The Stardom Cinderella Tournament has become one of the best tournaments in all of professional wrestling since its beginning in 2015 has some of the most stunning upsets and brilliant outcomes. It has helped Stardom crown their future on multiple occasions, from two-time winner Mayu Iwatani to last year’s winner Giulia. While it does not mirror the same style as a G1 Climax like Stardom’s 5STAR Grand Prix does, it certainly gives fans one of the most exciting tournaments on a yearly basis.
As of this writing, the 2021 Cinderella Tournament has officially begun with Round 1 already being completed. State of Emergency in Japan forced the tournament to split up the remainder of the tournament in a new, unique format which should be that much better for fans worldwide as the finals are expected to be live for the very first time. So, let’s set the stage for those interested, from how the tournament works, to who remains in the tournament, what stories are being told with the remaining bracket, and what to look out for in the second round, semi-finals, and ultimately the finals at Tokyo Dream Cinderella, which has been postponed due to the state of emergency in Japan. Expect it to hopefully conclude sometime in June or to see the semi-finals and finals moved up to another show. Anyways, let’s dive in.
How The Cinderella Tournament Works
If you read my most recent column, you saw how the Cinderella Tournament works.
But here’s a refresher before we dive into everything else.
Stardom’s Cinderella Tournament is single-elimination, bracket-style. Every match carries a 15-minute time limit with the ways of elimination including pinfall, submission, or over-the-top-rope. In the finals, the time limit is axed as there can only be one winner. The initial time limit in the tournament makes every match feel like a sprint to the finish line, giving each competitor an added importance to get their opponent down and out before they are both eliminated via the time limit. The over-the-top-rope aspect instantly adds this insane uncertainty as upsets and draws become a legitimate concern for competitors. It’s a tournament not only worth your time but continues to be a proving point for future champions in Stardom.
The Competitors Who Remain In The Tournament With The Stories To Follow For Each Competitor
Giulia (Donna del Mondo)
2020’s Cinderella Tournament winner and one-half of the Goddesses of Stardom Champions, Giulia, is in prime position to repeat once again. After her difficult loss to Tam Nakano at All Star Dream Cinderella that saw her lose her Wonder of Stardom Championship and have her head shaved, Giulia has been working to get back to the level she was before the major loss. Her team with Syuri has helped push that work forward quickly, but a second straight win of the Cinderella Tournament could return the leader of Donna del Mondo to where she once was.
Her first-round matchup against Ruaka went nearly as expected, as she faced little difficulty facing off with the young Oedo Tai member. However, the difficulty is on the horizon in her second-round matchup as she will face stablemate, Maika. It’s DDM who has always given Giulia trouble in the past since joining Stardom, so there is no guarantee that she can get past Maika by any means. A loss here could further derail Giulia and also show she is not fully back to where she wants to be as a singles competitor just yet. Either way, Giulia is one of the top names in Stardom, and whatever the result may be, it will be noteworthy.
Himeka (Donna del Mondo)
Himeka has to be one of the remaining favorites in the Cinderella Tournament. Known to many as “The Jumbo Princess,” Himeka has been on a roll as a competitor this year with her only big loss coming at Yokohama Dream Cinderella, where she and Maika dropped the tag titles to Giulia and Syuri. She has stepped up to everyone in her matches, giving World of Stardom Champion Utami Hayashishita a run for her money, and has seen her momentum only gain more and more as part of her trios team, MaiHime Poi. While the wish that you receive for winning the tournament has often been used for the Wonder of Stardom Championship, Himeka seems to have her eyes on Hayashishita if she is able to get to the end.
“Jumbo” made easy work of Hanan in the first round, but has been handed an incredibly tough hand in the quarterfinals as she faces off with Stardom’s “Ace,” Mayu Iwatani in the second round. If she is able to overcome the two-time Cinderella winner, then you may very well be looking at the favorite on her side of the bracket and in the entire tournament.
