Wednesday, April 5, 2023

NJPW Sakura Genesis 2023 Preview & Predictions

Welp, now that WWE has chased me away again as a fan, time to talk about more fun things, namely this weekend's NJPW Sakura Genesis show!

The April spectacular is back this year, and it mostly feels like the Sakura/Invasion Attack shows of old, with a slew of title matches and some potential shakeups.  NJPW is pushing a couple of new faces to the top of the card - I say "new" as in, we haven't seen them in this position before.  David Finlay has taken over Bullet Club in the absence of his former fellow Young Lion Jay White (though on this show he's relegated to an undercard six-man).  Meanwhile former LIJ stalwart Sanada has departed Naito's stable and joined the Just Five Guys group (That's a terrible name for a wrestling stable, are they making hamburgers?), on his way to winning the New Japan Cup and becoming the #1 contender.  Okada vs. Sanada isn't a new matchup by any means, but Sanada has a new lease on life and could finally win the big one.  But we'll get to that.  I'm only going to do picks for the five title matches because the first four bouts on this show are multi-man fluff.

IWGP Women's Championship: Mercedes Moné vs. Hazuki vs. AZM

Mercedes has her first IWGP Women's Title defense on this show, and it's tough to know what will happen here.  I think she only signed on to wrestle at Battle in the Valley and Sakura Genesis, so unless she's extended her NJPW time it's possible she loses the belt (likely without being pinned, hence the triple threat).  Considering the state of WWE right now, I can't imagine she'd want to go back at this time.  So if she is indeed done with NJPW let's hope AEW can get her on board; The Outcasts stable is a couple members short of a level playing field.  Then again, maybe this won't be her last NJPW match, who knows?  It does seem counterproductive for her to lose the title in her first go as champion, so I guess I'll pick her to retain and hope she's sticking around for a while.

Pick: Mercedes retains

NJPW World TV Championship: Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Shota Umino

This might be the one I'm most excited about.  Umino is absolutely a future star and he's really finding himself.  ZSJ is always great.  This could go either way.  ZSJ becoming the first TV champ was the right move to establish the belt, but since Umino is clearly someone the company wants to push it would make sense for him to capture it here.  I guess I'll go with the new guy.

Pick: Umino

IWGP Tag Team Championship: Bishamon vs. Aussie Open 

Weirdly four of these titles were won by the current champs on the same date.  This is another match that I could see going either way.  With Will Ospreay on the shelf for a bit it's hard to gauge what's in store for the rest of United Empire.  I guess I'll pick the champs to retain?

Pick: Bishamon retains

IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship: Hiromu Takahashi vs. Robbie Eagles

Here's one that's an easy pick I think.  Takahashi is the division centerpiece and the only one in a position to be that right now.  Taking the title off him only three months in wouldn't make sense.  Takahashi retains in a banger.

Pick: Takahashi retains

IWGP World Championship: Kazuchika Okada vs. Sanada

And here's where the company is at a crossroads.  On one hand Okada is their bread and butter, and the company isn't super hot where they can take many risks.  Nor is Sanada the beacon of charisma Okada is.  That said, it might be time for a shakeup, even if it's only for a couple months.  NJPW has often in the past given a new top guy a run with the belt during the spring, just to test the waters.  They did it with Okada in 2012 (February to June), with Naito in 2016 (April to June), with Jay White in 2019 (Febuary to April), and with Evil in 2020 (July to August).  If things don't work out with Sanada on top they can always switch it back to the proven commodity at Dominion.  I think that's probably what will happen; they don't really have a clear Dominion opponent for Okada otherwise.

Pick: Sanada finally wins the big one

This is a pretty solid lineup, albeit not the most exciting one.  New Japan is still working on regaining their mojo.  Some new blood in the championship scenes might help.

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