The Final Countdown
Nearly two months after it's beginning, and with 81 results already in the books, the Stardom 5 Star Grand Prix culminates this Saturday at the Ota Ward Gym.
As with everything during this god-forsaken pandemic era, there have been issues along the way. Everyone's least favourite global virus caused havoc with the scheduling, as did the fact that a few participants had to get over injuries before they could start their campaign. Worse still, Giulia, arguably the favourite to win the whole shebang, picked up an injury after her fifth match, robbing us of what would likely have been an epic and climactic battle on the last day to see who would win the Red Stars Block.
Nevertheless it has still been a superb tournament. In the Red Stars Block we've seen improving performances from the likes of Koguma and Mina Shirakawa, whilst the Donna Del Mondo duo of Natsupoi and Himeka have lit up the ring at times. We've also seen the emergence of Starlight Kid as a top tier star with her new, and fantastically portrayed, dark persona helping her to some impressive results and even a High Speed Title win on the way.
On the Blue Stars Block side, there has simply been an embarrassment of superb matches. Syuri and Utami Hayashishita continue to show why they are considered the best in the promotion by many right now, Konami looks back to her best and both Takumi Iroha and Saya Kamitani have excelled, albeit with completely different styles. Also a quick word for Tam Nakano who I believe has put on the most compelling selection of matches during the tournament, with each of her contests feeling almost as important as a title match.
So we move on to the last round of matches, and with my sexy tables and terrible maths, I have attempted to work out who is still in the running, and offer my less than expert view and who may prevail.
As Mayu Iwatani would say....Check It Out!
Red Stars Block
Saki Kashima v Fukigen Death
Natsupoi v Mina Shirakawa
Himeka v Koguma
Mayu Iwatani v Starlight Kid
Mercifully for my arithmetically slow noggin, the Red Stars Block is relatively straight forward going into the final night.
Owing to Giulia's injury (her opponents for her remaining matches were awarded wins) Momo Watanabe has completed all of her matches and sits on 12 points. She has the luxury of a warm up match on Saturday rather than a competitive encounter, so if she does make the final then she should be in a strong position to take home the trophy.
Himeka and Starlight Kid are the other two who can win the block, sitting on 10 and 11 points respectively.
If Starlight Kid wins her match against former friend Mayu Iwatani, then she will reach an insurmountable 13 points. Even if she is only able to get a draw in that face-off to reach 12 points, SLK will still take the block victory as her victories over both Momo and Himeka in the tournament mean she holds all the aces in the event of any tie-break.
Himeka also holds a win over Momo, so if she wins her final match against Koguma she would win the block if Starlight Kid is defeated by Mayu. At the start of the tournament such a win for Himeka would probably not have been in doubt, but Koguma has had a very good debut tournament and showed her class in a draw with Mayu Iwatani.
So for crowd favourite and perennial bridesmaid Momo to win the block she will need Starlight Kid to lose AND for Himeka to either draw with or lose to Koguma. An anxious night awaits the leader of Queens Quest.
I had Giulia down to win this block in my pre-tournament predictions, so her injury has obviously put paid to that.
The only upside of her unfortunate injury is that, in my opinion, this now surely seems the right time to give Momo Watanabe the block win.
After an up and down tournament, I think Mayu Iwatani will bring her A-game against Starlight Kid and pick up the win, and I think fellow Stars member Koguma will also pick up a relatively shock victory against Himeka.
All of which would leave Momo on top of the pile awaiting the final against the winner of the Blue Stars Block
Blue Stars Block
AZM v Ruaka
Unagi Sayaka v Saya Kamitani
Maika v Konami
Utami Hayashishita v Tam Nakano
Syuri v Takumi Iroha
This block always felt as if it had a huge number of potential winners, and so it has come to pass with five women technically having a chance to finish on top going into Saturday.
Saya Kamitani and Syuri go into that final round in pole position on 11 points, with Kamitani really impressing in what has been a brutally tough group. If Saya wins against Unagi Sayaka, and Syuri loses to or draws with Takumi Iroha, then Saya will be victorious. If both Syuri wins and Kamitani doesn't pick up 2 points, then it'll be Syuri in the final, and similarly if both Syuri and Saya win their final matches, Syuri will win the block owing to her victory over Saya earlier in the tournament.
If both Kamitani and Syuri drop points in their final matches, this opens the door for one of Konami, Takumi Iroha or Red Belt holder Utami.
Konami faces the extremely talented Maika in her bid to get to 12 points. If she does manage this, then she is in the best position of the chasing pack as she has wins over Iroha, Syuri and Utami under her belt. She would however need Saya Kamitani to lose her match (rather than draw) as Saya does hold the tie-break victory over Konami.
If Takumi Iroha bests Syuri in that bone-shaking encounter on the final night, then it could get very complicated in the event of a tie-break. Iroha lost to Konami, but had a draw with both Utami and Saya, so to be honest I have absolutely no idea what they do in the event of that scenario.
Utami equally has draws against Iroha and Syuri on her record so would want to cleanly finish above them by defeating the impressive Tam Nakano. She does hold the tie-break win over Saya Kamitani though if it comes down to that.
So yes...the Blue Stars Block could go any number of ways and I'll be sitting there with by abacus desperately trying to work it all out on the night.
This block really is an absolute free-for-all.
Firstly, I don't think Saya Kamitani will win the block. I have little doubt she is a 5 Star GP winner in waiting, but not this year and I think Unagi will pick up the win in their match.
I also don't think the current champion is reaching the final. In their champion v champion match, I expect Tam and Utami to absolutely leather each other, and I would not be surprised if that one went to a time-limit draw.
I do think Konami will win her final match and underline what has been a superb 5 Star GP for her after a less than stellar year in her new role within Oedo Tai.
Unfortunately for Konami I don't think that win will be enough, as I see Syuri triumphing in the battle of the Blue Stars big hitters against Iroha. Before the tournament I predicted Takumi to win this block, but Syuri has continued to be magnificent throughout, and after another draw with Utami in this 5 Star GP, Stardom would be foolish not to put a final reckoning between the two into the minds of fans.
So Syuri to win the block for me, and go on to an intriguing battle with Momo Watanabe in the final.
It's fairly futile predicting the result of a final that may not come to pass, but here goes.
If it is Momo vs Syuri, the first thing to say is that it will be a fantastic match. It will also be very hard to call as both competitors would have great stories to tell with Red Belt champ Utami.
Momo is the leader of Queens Quest, the faction in which Utami also dwells, yet nobody can argue that Momo has been dwarfed by her teammate in the last 12 months or so. Utami's first defence of that belt was against Momo, and it would certainly be fascinating to see them run it back after a year in which Momo has started to recapture her mojo.
Syuri on the other hand is the one person that Utami cannot beat, and that in itself makes for a fascinating potential decider between the two. It has felt for a while as if Syuri would be the one to eventually take the title off Utami and after yet another draw between the two in the block stage, Stardom could build to an absolute worldy of a decider.
And that is now where I think the 5 Star GP is heading...Syuri to take the crown and move on to a final showdown with Utami for the Stardom Red Belt.
Will I be right? Probably not.
Will I be entertained? Almost certainly.