This Saturday, in the semi-main event of Stardom’s 10th Anniversary Grand Final Osaka Dream Cinderella, the Wonder of Stardom Champion, Tam Nakano, will defend her White Belt against her former mentor, savior, and inspiration. Her former everything: Mayu Iwatani. Nearly 11 months ago, Tam with her sub-unit, Cosmic Angels, seceded from Iwatani’s then-larger Stars unit after a month of turmoil over the hierarchy and direction of the group. There was rank-pulling, there was disrespect, and there were insults as pride, insecurity and old wounds were laid bare.
The Extended Hand
Going back to the end of Stardom’s 2018 anniversary show, Tam was at rock bottom in her Stardom tenure. A comedy heel manager returning from injury for a last-loser-leaves faction elimination match between Queen’s Quest and Nakano’s group of lovable baddies, Oedo Tai. The result was her expulsion from the group of troublemakers. There, left with the two options of Queen’s Quest’s pity invitation and solo loneliness, Iwatani interrupted and offered a third option. Sensing a commonality from also returning from injury earlier in the show, Mayu cold-pitched Tam to join the Iwatani-led Stardom Army. Tam enlisted, but the start of the union was not successful.
In the initial months with Stars, Tam still struggled at the bottom of the promotion, in the ring as a performer and adjusting to her new group as a character. Nakano has publicly stated that Iwatani had to convince her, on multiple occasions, not to retire from professional wrestling. Mayu, nicknamed “The Stardom Icon”, is the most decorated wrestler in the promotion’s history, but it did not become so by initial design. After training and graduating in Stardom’s inaugural dojo class at the promotion’s launch, Iwatani was considered by her colleagues as the weakest of the group of new wrestlers, with some even admitting that they thought she would be the first trainee to quit. Mayu was even the last of the class to win their 1st match. She claimed her first victory after 11 months of getting her ass kicked. A rookie record that still endures, to this day, ten years later. The runt of the litter-turned-Ace’s encouragement gave Nakano the hope and proof that things could turn around. With steady improvement in the ring under Iwatani’s wing, Nakano’s intentions turned towards winning Stardom’s Goddesses tag team belts. Tam wanted to team with Mayu to capture the tag titles as a gesture of appreciation and love for the woman that saved her. In that summer, Mayu did capture tag team gold, but not with Tam.
Iwatani chose to team up with her returning friend Saki Kashima and they became tag champs. Months later in the fall, Mayu, Tam and Saki would win Stardom’s Artists trios tag belts; Tam’s first championship in Stardom. However, this was the start of a pattern where Tam would try and fail to declaratively become Iwatani’s right-hand woman. In the fall, Mayu would introduce another blast from Stardom’s past, Arisa Hoshiki, adding yet another person and more space between her and Tam. With momentum and confidence gained from trios success, Nakano would set her sights on a new object of affection.
The White Belt
The Wonder of Stardom Championship is the singles belt in Stardom that most embodies the spirit of the promotion. From a model-turned-headhunter like Yuzuki Aikawa, to a brash loudmouthed liquor spewer like Act Yasukawa, to an elbow-dropping pirate like Kairi Hojo, to high flyers like Io Shirai and Iwatani, the champion has usually functioned as the heart of Stardom and has served to showcase the duality of ideals within the promotion. The World of Stardom Red Belt is about the best wrestler. Sport and Respect. The White Belt is about capturing imagination. Passion and Inspiration.
Nakano challenged Momo Watanabe for the White Belt, the person responsible for her exile from Oedo Tai, one year prior, on Stardom’s 2019 anniversary show. Nakano had the best performance of her career to that point, but failed. The post-match served as an announcement, with Watanabe noting Nakano’s vast improvement in the past year and Tam stating that she would not stop coming for the White Belt. The chase was on.
Five months later, Tam challenged Arisa Hoshiki in her 1st Wonder Title defense. They had one of the best matches and, perhaps, the most emotional in Stardom’s history, pitting a regular crowd favorite like Nakano versus a recently returned upstart champion. Over half a year of Nakano’s resentment for Hoshiki for first returning to take a place next to Iwatani, then stealing her new dream of dethroning Watanabe and over half a year of Hoshiki turning the other cheek to endure Nakano’s childishness and disrespect boiled over. Once the typhoon of kicks, knees and tears passed, Arisa was victorious, a bond was established and a promise was made. Arisa would protect the title and Tam would supplant her for it. 9 months later, the promise changed.