Maika (Donna del Mondo)
If you have been paying attention to Stardom for any matter of time over the last year, you understand the potential that Maika has and what Stardom sees in her. The Cinderella Tournament could be a perfect time for her to rise to the upper echelon of the company—a place she will eventually be. Her World of Stardom Championship challenge against Utami Hayashishita is one that really had fans recognize the work she was putting in and how good she is going to be.
With a second-round matchup against Giulia, it feels as though a win by her over her stablemate would not only be a huge one but put everyone on notice. Maika is not only among the favorites to win this whole thing, but one of the favorites to be a potential singles champion by year’s end. A potential finals matchup with Saya Kamitani to renew their rivalry is what I believe could be on tap here, with it going either way and a chance at Tam Nakano possible.
Mayu Iwatani (STARS)
Whenever Mayu Iwatani is involved, she always has a chance. The only two-time Cinderella Tournament winner has seen herself get a bye into the quarterfinals after Rina was removed. She has been very busy since losing her World of Stardom Championship at the end of 2020 as she watches her STARS family become smaller and smaller. Oedo Tai has been her current concentration seeing they took Gokigen Death (now Fukigen Death) at Yokohama Dream Cinderella, but her bubbling feud with former friend Tam Nakano is also something to consider here.
The matchup with Himeka is one of great interest for fans, as not only can it go either way but may have to see the version of Iwatani come out that we have only seen rarely in the past few months. Iwatani’s greatness always comes out in these types of matches — back against the wall, massive doubt being laid upon her. It’s almost as though when people count her out, she shines the most. Iwatani is the underdog because of what she is dealing with right now, but never count out “The Icon” of Stardom.
Saya Kamitani (Queen’s Quest)
Saya Kamitani is the odds-on favorite for many who watch Stardom as the Queen’s Quest member has seen her stock rise faster than almost anyone in recent months. A first-round matchup with Wonder of Stardom Champion Tam Nakano seemed to be the perfect testing point for her and she was able to not only take the challenge but show the world it’s her time. Kamitani hit a picture-perfect springboard hurricarrana to Nakano to dump her out of the ring and win the match. A second-round matchup with Starlight Kid should test her again but shows that an opportunity at being in the semi-finals is in her sights.
Kamitani’s true proving ground was her match at All Star Dream Cinderella against Hayashishita. The match with her AphroditE partner on such a major stage, perhaps Stardom’s biggest ever, allowed Kamitani to not only show she was ready but that she was going to be at the top of the promotion sooner rather than later. It’s not only exciting for Stardom’s future, but considering how different Kamitani is from the rest of the promotion when it comes to her in-ring ability, this should only be the star of her rise into superstardom. A win in the Cinderella will only be the next step in that.
Starlight Kid (STARS)
Starlight Kid is neck and neck with Unagi Sayaka as the top underdog remaining in the tournament. The masked star is the smallest left after the most shocking upset of the first round when she managed to dump out Momo Watanabe to capture the win. She has been fighting tremendously by the side of Mayu Iwatani for months left and also has Oedo Tai on her mind, which could limit her in this one. Add in the fact that she is facing favorite Saya Kamitani and you begin to see the underdog role that has been dawned on her.
There is no disrespect to Kid here, as she has only gotten better and is one of Stardom’s most consistent every single show. But with so much of the weight of STARS on her back alongside Iwatani and Hanan, the Oedo Tai feud, and the fact she has a tag title match to look forward to just days after has her mind likely elsewhere here.
Syuri (Donna del Mondo)
Syuri has called her shot. Following Utami Hayashishita’s successful title defense at Yokohama Dream Cinderella, Syuri made it abundantly clear that she wanted a shot at the World of Stardom Championship next. Hayashishita told her she needed to win the Cinderella to achieve that possibility, so Syuri has come in more determined than ever to win. And really it made her a favorite at the start but her second-round matchup has people wondering if she will continue.
