Stardom Cinderella Tournament (24/3/20)

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Hey Covid-19, fuck you. Stardom had a pretty dress on the line, and they were gonna run the Cinderella Tournament whether you liked it or not. Although judging by the fact Korakuen was near-empty, the Japanese public wasn’t quite ready to return, and with what’s happened since, it’s probably the last time we’ll see this for a while. Oh well, that’s all the more reason to enjoy it now.

All the wrestlers were introduced before the show began and Hana wandered out looking rather unfazed, eating a banana and knowing exactly what she’s doing. She was kind enough to offer her first-round opponent, Mayu, a bite and even gave her the skin afterwards, so at least she was sharing.

Natsu Sumire defeated Itsuki Hoshino, Rina and Hina in a Four Way Match

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Natsu is a Liger fan. Credit: Stardom

Despite there being a million matches on this show, we still got a wee warm-up involving Natsu playing with the rookies. She seemed to have other things on her mind, though, as she ended up the victim of a three on one attack after choosing to go and have a chat with Liger who was on commentary.

What followed was all the fun that you’d expect from Natsu messing with the kids. There were alliances, betrayals, whips and Bronco Busters before Sumire picked up the win. It’s Natsu being Natsu and if you don’t like that we probably can’t be friends.

Verdict: Natsu!

Momo Watanabe defeated Starlight Kid in the First Round

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Sprint time. Credit: Stardom

It’s worth noting for anyone checking this out for the first time that because of the format, these matches are always quite short. Also, you can be eliminated by going over the top rope, which adds an extra opportunity for shocks.

Anyway, Kid had a brilliant showing here. That’s not a surprise, she usually does, but even by her high standards, she was great, attempting to blitz Momo and catch her off-guard. There are few wrestlers as entertaining as Starlight Kid at full flight, and it was near impossible not to root for her as she battled to send Watanabe to the floor.

There was also a couple of fantastic two counts, Starlight reversing both a Top Rope Somato and a B-Driver into a flash pin. However, Momo would eventually win that battle, effortlessly turning a Ki-Chan Bomb into a B-Driver to set-up the finish.

I can’t imagine not loving this. Kid and Momo threw everything into the few minutes they had and put together a brilliant sprint. We’re off to a good start!

Verdict: Sprint!

Giulia defeated Jungle Kyona in the First Round

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Poor Jungle. Credit: Stardom

Jungle challenged Giulia at No People Gate, intent on putting this Italian newbie in her place (she also showed off a bit of foreign flare herself, breaking into French during the press conference). Then, in the opening minutes of this match, she seemed to have the upper hand, attacking Giulia’s strapped-up neck.

However, as they went on, that old Jungle curse floated to the surface. Kyona was brilliant, but she wasn’t winning. Slowly, the action turned, Giulia hitting a Missile Dropkick and starting to insert her influence into proceedings. Jungle was as defiant as ever, throwing everything into the match, but she’d end up passing out in the Stealth Viper, Giulia sealing her place in the next round.

As much as I predicted this happening, I was still sad. Jungle is my favourite, and I wanted her to win, but we all know that’s not what Stardom does. She’s there to make others look great and she’s damn good at it.

Verdict: Poor Jungle

Konami defeated AZM in the First Round

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Eat boot. Credit: Stardom

AZM and Konami showed exactly why the over the top rope stipulation is a stroke of genius. AZM was always going to be the underdog in this match, but she attacked Konami during her entrance, attempting to get one over her more established opponent. That would lead to at least one moment on the apron which had you on edge, unsure what way they were going to tumble.

In the end, though, Konami survived AZM’s onslaught and unleashed with those kicks, drawing audible reactions from Liger on commentary. Once she took control, she was ruthless, cutting her younger opponent down and making quick work of her with the Triangle Lancer.

That was another fun sprint that gave AZM her moment before making Konami look like a badass.

Verdict: Badass Konami

Syuri defeated Jamie Hayter in the First Round

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Taking arms. Credit: Stardom

With Konami having claimed the tournament’s first arm, Syuri was out here to get one of her own. Hayter had a clear power advantage in this match, but Syuri was clearly working off the basis that when you’re on your back, it doesn’t matter how strong you are, you’re going to tap.

It’s a good plan, but there is always the question of what you’re going to do when your opponent gets free. That was a question Hayter would ask more than once, bullying her way off the mat and throwing Syuri around. Unfortunately for the gaijin, it ain’t all Armbars and Syuri can kick too. A vicious blow to the head put her back on the ground, and when Syuri started twisting, there was nowhere to go.

These matches are flying by, and this was the latest to deliver. Once again, they did a great job of telling a nice compact story with the submission expert getting the win. I’d put it number two so far, after Momo vs Kid, but it’s a tight battle.

Verdict: Armbars For Days

Tam Nakano defeated Saki Kashima in the First Round

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Tam time! Credit: Stardom

There was some added spice to this match as Tam had given Taichi Saki’s Line, pissing off her former stable-mate (she smartly blocked the Singing Bawbag). In return, Saki promised that if she won this match, she’d reveal Tam’s ID, while Tam asked that if she won, Kashima unblock Taichi.

