SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
STARDOM CINDERELLA TOURNAMENT 2020
MARCH 24, 2020
TOKYO, JAPAN AT KORAKUEN HALL
AIRED ON STARDOM WORLD
REPORT BY HARLEY R. PAGEOT, PWTORCH CONTRIBUTOR
We opened on empty bleachers with only the first three rows filled with fans. Every person wore a protective mask. The 16 women in this year’s Cinderella tournament were introduced one at a time. Hana Kimura brought a banana with her and ate it while they waited to pose for the group photo.
-Hina pointed out that she had no Queen’s Quest allies in the opening four-way so she’d win on her own. Rina said she’d win this match since she couldn’t be in the tournament. Sumire said she’d finish this quickly, then go drinking. Hoshino said Sumire’s always saying how cute she (Hoshino) is so today she’d be extra cute.
(1) ITSUKI HOSHINO vs. NATSU SUMIRE vs. RINA vs. HINA
Sumire let the rookies lock up and went to flirt with some fans only for the girls to triple-team her. The twins locked in their double armbar but Hoshino made the save. Sumire thanked her with a hug, which Hoshino tried to squirm out of. Sumire convinced her to work together against the twins, leaving them both down in opposite corners. Sumire called for the crotch assault. Hoshino hesitated. The crowd was riotous but they took too long and the twins recovered in time to prevent it. Sumire got hold of her whip and gave it to Hina and Hoshino across their rear ends. Rina managed to wrestle it away from her and looked for the octopus but Sumire put her down with an uppercut. She stacked them up in the corner and hit a crotch assault to all three at the same time. Misaki Special to Rina for the pin.
WINNER: Natsu Sumire in 5:06.
(Pageot’s Perspective: Sumire is such a special performer. She’s able to do more in five minutes than a lot of wrestlers can do in ten or fifteen. Her having an affinity for Hoshino is a fun thread they can pull whenever they end up in matches together, not unlike the Kagetsu-AZM relationship of last year. The crowd was losing their mind at the possibility of Hoshino joining her with a bronco buster. I so hope Hoshino is drafted to Oedo Tai in the spring.)
-Kid pointed out that Watanabe was the 2018 Cinderella so beating her would really mean something here. Watanabe said she just turned 20 years old. She can’t rest on the past so she wanted to win and go after the red belt.
(2) MOMO WATANABE vs. STARLIGHT KID – CINDERELLA TOURNAMENT: OPENING ROUND
Kid had the early advantage with some high speed action but Watanabe knocked her out of the air with a dropkick. Kid with a springboard crossbody. Tiger feint kick. Standing moonsault. Watanabe with a saito suplex and running knees. Kid dropkicked Watanabe off the second turnbuckle to the apron. Watanabe made it back in. Kid wanted a code red but Watanabe countered into a B-Driver. She hit a second for the pin.
WINNER: Momo Watanabe in 4:54.
(Pageot’s Perspective: A fine match. The nature of the Cinderella tournament being 15 matches on one show requires a large amount of suspension of disbelief. Wrestlers who would usually require ten minutes or longer to defeat are somehow extra vulnerable on this one day every year with matches concluding in far shorter fashion than normal. It’s just something we have to accept. That said, Watanabe defeating Kid in five minutes is far more plausible than some of the other outcomes we may see coming up.)
-Giulia said it was a good day because she was winning spring’s big Cinderella tournament. She would be winning and then calling someone out. Kyona did her “Round and round, I’ll mow you down with jungle power” for the first time in a long time. She said this was her fifth Cinderella tournament but she sucks at the rules (over the top elimination in effect as well as pinfall and submission) and short matches.
(3) ARTIST OF STARDOM CHAMPION GIULIA vs. JUNGLE KYONA – CINDERELLA TOURNAMENT: OPENING ROUND
Kyona muscled Giulia into the ropes. Shoulder tackle. Powerslam. Sliding clothesline. Giulia with a couple pump kicks and an octopus stretch. (Shade being sent to Kimura?) Missile dropkick. She battered Kyona with a series of forearms while the referee admonished her for holding the hair. Body slam from Kyona. Top rope splash. Powerbomb from Kyona. She held on and picked her back up, taking Giulia over and dropping her face-first onto the top turnbuckle. Kyona lifted her for the muscle buster but Giulia slipped out. Giulia with a DDT. STF into Stealth Viper and Kyona passed out.
