SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
FIRST, A RECAP:
On February 16 Stardom ran New Years Stars, the final show of their regularly scheduled plans before the COVID-19 pandemic hit and threw the whole world into disarray. Utami Hayashishita retained the Future Of Stardom Championship over Saya Kamitani in the main event before electing to vacate the title. Kamitani joined Queen’s Quest, Itsuki Hoshino joined Stars, and Leo Onozaki retired. Wonder Of Stardom Champion Arisa Hoshiki wrestled what would end up being the final match of her career, a ten-woman tag that ended with her being pinned by Natsuko Tora.
With lockdown taking effect in Japan Stardom became one of the first wrestling promotions to try their hand at an empty arena show. No People Gate streamed live on YouTube on March 8. Hoshiki was unexpectedly pulled from the card at the last minute, though Tora continued to taunt her ahead of a presumed title match. Hayashishita & Kamitani told Bea Priestley & Jamie Hayter that they were coming for their Goddess Of Stardom tag titles.
March 24 Stardom managed to defy expectations to run their annual Cinderella Tournament as scheduled with fans in attendance. The one-night single-elimination tournament saw Syuri tap out Jamie Hayter (earmarking her for a shot at Hayter’s SWA World Championship), Hana Kimura wrestle Mayu Iwatani to an over the top rope double elimination, and Giulia defeat Jungle Kyona, Momo Watanabe, Syuri, and Natsuko Tora in succession to win the tournament. Giulia set her sights on Hoshiki’s Wonder Of Stardom Championship.
Scattered among these three shows that comprised Stardom’s spring of 2020 were a number of other events and plans that were announced but later forced to be cancelled or tweaked. At one point Kyona was supposed to challenge Iwatani for the World Of Stardom Championship but it never came to be. The Oedo Tai trio of Tora, Saki Kashima, & Natsu Sumire are owed a shot at Donna Del Mondo’s Artist Of Stardom trios titles. And the now-vacant white belt has Giulia, Tora, and Tam Nakano all in the title picture. The Future title also sits vacant but is far less important to the promotion. Saya Kamitani will likely wear it sooner than later.
Entering this show Stardom tested every wrestler and staff member for COVID-19, all of whom passed successfully. A limited number of social distancing tickets were put on sale exclusively for fanclub members, all of which sold out in under five minutes. Fans were asked not to bring memorial wreaths for Hana Kimura as the promotion is waiting until they can secure a larger venue to run a proper memorial show for her in the future.
Now, on with the show…
STARDOM IS AGAIN
JUNE 21, 2020
TOKYO, JAPAN AT SHIN-KIBA 1ST RING
AIRED ON STARDOM WORLD
REPORT BY HARLEY R. PAGEOT, PWTORCH CONTRIBUTOR
New opening video. “Since 2011” with a shot of Mayu Iwatani. “Powerful warriors” and Jungle Kyona. “Style grace” with Starlight Kid. “Dreams come true” with Tam Nakano. “The future is here” with Saya Kamitani. “Elite performance” with the Oedo Tai trio of Saki Kashima, Natsuko Tora, and Natsu Sumire. “Skill and determination” with the Queen’s Quest quartet of AZM, Hina, Momo Watanabe, and Utami Hayashishita. “The best in women’s wrestling” with the Donna Del Mondo trio of Syuri, Giulia, and Maika.
A graphic informed us that all pre-match promos were filmed as unit promos instead of tailored to the specific matches due to the fact that none of the wrestlers or fans knew who would be fighting who until each match began.
Queen’s Quest (Momo Watanabe, AZM, Utami Hayashishita with new blonde hair, Hina, and Saya Kamitani) were in matching black Stardom track suits. AZM and Hayashishita looked like they had been crying. “It’s been maybe three months?” Watanabe wondered aloud. She asked if everybody’s bodies were ready. “We’re leaving this corona situation… It’s not fully opened up, but let’s do our best.” They didn’t know the card but they’d do their best.
Oedo Tai (Natsuko Tora, Natsu Sumire with long blonde hair, and Natsu Sumire) were pacing. Sumire complained about the lack of chairs and the heat. Tora wandered off.
