Hello again, everyone! It’s been a little while, but I’m back, as Stardom has decided to potentially shake things up in a way it’s never done before.
One of the things I wrote about in my 2018 preview is that Stardom loves to pull surprises from nowhere, and this time the company has outdone itself, announcing, of all things, a draft. Three captains, Io Shirai, Kagetsu, and Mayu Iwatani will make selections, with the pick order to be determined by a three way battle on 4/15, the same night the draft will occur.
Now, we don’t know a lot about the draft yet. How many picks will there be? Who is eligible? These are just two of the questions that I decided to hastily come up with answers for in the effort to bring you, yes YOU, the Voices of Wrestling reader, more Stardom content. So, without further ado, here’s what we have on tap for you today: THE 2018 STARDOM FANTASY DRAFT!
And in order to do this development justice, I’ve enlisted backup.
- Sean (that’s me, @TheDragonSuplex) will be drafting from the perspective of Oedo Tai’s boss, Kagetsu.
- Tara (@ae2501maeth) will be drafting from the perspective of Mayu Iwatani, prospective leader of the new Stardom Army (Starmy?)
- Luke (@oystersearrings) will round out the draft by selecting from the POV of Queen’s Quest leader and Ace of Stardom, Io Shirai.
I’m going to lay out our assumptions, and then the eligible pool of draftees. After that we’ll get to the picks. Once five rounds are done, the three of us will analyze the draft, stepping back out of character to look at it as ourselves, and not our chosen avatars.
Since there may be no three people on Earth who over analyze Stardom more than us, this piece will conclude with predictions for what will actually happen in case we talk ourselves into too many galaxy brain takes.
- The order of the draft will go Kagetsu/Mayu/Io, meaning we collectively predict Kagetsu pins Io in the triple threat, with Mayu second as she wasn’t involved in the decision.
- Our draft goes five rounds to leave some eligible draftees undrafted. It also gives us six person units, which seems about as high as a unit can hold unless the intention is to actually divide the roster into three units, period.
- Hiroyo Matsumoto and Kaori Yoneyama are ineligible as freelancers. While Konami and Natsu Sumire technically work other companies, Stardom is their main battlefield, and thus they are eligible to be drafted.
- Three foreigners are eligible: Toni Storm, Viper, and Xia Brookside. Storm and Viper are eligible due to their titles (and, well, Viper is already IN a unit), while Brookside got her Stardom jacket with her name on it, so that’s good enough for me to count her!
THE ELIGIBLE DRAFT POOL:
Jungle Kyona, Konami, Tam Nakano, Natsuko Tora, Hana Kimura, HZK, Momo Watanabe, Natsu Sumire, Mary Apache, Fabi Apache, Saki Kashima, AZM, Starlight Kid, Shiki Shibusawa, Hanan, Ruaka, Nao, Natsumi,Leo Onozaki, Toni Storm, Viper, Xia Brookside
WITH THE FIRST PICK IN THE 2018 STARDOM ROSTER DRAFT, KAGETSU SELECTS HANA KIMURA.
(Sean) Who else would Kagetsu really select? I mean, seriously, would you want to deal with an angry, retired Kyoko Kimura showing up at your door armed with a lighttube asking why you didn’t take her daughter first overall when she’s a good friend and your Goddesses of Stardom championship partner? I didn’t think so.
In all seriousness, from Kagetsu’s perspective, I don’t think there’s another consideration with this pick. There are other interesting picks on the board, to be certain, but Hana with this pick ensures my partner’s not in another unit. It’s a no brainer unless Kagetsu decides to try and get cute, which given her love of chaos, is certainly a possibility.
In the end, though? I don’t think she wants to take the chance that eternal rival Mayu or more recent rival Io spite pick Hana away from her. Hana Kimura it is, in what I think is the most clear cut pick for Kagetsu. After this? Things probably get messy, fast.
