Arnold Furious: We’re in Korakuen Hall, with a shade under a thousand in attendance, for Stardom Gold! Stardom has come under sharp focus of late with news of their top tier talent likely to join WWE. This includes Kairi Hojo and also Io Shirai. That leaves the company dangerously short of stars. I felt a little look at Stardom’s current roster might be in order to see where they can fix this issue. Kairi Hojo has already announced her intention to leave and she’s defending her title tonight. The opening is a wonderful meshing of images. I’ve selected a few to demonstrate how pretty everything looks.
AZM vs. Hanan
Part of the weirdness attached to women’s wrestling in Japan is that some of the participants are really, really young. While men have to bust a gut in the dojo and prove themselves before making it onto TV, the women get a chance a lot sooner. AZM, formally Azumi, is 14 years old. She joined Queen’s Quest earlier in the year. You’d think a 14 year old wouldn’t have a lot of experience but she’s a five-year pro. What were you doing when you were nine? Wrestling three minute exhibition matches? No? You’re all jobbers. Hanan has some nice martial arts throws and the lack of maturity is not reflected in the effort. AZM gets the win with a tidy bridge in five minutes.
Final Rating: **1/4
Hiromi Mimura, Konami & Hetzza vs. Kaori Yoneyama, Natsuko Tora & Ruaka
I am pretty lost here. I’ve seen a few of these women wrestle before. Mimura and Konami are a team. Hetzza is from Mexico and is masked. Yoneyama has baggy genie pants and Ruaka is mean looking but tiny. Hetzza is about 5’4” and she towers over everyone else in the match. Not that she gets to do anything. The match is pretty ugly and gets clipped by Samurai TV. If what was left in was the best of the action, whatever ended up on the cutting room floor must have sucked.
Final Rating: *
HZK vs. Hana Kimura vs. Rebel
Rebel is a former TNA knockout with limited skills. Hana Kimura is adorable but only a few years into her career. HZK is only 19 years old. You can see the shortage of talent in Stardom’s undercards. It’ll be a while before the undercard women are ready to take those top spots. Rebel looks horribly out of place here, missing all her ‘near miss’ spots by a country mile. Kimura has the presence and personality to graduate up the card and HZK has a lot of raw potential. Time will tell on both. Rebel on the other hand has no hope of being a star, here or anywhere else. Her mechanics are weak and her timing is poor. She doesn’t have time to repair these issues either as she’s in her late thirties. HZK puts her away with relative ease.
Final Rating: ¾*
Goddesses of Stardom Championship
Hiroyo Matsumoto & Jungle Kyona (c) vs. Jessicka Havok & Tessa Blanchard
We’re whipping through this undercard as the focus is on the two big main event matches, which again is the biggest issue Stardom have right now. Their talent is all at the top end. Matsumoto and Kyona are liable to be the ones who step up and fill the main event void. Opposite them here are two imports; Havok and Blanchard. Tessa has the potential of those two, also has a second-generation wrestler. Havok has a lot of size and towers over everyone in this promotion at six feet tall.
The sequences with Tessa and Jungle are a cut above everything else on the show to this point. It’s a very good sign for both women that this is the case. Jessicka Havok on the other hand is her usual ponderous self, being smacked around by the superior Matsumoto and often standing there waiting for a spot to happen. Jungle Kyona tries very, very hard to work with big Jess. I admire the effort but Havok does herself no favours with her sluggish offence. Her only moment of excellence coming from a crazy outta control tope. They do good work in positioning Jessicka for key spots so she’s a part of the match but only when she’s required to be. My biggest take home is that I want Tessa vs. Jungle in singles. Kyona puts Tess down for the three with a spiral bomb. This was occasionally great although not consistently enough for a high rating. Way better than anything else on the card to this point though.
Final Rating: ***1/2
Wonder of Stardom Championship
Kairi Hojo (c) vs. Mayu Iwatani
It’s business time now with Kairi Hojo preparing to bid an emotional farewell to Stardom. This isn’t her last appearance for the promotion but it is her dropping the belt, which is a symbolic conclusion to her run. Hojo makes a point of outsmarting Mayu. The challenger will have to battle hard to get the victory because babyfaces in Japan are often dumb.
