Nanae Takahashi, Io Shirai, Kairi Hojo, Toni Storm, Mayu Iwatani, Utami Hayashishita and Syuri. What do these seven women have in common?
They have all held the World of Stardom Championship and all count a victory in the Stardom Five Star Grand Prix as an important part in their journey both with, and towards getting, that famous Red Belt.
With only three previous Five Star GP winners not going on to win the big one, this underlines how important a tournament it is...and glory upon glories the 2022 version is here!
Starting on 30th July 2022, this year's Five Star GP will be the biggest version ever with 26 competitors fighting it out to win the coveted (and literal) crown.
For the uninitiated, the tournament will have two blocks (the Red Stars and the Blue Stars) competing in round-robin singles matches. The winners of each block will then go head to head in the final with the winner gaining not only some magnificent royal attire, but also a shot at the Red Belt currently held by the indomitable Syuri.
So who are the contenders for this year's title? Who goes into the tournament in form and who goes in simply hoping they won't be kicked in the face too often? Below are the two blocks and the various entrants together with a few statistics.
I've primarily looked at singles competition as that's what matters when it comes to the Five Star GP, but if you want more detailed statistics for Stardom in 2022 please go to Stardom 2022.xlsx and also look out for our Power Rankings which are partially based on these statistics. Below is a snippet of those stats for your delectation (the top 10 winningest wrestlers so far in 2022).
Once you have perused the numbers, move on to the Stardom Five Star Grand Prix runners and riders and let me know if you have any comments on good old Twitter @WrestligRhymes
RED STARS BLOCK
The undoubted top of the Stardom tree, Syuri holds the World of Stardom Red Belt and is also the defending Five Star GP champion. In 2022 she is the only regular on the Stardom roster not to be pinned and the only blemish on her singles record this year was a draw with Himeka which Syuri rectified with a dominant victory over her former stable-mate only two weeks later. As a result Syuri surely goes into this years tournament with a fantastic chance of becoming the first back-to-back Five Star champ.
Tam hasn't had a great 2022. She was won only just over a quarter of her matches this year and in singles competition has suffered defeats to Saya Kamitani (twice), Natsupoi and most recently in her tilt at the Red Belt against Syuri. That said the recruitment of Natsupoi into Cosmic Angels seems to have given Tam some real impetus, and her experience in the tournament should also count for a lot. Unlikely to win the whole thing, but I do expect Tam to collect a decent points haul.
The second former winner of the Five Star GP in the Red Block, Utami will be hoping to recreate her 2020 heroics. The former Red Belt holder has had a low key 2022 by her standards but has only lost once in singles matches against Saya Kamitani. That defeat was also the only time that Utami has been pinned in 2022 which all suggests she will a tough nut to crack in this year's tournament. Plus look out for that match against Syuri...
AZM is no longer simply a wrestler with potential. 2022 has seen her win back her High Speed Title and defend it six times since then, with her only singles defeats coming against former ally Momo Watanabe and Hazuki. Considering she is only 19 years old it's insane that this is her 4th appearance in the Five Star GP, and there is a good chance that she will make this her most productive year in the competition to date.
Koguma may spend an alarming amount of time pretending to be a bear, but take her lightly at your peril. Whilst she has spent most of 2022 focused on her reign with Hazuki as Goddesses of Stardom Champions, she still found time to narrowly miss out on winning the Cinderella Tournament earlier this year. Defeated in the final by MIRAI, AZM is the only other person to hold a singles win over Koguma this year, so don't be surprised if she disrupts the top of the standings.
Maika only has one singles defeat on her resume in 2022 but she has also only had four one-on-one matches. An impressive overall win percentage this year (57.4%) doesn't hide the fact that Maika will feel she should have had more singles success in her time in Stardom. Is this her year to do just that? Well her record in the competition is pretty impressive, but I think the strength of the Red Stars block will make it too tough for her to come out on top.
Himeka is a former Five Star GP finalist and only the unstoppable Syuri has beaten her in a one-on-one match in 2022. That said it doesn't feel like Himeka is on the verge of a big singles run and whilst I think she'll still be in the running in the final weeks of the tournament, it would be relatively surprising to see her win the block. Either way the battle between Himeka and her DDM chum Maika should be fascinating.
A last minute replacement for the injured Thekla, it's hard to see Momo Kohgo having a huge amount of success in this year's tournament. Having said that she does have four singles victories in 2022 so maybe she will surprise a few people, but the smart money suggests she'll be battling to avoid bottom spot and will have to take that medicine in a bid to build up experience for future tournaments.
The evergreen Saki Kashima has an excellent record in 2022 with six singles victories and the joint-most pinfalls of anyone in the company this year. However Saki does often find herself facing the 'pin-eaters' and defeats to Thekla (twice) and MIRAI suggest she shouldn't be considered a threat to the block favourites. Do keep an eye out for her picking up a couple of surprises though with her devastatingly effective Kishikaisei roll-up.
Unagi Sayaka is a little bit crazy, and in 2022 that craziness has not translated itself into wins. With a winning percentage of only 23.4% and only one singles win against Hina, Unagi doesn't seem destined for a strong crack at the Red Stars Block. It will be interesting to see her go up against Cosmic Angels leader Tam Nakano, but that may be the highlight of the tournament for Unagi.
Mai Sakurai earned her Five Star GP debut by qualifying out of the pre-tournament mini-league. Whilst that experience will hopefully help the newest member of DDM, expect Mai to be the whipping-boy of the Red Stars Block. Just picking up one win in the tournament would be considered a success and it would be interesting if she was able to do so against a fellow member of DDM.