WITH THE SECOND PICK IN THE 2018 STARDOM DRAFT, MAYU IWATANI SELECTS TAM NAKANO.
(Tara) I went back and forth with myself about this pick heavily, perhaps needlessly to some; we all love Tam Nakano now, and do we ever despair about it. This choice does seem like the obvious first-round decision for Iwatani for many reasons – her opportunistic grab for Nakano’s friendship in the wake of the elimination match that left Nakano without a found-family in the first place, her need to paper over her own insecurity about her position in Stardom’s upper ranks in the wake of Io’s abandoning their Thunder Rock partnership only growing in the wake of her definitive loss of the red belt to Toni Storm during DreamSlam – but for those same reasons I wondered if, like Nakano seemed to feel ahead of DreamSlam as well, Iwatani might instead feel confident enough in Tam’s friendship but insecure enough in every other respect that she’d opt to pick a ringer option to net herself more heavy firepower, at the expense of putting her budding camaraderie with Tam at risk. It would be a bad decision on her part, but she’s taken worse bumps; it wouldn’t be impossible for her take another one here.
It strikes me Mayu might genuinely also believe no one else – certainly not Kagetsu – cares enough about Tam’s friendship to want to have her close by, much less spite Mayu by stealing her anyway even if – especially if – they don’t care about Tam’s feelings on the subject at all. But ultimately I believe Mayu Iwatani believes in friendship over strength more than her former tag partner does, and she sees herself in Tam enough to stake the shape of her new unit on their friendship as its base.
WITH THE THIRD PICK IN THE 2018 STARDOM DRAFT, IO SHIRAI SELECTS NATSUMI.
(Luke) Queen’s Quest is a faction founded as much on conflict as camaraderie. It budded from betrayal, not friendship. It was also based on calculated risk – Io choosing the less experienced HZK over the tag partner with whom she held the Goddesses of Stardom defence record. QQ’s progression as a unit has been defined as much by internecine sparring – or more specifically, by HZK and Momo Watanabe’s challenges to Io’s supremacy – as by ride-or-die togetherness. All of this has been purposefully orchestrated by Io herself, and I don’t see her changing her tune here. The Ace opens her account in this draft by putting all four of her current charges at risk of co-option by other units and inducting a new member.
So why Natsumi? Well for one thing, the Apache family scion has immediately been pushed as the most elite member of her current crop of rookies, debuting against Io herself. On top of that, I can’t think of a bigger power play for Io to make here – choosing Natsumi for Queen’s Quest doesn’t just send a message to the other faction leaders about Io’s control over the most promising rookies, it also works as a negging tactic against HZK and Momo and a shot fired at the Apache family, who might have hoped to keep Natsumi under their wing for the time being. Io using Queen’s Quest recruitment to claim territory and boost her own ego? Well I never.
WITH THE FOURTH PICK IN THE 2018 STARDOM ROSTER DRAFT, KAGETSU SELECTS HZK.
(Sean) The biggest advantage that Kagetsu has in this draft is simple – the third member of Oedo Tai is sort of a coward (though her performance in the Explosion Death Match might start to erode this image…). Natsu Sumire is more valuable to Oedo Tai than anyone else, and so Kagetsu can leave her final Oedo Tai sister for later.
And if worse comes to worse and someone snatches up Sumire? Kagetsu can console herself with the knowledge that Sumire’s replacement might be even stronger.
As boss of Oedo Tai, Kagetsu’s goal is simple, remake the overly stuffy Stardom in her own image. And to do that, Kagetsu needs a heavy hitter, one of the most promising of Stardom’s up and coming talent. As it happens, Io Shirai, in her infinite arrogance, left two of those two women unprotected.
So, Momo Watanabe or HZK? Both of them are incredibly promising young talent. Both of them would be fairly easy to point at Io Shirai, especially considering Io just, y’know, CHOSE A FRIGGIN’ ROOKIE OVER THEM. Neither Momo nor HZK think of themselves as “junior” partners to Shirai. They want to beat her. They want to beat her badly. Oedo Tai, as it turns out, offers plenty of help via run-ins to let either of them do just that.
