Professional wrestling is an art form just as much as it is a sport. And in both arts and sports, inconsistencies can be common for artists or athletes alike, showing signs of being truly great but not always being able to put that potential together consistently. It’s rarer than not that those who are inconsistent yet have great potential get to the point of greatness that many imagine for them. But when the few that do reach the status of great, they become among the best there are. We explain it this way because current Wonder of Stardom Champion Tam Nakano was once one of the more inconsistent with high potential wrestlers in Joshi and pro wrestling as a whole. Now, she’s simply one of the absolute best professional wrestlers in the world.
Here’s a look at how Nakano went from that inconsistent idol wrestler to one of the best.
Whether you go back to the very beginning of Nakano’s career in most specifically Actwres girl’Z or when she got to Stardom in 2017, you saw that she had something in her when it came to being a performer. It helps that her dancing background proved she was going to have the athletic ability to be a good wrestler, and in time she added to the arsenal. In her time with Stardom, Nakano was a major part of both Oedo Tai and STARS, two of their signature groups.
Her real “glowing” first appearance in the ring for Stardom was during the Gauntlet match between Oedo Tai and Queen’s Quest, where the final person eliminated would be kicked out of their group. Nakano took on that role and showed signs of greatness when she went head-to-head with Momo Watanabe. It was a match of desperation for both who showed that they were going to be at the head of Stardom in little time, but really was the showing Nakano needed. She had put it all together in that match as Nakano wasn’t missing her strikes but hitting them with impressive intent. It goes back to what we said about having that potential and just putting it together.
This wasn’t her “answer” to becoming consistent or great just yet, but it certainly was a brilliant start. In a look ahead to how her career would continue to improve, the next match she showed out in was when she teamed with Io Shirai on April 4, 2018, to take on the leader of Oedo Tai, Kagetsu, and Natsu Sumire. But this match wasn’t a normal one by any means and instead showed that Nakano was not someone you’d want to mess with. The stipulation would be an Exploding Bat Deathmatch. It was another chance for Nakano to show another side of her that is clear today but wasn’t then. She wasn’t afraid of anything. Nakano’s looks would make the general fan assume that she may not be as fearless and aggressive as she has become in her style, but she’s one of the best because of that. Shirai and Nakano won as it was her chance to redeem herself against her former group and begin to further grow into her future.
As she joined the faction, STARS, it gave her the chance to learn from one of the best in the world, Mayu Iwatani. This was really when she began to fully come into her own. And while Iwatani has a lot of reason to be thanked for that, it’s her frenemy Arisa Hoshiki that would help Nakano become the performer we see today. It was almost a sense of determination when Hoshiki returned to professional wrestling. Hoshiki took over for Nakano as essentially the No. 2 in STARS and she instantly rose up the ranks through the Cinderella Tournament. Hoshiki would soon become the Wonder of Stardom Champion on May 16, 2019, by ending the historic title reign of Momo Watanabe and showing that it was Hoshiki at the top of STARS and Stardom alongside Iwatani, no longer Nakano. Not only did this bring the anger of Nakano, but it brought the very best as well. She turned it up a notch in her matches. It’s worth noting that she was improving match after match, but 2019 was the year Nakano really started to be more consistent than before. The feud with Hoshiki made that happen. So much so that Nakano promised her one-time friend that she would not let anyone else take the Wonder of Stardom Championship from Hoshiki besides her. It was essentially her goal in life to be the one to take it.
A month after Hoshiki won the champion, the former friends would face off. And not only would they face-off, but they went to pretty much went to war.
Nothing was held back between the two, each of them hitting bombs through bone-rattling strikes and breathtaking kicks. This is the match that changed everything for Nakano. It’s seen by many fans of Stardom as one of the best matches in the company’s history. They went over 20 minutes and not a single second felt unnecessary, signaling a fantastic battle. Hoshiki managed to escape the fight with Nakano as a winner and still champion, but Nakano made it known this was not going to be the last time they fought. Unfortunately, it ended up being their one and only singles match ever.
They did team together again, showing that despite the massive feud they had with one another, Hoshiki and Nakano could still be an incredible team. Better known to Stardom fans at DREAM SHiNE, they entered the Goddesses of Stardom Tag League and got all the way to the finals to face Bea Priestley and Jamie Hayter. DREAM SHiNE managed to win that as well, winning the Tag League, earning a shot at the Goddesses of Stardom Championships. Despite what seemed to be bad blood — and a fantastic singles match — these two were on the same page and it helped Nakano near that consistency to be great that much more. DREAM SHiNE failed to win the tag team titles, falling to Tokyo Cyber Squad’s Jungle Kyona and Konami.
