Professional wrestling has been called many things. However, the best way to describe it is by simply calling it an art form. There are so many different styles in this art form. The popularized WWE-style, the puroresu style that NJPW and other companies in Japan utilize, Lucha Libre — the list goes on.
Every style is unique and gives the viewer a different look with an ability to try and enjoy different aspects of each. That’s the beauty of professional wrestling. And when matches are so good in particular styles, it can lead to a worldwide popularization that not only helps the match itself but the promotion that it takes place and the style of the match. In this case, that style is Joshi, the promotion is Stardom, and the match is Utami Hayashishita vs. Syuri. A match that has quickly changed everything for everyone involved.
For what has been a few years now, Stardom has become the most popular and notable Joshi promotion in the world. While the likes of Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling (TJPW) are growing and becoming a mainstay in their own way, Stardom is the bar as of this writing. Some wrestling circles have begun to take witness to who wrestles for them as they make up one of the best rosters in the world from top to bottom.
The likes of Mayu Iwatani, Io Shirai, and Kairi Hojo (aka Kairi Sane in WWE) have been among those with the biggest recognition through the years due to their ability to dazzle in matches and have been part of promotions like WWE and Ring of Honor (ROH) in the past and currently. Their performances as individuals have been major parts of getting the Stardom promotion popularized, but not to the levels of a worldwide company just yet.
There are many other names to include like Kagetsu, Arisa Hoshiki, and the late Hana Kimura who have been massive names for Stardom and helped popularize the brand as well. But when it comes to reaching the national stage of everyone taking notice, that hasn’t fully happened yet. Well, that was until June 12, 2021. Tokyo Dream Cinderella was the show that featured the conclusion of Stardom’s annual Cinderella Tournament, a tag match with two of their biggest names involved, and a heartbreaking loser changes factions match between STARS and Oedo Tai. While for Stardom fans many of these things were great, entertaining, and excellent in building the future of Stardom, nothing could match what the main event did for their future. With the World of Stardom Championship on the line, Utami Hayashishita and Syuri went into battle and came out on the other side with far more than anyone could have imagined.
Let’s take a look at the competitors of the bout, the match’s delivery and execution, as well as the reaction and future of Stardom. It was the catapult Stardom needed into the next stage of their future.
From “The Big Rookie” To “The Star”
Utami Hayashishita is the future and present.
She has become everything Stardom wanted and needed her to be. That’s what we call special. A woman who kicked off her career known as “The Big Rookie” and winning titles almost immediately is always a clear-cut sign that a promotion sees big things in the future for the competitor. Hayashishita isn’t an overnight success by any stretch, but she has gone from good to great in what feels to be overnight. Stardom lost four of their key top wrestlers — Arisa Hoshiki, Hazuki, Kagetsu, and the late Hana Kimura — they were in massive need to find and create more stars once they returned from the pandemic stoppage. It wasn’t going to be an overnight change as every single one of those four debatably could be called all-timers in their own right, but it had to happen.
Stardom was thankfully positioned with the right world champion leading them through this rough patch, as Mayu Iwatani had won her second world title only a few months prior to COVID-19 changing everything. Once Stardom came back, it was time to start building back up. A daunting task when taking into consideration that crowds were lessened and going with gut instinct was more necessary than ever. “The Big Rookie” was the instant choice to be the woman to take the next step from “waiting in the wings” to being “the star.”
While we brought up Stardom’s Cinderella Tournament earlier, that tends to be the best way for the promotion to make a new star for the Wonder of Stardom Championship. When discussing the World of Stardom Championship, that’s where the 5STAR Grand Prix comes in. An event that resembles the G1 Climax in New Japan Pro Wrestling, this one has two blocks with the leader of each going onto the finals in an effort to win and earn a title opportunity. This was Stardom’s chance to fast forward Utami Hayashishita to that “star” spot and it worked as well as anyone could have imagined. In the finals, she defeated Himeka to earn her opportunity at Mayu Iwatani and the World of Stardom Championship. Once she accomplished such a feat, it was clear that it was her time to rise to the very top.
