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New Japan’s next batch of too many shows all leads to Okada returning to the title scene

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Well folks, NJPW Sakura Genesis 2021 is in our rear view mirror (check out full results here), and that means that New Japan have dumped another pile of cards out on us, so let’s list ‘em out and break ‘em down!

Road to Wrestling Dontaku 2021 (Apr. 26, 5:30AM Eastern, 2:30AM Pacific)

  1. Roppongi 3K (SHO & YOH) & Tiger Mask IV vs. Suzuki-gun (El Desperado, Minoru Suzuki, & Yoshinobu Kanemaru)
  2. Bullet Club (Jado, Tama Tonga, & Tanga Loa) vs. Suzuki-gun (DOUKI, Taichi, & Zack Sabre, Jr.)
  3. Bullet Club (Dick Togo, EVIL, Gedo, Taiji Ishimori, & Yujiro Takahashi) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi, Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Master Wato, Ryusuke Taguchi, & Toru Yano
  4. Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI & Shingo Takagi) vs. UNITED EMPIRE (Jeff Cobb & Will Ospreay)
  5. Aaron Henare vs. SANADA
  6. Great-O-Khan vs. Tetsuya Naito

Wrestling Satsuma no Kuni Night One (Apr. 28, 5:30AM Eastern, 2:30AM Pacific)

  1. Gabriel Kidd & Tiger Mask IV vs. Yota Tsuji & Yuya Uemura
  2. Bullet Club (Jado, Tama Tonga, & Tanga Loa) vs. Suzuki-gun (DOUKI, Taichi, & Zack Sabre, Jr.)
  3. Bullet Club (Gedo, Taiji Ishimori, & Yujiro Takahashi) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi, Master Wato, & Ryusuke Taguchi)
  4. Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI, SANADA, Shingo Takagi, & Tetsuya Naito) vs. UNITED EMPIRE (Aaron Henare, Great-O-Khan, Jeff Cobb, & Will Ospreay)
  5. EVIL vs. Toru Yano (c) (KOPW 2021 Provisional Championship)
  6. Roppongi 3K (SHO & YOH) (c) vs. Suzuki-gun (El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru) (IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship)

Wrestling Satsuma no Kuni Night Two (Apr. 29, 2AM Eastern, 11PM Pacific)

  1. Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI & SANADA) vs. Yota Tsuji & Yuya Uemura
  2. Roppongi 3K (SHO & YOH) & Tiger Mask IV vs. Suzuki-gun (El Desperado, Minoru Suzuki, & Yoshinobu Kanemaru)
  3. Bullet Club (Jado, Tama Tonga, & Tanga Loa) vs. Suzuki-gun (DOUKI, Taichi, & Zack Sabre, Jr.)
  4. Bullet Club (Dick Togo, EVIL, Taiji Ishimori, & Yujiro Takahashi) vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Master Wato, Ryusuke Taguchi, & Toru Yano
  5. Los Ingobernables de Japon (Shingo Takagi & Tetsuya Naito) vs. UNITED EMPIRE (Great-O-Khan & Will Ospreay)
  6. Hiroshi Tanahashi & Kota Ibushi vs. UNITED EMPIRE (Aaron Henare & Jeff Cobb)

Wrestling Dontaku 2021 Night One (May 3, 5AM Eastern, 2AM Pacific)

  1. Bullet Club (Dick Togo, EVIL, Taiji Ishimori, & Yujiro Takahashi) vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Master Wato, Tiger Mask IV, & Toru Yano
  2. Chaos (Kazuchika Okada, SHO, & YOH) vs. Suzuki-gun (El Desperado, Minoru Suzuki, & Yoshinobu Kanemaru)
  3. Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI, SANADA, Shingo Takagi, & Tetsuya Naito) vs. UNITED EMPIRE (Aaron Henare, Great-O-Khan, Jeff Cobb, & Will Ospreay)
  4. Tanga Loa vs. Zack Sabre, Jr.
  5. Taichi vs. Tama Tonga (Iron Finger from Hell Ladder Match)
  6. Hiroshi Tanahashi (c) vs. “Switchblade” Jay White (NEVER Openweight Championship)

