This show finally brought some change to the title scene, and featured the return of the forgotten fourth daughter of Stardom: Yoko Bito!
Alex Lee, Azumi & Kaori Yoneyama vs Arisu Nanase, Natsumi Maki & Starlight Kid
I was surprised to see the three least experienced wrestlers on the roster teaming up against Azumi’s Army, but everything ran smoothly. The match keeps a good pace but nothing spectacular happened. As one of the more experienced wrestlers in the ring, Alex Lee continues to look awful at everything she does. Kaori Yoneyama gets the pin on Arisu with a senton. **
Jungle Kyona, Hiromi Mimura & Momo Watanabe vs Kris Wolf, Leah Vaughan & Diosa Atenea
Oedo Tai continues to dominate the card, which is good and bad. It’s nice to see them develop more of a presence in Stardom, but at the same time, they’re just not all that great. Kagetsu is fantastic but the lesser members are nothing more than a comedy act and that’s all their talent allows for currently. The rotating gajin members don’t help things, as they’re either pretty poor or simply don’t demand any attention. Oedo Tai is bloated and it’s losing it’s meaningfulness. Personally I’d like to see members like Kris Wolf and some of the gaijin go face, and keep only the elite members in the faction. That way, people like Kagetsu and Kimura would gain more respect and the lesser members could remain entertaining further down the card, instead of bypassing the rookie stage.
The Rookies totally outclassed their opponents here. Stardom has created three very talented prospects that will meld superbly with the current main event scene within the next few years. Not only do they represent three different styles but they also feel unique to Io, Mayu an Kairi. This match is very enjoyable whilst they are in control (and far from unbearable when the opposite is true), with Kyona getting most of the offense as usual. Leah comes in against Hiromi and spears her almost out of her boots for the Oedo Tai win. **½
Shanna vs Chelsea
It’s got pretty hard for me to defend Shanna, as her showing has been an underwhelming one. She had a good match against Io, but when you’re up against a talent like her, there’s no excuse for your match not being GREAT. Chelsea is another wrestler that hasn’t really done anything impressive, but Stardom seems to have a lot of faith in her. But this turns out to be a surprisingly great match. It isn’t the smoothest, and runs a little slow in parts but it was far above my expectations.
Most importantly, we got to see new stuff. Both wrestlers tried out new spots and weren’t afraid to leave their comfort zone. This is great because in Shanna’s first match she failed to do anything outside the box, for whatever reason, and didn’t make any sort of impact. I can’t really sum up why this match is good, but if you glossed over it and went straight to the top two matches, I implore you to go back and give it a chance. I look forward to a rematch between these two and hopefully this marks a boost in confidence for Shanna. The match ends in a time limit draw. ***
Saori Anou vs Hiroyo Matsumoto
Matsumoto is coming off a fantastic match at Fortune Dream 3, where she drew with Hojo and was unable to win the White belt. She looked like a beast as usual, and I almost would have preferred this to be a total squash match for the Lady Destroyer. Anou gets thrown around for about eight minutes before getting polished off by a reverse double knee drop. Lady destroyed. **
Yoko Bito vs Kairi Hojo
I’ve been anxiously awaiting this since Bito’s surprise return at the Cinderella Tournament. While I had been incredibly hyped to see her back in action after four years, I was worried that perhaps Bito had regressed in-ring wise during that time. This match put that doubt to rest.
