Stardom All Star Grand Queendom
April 23, 2023
We’re in the Yokohama Arena, in Yokohama, Japan. This show is one I wanted to see and had pencilled in weeks ago. However, I have since had requests, plural, for it so here it is. It is LONG. Including pre-show it’s 5h 35m. This is legitimately going to take me an entire day to review*. How did I do these long ass shows all the time back in the day?
*It did. Over 9 hours in the end, although I am ill and went away to sleep a couple of times.
This is the ‘get everyone on the card’ pre-show battle royal. Idea stolen from New Japan. Aside from the ‘everybody gets in a headscissors’ Human Centipede spot, there’s nothing much happening. My biggest takeaway is the length of the ramp, which makes this feel very big time. Basically, lots of people got dressed up for 60 seconds in the ring here.
The narrative of the match is the Machines stable, including Lady C under a hood, dominating the match until Lady C boots the other two out accidentally and Mai Sakurai wins. I actually watched this. Thirty minutes I’ll never get back.
Oedo Tai (Momo Watanabe, Natsuko Tora, Ruaka & Saki Kashima) vs. Club Venus (Jessie, Mariah May & Xena) & Thekla
Still on the pre-show. Considering Momo was one of the top workers in the promotion when I left, that’s a little alarming. She’s turned heel and joined Oedo Tai, who don’t look anything like the faction I knew.
Club Venus are more cutesy heels, giving this match a bit of a weird dynamic. Natsuko Tora is leading Oedo Tai, and I’ve never rated her. She’s still quite bad. She absolutely stinks out the joint in this. Jessie is a former NXT/WWE developmental wrestler and she certainly has the basics down if not the timing. Mariah May was just breaking in when I left and she was green as grass the last time I saw her. She’s definitely improved. Working regularly in Stardom can do wonders for development. The match is derailed by a dreadful finish, where Xena accidentally hits Jessie with the evil black box of Oedo Tai. Only she drops the thing and the timing is all wrong and everyone looks stupid. This was passable at times, and quite bad at others. My biggest takeaway from this is how far Momo has seemingly fallen in Stardom’s hierarchy.
PRE-SHOW IS FINALLY OVER!
Starlight Kid & Mei Seira vs. AZM & Mei Suruga
AZM announced she was Suruga’s tag partner after losing her title shot at Mercedes Mone at Sakura Genesis. Mei Seira hasn’t wrestled in two years. Starlight Kid turned evil while I was away. They feel like a mismatched team. AZM meanwhile has matching Mei Suruga wings, which she falls over.
This is pleasingly fast paced and a noticeable increase in quality over the pre-show. AZM’s ideas are very cool. They don’t always land but her concept of how to approach wrestling is interesting. I love her taking an Irish whip and turning it into a dive and cutting off someone charging along the apron by sliding into her legs. What I really love about this is how organic all the breaking up of pins feels and always leads into something else. You could take this match anywhere in the world and it would get over. Mei Seira ends up catching AZM in a quick roll up, in a match that a lot of quick roll ups. It always felt like a flash pin would be the finish. Aside from the odd thigh slap, this fucking ruled. Considering Seira hadn’t wrestled in two years, it makes the achievement all the more remarkable. ****
Mei Siera gives AZM the whole “I’m coming for your belt” gesture after the match.
Queen’s Quest (Utami Hayashishita & Miyu Amasaki) vs Hazuki & Fuwa-chan
Fuwa-chan is a comedian/YouTuber. She had a match in Stardom last year and got TAGGED under the jaw with a bicycle kick. Kazuchika Okada got drafted in to teach her how to hit a dropkick…of revenge!
