Welcome back to the Project! With three names to go, it’s pretty clear that Threedom are the top three, but in what order? Well, let’s not waste any time, and kick things off with, y’know, my favorite wrestler in the world.
#3. MAYU IWATANI
I agonized over putting Mayu at #3 – comparing her to #2 on the list is really, really difficult, and ultimately I made this ballot before Mayu defeated Io to finally capture the red belt in her fifth try. Before that? Mayu at #3 was the correct but painful decision. Now? Now, I have no idea. It’s so, so close between her and (SPOILER) Kairi Hojo (SPOILER) that choosing feels like picking nits, but I’m going to stick with my initial ballot in spite of Mayu’s recent success.
I’ve written at length about the path that Iwatani has taken to the top of Stardom – Mayu was never anointed for success from day one. Iwatani was the last of the initial Stardom trainees to win a match, but always seemed to have potential. She found herself a solid niche as the #3 in Planet, behind Io Shirai and Arisa Hoshiki. That relationship with Io would eventually help Mayu rise to the top of Stardom – both as Shirai’s partner in Thunder Rock, and as one of the three Daughters of Stardom.
Let’s focus on her achievements. She finally has the red belt reign to back up her status as Stardom’s Icon. She has truly iconic runs with both the High Speed Championship and the Goddesses of Stardom belts. She is the only woman to ever hold the red and white belts at the same time, and she’s one of two people to ever hold the Wonder of Stardom twice. Mayu can count three reigns with the Artist of Stardom trios belts to her name, and is the company’s undisputed Cinderella, having won the tournament in 2015 and 2016 (and come runner up in 2017). In terms of her achievements, she can claim several things that very few, if any, other Stardom talents can.
In terms of her in-ring work? She’s the best wrestler in Stardom. Is that arguable? Definitely. Do I believe it? 10000%. She’s one of the few wrestlers who can truly make wrestling look easy, but she can also make it look violent and painful when she’s on the defensive. Her face is incredibly expressive, and her in-ring personality is very multi-faceted. She’s Stardom’s babyface ace right now, and its most popular star…but she can also be a bit of a jerk in the ring some times to lower ranked foes, very much like Nanae and Natsuki*Taiyo were to her earlier in her career. She has this look of glee on her face when she’s being mean to people that makes me think she could easily be Stardom’s top antagonist, should that time ever come.
She had three of the best matches in Stardom’s history with Io Shirai – three very different matches, no less. She takes chances of all sorts, has some of the prettiest bridges in the sport, and has an offence befitting of the Sky Blue Hyper Technician sobriequet. Her deadlifting Dragon Suplex is Stardom’s premiere limit break finisher right now, and it’s a thing of beauty to watch.
Beyond all of that? She’s Stardom’s everywoman hero – arguably the most popular competitor on the roster, but without the dominant record that the likes of Nanae Takahashi and Io Shirai have racked up. That may change a good deal with her standing atop Stardom as its ace at present, but Mayu’s vulnerability and path to the top make her easily the most intriguing red belt holder in the company’s history, and really only Kairi’s too-brief run with the belt comes close.
Where Stardom’s Icon goes from here is anyone’s guess. Stardom is making a big deal about promoting a New Era, and Mayu is certainly at the head of that era. She has big shoes to fill, given how utterly Io Shirai has dominated Stardom. It’s unlikely that Mayu will mirror that dominance, but then again, she doesn’t really have to.
Mayu Iwatani has climbed to the top of the Stardom mountain, and should she ever be knocked down from that perch? She’ll pick herself up, dust herself off, and climb her way back up the mountain, with her legion of fans throwing sky-blue streamers at her back.
Next time on the Stardom Project, I’ll write about a Pirate Princess who’s set off from Tokyo Bay in search of all the spoils Port Royale has to offer.