Look, this review probably should be of ROH’s Crowning a Champion. However, do you know what Stardom has that ROH doesn’t? A show not headlined by a four-way hour-long Iron Man match, that’s what. So, I’ve decided to dive back into the archive on Stardom World and watch their first-ever outing. I’m not sure if this will become a recurring series, but I had a lot of fun, so don’t be surprised if it does. Enjoy!
Nanae Takahashi and Iris defeated Natsuki Taiyo and Yuzuki Aikawa
The first-ever Stardom match was entirely comprised of people who no longer work with them. Nanae Takahashi and Taiyo are still active in SEAdLINNNG (well, Taiyo is ‘retired’ and working as a ref, but it’s a unique style of refereeing), Yuzuki retired in 2013 after a strong run with Stardom and, according to Cagematch, Iris’s entire career was this tour and one match in Mexico. However, to say Cagematch’s knowledge of Mexican indies is limited is giving it too much credit, so there is every chance she’s still working. Sadly, her name doesn’t make Googling her easy.
Assuming Iris did have a career in Mexico (and she certainly didn’t look like a rookie), Yuzuki was the baby, with only one previous bout (against Takahashi) under her belt. Despite that, she looked remarkably assured. Yea, she leaned heavily on her kicks and some of her movement around the ring felt scrappy, but neither of those felt like a negative. She was wrestling like an inexperienced fighter who knew she had one thing in her arsenal that she could use to great effect.
Outside of the rookie, Nanae and Taiyo let the aggression flow, unleashing with forearms. They’d already been wrestling each other for years by this point, so every time they entered the ring, it felt like two people sliding back into roles they’d perfected. It also sets the Stardom framework early as no-one was holding back. Even when Taiyo and Iris got to pull out a bit of High Speed wrestling, there was a crispness to it that looked painful.
And that lack of holding back might be the match’s weakness too. These four went on for just that little bit too long, pushing the opener far past what it needed to be. They ended up slipping over twenty minutes, which was the longest match on the show. It never gets bad, but the final part felt excessive, particularly when Taiyo and Takahashi were breezing through potential finishes. I enjoyed the obvious attempt to give Aikawa her moment, but one flurry of kicks would have been enough of a final stand rather than the multitude we got.
Still, of the two companies I’ve watched the first-ever match of, Stardom isn’t so much beating ROH as flattening them. To be fair, that barrier was low (said ROH match was mainly horrific homophobia), but that shouldn’t take away from what was a delightful outing which found its faults in trying to give too much rather than being bad.
Verdict: Great Action, But Could Have Been Shorter
Mika Nagano defeated Eri Susa
Now, this is more what I expect from a Stardom opener. Both these wrestlers were incredibly inexperienced at this time with Cagematch having Mika down as having had a handful of matches in 2009 and Eri as having a previous Exhibition with Yoko Bito. For Mika, that was because her focus was MMA and while she’d pop up occasionally over the years, that never seemed to change. Susa would go on to have a decent career, wrestling for Stardom for a few more years before doing some time bouncing around smaller promotions and retiring in 2015.
In the ring, these two couldn’t have looked more different. Susa’s gear was designed to look like a schoolgirl’s outfit (including a tie) while Mika was in standard MMA gear. That was then reflected in their performance too, as Eri got to show heart, attempting to grapple and rolling into an Ankle Lock before unleashing with Dropkicks, but ultimately was outclassed. Several times she tried to get into a Crab and Mika blocked it effortlessly, the fans laughing (rather cruelly) as she threw wild strikes. In the end, Nagano was able to click into gear, locking on an Armbar for the submission
My problems with this match had nothing to do with the wrestling. I quite enjoyed the tale of the inexperienced rookie throwing herself at a more seasoned fighter, catching her off-guard before ultimately being tapped out. However, the combination of Eri’s outfit and the fan’s laughter sat rather uncomfortably with me. She was seventeen at the time, and it felt like she’d been sent out there to deliberately be treated like someone who shouldn’t be taken seriously. Maybe I’m projecting my own feelings onto it, but that’s not something I like to watch.
Verdict: Wrestling Good, Presentation Bad
Haruka fought Passion Nakki to a time-limit draw
You might not know Haruka’s name, but you’ve probably seen her before. She’s most famous as the kid who wrestled Kenny Omega, and this was her debut going up against Passion Nakki (Natsuki Taiyo in a mask). As far as I know, she hasn’t wrestled since 2011, but considering she is a literal child at this point, I guess there is still a chance she could return.
