Time for something a little different. It is the 31st March 2020 (filmed on the 24th) and we’re in Korakuen Hall, Tokyo, for the First Round of STARDOM’s 2020 Cinderella Tournament!
There are two reasons why I’m taking this one in. The first is Hana Kimura. By the time this goes out it will probably be September because I have a good few of these in the bank, but at time of writing we’re not too far away from her very untimely death, that took place only two months after this event, which constituted her final wrestling performance. I, like so many others, have experienced the tragedy of losing someone in your life to suicide and it is only more painful when the person in question had so much of their life left to live. I’d like to take this opportunity to say that the inherent toxicity in social media is a plague on modern society that not enough is being done about, and the world would be a better place if A: More was done by companies to fight back against online harassment, and B: if people were not put in a position of needing to actively engage with social media that is detrimental to their mental health for professional reasons. I never had the chance to check out Kimura’s work during her life, so this post is an effort to belatedly rectify that.
Secondly, I’ve wanted to give STARDOM a look for a while now, but have just always been putting it to the back of the queue. It’s an undoubtedly interesting promotion, the forefront of joshi. On the face of it, with its emphasis on looks and modelling, you would think it would be something that could be easily dismissed as a Diva promotion – I mean, the winner of the tournament discussed below gets a dress and a tiara as prizes, for example – but then you have its actual wrestling, a very high-impact MMA-influenced shoot-style, that has occasionally crossed the line into all-out brutality. With the Bushiroad takeover last year STARDOM now has even greater prominence, so it deserves more consideration.
This is STARDOM’s annual tournament. It’s a 16-women straight knock-out single-night affair, with the winner, aside from a dress and a crown, getting “a wish”. Said wish will typically end up being a match for one of STARDOM’s top two titles, the World of Stardom or Wonder of Stardom Championship. The promotion put the entirety of the First Round up on Youtube, but you’ll have to go to their subscription service, STARDOM World, for the rest.
A quick note before we start: there is no English commentary or subtitles, so I beg some patience if there might be the odd error below resulting from a lack of understanding that is usually offset by announcers.
We open with a plug for STARDOM’s merch and, I assume, the Youtube channel. I’m already watching it guys! Then we’re in the legendary Korakuen Hall, which owing to world events only has around 500 people in it, with most observers wearing face masks. I’m actually surprised in a way that this show even went ahead. Anyway, we open with the in-ring presentation of all 16 participants in tonight’s tournament, who line up in a “V” and pose for group photos, tying into the “gravure idol” aspect of STARDOM. Not an ounce of heat it has to be said. They all depart, and after some politely applauded highlights on a big-screen – partially blocked by ceiling light placement – we go straight into the opener, which will be the only non-tournament match of the evening.
Natsu Sumire vs Hina vs Rina vs Itsuki Hoshino (Four Way Match)
Lengthy entrances for each competitor. One thing that’s important to note is that, I think, nearly the entire roster of STARDOM is divided into five factions, that follow the New Japan formula of being more affiliations than major aspects of each wrestler’s character. Sumire is from heel group Oedo Tai. Hina is for Queen’s Quest, which from what I read is a “unit” all about pure wrestling skill that eschews any comedy. Io Shirai was a prominent member in the not-too-distant past. Rina represents the Tokyo Cyber Squad, a sort-of alternative face/tweener faction. And Hoshino is from STARS, Stardom’s all-out face group.
Triple teaming disliked heel Sumire to start, with a train of drop-kicks to the corner. Hoshino locks in a Camel Clutch on Sumire, but then eats dueling drop kicks from the other two. Hina and Rina working over Sumire, and hit her with stereo arm bars before Hoshino intervenes. Sumire gives Hoshino a hug, and the two agree an impromptu alliance to take on the others.
Stereo corner splashes, but Hina/Rina dodge the subsequent running knee strikes. All piled up in one corner, and Rina goes for the big splash but eats a boot instead. Sumire has a belt, and whips both Hishino and Hina when they go for drop kicks. Rina intervenes, wrestling over the belt, and eventually Rina gets the upper hand. She’s dropped with a big upper cut shortly after though. Sumire has all three of her opponents piled up in a corner, and lands a bronco buster. Takes Rina out, hits a suplex, transitions into a bridging pin, and that’s the win in just over five.
