The term “dream match” can be tossed around a bit much in the world of professional wrestling. Some will take a match that’s very possible and just say it because two great wrestlers have never faced each other before. To me, a dream match embodies the idea of a “dream.” Something you can only see in your dreams and nowhere else. We’ve seen some happen, but it rarely does. Many dream matches come in WWE, like The Rock vs. John Cena (the first time). Never expected, never seemed possible. It proves that true dreams can and do come true — just takes a lot of things to happen to become possible. That’s all to say that the one dream match I’ve ever had is actually happening—Mercedes Moné vs. Mayu Iwatani—and I need to write about it.
When a wrestler reaches the mountaintop in WWE, you never really expect them to leave. And if they do leave, you don’t expect them to take a chance in the unimaginable places where they have to truly love pro wrestling to go there. Mercedes Moné, of course, known to many as Sasha Banks, did everything in WWE. She was a five-time RAW Women’s Champion, one-time SmackDown Women’s Champion, one-time NXT Women’s Champion, three-time WWE Women’s Tag Team Champion, main evented WrestleMania, and, simply put—changed the game in WWE. Along with the rest of the Four Horsewomen, Moné brought women’s wrestling from an afterthought to the focus. A two-minute average TV match to multiple WrestleMania main events.
Moné’s impact on pro wrestling will forever be disrespected by her detractors and praised by her “Krew.” But at the end of the day, I think her placement in history at the age of 31 years old is the greatest women’s wrestler in North American history. You can disagree all you want, but her impact, delivery inside the squared circle, and what she continues to do only helps her case. Her matches with Bayley, Charlotte Flair, and Bianca Belair are among the greatest matches in WWE history—men’s or women’s. There’s the infamous match in Brooklyn and the history-making main event at WrestleMania 37 that stand out more than the rest. The fact is that she is a history-maker, a risk-taker, and a true living legend of the sport.
And then there’s the other side to this.
Mayu Iwatani is someone I call not only my favorite wrestler of all time but the greatest. Her importance to STARDOM but women’s wrestling as a whole will, frankly, always be underappreciated. When you hear the nickname “The Icon,” many think of Sting and others who have dawned the name in wrestling history, but perhaps no one has embodied that more than Iwatani. If you look at STARDOM’s history, Iwatani is that. She’s the history. Her pro wrestling debut was on STARDOM’s inaugural show. Iwatani has only ever called STARDOM home. We’ve seen the likes of Io Shirai and KAIRI (two-thirds of Threedom along with Iwatani) take the next step and head to WWE. Iwatani didn’t do that. She stayed, helped rebuild the promotion time and time again, and lead it to the level of greatness that we see before us today.
Iwatani’s accolades are nothing to scoff at. She is STARDOM’s Ultimate Winner after all. In her 12-year career, Iwatani is a two-time World of Stardom Champion (including a 377-day reign), two-time Wonder of Stardom Champion, one-time High-Speed Champion, one-time SWA World Champion, two-time Goddesses of Stardom Champion, five-time Artist of Stardom Champion, the only two-time Cinderella Tournament winner, and a 5STAR Grand Prix winner also. Add in an ROH Women of Honor World Championship reign, and you really understand the accomplishments that she’s captured in her stories career. She has long been the ace, “The Icon,” and the face of STARDOM and will be until the day she hangs up her boots. But there’s one thing that now has alluded her, and that’s the IWGP Women’s Championship.
How We Get to the Dream
The similarities between these two are deep. Perhaps the best runs of their careers came in the most uncertain times the wrestling world has seen and that was the COVID-era of professional wrestling. Iwatani’s 377-day reign as World of Stardom Champion began before it but the majority of the reign came with no cheering but just claps. It also came when STARDOM experienced more loss than any company can ever imagine. Yet she was the rock, the hope, and the ace they needed as world champion to get them through it.
The same goes for Moné, who led WWE with Bayley through an era of WWE that had no fans in attendance. Performance Center or the ThunderDome, Moné was the story and the person WWE counted on. Roman Reigns went home, Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch were nowhere to be found for their own reasons. It was time for Moné to step up and she did with flying colors. Arguably the most important parts of their careers came when they couldn’t receive the full recognition they deserved and maybe that perfectly illustrates why they are the greatest of a generation and beyond.
