Stardom 5STAR Grand Prix (17/8/19) Review

Credit: NJPW

It’s time for my first 5STAR Grand Prix. Much like with the various New Japan tournaments, I intend to review the entire thing and can’t wait to have a shitload of Stardom singles matches to enjoy. I’ll also put my cards on the desk straight-up and say I’m on Team Hana when it comes to who I want to win, but I suspect it will be Momo. Truthfully, though, I don’t have a clue. I’ve no idea how they normally book this thing, so I’m happy to go along for the ride.

Avary defeated Natsuko Tora, Rina and Ruaka

The pre-match promos gave us the visual of going from Avery’s very character-driven, clearly pre-planned intro to Natsuko talking about doing her half-arsed best while having a snack. That made me laugh.

With nine people in each block, there will always be a couple of 5STAR competitors going spare, so this was our first chance to get a look at Avary who I know very little about. She came out to Bring Me The Horizon (it was good BMTH too, so that’s a thumbs up), and her character work seems to be playing on her sex appeal as she talked about ‘going Down Under’ beforehand (she’s an Aussie) and was pouring water over herself during her entrance.

Between the ropes, she had an okay showing, having a couple of awkward moments with the rookies and perhaps playing things a bit too big, but generally looking fine. I’m always reticent to be too critical of someone’s first match on a Japanese tour. She’s in a new country with a new culture and most of the people she’s wrestling won’t speak the same language as her, so it’s going to take a bit to adjust. She might not have blown me away in this one, but I’m not going to hold it against her.

Verdict: Two And A Quarter Stars

Up next was the Opening Ceremony, which was a pretty straightforward affair. Each wrestler was introduced wearing their coloured sashes (depending on which Block they’re in) before Mayu (who won last year) returned the trophy to Rossy.

Riho, Starlight Kid and Saya Iida defeated Leo Onozaki, Hina and Saya Kamitani

Kamitani and Riho haven’t joined units yet so will be teaming with a random assortment of people across the tour. Kamitani’s separation from her teammates became clear when she went forward for the pre-match handshake while they stood back.

And the rookie continued to impress. If you’d come in unaware this was Kamitani’s second match I think you’d be shocked to discover it was the case. She doesn’t look 100% natural in the ring yet, but she’s incredibly athletic and confident which is making up for something which should come over time.

Elsewhere, this was a pretty standard trios match. I like all these wrestlers, so I had a nice time before Riho got the win with a Double Stomp.

Verdict: Two And Three Quarter Stars

Red Stars: AZM (1-0) defeated Natsu Sumire (0-1)

I am intrigued to see Natsu Sumire wrestle a succession of singles match. In the eight months I’ve been watching, she has noticeably improved in tags, so I want to see how far that can go in one on one competition.

And she’s not perfect, as there were moments in this match that could have been smoother. However, I don’t think that was solely her fault. AZM likes to twist and turn into moves, and she doesn’t always nail it. That happened here, and while I can’t say for sure, I suspect the fault could not be laid solely at either wrestlers’ feet. Ultimately, this was a rare straight-up wrestling match from Natsu, and she was solid.

It led to a bout that ended up hovering around decent. They went around five minutes, had a couple of dodgy moments and then AZM twisted into the Armbar for the win. I suspect both will have better performances in the weeks ahead, but this was far from a disaster.

Verdict: Two And Three Quarter Stars

Red Stars: Hana Kimura (1-0) defeated Tam Nakano (0-1)

Hana went from singing her modified version of ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ to calling Tam a ‘shitty little trash panda’. You’d think that would be a dramatic change in tone, but from Kimura, it works.

Like Natsu, Hana is another wrestler who hasn’t done many singles matches during my time watching Stardom, so I was excited to see how this would go. Thankfully, as a lover of all things TCS, I came out impressed. This was a well-worked match as we got a battle of Tam’s lethal array of kicks vs Hana’s smarts.

