STARDOM
STARDOM SUNSHINE 2023
JUNE 25, 2023
YOYOGI GENERAL GYMNASIUM #2
TOKYO, JAPAN

STARDOM returns to Yoyogi for a show sold on the appeal of cage matches. Every few months STARDOM will run a show that’s based around stipulation matches, in the past they’ve used ladder matches to promote a PPV in Osaka, now they bring back cage matches for Tokyo. QQ vs Oedo Tai will no doubt be a newsworthy match with someone being kicked out of their faction so all eyes are on that one.

PASSION INJECTION
NANAE TAKAHASHI DEF. HANAKO

Who knew that Nanae Takahashi would breathe new life into her singles career with the Passion Injection series? The turnaround I’ve seen from Takahashi has been astounding, to say the least, she went from injuries causing her to be pretty poor by the time her run in SEAdLINNNG came to an end to being an enjoyable part of STARDOM shows. As she tends to do, Takahashi tested HANAKO here and put a beating on her, HANAKO got to show a lot of resolve in the face of such a challenge and had a good showing. HANAKO earned the respect of Takahashi as she continues to get these minor victories and big spots with the company clearly high on her, I’m intrigued to see when they pull the trigger on her as she seems like a lock to take the Future of Stardom title from Rina. ***1/2

SYURI DEF. XENA

Syuri and Xena went all out for Xena’s send-off. I’ve felt kind of bad for Xena during this tour because she’s been slightly overshadowed by Mina Shirakawa and Mariah May since Club Venus’ formation. To her credit, Xena has had one of the most seamless transitions to Japanese wrestling I’ve ever seen from a women’s wrestler; she pretty quickly acclimated to the hard-hitting nature and the increased pace. This match was a great showing on her part and really proved that she should be a bigger name in the women’s wrestling sphere. I don’t know much about Australian wrestling, admittedly, but her barely featuring in that scene indicates most promotions there don’t know what they’re doing.

I hope Xena can come back to STARDOM sooner rather than later or at least gets to make a name for herself on the independent scene because her talent in the ring shouldn’t go to waste. ***1/2

KAIRI, TAM NAKANO & NATSUPOI DEF. MAIKA, MEI SEIRA & SUZU SUZUKI

A really enjoyable tag match that cycled through some singles interactions before giving us team-based craziness. I loved everything involving KAIRI/Suzu, and the Maika/Tam pairing. This wouldn’t have been out of place as an Artist of Stardom title match, that’s how intense and well-paced this was!

Beyond being a strong match this didn’t have anything in the way of stakes which didn’t hurt it as much as I expected. Both groups are just kind of waiting for something to happen, KAIRI is clearly going to challenge Tam Nakano soon but hasn’t outlined her intent yet, and who even knows what Maika is doing anymore since she’s recommitted to DDM but doesn’t team with them on the PPVs. ***1/2

GODDESS OF STARDOM CHAMPIONSHIP
ROSE GOLD (MARIAH MAY & MINA SHIRAKAWA) DEF. NEW ERAS (MIRAI & AMI SOREI) (c)

Thankfully my least favorite team in STARDOM are no longer champions. The tag division went from being a major highlight of the company under 7Upp to an afterthought in the hands of Ami and MIRAI, but their reign was mercifully short.

I’m glad to see Mina, and Mariah get the belts instead, not just because I don’t like the New Eras, but because Mina has been doing great work all year and deserves something to do. May has also been waiting to get something to grab onto and work with all year, she’s a good promo, good at pushing stories on social media, and a good wrestler, all of that deserves more than being in multi-tag limbo and spending months building to a Mayu match that NJPW is seemingly allergic to booking.

This solid match focused a lot on Ami vs Mina down the stretch with Mina unloading on Sorei with a bunch of head drops, which is always appreciated. ***1/4

ARTIST OF STARDOM CHAMPIONSHIP CAGE MATCH
BARI BARI BOMBERS (GIULIA, THEKLA & MAI SAKURAI) DEF. STARS (MAYU IWATANI, HAZUKI & KOGUMA)

This was great! They mixed the standard high spots of a cage with some really good wrestling and team stuff. The final two members of the match were Giulia and Iwatani, so we were treated to a miniature match between them. I’m usually pretty numb to cage matches since there’s only so many times you can see dives and still care all that much but they did a great job building up to the high spots in this one.