Hayashishita would go on to defeat Iwatani, capturing the 13th reign of the World of Stardom Championship at Sendai Cinderella in November. Some fans believed this was the right move as Hayashishita was such a star already, but others wanted more before fully believing in her as Stardom’s top star. And this challenge of showing to the world she was ready to be the world champion proved to be one she was ready for. Her first title defense against Momo Watanabe in December was among the best matches in all of Stardom in 2020. Her defense against Maika was a unique battle that saw two of Stardom’s brightest showed that they were main event worthy.
At All Star Dream Cinderella, she faced her AphroditE partner and Queen’s Quest stablemate Saya Kamitani. The interesting part of this match was that it was perhaps the biggest show in Stardom history and they went forward with Kamitani, who is still relatively new, and Hayashishita for the world title. These two would not be the main event of the show, but they would perform as though it was. One of the most beautiful near-falls you will ever see occurred in this one as it seemed Kamitani stole it, but Hayashishita persevered and won the match. The title defense against Bea Priestley showed again that no matter the opponent, Hayashishita was going to deliver on the big stage. It was another feather in the cap as she not only defended her title but put on a show that left the people talking. As we drew closer to the defense against Syuri, it was another chance for Hayashishita to show there was no one better in wrestling when it came to the big match.
The presence and star power that Utami Hayashishita has developed over just the last few months is something unprecedented in wrestling nowadays. When it looked to be impossible, Hayashishita has risen to the occasion to be the must-see talent of Stardom moving forward. Before even her match with Syuri, she was nearing that point. You could feel it. From her entrance as she held her rose and looking into the camera with her signature pose to when she was prepared to square off with her opponent, every part of her felt special. And after her match with Syuri, her ability to be a truly special performer took another massive leap.
Joshi Wrestling’s Most Legitimate Challenger
There’s always been this mystique about Syuri as a professional wrestler. Her advanced background in mixed martial arts helps that mystique as it instantly made her one of the baddest in all of professional wrestling — men or women. Her cerebral yet hard-hitting style has made her a wrestler that many only expect greatness from.
When she officially joined Stardom in 2020, everyone instantly knew that her success was going to be constant and immediate. As she joined Donna del Mondo next to Giulia, it didn’t feel as though she was taking a back seat but was equal with someone who was very much at the top of Stardom. That alone made her a legitimate contender.
Nevertheless, an interesting aspect of Syuri’s background that some of the newer fans may not be aware of is that she was formerly in the UFC under the name Syuri Kondo. While she was released at the beginning of 2021 from her contract as Stardom became her main commitment, she fought four times for the MMA empire, capturing a decision win in her first fight but losing her last three bouts. She has not fought since 2019, so her release was more of her wanting to be in professional wrestling moving forward than anything else. Either way, that fact alone that she was willing to compete in the octagon is what makes her Joshi wrestling’s most legitimate challenger at all times.
Going back to her time in Stardom, it’s one of the most impressive singles records in all of wrestling right now. The only pinfall losses that Syuri has suffered are against AZM from the 2020 5STAR and losing to Mayu Iwatani in her World of Stardom Championship match. Otherwise, the only two other singles losses on her Stardom record were from back-to-back Cinderella events as she was eliminated by Giulia and Unagi Sayaka over the top rope. Any other shortcoming was due to her opponent and her going to a draw. Nearly unbeatable at times and has only become better and better since her losses.
Syuri currently reigns over Stardom as the current SWA Champion and one-half of the Goddesses of Stardom Champions with her partner, Giulia. As SWA Champion, Syuri has crafted her own legacy through that belt as not only making it feel important for what may be the first time in its history but making it part of who she is as a performer. The same really can go for the Goddesses of Stardom Championships as well, seeing that the tag division was in dire need of someone to right the ship, which Giulia and Syuri have done. Not only have they become a consistently great tag team together, but show that their range as singles wrestlers expands greatly than just being singles. As a team, both have improved their games as well as their partners to new heights. That’s greatness in itself.
