Whilst very few people can say that 2020 has been a walk in the park, for World Wonder Ring Stardom it has threatened to be considerably worse than that.
The end of 2019 saw the retirement of former High-Speed Champion Hazuki at the age of just 22, and the first two months of 2020 bore witness to the long retirement of beloved veteran Kagetsu. On top of this, the Wonder of Stardom (White Belt) holder Arisa Hoshiki was forced into retirement through injury and of course May 2020 saw the tragic and untimely death of the future face of the company Hana Kimura.
Faced with all of this, plus the ongoing worldwide arsehole that is Covid-19, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Stardom might be in an incredibly negative place. Fortunately, as a promotion, Stardom is so full of talent that it’s very hard to keep it down for too long, and so as we move into the second half of the year we find ourselves gearing up for the Stardom 5 Star Grand Prix.
For the uninitiated, the 5 Star GP is Stardom’s version of New Japan’s G1 Climax. This year will see two blocks of 8 competitors (Red Stars and Blue Stars) with everyone in each block facing each other in a round-robin tournament. The winners of each block then face off in the grand final and the winner normally goes on to face the World of Stardom Champion for the prestigious Red Belt, unless of course the champion wins the tournament at which point they can pick their next opponent.
To highlight the pedigree of the tournament, previous winners include current Red Belt holder Mayu Iwatani, Kairi Sane, Io Shirai and Toni Storm, and those who have tried but failed to win the competition include Tessa Blanchard, Piper Niven, Kay Lee Ray and recent Impact signing Kimber Lee.
There is no Gaijin involvement this year for obvious reasons, but that does not mean the field of potential winners isn’t very exciting.
So below, in reverse order, are my rankings of where the women competing in the 5 Star GP stand going into the tournament, to give people an indication of who to look out for in the next few weeks, but more likely to give an indication of just how wrong I can be. I have given the win-loss-draw stats for all matches since the return of Stardom since lockdown, although keep in mind that this doesn’t take into account the calibre and type of matches. For example losing due to a kick to the face from Mayu Iwatani, is probably still a better achievement than beating one of the young up-and-comers who aren’t in this tournament.
Maths out of the way...let’s go!
16. Death Yama-San (Red Stars Block) 2-4-0
The most experienced woman in the field by far, Death will mostly be in this tournament for the chuckles (think of her as Stardom’s equivalent of Toru Yano). Having said that she did hold the High Speed Championship in 2019 and has a recent victory over current High Speed champ AZM. Never count out Death.
15. Starlight Kid (Red Stars Block) 2-5-0
A poor record since the post Covid return belies an incredibly talented wrestler who will be making her 5 Star GP debut this year. Will have been disappointed not to pick up the High Speed Championship in the recent three-way match with Riho and AZM and this year will likely be a learning experience more than anything else for SK.
14. Saki Kashima (Blue Stars Block) 3-4-0
2019’s epic heel turn from Saki Kashima has unfortunately not lead to a particular upturn in fortunes for the Oedo Tai member. Recent defeats at the hands of both Death Yama-San and Starlight Kid suggest Saki isn’t in form going into the 5 Star GP, but crucially she is the person responsible for delivering the only pinfall on Giulia since her arrival in Stardom. Will need to find that form if she wants to score points, but under her new guise she potentially won’t care at all.
13. Himeka (Red Stars Block) 6-1-0
The newest member of the Stardom roster, Himeka only joined Donna Del Mondo in June 2020. As her record shows however, it has been an explosive start. Only the fact that she hasn’t picked up a title yet leaves Himeka this far down the Power Rankings, but do not let that suggest a lack of power. Probably the strongest woman in the tournament and likely to pick up more wins than her debutant status would suggest.
12. Saya Kamitani (Red Stars Block) 2-4-1
Another debutant in the 5 Star GP and another with a fairly poor record in recent weeks with only two wins. However one of those two wins gained Saya, and her partner Utami Hayashashita, to pick up the Goddesses of Stardom Titles (Stardom’s tag team titles). Little success in singles competition coming into the tournament suggests Saya will struggle this year, but look out for her name in future 5 Star GPs.
11. AZM (Blue Stars Block) 2-5-0
At just 17, AZM is the youngest wrestler in this year’s competition, but this isn’t her first go at the 5 Star GP. Having secured 8 points last year, AZM will be looking to build on that despite a poor recent run of form. As with Saya Kamitani though, AZM saved one of her wins for the most important contest, beating Starlight Kid and former AEW Women’s Champion Riho to win the High Speed Title. An almost guaranteed future winner of the tournament, but AZM will want to make an impact in the here and now.
10. Maika (Blue Stars Block) 5-2-0
Another recent acquisition for Stardom and another blistering start to life in the promotion for the youngest member of Donna Del Mondo. Already both the Future of Stardom champion and one third of the Artists of Stardom champions (Stardom’s threesomes belts) Maika also comes into the tournament in great form and having recently taken Momo Watanabe to the limit. A very tough block means Maika will likely have to wait for points, but she won’t be a push-over for anybody.
