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STARDOM at Yokohama Arena: A Promising Future For Joshi Puroresu

1 year ago

STARDOM at Yokohama Arena: A Promising Future For Joshi Puroresu

By: James Carlin

World Wonder Ring Stardom held their biggest show in the company’s twelve year history when they became the first all women’s company to run the legendary Yokohama Arena since 2003, when All Japan Women’s held their 35th Anniversary show. The tagline for that show was “The Future”, and if STARDOM’s show at the same venue proved anything – the future is in safe hands. Every championship that was defended changed hands at the show – Goddess of Stardom, Artist of Stardom, IWGP Women’s title, Wonder of Stardom and World of Stardom all shifted to a new owner in one of the best shows that STARDOM has ever ran in its history.

The beginning of All Star Grand Queendom paid short tribute to STARDOM’s very first set of trainees during a video package centered around the first World of Stardom champion, Nanae Takahashi. In that group featured recognisable names such as Mayu Iwatani, Arisa Hoshiki, Natsuki Taiyo, Yoko Bito, Yoshiko, Haruka and Yuzuki Aikawa, with Fuka Kakimoto, Nanae Takahashi and Rossy Ogawa at the front. Considering how far the company had come since the first show, it felt fitting that there was a small recognition of how it all began at Shin-kiba 1st RING to get to where they are today at the legendary Yokohama Arena.

STARDOM’s roster on the company’s announcement press conference in September 2010.

Three wrestlers who took part in the last Yokohama Arena show in 2003 were featured on the 2023 card: Kaori Yoneyama (as Fukigen Death), Momoe Nakanishi, and Nanae Takahashi. It only seemed appropriate that Nanae, who helped trained many future stars in joshi puroresu alongside Fuka Kakimoto, would unsuccessfully defend her Goddess of Stardom championships against a team called The New Eras, consisting of two-time Cinderella Tournament winner MIRAI and Future of Stardom champion Ami Sohrei. Commentating the title match at ringside was Nakanishi, who teamed with Nanae in AJW as Nanamomo.

Earlier in the show, “Jumbo Princess” Himeka had her penultimate match as a performer, and last in STARDOM, facing off against her MaiHime partner Maika. She was ring announced by Club Venus’ Mina Shirakawa, who ring announced her debut match five years ago against Actwres girl’Z performer Miku Aono. It was an emotional battle that ended with Maika headbutting her partner and begging her not to kick out of her Michinoku Driver finisher, ending her time in STARDOM as an active part of the roster.

Himeka makes her final entrance as part of STARDOM’s roster. c/o Masahiro Kubota

The show opened with a high-speed rush that saw Marvelous alumni now-STARDOM wrestler Mei Seira teaming with Starlight Kid against current high-speed champion AZM and Gatoh Move’s Mei Suruga. MeiMei may not have reunited in the way we anticipated – yet that sadness quickly wore off when the four created a stellar opening contest which may be one of the best in STARDOM’s PPV history, setting the tone of what was to come for a historic show.

Japanese celebrity Fuwa-chan made her return to the squared circle, once again teaming with STARS’ Hazuki against Utami Hayashishita and Miyu Amasaki. She trained with Kazuchika Okada leading up to the match, so it wasn’t a surprise that she performed above expectations for only her second ever wrestling match, hitting some incredible moves that got the crowd in the audience and at home pumped up.

KAIRI, Natsupoi, and Saori Anou – once known as stART during a brief partnership between STARDOM and Actwres girl’Z – teamed together for the first time as a trio under the new name REstart as they entered to the ring to KAIRI’s majestic music “Last Voyage”. On the other side of the ring stood Risa Sera, Suzu Suzuki and Kurumi Hiiragi of the freelance group PROMINENCE. The trio may be some of the best deathmatch performers today, but their in-ring prowess can’t be overlooked, having defeated Abarenbo GE to win the Triangle Derby tournament and keeping hold of their championships before once again retaining the titles against Queen’s Quest at Korakuen Hall where KAIRI revealed the return of the “Absolutely Indomitable Girlfriend” Saori Anou to STARDOM. Both trios teams had great chemistry with each other, giving a fantastic bout for the Artist of Stardom titles that Saori Anou pin Suzu Suzuki to bring trios titles to REstart, ending the hardcore trio’s 115 day reign with the belts.

Following the incredible trios action was Saya Kamitani defending her Wonder of Stardom championship against Mina Shirakawa. Shirakawa looked for retribution for when Kamitani broke her jaw on a phoenix splash in their last White Belt encounter, and the Club Venus leader ended the Golden Phoenix’s newly set single reign defence record at fifteen. Kamitani’s reign as Wonder of Stardom champion made her the second longest in the company’s history, after inaugural champion Yuzuki Aikawa’s 618 day reign and ahead of Arisa Hoshiki’s 370 day reign. Now with Mina Shirakawa as the master of emotion in STARDOM’s hierarchy, who knows what fantastic matches she’ll have in her reign.

