Top 25 Stardom Wrestlers – #10-9

Welcome back to the Stardom Project, as we enter the rare air that is the top ten. At this point, it gets harder and harder to differentiate between competitors. Today, we’re going to discuss the #10 and #9 competitors. Next up will be #8 and #7, and from there, #6-#1 will all have their own posts.

Onwards!

#10. KYOKO KIMURA

I meant, in the aftermath of attending what turned out to be Kimura-san’s final Stardom match, to write a post about what she meant to Stardom during her time with the company. This won’t be as long as I’d intended that piece to be, but it’ll hit the key points that made Kyoko Kimura one of the most important wrestlers in Stardom’s history.

What Kyoko Kimura meant to Stardom goes far beyond matches and far beyond accolades, though she certainly had good matches during her time in Stardom, and she definitely racked up her fair share of accolades. Watching Kimura wrestle outside of Stardom is to get a more complete picture of who she is and what she can do, but Kyoko Kimura played a vital role to Stardom, one more important than simply showing off the breadth of her talents in a professional wrestling ring.

Kimura spent her entire time in Stardom as its lead antagonist. Heel units in Stardom can trace themselves all the way back to Kawasaki Kawashima Saikyou Densetsu Plus One, which Kimura joined upon entering the company. Kimura was responsible for the faction’s ultimate split, and would go on to form the Kimura Monster Army, consisting of Kyoko and a wide variety of gaijin monsters of the day. The Monster Army would eventually become Oedo Tai, adding the likes of Act Yasukawa and Kagetsu to the stable’s usual gaijin bent. Until Io Shirai turned on Mayu Iwatani and formed Queen’s Quest, not only were Oedo Tai the company’s top heels, they were virtually Stardom’s *only* heels.

Kimura is a three-time Goddess of Stardom, and two-time Artist of Stardom. She never held the World of Stardom or the Wonder of Stardom, but she never truly needed to. While freelancing in companies all over Japan, Kimura remained the central antagonist in Stardom’s story.

This is especially important because of what Stardom is: a company based around the concept of young, athletic, attractive women. Most of the best villains in joshi puroresu have names like Dump Matsumoto or Bad Nurse Nakamura, or are 100% MILFy evil, like Mayumi Ozaki. The bright, fresh-faced, pretty babyfaces need their antithesis to go against, and Kyoko was happy to choke and big boot her way to the top of Stardom in any way necessary as the leader of a wide-variety of evil foreign menaces.

Beating Kyoko Kimura always meant something, whether it was Nanae Takahashi defeating her to retain the World of Stardom, or Queen’s Quest executing its three finishers in succession on her to win the vacant Artist of Stardom Championship. She is defined as much by the talent whom she helped as the wins that she has. Oedo Tai is in a much stronger position for her leadership, and she has undoubtedly helped and advised scores of wrestlers over the years.

Even in retirement, Kyoko’s influence over Stardom continues in the form of her daughter, Hana, who is rapidly rising up the ranks of Stardom, albeit in a slightly different manner to her bruising, menacing mother.  It is perhaps the ultimate irony of all that the afroed, marijuana-leaf clad gladiator known for competing in deathmatches and her roughhousing style gave birth to the woman now engaging in sexy danceoffs with Rebel on Stardom shows.

The world works in interesting ways, doesn’t it?

#9. YUZUKI AIKAWA

If not for Yuzuki Aikawa, Stardom would likely not exist. A strong statement, but very likely a true one as well. Yuzupon was previously a well-known gravure idol before being recruited to the professional wrestling ring. As I’ve noted on the blog, Stardom is in many ways a continuation or extension of Jd Star’s “Athtress” concept, and Yuzuki Aikawa was both athletic and a capable actress during her time with Stardom.

From her very first match against Nanae Takahashi on a self-produced show, Aikawa had an impressive grasp of professional wrestling. To be sure, Stardom brought her (and her fellow trainees) along intelligently, focusing on what she could do well, highlighting her strengths and minimizing her inexperience. Among those strengths were Aikawa’s obvious stage presence, good kicks, and a pretty cradle suplex. She adapted to whatever role she needed – equally adept at being the rookie fighting from underneath as well as being the veteran who welcomed Kairi Hojo to Stardom in a brutal (albeit less so) fashion, just as Nanae welcomed Yuzupon at the first ever Yuzupon Matsuri show.

Aikawa was arguably never really the ace of Stardom – that title belonged to Nanae Takahashi. She may not even have been the best in-ring competitor of that initial group – Yoshiko or Yoko Bito could argue over holding that title, too. What she absolutely was, however, was the Star of Stardom, the company’s most popular star (the North Star, if you will), and someone who was entirely credible in that role in spite of her paucity of experience as a professional wrestler.

Her ongoing rivalry with Yoshiko produced many great matches, be it the Wonder of Stardom Championship decision match, or any of the tag battles with BY Hou against Yoshiko and Natsuki*Taiyo. Aikawa held the Wonder of Stardom and the Goddesses of Stardom, and was never defeated for either belt. Additionally, she won the first ever 5*STAR Grand Prix, challenging Nanae for the red belt in a match that one has to imagine that she would have won had her retirement not been imminent.

