From 2014 to 2018, the world of wrestling was absolutely enamored with Lucha Underground, an American wrestling promotion and television show that successfully (and ridiculously) mashed lucha libre with telenovela-style storylines and supernatural characters. Created and developed by reality television producer and Mark Burnett and filmmaker Robert Rodriguez, the company revolutionized wrestling in the United States as we know it by introducing audiences to some of Mexico’s finest luchadors, giving many United States indie wrestling veterans their flowers, and bringing intergender wrestling to the forefront of the conversation once more.
Lucha Underground was always known for pushing the boundaries as to what wrestling could (or should) be, but never was that more obvious than during their November 30th, 2016 episode “Breaker Of Bones.” The episode featured Penta El Zero Miedo at his most sadistic taking on The Black Lotus Triad in a gauntlet match. Black Lotus, incensed by the fact that Pentagon broke her arm during her first televised Lucha Underground match a few months before, sought revenge with help from her friends Doku, Hitokiri, and Yurei.
Many viewers had never seen these three before, but fans who were more in-tune with wrestling outside of the United States instantly recognized them. The Black Lotus Triad, portrayed by Kairi Sane (at the time known as Kairi Hojo), Io Shirai, and Mayu Iwatani, were widely considered amongst fans of Japanese women’s wrestling (Joshi Puroresu) as some of the best in the world. Up to that point, Sane was a four year pro, Iwatani had five years under her belt, and Shirai had been active for nine years; each had been putting on match of the year candidates for most of their relatively short careers, even though their accomplishments were not extensively recognized by many Western fans.
That gauntlet match, which ended with Shirai (playing Hitokiri) defeating the evil Pentagon Dark, seemed to have helped the trio’s home promotion at the time, World Wonder Ring Stardom, become a lot more popular outside of Japan. Of course, wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer rating a Stardom match between Iwatani and Shirai 4 1/2 stars a month after the gauntlet aired only helped the promotion’s reception amongst wider audiences. For Craig William’s statistical analysis of their rivalry, click here.
Stardom’s stock continued to rise over the next few months with those three at the helm, and with the help of Yoko Bito, (at-the-time) up-and-comers AZM, Hazuki, and Konami, as well as gaijin (foreign) talent like Nixon Newell (now Tegan Nox), Thunder Rosa, and Toni Storm. Their inter-promotional feud with the Meiko Satomura-helmed Sendai Girls’ Pro Wrestling further helped establish Stardom as the biggest, and probably highest quality Joshi promotion since 2005 when All Japan Women’s Pro-Wrestling shut down.
Soon enough though, the landscape of Stardom would completely change, with Sane leaving the company to begin wrestling in World Wrestling Entertainment for their inaugural Mae Young Classic tournament and winning the whole thing. A year later, Shirai, who had been eyeing a run in The Fed but was not initially signed because of a neck injury, eventually made her Stardom departure official, competing in the second Mae Young Classic tournament and coming in second place. Sane was a popular member of the Stardom roster, but Shirai was undeniably the ace of the company, regardless of her placement on the card or her status in the company’s title scenes.
Both of their departures essentially solidified Iwatani as the top member of the Stardom roster even though it did not immediately feel as if she was on Shirai’s level. This is wild to think about, considering that for a few months in 2017, Iwatani actually held both the Wonder of Stardom Championship and World of Stardom Championship (having beaten Sane and Shirai a month apart to win each belt).
As title-holder for both championships, she beat the likes of the late and great Hana Kimura, the now retired Yoko Bito, Viper (who goes by Piper Niven and...um...Doudrop, apparently, in WWE), and the now retired Kagetsu, before losing the Wonder title to Bito, and later, the World title to Storm in less than three minutes. Without a doubt, Iwatani was the top wrestler in Stardom from both an in-ring quality standpoint and a booking standpoint without Sane and Shirai there (her quick loss to Storm being the clear exception). It would still take a lot more for her to ascend to Shirai’s levels of stardom (pun completely and entirely intended).