All of these accolades were grand, but the World of Stardom Championship has been what Syuri wants for some time now. Not only does she wants it, but she feels that she needs it to complete her legacy. With her second attempt in what is a heated feud with Hayashishita on the horizon, Syuri had the better of Hayashishita on multiple occasions, which was setting her up for the potential to finally achieve the greatest moment of her career. It turned out to be exactly that for both women with both coming out as winners even if the final result didn’t reflect that on the scoresheet.
The second the pre-match video hit, the feelings of this being a major match kicked in. As both women began to make their entrances, a certain feeling began to set in for anyone watching. Syuri was serious and at times visually emotional as she made her way down to the ring. Utami Hayashishita was as calm as you’d ever see her. The big Queen’s Quest flag in one hand, rose in the other, and all the presence in the world for a confident world champion. It’s almost a cause for goosebumps thinking back to the beginning before either one of them laid a hand on each other. Syuri’s tag team partner, Giulia, being on commentary eventually added to the feeling of this. Once the beginning bell rang, it was on.
The early on saw both opponents feeling each other out, not trying to get caught by anything while also hunting for an early advantage. Five minutes in and these two were at a stalemate of sorts. They became fed up with one another. The beautiful war of forearms followed, which almost always has a winner coming out of it. Syuri, rather, had enough of this and would score a takedown on Hayashishita all the way out of the ring and onto the floor. It ended up hurting the challenger in the long run though, as Hayashishita would plant Syuri knee first on the apron, giving her a chance to break down the leg and try to stop Syuri from her potential devastating kicks later on in the match. The approach by the champion was methodical, almost matching what made Syuri great in so many of her own matches.
Syuri managed to turn the tide after a bit of punishment in her favor. A lot of the action from this point would mirror their feud to this point — Syuri having the upper hand over the world champion. Kicks, knee strikes, and her immaculate submission techniques would start to break down the champion. The armbar would become a major move used by Syuri in this match to try and limit the power moves of Hayashishita. After Syuri’s turn, it was back to more back and forth between these two.
As the match proceeded and they began to get more and more worn down, their strikes somehow got harder and stronger with more intent as the match continued. Syuri’s, understandably, began to dramatically change the pace of the match. This was the first sign of domination by either side as Syuri’s strikes were becoming too much for Hayashishita to overcome. Everything in the arsenal of Syuri was on as the physical beat down of the champion ensued. But Hayashishita would not give up. The change in the momentum of the match came when Syuri attempted for a diving soccer kick but Hayashishita brushed her by and forced her to crash down to the floor right onto her tailbone. It wasn’t only the opening Hayashishita needed, but the slip-up that changed the dynamic of this match for the remaining half that remained.
Hayashishita and Syuri would battle on the apron, throwing bombs left and right before Hayashishita looked for the biggest maneuver of the night thus far. An Air Raid Crash to Syuri on the apron would result in a scream from Giulia on Japanese commentary and major applause from everyone in the building. With the minutes ticking down to the draw, it was time for Hayashishita to finish it. Luckily for Syuri, Hayashishita’s scars from earlier in the match didn’t allow her to roll Syuri back in the ring right away, giving the challenger time to get herself back into it. Both beaten down and exhausted after having to trade again on the outside, the camera crew zoomed in on Hayashishita and Syuri laying there with what seemed to be very little left in the tank. The brutal deadlift German Suplex by Hayashishita to Syuri would result in the challenger’s head hitting the apron and felt as though the match was coming to end. Boy was that not at all the case.
The pressure was on for them both, as five minutes remained with the difficulty of accepting a draw looming more and more. Desperation finally kicked in. The attempts to make each other tap out wasn’t working, so it became a battle of old-fashioned slaps to one another. Hayashishita would hit the Air Raid Crash in the center of the ring, but Syuri managed to kick out at two. The pace kicked up here despite the exhaustion of both. Syuri would hit a flying knee that rocked Hayashishita, but the final bell sounded as 30 minutes were up and no winner was found. These two didn’t stop after the bell, hitting each other as the match was still going. It wouldn’t be long as they would restart the match, shocking everyone as they wanted to find one true winner of this blood feud.