Winner: Natsu Sumire
Verdict: Quick opener with a nice mix of comedy spots and basic wrestling.
Momo Watanabe vs the Starlight Kid (STARDOM Cinderella Tournament 2020 First Round)
Watanabe is the current leader of Queen’s Quest, so a heavy favourite here. Starlight Kid is, appropriately enough, from STARS, and is one of the few women in STARDOM to wear a mask and adhere to the lucha philosophy of never revealing her identity. All of these matches have a ten minute time-limit, and in the event of reaching that point both competitors are eliminated. Oh, and wins can also be got by throwing an opponent over the top rope.
The Kid with a running drop-kick right from the off. Some dodging chains, and Starlight hits a big rana to send Watanabe flying. Momo rallies back with a drop-kick of her own, then stomps on the head of the Starlight Kid. Exchanging forearms, then Momo hits a scoop slam for two. Transitions into a Camel Clutch, and the crowd getting into it a little bit trying to rally Starlight. Kid eventually back up, more forearm exchanges and Watanabe maintains the advantage for a bit, until she eats a springboard crossbody.
Starlight going for a 619 but Momo dodges. But she doesn’t dodge another rana and this time the Kid hits the 619. Standing moonsault for two. Back up, Kid looking for a suplex, Momo resisting, some counter chains and eventually Watanabe hits an uranage. Double running knees for two and then Momo to the top. Kid cuts her off and drops her to the apron with a drop kick. Shots, and Momo nails a head kick. To the top again, Meteora, but then the Kid rolls it back into a predicament for a near-fall. Watanabe has the Kid up for a reverse pile driver, but Kid out. Dueling predicaments for a series of near falls, Kid going for a Destroyer but Watanabe sits down for two. Buzzsaw from Momo, setting up for the reverse piledriver again, and this time she hits it. That’s enough for the 1, 2, 3 in just under five.
Winner (and progressing to the Quarter Finals): Momo Watanabe
Verdict: Nice quick tournament opener where the underdog tries to steal it with roll-ups but the favourite’s power eventually told.
Jungle Kyona vs Giulia (STARDOM Cinderella Tournament 2020 First Round)
Kyona, out with a multi-coloured toy AK-47, is an underachieving member of the Tokyo Cyber Squad, Giulia is the leader of Donna del Mundo, the newest, and very highly-pushed, heel stable. Lock-up, pushing contest, that Kyona wins. Giulia dodges a swipe, then into arm and elbow lock chains. Kyona with the headlock, then should charges Giulia down. Awkward looking snapmare, then a head scissors, but Giulia eventually gets to the rope.
All Kyona so far, and she follows up with shots to the back of the head, then a spinning powerslam that looks like it dropped Giulia on her head. Drop kick to the back, then a running clothesline for two. Giulia finally gets something in with a whiffed scissors kick, then another, then a head scissors/octopus submission, but Kyona gets to the ropes eventually. Big boot from Giulia to a prone Kyona, then Giulia to the top. Kyona waits patiently to take Missile Drop Kick for a near fall, not so good.
Trading forearms, Giulia ties her hand up in Kyona’s hair and starts laying in shots. Kyona to her knees, then a kick to the head. Giulia with a charge, but Kyona floors her with a forearm. Scoop Slam, Kyona to the top, nails the splash, but only two. Gets Giulia up for a powerbomb, just about able to lift her up again, and dumps her into the corner. Kyona nails a running clothesline to the corner, sets Giulia up for a brainbuster I think, but Giulia out of it. Giulia with shots to the mid-section and a DDT for two. Locks in a Captain’s Hook/Crossface submission, adds some torque to it, Kyona trying to get out of it, Giulia adds more torque, Kyona fading and the ref calls it in just under eight and a half.
Winner (and progressing to the Quarter Finals): Giulia
Verdict: Had some sloppy moments, but actually very entertaining and diverse.
AZM vs Konami (STARDOM Cinderella Tournament 2020 First Round)
AZM is from Queen’s Quest, Konami from Tokyo Cyber Squad. AZM attacks before the bell, to the shock of the announcers. Konami dumped to the outside, and AZM with a top-rope crossbody (but she went under the rope) probably the spot of the night so far. As Konami tries to get back in she eats a head kick, then a top rope double stomp. I thought that would be it, but only two. Konami trying to lock in a submission, dueling pinning attempts, but only two. AZM looking for a springboard but now gets her own kick to the head.