WINNER: Giulia in 8:23.
(Pageot’s Perspective: Giulia is now 4-0-3 in singles matches in Stardom. She had kinesio tape all across the back of her neck and shoulders, which could be an out if she loses later. It’s Giulia, though, so I fully expect it to be her and Kimura in the finals with Giulia winning. The only way Ogawa’s new favorite doesn’t win the whole thing is if she goes to a draw in the next round with Watanabe or goes over the top rope at some point in a fluke loss.)
-AZM (lost in translation) essentially said that the Cinderella dress would be her prom dress. Konami wanted to be the barefoot Cinderella.
(4) KONAMI vs. AZM – CINDERELLA TOURNAMENT: OPENING ROUND
AZM attacked her former best friend before the bell. High crossbody to Konami on the floor. Back in the ring they battled on the mat with submission attempts. Both ladies ended up on the apron but Konami locked on a draping armbar across the top rope. Dropkick to the top of AZM’s head. Sliding kick. Bridging suplex for two. Triangle lancer and AZM tapped.
WINNER: Konami in 2:36.
(Pageot’s Perspective: A very short one to help speed the tournament along. Like Kid AZM has been established as being a tier below the adults so the quick defeat doesn’t hurt her as much as it might someone else.)
-Hayter said this was her first Cinderella tournament. She reminded us that she’s champ-champ. If she won this tournament she could be champ-champ-champ. Syuri said she’d win and show the world who she is.
(5) GODDESS OF STARDOM & SWA WORLD CHAMPION JAMIE HAYTER vs. ARTIST OF STARDOM CHAMPION SYURI – CINDERELLA TOURNAMENT: OPENING ROUND
Hayter used her size advantage to her favor out of the gate. Syuri with an armbar but Hayter with the rope break. Back to the armbar. Knee strike. Backbreaker and flatliner from Hayter. Crossface. Rope break from Syuri. Armbar again, into a submission called Suzaku and Hayter tapped.
WINNER: Syuri in 4:43.
(Pageot’s Perspective: Syuri should now be in line for an SWA world title shot, I suppose. Champions rarely lose in Stardom, let alone losing clean in under five minutes, so you could argue this was an upset. People have told me Syuri’s a big deal but I haven’t seen any of her work prior to returning to Stardom in January and playing second fiddle to Giulia hasn’t sent that message. Hopefully she gets a longer match with Konami in the next round to show something.)
-Kashima talked about Nakano giving away her identification to somebody but no context was given. Nakano said the 2019 Cinderella, her DREAM*SHiNE partner Arisa Hoshiki, wasn’t there so she’d carry on her spirit.
(6) SAKI KASHIMA vs. TAM NAKANO – CINDERELLA TOURNAMENT: OPENING ROUND
Even back and forth in the opening minutes. Kashima dumped Nakano onto the apron but Nakano dropped her throat-first over the top rope and hit Hoshiki’s step-off kick to the head. Roundhouse kick. Tiger suplex from Nakano countered into a Revival attempt from Kashima but Nakano escaped. Running knee strike. Tiger suplex for the clean win.
WINNER: Tam Nakano in 5:20.
(Pageot’s Perspective: A difficult loss for the new heel Kashima after also losing the non-title grudge match to Iwatani in her last outing. I’m not sure where she goes from here but she feels like the fourth or fifth most important member of Oedo Tai now below Tora and the tag champs. On the internet Nakano seemed to be the popular favorite to win the whole tournament so that she could go on to challenge Hoshiki for the white belt that she’s previously vowed to take from her frenemy. This gets her one step closer but she would have to beat Tora (presumably) in the next round and I just can’t see her beating two members of Oedo Tai in a row. Ogawa’s never shown that much interest in her before.)
-Tora said she could care less about the tournament. (I think she meant she couldn’t care less.) Kamitani said she’d fight with all her spirit.