Tokyo Cyber Squad (Konami, Death Yama-san, and Rina) held up a tie-dyed TCS logo banner. “Hana, are you watching?” Konami asked. “Hana, where are you?” Konami said she wasn’t there but TCS would continue to protect the Stardom ring. Yes sir! (Konami and Rina were all smiles while Death was Death. Rina, who might be 14 years old now, has grown half a foot taller than Konami.)
Donna Del Mondo (Giulia, Syuri, Maika, and a masked woman) carried their trios titles over their shoulders. Giulia said that X was joining them for the first time. The mystery woman whispered something into Giulia’s ear. “Hello to everyone,” Giulia conveyed. Syuri and Maika spoke briefly.
Stars (Mayu Iwatani, Tam Nakano, Starlight Kid, Hanan, and Saya Iida) were excited to be back. They said it had been too long. The others asked when Hanan would wrestle again. (The twins’ older sister hasn’t wrestled a match since May of last year.) They are Stars!
(Pageot’s Perspective: How do you come back from three months off, a pandemic, a high-profile out of nowhere retirement, and an even higher-profile out of nowhere suicide? They’re doing their best to put on happy faces and focus on the enjoyment of getting to see each other again and be in the ring and perform for the fans. The roster members notably absent from these promos were Jungle Kyona, tag champions Bea Priestley and Jamie Hayter, newest Stars member Itsuki Hoshino, junior TCS member Ruaka, and high speed champion Riho. Priestley and Hayter are presumably still locked down in England. No indication on why Hoshino or Ruaka were absent, though their track records are often spotty. Riho is a big mystery as she hasn’t appeared for AEW since March either. Where is she? As for Kyona…)
-In the arena the lights were dimmed and a photo of Hana Kimura was on the video screen. The Stardom roster surrounded the ring. The camera lingered on Kyona standing next to Konami with tears swelling in her closed eyes as they rang the traditional ten bell salute. Following the ringing of the tenth bell the roster headed backstage. After a pause the TCS entrance theme played and Kyona walked back to the ring in a black Stardom track suit. She bowed to the fans and you could read the nerves on her face.
“I was planning on participating today but I’m not still not able to organize my feelings. I hate missing out but I’m not going to be able to fight. I have many thoughts, but I want to convey them when I make my return to the ring. I’ll definitely be back. I’ll return with determination and a heart that is a dozen times stronger than I am now, so please believe and wait.
Today, for the first time in a while now, the Stardom roster is going to work very hard. So please enjoy watching them all. Thank you very much!”
(Pageot’s Perspective: Bless Stardom for letting Kyona have that time to just be completely honest about her state of mind. The assumption is that she will take over leadership of Tokyo Cyber Squad whenever she’s able to return. She will definitely be back for the 5Star Grand Prix in August and has to be one of the favorites to win it. Whether we see her again before then remains to be seen.)
-The arena was darkened but we could see that every fan was wearing a mask and no one was sitting next to anyone, empty seats spacing out all individuals. Even the wrestlers who were seconding at ringside were wearing masks. Rina was still wrestling in Hana Kimura’s old hand-me-downs. Sumire had a new entrance cape and new ring gear as well.
(1) NATSU SUMIRE vs. RINA vs. HINA
Three-way test of strength. The twins powered down Sumire and double-teamed her. A crossbody took them both out at the same time. She kicked Hina into the corner and threw her sister on top of her. She coaxed the fans into applauding for what we all knew was coming next. Crotch assault! They came back with a double suplex. Rina turned on her sister with a dropkick. She tossed Hina around by the hair. Sumire returned and bodyslammed Rina. She stuck the Oedo Tai decorative bin over the referee’s head and spun him around. With the ref down she grabbed her whip and cracked Rina across the midsection. Northern lights suplex but Hina broke up the pin. Hina and Sumie traded forearms. The teen hit a series of hip-tosses. Sumire choked her with her whip while the referee admonished her. Sumire shoved him aside and looked to strike Hina but Rina grabbed it away. Octopus from Rina! Hina broke up the submission. Rina blocked a hip-toss from her sister and put her down with an STO. Octopus to Hina and she tapped.