Their work together was over for now, but it didn’t mean Nakano forgot her promise to take that title away from Hoshiki. Nakano had a major opportunity, however, as she would be the final singles opponent of Kagetsu in Stardom before she would retire at the 9th Anniversary show. A major honor for Nakano, who, as we noted, was in Kagetsu’s Oedo Tai before losing the Gauntlet match. Rightfully, this was another major help to the confidence of Nakano, who would defeat Kagetsu and show that the inconsistent idol that once followed Kagetsu was nearing her own stardom. There was a reason Kagetsu made that decision to face her in the final Stardom singles match of her career, as she believed in Nakano.
It’s what Nakano needed to become one of the best wrestlers in the world. Confidence from an all-timer like Kagetsu can only give you that same confidence to move forward. If you look at this opportunity with Kagetsu and the match she had with Hoshiki six months earlier, you can understand that Nakano was gaining the confidence that fulfilled her potential. She could not shine with that newly found confidence for a couple of months due to COVID-19 forcing all events to stop. But when they came back, it was a whole new Tam Nakano. The only problem was that she was not going to fulfill the promise she made to Arisa Hoshiki.
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On May 20, 2020, it was announced that Hoshiki had to retire from professional wrestling due to head and neck injuries, relinquishing the Wonder of Stardom Championship that Nakano was so determined to take from her. It was heartbreaking for fans, for the wrestlers, and for Hoshiki. And what it did for Nakano was inspire her to be great, to be that incredible professional wrestler that many believed she could become. And that’s what she did.
If you have followed Stardom over the past year, you know of the feud between Giulia and Nakano. A lot of that feud as to do with Giulia being the one to be the first Wonder of Stardom Champion following Hoshiki, and it came from her defeating Nakano at the end of the tournament to crown a new champion. Following the match, Nakano made a similar promise to that of her’s with Hoshiki. She made it known that she would go to the end of the universe to take the title from Giulia. Dedication, determination, and eventual defiance are what drove Nakano to be one of the best.
And it was that determination and confidence over the past year since facing Hoshiki that eventually gave Nakano the self-assurance to not only leave STARS and Mayu Iwatani but create her very own group — The Cosmic Angels. As the leader of the Cosmic Angels, Nakano has brought a whole other look to Stardom and who they are. She has led Unagi Sayaka and Mina Shirakawa to gold, winning the Artists of Stardom Championships and showing they were a top faction now. But even with the clarity that Nakano was running with, the matches she was delivering, and the fact she had gold around her waist — it was not enough.
Nakano has said before that the Wonder of Stardom Championship was her career goal. And taking it off Giulia was just as important. At the biggest event in the promotion’s history, All Star Dream Cinderella, Nakano would face Giulia for the championship that she had failed to take from Hoshiki or Giulia in the past two years. Yet, if Nakano wanted to face Giulia for the third time, she had to be willing to get her hair shaved. So it was made, a hair vs. hair match, Wonder of Stardom Championship on the line, and the main event of the biggest show in Stardom history. It was everything Nakano had worked for from the beginning of her career. A sign that the inconsistent idol that she once was had been gone and she was truly one of the best in the world. But that meant nothing to Nakano until she had that championship.
In the main event, Tam Nakano and Giulia felt all the pressure in the world. A need to deliver. A need to show the world that Stardom was among the best in it. And, of course, having to close the door on their feud in the most emphatic way possible. In these types of matches is where Nakano shined the brightest. With all that pressure, she and Giulia had one of the best matches of 2021, holding nothing back and bringing the best out of each other. At one point during the bout, the two slapped their opponent’s face no less than a dozen times, resulting in marks and swelling on both of their faces. Nakano reached deep into her bag of tricks and hit a vertical suplex piledriver, dropping Giulia down on her skull but it was only a two count. When Nakano hit the Tiger Suplex though, the world knew it was finally her time as champion. Following the three count, Nakano was the champion and the respect was clear between the former and new champ. Giulia’s head was shaved and it was time for Nakano to dye her own hue of color on the white Wonder of Stardom Championship.
Nakano’s growth is one of the most incredible growths in at least the last decade. She always had the ability, but never managed to find that consistency that was talked about earlier. It just wasn’t there. And through her friend Arisa Hoshiki, she understood what that could really be like. That match really lit the spark of the journey to being recognized among the best in the world, and it was the win over Giulia that solidified it. She figured out the best style that fit her in match and out. It was the lionhearted, hard-hitting overall style that she showcased in her match with Giulia. Now in every big Nakano match, like her first defense against Natsupoi, you know what she is going to bring and how she is going to bring it. Match of the year candidates almost feels like a guarantee now for Nakano, and it shows the road she has taken to this point is one of the most impressiveness.
Tam Nakano is one of the best in the world and it’s no longer an opinion, it’s a fact.