To no one’s surprise, the match to come after Shirakawa’s emotional championship victory was an absolute barn-burner in the form of Syuri vs. Chihiro Hashimoto. Hashimoto immediately came to fight Syuri after she lost her World of Stardom championship to Giulia, but found herself facing off against and defeating MIRAI in a phenomenal contest in February at Supreme Fight before getting the win over Himeka in one of her wishes of her retirement road. The connections between Sendai Girls and STARDOM have been going back almost as far as the company’s inception, and Hashimoto’s three matches starting in February are proof that not only Hashimoto deserves to be in STARDOM much more regularly, but that the partnership between Sendai Girls and STARDOM should continue in the near future. Syuri offered to go to Sendai Girls to have a re-match against Hashimoto down the line.

A dream match became reality as Sasha Banks, now under the name Mercedes Moné, defended her IWGP Women’s title that she won from KAIRI. She already defended the championship once at NJPW Sakura Genesis against AZM and Hazuki, but Mayu Iwatani was an entirely different challenge. Iwatani’s story is the story of STARDOM itself. She has been there since the very first show and has now won the IWGP Women’s Championship at Yokohama Arena – the biggest show to date. She lead the company during a time of uncertainty during the COVID-19 Pandemic, and has been the one constant throughout the company’s history besides Rossy Ogawa himself. If anyone deserved a big championship victory at this show, it was the Icon of Stardom.

Finally, the main event of the first all women’s Yokohama Arena show in thirty years – Giulia vs. Tam Nakano for the World of Stardom championship.

It has been a three year journey to get to this moment for these two women. Upon Arisa Hoshiki’s retirement as the Wonder of Stardom champion, subsequently vacating the title, Tam Nakano said she would keep true to her promise and win the White Belt – but Cinderella Tournament winner Giulia had other plans, defeating her in the tournament finals for the Wonder of Stardom title, then defending the title against her successfully once again. At Yokohama Budokan, Tam would finally win the championship from Giulia and forcing Giulia to shave her head yet the animosity wasn’t over as throughout the next two years, the bitter rivals would find themselves in each other’s crossfires over a multitude of reasons including leadership of their respective factions and trading defecting members to each other.

Giulia would defeat Tam in the 2022 5★STAR GP Finals and go on to become World of Stardom champion, defending against former Ice Ribbon friends Suzu Suzuki and Maya Yukihi before Tam stepped onto the stage and challenged her for the title. She ripped her hair off at KBS Hall and held up the Red Belt like she had done when she won the White Belt from Giulia, then Giulia headbutted Tam so hard she began to bleed at the press conference for the match. After everything that has happened, the two finally meet once again for the biggest prize and championship in women’s professional wrestling.

It was a ferocious bout; imagine if Shinobu Kandori and Akira Hokuto were in the same company at Dream Slam 1, this would be what it was like. The hatred for each other was clear as day as the champion wishes to finish her story with the Top Kawaii of the Cosmos once and for all. Tam would take multiple hard-hitting attacks from the champion, continuing to kick-out and not give up on her dreams of being at the top of STARDOM, where the view is the most beautiful, and the greatest.

Tam Nakano would not give up, and her dreams were finally realized as she hit her Violet Screwdriver to become the 16th World of Stardom champion at Yokohama Arena, after a heated and incredible match against her biggest rival.

Many journeys finally came to their end at All Star Grand Queendom as a new era of champions were formed throughout the show – every title besides the Artist championships (now held once again by Natsupoi, and by KAIRI) had a never-before seen holder that indicated their first time with their respective belts.

READ: Rossy Ogawa’s Storied History, and the Revolution of Joshi Puroresu

It was thirteen years ago that former AJW producer Rossy Ogawa saw Fuka training young wrestlers at Shin-Kiba 1st RING, realising that a new boom of women’s pro-wrestling could be imminent with new stars on the horizon. Ogawa’s incredible vision has paid off – as this new high period in joshi puroresu continues to grow – running Yokohama Budokan, Yokohama Arena, and the presence of smaller companies creating the next biggest stars in the industry alongside STARDOM’s revolutionary run as the undisputed number one women’s company in the world.

STARDOM’s Yokohama Arena show was a celebration of joshi puroresu’s past whilst giving a clear focus on the promising future of joshi too. The future of women’s pro-wrestling is in good hands, and STARDOM’s monumental Yokohama Arena show is only the beginning of a bright new history.

All photos by Masahiro Kubota, copyright Monthly Puroresu LLC