I love discovering new wrestling. Seeing The Shield for the first I’m in 2014 got me back in as a regular fan, Kenny Omega blowing my mind and the rest of The Elite took me out of the WWE bubble (a place I’ve now permanently exited) in 2017 & 2018, and watching Kings Road during the 2020 lockdowns with thanks to the brilliant Walking the King’s Road series from Joseph Monticello, opened my mind to a period of wrestling that has become so influential to today’s in ring style.

My main squeeze, AEW is a promotion that consistently brings in new faces and styles so I’m constantly getting doses discovering Eddie Kingston or Konosuke Takeshita but it has been a while since I’ve had a proper deep dive into fresh, unknown waters.

For over a year I’ve known I want to make that plunge into The World of STARDOM, it is the only major wrestling promotion in the world that has experienced substantial growth over the past few years and too many people whose opinions I respect have told me it is something I would love if I could find the time. It is also a promotion that is poised for an exciting year in 2023 with the imminent arrival of Mercedes Varnado FKA Sasha Banks. So I reached out to the good folks at One Nation Radio who have been hitting the Stardom music on their podcast every week for years now and asked what I should watch and this Christmas holidays made the resolution that I would give something new a shot. So here we are, in no particular order, my first jump into The World of STARDOM.

Giulia vs. Tam Nakano, 5Star Grand Prix Final, 10/1/2022

The first match on my list and the one that apparently set up their big year end show that just happened. I guess there is a similar booking rhythm to New Japan, where a late summer/autumn tournament (at least for you northerners) leads to a title shot at the big end of year show. I love this sporting style of booking; tournaments are so fun, can have all sorts of great match ups and lend immediate prestige and stakes to a match, particularly if the company has run them for a few years.

Those New Japan vibes keep coming in the best way with the entrances, the lighting, costumes and crowd reactions give this such a big time feeling, like a 2018/19 Osaka-Jo or Sumo Hall show. I also love how into the contest Japanese fans are, no random chants just raucous support for their favourites.

I’m immediately struck by the aura of Giulia, with her eye-patch, braids and silver and black gear she looks so badass and communicates it well too with the way she carries herself. I immediately think I’ll enjoy her work just based on how she is holding herself. Tam is not one to be outdone but there is no way the more colourful stylings are going to stand up against someone who looks like a pirate from The Matrix.

The match starts with a cautious feeling out process which I know isn’t everyone’s favourite thing but on the big stage I always feel like it makes sense. This match starts to get awesome around the 7-10min mark after they return to the ring and end up both on the ground attempting leg locks, instead of going for the locks they both just start punting each other in the face! The way Giulia eats the kicks, sneers with contempt and comes back for more is giving me Minoru Suzuki vibes in the best way possible. Later on in the match she is spitting and talking what I’m assuming is all kinds of explicit smack and I know that this is someone I’m going to want to watch more of.

The action throughout this is super intense and passionate, the ending stretch is class too as they both go for their biggest moves but Giulia is the one to actually hit her’s effectively. Both of them look absolutely exhausted which really puts over the intensity of the action, these two were clearly giving it their all in reality and inside the fiction of the match.

I really loved this pairing, I got the feeling these two really don’t like each other, particularly from Giulia’s body language and I loved how disappointed Tam looked as her teammate helped her out. I did think I saw an attempted fist bump at the end that each tried but thought the other snobbed them on. There is definitely more to this story and if I knew their history I’m sure I would be absolutely frothing for the next chapter.

I won’t be giving ratings in this column as I don’t really have a frame of reference yet but this was awesome, one of my favourite matches I’ve seen this year.

Mayu Iwatani v KAIRI, IWGP Women’s Championship, Historic X Over, 11/20/2022

Second match and these are two wrestlers I’m more familiar with, Kairi from her work in WWE and Mayu because she is a legend and I felt like I should catch a few of her classic matches when I drafted her in the LOP Fantasy Draft in 2020. This match was on the NJPW Historic X Over show that had significant female involvement for the first time in NJPW history including this match for the new IWGP Women’s Championship. It’s also one that my lapsed NJPW fandom sadly missed but I guess I can make up for that today.

