WORLD WONDER RING STARDOM
STARDOM CINDERELLA TOURNAMENT OPENING ROUND
MARCH 9, 2024
YOKOHAMA BUDOKAN
YOKOHAMA, JAPAN

Watch: Via PPV (usually on STARDOM World by Wednesday)

STARDOM is back with a big show for the first time since the Anniversary event in February, followed by the bombshell announcement of Rossy Ogawa’s departure. While we are still waiting for the dominoes to fall, the company has moved on like nothing ever happened and put together a strong show with a special tag: Natsupoi’s big return, Chihiro Hashimoto popping back up, first-round Cinderella matches, and the small matter of Sareee making her STARDOM debut. This is a pretty crazy lineup on paper so let’s not waste any time and get into the action.

FUTURE OF STARDOM CHAMPIONSHIP
RINA (C) DEF. MIRAN

With the New Blood brand presumably out of commission, the Future title has returned to its natural home of providing energetic openers on big events. While I understood the appeal of giving wrestlers like Rina main event match experience, both she and the title benefit greatly more from this.

Miran is an excellent rookie who’s kind of ridiculous. As far as I know, she’s not even 15 but she’s able to zip around the ring and pull off moves like a lionsault, she’s incredibly athletic and if she sticks to it she’ll be one of the most eye-catching wrestlers of her generation. Getting a wrestler like that to counter Rina’s more calculated heel stylings was a good decision by STARDOM as these two bring out the best in each other.

While this won’t blow anyone away it was an impressive opener that let two teenagers try to steal the show. ***1/2

CINDERELLA TOURNAMENT
STARLIGHT KID DEF. YUZUKI

Pretty simple heel vs babyface match with really good performances. YUZUKI was given a lot and even had some 2.9 counts that the crowd was invested in. I was pretty sure Kid was advancing but they even made me start doubting that with YUZUKI’s counters. Kid eventually got the win but not before making sure she elevated YUZUKI .

I thought Kid looked really good in the ring here, she’s put her injury from late last year behind her and seems to be moving at full pace. ***1/4

CINDERELLA TOURNAMENT
SAYAKA KURARA DEF. NATSUKO TORA VIA DQ

Fantastic angle in disguise. Kurara tried to fight and that peeved Tora off enough that she steamrolled Kurara and eventually got disqualified for ignoring the referee’s instructions and attacking him. Tora looks like an unhinged beast while Kurara gets to continue as the plucky babyface and advance in the tournament without giving away her first pinfall win which is a major moment in any rookie’s development. ***

CINDERELLA TOURNAMENT
YUNA MIZUMORI DEF. LADY C

Probably the first skippable match of the show, Lady C dominated by being tall and doing tall wrestler things until Yunamon returned with her lariats and it was fine. It appeared to be one of the weaker pairings on paper, and well…yeah. **1/2

CINDERELLA TOURNAMENT
XENA DEF. MOMO KOHGO

Momo Kohgo made her grand return from injury with new gear and a desire to get the win, and then she lost in 3 minutes. Xena looked good and continues to impress, but man, this did nothing but make Kohgo look like a geek. **




CINDERELLA TOURNAMENT
MIYU AMASAKI DEF. RANNA YAGAMI

A slight stylistic matchup with Amasaki becoming the woman of a thousand DDTs against Yagami’s realistic striker-technician approach. This rookie class works really well together and Amasaki got the win to show that she’s the senior of the class, the one that the rest are still trying to chase. ***

CINDERELLA TOURNAMENT
RUAKA DEF. KOGUMA

I have to respect a wrestler who knows what she wants. Ruaka said she was going to win by throwing people over the top rope and she did just that against the High Speed genius. From the very start Ruaka tried to scoop up her opponent and toss her out but the High Speed genius was just a little too quick and a little too smart for that. Ruaka eventually got help from Oedo Tai who not only stopped the referee from counting a three but also handed her a weapon that set up the finish. I like the character aspect of this with Ruaka cheating to beat the babyface to set up Ruaka vs Hazuki (Koguma’s teammate) in the second round. That Koguma comeuppance in round 2 will be something to keep an eye on. ***1/4

CINDERELLA TOURNAMENT
SAYA IIDA DEF. SAKI KASHIMA

This was for the real STARDOM freaks out there. To those of us watching every show, we know what Kashima is capable of. She’s the ultimate spoiler, a crafty veteran who’ll do anything to win with the most lethal and effective flash pinfall in STARDOM. What was great about this is how both she and Iida were well aware of that reputation and toyed with that dynamic during the match. Iida’s hesitance to accept the handshake knowing that Kashima could roll her up made sense, what made even more sense was Iida being ready for it and being too strong for Kashima to get one over on. They continued in that vein until the finish when Saki Kashima got a taste of her own medicine and lost to the Iidabashi flash pin. This was the kind of engaging character stuff that I like to see sprinkled into a card. ***1/2

CINDERELLA TOURNAMENT
HANAN DEF. HANAKO

Admittedly, by this point, I was over the short singles matches and ready for the more substantial matches headlining the card. This was good! Hanan is too talented not to impress, and HANAKO is a solid power wrestler, but they didn’t do anything interesting like the Ruaka vs. Koguma or Iida vs. Kashima matches, which made it come across as kind of bland.