(7) NATSUKO TORA vs. SAYA KAMITANI – CINDERELLA TOURNAMENT: OPENING ROUND
Tora ran Kamitani into the turnbuckles. Hazuki-style facewash in the ropes. Kamitani hit some forearms but Tora shrugged them off and side-stepped a dropkick. Back senton to Kamitani. Camel clutch. Kamitani with a Boston crab. Tora with a top rope frog-splash.
WINNER: Natsuko Tora in 6:03.
(Pageot’s Perspective: If any of these matches should have been a quick squash… It took the leader of Oedo Tai longer to beat the girl who’s been wrestling seven months than it took Jamie Hayter and Saki Kashima to lose. Tora should have just clobbered her in 40 seconds and tossed her over the top rope. On that note, it’s quite surprising that we haven’t had any over the top eliminations yet. It’s an easy way to protect somebody and provide some upsets, which the tournament could use at this point as each winner has been quite predictable.)
-Maika said she had to beat Hayashishita because Hayashishita won in their last singles match. Also it was her birthday. Hayashishita said she missed last year’s Cinderella due to a broken hand so she’d win and show us her red dress.
(8) ARTIST OF STARDOM CHAMPION MAIKA vs. UTAMI HAYASHISHITA – CINDERELLA TOURNAMENT: OPENING ROUND
Slow moving to start with the pair exchanging side headlocks. Hayashishita with a Boston crab. Back and forth strike exchanges. Maika with a couple STOs. She got an armbar on but Hayashishita made the rope break. Hayashishita with the rear naked choke. Bridging German suplex. Hayashishita set her on the second rope for another but Maika escaped. The bell rang.
DECISION: Time limit draw in 10:00.
-They continued to tussle until the seconds jumped in to separate them.
(Pageot’s Perspective: This was Maika’s first singles match in Stardom, their previous encounter taking place for the Just Tap Out promotion. The draw is a bit surprising as Maika’s a rookie and Utami is Cenashishita so a loss to her again wouldn’t really have been a big deal. It sets up Kimura or Iwatani taking a bye in the second round, which is also an odd choice as both are popular babyfaces. If anyone were to get an easy “skip” you’d think it would be a conniving heel like Kashima or Giulia.)
-Kimura was nervous but her nails were cute. She said this was step one in taking everything away from Iwatani. Iwatani reminded us that she won the first two Cinderella tournaments. She hadn’t wrestled in a while, though, so she was pretty nervous.
(9) WORLD OF STARDOM CHAMPION MAYU IWATANI vs. HANA KIMURA – CINDERELLA TOURNAMENT: OPENING ROUND
Kimura immediately tried for a package piledriver but Iwatani escaped. They traded strikes and Kimura hit a dropkick. Octopus attempted but Iwatani slammed her down to break the hold. Iwatani with a bow and arrow variation. Kimura tossed Iwatani over the top rope with a crucifix bomb but the champ held on. Iwatani pulled Kimura onto the apron too. Kimura stomped away at her neck. A big boot rattled the champ. A superkick stunned Kimura but knocked her back into the safety of the ring. Iwatani tried for the Running Three but Kimura escaped. Guillotine choke from Iwatani. Kimura powered her up and over into a vertical suplex. More boots to the head of Iwatani. Octopus locked in. Rope break. Delayed bridging German suplex to Kimura. Top rope frog-splash but Kimura kicked out. Iwatani went back up top for a moonsault. Kimura cut her off but foolishly tried for an octopus on the top rope. They slipped and both fell off to the floor. Kimura’s feet appeared to hit first but that didn’t matter for some reason?
DECISION: Double elimination in 7:56.
(Pageot’s Perspective: Fast-paced main event action right from the start. They crammed a lot into those eight minutes. These are arguably the top two babyfaces in the promotion so you knew there was no way this was ending by pinfall or submission but that finish was nonsensical. Kimura looks dopey for going for a submission attempt on the top rope (something she’s never done before) in a match like this and then both women falling to the floor should mean that whomever hit first lost. This strikes two matches from the tournament, which obviously speeds things up, and means that the winner of Nakano-Tora will skip the semis and go straight to the finals.)