Amasaki is Utami’s protégé (of sorts) and pushing her to improve gives Utami something to do on this show. If there’s someone who can teach you to have great matches straight away it’s Utami, who had the best debut of anyone in the history of wrestling. Amasaki’s movements around the ring need a lot of work. She stands out as the least experienced worker in here, in a match featuring a comedian with one match. I just don’t buy into her at all. Fuwa-chan does better because she sticks to things she knows she can do, hits all that perfectly and gets the fuck out of there. They taught her a missile dropkick and she hits it. While this isn’t a solution for Amasaki long term, it could work short term. Having her work Fuwa-chan, who cannot help her, on the biggest show of the year doesn’t help. Hazuki and Utami operate at a way higher level doing far more dangerous spots and it really shows. The Codebreaker off the ropes is spectacular. Fuwa-chan looks way better when she’s in there with Utami. Utami absolutely kills her with a lariat, so I guess it’s in Fuwa-chan’s contract that she needs to take one brutal spot to the underside of her jaw every time she wrestles. She never recovers and Utami beats her with the delayed German suplex. Good showing for a non-wrestler and her plucky performance will be what people remember about the match. ***
To be fair to everyone in that match, it could have been a disastrous mess but ended up a perfectly competent ‘celebrity’ match. Fuwa-chan should be very proud of how her work has been over two matches. I know people who’ve wrestled for 20 years and not had a match that capable. Stardom has found their Logan Paul.
Himeka vs. Maika
This is Himeka’s retirement match. She didn’t debut until 2017 and has only wrestled in Stardom since 2020, so I’ve never seen her wrestle. Maika only debuted in 2019 and also joined Stardom in 2020. They both are in Giulia’s Donna del Mondo stable.
This match is a pleasing combination of strike duels and moments where “there is no tomorrow” so Himeka is hitting dives to the floor.
Himeka does a great job of selling me on what’s happening inside her head. Her facial expressions are excellent. Whether it’s desperation, excitement or terror. I can tell what she’s thinking, in character. It’s a wonderful trait and one I’m sad we’re losing. The finish is stunning with Maika getting all emotional about what she has to do to put Himeka away, then headbutting her and hitting the Michinoku Driver (for the fourth time) to win. ***½. I wanted to like this a lot more but I don’t have that emotional connection to the storyline and while they got me with the last part of the match, I’m sure people who’ve watched Himeka’s career would get way more out of this than I did. The “sorry, I love you” aspect of the finish was really well done though. Sometimes you love someone so much you have to headbutt them. It’s for their own good.
Goddesses Of Stardom Championship
Nanae Takahashi & Yuu (c) vs. God’s Eye (Ami Sourei & MIRAI)
MIRAI I’ve seen wrestle a couple of times. Sourei literally debuted during the pandemic. Takahashi started wrestling around the time Steve Austin won King of the Ring. As for Yuu, I once bought Yuu a WKD in a pub.
She wasn’t dressed as a cowgirl. I still think about that Yuu run in England, where she lived there for six months, and wonder why no promotion stuck a belt on her. EVE eventually did, to be fair. The story they tell here is pitting the veteran champions against two plucky young upstarts. It doesn’t do much for me. Especially as one of the big spots is a double running T-gimmick on MIRAI and she turns it into an armbar on Yuu during the pin. It gets really sloppy out on the floor and the champions lose on count out, which means the belts change hands. Boo-urns.
Artist Of Stardom Title Match
Prominence (Hiragi Kurumi, Risa Sera & Suzu Suzuki) (c) vs. REstart (KAIRI, Natsupoi & Saori Anou)
Prominence are a bunch of wrestlers that left Ice Ribbon in 2021. Then you’ve got KAIRI and her stable. She came back from WWE last year. It boggles the mind that WWE couldn’t figure out how to use her but then it is WWE.
KAIRI doesn’t have a great day at the office here. Occasionally slipping and mistiming stuff that should could normally do in her sleep. They work in a very silly Tower of Doom spot but at least the final part is someone getting tripped up to cause the big powerbomb/superplex spot to happen. Saori Anou makes for a great babyface in peril and her timing is exceptional. She also sells like a rag doll. In particular for a huge lariat but also lands square on her neck off a German suplex. Natsupoi also handles her role of double team helper really well. Anou takes a shellacking but isolates Suzu and pins her with a bridging pin where her feet are on Suzuki’s legs so she can’t kick out. Anou was clearly the stand out here. Wonderful performance from her. If the match had started as strongly as it finished this would have rocked ass. As it stands; ***½. Anou very much ‘made’ by that match.