WINNER: Rina in 8:55.
-Rina was emotional as she celebrated the win.
(Pageot’s Perspective: If you’re new to Stardom, the twins Hina and Rina are younger sisters to Hanan. In the 2019 draft Hanan remained in Stars and Hina was drafted to Queen’s Quest. The twelve year-old Rina was the very last person chosen out of everyone on the roster. As she sat on the stage alone, bawling her eyes out, Hana Kimura invited her to join her new faction, Tokyo Cyber Squad. From that moment on Kimura became a mentor and role model for the TCS juniors, Rina and Ruaka. Rina was even gifted Kimura’s old gear including her lime green shirt and rainbow raver boots as well as her finishing move, the octopus stretch. So the first Stardom show after Hana’s death opens with Rina, still decked out in Hana’s clothes, picking up a rare victory via Hana’s own move. How can you not be emotional?)
-Oedo Tai member Saki Kashima was out next for the first one-on-one match of the evening. Her hair was short and black when last we saw her but she must have got extensions because it’s orangey-blonde and down to her waist now. Also Oedo Tai have a new logo, a white circle with an X through it. There was speculation that Kaori Yoneyama might drop the Death Yama-san character after the leader of her unit… you know… died. She has not. Same makeup, same hand gestures, and same incessant shouting of “Death! Death!”
(2) DEATH YAMA-SAN vs. SAKI KASHIMA
Death played to the crowd. Kashima clubbed her from behind. Back and forth action. Kashima eventually hit a top rope double-stomp for a two-count. Backslide from Death for two. Pedigree from Kashima. Crucifix pin from Death.
WINNER: Death Yama-san in 5:11.
(Pageot’s Perspective: That was unnecessary. Kashima just faced the top babyface in the promotion in the main event of a show before hiatus and now she’s losing clean to a comedy act in five minutes.
As we begin to head back into regular shows it will be interesting to see how the five factions shake down in terms of importance. Both Oedo Tai and DDM have traditionally skewed heel while Stars and TCS are pure babyface and Queen’s Quest are right in the middle. The question is how mean the heels will go as Stardom heels are often still likable and entertaining, rarely going as truly villainous as some wrestlers in other promotions. Kashima’s having fun with her still relatively newfound turn to the bad side and I’d love to see the Natsuko Tora-led era get more serious about being evil. Death is just Death. Some people must like the gimmick, I assume.)
-Oedo Tai leader Natsuko Tora entered first for the next match. Captain hat and jacket, steel chain, with Sumire and Kashima at her side and holding the ropes open for her. Konami entered alone, representing TCS.
(3) KONAMI vs. NATSUKO TORA
Takedown from Konami. Rope break. They traded forearms. Eye rake from Tora. Back sentons. Konami hurled across the ring by her hair. Face wash. Tora grabbed her chain but the referee took it away. Tora continued to dominate until Konami caught her with an armbar. Tora struggled but made it to the ropes. Konami unloaded with a flurry of kicks to her chest. Reverse chinlock. Suplex. Konami ran the ropes and Tora pulled the ref into her path. She lay her chain across Konami’s chest and went up top to land a frog-splash onto the chain. The ref refused to count the pin so Tora shoved him down. Clothesline to Konami with the chain. She wrapped it around Konami’s throat and choked her across the top rope. The ref had enough.
WINNER: Konami in 9:25 via disqualification.
(Pageot’s Perspective: Again, if you’re new to Stardom, disqualification and count-out finishes are very, very rare. The refs almost always let weapons and interference and brawling into the stands slide with the idea being that nobody, whether it be the fans or the competitors, want to see a match end without a proper finish. So this is a big deal. Tora is going full heel like I said I’d like to see Oedo Tai do and she doesn’t care about wins or losses or the optics of trying to hang a wrestler who just had their partner die of suicide a month ago. On that note, TCS are now 3 for 3 on the night.)
