I believe this was the first wrestling show at the new Yokohama Budokan, but feel free to correct me if I’m wrong. Either way, Stardom had packed the card, with all the important titles up for grabs, a unit certain to disband and a couple of mystery opponents. By now, you probably know who they were, but just in case, let’s keep the suspense going a bit longer.
AZM defeated Starlight Kid to retain the High Speed Title
There wasn’t much build to this beyond the fact that Kid and AZM are forever rivals, and if you need a paring to open your big show, you aren’t getting too many that are better.
They have the kind of chemistry that comes from knowing each other inside and out, giving off the impression that they could do this in their sleep. Honestly, this wasn’t hugely different from their numerous other battles, but that doesn’t matter. It’s like an old favourite, something you can relax into, safe in the knowledge that you’re going to be entertained.
The one difference was that this marked the first time AZM has beaten Kid one on one. Coming in, Kid was 5-0-3, with the last two matches being draws. AZM’s work to Kids’ arm would prove to be the turning point in her fortunes. Right from the bell, she went for it, that persistent work chipping away at her masked foe as she even brought one of those Double Stomps crashing down on it. That set the framework for the submission victory, as AZM retained her title and these two did it again.
Verdict: Reliably Great
Mina Shirakawa defeated Hanan
Our first surprise debut came in the form of one Mina Shirakawa, proving that the most obvious answer is usually the right one. Stardom signing up wrestlers is going to come up again, so I’ll leave talking about that till the end.
Instead, let’s give this spot to Mina, who looked delighted to be there. It’s easy, as fans, to forget that wrestlers make these decisions for themselves, and that where we want them to go is only a tiny part of the equation. A lot of people have issues with Stardom, most of which are for good reasons, but that doesn’t mean that being there doesn’t mean something to Mina.
It was a strong debut too with Hanan proving a good fit for Mina’s style. The stripped-back, basic approach of the rookie allowed her to show off some impressive grappling and run through her signature spots. Ultimately, it was a showcase, an understanding that Mina is probably not a prominent name and will need to be introduced to at least part of the Stardom audience. As first impressions go, it looked like a good one to me.
Verdict: Hey, Mina!
Riho and Saya Iida defeated Yuna Manase and Natsu Sumire
Natsu has announced that she is going to get surgery for a recurring shoulder injury and will be out for a while. Fingers crossed she heals up soon and gets back to us because a wrestling world without Natsu in it is a sadder place.
At least she went out in style, thrusting her crotch into people’s faces while Yuna did the same with her breasts. I love these women, but that kind of shit does leave me nervous that my flatmate is about to walk into the room. Thankfully, we don’t talk, so she’d probably just look at me weirdly and walk out again.
All things said this was a fun little tag, Yuna making her first appearance in a Stardom ring since February 2012 and looking good. Although it did somewhat continue the theme of Stardom bringing in freelancers and doing nothing of substance with them, but fuck it, that’s not going to change. They gave Gori-chan the win, so I’m willing to forgive a few transgressions.
Verdict: Giant Saya!
Natsupoi defeated Death Yama-san
Natsumi Maki is no longer Natsumi Maki and is now just Natsupoi as she steps into a Stardom ring for the first time since 2016. She came out flanked by DDM before being carried to the ring on Jumbo’s shoulder. I do like that they always come out together, helps sell them as a group.
She impressed between the bells too, which is no great surprise. Death makes people look good, so give her someone who is already talented, and, well, the results are obvious. Poi both kept up with her and showed a mean side, Dropkicking her way through Yama-san’s posing.
Like Mina, this was an introductory match, although the fact that she started against a former High Speed champion rather than a rookie should give you a clue as to where they’ll be slotted.
Verdict: Welcome, Iop
You wouldn’t have needed to pick up many more clues as Poi challenged AZM straight away. She delivered her promo well (as far as I can tell, it’s always hard to judge in a different language) and looked awesome walking back up the ramp with her arms held wide.
Bea Priestley defeated Momo Watanabe to win the SWA Title
Ugh. I know the SWA Title is about as important as the one I use to hold up my trousers, but I repeat, ugh. Does it have to be Momo? Are we really using her to put over Bea fucking Priestley?