Konami locks on a head scissors with rope assistance. Drop-kick to AZM, then a sliding clothesline, then a fisherman’s suplex pin for two. Going for another head scissors, AZM hits another head kick instead but Konami maintaining the advantage. Locks in a wicked looking armbar variation and AZM taps in just over two and a half.
Winner (and progressing to the Quarter-Finals): Konami
Verdict: High impact and fun, and even told a good story with Konami trying repeatedly to lock in her submission.
Syuri vs Jamie Hayter (STARDOM Cinderella Tournament 2020 First Round)
Syuri is another from Donna del Mundo, Hayter, one of the few westerners in the promotion, is from Odeo Tai and is one half of STARDOM’s Tag Champs, so this is heel-on-heel I think.
Vicious high kick from Syuri to start, then rapid knee strikes to the mid-section. These two are screaming with every move, and Hayter rallies back with a corner clothesline and a modified neckbreaker. Snap suplex for two, then some shots, before Syuri stuns her with a sudden armbar. Hayter quickly to the ropes, but now Syuri screechily with more kicks and knees, then another armbar, transitioning into a Dis-Arm-Her variation, but Hayter rolls out. Syuri hits a running knee for two, like the others earlier it’s a bit whiffed.
Hayter fighting back with a big forearm, then an uranage backbreaker, then a STO, then a STF, very nice sequence. Syuri eventually gets a foot to the ropes. Hayter hits her own running knee, and this one looks the business, but only two again. Hayter calling for a big punch, but Syuri dodges and hits another high kick for two, then transitions into the Dis-Arm-Her again, then a slightly different variation, and Hayter taps in just under five.
Winner (and progressing to the Quarter Finals): Syuri
Verdict: Like the previous one, it was all about waiting for the submission to work, but some nice back-and-forth.
Saki Kashima vs Tam Nakano (STARDOM Cinderella Tournament 2020 First Round)
Both of these are from STARS, though Kashima looks very heel-ish. Circling, Kashima with a knock-down, lock-up, then Kashima with a very slow looking rana for two. Nakano back straight away with a crossbody, then a snap-mare, kick to the back, but Kashima back with another take-down. A choke on Nakano, then pressure to the ankle, then a modified ankle-lock of sorts. Nakano to the ropes.
Kashima continuing the ankle work, now with rope assistance. Nakano stuns the announcers with a straight-up slap, then dodges a clothesline with a spider-walk. Roll-up from Nakano gets two, Kashima dodges a running knee then a crucifix pin attempt for a near-fall. Kashima hangs Nakano up on the ropes for a kick, then Nakano fires back with a modified cutter onto the top rope,. Nakano to the top for a whiffed missile drop-kick, then another to the head for a near fall. Another set of countering rolls, and Nakano gets two. Another running knee, the move of the night. Nakano hits a reverse butterfly German suplex into a pin, and that’s the 1, 2, 3 in just under five a half.
Winner (and progressing to the Quarter Finals): Tam Nakano
Verdict: All getting a bit samey now, but still fun.
Natsuko Tora vs Sayi Kamitani (STARDOM Cinderella Tournament 2020 First Round)
Tora is Odei Tai, Kamitani is Queen’s Quest. Test of strength to start, wrist-lock chains. Tora on-top with a headlock, then sends Kamitani head-first into the corner a few times. Chokes and head-stomps, then a running kick to a prone Sayi, to cheers surprisingly. More kicks to the head, and Kamitani trying to rally back but misses a drop-kick and then eats a senton.
Camel Clutch from Tora, but Kamitani out of it and then hits a very athletic drop-kick. Reverse STF into a half-Boston Crab, but Tora gets to the ropes. Kamitani with a double stomp off the top, but goes for it again and gets cut off. Trading forearms for a bit, then Tora gets two off a clothesline. Scoop slam, Tora to the top, big splash, and that’s it in just over six.
Winner: Natsuko Tora
Verdict: Was 90% Tora on offence, so a little dull.
Utami Hayashishita vs Maika (STARDOM Cinderella Tournament 2020 First Round)
Utami is Queen’s Quest, while Maika is the last member of Donna del Mundo. Lots of lock-ups to start, wrist, head and elbow-lock chains. Maika gets an armbar in the most exciting part of the first few minutes, but Utami quickly to the ropes. Maika maintains the advantage with stomps and rolls, but quickly back to the joint manipulation. Get the immediate feeling that this one might go the distance, it looks like they are killing time.