Being the leader of her own stable, STARS, surely helped, since heading a stable in the company pretty much solidifies a wrestler as a main event talent. She entered 2019 as Artist of Stardom Champion alongside STARS stablemates Saki Kashima and Tam Nakano and won the Ring Of Honor Women Of Honor title belt in February. Unfortunately, her ROH reign only lasted 55 days, losing the belt to Kelly Klein at Madison Square Garden. A little more than a month later, her and her STARS teammates lost their trios title belts, but about a month later, but gained them back in a short-but-sweet month long reign.
Now, we flash forward to October of 2019. Kimura had won the 5STAR Grand Prix tournament, defeating Konami in the finals to earn a chance at the World Of Stardom Title, held by Bea Priestley (now NXT UK’s Blair Davenport). When Kimura lost, Iwatani stepped in and got a title shot, set for the November 4th Best Of Goddess event at the legendary Korakuen Hall.
Priestley had her fans, but the general sentiment was that nearly anybody would be a better champion than her. While not an awful wrestler, her contemporaries were (and still are) almost too good compared to her. Just from a match quality perspective, she never stood a chance. This, on top of her association with Will Ospreay, the fact that she used Manami Toyota’s finishing move, and rumors about her attitude, all played a role in Priestley having a fairly iffy reputation. So, it wasn’t exactly an issue for many when Mayu Iwatani challenged for the belt. It wasn’t a foregone conclusion that Iwatani would win, but she was most definitely the most qualified Stardom roster-member to take the belt.
2019-11-04: Mayu Iwatani versus Bea Priestley
On paper, it doesn’t seem like Iwatani should have won this match, but the statistics only tell so much of the story. Priestley had a match offense rate of 60%, which included 53 strikes (20 more strikes than her opponent was able to dish out), 7 strike-downs, and almost a full minute worth of submission maneuvering. Priestley was very clearly the dominating force of the match, which means that the offense Iwatani had to dish out herself had to really count. Alternatively, it could mean that Priestley’s offense just wasn’t as effective. Iwatani used significantly less strikes and strike-downs, but made up for it in amount of grapples (7), dives (5), and in the end, a deadly finisher: a Wheelbarrow Bridging Dragon Suplex called the Two Step Dragon Suplex.
Just as important as the moves themselves is the way offense is built up onto itself. Even though Priestley got the immediate upper-hand, Iwatani had to work overtime to get her offense in. From around the 5-minute mark to the 15-minute mark, Priestley’s offense crept up in a fairly consistent manner, while Iwatani was not able to keep much momentum, fluctuating depending on how much damage she was taking. By the time we get to the end though, we see Priestley’s offense plateauing, signaling that Iwatani was able to gain the upper-hand so much that Priestley was barely able to get anymore damage in. Despite a lack of offensive “consistency,” Iwatani had the endurance to fight through everything Priestley threw at her, allowing her to pick up the W.
The “Offense Totals - 5m Periods” graph tells a slightly different story than the previous “Accumulative Offense Totals” graph, but the general sentiment stays the same: Priestley’s offense rises at a pretty consistent pace, but the amount of damage she has to deal out gets to her, and Iwatani is able to gain the advantage. By the end of the match, Priestley was barely able to get any offense in, partially due to Iwatani’s fiery comeback, and possibly due to the amount of energy it takes to actually keep her down. The lack of finisher-spamming further simplified a story that never needed to be complicated. Priestley attempted to use the Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex finisher, but was never able to, allowing for Iwatani to use a single finisher to end the match.
The Offense Breakdown bar graph further exemplifies just how little offense Iwatani needed to use against Priestley to take her down compared to the massive amount of offense Priestley used in a losing effort. Ultimately, while grappling and dives played an important role in helping Iwatani break her opponent down, this match was clearly built around strikes and strike-downs. Priestley had the striking advantage purely in terms of quantity, but the fact that the majority of Iwatani’s offense was made up of strikes and strike-downs shows just how effective her relatively less amount of strikes were against her opponent.
