WORLD WONDER RING STARDOM
STARDOM DREAM QUEENDOM 2023
DECEMBER 29, 2023
RYOGOKU KOKUGIKAN

Watch: Due to technical difficulty the show is temporarily available via STARDOM’s YouTube page

We arrive at Sumo Hall for one of the biggest shows in the STARDOM calendar. The main event is befitting of such a historic venue as Maika and Suzu Suzuki will battle it out for the vacant World of STARDOM Championship in a match with the entire fanbase biting their nails in anticipation.

YUZUKI, MIYU AMASAKI & AZUSA INABA DEF. HANAKO, RANNA YAGAMI & SAYAKA KURARA

For the first time in a long time, STARDOM has enough rookies to do some rookie tags on the undercard. Their 2023 crop technically totaled 6 new debuts, although Aya Sakura has been injured for a few months now, and Comomo Minami’s debut had to get postponed. Add in Miyu Amasaki from 2022 and you’ve got a solid group who can interact with one another and build some feuds through the New Blood brand.

The wrestling here was pretty solid, the new wave of debutants are of a really high quality and I’m wondering what changed within STARDOM to go from producing someone as initially unrefined Lady C to the already standout Yuzuki, Yagami, and Kurara.

I found the finish quite interesting in establishing a pecking order. Yuzuki is clearly a big favourite of the office, picking up her first win just a month into her career. She defeated Sayaka Kurara who will slot in as the lowest on the totem pole while Ranna Yagami was protected and finds herself somewhere in the middle between the overachieving Yuzukiaa and Kurara.

Miyu Amasaki didn’t factor in to the finish which I also find interesting. She’s been presented as the “senior” of this class having debuted a year before the others but it was her much less experienced teammate who got the win. I’m interested to see if this goes somewhere with Amasaki and Yuzuki or if they’re just so high on Yuzuki that she’s jumped the line already (something Rossy is not afraid to do). ***

AMI SOREI & SAKI KASHIMA DEF. MAI SAKURAI & THEKLA, HINA & LADY C, SAKI & YUNA MIZUMORI

This sure happened! They kept it brief so I can’t complain too much and I guess it was just an excuse to let Mai Sakurai talk and do her shtick.  **3/4

MAYU IWATANI RETURN MATCH
STARS (HANAN, MAYU IWATANI, HAZUKI & SAYA IIDA DEF. OEDO TAI (STARLIGHT KID, RUAKA, RINA & FUKIGEN DEATH)

Mayu’s return from a brief spell on the sidelines with a pinky finger injury was all about the Icon herself. She got the finishing stretch opposite Fukigen Death and for a second I was reminded why I’d missed the STARS leader. Even though Fukigen is a sad clown and a Joshi legend under the makeup, Mayu didn’t take it easy on her and announced her return in triumphant fashion. The novelty of seeing an Iwatani fishing stretch was neat even if these two factions have wrestled so much there’s not much they can do to innovate anymore. ***

NANAE TAKAHASHI, YUU & AZM DEF. MINA SHIRAKAWA, SYURI & MEI SEIRA

Factions be damned we had a cross-factions special tag match here because why not. This had every chance to just be another aimless multi-tag to fill out the card but Mina Shirakawa and Nanae Takahashi were having none of it. They took the bull by the horns and turned this match into something of an angle with genuine animosity brewing between Shirakawa and the 7Upp duo of Takahashi and Yuu.

All of the wrestling was good but the grudge between the veteran Nanae and Mina took it to another level and gave the match some focus as we headed into the stretch. I’m interested to see if they can go anywhere with this or if Shirakawa was just tired of sitting on the sidelines and wanted to get herself back into the conversation. ***1/2

GODDESS OF STARDOM CHAMPIONSHIP
APHRODITE (SAYA KAMITANI & UTAMI HAYASHISHITA) (C) DEF. XL (NATSUKO TORA & MOMO WATANABE)

I’m sure I’ve already shared this sentiment before but just in case you’re new here I love tag team wrestling. Matches like this are very much my thing and if not for another match going above and beyond this would probably be the best match of the show.

Oedo Tai and Queen’s Quest have reached the point of their feud where every match they have has heat. Tora has basically been making Utami’s life hell for two years now and the wounds of Watanabe turning on QQ still burn deep in every interaction. That added some extra spark to this encounter which was already built up well in the preview tags over the past few weeks.

XL, and most Oedo Tai title matches to be fair, had a strong run of dominance on top as heels tend to do and they’ve got it down to a fine art at this stage. Another fine art is the chemistry between the wrestlers, the Watanabe and Saya stuff was good but the finishing stretch with the powerhouses of Tora and Hayashishita was great, add in all of the sick tag combos and dramatic saves by teammates and this one was a barn burner.

There was almost a sense of finality to the finish with AphroditE hitting a finisher on Tora and Watanabe at the same time for a visual double pin. It’s hard to see Oedo Tai coming back from that but it made AphroditE look like a million bucks, which should be the aim of this run. ****1/4




NJPW STRONG WOMEN’S CHAMPIONSHIP
GIULIA (C) DEF. MEGAN BAYNE

An excellent follow-up to their recent draw on a house show to set this match up. The setup to this match was pretty smart as Bayne has been getting wins with her F5, even beating Giulia with it in their preview tag at Korakuen Hall, which led to a massive near fall in this match when Bayne managed to hit it. Stuff like that is what I’ve enjoyed most about Bayne in Japan. She’s been able to use the house show loop to build up a move or spot and put people over in big matches by letting them kick out. It’s the kind of thing that could make for an excellent title run if she were to ever make the move full-time. I came away from this with a full appreciation of her wrestling IQ, which not every powerhouse tends to have. I find it is that IQ that separates forgettable monsters from the legendary women’s powerhouses like Bull Nakano, Aja Kong, and Awesome Kong

As for Giulia, she’s the perfect wrestler to put against a brick wall like Bayne because she’s just going to keep running headfirst into it no matter what. She hit Bayne with EVERYTHING, she even ended up needing multiple Northern Lights Bomb’s to get the job done.