Look, I’ve never enjoyed Bea, so there isn’t much point trying to review this objectively. So, instead, I’m going to have a wee ramble about Momo. You know, I used to be a bit cold on her. I’d have never denied that she is a brilliant wrestler, but I found it hard to invest in her when she was booting her way through challenger after challenger. She came across as quite a cold performaner, stony-faced and never showing much emotion.
Recently, though, that’s all changed, and she’s become one of my favourites. In fact, that goes for a lot of Queen’s Quest. It’s taken me a while to get a grasp on their personalities, to see the people behind the wrestling machines, but the last few months have seen me go all in. Perhaps it helps that we’re seeing Momo display vulnerability. The platform on which she stands is wobbling, and she’s unsure if she can keep her balance. I’m invested in a story that I’m not even entirely sure Stardom is attempting to tell (they might just be dropping her down the card).
Anyway, the match was alright.
Verdict: Momo’s Awesome
Oedo Tai (Natsuko Tora and Saki Kashima) defeated Tokyo Cyber Squad (Jungle Kyona and Konami) to force Tokyo Cyber Squad to disband
So, there we go, Tokyo Cyber Squad bow out with the doubly bad news that a variety of injuries mean that we aren’t going to be seeing Jungle for a while.
I’ve thought a lot about Stardom’s decision to do this and have concluded that it’s the right one. Tokyo Cyber Squad was Hana Kimura, and while I am sure that Jungle would have happily took on that mantle and carried it forward, I don’t think she should have had to. To have that weight sitting on your shoulders and to live up to that legacy is a tough gig. Who knows what Jungle will do when she returns from injury, but I want to see her plough her own path, not be forced to walk in the shadow of something she can’t hope to step out from behind.
Still, it’s hard to say goodbye to the faction that Hana created. The one started with a Che Guevera quote and the declaration that while everybody is different, everybody is special. It was a wonderful thing for a while and seemed to create a group of friends who genuinely cared for each other. They might be gone, but the message won’t be forgotten.
I appreciate I haven’t talked much about the match, which was a fun brawl where Jungle worked her arse off. It had that thing that nearly every big betrayal does where Konami and her new pals beat each other up for thirteen minutes before pulling the switch, but that’s just wrestling. I don’t think I could ever hate a match that had Jungle Kyona trying this hard in it.
Verdict: We’ll Wait For You, Jungle
You’d have to be made of hella tough stuff not to feel something crack inside you as Jungle cried her eyes out post-match before making her way to the back alone.
Queen’s Quest (Utami Hayashishita and Saya Kamitani) defeated Donna del Mondo (Himeka and Maika) to retain the Goddesses of Stardom Titles
In a strange twist, Utami and Tall Saya had the kind of match-up with Jumbo that I wanted Saya to have in the 5STAR. Jumbo’s power took centre stage for big chunks of this match, as she and Maika were able to isolate Utami. It built to an awesome sequence where Jumbo and her lariated the life out of each other, both popping up slower after each one, staggering around only to end up colliding in the centre of the ring again.
The most interesting thing about this match was how quickly these two teams have bonded. In the grand scheme of things, neither has been together that long and yet they nailed it. Whether it was Utami and Tall Saya running rings around Maika or Jumbo being aided in coming off the top rope by her pal, they looked like units. On top of that, when people did pair off, those pairings proved effective too, everyone clicking together nicely.
The finish is what most people are going to remember from this, though, and it was spectacular. Out of fucking nowhere, Tall Saya is suddenly hitting Phoenix Splashes. Sure, she didn’t quite connect flush with poor Maika, but would you expect anything else? It took her a while to figure out her aim on the Running Shooting Star too. Besides, hitting the damn thing is impressive enough, connecting is just a lucky second.
Still, even without the big finish, this was a good tag match that verged on being great. They could have used shaving a few minutes off it, each phase feeling like it could have had a slight trim, but that’s becoming the trend in Stardom, and it didn’t stop me being impressed.