It had some cool spots too, with Nakano hanging Kimura from the second rope with a Dragon Sleeper being the highlight (Tam did slip during the set-up, but did a nice job of recovering). Hana, meanwhile, wrestled on the defensive, dodging as many kicks as possible and eventually managing to tie Nakano up in the newly named Hydrangea for the win. This was another relatively short match, but for the time they had, it gave me faith these two will have good tournaments.

Verdict: Three And A Half Stars

Red Stars: Saki Kashima (1-0) defeated Mayu Iwatani (0-1)

Last year Saki Kashima beat Mayu Iwatani with Revival (her signature flash pin) and history would repeat itself in this fun sprint. These two went all out in the few minutes that they had, slipping between flash pins and high impact offence as they packed their time.

Iwatani and Kashima also couldn’t hide the fact that they seemed to be having a lot of fun . From Mayu trying to sneak the win with an Inside Cradle out of a handshake to them flipping each other off at the end, you couldn’t shake the feeling these two enjoyed getting to butt heads. Although Kashima probably didn’t enjoy the Bridging German Mayu hit that saw her drop to her knees, adding a bit of snap to the move.

And when people are enjoying themselves, it’s hard not to join them. This was too short to be a classic and will probably be forgotten by the end of the 5STAR, but for the five minutes they were in the ring it made me smile, and there is nothing wrong with that.

Verdict: Three And A Half Stars

Blue Stars: Jamie Hayter (1-0) defeated Arisa Hoshiki (0-1)

Jamie Hayter inflicted Arisa’s first singles defeat since Hoshiki returned to Stardom at the end of last year, further cementing the idea that they are fully intent on pushing the English lass. She hasn’t stopped winning since she arrived in Japan for this tour.

Hayter certainly wasn’t in the mood to show the Wonder of Stardom champ any respect, slapping her across the face and giving her a wet willy. This was as dominant a performance as you’ll see against someone of Hoshiki’s standing, to the extent that the finish was a surprise, Jamie curb stomping Arisa while holding her arms to put a brutal full stop on proceedings.

If I had a complaint, I’d say that Jamie leant a bit too much into the comedy early on. That stuff is great in random tags, but this was a big match for her, and it felt out of place. Especially when she went on to wrestle the rest of it like a badass, bullying Arisa with Lariats and power moves, Jamie is on the cusp of being a fantastic wrestler, and small details become important if you wish to take that step.

Still, this was a good match that gave Hayter a dominant win and established she will be a force to be reckoned with going forward.

Verdict: Three And a Half Stars

Red Stars: Bea Priestley (1-0) defeated Andras Miyagi (0-1)

I think I realised why I struggle with a lot of Bea Priestley matches while watching this. She’s essentially a CAW. The kind of wrestler you made when you were a kid, packing them with all the cool moves whether they be V-Triggers or Ocean Cyclone Suplexes, and not caring about having it all make sense.

And that can be cool, wrestlers that do awesome moves are fun to watch. The problem is that awesome moves don’t always make up for emotion, and Priestley’s matches often leave me cold. I watched this, but I never connected with it. There was nothing there to hook me and draw me in so while it wasn’t a bad performance, it never came close to being great.

It was also another dominant win, as a few moments aside, Priestley dealt with Miyagi with little to no trouble in slightly over five minutes. The champ started strong, but it’s going to take more than cool moves to make me care about this run.

Verdict: Two And Three Quarter Stars

Blue Stars: Utami Hayashishita (1-0) defeated Jungle Kyona (0-1)

Because of the order Stardom released their matches in, this was the first tournament bout I watched and what a way to kick things off! It took all of five seconds for Jungle and Utami to bring a massive smile to my face as they charged across the ring to bash into each other, making it very clear that this was not going to follow the precedence set by their previous two singles encounters and make it to a time limit draw.

And it quickly turned into a fucking war. On the outside, Utami got Jungle up for a Torture Rack before spinning her out into a Powerbomb which I assume was supposed to plant her on the apron. Sadly, Jungle came up slightly short and nearly left her brains splattered across it instead of her back. Even if both wrestlers had popped back up like nothing had happened (they didn’t), poor Rina’s terrified reaction sold it better than half an hour spent groaning on the floor. Thankfully, Kyona seemed to be okay, so we can say that the spot looked brutally awesome.