Kairi is looked upon as ‘the cute one’ because she is but she often makes a point of being tough in matches to prove her depth and her versatility. She’s happy to trade on strikes and come off a balcony with a forearm if needs be. Mayu is in a tricky spot because Kairi is a crowd favourite, due to her impending departure, but she needs to remain strong as she’s liable to Stardom’s ace by the end of the year. The title itself is Stardom’s secondary belt and yet there’s not a lot of distinction between the two. They’ve often had a similar calibre of champion (as it’s usually Io, Kairi or Mayu). Both women do a solid job in establishing that they’re on good terms but they both want to win the match. So you get a steady escalation in the violence stakes as the two try to one-up each other in attempts to win the match.
Kairi’s dedication to violence is only matched by Mayu’s flexibility. When Kairi goes for her patented elbow drop, it’s met by feet and the retribution for that bridging submission is complete. The match becomes a war of big moves and the two women get steadily more fatigued, beating the shit out of each other. Eventually Kairi has nothing left in the rank and Mayu beats her with a bridging dragon suplex. This match had a lot of emotional heft but it wasn’t just about emotion. The match was sturdy and showed how much both women wanted to be the best.
Final Rating: ****1/4
Video Control gives us clips from the recent Cinderella tournament, which was won by Toni Storm.
World of Stardom Championship
Io Shirai (c) vs. Toni Storm
This is Toni’s title shot for winning the Cinderella tournament. With challengers to Io thin on the ground (Kairi lost the month before this, Mayu lost her big title shot at the end of 2016). They hit a slow pace for this big main event and it’s tough for them to follow Kairi’s dramatic farewell. The crowd reactions are telling and Toni is given a huge chunk of the early offence. How much? About ten minutes worth! They do a grand job of getting Toni Storm over as a dominant threat and even have her win the match with her piledriver only for the referee to temporarily stop the contest to ensure Io’s neck isn’t seriously hurt. That’s just bullshit Roberts*. Toni even has to drag Io back into the ring to allow the match to continue. It’s a great sell of the piledriver but it’s weird they wouldn’t just allow a pin attempt. It’s such a devastating spell of offence that Io struggles to even mount the buckles during her comeback, demonstrating how fucked she is. Io takes an absolute shellacking during this match, getting tied in knots and beaten up. But she keeps on going, kicks out of the top rope legdrop and refuses to tap out while trapped in a submission hold as the time limit expires. This was incredibly one-sided with Toni Storm looking fantastic in her dominant display. While they didn’t switch the title they did enough to demonstrate Toni’s contendership as an ongoing situation. It’s not that she didn’t win here, it’s that Io survived the thirty minutes. It puts Toni in a great spot going forwards. It’s tough to rate this because Samurai TV clipped it but as far as thirty minute draws go, it achieved what it set out to. With it being so one-sided it’s a little tough to go north of four stars though.
Final Rating: ***3/4
*All referees are Chris Roberts.
Post-Match: Mayu Iwatani comes out to square off with Io, in friendly fashion, suggesting they’ll be going again in the near future. If Mayu is the one to unseat both Kairi and Io it makes her the definitive ace going forward, a huge contrast to the tail end of last year where it looked like she’d be retiring. She also has a challenger to her spot lined up in Toni Storm. If WWE don’t sign her too.
The show closes out with Kairi Hojo because how could it not? She gets a microphone and a tearful farewell.
Summary: As per usual the undercard is brief but the entertainment lies solidly at the top end. The last three matches stood out again. The Iwatani-Hojo match had a great emotional connection and Hojo was all over this show. She’ll be a big loss for Stardom but that’s nothing compared to losing Io Shirai too. One or the other I think Stardom could handle but losing both is a massive blow. Especially when you look at the depth on the roster, or lack thereof. It’s going to be tough to compete without two of their top names. Wrestling, like nature, abhors a vacuum though so I suspect someone will step up to Mayu’s level. Time will tell.