Perhaps it was that which led to there being a bit of extra spice to the action. These two were leaning into their strikes, Tam unleashing a fierce slap only for Saki to come back with one of her own. The threat of Taichi/every perv on the internet was hanging over them.

It led to some absolutely brilliant near falls too. Saki has long been established as someone who can pin anyone with Revival, which makes every tournament match a potential upset. Each two-count felt like it could be the three, and they battled between holds as the small crowd (and commentary) got wrapped up in the excitement.

In the end, it was Tam who came out on top, one of those brilliant kicks setting up a Tiger Suplex and the win. Let’s just hope that Saki had her fingers crossed and doesn’t actually have to talk to Taichi now.

Verdict: Tam Time!

Natsuko Tora defeated Saya Kamitani in the First Round

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Defiance. Credit: Stardom

Tora had a chance to put this tall rookie in her place, and she seemed quite intent on taking it. The early part of the action was her bullying Big Saya, throwing her around the ring and being generally unpleasant.

However, there is a reason this kid is a super rookie, and she got her moments. She athletically flipped her way back into the action before locking on a Single Leg Boston Crab and desperately trying to tap Oedo Tai’s new leader out. It felt like Saya’s one chance, and when Tora made her way to the ropes, that chance died.

For Natsuko was just the bigger and badder wrestler. She was able to beat Saya down and claim the win with a Frog Splash. Maybe one day Kamitani will be one her level, but it wasn’t on this one.

Verdict: Back In Your Box, Rookie

Utami Hayashishita and Maika fought to a time limit draw, eliminating them both.

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No splitting them. Credit: Stardom

These two are both from judo backgrounds which led to a very different match to most of this show. They worked a slower, more deliberate pace with a focus on submissions and throws. With their past experience, there was a real feeling that they were happy to add a bit of pep as they tossed each other at the floor.

It also seemed to make the two of them inseparable, a feeling aided by their similar gear. Utami and Maika felt like mirror images of each other, both using the same tricks to try and get the win. The only thing to separate them was Utami’s extra experience, which seemed to push her into control as the match approached the end.

Even that didn’t lead to her getting the win, though. As the time limit approached she looked like she was trying to send Maika to the floor, but she couldn’t get it done, and as the bell rang they were both on their knees, slugging it out. It was a fruitless battle as the clock ticked out and they were both eliminated. At least the one match they did have was great, and one suspects we’re going to see it again.

Verdict: Judo!

Hana Kimura and Mayu Iwatani both went over the top rope, eliminating them both.

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Hana gets height. Credit: Stardom

I’ve said it a few times now, but this was another match that made great use of over the top rope eliminations. Few people hang off something like Mayu does, as she dangled above the floor, inches from being eliminated. Their battle on the apron felt like it could go either way and also had the added danger that one of them might genuinely fall.

It was part of a match where these two really went for it. There was no ramping up of the action or building to big spots, but two people who were going for the win right from the bell. At one point, there was an insane Stalling German from Mayu as she seemed to hold Hana in the air forever, delaying before bringing her crashing over.

Even that paled in comparison to the finish, though. Hana seemed to be trying to lock in Hydrangea on the top rope, which was a mad move by itself, but it ended with them both tumbling to the floor together, a bump that only Mayu could have come up. With no VAR to check who hit the ground first, they were both sent packing, taking out two potential favourites with one stone.

That wasn’t the best match of the first round, but it didn’t stop it being very exciting. Hana and Mayu packed their minutes and made sure that at the very least, you’re not going to forget it.

Verdict: Crazy Bumps

Giulia defeated Momo Watanabe in the Second Round

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Being choked with your own arm can’t be fun. Credit: Stardom

Momo’s recent struggles continued as she became the latest victim to fall to Giulia.

She started the match so well too, taking control and chopping away at the newbie with those kicks. Yet, it took just one mistake for the whole thing to change, Giulia slipping under a Somato and locking on an STF to wear Watanabe down.

Momo would escape from that, using Giulia attempt to transition into Stealth Viper to slip out. However, it took its toll, and when they battled on the apron, she made her second mistake. Having clocked Giulia with a High Kick, she should have just knocked her off, but instead went for a B-Driver. That gave Giulia the chance to recover and not long after hit a Glorious Driver to send Momo’s limp body down to the floor.

This felt like two wrestlers heading in separate directions. As Momo struggles, Giulia rises, and as much as it annoys Twitter, it’s a story that I’m enjoying. It’s not a burial of Momo, and more a case that she can’t quite get it done at the moment, as she continues to make critical mistakes at the wrong times. Her time will come, but right now, Giulia is heading to the top.

Verdict: Giulia Marches On!