This was a real struggle with an unpredictable finish that kept me engaged from start to finish. Bayne had a standout performance that made me upset she’ll be going back to AEW eventually because I know she’d be amazing as a full-time STARDOM wrestler, even the crowd agreed when they chanted her name after the match. Giulia gets one of the rare scalps over Bayne and had the crowd chanting her name during the match as she continues to be the main character of STARDOM (which is worrying with all the WWE rumors, but I digress). If you can only see one match on this show and ARE NOT invested in the Maika vs Suzu story then this is the one to see. ****1/2

WONDER OF STARDOM CHAMPIONSHIP
SAORI ANOU DEF. MIRAI (C) – NEW CHAMPION

I didn’t like the time limit draw these two had last month and I didn’t enjoy this one either. Whatever the reason may be, they just can’t seem to make things work outside of the GP. Their GP match earlier this year was great, I loved it, but when tasked with stretching out the runtime and doing more they’ve fallen apart on not one but two occasions.

For most people, the crazy finishing stretch will be enough for them to enjoy the match but for me, if you sleepwalk for most of the match and lose my attention, you don’t just get it back that easily. Part of wrestling is knowing how to entertain and engage from the moment the bell rings until the referee’s hand hits the mat for a three count and Anou/MIRAI just haven’t done that for me in these title matches.

I will say, the result is a very pleasant surprise. I expected MIRAI to win to even out the records at a win apiece with one draw and continue her reign. Instead, Anou got the win and became the first unsigned World or Wonder champion since Toni Storm accidentally won the world title back in 2017 when Mayu Iwatani got injured during their match.  I’ve been calling Anou the Joshi WOTY for 2023 for a few months now so I’m excited for her run and the potential for big matches with Natsupoi or Tam Nakano down the line. ***1/4

VACANT WORLD OF STARDOM CHAMPIONSHIP
MAIKA DEF. SUZU SUZUKI – NEW CHAMPION

There are certain times when everything comes together, and all the great things pro wrestling has to offer are on display at once. I knew before this match that I was going to be glued to my seat rooting for Maika because of the excellent opportunity that fell into STARDOM’s lap and glued to my seat I was.

It was the rare time when neither winner would have left me feeling sour, but I so desperately wanted one wrestler to win. Whatever the decision, there was a chance that STARDOM would spin it into a great story, but that didn’t make me any less interested in seeing this be Maika’s time.

I don’t know if this was a well-worked match, and quite frankly, I don’t care to find out because I was enthralled either way. It was like a clash of titans, with Suzuki and Maika going blow for blow, with neither woman ever really carving out a big advantage. It was a match designed to hook those interested in the story of the match and the potential outcomes more than anything else.

Aside from Suzuki teasing the Sky Twister Press, I don’t recall her having many moments where she looked close to winning, it felt more like Maika getting to shine. She even got to incorporate some of the moves Himeka did to reference their team which ended due to Himeka’s retirement.

The sheer euphoria I felt at the finish is the kind of thing pro wrestling was built for. The feel-good moment of seeing one wrestler finally emerge from the pack and win the world championship, the richest and rarest prize in the company. Maika was never supposed to be here, at least not this soon, and she’s acknowledged that throughout her ups and downs in 2023, but that only made this win even sweeter.

Again, I don’t know if this was a good wrestling match or not and I won’t even try to rate it because I don’t care. For the roughly 20 minutes I was watching this match, I forgot all about work and all about booking and just went along for the journey of a high stakes, emotional pro wrestling match.

With that out of the way, I do think STARDOM made a great choice here. Their native fanbase has been vocal in their support of Maika in recent months and in my opinion, you never stare a gift like that in the eyes and turn it down. If someone is over, run with it. In Maika’s case, she’s built rivalries with so many of the company’s top names that she could easily hold the title through the GP without burning off all of them. Saya Kamitani, Utami Hayashishita, Syuri, and Giulia are just a few of the names whom she has history with and I’m sure there’s more if I thought about it.

This also sets a good precedent for STARDOM which started with Mina Shirakawa winning the white belt at Yokohama Arena that if you work hard and get over the company won’t stand in your way. Even on the undercards we saw Saya Iida get rewarded for her stellar run in the middle off the year with a New Blood tag championship run. Maika winning here is a good sign to the roster and the fans that this isn’t a company you have to fight against, they will tell the stories the fans want and change their plans accordingly. That can only help both the roster’s motivations and the fans’ enthusiasm to not lose faith in their favorites if they go through a slow stretch. I know that not everyone can win one of the top titles but Maika was already within touching distance of them and just needed that little extra bump to get through the door.

FINAL THOUGHTS

This was a pretty positive note to end an interesting year for STARDOM. Maika’s feel-good moment has capped off a year marred by injuries, at times questionable decision-making, and the looming potential of stars like Giulia being poached by WWE. Despite that, STARDOM put their best foot forward and reminded us they can still hit a home run when things line up for their incredibly talented roster. We also got a glimpse into a promising future with the opening match showcasing one of the strongest rookie classes currently active in Joshi. If you’re just looking to float in I would recommend Bayne vs Giulia and Aphrodite vs XL but for STARDOM fans Maika vs Suzuki is the one to watch.