As the old saying goes, it's a marathon not a sprint, and that is certainly the case with the Stardom 5 Star Grand Prix.
Having said that, the opening rounds of matches in any tournament can be telling, and everyone will certainly want to get off to a flyer rather than having to play catch-up, particularly in a lengthy and grueling competition like the 5 Star GP.
So after the first two nights of action (sadly the third round of matches was cancelled due to a member of the team testing positive for Covid-19) who has been fast out of the blocks, and who is still sitting in the changing rooms trying to find their socks?
Red Stars Block
The unknown quantity of the group at the start of the tournament, Himeka can certainly not be said to be unknown anymore. An impressive and hard-fought win over Tam Nakano put her on her way, but it was the next match that really made people sit up and take notice. Himeka defeated her faction leader Giulia in a brutal encounter that has left "Jumbo" on the top of the pile having already faced two of her toughest challengers.
The current holder of the Red Belt started with a bone-crunching defeat at the hands of Giulia which will likely have repercussions in the future. Mayu's second match looked a bit easier on paper, but Starlight Kid took her to the absolute limit in a bruising encounter. As it stands, Mayu may need to go unbeaten for the rest of the block to be in with a chance of claiming top spot.
A magnificent victory in her opening match against Mayu Iwatani was followed up by a startling defeat to the newest member of Giulia's own faction. A chastening match for Giulia in more ways than one as she suffered her first singles loss in Stardom, and also came away from the fight with a legitimate injury. Hopefully she will be able to shake that off and return to the tournament, but having had the longest total match time in the whole GP so far, she'll need some quicker victories.
Having been humbled by Himeka in her opening match, Tam bounced back brilliantly in her win over Konami. Likely to still be focused on the impending rematch with Giulia, Tam will be hoping to pick up some key wins against her other rivals to keep her in the hunt. On the plus side, so far she seems to have largely kept her emotions in check.
Konami, a bit of a tournament expert at this stage, started her campaign with a relatively routine win over Saya Kamitani. However the defeat in her second match to Tam Nakano means that Konami will likely need big results over Himeka, Giulia and Mayu if she is to top the Red Stars Block. Certainly not beyond Konami's capabilities, but not an enviable task either.
A win in her debut 5 Star GP match set Starlight Kid up nicely for her inter-faction battle with Mayu Iwatani. Sadly the step up in quality was ultimately too much for SK, but her performance in this match felt like a coming-of-age moment and showed that she will give the big-guns in this block more than a run for their money.
Only one match so far, and one defeat for "Tall Saya". Whilst she was able to get some licks in against Konami, it was relatively one-way traffic showing that Kamitani, largely involved in tag matches to date in Stardom, is going to need to up her game to make an impact on this year's 5 Star GP.
Fairly comprehensively beaten in just over 3 minutes by Starlight Kid, the only plus for Death so far is that she should be well rested for her second match. However having lost to SK, it is now tricky to see where the wins will becoming from.
Blue Stars Block
A big win over Jungle Kyona in her opening match was exactly what the doctor ordered for Utami in her quest to win the Blue Stars Block. I suspect the doctor would have been less impressed with seeing his patient strangled with a chain however which is what befell Utami at the end of her disqualification win over Natsuko Tora. With a mouthwatering clash to come with faction leader Momo Watanabe, Utami will be hoping that she doesn't feel too many after-effects of that sinister attack.
Continuing her perfect form coming into the 5 Star GP, Syuri has vanquished both Natsuko and Jungle Kyona, and done so more quickly than Utami and without any significant chain related damage. As she continues to bellow her way through the competition, it's currently very hard to see who will beat Syuri, but there are certainly tougher challenges to come, plus a potentially distracting Red Belt match with Mayu Iwatani.
The surprise package of the Blue Stars Block so far, Maika stunned Stardom fans by defeating Momo Watanabe in clinical fashion in her opening match. She followed that up with an expected victory over Saya Iida, although she would have hoped to have put away her opponent with a bit more ease. Either way, Maika has announced herself as a force to be reckoned with in the block and you can see her picking up quite a few more points based on performances so far.
Momo had to recover from that shock defeat to Maika, and at times looked to be carrying the weight of that defeat in her second match with AZM. Eventually Momo did fight through to take the victory, but having taken so much punishment from two of the youngest participants in the 5 Star GP, she must be worried about her prospects. Her match with Utami now looks to be make or break.
AZM got off to a great start with a win over Saya Iida, and really put the pressure on her faction leader Momo in their second night contest. Showing a new found sense of aggression, AZM duped her leader with a handshake leading to an attack, and came close on numerous occasions to picking up the upset win. It's certainly the case that nobody will be looking forward to facing AZM going forward.
Oh Jungle. Couldn't have asked for a tougher start with matches against Syuri and Utami, but you feel that if she was going to win the block, Jungle would have needed points from at least one of these matches. She's also had the longest time in the ring of anyone in the block so far, meaning that there aren't many positives at this stage for the fan favourite. If she does do it though, it will be a hell of a come from behind victory.
As predicted by yours truly, Natsuko doesn't appear to be too worried about gaining points in this year's 5 Star GP. Instead pain and destruction appear to be her main aims, highlighted by her deliberate disqualification against Utami which was followed up by a menacing beat-down. The points tally may not increase significantly for Natsuko, but depending on who she maims on the way she may have a big say on who wins the Blue Stars Block.
A late addition to the competition to replace the injured Saki Kashima, Saya Iida was always going to struggle in such tough circumstances. Whilst her defeat to AZM was fairly routine, her performance against Maika would have been heartening for Saya as she took the Future of Stardom Champion to the limit. Likely to eat a lot of pins in the tournament, there is still no doubt that Saya Iida will make people work for those points.