Verdict: Phoenix Rises
Giulia defeated Tam Nakano to retain the Wonder of Stardom Title
Tam and Giulia’s feud has had its ups and downs. You had the fun of the initial online bickering followed by some heated interactions in tags only for Stardom to move towards bikini brawls in dodgy alleys. Up next was a match which, while it had its moments, ultimately drowned in a style neither woman excels at. Thankfully, the 5STAR would hint that they were beginning to figure it out, which brings us to this match, where we could only hope they’d taken the right lessons from what came before.
Well, they had. This wasn’t the short, sub-ten minute sprint that I might have booked, but it was wrestled like one. Tam and Giulia beat the shit out of each other from the bell, slap after slap, boot after boot, as they ditched all the shit that held them down before and unleashed. It was what this feud should have been from the start, and it worked to perfection.
I loved the final sequences too, Tam surviving through heart alone, desperately throwing headbutts and kicks while barely able to stand. Tam has a habit of overdoing finishing stretches, putting that little bit too much in there, but it worked here. She was dead, but her body somehow hadn’t figured it out, fighting on even as everything said she shouldn’t.
Honestly, my main feeling coming out of this was pure relief. I’ve known from the start that Tam and Giulia had something great in them, but they hadn’t quite reached it. Here, they smashed it, and it was fantastic.
Verdict: That’s It!
There weren’t subtitles on this show, but I got the feeling that the post-match promos were Tam and Giulia reaching a point of respectful hatred. They ain’t going to be friends, but they’ll happily beat each other up every chance they get.
Mayu Iwatani defeated Syuri to retain the Stardom World Title
Whoever at Stardom has decided that every match now needs to be about ten minutes longer than they used to be is my enemy. There were so many great things about this, but they elongated long past what it needed to be.
Let’s focus on some positives, though. Mayu and Syuri played to Iwatani’s strengths as a champion, aka her ability to get the absolute shit kicked out of her. There were moments where she was glassy-eyed, dead on her feet, and I was genuinely worried that she might not be able to continue. I knew it didn’t end like that, but that was forgotten as I winced along with those vicious Syuri kicks. Then, when she wasn’t kicking her, she was stretching her, attacking the champ’s leg. Mayu’s selling wasn’t quite as consistent there, but in the moments, as she screamed and writhed to escape the submissions, you couldn’t help willing her on.
Unfortunately, it all just went on for too long. I liked the structure of the match, Syuri dominating the majority of it, but Mayu continually finding little openings, squeezing through them to get back into the action. Those Syuri dominations dragged, though. It went through my wish for a Mayu comeback and into boredom. The difference between the two isn’t huge, we’re talking one or two minutes, and yet it’s the gap between a good match and a great one.
Because this probably was a great match, it was just a great twenty-minute match drowning in the body of a twenty-eight minute one. I hate to ramble on about time because it’s such a boring thing to talk about, but it was that simple. Trim this in all the right places, and I would be raving about it. As it stands, I thought it was good, but not something that will be remembered in the months and years to come.
Verdict: Good, But Not Great
For all the criticism I’ve just thrown at the match, I really do love Mayu. She practically climbed up Rossy, clearly nae giving a fuck as she wanted her belt back. Then, during her promo, she tripped over the trophy, sending both her and it flying. I wonder how big Stardom’s trophy repair fund is because Mayu’s single-handedly keeping whoever they use for that in business.
Right, I said I was going to talk about Stardom snapping up talent, so let’s start with that. Like most people, I’m not a fan. If I had my way, everyone would work everywhere, getting the chance to try different styles out. Unfortunately, that’s never going to be the case, and the sad reality is that working for Stardom is the best way for these women to pay rent. Does that suck? Yea, especially considering some of Stardom’s recent actions, but it’s the situation we’re stuck with. One has to either accept it or look elsewhere because it’s going to keep happening.
As for the show, I liked it a lot but didn’t quite love it. While Tam vs Giulia ruled, the other big matches were all plagued by going too long. Is this a Bushiroad thing? It certainly seems to coincide with their arrival. Fingers crossed it’s just a phase, especially as Mayu vs Takumi Iroha II is coming up and I can’t wait for that one.
Watch Stardom: http://www.stardom-world.com/