Wrestling Dontaku 2021 Night Two (May 4, 2AM Eastern, 11PM Pacific)

  1. Bullet Club (Jado, Tama Tonga, & Tanga Loa) vs. Suzuki-gun (DOUKI, Taichi, & Zack Sabre, Jr.)
  2. Chaos (Kazuchika Okada & SHO) vs. Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki & Yoshinobu Kanemaru)
  3. Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI, SANADA, & Tetsuya Naito) vs. UNITED EMPIRE (Aaron Henare, Great-O-Khan, & Jeff Cobb)
  4. Bullet Club (EVIL, “Switchblade” Jay White, KENTA, Taiji Ishimori, & Yujiro Takahashi) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi, Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Master Wato, Ryusuke Taguchi, & Toru Yano
  5. El Desperado (c) vs. YOH (IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship)
  6. Shingo Takagi vs. Will Ospreay (c) (IWGP World Heavyweight Championship)

Wrestle Grand Slam in Tokyo Dome (May 29, 4AM Eastern, 1AM Pacific)

  1. Kazuchika Okada vs. ??? (c) (IWGP World Heavyweight Championship)

Hoo boy that’s a lot of shows, and it doesn’t even include Wrestle Grand Slam in Yokohama Stadium (set for May 15 with no matches announced) or the April 20 Road to... show that will feature a Bullet Club squad challenging NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Champions Chaos.

So, do we have five (it really isn’t fair to count Wrestle Grand Slam) shows worth of marquee matches here?

Not really.

Setting aside my distaste for shifting the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship off of Kota Ibushi in his first defense (not only is it symptomatic of the frustrating “your turn, my turn” booking that New Japan has only gotten more fond of, but new champ Will Ospreay is, uh... not the guy I’d put on top of the company), the basic plan of giving Ospreay a nigh-guaranteed defense against Shingo Takagi before sliding the Rainmaker back into the title scene for the first time in over a year is a good one... for the two-show Hi no Kuni / Dontaku format New Japan were running a few years ago.

The junior heavyweight division gets a fair spotlight but not a diverse one, as both the singles and tag belts are being monopolized by Suzuki-gun and challenged for by the boys in Roppongi 3K— great matches, to be sure, but every one of these five shows has some kind of tag match between them and it just grinds it into the dirt, y’know?

The UNITED EMPIRE naturally, with their new world champ and freshly-turned new member Aaron Henare, gets a lot of showcase across these cards and indeed, the only reason I bothered to list out the Road to... show here is the Naito/O-Khan match that feels like it’d probably have a place on the card even back in the old one-night Wrestling Dontaku days. They’re almost entirely pitted against LIJ here but we’re reaching the end of that rivalry and about to move on so I’m not too bothered by it.

Likewise, Tanahashi vs. Switchblade is a perfectly reasonable secondary show main event— it’s not gonna set the world on fire and it’d be served just as well being second or third from the top on a packed supershow card, but it’ll be a decent match.

And now we get into the weird stuff.

A ladder match? Between Taichi and Tama Tonga with the Iron Finger on the line? It’s not unprecedented, Kenny Omega and Michael Elgin had a ladder match for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship back at Dominion in 2016, but it’s definitely out there for New Japan.

EVIL challenges Yano for the provisional KOPW title? I mean, sure. You made the title, you gotta have it defended, I get it. It’ll be fun and cheeky, sounds good.

So okay, repetition, time-filling tags, that’s just kind of the New Japan format and has been for a very long time, you can’t fight City Hall, and honestly all this is probably three really solid shows, but... I keep looking at the card for Wrestling Satsuma no Kuni Night Two and there’s just... there’s no “there” there. The main event dream tag might be interesting if the plan is to build to a rematch for Ibushi, and indeed that might end up being the plan for Dominion this year given that NJPW seems to like putting the title on heels in the spring and then changing back for the summer and into G1 Climax season, but other than that it’s a card full of variations of the same tags we’re getting on all these other shows.

There you have it, folks

How do y’all feel about where New Japan is headed, Cagesiders?