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Utami Hayashishita vs. Syuri: The Red War

2 years ago

Utami Hayashishita vs. Syuri: The Red War

How Stardom’s biggest feud evolved over the course of five matches and fifteen months

By: Trent Breward

For 409 days, Utami Hayashishita stood tall as the World of Stardom Champion, reigning over the promotion as the fearsome final boss. She was who everyone was chasing, and while many tried to topple the Red Queen, they all fell short of Hayashishita.

All except one.

As dominant as Utami was during her time as champion, there was one opponent she couldn’t quite figure out. The sole blemish on her title reign. Over the course of five matches between September 2020 and December 2021, Utami was unable to defeat Syuri. The World of Stardom Championship was a symbol of her supreme might, but without the scalp of her biggest rival there would always be an asterisk next to her supremacy over the entire roster.

Syuri hungered for the Red Belt that sat around Hayashishita’s waist. She had won championships in kickboxing and Pancrase, and spent most of 2021 carrying both the SWA World Title and the Goddess of Stardom Tag Titles, but the belt Utami held was the one she needed most.

Ever since her mother passed away in September 2020, Syuri had been winning to make her proud. While SWA Champion she represented the Filipino heritage her mother bestowed upon her. There would be no better way to make her mum proud than by winning the World of Stardom Championship.

Together, the story these two warriors weaved would form the backbone of one of Stardom’s strongest-ever years, and the intensity and spectacle of their matches drew worldwide attention to a degree they had never before seen.

Matches 1 and 2: September 19, 2020 and May 14, 2021

Photo Credit: twitter/taigaPhoto_pw

Utami and Sayuri wouldn’t meet one-on-one until the 2020 5 Star Grand Prix, an innocuous first match that would lay the foundation of their storied rivalry. Their focus was not on each other, but on what awaited them if they won: a spot in the tournament final. Syuri needed to win, but Utami could squeeze through on a draw as she was one point ahead in the standings.

Syuri controlled most of the early stages of the match with her superior technical skill, peppering in submission attempts to keep Utami on the back foot. She had to be careful though, because any opening would leave a chance for just one brute force hit from Hayashishita to swing the momentum.

For twenty minutes they fought, but when Utami hit her (then) finisher – a Spinning Torture Rack Bomb – the ref couldn’t complete the count before time expired. Win or draw, Utami would advance to the final, but the record books would show that she didn’t beat Syuri, a fact that would eat her up inside.

Utami would go on to win the tournament, and from there claim the World of Stardom Championship from Mayu Iwatani in November. At just twenty two years old, she was already at the top of the mountain; holding that championship put her on a very exclusive list. Immediately she set off to rectify the blemishes on her 5 Star Grand Prix record.

Her first two defenses were against Momo Watanabe and Maika, the only other people she failed to defeat in the tournament. Both succumbed to the newly crowned champion – now all she had to do was defeat Syuri and she would have atoned for all of her missteps.

The rematch didn’t come quite so quickly, however. Syuri had won the SWA World title on the same night that Utami won the Red Belt, so she too was busy fending off challengers. It wouldn’t be until April that Syuri issued the challenge, and by then the single elimination Cinderella Tournament was looming. She’d have to earn it the hard way.

Both promised to use their “wish” that comes with the tournament victory to schedule a rematch, but the brackets meant they’d face off in the second round. By now their rivalry was starting to really take off. Syuri’s mindgames filled the lead-up, leaving the champion confused after a tag match by planting a kiss on the unsuspecting Utami.

In the months since their last match Utami had learned to adapt to Syuri’s ground game, forcing her to resort to striking earlier – which was still a strength, but opened her up more to the champion’s game. They would follow this pattern throughout the rivalry: Syuri would control a match, Utami would adapt in the rematch, only for Syuri to adapt and regain control in the following contest. Control within each match would ebb and flow as they learned the other’s tricks.

Syuri would win the match, although not convincingly. In the Cinderella Tournament, victory can occur via over-the-top-rope elimination. After Utami made the mistake of chasing a vulnerable Syuri to the apron, she unnecessarily put herself at risk. A running knee dislodged the champion, sending Utami to the floor and eliminating her from the competition.

It wasn’t a pinfall and it wasn’t a submission, but it did put her one step closer to her goal. Syuri had been so focused on Utami that later that night she would succumb to the underdog Unagi Sayaka in similar fashion. Saya Kamitani would go on to win the tournament, but she desired the Wonder of Stardom Title. That left Utami in need of a challenger.

Match 3: June 12, 2021

Photo Credit: twitter/taigaPhoto_pw

This is the match that elevated their feud to a new level, drawing in attention on a global scale and earning Dave Meltzer’s highest-ever star rating for a women’s match with 5.5. Subscriptions for Stardom’s streaming service surged in the immediate aftermath as people followed the hype.