Immediately I’m struck that this is the kind of match I think of when I think of the ‘joshi style’, fast paced, rapid fire striking and kicks and lots of crazy high angle bumps.

It is interesting seeing Kairi in this setup, I always thought she maximised her minutes in WWE while never being a real feature outside of NXT but here she actually does feel like a really big deal. Mayu is a legend of course and also feels like a rightful co-challenger for this historic and potentially very lucrative title given what we now know about the pending entrance of Marcades Varnado to this division.

Honestly I was hoping for a little more emotion and desperation in this match, while it was physical it somewhat felt like an exhibition. I don’t know if there were promos beforehand but I feel like Mayu would have felt entitled to a little frustration at Kairi returning right to the top of the card after leaving for what she thought would be greener pastures and I didn’t feel like any of that factored into the match.

Still I’m splitting hairs here, this match was very enjoyable and while I didn’t feel the stakes of the match quite as much as I did with the first match I watched, it was a fitting starting point for what will become a very important belt in the company’s immediate future.

Syuri v Utami Hayashishita, 09/04/2021

Onto a match up that I remember getting a serious amount of buzz in the wrestling social media circles I inhabit back in 2021.

First off, can I just say that these guys have such awesome, intricately detailed gear; the robes, the colour schemes, it seems like there is such meaning and intention to it all. I bet there is a great story to that mask that Utami carries around.

This match starts off with a super intense lock up. Utami gets the early advantage but that only pisses Syuri off and she pushes Utami back before they have a very mean looking stare down.

Early on the action here is very organic, I love how it so naturally tumbles to the outside. Syuri’s strikes look so hard, particularly her kicks, I know she was a former UFC fighter so they have clearly let that influence her style. Once Syuri gets control with those overwhelming strikes she seems a certain winner until Utami desperately scraps her way back into the match looking for a one hit kill shot with an Air Raid Crash on the apron and then HOLY SHIT a German Suplex that tosses Syuri head first into the apron edge with a neck bump that is Kota Ibushi levels of stupid.

After that insanity both wrestlers are completely out of it and barely get back in. That was the kind of spot that just immediately changes the tone and rhythm  of the match, Utami was desperate before and is selling the hell out of Syuri’s offence but now Syuri is floored too. It all ends a few minutes later in a draw. Both women want to keep going for the win but are pulled off each other.

Wow, another great match, I said before that Giulia carried herself like Suzuki, well Syuri hits like him; her strikes just look so intense and powerful. For her part I loved Utami’s sheer will to claw that extra centimeter and try to pick up the win. I believe she was champ for quite a while and I can see how she would have been very compelling in that position. Very impressed with both of these women and the contest they constructed here.

[Note, I’ve realised I was actually recommended a different match between these two from 2021, I will be checking that out another time.]

Starlight Kid v AZM, High-Speed Championship, 02/23/2022

Another level down the rabbit hole here. This match is for the High Speed Belt in the company, I don’t know quite what that means beyond the name but I’m expecting there is some kind of time limit at play and a blazing in ring style to go with that title. I guess it is a little like the Junior belt in other Japanese promotions, a simple way to get a different style of match on the card. The belt has a cheetah engraved on it which seems fitting, I am curious where it sits in the hierarchy of belts but I guess I will find out as I keep going down this rabbit hole.

Onto the match and once again can I emphasie how on point these wrestlers’ costumes are. AZM is in white and purple, the champ Starlight Kid black and purple, there has got to be some sort of symbolism to that.

The early goings in this match live up to the High Speed billing, lots of high paced running of the ropes and pin fall attempts. The pair end up trading some pretty stiff clubbing blows to the chest. This does feel a lot like a New Japan junior match but maybe at 1.25x speed.

I really liked that AZM held the hands of Starlight Kid up when she went for the hanging corner double stomp, it’s a pet peeve of mine when wrestlers hold themselves up for that spot and AZM absolutely nails Starlight Kidd when she goes for a Double Stomp to the middle of the ring afterwards.

As this match goes on the pace stays high but is split by the pair selling the exhaustion of keeping up such a rapid style. It is also a nice touch that their well manicured hair slowly gets more and more messed up as the match goes on, they don’t have time to fix it up and small details like that really help me invest in the combat.

