put that particular demon to rest. KUSHIDA gives a thumbs up, and I guess we’ve got a Wrestling Dontaku match!

Bullet Club (Cody & Hangman Page) vs. Golden☆Lovers (Kenny Omega & Kota Ibushi)
The ongoing story between Cody and Kenny continued here, with Cody “one upping” Omega by throwing his t-shirt… to Hangman Page.

Ahead of Kenny vs. Cody at ROH next week, those two start off here, but of course Cody’s doing a Larry Zbyszko, powdering into the crowd to buy some time. Page takes over, knocking Omega down with a shoulder block, before he was back body dropped into Cody on the floor. Back inside, Kenny gets off a High Fly Flow-like crossbody as Cody was battered between Golden☆Lovers chops, before Page saved him from the Golden Trigger.

For his troubles, Page took a kick and a Kotaro Krusher, before the Cross Slash was stopped, with Ibushi this time not overshooting as he instead ‘rana’d Page on the floor. Meanwhile, Cody’s got a chair, and just throws it in Kenny’s face, leaving Ibushi on his own against both Cody and Page. Page riled up Ibushi with some cheap shots, but Kota elbows out of a Fireman’s carry and lands a dropkick to give him a chance of a tag out… which came as Omega hit Polish hammers to Page like there was no tomorrow! The Finlay roll/moonsault to Page is stuffed by Cody, who holds him in the corner so Hangman can nail a middle rope swinging neckbreaker for a near-fall.

Cody keeps up on Kenny, taking him outside as the dreaded Japanese table came into play, but Kenny avoids it with a suplex instead. The cameraman trips back over the table as Kenny and Kota get slammed onto the table before it was set up… leading to Cody preparing to stomp Kenny through it, only for the Young Bucks to appear in a Bash at the Beach 96 style “but whose side are they on?” moment.

The Bucks wave off Cody and walk to the back, and we’re back with the match as Omega and Cody get hit in the back with knees from their opposing corners, before a spinning heel kick from Omega gave us some Cody juice. Kenny tagged out to Ibushi, who dropkicked the crimson masked Cody, ahead of Kenny finally dishing out the Finlay roll as the moonsaults and standing shooting star almost put Cody away.

Kenny and Kota followed that up with a successful Cross Slash, before a powerbomb into a German suplex left Cody in a heap… ahead of a Golden Shower… but Page rushes in to stop it, as Cody’s able to come back in with an X-plex for a near-fall on Ibushi. Page is back to hit a dropkick into Omega, then a moonsault to Ibushi for a near-fall, as we started teasing finishers.

A spiking DDT from Cody left Kota down as Omega drilled Page with a Dragon suplex, only to run into a scoop slam from Cody as we broke into another Parade of Moves, nearly finishing with a bridging German out of Page. The Golden☆Lovers catch Cody in the corner with overhead kicks as Kenny sees the table from earlier… but Cody fights out of a One Winged Angel, and had to block an avalanche German from Kota before Page returns to hit a Doomsday Dropkick to Ibushi for a near-fall.

Cody keeps up with a Disaster Kick, before Page gives a big boot to Kenny off the apron, sending him through the table, as Ibushi was left on his lonesome for a slingshot lariat… which he ducks and counters with a double overhead kick! The Golden Star powerbomb to Cody nearly ends it, before the Kamigoye’s avoided… Cody tries for a Cross Rhodes, but that gets somehow countered into a German suplex, before Page clings onto the leg to save Cody from Kamigoye, allowing Cody to win with a roll-up and a big handful of tights. A suitable cheaty win to a match that started slow but got pretty good. There was no way they were going to top what came before it – but the storyline here has been exceptional, even if some of the matches aren’t the show stealing stuff you may have expected from Kenny. ***¾

Ibushi gets jumped after the match, with Cody teasing a chairshot… but Kenny disarms him and uses said chair to send Cody and Page packing. Kevin Kelly on English commentary noted that Cody and Page “just beat the team that beat the Young Bucks”… and my God, this increasingly-layered story just got another coat on top of it.

See. Good story-telling CAN be done folks.

IWGP Heavyweight Championship: Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Kazuchika Okada (c)
A month ago, Zack Sabre Jr was “that guy” who was hardly around in Suzuki-gun, to be fair. Now, after a blistering performance in the New Japan Cup, he’s a star, and a viable threat for Kazuchika Okada, who was looking to go level with Hiroshi Tanahashi’s record of successful, consecutive IWGP title defences.

We started on the mat, because of course we did, as Sabre ties up Okada early, pulling the champion into a grounded abdominal stretch, then a crucifix roll-up as Okada decided to try and out-wrestle his challenger. A cravat from Sabre keeps Okada at bay, holding on despite a bodyslam attempt, before Okada tried a submission of his own: a Cloverleaf.

