Stardom’s first trip to Korakuen Hall coincided with Nanae Takahashi’s 15th anniversary, leading to a packed building and a chance for the company to make a statement. They sought to do so by putting together their biggest card yet and one which has spawned at least one iconic match (although it’s probably not the one anyone would have expected). On top of that, they created two titles and picked up another, which has to go down as being a pretty good day in the office.
Quick note, you might notice that this show isn’t on Stardom World. On the whole, I’ll be sticking to things they have uploaded, but this felt like such a biggie that I had to search it out. Fingers crossed Rossy will forgive me.
AMA (Arisa Hoshiki and Mayu Iwatani) defeated Saki Kashima and Eri Susa
The lower end of the Stardom class of 2011 got to kick us off, as this is our first time seeing Arisa and Mayu as a team. I’m not sure if they’d picked up the AMA name yet, but that would become their moniker, and they’d remain allies until Arisa’s retirement earlier this year.
Having lost to Eri in the battle of the rookies who didn’t have a win yet (I originally wrote battle of the losers, but that seemed harsh), Mayu came into this one fired up. She was sporting new gear, denim shorts to match-up with Arisa, and while she seemed to spend a lot of time pulling them up, it didn’t stop her throwing a few stiff slaps.
Eri and Saki would have their moments (there was a great two-count of a Kashima roll-up), but this was a dominant performance from AMA. They felt like an established team taking on two paired-up rookies, caught off-guard at times, but eventually able to pick up a convincing victory when Arisa took Eri’s head off before Mayu hit a Crossbody for the three. The look of delight on her face said it all; she’d finally got herself on the board.
There were sloppy moments in this, but both teams showed a lot of potential (it was interesting to note Saki was directing traffic despite being the less-experienced wrestler on her team). It did everything it needed to do to satisfy my requirements for a fun opener.
Verdict: Mayu Wins!
Haruka and Kenny Omega fought to a time-limit draw
I don’t need to review this, do I? It’s been talked about to death, pulled apart by the likes of Jim Cuntette and written about in a million places.
What I will say is that it’s not even close to being Haruka’s best match. It benefits from being in a full room who are gasping at every move, but Kenny turns it into a pantomime. Everything he does it big and over the top and while this is the version of Omega I prefer (he’s at his best in DDT), it’s all a bit much. It tells people this match is silly, while the best Haruka performances generate their silliness in much more natural ways.
Still, I can’t say I don’t enjoy it. It’s fun, and Haruka is, as always, fantastic. Sadly, it is also the last time we will see her as we’re hitting a period of time where the Stardom archive is incomplete (although if anyone can point me in the direction of some of those shows, please do) and she only had three matches left. As runs go, Haruka’s is, in my humble opinion, near perfect, and I’m gonna miss watching her do her thing.
Verdict: I’ll Miss You, Haruka
Yoko Bito defeated Mika Nagano in the World of Stardom Title Tournament semi-final
The goodbyes keep coming. This will be the last time we see Mika Nagano until 2013 when she popped up for one match and then vanished for good. She hasn’t been on many of these early Stardom shows, but she’s been consistently good when she did turn up, so I’m sad to see her go.
You can’t fault the way Stardom has used her, though. Coming into this, she was 4-0 having out-grappled and out-fought everyone she’d faced so far, including Bito. And for long periods, it looked like she might do the same again. Bito was fine when they were on their feet, trading kicks, but Nagano consistently took her to the floor, showing off that superior wrestling ability.
The advantage at being real good at kicks, though, is that you only need one of them to change the game. That’s what Bito got, catching Nagano in the head before following up with number two and coming away with a win that had looked unlikely.
I liked this match a lot, but that comes with the caveat that Yoko was struggling at points. Nagano was hanging off her, trying to drag her to the floor, and it drained Bito, leaving some of those kicks flying wildly off the mark and creating a couple of moments where she seemed to lose her way. However, it kind of added to the story they were telling. Nagano was out-classing her, so she got sloppy. Unfortunately for Mika, a sloppy kick can still knock you out.
Verdict: A Bit Sloppy, But Still Great
Nanae Takahashi defeated Mercedes Martinez in the World of Stardom Title Tournament semi-final
As far as I can see, Mercedes Martinez only wrestled one match in Japan in 2011. That made this a big deal for Stardom. They were relying on a relatively well-known American indie wrestler to try and add some legitimacy to their title tournament, flying her in specially for the occasion.
We’ve got used to seeing Nanae work against the rookies (and be great), but this served as a chance for her to flex her big match muscles. After an initial feeling-out period, these two decided they had no time for pissing around and went at it. They beat the snot of each other, every strike coming in snug and Mercedes Powerbombing Nanae on the floor before introducing her to a chair.
