It might be happening in the bizarre world of COVID restrictions and quiet crowds, but Stardom in Budokan is Stardom in Budokan. That’s a special thing, and even as someone who has fallen slightly out of love with the company in recent times, I got those big show tingles as we built up to this. How would Stardom look in one of Japan’s most iconic venues? Well, I guess it’s time to find out.
Natsupoi defeated AZM to win the High Speed Title
It’s been easy to forget that this time last year, I was raving about Poi, getting all excited about where she was going after her series of matches with Miyu. While a dodgy start to her Stardom career has ripped that momentum away, this was a reminder that she’s a bloody brilliant wrestler. Keeping up with AZM is no mean feat, but she proved more than capable of doing so.
And it was a match that benefited from all those quick blasts of High Speed action that Stardom has dished up over the years. There were numerous near falls that I bit on, because there was every chance this ended it two minutes. They had the pace turned up to eleven, so spots like the AZM Sushi or the first time Poi hit a German (a move she’s used as a finisher before) were incredibly exciting to watch. On a show like this, the opening spot is vital for setting the mood, and while there wasn’t much complex about this match, they made sure we got off to a lovely start.
Verdict: Lovely Stuff
Donna del Mondo (Himeka & Maika) defeated Oedo Tai (Natsuko Tora & Saki Kashima) to retain the Goddesses of Stardom Titles
By the way, nearly everyone on this show had new gear and looked awesome, so take that as a given going forward. Otherwise, this is going to get mighty repetitive.
There were moments in this match that I liked. Himeka and Tora’s game of human conkers, the always reliable near fall off Saki’s Revival and the fact Oedo Tai went out and had a straight fight rather than pissing about and getting disqualified. I enjoy both these teams, and I could easily picture a world where Stardom builds a strong tag division around them.
However, the match those moments hung off didn’t do much for me. A lot of it was just there, four people doing stuff, but without the narrative or excitement to draw me in. On top of that, the finish came out of nowhere, Maika hitting the Michinoku Driver for the win. According to Stardom’s Twitter, TAKA (her original trainer) taught her the move as a secret weapon, but outside of that tweet, that story wasn’t told, so rather than it coming off like a killing move, I was left surprised that it was the finish.
That’s not to say the match was shit, it was a solid wee tag, but by the end of the show, most people will struggle to remember that it happened.
Before the Rumble, we got messages from Io Shirai, Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kairi Hojo/Sane before running through the card. I’ve no idea what they said for obvious reasons, but it was a nice touch.
Unagi Sayaka won the Stardom Rumble
There was a lot about this match that was fucking awful. It was messy and all over the place, with wrestlers entering every five seconds, leaving the cameras unsure whether to focus on the ring or the ramp. There was also an atrocious run of Kikutaro ‘comedy’ that had him grope Chigusa Nagayo and should have been left in the mind of the person who came up with it.
And yet, I loved it. Whether it was the succession of legendary wrestlers, Emi Sakura coming out while flanked by the entire Gatoh Move roster (the first time they’d all managed to be in the same room together for a year) or Iida facing off with Chigusa, Stardom rightly figured that they didn’t need structure or a narrative ark. They simply needed things that make me happy. Like a rat repeatedly jabbing the big red button marked orgasm, I was more than content to devour what they gave me, laughing and cheering along with every moment. Everyone involved looked like they were having the best time, and it was enough to be involved in them doing so.
They also capped it off with a feel-good moment, Unagi, who has spent the last couple of months getting the shit kicked out of her, getting the win over Yuzopon. So yea, while the Kikutaro stuff can do one, and I wouldn’t begrudge anyone who called this a mess, it was also a love letter to Stardom and joshi past and present, which was more than enough for me.
Verdict: Flawed, But Beautiful
Nanae Takahashi defeated Momo Watanabe
Nanae hates young people. Those aren’t my words, but the words of her old pal, Emi Sakura, who made that observation on a recent ChocoTalk. It’s a statement that sums up this entire feud. Nanae doesn’t have any particular reason to want to beat the shit out of Momo, but she’s going to do it anyway.