-The QQ junior team of Kamitani & Hayashishita were out next for a tag bout. Both had new gear and Hayashishita wore her new blonde hair in a ponytail. Their opponents were the senior QQ members, AZM & Watanabe. (Well, Watanabe’s 20 and AZM’s 17 but you know what I mean.)
(4) QUEEN’S QUEST (Momo Watanabe & AZM) vs. QUEEN’S QUEST (Utami Hayashishita & Saya Kamitani)
AZM volunteered to start against Hayashishita and took her down with a headscissors out of the gate. The juniors double-teamed the teen, though. Watanabe dropkicked Kamitani and knocked Hayashishita off the apron. It was Kamitani’s turn to be double-teamed. Watanabe and Kamita exchanged forearms. Kamitani backflipped into her corner for the tag. Sidewalk slam to AZM from Hayashishita. Kamitani took out AZM’s legs with a dropkick and locked in an inverted STF. She transitioned to a half-crab but AZM was able to crawl to the rope break. Kamitani pulled her off and back to the center of the ring for a lion-tamer. Watanabe shoved her off. AZM with a top rope double-stomp. Tilt-a-whirl armbar but Hayashishita broke it up. Hayashishita with a Samoan drop to AZM. Kamitani with a dropkick. AZM avoided her running shooting star press. Kamitani landed a Pele kick. Tags on both sides.
Watanabe with a rear naked choke. Hayashishita with a torture rack into a Project Ciampa. Hayashishita flipped Kamitani into landing an assisted moonsault. AZM broke up the pin. Chinlock from Hayashishita. B Driver from Watanabe. Double-stomp from AZM. Kamitani broke up the pin. Rear naked choke from Watanabe to Hayashishita. Suplex. Running knees. Kamitani broke up the pin. Watanabe with the knees from off the top rope but Kamitani broke up the pin again. Kamitani with a missile dropkick. Hayashishita with one too. Hayashishita with a gutwrench German suplex. AZM broke up the pin again. Peach Sunrise to Hayashishita. Kamitani broke up the pin yet again. They traded some more kicks and the bell rang.
DECISION: Time limit draw in 20:00.
-Hayashishita asked how the fans like her and Kamitani teaming up for the first time. They reiterated their pre-lockdown hopes of taking the tag titles off of Oedo Tai’s Bea Priestley & Jamie Hayter. Watanabe reminded us that Hayashishita replaced her with Kamitani after Hayashishita & Watanabe failed to capture the tag titles. She wondered if she wasn’t the leader she should have been. She apologized. (Wow, Utami really gaslit her good.) She told them to bring the titles to QQ and wished them luck. AZM looked unimpressed but shook hands.
(Pageot’s Perspective: A fine match. Going into lockdown Hayashishita willingly vacated the Future Of Stardom title and all expectations were that Kamitani would be the next to hold it. But this match clearly portrayed her as equal to the rest of QQ in all ways so now it seems like it would be a step back for her to trifle with that title. Maybe instead we’ll see the likes of Maika and Hoshino battling for it. Hayashishita likely won’t be in the white belt picture in the near future as we’ve already got three contenders established over there but she’ll definitely be in the conversation by the end of the year. As for Watanabe it’s still going to take some work to get her back to where she was this time one year ago when she was the MVP of the first half of 2019. They really dropped the ball with her once she lost the Wonder title.)
-The four Stars women entered together. In a new change they did not let the music stop before introducing each wrestler one at a time and having them walk to the center of the ring and pose. Instead they each jumped and danced around the ring while their names were announced one after another. (Perhaps a COVID precaution as they don’t want fans throwing streamers?) The core DDM trio were out next. The mystery woman entered last and ripped off her mask as the ring announcer introduced… Himeka!
(Pageot’s Perspective: Himeka Arita is a former member of the promotion Actwres girl’Z and one-time SeadLINNNG tag champion. Like her new stable mates she will apparently be mononymous in Stardom.)
