Stardom: New Year Stars Day 1 review
Joshi promotion Stardom inaugurated the new year with three shows titled New Year Stars. The first one, held on January 3rd in Tokyo, was released on their Stardom World video service. The show served both as a new starting point after the huge Year-End Climax (which took place on December 22nd, 2016) and as buildup to the much awaited January 15th Koruaken Hall Anniversary show.
Azumi vs Ruaka
The first match saw two under-18s opposing each other: Azumi (who is 14, but already quite experienced in Stardom) and Ruaka (12). The two were partners at the Year-End Climax (where they lost to Arisu Nanase) and took this match in good spirit. The match itself was fast-paced and quite sloppy, but enjoyable as a show opener. Azumi won in less than five minutes and gave a funny lesson to Ruaka afterwards (Stardom shows have English subtitles, which is rather unique for Japanese promotions and very much appreciated).
Kaori Yoneyama, Konami & Natsuko Tora vs Arisu Nanase, Hiromi Mimura & Saori Anou
Following the opening bout, this 3 vs 3 tag team match did a good job of warming up the crowd. Arisu Nanase had a very convincing performance, carrying her team to victory in an entertaining match. Konami and Hiromi Mimura found themselves opposite each other after their good match at the Year-End Climax; they were a bit more guarded this time and had little time to shine. Natsuko Tora left once again a good impression. The match had an unfortunate botch, but was still enjoyable, as a very lenient referee allowed the action to flow freely, at the cost of allowing a few cheap shots.
Kagetsu vs Momo Watanabe — RECOMMENDED, *** ½
This match was a joy to watch. These two wrestlers are in very peculiar moments of their careers: Kagetsu no longer holds the Goddess of Stardom title (she and Kyoko Kimura lost it to Kairi Hojo & Yoko Bito), and her position in the Oedo Tai faction might change now that Kyoko is close to her retirement; Momo, on the other hand, has grown immensely after joining forces with Queen’s Quest, the group led by the champion Io Shirai. Initially, Kagetsu’s irreverent attitude made the match very funny (with a lot of broomstick action that the referee struggled to keep under control). When Momo took the initiative, however, the two girls ramped up the speed and intensity of the moves.
The bout ended abruptly at the 15 minutes time limit, which showed how evenly matched the two girls were — although, to be fair, Momo had just nailed Kagetsu with a big move when the bell rung and the match ended. This confidence boost allowed Momo to issue a challenge to Mayu Iwatani (whom Momo used to idolize and look up to) for her High Speed Title. Her ambition could clash with Queen’s Quest plans for Stardom domination, but from what we’ve seen, Momo will be strong enough to stand up on her own.
Kay Lee Ray & Nixon Newell vs Kris Wolf & Viper
This all-gaijin tag team match saw fast-paced action and laughs all around, as the explosive Kris Wolf from Oedo Tai teamed up with the giant Viper against the British team of Kay Lee Ray and Nixon Newell. Ray and Newell were able to dictate the pace of the match, putting Viper and Kris Wolf in some tight spots (they ended up hitting each other more than a few times). Viper showed clear dominance thanks to her size and repertoire, and proved to be more than a match for the two international stars (Ray is the ICW Women’s Champion and Newell is the WCPW Women’s champion). The match was not necessarily serious competition, and provided some much appreciated slapstick entertainment.
Jungle Kyona, Mayu Iwatani & Shayna Baszler vs Oedo Tai (Kagetsu & Kyoko Kimura) & Sumie Sakai
This match was mostly special due to the presence of veteran Sumie Sakai, who had not fought in Japan since her late 2011 appearances in Diana (unless I missed something, in which case feel free to point it out!). The other major attraction was Shayna Baszler, as this was her debut in a Japanese Stardom show (she had two matches in the American tour of October 2015). Baszler, who is a former MMA veteran with matches in UFC and INVICTA, has attained considerable success in her first full year as a professional wrestler — she currently holds both the AIW and PREMIER championships, she has challenged for the Heart of SHIMMER championship and she was included in PWI’s Female 50 for 2016. Kagetsu had to pull double duty and fight alongside Sumie Sakai as a member of Oedo Tai, as Hana Kimura (Kyoko’s daughter) was sidelined by a wrist injury.
The match was enjoyable, but not memorable — the action felt very disjointed and dragged on for a bit. Jungle Kyona, who in the eyes of many is the talent to watch for 2017, delivered the most convincing performance, while Baszler showcased her powerful offense. Mayu Iwatani, who came very close to dethroning Io Shirai at the Year-End Climax, took the brunt of the attacks from Oedo Tai. Sumie Sakai did not gel very well with Oedo Tai, who on their part seemed almost absent-minded at times, as if more preoccupied with Kyoko Kimura’s announced retirement than with this new year’s match (which they lost).
Queen’s Quest (HZK & Io Shirai) vs BY HOU (Kairi Hojo & Yoko Bito) — RECOMMENDED, ***
This match is not among Io Shirai’s top 50, and is still a very good match: that’s how good the Stardom champion is, both in singles and tag team competition. Newly crowned Goddesses of Stardom BY HOU, however, proved more than a match for Queen’s Quest. This main event fight had a very strict structure, with long phases of alternate dominance. Queen’s Quest worked very well in tag team action when the pace was slow, switching in and out to apply painful submission holds. BY HOU, on the other hand, made a huge difference in the fastest sequences of the match, gaining a decisive advantage and ultimately the victory.
Io Shirai wrestles at a level of intensity no one seems to match in Stardom (or anywhere else), but Kairi Hojo was able to match her in short bursts, delivering some hard blows to the champion. This match had a few slow phases, but the high-speed action that followed was excellent. The other two competitors were able to showcase their moves as well, with Yoko Bito powering through QQ’s tag team manoeuvres and HZK acting as a valuable support to Io Shirai. With Momo Watanabe’s meteoric rise, it’s easy to forget that HZK is still young and could have a big 2017, either in Queen’s Quest under the guide of Io Shirai or eventually taking flight on her own.
After the match ended, many Stardom wrestlers took to the ring to address the crowd, with a series of challenges that shaped up the card of the January 15th Anniversary show at the Koruaken Hall. Io Shirai will defend her World of Stardom title against Viper, Mayu Iwatami was challenged as I previously mentioned by Momo Watanabe for the High Speed title, and the tag titles will also be on the line as BY HOU will face Kay Lee Ray and Nixon Newell. With more matches on the card, including appearances from Kris Wolf, Shayna Baszler and my favourite rookie Azumi, Stardom is set to deliver a great show.