The first of the two 'wild-cards' in this block, Risa Sera has only had one singles match in Stardom in 2022 and she was defeated. Considering that was against Syuri however I think we can make allowances and she may be able to make that outsider status work for her against wrestlers who won't know what to expect. Whether successful or not Risa's work elsewhere in 2022 proves she will put on some fantastic matches and will hopefully be a great addition to the 2022 tournament.
Like Risa Sera, SAKI is still a relative unknown in relation to Stardom and was defeated by Saya Kamitani in her only one-on-one match in the promotion just last weekend. She certainly shouldn't be considered as a rank-outsider though with her massive variety of matches in 2022 potentially giving her an edge over some other stars. A potential disruptor rather than a potential winner, but SAKI is sure to make some sort of impression on the tournament.
BLUE STARS BLOCK
Mayu Iwatani is the 'Ace' of Stardom, a former Five Star GP winner and by far the most experienced wrestler on the roster when it comes to this particular competition. She is also the reigning SWA Title Champion, but in spite of all of this doesn't come into this year's tournament as a particular favourite. 2022 has already seen her lose to both Syuri and, more worryingly, Saki Kashima and she has a lower than 40% win rate overall this year. Yet, if anyone can pull off a Hollywood comeback story, it is certainly Mayu Iwatani.
Once seemingly guaranteed to one day become holder of the Red Belt, Giulia's progress has stalled in 2022. She has lost six out of six title matches this year, including a defeat to Syuri which also saw the split in Donna Del Mondo. With Natsupoi also recently leaving the faction, DDM's leader appears to be in disarray but a potential rematch with Syuri could well spur her on towards victory. Still one of the favourites despite her recent form.
In terms of singles competition, Saya Kamitani has been the leading light of Stardom in 2022. Ten wins and one draw have cemented a dominant run with the Wonder of Stardom Title, and it's very hard to see who will take that White Belt from her any time soon. Is Saya ready to take that step up to the Red Belt level? Victories over Tam Nakano and Utami this year suggest she may not be far off, and this is the perfect testing ground to see how far she has grown.
After a breakout year in 2021, including a very strong Five Star GP performance, Starlight Kid has been very up and down in 2022. She has been defeated in four out of five title matches this year and only has singles wins against rookies Waka Tsukiyama and Miyu Amasaki on her record. Even so she has to be considered a frontrunner in the Blue Stars Block and is very likely to have some say on how the top of the table plays out.
Stardom should translate "Could this be Momo's year?" into Latin and make it their official motto. That's how often we hear this particularly refrain. So is this the year for the hipster's favourite member of the Stardom roster? Possibly...and that's as confident as I can be. Her move to Oedo Tai hasn't spawned a deluge of victories and she has already been defeated by Syuri in 2022, but Momo does have singles wins this year against AZM, Hazuki and Mina Shirakawa. So there is hope Momo fans! There is always hope.
As with her tag team partner Koguma, Hazuki's focus this year has been on the Goddesses of Stardom Championship, but Hazuki will be looking to build on the eight points she gained in her last Five Star GP in 2019. Since then HZK seems to have mellowed in terms of personality, however she will be looking to show she still has that killer instinct to take her to Blue Stars Block success.
It feels as if Saya Iida has been around for years and yet she still feels no closer to stepping up to a level that would worry the Five Star GP favourites. In 2022 alone she has suffered five singles defeats including a damaging loss to Lady C during qualifying for this tournament. With that sort of form it does feel as if Saya will again be looking towards the bottom of the standings this year.
Natsupoi was starting to feel like the forgotten member of Donna Del Mondo, and that is precisely why she superkicked Giulia in the face and defected to Tam Nakano and Cosmic Angels. Since then she has been undefeated and looks like the dark horse in a relatively open Blue Stars Block. And that match with Giulia? Well that should be violently interesting.
As with her Cosmic Angels stablemate Unagi Sayaka, Mina Shirakawa certainly seems to have a lot of fun in Stardom. However that doesn't seem to equal in-ring success with a pitiful 27% win percentage in 2022 and only one-on-one wins against Waka Tsukiyama and Rina to her name. So expect plenty of dancing and smiling from Mina...but potentially not many points.
Hanan's statistics make it look like she's had a fabulous 2022 and indeed the Future of Stardom Champion seems to have an iron grip on that belt with eight successful defences this year. However in any non-title singles match she has been defeated, often when facing a step up in class, and I suspect she will have a similar story in this year's Five Star GP. A useful step in her development though and I think we'll see Hanan in this tournament for many years to come.
MIRAI already has a tournament win under her belt in 2022 after upsetting the odds to win the Cinderella Tournament earlier this year. So far she hasn't been able to convert that success into titles and has suffered losses to Syuri, Saya Kamitani and Utami when she has stepped up to the big names. But that Cinderella success cannot be ignored and whilst MIRAI is unlikely to win the block, I predict she will pick up some big wins on the way.
Ami Sourei has absolutely exploded onto the scene in Stardom in 2022. Her only singles defeat came at the hands of Syuri and she sits in the top four of the entire company in terms of win percentage (62.2%). Yet to be tested at what would be considered the higher level, it should be interesting to see how Ami goes in her Five Star GP debut.
The unknown quantity of the Blue Stars Block, Suzu Suzuki would love to upset the Stardom applecart and get through to the final. A draw with Cinderella Tournament winner MIRAI and a win over Mai Sakurai certainly suggest Suzu isn't making up the numbers, and her presence alone should make some of her competitors nervous. She also has a score to settle with Giulia and I suspect she will be one of the names on everyone's lips at the end of the block matches.