Wonder Of Stardom Championship
Saya Kamitani (c) vs. Mina Shirakawa
Shirakawa is representing Club Venus. She was green but very talented the last time I saw her. Be interesting to see how she’s improved over three years. Meanwhile, Kamitani had barely debuted. It’s amazing how long three years is in joshi. Compared to say, WWE, where most of the guys are stuck in the same spots for at least that long.
Mina goes after Kamitani’s leg and we get a ring post Figure Four! Someone has been watching their Bret Hart tapes (or possibly Dragon Aisu in 3CW, one or the other). My concern about doing a leg match is the selling aspect. Will they be consistent with it. Will the match make sense. A lot of this is on the planning but also on Kamitani and whether she can execute her part. Some of it works. She does a slingshot so she can hold the ropes on a dive spot instead of using her legs. She collapses on an Irish whip. But it’s not long before it’s all forgotten and she’s bridging on the bad leg. She does have an issue on the ropes where the knee is bad so she can’t do the Phoenix Splash. She can’t push off. I like that. Shirakawa doesn’t help because she switches focus in mid-match and just starts popping off high spots, like she ran out of ideas on the leg and it’s left to Kamitani to injure her own leg hitting spots.
While they do switch to that spot heavy style, they don’t completely forget the leg work and Shirakawa doing a dragon screw into the Figure Four creates the most compelling false finish. Shirakawa even puts the Figure Four on the right leg. Take that Ric Flair! The spot takes it out of Kamitani to the point where Shirakawa can pick her off when they’re out of the hold and back upright. This was inconsistent but I applaud their efforts and it felt pretty epic and got over with the crowd. ***¾
Syuri vs Chihiro Hashimoto
You can only win this match by knock out or submission. Hashimoto is from Sendai Girls, where she’s the ace, and has a 3-0 record in singles matches in Stardom. Syuri has never really had that home promotion and seems to turn up all over the place. I’ve always loved Hashimoto because she wrestles like she’s in Big Japan’s Strong division. They do a sensational job here of making it feel real. Struggling over the most basic of things like a standing switch. The striking is awesome too. None of this leg slapping bullshit. You can hear the dull thud of forearm on chest cavity. The counters come from moves that miss, which look like they’re supposed to connect. Like Hashimoto just grabbing Syuri as she aims for a high kick. Hashimoto subtly sells her right arm for basically the entire match after getting caught in an armbar early on. Syuri proceeds to go after it like a total bitch.
Everything feels organic and just moves from one spot to the next using logic and violence. Chihiro, like a wounded animal lashing out, connects with vicious lariats and powerbombs. Syuri battling back with strikes, trying to stop Hashimoto grappling her. Keeping her at a distance. And they create this incredible match without the fake drama of ‘near falls’ where people pop for moves that never finish matches. Hashimoto gets kicked in the head and fails to answer the ten count. Syuri wins a fantastic example of a professional wrestling match. Legitimately my second favourite match so far this year. ****½
IWGP Women’s Championship
Mercedes Mone (c) vs. Mayu Iwatani
Mayu might be my favourite wrestler, currently. It’s her or Ishii. I’ve had the pleasure of watching them both live. Mayu did a dive off the bar in the ResGal. I was stood at the other end of it. Mone is doing an incredible job of building a new character away from Sasha Banks. She comes out here in Black Tiger-style gear to put over her love of Eddie Guerrero. You and me both, sister.
You think Rossy has asked her to be in Bikiniing #15 yet?
Credit to Mercedes coming out here doing Eddie spots and making them look decent. Apart from that Frogsplash. Let’s keep that one in the locker. It does feel like two wrestlers who’ve had similar careers facing off. They’re both skinny and massive overachievers in the ring. Both have had bad injury problems as a result of a high impact style. I love Mercedes completely losing her cool after she hits the MoneMaker but it’s too close to the ropes. She repeatedly pins Mayu but Iwatani keeps kicking out. I’m not sure when it happened but Mercedes has a massive bump on her head.