You can see in Hojo’s pre-match interview that she may be feeling slightly hesitant. She’s excited for the match, but doesn’t want to ruin the return of her friend by winning. Of course she can’t allow herself to lose because of her emotions either, not again. This mirrors the thoughts of the audience, we want to see a successful return, as it is expected in wrestling, but we don’t want Hojo to lose either. With that, the result of this match was truly up in the air, adding to the tension perfectly. This isn’t really relevant, but Bito didn’t get a single streamer thrown for her, which kind of annoyed me. Bito laid right into Hojo with her fantastic kicks. There are lots of good kickers in joshi, but she manages to be different. These aren’t the kind of strikes you’d see from the likes of Mayu Iwatani or Katsuyori Shibata, they’re slower and heavier and look like they deliver more impact as a result. Each one is lined up before being delivered and they hit with a force that throws Hojo around the ring. It’s incredibly satisfying to watch. One of my favourite spots in this match was an exchange of Bito’s roundhouse kicks against Hojo’s spinning backfists. With each one dodged or reverse, the tension builds and the moves look even more dangerous when they finally land. Hojo got the upperhand and nails her backfist, which always looks fantastic. Bito kicks out of a roll up and Hojo grabs one of her flailing legs and slaps on the Orochi hold, a brief but heartwarming ode to Act Yasukawa. Yoko then kicks out of Hojo’s elbow drop, but the Pirate Princess climbs right back up and delivers another for the win. ***3/4
Yoko Bito just shook off four years of ring rust and looked mighty impressive considering. The finish may of confused some people, but I think it established that even though Bito lost, she was in the higher tier of wrestlers on the roster. She’s only going to get better and we finally have a new face capable of winning singles titles. I think she has lots more to show us as I didn’t see a potential finisher used. She pulled out her old missile dropkick into a vertical suplex combo but it was early in the match and has probably been relegated to a signature move rather than a match ender. Regardless, I can’t wait to see more.
Goddesses of Stardom Championship
Io Shirai & Mayu Iwatani (c) vs Kagetsu & Kyoko Kimura
The tag team scene has been really important and exciting so far this year. Thunder Rock is the best team of 2016 in my opinion, they’ve had tons of great matches and have incorporated all parts of the roster. The whole Oedo Tai family are out for this match. They look cool all together but you just know there’s going to be tomfoolery. They also pose with a small child, I don’t know why but it’s very cute. That is until Kimura teaches the tiny kid to flip off Thunder Rock.
Suffice to say, this match continues the trend of excellent quality in the tag team scene. It differs a lot from title matches we’ve seen in the past too, Oedo Tai shut down Thunder Rock with weapons and group attacks. I would have liked to see a team win the belts by simply being better wrestlers or using mind games to capitalise on Stardom’s complex characters, rather than just old fashioned cheating. Kagetsu and Kimura are not as good as Shirai and Iwatani, and they wouldn’t have won without hijinks. The early discourse throws the champs off their game and Mayu is stuck in the ring, unable to reach Io who will undoubtedly have an answer to Oedo Tai. She finally gets going against Kagetsu and makes the tag. Io cartwheels circles around the opposition and gestures to the crowd after every big dive. She truly is the definition of an Ace. She’s frustratingly good, like she knows she’s better than everyone else. Eventually the unthinkable (at least in Io’s mind) happens and Kimura overpowers her. This is the first time they’ve had a meaningful confrontation since Kimura eliminated her from the Cinderella Tournament. Shirai has no choice but to tag. Mayu gets wrecked too, it’s not often you see Thunder Rock like this.
Then the weapons come out. A variety of crucial road signs and chairs are broken over the heads of Thunder Rock and even the referee. Then Oedo Tai pours in and take it in turns attacking Mayu. Leah spears her and they then move on to hitting her with their finishers. Io is utterly helpless but the ref is still down too. This was totally unexpected and really a sight to behold. They could pin at any point and take the titles, but Kagetsu is enjoying ragdolling her rival around the ring. Or she was, before Iwatani gets up and starts dishing out superkicks. But it wasn’t enough. Kagetsu sends Mayu careening to the mat with a Falcon Arrow from the top rope for the win. Thunder Rock were totally and utterly dismantled. ****
Post Match Fallout:
This marks a new era for Stardom (hopefully). It’s nice to see Oedo Tai finally win the belts, shame Act wasn’t there to see it though. No new matches are booked and the show doesn’t even sign off in the usual fashion. I don’t think the face of Stardom has been changed forever, but this is a step forward to say the least.