Stardom Throwback: Grow Up Stars (10/4/11) Review

Credit: Stardom

After their jaunt to Osaka, Stardom returned to the familiar ground of Shinkiba for their next show. This would be their sixth outing and it now feels like they’ve have found their feet, established their early roster and should be looking to push things to the next level. Can they do it? Time to find out.

Dash Chisako defeated Eri Susa

We open with a match that intrigues on several levels. Firstly, it’s an example of Stardom bringing in outside talent, something they’ve only done for Haruka matches so far. Secondly, it’s an unedited look at Eri Susa, a treasure we’ve been denied in the past. Thirdly, the decision was made to bring in that outside talent, and a damn good one at that, to wrestle Eri rather than someone higher up the roster.

Now, I’m assuming you all know that Dash is a good wrestler, so I want to focus on Susa. From day one, she’s been placed at the bottom of the Stardom totem poll, even wrestling in that awful school uniform inspired gear. You can see why too, she’s young and a step behind the likes of Arisa and Mayu.

However, this match also shows that being a step behind those two, still ain’t too bad. Eri has a strong performance here, not matching Dash, but not being blown away either. She has good energy, grappled well and stood up to the strike exchanges. It’s hard to say it’s her best performance so far, most of the matches we’ve got have been cut down to the bare bones, but she impressed.

When you combine that performance with Dash, we get an enjoyable opener that gets things off to a good start. Now, fingers crossed, this means we’re going to see more of Susa going forward.

Verdict: Eri Steps Up

Haruka and Nanae Takahashi fought to a time-limit draw

Technically, this is the first time Haruka has faced Nanae. Even more technically, it’s not, as Nanae donned a mask to do battle on the first-ever Stardom show. Perhaps this is a sign that the wee lass has been pushed to the big leagues, as she got the chance to wrestle Takahashi in her prime form.

If you have read any of my previous Stardom Throwbacks, you’ll know I love Haruka’s matches, and this was no different. They’re always structured to perfection, the youngster’s size and speed giving her an advantage as she danced around Nanae, lashing out with kicks. Of course, when Nanae dares to kick her back the fans respond with boos, disgusted at the adult bullying this small child.

What I think makes these matches so infectious is that you can tell they are both having all the fun. Nanae and Haruka would have been training together, and that wee lass seems to have total faith in her big pal. It’s a joy to watch the two of them put together their different skill sets and come out with something as smile-inducing as this is.

Verdict: Lovely

Natsuki Taiyo defeated Mayu Iwatani

Iwatani and Taiyo had some lovely interactions in a previous tag, so I was looking forward to this one.

It was a feeling that was paid off as Natsuki seemed to bring the best out of young Mayu. She looks more confident in the ring with her, dashing about the place as they picked up the pace from the word go. The future Icon of Stardom still lacks a bit in personality, not quite finding the charm and underdog spirit she has now, but there are glimpses of it. While you get the impression that she’s still in her own head, there are also moments where she escapes it, showing off the genius that is to come.

As for Taiyo, she is deliciously evil in this match. At one point, she locks a Crab on Mayu, jumping up to come crashing down on her back before rolling her all the way over and doing it again. It looks brutal as Iwatani’s skinny and bendy frame contorts in ways that it really shouldn’t. In what’s been a recurring theme of these early shows, Natsuki does a great job of both playing the vicious veteran and giving Mayu the space to do her own thing.

It’s also worth pointing out that, as things stand, Mayu hasn’t won a match. I believe she sits next to Susa as owning that particularly unwanted title, and while she’s been presented as being a few rungs up from her fellow rookie, it will be interesting to see when her hard work starts to pay-off.

Verdict: Great!

Yuzuki Aikawa defeated Arisa Hoshiki

The personality that Mayu is struggling to find seems to have come naturally to Arisa and Aikawa. It perhaps helps that they’ve both quickly established the thing they’re good at, they kick, and they kick hard.

You could see those small shreds of character shining through in this match. There was a moment early on where Arisa is holding Yuzuki at leg length, blocking her kicks with an outstretched foot. Eventually, the ref steps in and pulls Aikawa away, causing her to turn around and give him a boot, her frustration bubbling over. That’s the kind of spot that’s clearly come from two wrestlers working together, moving past the confines of their training to invent their own stuff.

Plus, it’s a fucking good match. They kick and kick and kick, showing real fire as every blow lands hard. It’s crazy to think of how inexperienced they both are at this point, as while it’s not a particularly complicated slice of wrestling, it’s all executed brilliantly. We are also beginning to see Aikawa’s booking pull her away from the pack, as she survived an Arisa onslaught to end Hoshiki with a perfectly placed Spinning Back Kick to the head.

Verdict: KICKS!

Mika Nagano defeated Yoko Bito

Hm, what an interesting wee match. Bito and Nagano worked this around Mika’s MMA background, playing it like a striker vs a technician. Bito tried to keep Nagano at leg’s length, lashing out with kicks, while Nagano was attempting to take the fight to the floor.

It’s a style that can stumble in the confines a wrestling ring, particularly with people (like me) who aren’t that bothered by MMA. However, I thought they did a good job of working to it. Sure, I can’t pretend it ever felt like a real fight, but both women stuck to their strengths and played it out logically. It helps that you can see Nagano’s experience shining through, her takedowns all looking flawless.

Where these matches often fall is when the wrestler suddenly out-MMAs the MMA fighter. That’s not what these two did, though. Nagano won this fight because she was a better grappler than Bito, battling through those strikes to grab an arm and drag her to the ground. It was a gem that I wasn’t expecting to find on this show, but I’m delighted to have unearthed it.

Verdict: Different, In A Good Way

Nanae Takahashi defeated Yoshiko

We’ve seen the veterans work singles matches before, but this was still a big moment for Yoshiko as she got the chance to go one on one with Takahashi in the main event. Anyone with any knowledge of recent joshi history will know these two have a close relationship, so I was intrigued to see how they worked together (having been impressed by what we’ve seen in tags).

And while it might have been a big moment for Yoshiko, she didn’t seem at all phased by it. She started the match squatting down in front of Nanae, calling her forward for the fight. What followed was, rather unsurprisingly, a physical battle, as these two beat the shit out of each other. No strike was pulled as they went right at it.

As is becoming the norm, Yoshiko was impressive, but it is worth pointing out that in a nineteen-minute main event, you capture some of her flaws. She’s quite a one-dimensional wrestler, working around the same few ideas again and again. It’s a harsh criticism of someone this young in their career, but when she’s already this good, you have to dig deeper for the negatives.

It didn’t hurt the match too much either because Nanae is brilliant. She’s an incredibly formidable and reliable in-ring presence, someone who is as capable of grappling with a nine-year-old as she is of slapping fire into one of her rookies. Most of my favourite wrestlers perform in a way where it feels like they are both completely in control and also have no idea what they’re going to do next. When Nanae suddenly takes flight, diving to the outside, I see a slice of that in her.

She’s also still a step ahead of Yoshiko. Stardom’s big bad should have got the win, hitting that Second Rope Senton, but she made the mistake of going for a cocky pin, letting Nanae kick out. Shortly after that, the veteran took over, a big Lariat setting her up for a Backdrop Driver Hold and the three. That was a cracking performance from both women.

Verdict: Big Match Performances

Overall Show

I suspect that’s my favourite Stardom show so far. The lack of edits, plus a load of great performances certainly put it up there as we were able to watch this young roster flourish. Most importantly, it feels like the baton is starting to be slipped into their hands as they’re being trusted to carry bigger and bigger spots either alongside or without the veterans. Things are starting to get exciting!

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