Stardom Year End Climax
Watch: Stardom World
Korakuen Hall – Tokyo, Japan
It’s been a significant amount of time since I last reviewed a Stardom event. At the time, questions surrounded the promotion as Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter reported before the October Showdown Korakuen Hall Show that World of Stardom Champion Io Shirai and Wonder of Stardom Champion Kairi Hojo were not only offered contracts by the WWE but Shirai told the promotion that she would be leaving as Kairi Hojo was still being persuaded by management (Owner Rossy Ogawa and General Manager Fuka) to stay. Both Shirai and Hojo would retain their respective titles and the direction of the storylines going into the December Year End Climax were nonexistent. The Goddesses of Stardom Tag League was buffer between the big shows and conventional wisdom would lead one to believe that no major angles would occur before the end of the year.
Thunder Rock (Io Shirai & Mayu Iwatani) were on their way to repeat as Goddesses of Stardom Tag League Champions as they went 2-0-1 heading into the Tag League Finals. They would face the newly formed team of Kairi Hojo & Yoko Bito (2-1 in league record) on November 11th at Shinjuku FACE. What would happen next turned Stardom upside down as Shirai smacked Iwatani towards the end of the match which at first looked like the makings of a simple miscue. However, Shirai left Iwatani for dead as Bito & Hojo won the match to win the league and a shot at the Goddesses of Tag Team Titles. Shirai would completely turn of Iwatani after the match by stomping her and berating her on the house microphone about being a loser. She brought out HZK (former known as Reo Hazuki) as her new partner and to end the Thunder Rock tag team that has roots dating back to 2011. This set up a tag match seven days having Io and HZK against Iwatani teaming with Momo Watanabe, and just like the previous match, Mayu’s partner turned on her again as Momo joined Io & HZK to form the new group called Queen’s Quest. The new heel group gets an influence from Los Ingobernables de Japon in terms of attitude but hasn’t proved to do all of the outside interference shenanigans like LIJ or even Oedo Tai does. Nevertheless, this put the collision course of Io vs Mayu for the World of Stardom Championship in the forefront heading into the Year End Climax Korakuen Hall Show. Many fans gave predictions that this would be not only the time Mayu got revenge on Io but also the coronation of the new Ace of Stardom. Would Stardom’s homegrown “Icon” become the new Ace or would the two time Tokyo Sports Joshi Puroresu MVP Io Shirai cap off a successful 2016 with another title defense? Let’s find out.
Also to note that I am watching the two hour Samurai TV Version of the show, but you can watch all of the matches on Stardom World.
Arisu Nanase def. Ruaka, Azumi *3/4
Ruaka and Arisu came out with Santa hats as they were in the Festive mood but Azumi was having none of it as she’s the rebel of the young Stardom wrestlers. Ruaka is the most recent rookie in Stardom as she debuted on November 20th at Shin-kiba 1st RING. Arisu tried to take advantage of the opening handshake with a quick pinfall attempt and got double teamed for it which included Ruaka giving a running big boot in the corner. But once Ruaka was knocked out the ring, Arisu and Azumi displayed some solid back and forth wrestling before Ruaka would join back in. Arisu displayed some nice looking suplexes which made me realize that she is wearing Mayu’s old gear from last year. Arisu got the win by rolling out of Ruaka’s attempt of a Boston Crab and bridged her for the pinfall. Slight clipping due to the two hour window but a decent opener. After the match, Arisu showed off her medal that she won from the Rookie of Stardom tournament, but of course Azumi berated her out of jealously. Then, Ruaka helped Arisu by giving Azumi a boot to the gut and brought out Starlight Kid (who’s been absent for almost six months) to do a standing moonsault onto Azumi.
Konami def. Hiromi Mimura**1/4
Konami is making her Stardom debut as she was originally part of the REINA promotion that’s affiliated with CMLL’s Women’s Division. She saw a lot of action in her rookie year in 2015 as she wrestled 59 times and stayed close to her mentor, current NXT Women’s Champion Asuka. Once Asuka left to go to the WWE, Konami seemed to be stuck in that rookie rut until she celebrated her birthday and proclaiming that she’s not a child anymore by doing a Light Tubes Death Match teaming with Yuko Miyomoto vs Kagetsu & Jun Kasai. However, she left REINA in August which people thought was her leaving wrestling but it was only for her to sign with GPS Promotions. In November, she emerged back on the joshi puroresu scene with a new look and took Kairi Hojo in a really good match on a GPS Promotions show called Wild Hero 2 (that can be seen on Stardom World). She comes with a shoot style background molded by Kana aka Asuka and is friends with early WMMA pioneer and former world submission/grappling champion Megumi Fujii.
