Hello, everyone. I’m Sean Williams, probably best known for two appearances on Wrestling Omakase (episodes 3 and 33) and by a smaller subset of folks as the former curator of the Stardom Project blog. It’s a pleasure to be here on Voices of Wrestling.
I’ll be writing primarily longform stuff here (along with occasional previews for big shows), but the inspiration for this particular article comes from Alex and her excellent joshi beginner’s guide from last year. (You can also check out Kevin Wilson’s beginner’s guide at JoshiCity)
I can’t pretend to have that level of detail about the entirety of the joshi landscape, but I CAN tell you way more than you ever probably wanted to know about Stardom, so without any further ado, here is YOUR 2018 Beginner’s Guide to Stardom.
What is Stardom?
Stardom (World Wonder Ring Stardom, in long form) is a Japanese women’s wrestling (joshi puroresu) company. Founded in 2011 by Rossy Ogawa, Fuka, and Nanae Takahashi, it was initially designed around the many talents of gravure idol turned wrestler Yuzuki Aikawa.
Over seven years later, Stardom is still going, after having overcome what would seem to be an impossible amount of misfortune to remain one of the top players in the joshi universe.
The most important thing to know about Stardom is that it is a study in contrasts.
It is an idol promotion in that it aggressively markets its talent for their attractiveness through photobooks, pictures, and a wide variety of other merchandise. At the same time, it is a fiercely traditional Japanese wrestling promotion. Rookies take time to develop as young lionesses and slowly work their way up the cards, titles are fiercely protected, and you see very little of the hotshotting of major titles that came to define the US wrestling scene in the Attitude Era.
Stardom also has some of the best wrestlers in the world, and even when the wrestling isn’t top notch, it’s obvious that everyone who steps into a Stardom ring is giving 110% effort. Just remember that the rookie you’re seeing struggling with dropkicks now could well be one of the best in the world in a few short years.
This dichotomy is due to the fact that Stardom generally inhabits the somewhat strange place of being the heir to both the traditions of All Japan Women’s Pro Wrestling and companies such as ARSION/Jd Star. You may know AJW from DreamSlam I and II, Big Egg Wrestling Universe, and names like Aja Kong, Bull Nakano, Akira Hokuto, and Manami Toyota. You probably know ARSION and JDStar less, but names such as Michiko Ohmukai, Candy Okutsu, Ayako Hamada, The Bloody (there, John, happy?) and Yumi Ohka both put on strong athletic contests and were featured in photo books and videos.
Another defining characteristic of Stardom is that it is largely a company on an island. Many companies in modern Japanese women’s wrestling share talent. Stardom has gone in the opposite direction in recent years, relying on foreign talent to fill out its cards and keeping its homegrown talent largely Stardom exclusive.
Stardom has a significantly more international focus than most of the rest of the joshi universe, with the English-language Stardom World platform backed up by a deal with Ring of Honor’s Women of Honor division and two shows in California in 2015 serving as a statement of intent for the American market.
Why should I watch Stardom?
A good question, especially given how much quality wrestling there is out there these days.
Many people got into Stardom because of the fine work put in by Io Shirai, Kairi Hojo, and Mayu Iwatani in the field of beating the high holy hell out of each other. Their matches (plus their work against Penta El Zero M on Lucha Underground) exposed a lot of people to the larger Stardom product.
I would be a bad liar indeed if I told you everything in Stardom is on that level. Much of the joy of Stardom, though, is throughout the rest of the card. The pleasure of Stardom is in watching young wrestlers grow up in front of your eyes. It’s in watching the effort that everyone puts into every single one of their matches.
Equally importantly, Stardom is also easily the most accessible joshi promotion out there, thanks to its Stardom World steaming service. For around $7 a month you get access to a modest back catalog of shows, but all modern released content comes complete with subtitles, a huge boon when it comes to following the promotion and understanding what’s going on. The subtitles are a game-changer, and has allowed the Western world to understand a lot of the depth and intricacy that goes into Stardom’s storylines. Stardom World also features a ton of other random content including wrestler profiles and interviews, much of which is also subtitled for your viewing enjoyment.
All in all, I find it easier to connect with my favorites in Stardom than anywhere else.
In 2018, it’s really easy to be jaded in professional wrestling. Stardom is probably the only company right now in the world that I can turn my cynical brain off while watching and cheer for my favorites like I did when I was six rooting for Jake “The Snake” Roberts and the Rockers in 1990 WWF.
I would also say that a lot of what happened in 2017 has set the stage to make 2018 a great time to get into the company, but explaining that’s going to take a little while.
Hrmm, interesting. What happened in 2017?
Oh, nothing much. One of the three pillars of the company, Kairi Hojo, just left for World Wrestling Entertainment, and if not for the judgment of WWE doctors, she would have been joined by Io Shirai in a move that would have taken two of Stardom’s top three talent in one fell swoop.
The third pillar of that talent, Mayu Iwatani, finally captured the World of Stardom Championship from Io, only to suffer a freak dislocated elbow in her second defense of the title, meaning that twenty-one year old wunderkind Toni Storm won the title via referee’s decision. You know. Nothing major.
2017 was undeniably a transition year for Stardom. All of that misfortune likely annihilated whatever the initial plans were. But 2017 has set the stage for an interesting 2018 in a lot of ways:
- The reformulation of Oedo Tai around Kagetsu and Hana Kimura into a quirky sort of family that became immensely popular in the West.
- The formation of Team Jungle, and Jungle Kyona’s rise to solid midcard talent via some amazing efforts.
- The continued bringing in of a huge variety of international talent to join a recurring core of Viper, Toni Storm, and Kay Lee Ray.
- Stardom’s youth has shown great strides. Whether we’re talking about more established young talent like AZM, Natsuko Tora, or Starlight Kid, or younger/newer wrestlers like Hanan, Ruaka, and Shiki Shibusawa, everyone is progressing to the point where Stardom’s openers are usually genuinely enjoyable in one way or another.
One of the criticisms of Stardom over the years is that the company is extremely top heavy. This is starting to change; between Jungle Kyona establishing herself, the rise of HZK and Momo Watanabe under Io Shirai’s tutelage, and the aforementioned rookies, Stardom’s roster is fleshing itself out well, and there’s talent in various stages of development up and down the card.
In the next edition of the Beginner’s Guide to Stardom, I’ll look at the wrestlers of Stardom as well as the titles and tournaments. My third and final piece of the series will be a preview of what’s in store for the company in 2018.