And I was fucking delighted when this match got put this low on the card. Any higher up, and I was worried Stardom’s move towards the epic would damage it, but here, Nanae and Momo were allowed to do what they needed to do. To have a short, violent burst of wrestling that saw them try and murder each other through brutal exchanges of strikes and throws. It ain’t complicated, but it scratches that itch I have for watching people drop each other on their heads.
And people will be pissed that Momo didn’t win because they’re burying her blah, blah, blah. Sure, that criticism carries some weight, but I honestly could not give less of a fuck. Nanae is a legend, returning to the company she played a part in starting, and if she wants to fucking murder a younger wrestler on her return, let her. Talking about what the prick in the back with the pencil decided is the least interesting way to approach this. The match ruled, and that’s all I care about.
Syuri defeated Konami to retain the SWA Title
Confession time, this is my second stab at reviewing this match. The first time around I was, well, not particularly positive. I thought it was fine, something that happened, but neither put me up nor down.
Then I rewatched it last night, and something clicked. The match that had felt throwaway morphed and became the perfect follow-up to the previous one. For where Momo and Nanae went all out to inflict pain, Syuri and Konami built off their technical expertise, escalating the action as they went on and began to lash out with kicks before getting violent towards the end. They were in a tough spot, following a match that left me with bruises, but they were smart enough to play a different game rather than trying to match what had happened.
I still think it was flawed. That escalation would have worked better with a few more minutes, a smidge extra time to allow the action to breathe. However, Syuri’s elaborate submission looked painful enough that I still bought it as the finish, so it didn’t have the same problems that the tag did. There was enough here for it to be a really good showing, which was a nice reminder to myself that some stuff is worth rewatching.
Verdict: It Won Me Over
Mayu Iwatani defeated Yoshiko
Of all the matches on this card, this was the one that felt the biggest. Yoshiko and Mayu are the only two of Stardom’s original rookies who still wrestle full-time, and it felt right that they’d get this moment inside the Budokan. A lot has happened since they made their debuts at Shin-Kiba 1st Ring in 2011 (not all of it pretty), but here they are, and my god, have they both earned it.
Judging by their performance, it meant a shitload to them. They threw everything into this match, Yoshiko’s bruiser brawling smashing up against Mayu’s wild genius. Iwatani, in particular, came very close to killing herself in her desperation to get this over. It wasn’t just the scary landing from her dive to the outside, but every lariat or throw saw her drop herself at the most gruesome looking angle possible, going all out in her quest to destroy her neck.
That isn’t to suggest Yoshiko was a passenger, relying on Mayu throwing herself around to make her look awesome. The number of wrestlers with her presence and physicality can be counted on very few fingers. Whether it was the vicious forearms exchanges or the crunching lariats, Yoshiko made sure that every Mayu bump felt earned. On her return to the company where it started, she left no-one in doubt about the incredible wrestler that she has become.
In the end, Mayu, the one who has been there every step of the way, got the win, and there can’t be many victories better earned than that one. Then, in the aftermath, the two old friends got their moment together, holding each other tight before Mayu bundled Yoshiko to the floor in a loving display of affection. She’s incredible, Yoshiko is incredible, and I fucking loved this match.
Verdict: Standing Ovation
Utami Hayashishita defeated Saya Kamitani to retain the World of Stardom Title
I felt a bit sorry for these two. Utami is the big champion and Saya the chosen one, but on this show, they were secondary at best and throwaway at worst. There was so much history and weight in that room, that a match between two good wrestlers struggled to stand out. To go down as something that people remembered, they were going to have to be extraordinary.