She didn’t waste time in front of this audience as she almost caught Hiromi with a flying kneebar before Hiromi got to the ropes. Hiromi tried to grapple with her early that’s similar to an ARSION style match but Konami slipped out of every ground based hold she had and Hiromi almost paid for it. Hiromi was able to get some offense on Konami when they got back to their feet but Konami was able to deliver strikes back and work on her left leg. Hiromi came back with some hope spots as she delivered a flying body press and a DDT for two. However, Konami went back to the leg and got Hiromi will with a rolling leg lock that resembled a Calf Cutter for the submission win. After the match, Konami proclaimed to the crowd that she would like to come back to Stardom more regularly. That has been proven true as she is booked on the January tour which includes a trios tag match on January 7th that has her teaming with Kairi Hojo & Mayu Iwatani against the returning Kay Lee Ray and Stardom newcomers Nixon Newell and Shayna Baslzer. Expect some slick submission attempts when Konami faces off Baszler in that tag match. As for the previous match, Konami made a good impression as this was a showcase match for her but the crowd was quiet until after her speech. She’s not the striker that Asuka is but from the matches I’ve seen of her, she tends to hold back her high impact strikes against anybody that doesn’t have that shoot style training. If you want see her not hold back, check out the first two matches she ever had with Kana/Asuka along with them teaming up against Syuri & Hikaru Shida on March 8th, 2015.
Submission and mat based wrestling hasn’t really been prevalent in joshi puroresu since the ARSION days and the last remnants of the style were only seen in places like IBUKI and Battlarts’ Queen Bee matches (which include Asuka, Kyoko Kimura and Stardom General Manager Fuka). Konami’s style is so different from everybody else in Stardom that it could bring her success in 2017 and might make her a featured player for months to come.
Oedo Tai (Hana Kimura & Kris Wolf) def. Jungle Kyona & Natsuko Tora; Saori Anou & Kaori Yoneyama**
This match was your typical Korakuen undercard three way tag match as we had decent wrestling to start but we were guaranteed comedy with Kris Wolf and Kaori Yoneyama involved. However, the comedy didn’t start until Hana Kimura (another young featured freelancer that recently started in Stardom) came in and started doing sexy poses for the crowd whistle and howl. She challenged Saori Anou to do sexy poses and the crowd cheered for Saori even more. Saori challenged Jungle Kyona to do the same and the crowd booed Jungle’s gyrating as she went to the canvas holding her chest in hurt shame. Once the comedy stopped, the match got out of control as it busted out into a tornado tag. Jungle and Natsuko Tora proved to be the most impressive tag team in the match as the showed off various power tag moves but Kris Wolf & Kimura stole the pinfall when Jungle had Kaori & Saori down. Decent match for Hana and Kris Wolf to win.
NWA Western States Tag Team Championship: Twisted Sisterz (Holidead & Thunder Rosa) (c) def. HZK & Momo Watanabe **
HZK and Momo are coming in with confidence of being in Queen’s Quest and step up to take on the bigger Holidead and Thunder Rosa (aka Kobra Moon from Lucha Underground). Queen Quest tries to jump Twisterd Sisterz before the bell but Holidead comes back manhandles HZK. She’s able to turn the match with the help of Momo to chop down Holidead but Thunder Rosa takes control to curse at Momo and dominate most of the way. Twisted Sisterz looked really impressive as they played old school monsters against Queen’s Quest. The young queens made one last try at the champs but Thunder Rosa rolled up HZK for the win. Another decent match that didn’t go too long.
Goddesses of Stardom Tag Team Championship: BY-Ho (Yoko Bito & Kairi Hojo) def. Oedo Tai (Kyoko Kimura & Kagetsu) (c)***3/4
The video package before the match showed Oedo Tai beating Thunder Rock to win the tag team titles in June, Bito and Hojo coming together as a tag team to win the Goddesses of Stardom Tag League and facing Kyoko & Hana in a 20 minute draw that had Kagetsu running interference.