The match ends with a real struggle as AZM tries to lock in her submission move. She had been working Starlight Kid’s arm periodically throughout the match and it pays off here as she picks up the win and earns the title. I love how hard Starlight Kid fought to stay out of that final move, really put over the power of it.

Overall this style of match will never be my favourite, it is exciting but not as emotionally engaging to me as some of the other matches I’ve watched so far. Wrestling cards need different styles though and I’m sure if I start watching full Stardom cards I’ll be happy to have matches like this on them.

Syuri v Takumi Iroha, 09/25/2021

A second Syuri match, I know she has received a lot of acclaim over the last two years so I am not surprised I’ve been recommended a second match of hers.

Early on these two really wanted it to look like an MMA fight, we know Syuri has that background and I’m going to guess based on how she is rolling Iroha at least has some grounding in juijitsu. I love that each wrestler is selling the sense of danger they feel entering into each sequence. While I don’t normally enjoy such a grapple heavy style, outside of Zack Sabre Jr. just making up a bunch of ridiculous flashy looking holds, this is one of the best looking real MMA styled match I’ve seen.

As things move on it begins to feel like a lion toying with its prey particularly when Iroha brings out her kicks, they are as rapid as Syuri’s are powerful but Syuri just eats them and returns back with full force. She is an absolute weapon and the more I see of her the wider my eyes get.

I feel like the crowd is really getting behind Iroha as Syuri just beats the absolute piss out of her. This is a clapping only crowd so you can’t quite tell but they are raise up a few decibels when Iroha finally gets back into the match hitting a Powerbomb and series of technical kicks. Syuri sells so well for her and as they get to the countdown to the twenty minute time limit both women are throwing everything at the wall trying to get the win before the match is ruled a time limit draw.

Interesting result, I was expecting Syuri to run away with it at one point, I really like that Stardom uses draws regularly, it is an underused tool in most of the wrestling I watch. I have to say that Syuri is an absolute beast of a wrestler, such strong and powerful offence but can sell so effectively as well. I really liked Iroha too, she has a lot of spunk about her and I think would be a very plucky underdog type wrestler to watch fight from underneath.

Another very enjoyable watch with a surprising ending.

Saya Kamitani v Tam Nakano, Wonder of Stardom Championship, 03/27/2022

Last on this initial list and the first to involve the Wonder of Stardom Championship. This one also has English commentary and the video package beforehand makes this seem like a pretty intense rivalry over this belt, that kind of personal competition really helps elevate what I believe is their secondary title.

Tam comes out wearing a white robe which has got to be a sign she thinks the belt should be hers. Match starts out with some ridiculously flexible bridges from both women, that is something you won’t find in many male matches.

Both these women seem very versatile but I suspect Saya is the more skilled of the two. Saya gets a brutal looking Single Leg Crab on Tam but Tam manages to grit her way to the ropes and gets her own submission on, she is such a scrapper. They follow up with Saya hitting a Frankensteiner from the top rope to the outside that just looks mental. I remember reading that Kenny Omega said the time he did that was the worst bump he ever took. The stakes only keep going up as an out classed Tam takes Saya to the Ryogoku entrance tunnels and dives off the top, that has got to be nearly 14ft if not higher, she isn’t going to die wondering what if.

This match is really stepping up as the pair trade hard blows in the centre of the ring, Tam withstands more and delivers a barrage of elbows. The pair start trading big moves for some close near falls and eventually Saya Kamitani wins on a counter rollup. Very fun ending stretch with lots of near falls and counters without stretching out into unbelievability.

Another really fun match, I feel like I got a real feeling for their characters, particularly Tam who I really started to like as an overmatched scrapper.

That brings my initial dive into Stardom to a close and I have to say that those people who were recommending this promotion to me know what they were talking about. Thanks to Rich and James for the suggestions, I am very excited to now watch the Stardom end of year show that puts two of my favourites from this group of matches, Giulia and Syuri, against each other for the Red Belt. This is definitely a promotion I’ll be catching the big matches and cards from going forward and if you haven’t caught Stardom then maybe these are a great group of matches to get started on for you to.

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