Stardom’s final show of the year has taken on all kinds of meaning. In many ways, it is setting up a new era for the company as they move forward under the stewardship of Bushiroad. However, it is a new era tinged by sadness as they said goodbye to Hazuki and had another wrestler announce their retirement (more on that later). Change is coming one way or another.
Tag 3838 (Saya Iida and Saya Kamitani) and Itsuki Hoshino defeated Queen’s Quest (Leo Onozaki and Hina) and Rina
I’m a big fan of Rina looking fed up of being teamed up with these nerds. Outside of that, we’ve seen a few variations of this match recently, and while it was solid, it also wasn’t too different to those. The three rookies are far better than they have any right to be, and the kids hold up their end of the bargain admirably. Solid opener.
Verdict: Two And A Half Stars
Kidani, of Bushiroad fame, gave a speech talking about their plans for Stardom. It was all standard corporate bollocks until Hana turned up and told him off for being in her ring without her permission and not following her on Twitter. Kidani tried to extend a hand of friendship to her, but she slapped him, which is the second time that’s happened. Is this Kidani’s kink?
Oedo Tai (Jamie Hayter, Natsu Sumire and Session Moth Martina) defeated Tokyo Cyber Squad (Jungle Kyona, Death Yama-san and Ruaka)
A match that spent most of its running time playing for laughs. We got Martina running scared of Ruaka, Jungle blocking an Oedo Tai beer shower with an umbrella and the usual Natsu antics. It was fun enough, but I feel like I’ve seen a lot of this recently. As previously mentioned, I’d like to see Martina get serious in Stardom.
Verdict: Two And A Half Stars
Queen’s Quest (Momo Watanabe, Utami Hayashishita and AZM) defeated STARS (Tam Nakano, Starlight Kid and Saki Kashima) to retain the Artist of Stardom Titles
Has Stardom been giving Starlight Kid a lot of chances to impress recently or am I imagining things? She starred in her and Riho’s recent tag title shot and once again was placed front and centre of this match. AZM and her always get their time to shine, but they were given a big chunk of this one, which when you consider who else was involved, is quite the honour. Of course, they were brilliant with it because they always are.
Outside of that, this was your usual Artist Title sprint and was a barrel-load of fun. You had six very talented wrestlers in there, and they were allowed to careen into the action, taking corners at a ridiculous speed in order to keep the excitement levels up.
In the end, though, it rather felt like Momo and Utami stepped in to get the job done, putting Saki down for QQ to retain their titles. STARS had been on a wee streak against the champs coming into this match, so it perhaps wasn’t the most shocking of results, but I had a good time getting there all the same.
Verdict: Three And A Quarter Stars
Natsuko Tora defeated Hazuki
Wow, there is a lot to unpack here. Let’s start with the match then do everything else separately.
The in-ring was very much a showcase for Hazuki. She dominated a lot of the action, running through all her signature spots as she got to strut her stuff one last time. In fact, it was only when the rest of Oedo Tai interfered, giving their departing friend a farewell present, that Natsuko was able to take control. I’ve regularly called Hazuki Stardom’s most selfless wrestler, so on her final day, it feels right that she gets to be the centre of attention.
And it would take a lot to send her away with a defeat as Hazuki survived an onslaught of moves before finally dropping after a brace of Spears and a Guillotine Leg Drop. The two friends would then shake hands and hug, Tora bursting into tears as she said goodbye. I don’t think this was a great match, but it was what it needed to be.
Verdict: Three And A Half Stars
We then got the Hazuki retirement ceremony which annoyingly was the moment Stardom decided to adhere to copyright law as they had to dub over it. The entire roster came out to say goodbye to her, presenting her with flowers and gifts. Well, mainly, Jungle gave her a slap before receiving one in return which felt about right. Even with the dubbed audio, it got pretty emotional as a host of old faces (and Kagetsu’s Mum) turned up to pay tribute.
All of which was lovely, but it was Hazuki’s retirement speech that got the internet talking because, well, she wasn’t exactly complimentary about Stardom. After paying tribute to Natsuko, she got emotional before saying, and I quote, ‘I didn’t really want to retire like this. I hope that no one in the future resigns like in my position… I hate Stardom, but I love everyone that supported Oedo Tai and Hazuki.’
Now, there are two ways to read this. One, it’s Hazuki going out guns blazing, making it clear she’s unhappy about something behind the scenes. That’s been suggested to be the case by Dave Meltzer who published a story that he clearly got from someone inside the company which was aiming to turn Hazuki and Kagetsu into the bad guys. Two, she’s going out as a heel, playing her character to the end and placing her love into Oedo Tai rather than Stardom.
Which one is it? Well, I suspect it’s somewhere in-between. Something has gone down between Hazuki and Stardom, but the company also translated her speech verbatim and put it on their streaming service, so it’s not like they’re censoring her. The real question is whether this is actually the end or if we’re going to see her pop-up in Ice Ribbon in a few months. That I can’t comment on, but I hope whatever happens next it’s what Hazuki wants it to be.
Hana Kimura and Giulia fought to a time limit draw
Christ, after that I need a lie-down, but we’ve got three pretty big matches to go. We’re starting with an intense one too, as it’s become clear that Hana and Giulia do not like each other. They’ve been bashing heads ever since Giulia stepped into the company and this was violent from the get-go.
So violent in fact that it became the kind of match we don’t get a lot of in Stardom, a full-blown fight as these two beat the shit out of each other. There were chairs, stiff strikes and heads being introduced to Korakuen signs galore. There was no pretty wrestling here, just two people trying to cause pain. At one point, they started headbutting each other, doing everything in their power to knock the other out.