Momo is probably the better wrestler by a hair, but that doesn’t matter as much to Kagetsu as much as fit does. There’s something about the former Reo Hazuki’s aesthetic, with her blonde hair and tanned skin, that fits right in the Oedo Tai wheelhouse. Momo is a serious business killer; HZK seems a little more amenable to having fun and joining in on gang beatdowns at the end of the day.
In pre-draft Queen’s Quest, HZK is at best #2, and at worst a #4 behind Io, Momo, and Viper. In a newly formulated Oedo Tai? With Kagetsu and Hana defending the Goddesses, she could well be the unit’s top singles competitor, and there are no shortage of prestigious prizes to point her at.
With Kagetsu, Hana Kimura, and HZK as the base of the newest chapter of Oedo Tai, bad things are in store for Stardom.
WITH THE FIFTH PICK IN THE 2018 STARDOM DRAFT, MAYU IWATANI SELECTS NATSUKO TORA.
(Tara) Having established a clear statement of purpose with her first-round pick, it’s my opinion that Iwatani will continue as she means to go on. There’s a strong appeal to the idea she’d want to shore up her power difference compared to the two factions her nascent Army finds itself sandwiched between – and a clear candidate for her to snipe away from her ex-friend’s waiting arms, if she’s feeling vindictive – but Mayu Iwatani’s anger builds punishingly slow, and her vengeful streak takes time and punishment to provoke to the surface. No, having established her intentions, her position is one of deceptive insouciance. Stardom’s future is in its rookies, and Mayu Iwatani will prove it by picking Natsuko Tora, whose powerhouse style compliments Iwatani’s springy momentum and Nakano’s tremendous recklessness almost too perfectly to ignore. She’s lingered as an also-ran in Team Jungle and the former Army long enough; and Iwatani can relate to feeling like a shadow. This is not just any Stardom Army, it’s a Stardom Army made by Mayu Iwatani, and her unit is about how coming together as a team like this gives everyone a chance to be more.
WITH THE SIXTH PICK IN THE 2018 STARDOM DRAFT, IO SHIRAI SELECTS MOMO WATANABE.
(Luke) So Io’s mind has been made up. She’d have had a strong sense that one of Kagetsu or Mayu (most likely Kagetsu) would poach either HZK or Momo in the second round, and she’s not about to lose both of her major players.
It’s even possible that Io hoped that one of her rival faction leaders would take the slightly more recalcitrant HZK off her hands; Momo meanwhile looks more and more like the future Ace of the company with each performance since her comeback, and Io wants to be right there mentoring her until the inevitable torch-passing moment – Queen’s Quest is as much about shoring up Io’s status as gatekeeper for the next generation as it is about anything happening in the present.
Whether Io’s decision to wait until the second round before picking Momo comes back to bite her in this respect remains to be seen.
WITH THE SEVENTH PICK IN THE 2018 STARDOM ROSTER DRAFT, KAGETSU SELECTS KONAMI.
(Sean) This is where things get interesting, because there is a TON of talent on the board that for a variety of reasons don’t really fit Oedo Tai.
Toni Storm? Oedo Tai would rather bludgeon her for the World of Stardom rather than just draft the belt into their unit.
Viper? A former Oedo Tai member who left under her own free will. It is doubtful Kagetsu would let her come back.
AZM? While she fits Oedo Tai like a glove, Kagetsu would likely rather die than have her unit thought of a Queen’s Quest retread.
Jungle Kyona? The pitch would be easy – Stardom thinks so little of you that Team Jungle wasn’t even given a spot at the drafting table. You’ve been surpassed by HZK and Momo Watanabe because both fit the Stardom main event model more than you do. You are being woefully neglected. Join us, and you will be more powerful than ever.