(10) ARTIST OF STARDOM CHAMPION GIULIA vs. MOMO WATANABE – CINDERELLA TOURNAMENT: QUARTER-FINAL
They traded kicks to start. Watanabe dumped Giulia over the ropes but she slid back in. Dropkicks from Watanabe. B-Driver. STF from Giulia. Watanabe eventually escaped. Both women wound up on the apron and traded strikes. Watanabe looked for another B-Driver but Giulia avoided it. Glorious Driver to Watanabe on the apron and she fell to the floor.
WINNER: Giulia in 4:37.
(Pageot’s Perspective: Defeating both Kyona and Watanabe clean in such short matches really puts some massive heel heat on Giulia so mission accomplished in that regard, I guess. This seems to foreshadow Konami winning the next one as having DDM stablemates Giulia and Syuri face each other for the first time with no build in a match going less than ten minutes would be very shortsighted.)
(11) ARTIST OF STARDOM CHAMPION SYURI vs. KONAMI – CINDERELLA TOURNAMENT: QUARTER-FINAL
Side headlocks and mat wrestling. Kicks from Konami. More side headlocks. Kicks from both women. Konami wanted an armbar but Syuri locked her hands. Syuri wanted an armbar but Konami prevented it. Triangle lancer from Konami. Rope break from Syuri. Roundhouse kick from Syuri. Scorpion deathlock. Konami tapped.
WINNER: Syuri in 4:35.
(Pageot’s Perspective: I stand by what I said in the match 10 notes.)
(12) NATSUKO TORA vs. TAM NAKANO – CINDERELLA TOURNAMENT: QUARTER-FINAL
Nakano encouraged Tora to try some shoulder tackles. Nakano wouldn’t go down until Tora forcibly put her down and dropped a series of back sentons. Nakano, standing on the second turnbuckle, caught Tora in a dragon sleeper but Saki Kashima showed up on the apron and kicked her to break the hold. Leaping knee strike avoided by Tora. Cutter from Nakano. Tora clotheslined her over the top rope. Tiger suplex to Tora on the apron. She fell to the floor but she had previously gone through the ropes, not over, so it did not count as an elimination. She took advantage of Nakano’s confusion to club her off the apron for the win.
WINNER: Natsuko Tora in 3:46.
(Pageot’s Perspective: Another very short one but I like the finish. In an alternate universe this would have been the finals as both women are the epitome of the Cinderella, having wrestled for Stardom for years, held multiple tag titles, and fought hard to grow and excel in an attempt to reach the main event scene that has always eluded them. Instead Tora gets to be the next stepping stone for Giulia and Nakano can go pursue… I don’t know… the trios titles with Kid and Hoshino, I guess.)
(13) ARTIST OF STARDOM CHAMPION GIULIA vs. ARTIST OF STARDOM CHAMPION SYURI – CINDERELLA TOURNAMENT: SEMI-FINAL
Handshake from the partners but Syuri then kicked Giulia in the stomach and went for… you guessed it… a side headlock. They traded strikes. Back suplex from Giulia. Neckbreaker. Suplex from Syuri. Armbar attempted but Giulia locked her grip. Syuri with a draping armbar over the top rope. Giulia charged and they both ended up on the apron. Glorious Driver called for but Syuri slipped free. She wanted to give Giulia a German suplex off the apron (which would have eliminated them both and given Tora the tiara) but Giulia hung on. A kick from Giulia knocked Syuri off.
WINNER: Giulia in 4:06.
(Pageot’s Perspective: Weak. I know the current format is tradition but they should really consider either making Cinderella a two-day event or just going with an eight-woman tournament instead because four matches in a row going less than five minutes each and three of them ending with someone being bumped off the apron just isn’t compelling. It doesn’t make the victories look all that impressive and wastes what could have been big first-time match-ups somewhere down the road.)
-Giulia remained in the ring and waited for Tora to make her entrance for the heel vs. heel final. The Oedo Tai leader jumped her from behind.
