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The Illustrious History of STARDOM’s White Belt

8 months ago

The Illustrious History of STARDOM’s White Belt

By: James Carlin

Twelve years ago, and five months after their first show, Stardom announced the introduction of their two major world titles: The World of Stardom championship and the Wonder of Stardom championship.

The World of Stardom title was red, taking influence from the WWWA belt in All Japan Women’s, and the Wonder of Stardom title was white, also taking influence from AJW, but from their All Pacific championship. During their introduction, it was established that the “Red Belt” represented the best wrestler in the world — “Goddess of the Fight World”, whereas the “White Belt” was for the best wrestler in Stardom — “Symbol of the Shining Star”.

These meanings and interpretations have slightly changed since their initial creation, but one thing that has always rang true for the holder of the White Belt is that they are always performers that truly embody the spirit of joshi puroresu. And the very first person to win the Wonder of Stardom championship did just that, as Yuzuki Aikawa would become the inaugural champion after defeating the imposing Yoshiko in a decision match at Stardom X Stardom on July 24th, 2011.

Yuzuki Aikawa as the Inaugural Champion

Wonder of Stardom champion Yuzuki Aikawa with then-IWGP Heavyweight champion Hiroshi Tanahashi, and Rossy Ogawa, in January 2013, from Yuzuki Aikawa’s blog.

Throughout her monumental 618 day reign as champion, Aikawa would continue to get better and better, quickly proving herself to be the standout of Stardom’s trainee roster at the time, defending the title a total of eight times – vanquishing future Planet faction members Io Shirai and Arisa Hoshiki in her first two defences, overcoming Nanae Gundan’s Miho Wakizawa in her third, defeating her BY Cannon tag team partner Yoko Bito in her fourth, then rounding out her reign with successful wins over Act Yasukawa of Kawakatsu Plus One, Kairi Hojo and Natsumi Showzuki of Ho-Show Tennyo in her next two, and finally defending against Yasukawa once more before relinquishing the championship undefeated. During this time, she also became the first ever winner of the 5★STAR GP, using it as an opportunity to challenge Nanae Takahashi for the World of Stardom title, albeit unsuccessfully.

Every match that Aikawa defended the championship in felt like a spectacle and a big deal, even for the production values of the company at the time. Her flurry of kick combinations never held back as she dismantled her opponents one by one during her time as champion. Between February and November of 2012, all out faction warfare saw her defending her Goddess of Stardom tag team titles with Yoko Bito against opposing units Kawakatsu Plus One, Planet and Nanae Gundan. However, this didn’t stop Aikawa, and she continued to defend her White Belt frequently after August, with her successful defence against Hojo in January 2013 signalling the mutual dissolution of her Full Power Girls faction.

Following Aikawa’s retirement, the next champion would be Dark Angel, the first foreign holder of the belt, but her reign was thwarted by the evil drunken spirit Act Yasukawa, who ended up relinquishing the title due to injury. Yasukawa wouldn’t be out for long as by the time Stardom’s 4th Anniversary show came around, she was now flanked by Oedo-Tai, who helped her defeat Mayu Iwatani to become the first ever two-time Wonder of Stardom champion. Once again, Yasukawa’s reign would be plagued by an injury that put her out indefinitely, and in her place came Io Shirai — winning the vacant championship in a tournament final against Nikki Storm.

Highlighting Stardom’s Future

Arisa Hoshiki as Wonder of Stardom champion in 2019. c/o @taigaPhoto_pw

Shirai’s reign would be over as quickly as Dark Angel’s, being dethroned by Santana Garrett in a title vs. title match where Garrett also had her NWA World Women’s championship on the line. This would be the most unique Wonder of Stardom title reign, as it saw Garrett defend the championship across the United States eight times during her time as champion, with all defences recognised by Stardom. In the end, her 174 day reign was ended by the quickly rising Pirate Princess, Kairi Hojo.