Back to why this is a dream—like I said earlier. When you’re in WWE, it never feels like you’ll actually leave. No company has more money to offer in the pro wrestling world and no one would be willing to give up all they have to take a chance. Right? Right? Well, Mercedes Moné is a different being. She not only took a chance but chased a dream. After walking out on WWE once again with Naomi after their WWE Women’s Tag Team Championship reign was not going as they hoped, Moné never returned like so many expected her to. But where’d she go? Not AEW, a place that she likely would have gone to had she gotten her release back in 2019. But to NJPW and STARDOM. One of which was new to women’s pro wrestling but the other that is the shining example of women’s pro wrestling. She wanted to face the best. And Mayu Iwatani happens to be the best.
The IWGP Women’s Championship really couldn’t have been created at a better time. The title’s purpose was to bring women’s professional wrestling to NJPW—both in Japan and worldwide. It’d be a chance for STARDOM’s roster to be exposed to new audiences and show the world why they are the very best. And as we saw at Historic X-Over, that’s what the title did out of the gate. Mayu Iwatani—again, the STARDOM “Icon,” ace, and face—had a chance to become the inaugural champion against someone who had made her name in STARDOM, went to WWE, and returned in KAIRI. The first-ever co-promoted NJPW x STARDOM event was main evented by these two and it really did feel like it’d be Iwatani’s moment to get an accolade she long deserved. But, in the end, she came up short. And this is where the differences between two of the best of this generation and beyond really show.
Iwatani put everything on the line for that main event at Historic X-Over. She vacated her SWA World Championship, told KAIRI how she truly felt about her leaving and coming back, then walked into the match with everything to prove to the world—even if she’s best the very best for the better part of a decade. As we know by now, she lost. KAIRI was the first IWGP Women’s Champion and she’d be the one to defend the title at Wrestle Kingdom 17 and make even more history. Iwatani? She had no other choice but to regroup and figure out what was missing for her to win against her former friend turned WWE Superstar. And with her latest challenge for the IWGP Women’s Championship, she has a chance to defeat a former WWE Superstar — who was able to defeat KAIRI unlike her—and win the final big one.
The IWGP Women’s Championship match is set for STARDOM’s All Star Grand Queendom on April 23. Moné is a megastar. She is doing this because she can. Because she wants to. If she loses, she moves on with her millions of dollars and looks for the next mountaintop to climb. Iwatani is a true all-time great. Maybe the greatest if you’re asking some (including me). But she needs this win. She has to win. It will be the biggest show in STARDOM’s history, something far more meaningful to her than the reigning champion. No one is more fitting to represent STARDOM as the IWGP Women’s Champion than Iwatani. She has to do it. And she will.
Mercedes Moné vs. Mayu Iwatani
It’s a dream match.
Hell, it’s the biggest women’s match in decades. The best of the East vs. the best of the West. It’ll go down at the biggest women’s wrestling show since the 1990s. STARDOM is packing Yokohama Arena with countless big matches that feature wrestlers from their promotion and the Joshi scene, but no match is as big as this. It won’t main event the show. That spot is taken by the World of Stardom Championship. But it will be the match that everyone has eyes on because of the Moné factor. That’s the truth, and it makes Iwatani the ultimate underdog—a role she is far used to by now in her career.
Iwatani is the woman who went from an introvert who didn’t leave her room while she was young. She is the woman who wasn’t born into pro wrestling or seen as the next big thing. She was never the top choice until she made herself the top choice. Iwatani is everything that makes the pro wrestling business special. She’s overcome so much already so why not overcome Moné in the most important match of her career? She’s built for this. She’s destined for this.
For me, this will be the peak of pro wrestling and when it’s all said and done, all the emotions will follow. This is the match for me and I hope by April 23, it’s the match for everyone else. My wrestling fan dreams will be complete.
All Star Grand Queendom can be one of the biggest shows in women’s wrestling history, let alone the “show of the year contender” that it’s guaranteed to be. History will be made, the world will be watching, and a dream will officially come true.
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