It sounds good, but there’s two issues. Number one, Kyona is one of the truest babyfaces in the company. Number two, HZK’s ongoing rivalry with Jungle Kyona makes Kyona a dangerous pick. Squabbling within Oedo Tai is the quickest way to undo all the hard work this draft has created.
Which leaves us with someone who came to Stardom with a world of promise, yet has found herself languishing in midcard tags and worse for virtually her entire Stardom career. Konami is an utterly unique proposition on the Stardom roster; a woman with the kicks and submissions to befit a protégé of Asuka/Kana. Someone who’s kept her head down even as she has competed in tag match after tag match with the recently retired Hiromi Mimura. With Mimura retired, the time is now for Konami to finally assert herself – with a new family.
Konami has long had the skills to step up to a higher role in Stardom. With Oedo Tai at her back, she finally has the opportunity to do so. And hey, if Oedo Tai has to step into the deathmatch ring again, Konami gives them another ringer.
WITH THE EIGHTH PICK IN THE 2018 STARDOM DRAFT, MAYU IWATANI SELECTS SAKI KASHIMA.
(Tara) Kashima may be an old rival of Iwatani’s, but real recognizes real, and with Stardom’s legacy in her hands Mayu sees in Kashima – herself one of the first rookies in Stardom’s roster, like Iwatani – a teammate in the fight to steer the promotion’s ship onward in a direction they can be proud of. More importantly, Kashima keeps Iwatani’s new unit’s actual shape flexible and surprising, a roster full of untapped potential waiting to be unleashed by the right combination of teamwork and tribulation – a choice not without its risks but a choice emblematic of this Army’s leader in every way. If she’s going to take a bump in the process of taking on this fight, well … it’s already clear she’s rebounded from worse. Choosing Kashima in this still-unproven state, fresh off years away from the ring and so barely seasoned back inside it, could be a recipe for failure – or it could be just reckless enough to work in her favor. Either way, it is a firm statement: this is a Stardom Army, through and through.
WITH THE NINTH PICK IN THE 2018 STARDOM DRAFT, IO SHIRAI SELECTS JUNGLE KYONA.
(Luke) Things get trickier for Io from this point onwards. Her first move was a bold power play, and her comparatively conservative second pick was required to shore up at least some of her defences. There’s now a fork in the road – does Io continue to lord it over her rivals with risky picks, or are AZM and Viper simply too valuable to leave on the table?
I think Io continues to play hardball for three main reasons: firstly, Kagetsu behaved fairly predictably in making HZK her second pick (and Mayu has been true to character throughout), so Io may still feel she has the upper hand around this particular negotiating table. Second, Io is going to have to induct a new member regardless, and doesn’t want to be left with the scraps in round five. Finally, I think 2018 Io’s status anxiety always takes top billing above her sense of loyalty and her need for self-preservation. Both remaining current members of Queen’s Quest are more dispensable than Io’s sovereignty. So the Ace chooses to make another huge statement by drafting – entirely out of left-field – the most accomplished full-time Stardom worker left in the draft.
Kyona to Queen’s Quest is arguably the hardest move to imagine in our draft so far, but I remember feeling shocked back when Momo and Azumi joined too. Io can justify the selection in two ways. Publicly, she can point to Kyona’s surprisingly lowly status in this whole episode – why didn’t Rossy acknowledge Team Jungle as a faction in their own right? Why did Mayu pick Natsuko first? – as a clear and compelling reason for Kyona to join the Aces-in-waiting.
Privately, drafting Kyona gives Io a greater sense of security than either of her picks so far, not just because Kyona is a bruiser, but also because re-uniting JK Green under the QQ banner means Io remains the top singles wrestler in the unit. A reconciled Momo and Kyona capturing the Goddesses belts for QQ could mean stopping Hana and Kagetsu from breaking the Thunder Rock defence record before Mayu does, and that’s not insignificant for Io. And besides, Kyona has already proven that she looks cute in leopard print.