These last 13 minutes were what people would call pro wrestling bliss or magic. There was no end in sight. Neither would accept anything but a winner. Syuri was able to lock in the armbar once again and this time felt for good. She rolled it over and wrenched back to try and snap the arm of Hayashishita. Again, the champion managed to survive. It was crazy to watch this, thinking back as to when this all began. These two just wanted to face each other. Hayashishita and Syuri made claims that they would win the Cinderella Tournament and challenge the other, but in that time, it became personal. Syuri used head games like no other while repeatedly defeating Hayashishita in tag matches and, of course, the Cinderella Tournament. Now here they were, pulling out all the stops to prove to the other that they should be the world champion.
Near-fall after near-fall began to add up between the two. Syuri looked to be going for her delayed side powerslam but dropped Hayashishita straight down on her head for the near-fall of the night. Somehow, Hayashishita had the wherewithal to reverse a kick to the skull into a massive powerbomb. Hayashishita would get to her feet with all the adrenaline she had left to lift up Syuri and hit her BT Bomb finish. This was what put away all of the opponents before and it looked to do that again. But no, Syuri was able to grasp the rope for a rope break as the referee’s hand came crashing down. These two would have their final exchange of the night, pulling out everything left in their tired but determined arsenals. A devastating lariat by Hayashishita was matched by one last skull smashing kick by Syuri. Both fell down to the mat and the referee began to count. 1… 2… 3… 4… 5… 6… 7… 8… 9… 10. The match was over.
It was a draw.
Calling this a war may not do what this was justice at all. These two made every single move matter through the entire match. It’s rare you can say that for any match, let alone one that went 43 minutes. Those who watched it live witnessed something special and those who would watch it as the reviews poured out would witness a match just as special. The emotion that filled the arena that night radiated to the fans at home, fans in the stands, and the entire promotion. Syuri walked away with tears in her eyes as all she could feel was grief coming up with nothing. Hayashishita wasn’t pleased either, as the business between these two remains unfinished. But for a match that did not have an official winner or loser, it was potentially the best of the year, the best in Stardom history, and one of the best battles in a very long time.
The reaction that lived up to every single description of this match was and will go down as what catapulted Stardom to the next level. Professional wrestling magic on full display.
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To describe this match in a single word — unbelievable. What Utami Hayashishita and Syuri were able to do in that special 43-minute match changed everything. The world was buzzing. It was no longer just those in the Joshi circle celebrating the efforts of these two women. NJPW Strong Openweight Champion Tom Lawlor said to watch the match if you value your time. Dave Meltzer of Wrestling Observer called it one of the best matches all year. Marc Raimondi of ESPN stated that not only was it one of the best matches he has seen all year, but it was an “absolute classic.” People who do not follow Stardom but love professional wrestling saw this match and recognized it for what it is — an all-time classic.
Hey. Hey you.
Go watch Utami vs. Syuri right now.
That's all. -Rich
— Voices of Wrestling (@voiceswrestling) June 15, 2021
It’s very reminiscent of when Kazuchika Okada and Kenny Omega had their Wrestle Kingdom match for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. It broke through the barriers of NJPW fans, puroresu enthusiasts, and made it to the mainstream. That helped NJPW boom to one of its most popular periods ever and remains the reason why so many people around the world watch it more now than before that match.
This is what Utami Hayashishita vs. Syuri very well could be doing for Stardom moving forward.
But the reaction isn’t just about the worldwide reaction of those in wrestling and out of it celebrating the feats and doings of these two women. This is about them more than anything. In the conclusion of that match, one person walked away champion and the other walked away with nothing but universal praise. While many wrestlers may take that as a fantastic confidence booster moving forward, it was not enough for Syuri. To her, in the end, it was still a failure she had to deal with. That’s where we get to the long message that she finally released in reflection of the loss that put into perspective how she felt following the 43-minute war between her and Utami Hayashishita.
— 朱里 【syuri 】 (@syuri_wv3s) June 14, 2021
Thanks to Twitter user @ArmaniShoe, we have the translation to Syuri’s written thoughts below:
“I was called the strongest woman in the world, but I lost to Mayu Iwatani in a match for the belt on Oct. 3 last year, and drew with Utami Hayashishita on June 12 this year,” Syuri wrote. “I’ve been wrestling for 13 years and at the beginning, I didn’t have any strength at all. I trained to death in martial arts. I don’t want to be underestimated. I thought that one loss would be the death of me in a fight. I became a kickboxing champion, an MMA champion, and got a contract with the world’s best UFC. In professional wrestling, I was the CMLL champion in Mexico. But I didn’t get much attention. I was frustrated because I had gotten results and had gone from being weak to being strong.