Sabre’s able to escape though, and instead gets in a heel hook, but it almost backfires as Okada tried to get a pinning attempt in instead. Somehow, despite this being “boring mat wrestling” we’ve breezed past ten minutes as Okada and Sabre were still feeling each other out, with Okada floating out of a bow-and-arrow hold into a pin as he then decked Sabre. Okada goes for a hiptoss, but has to counter out of a Cobra twist first as Sabre’s like a kitchen showroom – loads of counters! (sorry)

We’re back to the Cobra twist from Sabre, who traps an arm and cinches in on Okada, before they sank to the mat and into the ropes for an easy break. The brutality gets turned up massively when Sabre trapped Okada’s knee between his legs, like he’s done to necks and arms in the past, and that’s an instant bullseye for the challenger to work on. A flapjack from Okada’s pulled down and turned into a STF as Sabre continued his bid to decimate Okada, before Zack slowly got suckered into a striking battle.

That looked to be a mistake though, as Okada threw plenty of shots back, this time succeeding with a flapjack, before a long rope running series ended with Sabre running into a big boot. Zack needs to take it back into the ground game, but Okada stays on top, dropping him with a DDT that sent Zack rolling onto the apron having taken it badly on his shoulder… except it’s a ruse as Sabre traps Okada in the ropes with an Octopus instead!

Zack tries to wrench on Okada’s arm, but he’s still on the apron… and gets booted off it by Okada, as we finally got those mandated guard rail spots. Sabre’s taken into the crowd ahead of a cross body over the railing from Okada… but back inside, Sabre’s jack-knifed and rolled up into a planned neckbreaker slam, but somehow he counters it into a grounded Octopus. My God Zack, this sort of counter game is almost encyclopedic!

We’re almost Orienteering with Napalm Death, but Okada grabs the ropes to keep the title alive, as Sabre keeps up on the arm, stomping on it once he’d gotten back to his feet. The arm’s trapped and snapped after that, as Sabre now keeps up on the shoulder, continuing to wear down just about every part of Okada. Except Okada side-steps a charge into the corner… but he can’t follow up as Sabre leaps out of it into a mounted guillotine! Zack keeps clambering around Okada to keep switching up the holds, sinking in a trapped-arm guillotine, only for Okada to counter out into a hard neckbreaker slam!

Okada thought he had Zack in place, but the top rope elbow sees him land into an armbar, but Sabre inadvertently takes him quickly into the ropes as he tried to cinch it in. Zack keeps up with kicks, targeting Okada’s arm rather than his chest, and it pays off a little as Okada struggled to even throw a forearm. Sabre, on the other hand, could throw plenty of uppercuts, before falling to a shotgun dropkick from Okada!

Zack’s right back with a European uppercut, but Okada avoids more submission attempts, almost landing a Rainmaker, only to get caught in a keylock and an overhead kick to the arm… before nailing a couple of dropkicks to shock his challenger. Hurriedly back from a replay, Okada nails a tombstone, but Sabre limbers up and rolls Okada down into a trapped-arm armbar, and almost switches it into a Euro clutch for the win!

Okada kicked out of that and a Gedo clutch as you sensed the title slipping from his grasp, but Zack couldn’t make a cover from a PK, and instead peppers Okada with kicks on the ground before evoking memories of Shibata with a hard slap. That angers Okada, whose Rainmaker gets countered into a rolling cross arm-breaker, then a triangle armbar, only to fight out of it and finally land the Rainmaker!

Okada keeps hold of the wrist, and followed in with a second, before a third was countered into an Octopus hold as Sabre pushed himself further. We get into Hyper Normalisation, but Okada gets free and quickly nails a tombstone, then another Rainmaker… and that, my friends, is that. A star in defeat, but Zack Sabre Jr. failed to add a fourth belt (they didn’t show his EVOLVE strap) to his ever-growing collection. A completely different match to Okada’s regular stuff, but my word, this was a show-stealer. *****

Gedo was jubilant in his post-match promo… and just as we’d expected, here’s Tanahashi! February 12, 2012, Okada beat Tanahashi to win his first title in what was the latter’s 12th title defence… a record that Okada has now tied. That led to Tanahashi issuing the challenge, and as you guessed, for Okada to make history, he’s going to have to beat the guy whose record he’ll be shattering! Okada mocked Tanahashi for losing titles, the New Japan Cup… getting injured… then issuing the challenge – but Okada’ll gladly take the challenge and smash that record as he continues to rack up successful defences.

Sakura Genesis was a show that could easily have been lost among the sea of big cards New Japan has had as of late, but in the end it was a show that stood head and shoulders from the pack. Will Ospreay put his neck on the line (literally) to get his big win over Marty Scurll, as he has just the one demon left to slay… as does Okada, whose only blocker from the record is the man whom he won his first IWGP title from. So many great matches, in so many different styles… and as much as we all bemoan the perceived lack of stories in wrestling – they’re still there people. You just have to look in the right places!