(5) DONNA DEL MONDO (Himeka & Artist Of Stardom Champions Giulia, Syuri, & Maika) vs. STARS (World Of Stardom Champion Mayu Iwatani, Tam Nakano, Starlght Kid, & Saya Iida)
Iida and Himeka started. The newcomer forced Iida into the ropes. Iida used all her strength to fight back but she was outmuscled. Himeka mocked her height by calling for a test of strength. Side headlock to Iida. Tags to Kid and Maika. High speed action from Kid but Maika avoided a tiger feint kick. The rest of Stars cleared the apron and quadruple-teamed Maika. Standing moonsault from Kid. The rest of DDM broke up a pin. A cheapt shot from the apron gave DDM the advantage. Syuri took the tag. DDM rotated in and out as they worked over Kid. Giulia into the match for the first time and she grounded Kid with her methodical offense. The heels continued to cycle in and out, working over Kid. She finally made the hot tag to Iwatani at 10:20.
Iwatani was a house of fire on Maika but Giulia tagged in and leveled the champ. Nakano tagged in for the first time. They traded strikes, both hitting some and dodging some. Giulia dropped her with a big boot. She hit Hana Kimura’s running facewash to Nakano in the ropes. (Giulia and Kimura hated each other and were feuding at the time of Hana’s death.) Giulia went up top but Nakano yanked her off the ropes and went up top to hit Arisa Hoshiki’s step-off kick. (Nakano and Hoshiki were frenemies and tag partners as DREAM*SHiNE.) Nakano dropped her with a series of forearms and battered her head with kicks. Giulia planted her with a falcon arrow at 15:00.
Tags to Kid and Syuri. Everything broke own and DDM wound up with a trio of submissions on three of the Stars women. Kid survived some more offense from Syuri and hit a swinging neckbreaker. Tag to Iida. Iida with a couple dozen chops to the chest. She powered up with her gorilla energy. Tag to Himeka. Lion-tamer looked for but Iida quickly scurried to the ropes. Kid hit a tiger feint kick on the newbie at 20:00.
Iida wanted a flash pin but DDM broke up the cover. Four synchronized dropkicks from Stars to the DDM crew in the ropes. Iwatani with a high crossbody onto the quartet at ringside. Lion-tamer from Himeka to Iida, into a single-leg Boston crab. The fans rallied behind Iida and she made it to the rope break. Iidabashi! Giulia broke up the pin. Everyone in and everyone out with bodies being tossed left and right. Himeka took out Iida with a lariat but she kicked out. Himeka with a running powerbomb but Iwatani broke up the three-count in a very believable near-fall. Himeka and Maika held Iida up in the air and dropped her into kicks from Giulia and Syuri. Torture rack from Himeka to Iida and Iida was out.
WINNERS: Donna Del Mondo in 23:29.
-Giulia and Nakano were still fighting on the ramp and had to be separated.
Once Stars cleared out Giulia took a mic. She told Himeka they’d been wanting to meet her. She was excited to have fans back in attendance and dubbed Himeka “Jumbo Princess.”
(Pageot’s Perspective: Lots of action here building a couple stories. DDM expands to four. Giulia came from Ice Ribbon, Maika from Just Tap Out, Himeka from Actwres girl’Z, and Syuri was a freelancer. That’s a fun story and builds intrigue going forward. Could they add a fifth from yet another promotion? Giulia and Nakano are obviously the top two candidates for the vacant white belt but hopefully Tora isn’t being left out of that conversation. Himeka winning with the torture rack seems to foreshadow a showdown with Hayashishita down the line. Maika and Syuri are still two-thirds of the trios champions with Giulia so they’ll probably be busy with that for the near future. Iwatani may just tread water until the 5Star Grand Prix in August.
Overall it was maybe a bit surprising how quickly they fell back into regular business as usual with this one. There were a couple nods to the fallen Kimura and Hoshiki but no acknowledgment of how the vacant championships will be dealt with or what’s next after this one. The next announced show isn’t until July 24 but then this one wasn’t announced until a few days prior either so there may very well be one or a number of events before then. It still feels strange having a Stardom show without Kagetsu, Kimura, Hazuki, and Hoshiki but this is just the state of the promotion now. Hopefully they can persevere.)