From there, Kyona was selling her back, which would prove to be the turning point. Not only was Utami able to focus in on it, but it hurt Jungle’s ability to do things. At one point, she had a Single Leg Crab on and looked likely to get the submission, but the need to reach around and grasp her injury weakened the hold enough to allow Utami to get to the ropes.

It also meant that when The Big Rookie got Jungle up for the Torture Rack, there was no chance of escape. Who won was almost irrelevant, though, this was a fantastic start to the tournament by both women as they worked a hoss-style sprint and got me bouncing up and down with joy. I suspect Jungle is going to be the 5STAR’s Tomohiro Ishii, and I am 100% down for that.

Verdict: Four And A Quarter Stars

Red Stars: Hazuki (1-0) defeated Momo Watanabe (0-1)

The Stardom roster is in no mood to mess around. Momo and Hazuki spent the opening part of this match stamping on the back of each other’s heads before Hazuki started tossing Watanabe around by her hair. She then took it a step further by standing on said hair and pulling Momo up by her arms. As someone with long hair, I can relate to the pain of that more than the pain of a million German Suplexes.

And with Hazuki’s story this year being her falling short in big matches (against Kagetsu and Arisa for the Wonder of Stardom Title) this was a huge win for her. She took the best Watanabe had to offer, kicking out of a B-Driver (where she waited till the last possible second to tuck her head) and Tequila Sunrise before sliding free of Peach Sunrise into the Hazukistral for the flash three.

There was a period where this dropped off a bit as they slowed things down, but it was still a cracking performance. Hazuki has a vicious streak she brings to big matches, and it seems to draw the best out of her opponents. The two of them had a wee scuffle after the bell too, suggesting this won’t be the last time we see them face off.

Verdict: Three And Three Quarter Stars

Blue Stars: Konami (1-0) defeated Kagetsu (0-1)

These two opened like they were late for dinner, Kagetsu (sporting new red gear and having come to the ring with a Murder Grandpa style towel over her head) hitting a Ebisu Drop and nearly connecting with the Oedo Coaster only to almost end up in the Triangle Lancer instead.

After that initial flurry, they slowed things down, taking to the floor until Kagetsu took control and established her domination over Konami. At one point, she hit three Ebisu Drops in a row, before cutting off Konami’s kick-based comeback by transitioning straight into an Armbar. Konami could not get into the action, and it looked like when not if for Kagetsu.

And that might have been her downfall. Kagetsu got cocky, as an Avalanche Ebisu Drop followed by the Oedo Coaster should have been the end. However, she pulled Konami’s shoulder up and in that moment of gloating seemed to bring the TCS star to life, and when she was alive, she had one goal, get hold of that arm. Kagetsu survived the first few attempts, but when Konami slapped on the Triangle Lancer, this was only going one way.

If I’m honest, this was a weird match. It was worked as a squash (a few vicious kicks aside) until Konami came alive in the final seconds to get the win. It put her over as someone with heart, who didn’t give up, but she also got the crap beaten out of her while Kagetsu looked like an idiot for not taking the three. Perhaps the stories that develop over their tournaments will help me figure this out, but in the here and now, I remain unsure about the booking, although the wresting was pretty good.

Verdict: Three And A Half Stars

Overall Show

That was a damn good start to the 5STAR Grand Prix with one brilliant match backed up by a lot of very good ones. With eight singles matches on each show, not everyone is going to get the time to have epics, but for the most part, I think people dealt with the restraints well. Stardom has a packed roster at the moment, and this show was definitive proof of that. Enjoy.

Top Three 5STAR Grand Prix Matches So Far

  1. Jungle Kyona vs Utami Hayashishita (17/8/19) – Four And A Quarter Stars
  2. Momo Watanabe vs Hazuki (17/8/19) – Three And Three Quarter Stars
  3. Arisa Hoshiki vs Jamie Hayter (17/8/19) – Three And A Half Stars

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