5STAR GRAND PRIX 2023 – OPENING DAY
JULY 23, 2023
OTA WARD GYMNASIUM
It’s the most wonderful time of the year as the premiere tournament in Joshi wrestling kicks off with a stacked opening day at the iconic Ota Ward. It’s tough to pick which match I’m most excited about since there’s at least five that could stake a claim for the best match of the tournament already.
MAIKA (2) DEF. HANAN (0)
A perfectly fine opening match that got Maika off to a strong start. Hanan will likely get her big payoff later in the tournament but Maika is coming into this as a potential winner in some people’s books so a strong opening win is a great start for her. ***
MARIAH MAY (2) DEF. AZM (0)
Mariah stepped into AZM’s style for this one and acclimated perfectly. I wasn’t sure how she would do against AZM’s high-speed style given we haven’t seen her in many singles matches in STARDOM but adjusted with ease. Only the second match of the night and we got a sick powerbomb from the apron to the floor and a clever finish. AZM was still protected towards the end as she just got caught in the Happily Ever After while attempting a transition into her armbar. ***1/4
NATSUKO TORA (2) DEF. AMI SOREI (0)
Another change of pace as Tora and Sorei had a neat little hoss match that went sub-5 minutes. Tora debuted some awesome entrance gear before the match that really wowed me. The Oedo Tai leader could be in for a very interesting tournament as her vs. Utami Hayashishita has been teased as a potential final. With her strong recent work, great new gear, and a renewed emphasis on Oedo Tai recently this could be the start of an important tournament for Tora. ***1/4
NATSUPOI (2) DEF. STARLIGHT KID
Kid and Poi have been paired off as rivals ever since their High Speed Championship matches. They have a pretty set menu of stuff that they’re going to do in a match and well, they did it. I enjoy Poi dropping fools on their heads and Kid is talented so this was a fun enough sprint but it wasn’t really anything new from two wrestlers that I’ve seen go at it a lot. ***1/2
UTAMI HAYASHISHITA (2) DEF. MINA SHIRAKAWA (0)
This was always going to be an important match and it duly delivered. Fresh off of her U.S. tour and being absent from the opening ceremony, Hayashishita showed up with her “ace” gear that she wore during her World of STARDOM Championship run. Not only did she roll back the clock to her championship gear but she debuted a brand new finisher named the Shocking Baszler. This did a lot to reset Hayashishita on the path to the top of the company as she has a new energy to her and a new finisher.
Shirakawa was doing her best to spoil the party and come away with the win but she couldn’t get the job done. She pushed Utami in an underdog effort but eventually fell to a new move. ***3/4
MOMO WATANABE (2) DEF. MIRAI (0)
We had an early play for Match of the Tournament with this one. MIRAI has been on an absolute tear since dropping the Goddess of Stardom Championship and she proved here why she should be Wonder of STARDOM champion. Momo Watanabe was back at top form as she was here to have a compressed version of a title match that could set up a future title match between the two. Watanabe getting the win indicates that she could face MIRAI on PPV and after this effort, who says no? ****1/4
SYURI (2) DEF. SUZU SUZUKI (0)
Momo vs. MIRAI was the best match for all 15 minutes and who else but Syuri to take the crown. This was an excellent first meeting between two of the best wrestlers Joshi offers. Suzu Suzuki took the fight to the former world champion and continued her quest to upset the current generation of top STARDOM names. Suzuki put her best foot forward and after spending months in multi-woman tag limbo emerged as one of the ones to watch in this tournament.
Syuri ultimately grappled the momentum away from Suzuki and got the win after an excellent closing stretch but she needed her super finisher to put down her opponent who made the most of this one-time dream match. ****1/2
MAYU IWATANI DEF. HAZUKI
Despite having to follow up Syuri vs. Suzu, this was a great match. Hazuki was trying to beat Iwatani to earn a chance at the IWGP Heavyweight Championship which gave her an added motivation against her faction leader. This had all the qualities of a great match as the two went back and forth and had some incredible near-falls. Iwatani’s 9-year opening day losing streak made me think she was losing so I was genuinely surprised by the finish, which is always an added bonus. ****
GIULIA (1) VS SAORI ANOU (1) – DRAW
I really enjoyed this for what it was. Giulia and Anou are both very spiteful people who just like to hurt others so they were always going to be combustible elements. The crowd brawling wasn’t my favorite thing ever and that’s likely why I don’t love this match the way others do, I’ve seen incredible crowd brawling and even that didn’t move me so what we got here was never going to appeal to me. What I did enjoy was the violent intent both women had and once we got back into the ring, this was a gripping contest.
My hope is that one day we can revisit Giulia vs Anou with a storyline heading into it and more time to build the match as they wanted to. Give us that; it could be the best feud of either woman’s career. ****
TAM NAKANO (2) DEF. SAYA KAMITANI (0) – REFEREE STOPPAGE
Saya and Tam were slowly building this one up to a hot conclusion when the match had to be ended abruptly due to an injury to Saya Kamitani that has since been confirmed as a dislocated elbow with ligament damage that will keep her out of the tournament. N/R
Post Match: Nakano was speaking to the crowd after the match when the lights went off, when the lights came back up BEYOND Wrestling and AEW Dark alumni Megan Bayne was in the ring to attack Nakano and lay out a challenge for the World of Stardom Championship. Bayne is someone I’ve been a fan of since watching her in BEYOND and I’m shocked an American promotion didn’t snap her up so I’m intrigued to see how she does in STARDOM. An immediate world title match is a sink-or-swim scenario for the ‘Megasus’.
Utami Hayashishita made her way to the ring to say Bayne had followed her back from Japan and to inform the audience in Japanese that Bayne wanted a world title match. Hayashishita then had her own challenge to make as she asked Mayu Iwatani for an IWGP Women’s Championship match, which will be the title’s first defense since April when Iwatani won it from Mercedes Mone. Both Bayne vs. Nakano and Iwatani vs. Hayashishita have since been made official for STARDOM’s PPV in Edion Osaka Arena on August 13.
If not for the injury derailment in the main event this would have been the perfect way to start the 5STAR Grand Prix. Everything from Utami vs Mina onwards was a must-see, with Syuri vs Suzu establishing itself as the one to beat as far as the best match goes. The closing angle threw a lot into doubt as Hayashishita went from the heavy favorite to win the tournament to doubtful with the IWGP title in her sights instead of the world title. The 5STAR is the place to be for women’s wrestling for the foreseeable future. Let’s hope the tournament can keep it up after a strong day 1.
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