This match was pretty great because, like most Stardom matches, it never overstayed its welcome. At only 20 minutes 21 seconds, the match was a great showcase for Iwatani to show just how great of a wrestler she is (not that she really needs that showcase, since she has been a top-tier wrestler for a pretty large chunk of her career). Meanwhile, this was definitely one of Priestley’s better matches of her career; besides a Top-Rope Frankensteiner botch that nearly resulted in Iwatani landing on her neck, Priestley gave a pretty great showing. This was still very obviously the Mayu Iwatani show though, who is an excellent striker, an excellent seller, and an excellent storyteller. The match was a fun way for Iwatani to start a legendary title reign (it only gets better).
2019-12-24: Mayu Iwatani versus Kagetsu
Despite having 8% less offense than her opponent, Kagetsu, fighting in her final title match before retirement, was still set on decimating her opponent as spectacularly as possible. This process included 7 dives (one of which was a double foot stomp off of ledge above the bleachers), a minute and a half of submissions, and a whole lot of taunting. Once again, Iwatani seemingly survived thanks to her striking abilities, her grappling, her effective reversals, the Dragon Suplex, and a beautiful Moonsault to win the match. Iwatani was a lot more evenly matched against Kagetsu than she was against Priestley; it seemed to take a lot more energy and offense for Iwatani to defeat Kagetsu than it did to defeat Priestley.
Even though Iwatani ended the match having dished out more offense than she took herself, Kagetsu dished out more punishing offense; even though offense totals were fairly similar for the both of them, Kagetsu’s use of damaging dives, strike-downs, and a lot of submission moves did a lot more to harm Iwatani. The Accumulative Offense Totals graph does a great job of showing the impact Kagetsu’s offense had on Iwatani, and even more so, it showed how much harder Iwatani had to work to defeat Kagetsu, despite having similar amounts of offense. Only briefly did Iwatani manage to overtake Kagetsu on the Accumulative Offense graph, and that wasn’t until the very last seconds of the match.
For the first 10 minutes of the match, we could see that Kagetsu has a very clear advantage, having had the majority of the offense (or, at least, the majority of the heavily-scored offense). That changes at the halfway mark of the match; this is around the time that Kagetsu, despite still damaging her opponent, is overtaken in offense quantity. From the 15-minute mark until the end of the match, Iwatani has the momentum to carry her to the end, but she still has to do the Two Step Dragon Suplex and a Moonsault to win the match. Kagetsu looked super powerful throughout the match, especially considering that she kicked out of Iwatani’s finisher; even at her worst (according to the graphs anyways), Kagetsu remained strong.
Iwatani was heavily reliant on strikes throughout the match, contrasting nicely with what I would call Kagetsu’s “split-personality” wrestling style during this match; she was reliant on ridiculous dives in the first half of the match before transitioning into a submission-based style for the remainder. This was working out pretty well for Kagetsu, but Iwatani’s grappling ability did wonders to break her opponent down so that she could rely on strikes, strike-downs, the Dragon Suplex, and a final Moonsault to win the match. Iwatani once again fought through everything to get the win, but was essentially evenly matched with her opponent until the very end. It was so evenly matched, that the Moonsault seemed to be the single deciding factor in the end.
While Iwatani’s match against Priestley was decent, her match against Kagetsu was the true indicator of how great her title reign was set to be. Kagetsu puts in what I believe to be her second-best performance ever (her best match being her retirement fight a few months later against the legendary Satomura). Iwatani seemingly was the underdog against both Priestley and Kagetsu, but her performance against Kagetsu was a lot more compelling to me because of how their offense evened out. While an individual strike by Iwatani might not have been as effective as Kagetsu’s individual strikes, Iwatani still brought the heat by mostly using various strikes and strike-downs, proving her worth once again in the process.
2020-01-19: Mayu Iwatani versus Momo Watanabe
This match was unique for a multitude of reasons compared to the previous two, namely because submission seconds accounted for a good quarter of the match, whereas Iwatani’s matches against both Priestley and Kagetsu do not even come close to that. Overall, the submissions play a rather large role in this match, whether Watanabe is trying to rip Iwatani’s arm off, or whether Iwatani is trying to attack Watanabe’s shoulders. This is much of the reason why Watanabe’s offense rate is 14% higher than her opponent (the other reason being that Watanabe had 10 strike-downs). Despite a clear difference in offense totals, Iwatani and Watanabe still had the same amount of strikes and dives, and were nearly tied in terms of amount of grapples.