In March of 2020, Hoshiki vacated the Wonder Title and retired due to concussion and neck injury concerns. The promotion also suffered the devastating loss of Hana Kimura’s death during their months-long COVID-19 hiatus. When Stardom restarted in late June, the promotion chose Arisa and Hana’s greatest rivals to war over the White Belt: Nakano and Giulia. After beating the hell out of each other in tag matches for a month since the June 21 restart, a resolution was made: Nakano and Giulia were placed in a four-person tournament to determine the next White Belt champion. In the tournament final, Giulia caught Nakano in a chokehold. Tam, in her determination to not betray her promise to Arisa, refused to submit and passed out. After Earning another chance at the Wonder Title after eliminating Giulia from the Five Star Grand Prix, Nakano was again caught in another Giulia chokehold. As the lights were dimming, Nakano fought to the ropes to stay in the fight, but ultimately couldn’t overcome Giulia’s multiple Sit-out Tombstone Piledrivers. Nakano had poured in nearly 3 years of her life and career into Iwatani’s Stars, building herself up into a top star in the promotion. She had become one of the best wrestlers in the world, but after 4 chances over 21 months, failed to capture what she dreamed of for so long. Something was fundamentally wrong. Something had to change. She had to change.
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The Mic Drop
Nakano would re-strategize quickly. After recognizing that Giulia, as well as Iwatani, had a strength gained through leadership, Nakano quickly sought out the company of Mina Shirakawa and Unagi Sayaka. Mina and Unagi were 2 less experienced wrestlers that defected from TJPW to debut in Stardom in the fall of 2020. With all 3 sharing career starts considered late for Joshi, with older ages compared to most of Stardom’s roster and a desire to be judged as serious pro wrestlers despite their model-looks, they immediately bonded. Feeding off their instant chemistry and momentum, Nakano and her group of Cosmic Angels quickly won Stardom’s Artists Trios belts. This alienated the other members of Stars, and led to a freeze-out for Cosmic Angels and regular challenges from the initial Stars members.
Iwatani has spent her entire adulthood in Stardom. She is the only wrestler that has stayed active in the promotion throughout its 10-year history. Throughout her career, she has brought back and teamed with numerous Stardom Dojo alums during times of uncertainty or a limited roster. Iwatani has publicly stated that she has thought of the wrestlers coming into Stardom since 2019 as enemies and only thought of her wrestling family members as long-term Stars members. Mayu felt that Tam unilaterally added Mina and Unagi into Stars for her own gain and not the well-being of the group. Coming to an impasse after all the weeks of fighting, Stars challenged Cosmic Angels for their Trios Titles in December. Cosmic Angels won and, after years of Iwatani’s friendship and guidance, Nakano decided to walk away from the person that mattered most to her. Cosmic Angels left Stars and became their own independent faction.
One month later, Nakano got her chance. After Giulia laid a vicious beatdown on Unagi, the White Belt champion offered Nakano a proposal: Tam would get her White Belt match at Budokan Hall, but only if Nakano had the nerve to wager her hair in a Hair versus Hair match. Tam, the idol wrestler, placed her vanity on the line for her crowning moment. After succumbing to Giulia’s Sit-Out Tombstone Piledrivers last October, Nakano took Giulia’s ruthlessness and upped the ante while adding her own flair in the form of a Steiner Screwdriver. Devastated, Giulia used the last of any fire she had left to kick out, but it was already over. After 779 days, Tam Nakano became the Wonder of Stardom White Belt Champion in the main event of the biggest show in Stardom’s history and Tam’s promise to Arisa was fulfilled. As the show came to a close, Nakano gave a sign-off to the Budokan Hall crowd and viewers watching on Pay-per-view. “Believe now, shine tomorrow. We are Stardom!” Even on the biggest stage in the promotion’s existence, finally standing at the top of Stardom, Tam could not escape the signature sign-off belonging to Mayu’s faction.
The Call Out
On September 25t Nakano, fresh off of a 5 Star Grand Prix win over Red Belt Champion, Utami Hayashishita, requested that her title challenger for Stardom’s 10th Anniversary Grand Final Osaka Dream Cinderella be Mayu Iwatani. Iwatani appeared and told Nakano that had she won the Grand Prix, she would’ve challenged for Tam’s White Belt.
11 months after Nakano’s draw towards the White Belt finally surpassed her draw towards The Icon, they find themselves together again in the same city where they lost each other. Both will finally meet each other for the first time ever as true equals. Don’t let anyone fool you: THIS is the main event.