WITH THE TENTH PICK IN THE 2018 STARDOM DRAFT, KAGETSU SELECTS NATSU SUMIRE.
(Sean) Whether this pick succeeds or not is entirely dependent on how well Sumire takes being the fourth choice of her stablemate. If Kagetsu’s been able to successfully manage and massage Natsu’s ego? This is a slam dunk and great value; it reunites Oedo Tai in its entirety, giving the unit a built in cohesive trio as it works to integrate its new members. If Kagetsu hasn’t? This pick gets a lot dicier.
The main reason to draft Natsu is a combination of her embodiment of Oedo Tai’s spirit (being very, very willing to contribute to the group’s success via chicanery) and the fact that she is very good at getting under the skin of her combination. She also has a bonafide mean streak. All of these things are great for Oedo Tai if Sumire’s on board. If she’s not, if she’s upset at Kagetsu? This is the pick that torpedoes the entire draft for Oedo Tai’s boss.
One may ask why Kagetsu might be willing to make such a gamble when she wasn’t with, say, Jungle Kyona. Why not just cut bait on Sumire?
The difference is simple – Oedo Tai is family. Being family requires sacrifice sometimes. And if Natsu isn’t willing to make that sacrifice?
Kagetsu will have to deal with the consequences.
WITH THE ELEVENTH PICK IN THE 2018 STARDOM DRAFT, MAYU IWATANI SELECTS MARI APACHE.
(Tara) Another legacy-establishing pick. Iwatani’s obviously made it clear what her new Stardom Army stands for, but its new purpose doesn’t change what it is, and the addition of Mari Apache on top of Saki Kashima couldn’t say it clearer. The Stardom Army will redefine generations of wrestling experience – because Mayu Iwatani isn’t interested in retreads – without replacing it. Mayu Iwatani’s confidence can waver on a regular basis, but she takes her position in the promotion dead serious. If she’s going to represent Stardom, much as she’s got her own ideas about how to do it, she’s still representing Stardom. And by virtue of their family ties, Mari’s experience, extensive as it is, also gives Iwatani’s unit the know-how needed to keep the newly-QQ-affiliated and potentially unpredictable Natsumi heeled.
WITH THE TWELFTH PICK IN THE 2018 STARDOM DRAFT, IO SHIRAI SELECTS VIPER.
(Luke) Io is running out of ways to bamboozle her rivals now and there isn’t a whole lot left for her to do besides trying to hold on to her two remaining allies. The only question is who to guarantee – Viper or AZM?
There are pros and cons in both directions. AZM offers long-term future potential but Viper offers more impact in the short-term. AZM won her match in the 5-on-5 elimination match against Oedo Tai while Viper could only draw hers. Since joining Queen’s Quest, AZM has been the member that has stuck most loyally by Io’s side, but age and experience could easily change all that; Viper left Oedo Tai expressly to join Io’s unit but who’s to say she won’t defect again?
In the end I think Viper is Io’s hard-headed choice. Viper and Kyona make a formidable pair of bodyguards, but that’s not the main reason behind Io’s decision. If Kagetsu or Mayu poach AZM in the next round, then there still remains the possibility of inducting Starlight Kid, who just saw off AZM’s challenge for the Future of Stardom Championship at Dreamslam in Nagoya…
WITH THE THIRTEENTH PICK IN THE 2018 STARDOM DRAFT, KAGETSU SELECTS SHIKI SHIBUSAWA.
(Sean) There is lots of great talent on the board, but the one thing Oedo Tai has never truly done is plan for a time horizon beyond a year or two. With Konami, Hana Kimura, and HZK in the fold, the near future is secure. Now, Kagetsu looks to secure the further future and strike a blow at Stardom in one fell swoop by separating the popular Shikid duo. Does Shiki seem like Oedo Tai material? Maybe not yet, but then, Magical Girl Saki Kashima never seemed like she’d turn heel either. Shiki can follow in her spiritual successor’s footsteps, growing as a wrestler with serious backup while enchanting Stardom crowds as part of Oedo Tai dance routines. Sounds better than being the junior member of a young lioness tag team, right?