9. Natsuko Tora (Blue Stars Block) 3-4-0
The de-facto leader of Oedo Tai has quite a few losses on her recent record, but it is worth noting that half of those defeats have come by DQ when Natsuko lost the plot and started going to town on her opponents with weapons. Effectively hanging Konami with a chain in the first show post-lockdown was a sign of things to come. Natsuko has only gained 4 points in her previous two 5 Star GP outings, and if she doesn’t, or more likely chooses not to, keep her anger in check then that is also a possibility in 2020.
8. Tam Nakano (Red Stars Block) 2-5-0
An awful record going into the 5 Star GP has Tam Nakano lower down these rankings than she really should be. Tam’s major problem in recent weeks? Giulia. Of the 5 defeats Tam has suffered since June, 3 of them have come to Giulia and her Donna Del Mondo faction, including the brutal defeat in the final to crown the new White Belt champion. Tam has already stated that the White Belt is her primary goal, and with Giulia in her block we are already set for another chapter in that particular book. But Tam may well be too preoccupied with her nemesis to get the job done elsewhere.
7. Konami (Red Stars Block) 4-2-1
Konami has picked up an unfortunate habit in the last couple of years of losing in tournament finals, including in last year’s 5 Star GP where she was defeated by Hana Kimura. She was also defeated by Giulia, who is in her block, in the White Belt tournament and missed out on the chance to take the Goddesses of Stardom belts when she and Jungle Kyona lost to Saya Kamitani and Utami Hayashishita. Her tournament pedigree means she cannot be ruled out however.
6. Utami Hayashisita (Blue Stars Block) 4-2-1
One half of the new Goddess of Stardom champions and on a good run of form, Utami also has a previous appearance in the 5 Star GP on her resume. Utami hasn’t wrestled a singles match since lockdown however, and her priorities are likely to be found in the tag-team division in the coming months. Having said that, Utami is one of the most naturally gifted wrestlers in Stardom, and it would be very surprising not to see her in the battle to win the Blue Stars block.
5. Jungle Kyona (Blue Stars Block) 3-3-0
Almost this high on the rankings on emotion alone, Jungle Kyona returned from lockdown later than everyone else as she mourned her friend and protege Hana Kimura. On her return Jungle has suffered defeat both in a Goddess of Stardom Championship match and, heartbreakingly, in her challenge for the Red Belt in her hometown against Mayu Iwatani. All of these setbacks aside however, Jungle will remain the popular choice for victory and it would be no surprise at all to see her reach the final. And if she does...good god she deserves to win the whole thing.
4. Momo Watanabe (Blue Stars Block) 3-2-2
The leader of Queens Quest had a pretty poor 2019 by her standards, but seems to now have her sights firmly set on winning the Red Belt. Momo has a couple of defeats on her recent record but didn’t eat the pin in either match, and her impressive performance in a Time Limit Draw with Konami and Mayu Iwatani show that Momo is back to her best. Momo has finished 3rd in her block on 3 separate occasions, but will surely improve on that this year.
3. Syuri (Blue Stars Block) 6-0-0
Whilst her team leader Giulia wrongfully brags about being unbeaten, Syuri is the real deal on that front post-lockdown. 6 wins from 6 speaks for itself and has garnered Syuri, already one third of the Artists of Stardom champions, a crack at Mayu Iwatani’s Red Belt at some point in the near future. The one member of Donna Del Mondo who isn’t contracted to Stardom, it would be surprising to see the freelancer Syuri either beat Mayu or win the 5 Star GP. But on form alone, she has to be one of the favourites.
2. Giulia (Red Stars Block) 6-1-0
Holder of the White Belt. One of the holders of the Artists of Stardom belts. Unbeaten since joining Stardom last year (if you ignore the one match where she was beaten...which she is appearing to do). Giulia has immediately become one of the most dangerous women in Stardom, as Tam Nakano will testify. Beating Konami and Tam on the way to winning the White Belt was extremely impressive, and Giulia has a second tournament win under her belt in 2020 as well having won the pre-lockdown Cinderella Tournament. Her opening match sees her face Mayu Iwatani, and a statement win there could have Giulia at the top of this list and on the path to becoming the Red Belt holder very soon.
1. Mayu Iwatani (Red Stars Block) 3-3-1
The Ace of Stardom. Mayu Iwatani is the World of Stardom champion and has held the Red Belt since November 2019, defending against Jungle Kyona, Momo Watanabe and Kagetsu since taking the title from Bea Priestley. The winner of the 2018 5 Star GP, Mayu also has experience from 6 previous appearances in the tournament. Whilst her form has been slightly patchy recently, there is no doubt that she is currently top dog in Stardom, and if she does win this year’s 5 Star GP it will be tough to know who can stop Mayu Iwatani. Maybe a contest with the hopefully returning Kairi Sane beckons.