I love the Cinderella Tournament. The over the top rope nature of its rules makes it such a wonderfully unpredictable event, and while I’m a little disappointed that Stardom has chosen to split it over two days this year, it’s still a highlight of the calendar. I’ve been dipping in and out of the company over the last few months, watching big shows and stuff that sounds interesting, but this was one I was never going to skip.
Pre-Show: Hina defeated Lady C
Not to go full ageing relative at a family gathering, but every time the sisters go away for a bit, I’m shocked at how much they grow. Of the three of them, it’s Hina that has changed the most with their recent time off, coming back with an almost mini-Momo aesthetic. To add to that, she seems to have found some confidence. Hina has never looked as comfortable as in the ring as her sisters, which has held her back a little. In there with Lady C, though, she now looked a lot more relaxed and almost like she was enjoying herself.
As for Lady C, she still feels like a work in progress. She has a lot of good things going for her, but I can see the gears clicking away as she tries to remember what she’s supposed to be doing next. I know Hina’s been wrestling a lot longer than her, but she’s also 14, so it says a lot that Hina not only won, but did so comfortably. Not that I’m complaining, seeing the twins start to pick up wins is a lot of fun, and I’m looking forward to seeing how far they can go.
Verdict: On You Go, Hina!
Himeka defeated Hanan in the Cinderella Tournament 1st Round
Hanan was a late replacement for Iida, who has picked up an injury and will, sadly, be out for a while. I wish Gori-chan all the best because she is the best and I’ll miss her while she’s gone.
It was no small task for Hanan to step into either. Jumbo had a ‘slight’ power advantage here, quickly taking control of the action even if Hanan did throw in a wee Gori-chan tribute with the rapid chops. It wasn’t until the youngster starting attacking Himeka’s arm, working it over with an armbar and even aiming a dropkick in its direction that she was able to get into the action.
And while Hanan would eventually lose, I thought this was a nicely worked match. She came in with a simple plan which Jumbo sold the effects of nicely, struggling to put on submissions because her arm was bothering her. It opened up the possibility of Hanan sneaking away with an upset and made a match that, on paper, was a foregone conclusion, a little bit exciting. They gave us simple wrestling, done well, and that’s never going to be a bad thing.
Verdict: Well Wrestled
Maika defeated Konami in the Cinderella Tournament 1st Round
Konami is at her best when she is wrestling like an evil prick, ripping away at Maika’s arm and being a total bellend. There was a moment in this match where Maika managed to power her up for a suplex, only for Konami to twist around, clambering onto her back and dragging Maika to the ground as she tied up her arms. It looked cool as hell, as she hung off her, giving her no choice but to collapse to the mat.
It also turned Maika into a solid, sympathetic babyface. Her improvement since moving to Stardom full-time has been pretty remarkable, and it’s kind of hard to call her anything except a great wrestler at this point. This story required her to react rather than take the initiative, surviving Konami’s offence until she could find an opening. Still, she never felt like a passenger, working well as a likeable, straightforward foil to Konami’s grasping submissions.
If you were to nitpick, you could point out that Konami attacking the arm directly after Hanan did the same was a bit repetitive, but it was such a different dynamic that I don’t think it hurt the match. It was also a bit of a shame to see Konami lose after such a strong performance, but with it coming via over the top rope rules (Maika hit a suplex on the apron that caused her to drop to the floor), it doesn’t really matter, and this was another good showing.
Verdict: Evil Prick Konami Is Best Konami
Unagi Sayaka defeated Natsuko Tora in the Cinderella Tournament 1st Round
This is why the Cinderella Tournament is so good. Having spent months getting the shit kicked out of her and failing to win a singles match, Unagi was put in with someone who would generally steam roll her. Natsuko is a bully, and Unagi easy prey, so she wouldn’t stand a chance in a straight fight. However, you add that over the top rule, and suddenly, there is an opening. It’s simple as hell, but it works.
And honestly, the match itself was fine. Tora sold too much as she should have beaten the shit out of Unagi before the surprise finish, but it wasn’t a huge deal. I think I need to accept that despite looking like a badass, Natsuko is never going to wrestle like one, no matter how much I might want her to. She just doesn’t seem to have it in her.