In terms of accumulative offense totals, this match operated similarly to the Kagetsu match in that the offense Watanabe dished out was seemingly “worth more,” or, generally speaking, more punishing. The amount of submission seconds Watanabe had on Iwatani, as well as the immense amount of strike-downs surely played a role in this. What should be noted is that Iwatani never came close to Watanabe in terms of dealing out punishment, and yet, Iwatani still won. Like during the Priestley match, this could either mean that Watanabe’s offense was not all that powerful despite it being powerful on paper, or that Iwatani just has better endurance than Watanabe. Either way, Watanabe was miles ahead of Iwatani in terms of accumulative offense totals.
Watanabe goes hard from the jump, but falters, allowing Iwatani to get offense in. What is clear here is that Iwatani will take whatever chance she gets to slide in with a smooth reversal and try and change the course of the match to her favor. The “Offense Totals - 5m Periods” graph shows just how ineffective Watanabe’s submission moves were in determining the outcome of the match. Her offense totals here had a downward trajectory, while Iwatani, who comparatively did quite less in the match, had an upward trajectory in this regard. Of course, that deadly Two Step Dragon Suplex (well, any finisher really) having a weight of 10 points adds to that upward trajectory fairly effectively, and represents the fact that there is no coming back from that.
Iwatani knew better in this match, changing strategies when things were not working to her advantage; for the first five minutes of the match, her offense consisted entirely of submission work, slowly ditching that over the course of the following five minutes, and entirely quitting the submission style for the rest of the match in favor of heavy amounts of striking, some grappling, and some dives. The same cannot be said for Watanabe, who was pretty consistent in her usage of submission moves throughout the runtime of the match. By the second half of the match, her usage of submission moves does lighten, but by this point, it is too late for her to diversify the type of offense, and there is no coming back. Iwatani hits her finisher, and that’s all she wrote.
Iwatani seemed to have won against Priestley and Kagetsu just by outlasting them, but in her match against Watanabe, Iwatani was able to exploit the weakness in Watanabe’s game. Regardless, this was a great showing by both of them; if I were to rank all of Iwatani’s title matches so far, this match would be a close second behind her match against Kagetsu. Considering that this match might actually be one of Watanabe’s weaker singles outings shows how great of a wrestler she is, and how much of a shame it is that she hasn’t been getting opportunities a lot of people believe she deserves. I surely wouldn’t mind seeing her have a run with one of the top singles belts. Maybe we see a second Wonder Of Stardom title run from her in the future?
2020-07-24: Mayu Iwatani versus Jungle Kyona
Iwatani was more evenly matched against her opponent, Kyona (in offense quantity), than we have seen from Iwatani’s title matches so far. Kyona only had 2% less offense than her opponent, but still had her opponent beat in many aspects, specifically with 14 extra strikes, 2 extra strike-downs, and a single extra grapple. Iwatani, who had typically done significantly less submission work during her past title matches compared to her foes, pulled off 83 extra seconds of submissions than Kyona, who got in 67 submission seconds against her opponent. Iwatani’s submissions, which accounted for nearly 12% of the match-length, was the perfect way for her to break Kyona down so that she could finish her off with the Two Step Dragon Suplex.
As seen by looking at the Accumulative Offense Totals, Kyona is able to stay impactful throughout, but unlike the rest of the title matches of this series so far, Iwatani is nearly able to overtake her opponent by the midpoint of the match. Much of this has to do with the submission work by both competitors throughout the match; Kyona was undoubtedly powerful in this regard, but when she began taking breaks from submissions, Iwatani swooped in and did the same. Just like in her match against Watanabe, Iwatani was able to expose a flaw in her opponent’s game-plan, which resulted in her being able to accumulate offense towards the end, while her opponent’s accumulative offense totals completely tapered off.
This same exact sentiment could be seen by looking at the “Offense Totals - 5m Periods” graph; Iwatani’s submission-based style throughout the match made an impact as Kyona started slacking with her own submissions. By the halfway point of the match, it becomes clear just how effective her own submissions were against Kyona, so in the end, it didn’t matter that Kyona had more fight left in her. By the fourth quarter of the match, Kyona’s offense is almost completely nonexistent, and she is unable to come back from the onslaught, and of course, the Two Step Dragon Suplex. Throughout her title reign, nobody has been able to kick out of her suplex finisher; showing just how effective it has been.