The match feels well planned and nicely put together. Each woman getting her chance to be on top. Each feeling frustration at not being able to get the win. The timing on a lot of the counters are great considering they’ve not worked each other before. Give Mercedes a run out here and we’ll see something really special. Iwatani drills Mercedes with the dragon suplex to win the belt. Mercedes staying there in the bridge position afterwards to sell the impact of the move. The selling didn’t reflect the match though. It wasn’t hard hitting enough for someone to be spark out after 12 minutes and the length of the match was a problem for selling and they would have been better off going for a flash pin, leaving an incredulous Mone unsure of whether she deserved to lose. Instead of just beating her clean with Mayu’s finish in the middle of the ring. Choices were made here. ***¾
Post Match: Iwatani calls Mone back down here and Mercedes walks down, pointing at her head, saying “look what you did to my head, bitch”. Or words to that effect. Mercedes is now out of contract with NJPW. This was her last date. Apparently, they’re in talks about another date and based on how much she’s enjoyed herself, you’d expect to see at least one more CEO of Stardom bout before Mercedes makes her next move. Is that move AEW? You feel she can always come back to Japan. Does she need the money? If she doesn’t need the money, you’d think she’d probably come over and slum it in Japan. She went on holiday to train with Sendai Girls ffs.
World Of Stardom Championship
Giulia (c) vs. Tam Nakano
This is our main event. There’s still an hour left on the show. Giula is dismissive of Tam in the early going. Suggesting Nakano isn’t on her level and doesn’t deserve this spot. It’s reflected in their ring gear. Giula is dressed like a hunter. Tam like a princess. When Tam won’t lie down and surrender, Giula puts her through a table. Nakano is so good at verbally selling. It sounds like she’s in real pain. She may be after that table spot, to be fair. Both of them do a fantastic job of selling. It’s a long match with a lot of injury and fatigue selling and they have to make it believable.
Increasingly Giula becomes frustrated and after Nakano won’t stay down after a series of open handed slaps, she resorts to punching Tam. Giula losing her calm, composed exterior due to Nakano’s resilience. There’s nothing wrong with the storytelling but I do take issue with the selling. Having put them over for it already, I do feel they sell too much too early given the sheer amount of big selling sequences they need to do later. Especially when they’re dropping each other with big bombs. It does feel, as the match continues, that they’re just taking it in turns to hit big spots and then kick out of them. Tam finishes with the Steiner Screwdriver and finally picks up the big red belt win. This did feel epic but did lots of ‘big match’ NJPW/WWE inspired near falls stuff to get there. I don’t really like the spot/rest dynamic, but they did put together what people wanted and the match was very over with the crowd. ****
More important than the match is the journey of Tam Nakano to get here. She’s always been the heart of the company. Often at the core of its most important storylines. I don’t know if people wrote her off at being able to turn those emotional storylines into an actual title run but here we are. It’s Tam Time!
What a great show this is. I am not particularly generous with snowflakes, but I did enjoy the entire card barring the pre-show stuff and the tag titles. The Syuri vs Chihiro Hashimoto match is blow away good. Maybe the finish could be a little better. Maybe they could have set it up a bit better but apart from those minor complaints, they beat the shit out of each other and it fucking rules. Kamatani vs. Shirakawa was very close to being great too. I think if they’d not done any leg work and just worn each other down, they’d have had a better match than the main event because the big spots they were doing and the transitions were just better. Mercedes vs Mayu was also great, albeit probably too short for the fatigue they were selling at the end. Overall, this show landed in a big way.
I missed Stardom to the point where, I considered, about a year ago, coming back to just review Stardom shows. This is mainly because of Hana Kimura, who I adored, and Hana is a big reason why I didn’t want to come back too. I didn’t want the memories again. It was too painful. I probably should have come back a while ago. Interesting that I come back and my favourites in the company (Mayu, Tam) both win big belts. Attagirls!