Throw in a hot crowd, and this was a shitload of fun. I would have perhaps made one change, though. Instead of going to a time limit draw, it would have been cool if they’d done a double knockout to sell the war they’d had. The match definitely lost some steam towards the end, as both women resorted to going for their finishers. If it had ended on the double headbutt spot, both women collapsing to the ground unable to continue, it would have been a more memorable conclusion.
Still, I thought this was a damn fine match and another impressive showing from Giulia. After the bell, they had to be dragged away from each other to stop them fighting, but they shared a begrudging fist bump after, common ground found through violence.
Verdict: Three And Three Quarter Stars
Arisa Hoshiki defeated Konami to retain the Wonder of Stardom Title
There is no doubt about it, Konami should have won this match. She dominated long stretches of it, working over Arisa’s arm and neck with brutal submission holds. In many ways, she was the coolest person in the ring, the perfect challenger as she executed her game plan to perfection.
Yet, she couldn’t get the job done. Even when she got the Triangle Lancer on, wrenching back, Arisa got her foot on the rope just as the final twist came, saving herself at the last second. Konami was doing everything right, but when it came down to that final move where she should have burst the net or ran home (feel free to insert another sporting cliche here), she couldn’t get there.
And, as has been established throughout her title reign, Arisa can beat you at any time. One kick or one knee is all it takes to turn the tide, and when she got the distance and the opportunity, she took it. Where Konami faltered, Arisa struck, and that was ultimately the difference between the two.
Verdict: Four Stars
Post-match, Konami proved that she is sticking with the weird shtick (I’m cool with it) by licking Arisa’s hand. Hoshiki then called out the final person who beat her in the 5STAR, Utami (calling her a crappy little brat in the process). That match has been set for the next Korkauen.
Mayu Iwatani defeated Kagetsu to retain the World of Stardom Title
Can we talk about botches? There was a moment in this match where a beaten and bruised Mayu Iwatani tried to start her comeback by leaping up the turnbuckle. Unfortunately, she slipped, crashing back to the ground. Was it deliberate? No, probably not. Did it make this match worse? Definitely not. I’d argue it made it better. What we had there wasn’t a botch where someone was hurt, but a mistake. The kind of mistake an athlete might make in the middle of a game where they’d been beaten up for ten minutes beforehand. It doesn’t make Mayu a bad wrestler (as if anyone would be dumb enough to suggest that), but a human being. And what is Mayu’s best trait if not the fact that she is as human as it gets?
It would also be ludicrous to suggest that a slip should be held against what was a stunning performance. I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep saying it, but Mayu Iwatani is the best underdog wrestler on the planet. She was sublime here, being beaten down and fighting back while Korakuen roared her on. Her selling was incredible, drawing constant sympathy while that vicious streak she has, the one that will kick a downed opponent or which led her not to give up when Kagetsu kicked out of the Dragon Suplex but to go straight to a Tombstone, means she’s never dull.
All great heroes need a great villain, though, and Kagetsu was exactly that. She is everything Mayu is, in reverse. The cocky badass, throwing everything at the champ in her attempts to take that belt. At one point, she dragged Iwatani into the Korakuen bleachers before climbing part of the arena to leap off with a stomp. It wasn’t quite Kyoko Kimura’s leap from the balcony, but it was still pretty damn impressive. Of course, it would end-up being a bittersweet performance, but let’s not dwell on that now. These two went out and on the final show of the year proved why they were the cornerstone of Stardom in recent years. It’s possible I wrote my Match of the Year list a few days too soon.
Verdict: Four And Three Quarter Stars
In a Mayu moment I will count as a botch, she broke her trophy before cutting her post-match promo. Thankfully, they were able to fix it. She then told Kagetsu off for her red mist before thanking her for the blue one (both came out during the match) and called her the best and worst rival. She offered her old foe a hand before they shared a hug, a moment which has only got more emotional since and which Momo turned up to ruin by making her challenge. Still, that will be fantastic.
Anyway, I’ve danced around it enough, so let’s get onto Kagetsu’s retirement which was announced after this show. Obviously, following Hazuki, this was met with instant suspicion. A suspicion backed-up by the already mentioned Meltzer chatter. However, it’s worth remembering that Kagetsu is beat the fuck-up. She puts on a neck brace after most matches and has nearly retired before. I think it’s just as likely that she’s listening to her body. Will we ever find out? Maybe, but there’s also a chance we’ll never know. Whatever the reason, I’m going to miss her because Kagetsu is brilliant.
Stardom finished up a brilliant year of wrestling with yet another fantastic Korakuen. I believe that I have reviewed every show this company has put on this year and it has been the best time. They’re my favourite wrestling promotion on the planet, and I can’t wait to see what happens in 2020 (spoiler, I’ve already seen been given the first taste of it, but more on that in the next few days).
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If Hazuki does turn up somewhere else, I suspect Seadlinnng is a lot more likely than Ice Ribbon. Their style is closer to Hazuki’s than Ice’s is, plus she’s still on good terms with Sead owner and former Stardom roster member Nanae Takahashi. She’s also still friends with Sead star and also former roster member Yoshiko(even posting a picture with her a few days before this show). So if her retirement is only temporary, I suspect we’ll see her in Seadlinnng. If so, that opens up Hazuki vs Arisa Nakajima which would be amazing so I’m all for it.
Ah, I was unaware of that connection. Certainly sounds like it would make sense.