BY-Ho comes out to one of the old NXT TakeOver Themes “Karate” by BabyMetal, which fits them as a tag team. The match started off really good as Kyoko whipped Kairi off the ropes out of a lockup and tried to fling her over her head only for Kairi to deliver a flying elbow smash to Kagetsu. Bito hit Kimura with a boot to the face and Kairi took out the rest of Oedo Tai with a splash to the floor. Oedo Tai would gain back control as they did their typical crowd brawling and worked over Kairi’s back. Hojo plays babyface in peril for a good amount of time before making the tag to Bito to clean house. But Kimura and Kagetsu do a good job with simple heel stuff like eye pokes to stop Bito too. Bito finally makes the tag to Kairi and she tries to do her Flying Elbow Drop but Kagetsu punches her. Kimura gets Hojo in a Gory Special on the top rope and falls backwards while Kagetsu delivers a top rope springboard facecrusher to Hojo. Unbelievable.
Kagetsu shows off more when Bito comes in as she is another one of the best and most athletic young talents in the joshi scene. It broke down to the typical modern tag match where we have all four in the ring. Kairi showed shades of another Kyoko, Kyoko Inoue to be exact as she did a springboard double back elbow to Oedo Tai. The briefcase that Oedo Tai carries to the ring was used as Hana Kimura distracted the referee but the match turned once Kagetsu hit Kyoko with the briefcase. Kagetsu hit Bito with a Death Valley Driver for a close two count but Bito was able to come back to hit her with a spining B Doll kick for a two count herself. Immediately, Kairi delivers her Flying Elbow Drop and Bito hits Kagetsu with a Doll B to become new champions. A really fun tag match that needs to be seen if you like old school heel work mixed in with modern tornado tag sequences. This marks both Bito and Hojo’s second Godessess of Stardom Tag Team Championship. After the match, BY-Ho got very emotional as it is Bito’s first championship since she came back from retirement in the summer. The win makes sense booking wise since Kyoko Kimura is retiring in January.
World of Stardom Championship: Io Shirai (c) def. Mayu Iwatani****3/4
On SamuraiTV, the production team took a different artistic approach heading into this main event. They had both Mayu and Io lip syncing lyrics to a song and both walk past each other dramatically in a music video montage with Mayu looking back at her former best friend. I saw on Twitter our very own Trask Bryant describe the video as something the DDT promotion would do but it was very artsy to clearly get fans behind Mayu. The crowd was certainly more in favor of Mayu but as the match went along, it was 50/50.
At the opening bell, Io offered Mayu a handshake mocking the other times she disrespected Mayu and Mayu smacked her this time to try to jump her. What would go on for the next 17 minutes would be hard for me to explain because the match had so many twists and turns. This match had call backs to the previous match they had in May with the Dragon Suplex on the floor and the apron but also brought hate as Io did a master class working over Mayu’s right leg and being a great heel. Everything seemed to click between these two in terms of building up the drama for fans to be sucked into the closing near falls. The closing stretch is worth the monthly price of Stardom World alone as Io flipped out of top rope Dragon Suplex to deliver three Chaos Theory German Suplexes for a close two count. Io delivered a Dragon Suplex for two and gave Mayu a moonsault for the win only for Mayu to kick out at one. Mayu gave her a Dragon Suplex for another close nearfall and then tried to follow up with a Tombstone Piledriver which was reversed by Io for a Tombstone of her own. Io downs Mayu with two consecutive moonsaults for make sure she retains her World of Stardom Championship. This is a definite Match of the Year Candidate for 2016 and is the best joshi puroresu match of the year. It wasn’t the greatest joshi match I’ve ever seen in my life but this has a good opportunity to be the best match in Stardom’s young history. Only the matches with Meiko Satomura vs Nanae Takahashi from March 20th 2012 and Meiko Satomura vs Kairi Hojo match from June 14th 2015 are in the running for that praise.
The booking of this match puts more questions in the air as Io still has the World Title and the WWE rumors have not gone away. But, this match solidified Mayu as the number two wrestler to Io in Stardom where the fans will eat up when she wins the World of Stardom Championship for the first time.