While Iwatani is of course no stranger to using submissions, her use of submissions has become more and more effective since the beginning of her title reign. Kyona almost went too wild in the first 5 minutes of the match, because her offense totals dropped dramatically by the 5-minute mark, allowing Iwatani to begin with her intense submissions. These submissions made up a pretty great majority of her own offense in the second and third quarters of the match, and effectively overtake Kyona’s strikes, grapples, and faltering submissions. Like Watanabe did in her title match against Iwatani, Kyona diversified the types of offense she used to try and take down her opponent, but it was still too late.
So far, we have seen two main stories told throughout Iwatani’s title reign: The first story type revolves around Iwatani trying to endure as much punishment as possible to win, while the second revolves around Iwatani trying to expose flaws in her opponent’s game. Iwatani’s match against Kyona falls into the latter category, and both competitors play their respective roles perfectly. Kyona clearly had that fire, but oftentimes, that resulted in a lack of focus, allowing Iwatani to take advantage. To me, this match doesn’t compare to Iwatani’s matches against Watanabe and especially Kagetsu, but the competitors still told an excellent story. Kyona had previously proven herself to be a top-tier talent, and this match further solidified that.
2020-10-03: Mayu Iwatani versus Syuri
Up to this point in her title reign, Iwatani had not been dominated quite like she was against Syuri, and if there was any question about this, consider that Syuri had a massive 66% match offense rate to Iwatani’s 34% rate. Syuri did everything in her power to tear her opponent down, with vicious strikes (39 more than her opponent used against her) and more than 2 minutes worth of submissions to Iwatani’s legs. Iwatani might have had Syuri beat in terms of number of strike-downs, grapples, dives, and reversals, but Syuri was very much the dominating force of the match. Considering the amount of damage done to Iwatani, it was miraculous that she could still pull out those strike-downs, because that, and her finisher, essentially won her the match.
Iwatani barely got in any offense on her opponent during the first 5 minutes of the match, and only slightly increasing for the next 10, while Syuri increased her accumulative offense total through her submission game. If Iwatani had not been able to use so many strike-downs to her advantage, the result of the match could have been very different. While dives have varying levels of effectiveness in kayfabe, they did play a fairly important role in this match, especially for Iwatani, who needed to use them to get Syuri off of her feet. Even though Iwatani’s accumulative offense total as shown on the graph did not cross past Syuri’s, it is obvious just how much damage she needed to take and overcome to win the match.
Syuri was intent on ending Iwatani from the get-go, having a dramatically higher offense total by the 5-10 minute portion if the match, but as the submissions slowed down, Iwatani’s offense totals rose. From that point on, Iwatani was firmly in the lead from this perspective, so even if Syuri had caused her opponent more damage collectively, Iwatani was still able to dish out some damage to her opponent a little bit more consistently. Sure, Iwatani might not have used as many strikes or as much submission maneuvering, but in the long run, those types of offense still did her wonders, helping her to gain the momentum she needed to get the job done. Of course, she ended the match with her Two Step Dragon Suplex, securing the win.
The bar graphs representing offense breakdown over 5 minute periods further accentuates the fact that Syuri did a lot, regardless of whether what she did worked or not. For the first 10 minutes, Syuri used a healthy mix of strikes and submissions; Iwatani attempting to do the same resulted in her getting in absolutely no offense during the match’s second 5 minute period. Typically, if someone had won a match despite having had such little offense compared to their opponent, that would lead me to believe that the competitor with extra offense just wasn’t effective. Here though, we see that Syuri’s offense totals fluctuate wildly, while Iwatani was able to stay consistent despite having been so badly beaten. Consistency wins.