Much like her old Full Power Girls leader and the first Wonder of Stardom champion, Hojo was a lovable character but even more dangerous in the ring, refusing to hold back at any opportunity and fighting to remain as champion. She amassed a full year as the champion where she defended against numerous foreign talents such as Viper, Nixon Newell and Chelsea Green whilst also trying to keep the title away from the hands of Jungle Kyona, Queen’s Quest members Konami and HZK, and Oedo-Tai’s Hana Kimura. Her reign would come to an end when she was defeated by her former Threedom stablemate Mayu Iwatani.

Fast forward a year, and a passing of the torch moment is held when Io Shirai loses the White Belt to Momo Watanabe, and in doing so names her the new leader of Queen’s Quest, with the Genius of the Sky leaving Stardom shortly afterwards.

Watanabe’s reign brings back a ruthless attitude to the championship that hadn’t been seen since the cunning in-ring prowess of Act Yasukawa; she used her kicks to her advantage, forcing her opponents to truly showcase their fighting spirit against the newly crowned ace of the company. One by one, the challengers would fall. Kyona, Hazuki, Tam Nakano, Jamie Hayter, and Mayu Iwatani. Watanabe’s reign would be the first to have a match end in a double knockout, as herself and World of Stardom champion Kagetsu would clash in a title vs. title encounter in September 2018.

A returning Arisa Hoshiki with her newly won Cinderella Tournament wish would usurp the Queen’s Quest leader as Wonder of Stardom champion, beginning her reign with an unforgettable and highly-praised title defence against her reluctant STARS partner Tam Nakano. Hoshiki moved onto a defence at York Hall in England against Roxxy, then returning to Japan and accumulated title defences in fantastic bouts against Hazuki, Kyona, Kagetsu, Hayter and Konami; before ending up at the 9th Anniversary show against the “Big Rookie” Utami Hayashishita, painting a memorable picture when Hayashishita bled profusely from her face during the match. Hoshiki would suddenly retire from wrestling in May 2020, vacating the Wonder of Stardom title alongside her retirement, leaving the start of Stardom’s pandemic era with no one holding the White Belt.

The White Belt in the Pandemic

Two people came into contention for the vacant title: Giulia and Tam Nakano.

Giulia, having won the 2020 Cinderella Tournament, wanted to use her wish to challenge Hoshiki, but instead found herself using it to guarantee herself entry into a tournament to name a Wonder of Stardom champion. Tam Nakano, however, had made a promise to her former DREAM SHiNE partner Hoshiki that she would eventually beat her for the belt; unfortunately Giulia put an end to Nakano’s dreams of winning the title when she defeated the Top Kawaii of the Cosmos to become Wonder of Stardom champion, and then defeating her again in a rematch for the title.

Giulia enters the Tokyo Dome as Wonder of Stardom champion. c/o @taigaPhoto_pw

Whilst being the champion the next eight months, Giulia would prove herself as the “Dangerous Queen” — a nickname passed down to her by Akira Hokuto — by defending her title consistently every month after beating Nakano in their rematch. She successfully kept her title against her Donna del Mondo stablemates Himeka and Syuri, with the latter going to a time limit draw; she disposed of Oedo-Tai’s Konami as well as its leader Natsuko Tora in a no-rules match; then went on to successfully defend against Starlight Kid… only to have her time with the belt cut short when Tam Nakano finally beat her at the legendary Nippon Budokan in a hair vs. hair match to win the belt her former tag team partner Arisa Hoshiki once held.

Nakano’s reign with the championship came at a crucial period for Stardom. They were still in the rebuilding stages of the company following the pandemic, and the hair vs. hair match against Giulia had brought in a lot of new fans to Stardom during a time when most people were still stuck indoors and needed something to watch. Her reign began the concept of the title being a “cursed belt”, as Nakano herself puts it: “a championship full of emotions that brings out the soul in one’s heart – people who possess the title for long enough go through Hell, but it makes them a better person because of it.”

It was a big departure from what had been expected of the White Belt, and during a time where crowd participation was very limited, a focus on the emotions of the wrestlers may be what the title needed in such a drastically new and unforeseen environment.