Unagi, meanwhile, is still improving. It’s very easy to forget how inexperienced she was when she came to Stardom, and she’s already nearly wrestled more matches for them than she did for TJPW. It’s done wonders for her, especially in establishing this underdog babyface role which she’s flourished in and has helped make wins like this feel so impactful.
Verdict: Well Done, Unagi!
Rina defeated AZM in the Cinderella Tournament 1st Round
Poor Saki has had no luck with tournaments recently. After missing the 5Star due to injury, she felt unwell before this show, and Rina was drafted in to replace her. Fingers crossed it’s nothing too serious, and we see her back soon.
After me complaining about Natsuko not wrestling like a badass, Rina decided to show her how it’s done. She met AZM on the ramp, bringing the fight straight to her and introducing her to both the barricades and the floor. In fact, Rina would end up dominating a decent chunk of this, looking really good as she did so. It was only towards the end that AZM escaped her and began to assert herself on the action. Unfortunately for her, that was when Rina’s big pal at ringside got involved, getting some revenge for being eliminated in the last match.
Now, there are complaints to be made about Stardom’s continued refusal to give AZM a big push, but I don’t care because I’m delighted for Rina. At her age, to have to deal with what she has over the last year can’t have been easy, so to see her get this big win and celebrate with Natsuko was lovely. At this point, that’s more important than moaning about who should be pushed.
Starlight Kid defeated Momo Watanabe in the Cinderella Tournament 1st Round
The upsets continue as Starlight Kid kept the momentum going by grabbing another big scalp via over the top rope rules.
It was a match with a clear story as Momo’s obsession with fulfilling her pre-match promise to win via B-Driver (the move she beat Kid with last year) ultimately proved her downfall. She went for it again and again, even managing to hit it once, only for Kid to show how far she’s come and kick out. In a match that went under ten minutes, roughly half of it was Momo trying to hit B-Drivers. Then, having all but knocked Kid out with a kick on the apron, she couldn’t resist picking her up for one more go. That proved a fatal error, Starlight Kid reversing it into the Ki-chan Bomb, smashing Momo into the apron and down to the floor.
As much as people will whine about Momo being buried again, this was a well-deserved victory for Kid. She’s stepped up her game recently, showing an edge that she didn’t have before. When Emi Sakura interviewed ShuPro’s Stardom editor, Eiichi Narikawa, he spoke about Kid being someone who wasn’t afraid to speak up for herself. That’s not an attribute I would have naturally associated with her, but recently we’ve begun to see that more forceful side of her personality come out. It’s a change that adds some grit to someone I already had a lot of hope for and could be the thing that ensures she fulfils her potential.
Verdict: Kid No Longer
Mayu Iwatani defeated Fukigen Death in the Cinderella Tournament 1st Round
Whoever Oedo Tai hired to do their brainwashing better have got paid the big bucks. When Natsuko led Fukigen Death to the ring, she looked miserable, shaking in her Oedo Tai style make-up. Sadly for Mayu, that turned out to all be an act, as the clown leapt her before the bell, showing no mercy to her former faction leader. For the rest of the match, Yone embraced her inner goblin, and while she occasionally acted like Gokigen Death was creeping out, it was nearly always a lure to get the upper hand over Mayu.
I love this shit. Yoneyama is one of my favourite wrestlers, so watching her mess around as a clown is perfect. Yone is so clearly in her element, and Mayu perfectly fell into the role of dumb, trusting babyface, desperate to see her old pal emerge. It was a three-four minute match, so there wasn’t a whole lot to it, but I laughed all the way through and coming off a string of high-profile upsets, Yone sneaking out with the win felt possible.
Apparently, STARS are going to attempt to win Death back, but I hope that doesn’t happen. In fact, I want to see Yone do a tour of the factions, adapting her clown persona depending on which one picks her up. Before that, a period of full goblin Fukigen Death sounds like the best time.
Verdict: Fukigen Death!
Giulia defeated Ruaka in the Cinderella Tournament 1st Round
Ruaka came out the gates like a house on fire, trying to blitz Giulia and use her wee powerhouse status to throw her over the top rope. I’ve been going on about it all review, but it was another example of why this format is great. There was genuine jeopardy in those moments as Giulia didn’t even get a chance to take her jacket before this rookie flew at her.