And after my misgivings with the previous match, this one put a smile on my face. Haruka is so good, showing that childlike lack of fear as she rains punches down on Nakki. Little touches like her escaping a Crab because she’s too short to be bent that way or kicking her way out of a pin because she can reach her opponent with her legs are great.
As for Nakki, she’s fantastic in both protecting the kid and playing into her heel role. Haruna doesn’t take a single bump in this match, but Nakki spins her around, looking like the ultimate heel as she effortlessly plucks off her feet. She’s never in danger, but it’s easy to forget that as her little body is flying through the air, her hair going everywhere.
This kind of stuff is never going to be for everyone, but there is no doubt that this was as safe as it could be. Christ, the lass would probably be in more danger playing in the park with her mates and facing the horror of falling over. It made me smile and the fact she survives to the time limit draw is just the cherry on the cake.
Arisa Hoshiki defeated Mayu Iwatani
Hey, I recognise these two! Both Arisa and Mayu were making their debuts having trained under Fuka, and it is an enthralling watch. Arisa is the one out there who looks confident and comfortable, bouncing around with a grin on her face. In contrast, you can see Mayu’s nerves shining through, her expression battling between fear and determination.
When the bell rings, though, we do get a glimpse of the Mayu we know and love today. Something seems to click, and while she’s nowhere near the wrestler she is in 2020, there is something there. The way she dances up the turnbuckle for an Arm Drag or how she pulls herself up deep into the match, already showing some of that underdog mentality.
It might actually be Arisa who is less recognisable. Mayu has changed a lot since this, but she still wrestles a style that is similar to this one. In contrast, this is what Arisa looks like when she wrestles like Mayu. Deep into the match those kicks start to come to the fore, but she has a more generic moveset at this point. While neither of these wrestlers had yet found their personality, that is particularly true of Hoshiki.
Towards the end, things begin to get a bit sloppy, as tiredness seems to take over them both (not necessarily a bad thing). However, you can see the fire they have as they exchange slaps, pushing themselves to bring this to the next level. It also ends with the treat of an early Arisa Brazilian Kick, which drew gasps from the crowd even then.
It’s impossible to speak on this match without the knowledge of what we know now, but I reckon if I’d watched it in 2011, I would have never guessed what Mayu would become. There are hints, but Arisa is the one who looks like the future star, those kicks giving her an edge over the still slightly bland Iwatani. Either way, this is a fascinating watch as someone who loves both these women as they are in 2020. If you haven’t seen it, make sure and do so.
Yoko Bito defeated Yoshiko
Like most of the women on this card, Bito and Yoshiko were early in their careers with Bito having had one previous exhibition and Yoshiko making her debut. These two would play a pivotal role in Stardom’s history, both good and bad as Bito became incredibly popular and, well, I’m going to assume you know what happened with Yoshiko.
It’s also easy to read into this match as being a battle between the two competing sides of Stardom. Yoshiko is the wrestlers’ wrestler, someone who looked ready to follow in the steps of the likes of Aja Kong. Bito is the star, someone with the looks and natural charisma to be splashed across posters. Again, this is hindsight having its say, but I think Bito getting the win tells you a lot.
And, I should be clear that I don’t mean any of that to disrespect Bito’s wrestling ability. Like everyone on this show, she looks remarkably assured for her experience level. Plus, the action is perfectly laid out to present her as the underdog babyface. At one point, Yoshiko grabs her round the throat, pushing her down to the mat with pure power. The dynamic they establish makes all the sense in the world.
However, it also feels like a dynamic that should end with Yoshiko getting the win. Her work is undoubtedly the stronger of the two here, her strikes crisper (Bito’s look weak at times) and that heel character working just that smidge better. Perhaps Stardom didn’t want their first show to end on a down note, but this feels perfectly set-up for a big heel victory, giving Bito a mountain to climb right from the start.
That’s not what happens, though. Instead, Bito survives the Yoshiko beatdown, kicking out of a huge second rope Senton, and coming back with a kick to the head for the win. Truthfully, the final stretch wasn’t great (there was a moment where Bito just ran into Yoshiko, seemingly having forgotten what to do), but it doesn’t take away from what was a decent match. They told a nice story, and while it’s easy to moan that it’s not the story you want, it still worked.
Verdict: Decent Main Event
When you consider that only two of the wrestlers on this show had anything approaching experience (perhaps three, who knows with Iris) this was a hell of a showing. From a 2020 perspective, the main interest is seeing the raw, unformed talent of people like Mayu and Arisa, but even without that, I reckon you’ll enjoy it. It’s an easy watch, which breezes by and, I can’t emphasise this enough, did not have an hour-long main event. Thank fuck for that.
Watch Stardom: http://www.stardom-world.com/