(14) ARTIST OF STARDOM CHAMPION GIULIA vs. NATSUKO TORA – CINDERELLA TOURNAMENT: FINAL
Tora took her to ringside and slammed her into the announce table. They fought into the crowd. (Zero social distancing going on here. Remember this if either woman tests positive for COVID-19 at some point.) Tora kicked her down the steps and threw her into the chairs. Tora brought her chain into the ring and body slammed Giulia onto it. Giulia recovered and hit a neckbreaker. Missile dropkick. Giulia took Tora’s chain and considered whipping her with it but instead handed it over. Tora threw it aside too.
They traded forearms. Tora powered her into the corner. The referee tried to pull her off so she threw him aside. He tried to physically interevene again so Tora shoved him away. The distraction allowed Giulia to take control. The ref tried to back her off so she tossed him away too. Boot from Giulia. Spear from Tora. They traded forearms again. DDT from Giulia for the first pinfall attempt of the match. STF. Tora dragged her to a rope break. Kashima grabbed the referee and Tora clotheslined Giulia with her chain. F-Crash countered into Stealth Viper by Giulia. Tora slammed her down to break the submission. Giulia rolled out of the way of a top rope frog-splash. Giulia wanted a Glorious Driver but she couldn’t get Tora up. F-Crash from Tora but Giulia bridged out to prevent the three. Top rope frog-splash landed. Body slam. Top rope leg drop. Giulia kicked out. Michinoku driver to Tora. Glorious Driver. Tora got her shoulder at up two and a half on a very believable near-fall. Inside cradle gave Tora another two-count. Boot from Giulia. Stealth Viper. Tora tapped.
WINNER: Giulia in 12:41 to become the 2020 Cinderella.
-Syuri and Maika showed up to celebrate with their boss. Stardom president Rossy Ogawa handed Giulia a blue gown, which she carried to the back. (Seems like she could have just picked it up back there after a quick shower.)
After an intermission for the live crowd Giulia made her entrance again wearing the Cinderella gown. She looked uncomfortable and maybe a bit embarrassed. Maika and Syuri held the ropes open for her. Ogawa presented her with a trophy and a tiara. A fan yelled “Giulia, you’re cute!” but she told him to shut up. She mockingly said she wanted to see Tora in a dress. The crowd laughed. (Rude.) Giulia said she wanted to dedicate her victory to her friends and relatives in Italy. Her opponents were tough and it was really intense. She wanted to use her victory wish to fight Arisa Hoshiki for the white belt. She implied that if Hoshiki is unable to compete she would accept having the title handed to her. She said she was at rock bottom when she arrived in Stardom and this was her real Cinderella story.
(Pageot’s Perspective: A lot of people are going to be very upset by this win and you can argue whether or not they have any right to be. The facts are this. Giulia arrived in Stardom only five months ago after very publicly breaking her contract with and dumping on her former promotion Ice Ribbon. She remains undefeated in that time. She was given one of only four slots to wrestle on the pre-show at NJPW’s Wrestle Kingdom. She was given her own faction after just three months. They were given a trios title match after having only wrestled one match as a trio. They won those titles immediately. And now she has won the second most prestigious annual tradition in Stardom. In a promotion and culture that is so traditionally about paying your dues and earning your way up the card it’s a lot to hand to one wrestler in such short time.
There’s frustration among Tam Nakano’s fans, who were convinced that she would win the tournament and fulfill her destiny of taking the white belt off Hoshiki. Ditto for supporters of Natsuko Tora, who justifiably assume that her white belt match (previously postponed by COVID-19 show cancellations) will now be forgotten about completely and bypassed. If you were a fan of Momo Watanabe’s unparalleled run in the first half of 2019 and have been waiting to see that hard work rewarded with a move up the card, you may also be feeling a little fed up. She has instead been largely relegated to midcard tag matches, Queen’s Quest suffering a series of humiliations along the way, and has also had her leadership undermined on numerous occasions. If, like me and Kagetsu, you’re a huge Jungle Kyona fan and would love to see her positioned as something more than enhancement to the stars… Well, I’m just fatigued at this point.
I expect Giulia to take the white belt off Hoshiki, especially if the latter is still struggling with injuries or illness as assumed. I wouldn’t be shocked if QQ are even forced to disband in the draft at this point, barring something truly big like Io Shirai returning to Stardom. It’s clear that Stardom 2020 is all about Donna Del Mondo.)