That set up a final act with Nanae as the defiant underdog, Martinez hitting move after move in an attempt to put her away. You don’t put Takahashi down easily, though, and she somehow survived, a desperate foot on the ropes after a Fisherman Buster keeping her in the match. At that moment, Martinez made a mistake, giving Nanae time to get up, time that she wasn’t about to waste.
This is a great match. I’m no expert on American indie wrestling, especially around this time, but Martinez looked brilliant, so it’s weird to think how long it would take for her to get attention from bigger places. It made Nanae look like a badass while also making sure she took enough of a beating to put the result of her match against Bito in doubt. Perfect booking.
Verdict: Good Stuff
Yuzuki Aikawa defeated Yoshiko to win the Wonder of Stardom Title
The World Title might get a tournament, but the Wonder had to make do with a single match. I wonder if either Yoshiko or Aikawa were annoyed to have been bumped down to secondary title status? Yoshiko would definitely have a case to make.
Still, this is where they were, and they had a pacey wee contest for us to enjoy. These two went all out for eleven minutes, Yuzuki teeing off with kicks and Yoshiko attempting to leave her a smear on the canvas. I was a bit surprised at how even it was as Yoshiko is usually booked so strong, but Yuzuki never looked out of place. After some wayward kicks throughout the night, she was on fire, each boot slamming home.
By the final act, those kicks were thudding home again and again, but Yoshiko proved a tough nut to crack. In the end, it would take two kicks to each side of the head and a heel thudding down on the back of it to put her away, the crack it made when it connected making sure we all knew this was over even before the three was counted.
Honestly, I would put this down as a shock result. Stardom seemed invested in Yoshiko, but when the big match came around Yuzuki was obviously their girl. Now, I’m not going to say she doesn’t deserve it as she was already a very good wrestler. However, as the camera lingered on her body during her post-match pose with the title, I think we were seeing the start of a booking trend that Stardom fans were going to get used to in years to come.
Verdict: Very Good Match
Natsuki Taiyo defeated Leon to win the NEO High Speed Title
We’ve had big match Nanae, so it’s time for big match Natsuki. With NEO having closed the year before, their High Speed title was looking for a new home. As it’s inaugural champion and the person who most associate with High Speed to this day (even if she is ‘retired’ and doesn’t have access to the belt), Natsuki looked like the perfect person to take it on.
Leon was a great opponent too and having come through at Arsion she even had a bit of history with Rossy Ogawa. More importantly, she and Taiyo are both capable of working at that ridiculous pace, dancing through the kind of sequences that a few years later would have people proclaiming Will Ospreay and Ricochet the best wrestlers in the world. Unlike those two, I don’t think you could ever accuse Taiyo and Leon of not trying to win. A fast pace doesn’t equal the work being light as Natsuki’s eye, which was swollen shut by the end, would testify.
Ironically, this would be the longest match on the show, breaking the twenty-minute barrier. It earns it, though, as they manage to combine that incredible high-flying (Natsuki leaps up the ropes to fly back into a Moonsault like it’s the easiest thing in the world) with some grounded, pain-inducing wrestling (Leon uses a Crab that looks like it should snap Taiyo in half). They captured the best of both worlds, putting on one hell of a showing in the process.
Verdict: A Whole Load Of Fun
Nanae Takahashi defeated Yoko Bito to win the World of Stardom Title
Holy shit, Nanae and Bito beat the shit out of each other in this one. There was no fucking around here. We got two people, still exhausted from their earlier matches, just swinging at each other.
From Bito’s point of view, there was at least a plan. She was going for the veteran’s back, thudding into it with kick after kick. Nanae initially tried to take her to the ground, anything to stop those blows, but it wasn’t working. So, instead, she fought fire with fire, dishing out slaps like they were going out of fashion.
It was Bito who controlled a lot of the action, though. Nanae seemed determined to make her look a star in defeat, bumping around the ring for Yoko and making every strike look like gold. For the second time on this show, she was working from underneath, taking her licks, but coming back fighting.
It was Nanae’s fighting spirit that ultimately got the win. She survived the Bito Driver and volleys of kicks to the head, refusing to be beaten by this damn rookie on her fifteenth anniversary. That spirit pushed her through as she ducked a kick to dump Bito on her head and set-up the finish. Despite that, this particular rookie could be very proud of her efforts in defeat.
Verdict: A Great Start For The Belt
Wow, a lot happened on that show, so it’s hard not to declare Stardom’s first trip to Korakuen a success. We got several great matches, a couple of nice showings from the rookies and a Haruka outing that has gone down in history. Throw in a nice new set of titles and I don’t think anyone can has a right to complain. Good work, folks.
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