YEAR END AWARDS
Stardom gave out year end awards the next day similar to the Tokyo Sports Awards and I will go through each award and see if I agree with the selection.
Fighting Spirit Award – Yoko Bito
I don’t agree with this selection as Bito never really showed the fire that I thought deserved this award. She was in the promotion for only half of the year but it plays to the storyline of her battling into the main event scene. My selection would Kairi Hojo for how many different opponents she has faced and the dramatic moments she has had this year including the concussion suffered during the 5* STAR Grand Prix.
Best Technique – Kairi Hojo
Don’t agree with this one either as I feel Mayu Iwatani brought the best technique as she embodied the High Speed Championship and got very good performances along the way to keep the title.
Most Improved – Momo Watanabe
Out of the native wrestlers on the roster, Momo improved greatly and is now in the main event scene in Queens Quest. The match she had with Io Shirai at the 5* STAR Grand Prix proved that and the future is bright for her. I would also give consideration to Toni Storm as she came into Stardom as a solid wrestler and came out as one of the more dynamic women’s wrestlers on the planet.
Best Tag Team – BY Ho (Kairi Hojo & Yoko Bito)
This was only for storyline reasons as Thunder Rock split the month before. Hands down, Thunder Rock was the best tag team in Stardom. Only the team called Best Friends (Arisa Nakajima & Tsukasa Fujimoto) could lay claim of the best tag team in of all Joshi Puroresu and the cancellation of the Thunder Rock vs Best Friends match that scheduled to happen at the Ice Ribbon 10th Anniversary Show had to be the most disappointing moment in 2016. Both teams honestly deserve votes in the Wrestling Observer Awards for Tag Team of the Year but the competition might be too thick as several tag teams put on great performances all across the wrestling world.
Best Match – 12/22 Io Shirai vs Mayu Iwatani
I was very skeptical of this when I saw this result but after seeing the match, it deserved the Best Match Award.
MVP – Io Shirai
This is the most obvious pick of the awards as Io has been the definition of an MVP. Out of the 61 events that Stardom put together in 2016, Io Shirai was in 77% of the main event matches. Only her former teammate, Mayu Iwatani, comes close with 60%. You have to think that Shirai was World of Stardom Champion throughout the entire year with 9 title defenses but also Goddesses of Stardom, Artist of Stardom, and the first ever SWA Undisputed World Champion. She put on a breathtaking performance in Lucha Underground against Pentagon Dark and also faced Meiko Satomura for the Sendai Girls Championship to draw the biggest attendance of the year for Sendai Girls in July. She was not only valuable to Stardom but valuable to joshi puroresu as a whole. Io Shirai deserves to be talked about among the best Aces in Japan next to Kazuchika Okada and Kento Miyahara. The character arc of Io is an amazing one as well as it compares to a Bryan Danielson in Ring of Honor in terms of a character (not the ring work) as she won the World Title to take back to the promotion only for her to get more cocky and arrogant until she finally snapped against Mayu. She embodies what the Ace role should be as in being absolutely better than anyone else at all costs and not afraid to be dismissive or be a lay the law down in the ring when need be. With her leading Queen’s Quest and defending the World of Stardom Championship 9 times, she truly deserves the nickname of Queen Ace.
STARDOM YEAR END CLIMAX 2016
Great - 8/10
I would go out of your way to see this show as the undercard is a breeze to go by. The Goddesses of Stardom Tag Team Title Match is fun to watch and the main event is must see before heading into 2017. The show also show signs of where Stardom might be heading in terms of the major players being a combination of Io Shirai, Mayu Iwatani, Kairi Hojo, Yoko Bito, Hana Kimura and Konami. It’s unsure if HZK, Momo Watanabe and Jungle Kyona will be elevated or if they bring in more freelancers like Arisa Nakajima (who just lost the JWP Openweight Championship and is a freelancer in 2017) or use the promising ones they have like Kagetsu, SWA World Champion Toni Storm, or Oz Academy Openweight Champion Hiroyo Matsumoto. But the future looks bright for Stardom if all of their pieces stay together. Even facing the possibility of Io and Kairi leaving, they have made a public commitment in the last two Korakuen Shows of looking towards younger talent to keep Stardom going forward.