More kicks and stomps, and Maika now working over the elbow. Utami fights back with a drop-kick, then a scoop slam, and is able to lack in a full Boston Crab. Transitions into a half when Maika is near the ropes, in a neat spot. Five minute warning, and and Maika busts out a neat transition from crucifix pin into a modified STF, almost a Regal Stretch, but Utami to the ropes. Maika maintains the advantage with a few judo throws for two. Utami back up, and then there are dueling corner charges, then dueling forearms in a lengthy exchange.
Three minute warning. Utami knocked down, Maika with a judo trip for two, then locks on a sitdown armbar. Two minute warning. Utami to the ropes, then hits her own throw and locks on a sleeper, including a body scissors after Maika almost makes it to the rope. Last minute, and with a big effort Maika gets the break. Utami with a bridging German Suplex for two. 30 seconds. Utami trying to get her up, Maika holding onto the ropes to avoid a powerbomb. Nothing doing and the time expires.
Winner: Time Limit Draw. This means that whomever would have faced the winner of this gets a buy in the next round.
Verdict: Pretty decent, though it was just an elongated example of the formula now becoming very apparent.
Pull apart brawl afterwards, but the crowd is deathly quiet. More so than usual for a Japanese crowd I mean.
Mayu Iwatani vs Hana Kimura (STARDOM Cinderella Tournament 2020 First Round)
Iwatani represents STARS, and Kimura is the leader of the Tokyo Cyber Squad. Kimura offering a handshake but, psyche, she hits a slap instead, then goes for a package piledriver, but Iwatani battles out. Going for a charge, Kimura eats a spin kick, then some brief dueling forearms, then Kimura nails a drop-kick. Iwatani reverses an octopus into a drop, for two. Going for a double armbar, lots of screaming, then a modified side-Boston Crab thing, looks cool. Kimura screaming like she’s been shot, but gets to the ropes.
Iwatini follows up with a running drop-kick, goes for a rana but Kimura stops her, goes to dump her out but Iwatini grabs the ropes. After anther failed charge they are both on the apron, and the crowd is really into this now. Kimura nails a big boot on the apron, then eats a super-kick. Iwatani to the top, but intercepted. Kimura going for a second rope superplex, but Iwatini up and over her. Going for a Razor’s Edge, but Kimura out of it. Kimura going for a brainbuster, but Iwatini reverses it into a headlock submission.
Kimura eventually up and reverses the headlock into a suplex for two, cool spot. Running knee, of course, then an axe kick for two. Going for that modified octopus again, and this time gets it locked in, transitioning to a modified half-Boston, but Iwatani gets the ropes. Dodging a charge, Iwatani hits another drop-kick, then looking for a German Suplex, Kimura fighting, but it’s eventually landed, for two. Iwatani to the top, big splash, but only two. Iwatani calling for something big, back to the top but intercepted again. Kimura locks in her octopus submission on the top and they both fall and to the outside. The ref calls it in just under eight.
Winner: No one – I believe they are adjudged to have hit the floor at the same time, so it’s a draw and a double-elimination.
Verdict: Was really good up to the finish, which confused me. This is Kimura’s very last match.
That’s your lot, as the remainder of the Youtube footage is the commentators chatting over what I presume is intermission. Go to STARDOM World for the rest.
Best Match: I would have given it to one of the final two matches, but I hate non-finishes, so I’ll go with AZM/Konami which, despite its brevity, told a really good story.
Best Wrestler: Perhaps I can be forgiven for what may seem to be a pick made for other reasons, but I can see why Kimura was a big deal, both in terms of her in-ring style and wrestling personality.
Worst Match: Tora/Kamitani was too one-sided to really stand-out.
Worst Wrestler: No one was bad, but Jungle Kyona had a very sloppy moments.
Overall Verdict: There was a pretty repetitive feel to a lot of these matches, with nearly every one of them including some variation of a leg-lock submission, scoop slam, running knee, head kick and drop-kick. But in that way the generally short length of them all actually helped, keeping things fresh and ticking over. I’d watch more of STARDOM on the basis of this, and you should to, with plenty on their Youtube channel. Recommended. RIP Kimura.
To view more entries in this series, click here to go to the index.