WITH THE FOURTEENTH PICK IN THE 2018 STARDOM DRAFT, MAYU IWATANI SELECTS THE STARLIGHT KID.
(Tara) The Stardom Army is the Future of Stardom, and there’s no better way to make it clear she means business about it than for Iwatani to pick the wrestler currently wearing the titular Future belt around her waist. So that’s exactly what she does. Starlight Kid’s high-flying style and feckless enthusiasm match well with the Army’s slant towards casual bravado and ragged charm, and with these wrestlers as her sororal backup it will only boost the Kid’s confidence and ambitions higher – under Mari Apache’s watchful eye, in fact, possibly literally – and as the Kid goes, so will Stardom’s future.
So Mayu Iwatani hopes? No. Mayu Iwatani knows. If Starlight Kid is going to fly higher, she needs the hands of her peers giving her a platform to balance on to get there. And that’s what Mayu Iwatani’s Stardom Army is all about. Like Iwatani herself, her team members would all be underdogs alone, one step or two steps away from where they truly want to be no matter how accomplished they are. But together they can conquer the past and future alike and stand tall. Together they can put a face on the true spirit of Stardom.
Even if it means facing the painful opposition of people who used to be their best friends to do it.
WITH THE FIFTEENTH (AND FINAL) PICK OF THE 2018 STARDOM DRAFT…
(Luke) …Before Io can lift the microphone to her mouth to make her announcement, AZM speaks up. How dare Io leave her till last! While AZM might not have the eponymous belt around her waist, she’s the undisputed future of Stardom, and isn’t going to put up with being made to feel like the least important member of her faction. She’s taking action. Announcing the revival of Azumi’s Army, AZM rounds up Hanan, Ruaka, Nao Yamaguchi, Leo Onozaki and Fabi Apache and before they know what’s hit them the six are marching to the back, leaving Io staring at a blank slate.
We may never know what Io’s original intentions were, but either way her decision has been made. Her final draft pick will have to be somebody who is not actually stood in the ring at this moment.
Queen’s Quest started life as a way for Io to build her own army of rookies, all modelled in her image, who would carry on her legacy in Stardom after she was gone. But things have developed unpredictably. HZK has challenged Io repeatedly, making clear her intentions to dethrone her leader. She’s with Oedo Tai now. Momo, who came so close to beating Io in February, seems liable to follow suit. AZM has flown the coop. Kyona and Viper are more experienced recruits, each with their own agendas. Having opened her account in this draft with such confidence, the future identity of Queen’s Quest now seems to be more on a knife edge than either of the two rival units. What is Queen’s Quest when all is said and done – a personal vanity project or a collective bid for company supremacy?
Io bites the bullet and chooses the latter. With her final pick, she inducts a competitor that she considers a true equal…
…IO SHIRAI SELECTS THE WORLD OF STARDOM CHAMPION, TONI STORM.
- Kagetsu: Hana Kimura, HZK, Konami, Natsu Sumire, Shiki Shibusawa
- Mayu Iwatani: Tam Nakano, Natsuko Tora, Saki Kashima, Mari Apache, Starlight Kid
- Io Shirai: Natsumi, Momo Watanabe, Jungle Kyona, Viper, Toni Storm.
- (AZUMI’S ARMY: AZM, Hanan, Ruaka, Nao Yamaguchi, Leo Onozaki, Fabi Apache, probably Kaori Yoneyama too, let’s be real.)
Well, that was super fun! With the draft over, let’s take a step back and analyze things, shall we.