I should note that Hanan won by debuting a new submission, I’m interested to see if this new move can turn the tide and be used to propel her into the latter rounds of the tournament as part of her elevation. ***

NJPW STRONG CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW TAG
KONAMI, SYURI & GIULIA DEF. STEPHANIE VAQUER, MOMO WATANABE & FUKIGEN DEATH

As a preview tag, this successfully built anticipation for Vaquer vs Giulia at Korkauen. A bit part of that was Vaquer. I’ve been a fan of hers since seeing her Ice Ribbon run and I’ve seen her stuff in CMLL but the way she stared daggers at Giulia for all of the in-ring introductions was the kind of aggression I didn’t know she had in her. Previewing matches is a pretty simple matter to me and Vaquer making it clear she wanted to beat the hell out of Giulia was enough for me.

For the brief time they were in this match together, they showed some natural chemistry and I’m very hopeful they can deliver a great match tomorrow. The best thing about any potential STARDOM/CMLL crossover is the two styles mesh well together, largely down to Lucha’s historical influence on the Joshi style.

Beyond building to Vaquer vs Giulia, this was a match dominated by Fukigen Death of all people. She was so popular with the crowd that it forced things to flip as the heel faction and foreign invader became the good guys to the bad guy aggressors of Konami, Giulia, and Syuri. They all played into that really well and had a good match that entertained while also building up Vaquer for those unfamiliar with her. ***1/2

NATSUPOI RETURN MATCH
SAREEE & CHIHIRO HASHIMOTO DEF. SAORI ANOU & NATSUPOI

Ho

Lee

Shit

My expectations for this match were sky high and it delivered on everything I could’ve asked for. These are four of the best wrestlers in Joshi and they went out there to have an incredible match with head drops, stiff forearms, good teamwork, dramatic nearfalls, and a hell of a babyface performance from the returning Natsupoi.

Sareee, for those somehow unfamiliar with her, was showcased throughout the match as she put a beating on Natsupoi who refused to stay down and got to hang with three of Joshi’s most protected wrestlers in her big comeback. While some people might ponder why Natsupoi lost, I think there were enough individual moments of brilliance to show that she can hang with the best of the best that she came away with momentum.

If not for Mayu vs Syuri this would be the runaway best match I’ve seen this year but currently it’s neck and neck between the two. Both are excellent for their own reasons and this had the added enjoyment of seeing Hashimoto and Sareee in a new environment. Sareee’s debut was the slam dunk you’d expect from one of the best wrestlers on the scene. If there was anyone wondering what the hype was about with the Sun God, this match is sure to show them what they’ve missed. ****3/4

E NEXUS V (MAIKA & MINA SHIRAKAWA) DEF. TAM NAKANO & MAYU IWATANI, QUEENS QUEST (SAYA KAMITANI & AZM)

Following up what may be the best match of the year is always a tough ask but somehow these six pulled it off. This match was genuinely awe-inspiring. I’ve never seen such a fast-paced match with six bodies getting involved in the action as much as possible. It was a genuine blink-and-you-miss-it match with something new happening every time someone got in the ring.

This didn’t necessarily have the storyline or emotional impetus of the Natsupoi return match so they opted to just do as much stuff as possible and hope it worked, and I’d say it worked quite well.  ****1/2

Post Match: I’d be remiss not to mention that after the match Sareee excited the Joshi world by showing up and challenging Mayu Iwatani to a match that has been 4 years in the making. Mayu vs Sareee was booked for a show back in February 2020 but couldn’t happen and since then we’ve been waiting to see these two exceptional wrestlers go at it. That becomes the first match booked for STARDOM’s Yokohama Buntai event in April.

Maika, who was peeved about Sareee bypassing her and challenging Mayu, laid down the gauntlet to Utami Hayashishita who missed this show due to poor physical condition (which usually means illness/fever).

FINAL THOUGHTS

My mind is absolutely whirling and it’s been a few hours since the show finished. I’m still thinking about how great this show was and how amazing it was to see Natsupoi back (as she’s a favourite of mine). It still seems impossible that we saw CMLL star Stephanie Vaquer stare down Giulia on the same show as Rina vs Miran and Sareee making her debut. In standard STARDOM fashion, I can’t even digest this show without having stuff to look forward to with Maika vs Utami and a bonafide dream match in Sareee vs Mayu to look forward to on the horizon. The Rossy Ogawa news could have derailed STARDOM, especially with Giulia’s departure already confirmed, but instead, it has spurred the company into action with the product hitting on a level it hasn’t in years. To steal a line from AEW fans/talent, STARDOM has restored the feeling in a big way.

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