During her reign with the championship throughout 2021, Nakano would defend the White Belt against her old friend Natsupoi who had arrived in Stardom the year prior; then fending off challenges from her Cosmic Angels partners Mina Shirakawa and Unagi Sayaka, as well as keeping hold of the title against Starlight Kid, who now possessed an entirely new attitude since she had joined Oedo-Tai, but Nakano would eventually see her twilight dream crushed in December when Saya Kamitani took the championship from her grasp at Dream Queendom at the end of 2021.

Saya Kamitani Brings Life Back to the Belt

The Golden Phoenix had a star-making reign as Wonder of Stardom champion, keeping hold of the atmosphere that embodied the spirit of joshi puroresu, engaging in captivating bouts across a slew of challenges as she slowly made her way past Momo Watanabe’s defence record, defeating Watanabe herself to become the new record holder at fifteen. Her reign became the second longest in Stardom history behind Yuzuki Aikawa, passing Arisa Hoshiki to push her reign into third longest along the way.

Kamitani’s reign had a rejuvenated feeling of importance and spectacle that Nakano’s reign before her had lacked, as Cosmic Angels juggled the Artist of Stardom and Wonder of Stardom titles through her reigns on-top of constant head-to-heads with Giulia during the year. There would be times where the White Belt felt like an afterthought when the Artist of Stardom championships had to be defended, and Kamitani’s defeat of Nakano at Dream Queendom in December sought to rectify that lost time.

With only one championship to focus on defending, the Golden Phoenix gave a rebirth to the phrase “Symbol of the Shining Star”, fighting fierce battles against harder, stronger, faster, and more cunning opponents, leaving with many to consider her as the women’s wrestler of the year not only in West, but domestically in Japan too, where she won “Outstanding Performance” at the 2022 Stardom Awards. It was clear that it was a special time to be watching Stardom as Red Belt champion Syuri and White Belt champion Saya Kamitani both fought valiantly against one another’s matches on major shows to decide who could have the best championship reign of 2022.

At Yokohama Arena, Stardom’s biggest show so far, Kamitani entered as Wonder of Stardom champion for the final time as Mina Shirakawa came back for vengeance after Kamitani shattered Shirakawa’s jaw in their title match back in November, and this time Shirakawa prevailed as the new champion.

Saya Kamitani as Wonder of Stardom champion in April 2023. c/o Masahiro Kubota

Shirakawa’s reign looked to be just as significant as the former’s, considering the now-leader of Club Venus had improved in the ring tenfold in the last year, but her desire to have a double crown match would be her downfall, and once again Tam Nakano would hold the White Belt, making her the second person in history to hold the Red Belt and the White Belt at the same time, after Mayu Iwatani.

A new contender would throw their hat in the ring as MIRAI, now a two-time Cinderella Tournament winner, once again challenged for the Wonder of Stardom championship, this time successful in her pursuits and ending Nakano’s short time with the title despite Nakano’s attempt at mind games by wearing the same gear she wore when she beat Giulia for the title – which MIRAI was in attendance for.

Looking Ahead for the White Belt’s Future

Since 2011, fifteen women have held the Wonder of Stardom championship across nineteen reigns, and the establishment of the belt and its first holder, Yuzuki Aikawa, brought women’s pro-wrestling out of a dark time in Japan.

As the years go by, the title becomes more and more like the WWE Intercontinental Championship — highlighting the best in-ring performers that joshi puroresu has to offer, etching their names forever in the history books as those who brought back a fire and heart into joshi when it needed it the most.

The future looks to only hold greatness if the next set of Wonder of Stardom champions look to continue the spirit of joshi puroresu and the “Symbol of the Shining Star” for years to come.

This article first appeared in Issue #12 of Monthly Puroresu.

Written by:

Initially hired for social media management and Joshi coverage, I lead the coverage of joshi between May 2023 and March 2024, and worked behind the scenes in multiple roles since August 2022 that allowed Monthly Puroresu to smoothly operate.