And they weren’t, but they were really fucking good. On any other night, this match would have been the talk of the town, and there is a chance they still will be, but for me, it fell short of the emotional heights we’d seen before. Despite that, it still had a lot going for it, including the best Kamitani performance yet. This felt like the moment where she began to knit all the incredible things she can do together, becoming more than simply a freak athlete and stepping up to become a great wrestler. Not that she’s completely ditched the gimmick of unveiling a cool new move on every big show, hitting a Canadian Destroyer that actually benefited from her raw delivery.
Utami, meanwhile, is a star. Walking out into the Budokan, it felt like she was made for this venue, and she put on a performance that backed that up. She was in the slightly awkward position of being a champion who is still establishing themselves while also coming up against a young star who needs the rub. It was a spot that she handled masterfully, giving Saya everything she needed but ultimately proving to be a wall too far. Kamitani can do incredible things, but Utami has that power and extra experience, which, when push came to shove, saw her through.
As I said, this isn’t going to be the match that I remember this show for. Too much happened for that to be the case. On the other hand, though, I think Saya and Utami did everything that was asked of them and more, so I don’t mean that as a criticism. They can’t control what’s happening around them, and even with those circumstances, they smashed it.
Unfortunately, that was followed by Bea Priestley challenging for the title. I’ve made my opinions on Bea very clear, so if you want to find them, you can, and I’ll leave it there.
Tam Nakano defeated Giulia to win the Wonder of Stardom Title and shave her head
Hair matches and joshi have a long old history, from one of my favourite wars of all time, Dump Matsumoto vs Chigusa Nagayo, to Nanae Takahashi vs Arisa Nakajima. They’re not only used to pay-off huge feuds but are a sign of excellence, the kind of matches that are remembered for years and years to come. All of which meant that Tam and Giulia had a hell of a challenge ahead of them. They were not only headlining Stardom’s first Budokan show, but doing it in a way that screams back at joshi’s past. Considering how much stick their feud tends to get (a lot of it unfair, at least in my opinion), they had a mountain to climb.
And while I’m not about to compare it to those matches I mentioned, it still blew me away. The opening seconds had me slightly concerned, the two of them exchanging holds rather then flying straight into the blood feud, but when Giulia brought the fight to the outside, things kicked off. Suddenly, this became what it should have been, a brawl – two people beating the living shit out of each other in an attempt to get the win.
It made for some incredible spots. From Giulia channelling Hokuto (who was on commentary) and piledriving Tam through a table to a Steiner Screwdriver from Nakano that looked like it should have ended in someone being buried, they went all out. The crowning jewel, though, was as simple as a slap exchange. With Budokan unable to make themselves heard outside of applause, Tam and Giulia used that to their advantage, the sound of their strikes ringing out across the arena. It was almost eerie, the two of them delivering sledgehammer like blows while the fans watched on in silence, the commentators instinctively whispering to preserve the atmosphere. So often, people point to how these crowds damage big shows, but, whether intentionally or not, Tam and Giulia used it to their advantage.
Then, in the end, Tam won. The belt she’s desired for so long, and which she promised she’d win after it was handed over by her former tag partner Arisa when she was forced to retire through injury, finally came to her. Yea, I think they slightly messed up the hair cutting, Giulia sitting there too casually, hurting the supposed seriousness of the moment, but that didn’t kill the emotion. Tam and her feud with Arisa are a big part of what made me love Stardom, so watching her get her hands on that title meant a lot. She’s one of my favourite big match wrestlers of all time, and this was everything I wanted it to be.
So sure, these two aren’t Chigusa Nagayo or Nanae Takahashi, but that’s alright. They went out and had a brilliant match that made me feel all sorts of lovely things. That’s more than enough for me.
Verdict: All The Thumbs Up
A couple of missteps aside (pervert Kikutaro can do one), that was easily the best Stardom show in, fuck, I don’t know how long. Since the world went to shit for sure. I just raved about that main event, but it would probably be my third favourite match on the card, sitting beneath Mayu vs Yoshiko and Nanae vs Momo. I’ve found Stardom a hard promotion to love recently, but this gave me a wee reminder of how much it can mean to me. Fingers crossed that continues to be the case going forward.
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