POST-MORTEM DRAFT BREAKDOWNS:
Sean: My first thought is “holy fuck, Queen’s Quest is STACKED.” Luke as Io bossed this draft in a way that I didn’t expect after his first pick – putting me as Kagetsu in a position to choose which of HZK and Momo went. Taking HZK limited what I could do later – had I gone with Momo instead, JK Greeeen could be under the Oedo Tai banner instead of the QQ banner. Queen’s Quest exchanged HZK for Jungle Kyona (fairly even) and AZM for Toni Storm (large upgrade), while also adding Natsumi. It’s hard to see QQ as anything but the most dominant faction post draft, assuming it doesn’t implode from within with all the people in it who probably want to beat Io. The duo and trio possibilities are insane – Io and Toni could opt never to compete for the Artist belts and you’d still have to contend with a Queen’s Quest trio of Momo Watanabe/Jungle Kyona/Viper. Good luck with that.
I also really like the Stardom Army, with Mayu Iwatani putting together a roster of the overlooked, the cast out, and the underdogs, with a smattering of veteran presence in the form of Mari Apache to hold the entire thing together. Tara did a good job of drafting for fit over power; I don’t know if the actual draft will go the same way, but this draft is IMO an excellent look into one point of view on Mayu’s psyche, especially after losing a match many of us thought she was all but guaranteed to win. It’s an extremely well balanced unit that lacks a #2 with the experience to back her – Tam Nakano is probably the #2 in terms of popularity, but Mary Apache may have to take that role in other contexts. If the Starmy can gel, they can run out all sorts of interesting, all out attack teams. Mayu/Saki/Starlight Kid or Natsuko is quite the offensive lineup. The Stardom Army may well have a monopoly on the High Speed Title for as long as it wants, even if Mary Apache ever loses her belt.
As for the new look Oedo Tai I put together for Kagetsu? I’m pretty happy with it. HZK and Hana Kimura are an imposing 1-2 punch as a duo if Kagetsu wants to stake her claim to the singles divisions if she and Hana ever lose the Goddesses. Konami gives the group an extremely potent fourth – any trio combination of the top four in new Oedo Tai throws a very difficult to prepare for combination of styles at would-be opposition, so the Artist belts are well within reach.
If Natsu Sumire can follow up her Explosion Death Match performance (and not be mad at Kagetsu for delaying taking her), she’s a steal as late as she went. And Shiki Shibusawa, with some molding from her new teammates, could well be the future that the group has somewhat lacked. Oedo Tai’s mindset is for the here and now, but when faced with the Stardom Army and Queen’s Quest, both reinforced, the group may well need to play the long game.
Plus, if Stardom ever has a deathmatch again, Kagetsu/Konami/Sumire would be a difficult trio for any of the other units to match.
(Tara) I overthought every decision I made in this fantasy draft scenario. I’m not proud, it’s how I was made. I’m not much like the woman I picked for, even if I’ve spent years wondering about how she decides to do what she does. For every pick I made I can counter it with three picks I can claim make just as much sense in retrospect. I don’t think the real Mayu Iwatani will put that much effort into justifying her decisions – and I’m not sure she could, anyway. Wrestling is what it is. But she has a definite perspective on why she wrestles and I wanted to see if I could take the challenge of expressing that attitude seriously. I think I did pretty well, myself; as far as what I think she’s likely going to choose, I have my guesses as to the “real” outcome of the draft at the end with everyone else’s, and you can draw your own conclusions from that. I feel confident that if the team Iwatani winds up with resembles the team I picked here, however, we can look forward to the Stardom Army providing some of the most electrifyingly unpredictable matches Stardom has seen in years – perhaps not the sort of matches you’ll see in many audience’s MOTY lists, but ones that you’d remember for years all the same. They’d make for a Stardom Army that will try anything once – and in the face of such a beastly new Queen’s Quest lineup and a rejuvenated Oedo Tai, that can-do flexibility might be the only shot they have to do better by themselves than just hope to survive. I know that Iwatani wants to do more than that already.