I also appreciate the performance of Iwatani, who had to be carried to the ring because she didn’t want to wrestle in the cage. It was funny seeing her slowly come alive as she realized the cage offered her new ways to hurt people.

Giulia was the one to get the win for her team when she choked out Iwtaani and let her fall from the top of the cage, this served the purpose of giving her the spotlight before she challenged Willow Nightingale for the NJPW STRONG Women’s Championship. It’s going to be very fun when STARDOM has both NJPW women’s titles in a stranglehold. ****

LOSER MUST LEAVE THEIR UNIT CAGE MATCH
QUEEN’S QUEST (UTAMI HAYASHISHITA, AZM, MIYU AMASAKI, HINA & SAYA KAMITANI) DEF. OEDO TAI (NATSUKO TORA, SAKI KASHIMA, RINA, STARLIGHT KID, RUAKA & MOMO WATANABE) – SAKI KASHIMA MUST LEAVE OEDO TAI

As of right now, this is the best match I’ve seen in 2023. There was a mix of drama, emotion, and action that few matches can come close to matching. It’s been a long time since a match had me breathless and on the edge of my seat the way this did.

I’ll start by praising the wrestlers involved, having 12 bodies in a cage could have caused chaos. Despite that, everyone got their moments to shine, and the match was done at a legitimate blink-and-you-miss-it pace with new people coming in and fighting every few seconds. As the numbers dwindled, the action kept up the pace with there pretty much always being something happening. The inclusion of the weapons in the cage helped this stand out from previous cage matches I’ve seen as the two groups were able to use the cage and the weapons to put together some great spots.

The sheer DRAMA of this match was enough to keep me glued to my seat. Watching the match unfold live was a rollercoaster of emotions. Watching one-by-one as the “lower” members of each faction escaped caused some heart-sinking moments like when AphroditE were left in the cage, spiking my heart rate as I fully expected one of the two to leave QQ. Even the match came down to just Utami, Natsuko and Saki I wasn’t sure where things were going as something in the back of my mind was worried that Hayashishita would be ousted from her group in the main event.

The action and drama came to an amazing conclusion as a bloodied, weary Utami desperately tried to drag herself up the cage with her stablemates cheering her on. For the past few months a rift has grown in QQ, they’ve all acknowledged it. No matter what they tried to do, nothing was working for the group and it all fell on the shoulders of their leader Hayashishita who at one point looked ready to split from long-time teammate Saya Kamitani. All of that came to a head here as she climbed the cage with the full support of her group.

Oedo Tai being Oedo Tai, they couldn’t let this be straightforward, when Watanabe handed Kamitani the bat at the top of the cage time stood still. You have to understand, STARDOM has become accustomed to doing swerve heel turns in the past. It would have been completely in their playbook for Kamitani to hit Hayashishita and cost her the match.

What followed was a moment of catharsis as Kamitani hit Watanabe with the bat before throwing it away and offering her tag partner her hand in solidarity. After years of seeing Oedo Tai poison good people and being let down by swerve turns, it was a joyous moment seeing AphroditE embrace atop the cage knowing they had bested Oedo Tai and fixed whatever tension existed between the duo.

I see the term CINEMA thrown around a lot on Twitter, usually in regards to The Usos pulling funny faces while Roman Reigns monologues like a Shakespeare villain. QQ vs. Oedo Tai wasn’t cinema, it was professional goddamn wrestling, and it was absolutely amazing. The moment of a bloodied Hayashishita scaling the cage as the crowd chanted her name was special, the finish with Kamitani fending off the villains was special, and this match was special.

I fully understand that someone watching this spoiled or even watching it without any real attachment to either faction may not enjoy this to the level I and other STARDOM fans did, but for those of us who have been subject to Oedo Tais stealing our favourites for years now, this was the cathartic defeat of evil that we’ve been waiting for. *****

FINAL THOUGHTS

It’s always the shows that you least expect to be great that knock your socks off. STARDOM Sunshine 2023 was a great show with two very different cage matches capping it off with greatness. The main event will be remembered as one of the best matches STARDOM has ever done and could be a launching point for Hayashishita’s return to the world title scene making it essential viewing for anyone.

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