Syuri really loves competing in long World Of Stardom title matches, doesn’t she? In wrestling, wrestlers going nearly half an hour could be daunting for the viewer (or at least for me), but luckily, these two were able to go the distance while keeping their match compelling, in part due to this underdog story being told, and because Syuri was particularly brutal in her limb work. The match length might have been a double-edge sword, because it was not as concise as the other matches of the series were. This might have been necessary though, because packing in that much offense into a 20 minute match could have made it felt rushed. Nevertheless, the match, despite being painful to watch at times, was fun, and Iwatani looked like she deserved the win.
2020-10-18: Mayu Iwatani versus Takumi Iroha
Iwatani and Iroha gave everything they had in their highly anticipated rematch from February 2020, and as the top competitors of their respective companies (Iroha being a part of Marvelous That's Women Pro Wrestling), both competitors felt like they needed to bring it harder than they have ever brought it before. Iwatani, one of the best underdog babyfaces, even committed a foul in the process. In terms of type of offense performed, both wrestlers were nearly evenly matched in every department, whether it be strikes, strike-downs, or grapples. Iroha did dive a bit less and use reversals less, but in return, she used 112 seconds-worth of submission moves compared to Iwatani’s comparatively lacking, but still impressive, 75 seconds-worth of submission moves.
Despite having had a pretty strong start to the match, Iwatani’s offense ended up being too lackluster for a good chunk of the match compared to Iroha’s. It was still evident just how important this win was for not only Iwatani, but for the Stardom company; Iwatani’s accumulative offense totals rose at the same rate as Iroha’s for a majority of the mid-section of the match. When one competitor uses a certain type of offense, the other will surely try and one-up them with the same type of offense. This was made evident with their strike exchanges (the sitting strike exchange in particular was awesome) and their submission battles throughout the match. By the end, both were throwing nasty bombs at nearly the same rate in order to try and secure the win.
Whether it was to sell exhaustion or pain (or maybe both), offense totals over 5 minute periods for both competitors dropped over the course of the match. It should be noted that Iwatani’s offense totals over 5 minute periods did increase up until the 15 minute mark, when it dropped at an even lower rate than Iroha’s offense totals at those same points. Once the lengthy strike exchanges and submission battles ended, the match slowed in terms of move quantity so that each competitor could properly sell the damage that they had taken over the course of the match. Of course strike-downs are worth a lot in terms of the damage they cause, but because they happen less frequently as the match goes on, the rates are bound to drop.
Strikes are heavily emphasized throughout the match from the very beginning, even when other forms of offense take precedence. Notably, Iwatani’s use of strikes increases across 5-minute increments until the very end, while Iroha’s use of strikes go down as the match continues. The fact that Iroha’s submission use decreased so prominently as her strikes and strike-downs decreased could point to why she lose in the end. Surprisingly though, Iroha managed to get in a flurry of offense in during the last minute and 15 seconds of the match, with a multitude of strikes, strike-downs, and grapples. Yet, in that same amount of time, Iwatani got in a grand total of zero offensive moves, winning at the very last second with a roll-up.
To me, this match was not as good as their first 2020 match, but to say that Iwatani and Iroha underdelivered would be wrong. The layout of this match was very smart though; both competitors essentially being evenly matched meant that the “honor” of both companies they represent remained intact. Iroha being so dominant at the very end but still losing to a roll-up actually went over surprisingly well, and protected her in the process. This was definitely one of the better matches of Iwatani’s title reign, possibly thanks to the fact that Iwatani managed to be the match’s underdog while having nearly the same amount of offense against her opponent throughout. Iwatani and Iroha put on a clinic, and hopefully, it brings more eyes to the Marvelous product.
2020-11-15: Mayu Iwatani versus Utami Hayashishita
Iwatani was able to defeat some of the toughest women in Joshi wrestling in some absolutely grueling matches, so, what did Hayashishita do differently to be able to defeat Iwatani? Not only did she have a higher offense rate than all of Iwatani’s challengers of the series (a whopping 69%), she had more strikes (27), more strike-downs (8), more grapples (12), more reversals (14), more submission time (222 seconds, or a whopping 14% of the match length) and ended the night having used 2 finishers. She was utterly dominant in every manner except for dives (Iwatani used 3 while Hayashishita used 1), which is exactly why she walked out as champion and Iwatani didn’t.