Syuri defeated Konami in the Second Round

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All the kicks. Credit: Stardom

Do you like kicks? How about some great grappling? Well then, you probably already know that you’re going to like Konami vs Syuri because let’s face it, this is a match made in heaven.

Plus, it was all packaged up in the delightful present that is a wrestling sprint. Seriously, if you were to pluck most of my favourite things from my head and put them in the ring they’d be in this match, as the two of them kicked the shit out of each other, each blow sounding like a whip.

In the end, Syuri got the better of the grappling, avoiding the Triangle Lancer and tapping Konami out. If Stardom wants to be nice, they’ll give us this again many many times.

Verdict: Kicks!

Natsuko Tora defeated Tam Nakano in the Second Round

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Standing up to the bully. Credit: Stardom

Thanks to the two double eliminations, this was essentially a semi-final, with the winner going straight to the main event.

There was a moment in this where Tam hit a German on the apron, causing Natsuko to fall to the floor. It was a spot which confused the fuck out of me because, by this point, the show had been spoilt for me and I knew that wasn’t how it went. However, Tora had gone onto the apron by going through the middle rope, meaning that while Tam looked around confused, wondering where the bell was, Natsuko snuck back into the ring and knocked her to the ground for the win.

In many ways, that was the perfect way for her to win this match. Tora’s new role in Stardom is that of the big bully, but Tam stood up to her. She went out and threw elbows, matching her physicality. It was an attack that proved that Natsuko, like most bullies, doesn’t like it when people stand their ground. However, with that finish, she proved she’s not only a bully, but that she’s smart too. There aren’t many things more terrifying than an intelligent bully.

Verdict: Tora Adds Layers

Giulia defeated Syuri in the Semi-Final

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Friendships forgotten. Credit: Stardom

If there was any suspicion that these two might take it easy on each other, Syuri put it to bed quickly with a cheap shot out of the handshake. She was out there to beat her unit leader, and she didn’t care how she did it.

What followed was just a really solid match. It’s a bit of a boring description, but it is what it is. The two were set-up as being even, both getting their moments in control and exchanging strikes. That was particularly interesting in the case of Syuri who, despite not winning, was definitely not presented as being below Giulia when it comes to in-ring ability.

It would once again end on the apron, the two battling back and forth. Syuri managed to escape the Glorious Driver, avoiding Momo’s fate, but a big boot that followed not long after sent her crashing to the floor and Giulia to the final.

Verdict: Good Wrestling

Giulia defeated Natsuko Tora to win the Cinderella Tournament

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Matching power with power. Credit: Stardom

For the first time in her Stardom career, Giulia found herself playing the underdog babyface. It was an interesting dynamic and one that Tora leaned into heavily, sneaking out to attack Giulia from behind to kick off her rampage. She’d then take her on a tour of Korakuen before slamming her on the chain she’s started bringing to the ring.

It forced Giulia to show some fire, fighting back from underneath and matching Natsuko’s physical presence. Thankfully, she was up to the task, exchanging strikes and working well from underneath. The Stardom crowd seems to have struggled to connect with her in the past, but even in a rather barren Korakuen, she was starting to get a response as she survived Natsuko’s onslaught.

Not everything they did worked, there was a moment where they both threatened to use the chain before tossing it to the side, apparently agreeing to fight fair. It was a spot that fell a bit flat, coming a bit too early in the match and was later undercut by Natsuko using it anyway. However, when Giulia fired up for her final flurry, that was long forgotten, a slightly flat moment in an otherwise great performance.

It all added up to something that felt like a massive step forward for Giulia. Not only did she win the tournament, but for the first time, everything came together from in-ring performance to crowd reaction. Stardom is putting a lot of eggs in her basket, and while I’ve been on board with it from the beginning, this was the first sign other people might be too.

Verdict: Big Fan.

Giulia got the chance to go backstage and change into her new dress before returning looking rather stunning. I shan’t review the dress (not really my expertise), but it did seem to make getting into the ring quite hard. She also managed to break the tiara, which feels fitting in a company where Mayu Iwatani is the Ace.

Perhaps more importantly, she used her wish to challenge Arisa. I’m taking that as doubly good news because one, it will be a good match and two, it suggests Stardom expect her to be back from injury sooner rather than later. Sadly, the subtitled version wasn’t up yet, so I’ve no idea what she said outside of that, but it all seemed to get a good reaction from the crowd.

Overall Show

Right, Western joshi Twitter was rather annoyed by this show and Giulia winning. A big part of that is because she’s not Jungle or Konami while you also have the appropriated sense of Japanese loyalty that so many fans have picked up meaning they’ll never forgive her for leaving Ice Ribbon the way she did. However, none of that bothers me. Of course, I’d like Jungle or Konami to win, but if you’ve been paying attention to Stardom’s booking, that was never going to happen. Giulia has been heading towards this victory since she debuted and a swerve in another direction would have been weird. Plus, it was a damn fine show, where every match gave me at least something to enjoy. All the complaints just feel a bit silly.

Watch Stardom: http://www.stardom-world.com/

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