After a more even second match, Syuri looked to wear down the champion with lots of throws, body kicks and pinfall attempts early. The strategy worked, and she dominated the first twenty minutes while Utami struggled to string together consecutive moves. When a headkick rocked the champion and forced her out of the ring to recover, things were looking grim.

Exhausted but not defeated, Utami rallied, crushing Syuri with several big moves on the outside to level the playing field. The thirty-minute time limit expired soon after as they traded tired forearms, so intently focused that they didn’t hear the bell and had to be separated by referee Daichi Murayama.

With a burning desire to prove she could beat Syuri, she accepted the challengers request for extra time, and with a chance to catch her breath, launched back into a slugfest once the bell rang.

The champion had never been tested like this, and in the aftermath it was clear that keeping Utami down would take a herculean effort. Syuri was able to pull it off, but at the expense of her own strength. One last headkick knocked Utami out, but the challenger also collapsed upon impact, burning what little reserves she had left. Neither woman could answer the count of ten. After 43 minutes, it still wasn’t clear who was the best.

Matches 4 and 5: September 4, 2021 & December 29, 2021

Having fought for 70 total minutes, when Utami and Syuri faced off in the 2021 5 Star Grand Prix there was no need for a feeling-out process. Frustration over the draw at Ota Ward still hung over their heads, and once the bell rang both wrestlers went straight to exchanging vicious strikes, picking up right where they had left off.

In a match that was far more even and aggressive than their past battles, the twenty-minute time limit quickly expired with neither warrior coming close to landing the killer blow. They both lamented their inability to find a clear victor, and promised that the next time they fought, there would be no time limit.

Utami would not make the final, just short in points after Tam Nakano defeated her. Syuri, though, would go on to win the tournament, earning the right to challenge for the World of Stardom Championship in December. Syuri would need to defend that right over the next couple of months, but it all felt elementary. There was nothing that would stand between the two of them facing off one more time, with no time limit and the chance to name a final, definitive winner.

Ryogoku Sumo Hall would be the setting for their fifth and, for now, final encounter. Utami had started to speak of passing Io Shirai’s all-time Red Belt defense record, and she wanted to chase that honor with Syuri off her back. She needed this win. It wouldn’t just be Utami Hayashishita’s title on the line, either. Syuri put up her SWA World Title, the title she won on the same night Utami claimed her title. Someone’s reign was ending at 409 days.

Photo Credit: twitter/taigaPhoto_pw

The difference in this match came down to Syuri’s strategy. In previous matches, her submissions targeted the arm, but this time her focus was on Utami’s taped knee. She pelted it with leg kicks and had her opponent crying out in pain from submissions. Utami refused to give in, but the biggest payoff came when Syuri was at her most vulnerable.

At the thirty-minute mark Utami managed to hit the BT Bomb, only to collapse as her knee gave way. She was forced to crawl across the ring, giving Syuri ten seconds to regain her senses and survive. Utami’s failure to capitalize seemed to break her. Syuri quickly regained the upper hand, and the champion could only offer up a desperate defense before eventually succumbing to the challenger’s onslaught.

Fifteen months prior, the two met one-on-one for the first time, dueling for twenty minutes without an answer to the question of who was better.

Five matches, fifteen months. Two hours, seven minutes and nine seconds worth of wrestling. That’s how long it took to finally determine who was the stronger wrestler. Syuri got to close out the year, honoring her late mother with the World of Stardom Championship. She had now stood on top of the world in Kickboxing, Pancrase and Pro Wrestling.

She has to know that it is only a matter of time before Utami Hayashishita comes knocking. She won’t be content until she can finally overcome her greatest rival.

Considering her success against everyone else on the roster, why does Utami struggle to face Syuri? In an interview with Mugiko Ozaki (English translation provided by @ItsDanaNow on Twitter), she identified which wrestlers trouble her:

I’d say it’s about technique, there are lots of wrestlers that use submission holds or lots of kicks and I’m just a totally different type of fighter, so I really struggle to get a read on that… I need to overcome my weaknesses. If my opponent’s a power fighter and they’re going to try and hit me with a lariat, I can read that movement and predict it, but when I just suddenly get kicked it feels like it’s out of nowhere, you know, I’m not exactly great at handling that… I get kicked in the head and I’m just like, “Oh man, is that even allowed?”

The description of the wrestler she finds toughest to deal with perfectly describes Syuri. Coming to Stardom with an extensive martial arts history, she incorporates brutal kicks and deadly submissions to great effect. Syuri is the perfect adversary for Utami Hayahsishita.

This article was first published in Monthly Puroresu Issue #7

Written by:

After a regular receiving my Bachelor's degree from the University of Tasmania – yes, it's a real place – I went on to hone my writing craft before falling in love with STARDOM. As luck would have it, Thom and I started chatting about Joshi in early 2021, and I've been responsible for spearheading STARDOM content at Monthly Puroresu ever since. My work includes shortform, feature length profiles, op-eds, and Q&As.