I won’t spend time deliberating on the other teams’ decisions too much, except to note that like Sean and Luke I too can’t help but notice that however this shakes out this draft is Queen’s Quest’s to lose. What sets Io’s decision-making apart over the last two years is that she’ll do anything – and she does mean anything – to ensure her dominance over Stardom’s future, which sets her apart from Iwatani (who just doesn’t want to be someone else’s second fiddle anymore, but rarely acts like she has a clear plan about what she’ll do after that) and Kagetsu (whose priority is Oedo Tai first and everyone else second).
With that in mind, everything we’ve decided here could be upended completely, if Io winds up anywhere else in the picking order but last. It’s not just that I think it’s plausible for her to come out of Dreamslam hungry to steal Tam’s furious display of strength away to her side of the fence, but she couldn’t have missed Sumire’s performance in that same match either. She doesn’t have Iwatani’s responsibility to actually wear the Stardom name around her neck like an albatross because her goals are to remake Stardom in her image; she doesn’t have Kagetsu’s disinterest in anything but what’s best for her faction because as far as she’s concerned she’s going to ensure her faction’s strong enough to carry everyone into the future, even if they have to be carried there kicking and screaming. She’s a wild card. If you want to look to who will prove all of our guesses wrong first, my money is on Io Shirai.
(Luke) Playing at being Io was so much fun! There’s some really complex wrinkles to Io’s character right now, and while I don’t expect anything quite so wild as my fantasy picks from the actual draft, it would be a shame if the draft didn’t open up a number of angles for the Ace in the way I’ve sketched out.
While Oedo Tai may have captured more attention over the past year or so, Queen’s Quest have been right up with them this whole time in terms of storytelling value, and the few recent marquee matches that Io has had outside of the context of QQ’s internal squabbles and rivalry with Oedo Tai – I’m thinking mainly of the matches against Rachael Ellering and Nicole Savoy – have fallen very flat by comparison to her title defences against HZK and Momo. When Io dropped the title to Mayu and went on her brief summer hiatus, it closed a glorious chapter in her career; I hope that the draft can continue to build on the foundations that have already been established and spark the storylines that will define her next chapter, either by stoking new tensions within Queen’s Quest or compounding old ones.
Kagetsu could basically draft anybody and Oedo Tai would still be golden as long as they keep refreshing their gimmick with the same regularity they’ve become known for since Kyoko Kimura handed over the keys last January. That said, I adore the line-up that Sean has put together here: Kagetsu, Hana, HZK and Konami is instantly one of the most badass squads in all of wrestling. As for the Stardom Army, a lot depends on who gets first dibs, but I hope that Tara/Mayu’s drafting of Tam is reflective of where the company are really going with this whole thing, since that relationship seems to be the source of a lot Mayu’s relevance for the time being. And the way they smile at each other breaks my heart into a thousand tiny pieces.
Well, as I thought, we may or may not have gone a little bit galaxy brain a time or two! With that in mind, here are our predictions for what WILL happen. Keep in mind, all the same assumptions apply, so there’s like 450870274 things Stardom could do to invalidate a lot of this!
If any more information is released, I’ll try to round up my co-drafters on Twitter and have some updates, so please do follow us!
Until next time, everyone!
- Oedotai: Kagetsu, Hana, Sumire, AZM, Natsuko Tora, Leo Onozaki
- Starmy: Mayu, Tam, Kyona, Saki, Konami, Ruaka
- QQ: Io, Momo, HZK, Viper, SLK, Shiki
- OT: (Kagetsu), Hana, AZM, Natsuko, Sumire, Saki
- SA: (Mayu), Tam, Kyona, Konami, Xia, Shiki
- QQ: (Io), HZK, Momo, Viper, Ruaka, SLK
- QQ: Tam, HZK, Momo, Viper, Natsumi
- OT: Hana, AZM, Sumire, Saki, Natsuko
- SA: Kyona, Konami, Shiki, Kid, Mary