In every other match of the series, Iwatani is able to increase her accumulative offense total at an equal rate or a higher rate than her opponent, but that is not the case here. From the beginning, Hayashishita is able to increase her offense totals by varying the type of offense she uses, while Iwatani’s offense totals stagnated for a good portion of the match; Hayashishita’s use of submissions, strike-downs, and grapples most definitely helped in this regard. The amount of damage that 222 seconds of submissions and 8 strike-downs can cause an opponent is hard to come back from, but just to put the nail in its coffin, but Iwatani’s endurance meant that Hayashishita needed to end the match as brutally as possible.
The “Offense Totals - 5m Periods” graph tells a similar story in that Hayashishita is able to continually grow her offense totals over the course of the match, while Iwatani is not able to do the same. Hayashishita does stagnate between the 10 minute and 15 minute marks, but not for long, she eventually increases her offense totals to such a height that Iwatani cannot possibly return from it. If Iwatani had not stagnated in terms of offense totals, especially towards the end of the match, she might have had a fighting chance to retain her belt and continue her legendary reign, but alas, it was not meant to be. Iwatani only truly had a fighting chance towards the beginning of the match, but the fact that she faltered resulted in her having to deal with an absolute onslaught.
Looking at what types of offense Hayashishita used at specific points of the match is the true key to determine how she won the match. Of course, it would be easy to just say Hayashishita did a lot of offense, but what is more interesting to see is how she used it. While submissions are very noticeably what made up the majority of her offense, she never only relied on submission wrestling. She used a healthy amount of striking, strike-downs, and grappling along the way as a means of keeping Iwatani on her tows. Iwatani also diversified the type of offense she used, but the fact that she couldn’t increase the quantity of moves meant that she would never truly be able to outlast her opponent.
The fact that Iwatani could continuously play the underdog effectively while champion and while widely considered one of the greatest wrestlers of all time is astounding to me, and further cements her World Of Stardom title reign as the stuff of legends. This dynamic helped to elevate Hayashishita greatly; while she would have been a great champion regardless of who she defeated for the belt, such a great beginning to her reign only helped her. As of July 31st, 2021, Hayashisita is still the champion, having defeated Watanabe, Maika, Saya Kamitani, Priestley, Syuri, and Natsuko Tora, proving her worth in the process. In fact, her match against Syuri has been credited as one of the greatest Stardom matches of all time.
In his video called “Daniel Bryan is the Greatest Wrestler of All Time,” video essayist and content creator Joseph Montecillo explained that what he believes makes a great wrestler is a “high marker of quality,” versatility, and volume; to dumb it down, he explained that, “…you have to be good at everything, and do everything a lot,” As it turned out, being good at everything and doing everything a lot is the exact way Hayashishita was able to defeat Iwatani. While (all but one of) the competitors who faced Iwatani will go down as some of wrestling’s best, they failed to do what Hayashishita did. Instead of using a multitude of offense types for the entirety of the match, Iwatani’s competitors either focused on one type of offense, tried to diversify the type of offense whilst not doing enough to prevent Iwatani from sliding in between the cracks. In kayfabe, being able to expose a wrestler’s weaknesses during a match, or just being able to sustain enough punishment to come out on top, should be signifiers of a great wrestler; luckily for Iwatani, every singles title match of her second World Of Stardom Championship reign followed those principles, resulting in what could easily be called one of the greatest title reigns of all time.
My Rankings (Plus Cagematch Ratings):
Mayu Iwatani versus Kagetsu (CM: 9.09)
Mayu Iwatani versus Takumi Iroha (CM: 9.29)
Mayu Iwatani versus Syuri (CM: 8.60)
Mayu Iwatani versus Utami Hayashishita (CM: 8.59)
Mayu Iwatani versus Momo Watanabe (CM: 8.63)
Mayu Iwatani versus Jungle Kyona (CM: 9.01)
Mayu Iwatani versus Bea Priestley (CM: 7.71)
I'd like to thank Craig William (Twitter: @CraigPWMusings) for putting the graphs together and making this article possible! Keep up with Pro Wrestling Musings for the latest Stardom news and analysis, and be sure to follow me at @RyanGorneault on Twitter.