Syuri made rather quick work of fellow Donna del Mondo member and current High Speed Champion Natsupoi in the first round, showing she was more serious than maybe ever in her Stardom career. But then it was revealed she would be facing off with Hayashishita in the first round, bringing a various number of possibilities to the table with that one. A draw could be likely for these two, with it resulting in the title match that Syuri wanted after all.
Unagi Sayaka (Cosmic Angels)
Unagi Sayaka is the underdog. No doubt about it. The Cosmic Angels star has been taking beatdown after beatdown from the entire Stardom roster, whether it was through her 7-Match Series or elsewhere. Yet, she finds herself in the second round of the Cinderella Tournament and instantly has a shot to make it to the semi-finals. That’s pretty major for Sayaka, who is still only getting started in her career.
She’s scheduled to face the winner of Hayashishita-Syuri, but with a strong possibility that this goes to a draw between the two, Sayaka very well may make it to the semi-finals. That would set her up to take on the winner of Maika vs. Giulia, only giving her another chance to show the world what she’s got. As one-third of the Artists of Stardom Champions, Sayaka is ready to keep turning heads as the underdog of the tournament and has no problem proving her doubts wrong in the effort.
Utami Hayashishita (Queen’s Quest)
The world champion has never won the Cinderella Tournament. Notable as Utami Hayashishita steps into her next match against Syuri. The Wonder of Stardom Champion has shown the world that not only is she deserving of her spot at the top of Stardom, but she isn’t going to give it away anytime soon. Hayashishita has taken on any and all challengers and has shut them down in her defenses. The question is if she can make more history by winning the tournament? It would be wrong to rule that out.
Hayashishita is in an interesting position, as she said if she were to win, she’d even grant the title shot to Syuri. But with this being her second-round matchup, a win over Syuri may change that. These two are going to hold little back which makes the match exciting as it could be the prelude to what we await in their eventual title match. This match really does feel like it will be a draw, but the world champion has had no problem outdoing expectations.
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What To Look Out For In The Remainder Of The Tournament
The beauty of this tournament to this point is that literally nothing has been certain. Syuri was the heavy favorite early on but the upcoming matchup with Hayashishita put a halt to those assumptions. It looked like a tournament that could be a chance for AZM to show her further improvement by going far, but she was taken out in the first round by Rina in what was a major upset. As you can tell, the first round has already put major waves on this Cinderella Tournament, which makes it great every single year.
What to look out for from the second round to the final is really interesting and makes professional wrestling the wonderful art it is. Donna del Mondo has always had an edge to them when it comes to facing off with each other. With four of five members left and at least two of them facing each other, this will be another proving ground. Giulia has the most recent laugh, per se, over Maika as she teamed with Syuri to take the Goddesses of Stardom Championships away from her and Himeka. Their singles match feels like a huge moment for the group, as a win by Maika not only may derail Giulia but adds a certain “bragging right” that can be used down the line. And whoever makes it the furthest out of the four will get that last laugh as well.
Mayu Iwatani’s remaining run in the tournament is something all fans should always look to. Iwatani, as stated prior, is in an interesting spot with a lot going on at once but still is the clear top star in the entire promotion. A win is not out of the question with eyes on Tam Nakano not changing since their draw in January. Unfinished business is not something Iwatani tends to leave, well, unfinished.
Finally, the possibility of Saya Kamitani and Maika reigniting their feud from last year in the finals. In 2020, it was about the Future of Stardom Championship but both women have moved on from that and are borderline main eventers now. A meeting in the finals is very possible and maybe the most likely. The last time they faced off in singles action, it was Maika who got the win. Anytime they have faced off in tag action since, they show that fire between each other, displaying the fact that it’s far from gone. With such a final possibly down the pipeline, it’s the grandest factor to look out for as they are set to be rivals for life it feels.
The Cinderella Tournament, properly named, is one of the most magical and exciting tournaments in all of wrestling. This is one as a wrestling fan you do not want to miss and should set Stardom up in a grand way for the next few months and potentially the rest of the year!