“I was even jealous of the people who were in the spotlight. I hated myself for that. I had to get it right, I thought. I joined Stardom to win the big belt, and now I’m here in the most popular and shining women’s wrestling. I want to shine. I want to be the best in wrestling, I want to wear a big belt, I want to show my mother who passed away last year what I can do. I also want to show my mother, who passed away last year, what I’m capable of. They gave me a lot of power. When I was entering the venue on June 12, I could see the expressions on the faces of each and every person on the side of the aisle…
“I was very happy because I felt like they were telling me to do my best. When I made my wrestling debut at Hustle, I was unpaid for about two years. I prepared all the costumes and gowns for the seniors, washed and dried them when I was done, helped out at the dojo when there was a photoshoot, practiced, had a part-time job, my health was getting worse, I didn’t have much money, and people said I looked shabby, but I don’t know why I was able to keep going, I couldn’t say I wanted to quit. Part of it was because I couldn’t say I wanted to quit, but more than anything, it was because I had people who supported me and gave me a place to shine in the ring. Originally, I wanted to be an actress, and I was doing stage performances, but I couldn’t see the light at all. I felt like I was at the bottom…
“I had never seen wrestling before, and I found a place to shine. I was determined to make it here, and I did. Because of that experience, I’m here now. There is no right answer in professional wrestling. I want to show my own way of life through wrestling. I thought, “It doesn’t matter how uncool I look. I am who I am. You should be confident in what you’ve done. I don’t know how long I’ll be able to do this, but I want to show my way of life as a professional wrestler in the ring. I want to live a life with no regrets. I’m going to become a woman with a core like my mother, whom I love, and I’m going to push forward. I hope you will continue to support me in spite of this.”
This was everything Syuri ever strived for and for those who are just learning who she is now, you can get a bigger appreciation for that effort she had on Saturday night. The reaction for them has to have helped her, but one day she’s likely to reach her goal and by then, the whole world will be watching. Anytime the viewer can feel something when watching the art of professional wrestling, it only adds to the greatness of it. And what these two did in making people feel during their match helps change Stardom forever.
The Unlimited Future of Stardom
This article, titled “Utami Hayashishita vs. Syuri: The Catapult Into SuperStardom,” is to explain what this means going forward for Stardom. They have set lofty goals for themselves in the next five years, hoping to have their very own show inside the Tokyo Dome one day. And while that certainly is lofty, after Saturday, it seems more possible than ever before. There used to be this saying from Jim Ross in one of the WWE opening credits that said, “The world is watching.” Well, that perfectly describes what is happening for Stardom moving forward. The main event on Saturday, possibly the greatest match in the history of Stardom, has changed the game. The future, while bright before, is now unlimited moving forward. It is an unlimited one for not only the promotion but the wrestlers and style of Joshi as well.
More people are going to invest their time into names like Hayashishita and Syuri, but potentially venture into more like the “Icon of Stardom,” Mayu Iwatani. Recognizing a wrestler who has long been in the discussion of the best in the world. Cinderella Tournament winner Saya Kamitani will get more attention as her style is different from everyone in Stardom and the majority of Joshi as she can fly through the air with incredible ease. The list goes on and on for those who are going to be recognized. And that goes for the rest of Joshi, who can only welcome a performance like this in hopes that those who begin to check them out are willing to check out promotions like TJPW, SEAdLINNNG, Ice Ribbon, Marvelous, and so many more. That’s the greatness of what one special match can do for an entire style.
Stardom is in a position to grow unlike any all-women’s promotion has in some time. Their future is unlimited and as fans, now is the time to strap in and enjoy the ride. Utami Hayashishita and Syuri delivered the necessary blow to smash through the glass ceiling. Now, Stardom’s potential has no limits and that is the most exciting aspect of it all.