Eventually, Giulia would turn it around, getting her knees up on the Freezer Bomb to shift the tide, but this was an excellent use of Ruaka. She’s another one whose confidence has seemed to skyrocket recently, as she’s got better and better ever since making the switch to Oedo Tai. With Stardom seemingly determined to give all of these rookies a spotlight, she’s standing out, and that can only be a good thing.
Verdict: Powerhouse Ruaka
Utami Hayashita defeated Mina Shirakawa in the Cinderella Tournament 1st Round
I get a weird sense of pride watching Mina smash it in Stardom. Yes, I do kind of wish that she hadn’t felt the need to jump ship and was doing this in TJPW, but it is what it is, and I knew she had this in her. This match saw her go toe to toe with Stardom’s big champ, and while she wasn’t quite presented as an equal, it certainly looked like she wasn’t far off it.
Part of her development has been her upping the aggression, attacking Utami before the bell and being relentless in her assault. She knew that her best chance of victory was to get it done quickly, be that via getting a shock pin or putting Utami over the top rope. The longer this went on, the more the champ came into it, as there was a reason Mina starting leaping into flash pins in the second half of the match, desperately trying to stop her hope from fading away.
Sadly, she couldn’t get the job done, but much like her Yokohama Budokan match with Momo, this was about Mina rather than the person who won. She’s being placed up against some of Stardom’s best, and while she’s fallen short so far, she’s given them all a fight. That’s given me faith that Stardom know how good she is, and I’m looking forward to seeing where she ends up.
Verdict: That A Girl!
Saya Kamitani defeated Tam Nakano in the Cinderella Tournament 1st Round
It’s easy to forget that Tall Saya was initially positioned as being Tam’s protege. One could even draw a line from Kamitani’s rejection of Tam to Cosmic Angels’ starting if you were so inclined. Sadly, I’m not, so I’ll throw it out there and leave it at that.
Out of everything on the card, this was perhaps the simplest match. That’s not to say it was bad, I enjoyed it, but it was a more straightforward, quick, back and forth between Tam and Saya. Why that was the case became clear with the finish as they’d clearly decided that was enough to see them through. And honestly, in a match that went roughly five minutes, it probably was. One second, Tam had Saya exactly where she wanted her on the apron. The next, Saya was springboarding into the ring and then somehow pulling Tam over the top with a cool Rana thing. Honestly, I’ve no idea how she did it, but it looked awesome, so that’s the most important thing.
Verdict: All About The Cool Finish
Syuri defeated Natsupoi in the Cinderella Tournament 1st Round
Coming off perhaps her best Stardom performance yet, Poi put in another brilliant shift here. I’ve said it before, but it’s easy to forget that a year ago, I was 100% ready for Poi to be the next big pushed face in Tokyo Joshi before a combination of that pesky pandemic and her move to Stardom killed any momentum she had.
If she keeps putting on performances like this one, though, I won’t forget again. This was a match that played into both women’s strengths perfectly. When Poi was able to create distance and pick up speed, she could catch Syuri off-guard. By drawing from a combination of high speed offence and attacks on her legs, she began building towards the upset.
Sadly for Natsupoi, Syuri is a veteran who knows when she’s doing. In key moments, she drew Poi away from her plan, pulling her into striking exchanges that favoured Syuri’s vicious kicks and forearms. They slowly chipped away at the High Speed champion and, when push came to shove, proved enough to push her to victory.
Still, following a quiet start to her Stardom career, it feels like Natsupoi is picking up momentum, which can only be a good thing. Plus, how can you not be happy for Syuri? I was positive she’d been brought in to be a solid hand and put people over, but she’s not far behind Giulia as the company’s most pushed person. You do love to see it.
Verdict: They’re Doing Good These Two
For a show with a whopping thirteen matches on it, this flew by. Everything was kept to under ten minutes with enough variety and upsets that it never dragged. I have a tendency to let Twitter convince me I dislike Stardom because people are obsessed with talking about all the dullest parts of it. Then, I sit down and watch a show like this, and I’m reminded how many brilliant wrestlers they have. It was a blast, and I’m already excited for the next round.
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