Aikawa’s retirement took place on the biggest stage Stardom has performed on – Sumo Hall, going out in defeat to Yoshiko. Without Yuzuki Aikawa, however, it is doubtful Stardom would have been in the position to run Sumo Hall in the first place. The popularity that she took from being a well-known gravure idol gave Stardom an initial shot in the arm, one that the company has used to continue to this day.

Aikawa is THE what-if to end all what-ifs. She cited the damage being done to her nearly thirty-year old body as a reason for her retirement, but what if Aikawa had discovered wrestling earlier? If still active today, she would likely be high on the list of WWE poach targets, and would be having phenomenal contests against Stardom’s current crop of stars.

At the end of the day, Yuzupon was Stardom’s Supernova, a brightly burning star that winked out too soon. It is through Aikawa’s hard work and personality that the dream of Stardom continues to live on. For any who question whether Stardom can survive the losses of Kairi Hojo and Io Shirai, I would point them to the fact that Stardom once lost the woman the company was founded around, and continues to endure, and thrive.

When we return to the Project, #8 and #7, including one name that I’m sure many will find is ranked too low. We shall see!

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Top 25 Stardom Wrestlers – #10-9

[REVIEW] 3/27/11 (Shin-Kiba)

Another early review I found going back through my past logs. This is March 27th, 2011, in Shin-Kiba. Its another fairly typical early show for Stardom, albeit with an interesting tag team main event with somewhat atypical pairings.

Yoshiko vs. Iris

Like her rival Yoko Bito before her on the previous show (2/27), Yoshiko gets a two match series to open the card. It’s all Yoshiko from the opening bell – we see about two minutes, but in that time Iris gets in a crucifix and a forearm, and that’s about it. A big lariat could finish, but Yoshiko pulls her up and applies a rear naked choke instead, which gets the tap out from Iris.

Yoshiko vs. Arisa Hoshiki

Joined in progress, with Yoshiko choke-lifting Arisa off the ground. Hoshiki manages to knee Yoshiko in the face, though, and works over the midsection with punches and a hard kick for a two count. Yoshiko feels the pressure, rolling Arisa up for two. More nearfalls follow, with a running kick in the corner and a pump double kneedrop to the back getting two. Yoshiko ducks a high kick and gets the Codebreaker, then goes up to the second rope for her senton, only to be caught by Arisa. Hoshiki kicks her down, then hits the switch kick off the top for two.

Arisa is clearly frustrated by the kickout, and it costs her. Yoshiko ducks the Brazilian high kick and forearms Arisa down, then locks in the rear naked choke. Hoshiki tries to make the ropes, but Yoshiko locks on a bodyscissors and clamps down. The referee raises Arisa’s hand three times and it drops three times, giving Yoshiko the victory by referee stoppage.

This bout highlights one of the underrated aspects of Yoshiko’s game – she didn’t actually get in THAT much offense in what we’ve seen. A lot of what made her one of the best in Stardom, especially early on, was her ability to take a lot of punishment and frustrate her opponents. Yoshiko’s size made most of her offense, like the rear naked choke, two-handed choke bomb, and second rope senton, potentially match-ending, so she could make comebacks from being beaten on fairly easily.

This was pretty good in spite of being roughly four minutes, and is a good preview for their later Rookie of Stardom 2011 final that’s one of my favorite matches in 2011.

Haruka vs. Sakura Hirota

The rematch! Hirota’s learned from last time, stepping on Haruka’s foot before the bell and delivering a vicious stomp to the back. A rather cute comedy bit follows – I won’t spoil it for you here. She gets more actual offense in, with a devastating forehead flick and a bodyslam, but misses an elaborate splash attempt. Haruka makes the comeback with a Shining spinning back kick and a spinning heel kick, and rolls Hirota up for two. Sakura comes back with La Magistral for a two of her own, and does a headstand on the top rope, getting stuck there as the bell rings for the draw as Haruka heads to the back.

Nanae Takahashi vs. Eri Susa

This should be interesting – Eri is, at this point in time, most likely the least well developed of the original trainees in-ring. Nanae accepts Eri’s handshake, which makes me wonder what the Hell happened last time out with Mayu.

Power doesn’t work for Eri, as she’s easily bullied back into the corners by Nanae. She successfully takes Nanae down and tries to outwrestle her, but Takahashi is easily far more experienced. Eri clings on to a front facelock for dear life, but Nanae’s able to get out of it. Still, Eri looks pretty good, holding her own in the grappling sequences.

We cut to Eri victory rolling Nanae into some sort of posing submission that I’ve never seen before. Susa’s got moxie, for sure. Nanae has had enough of this nonsense, though, and lariats Eri in the corner, hitting a missile dropkick for a two count. The Refrigerator Bomb looks to finish, but Eri rolls out of the way, and hits her elevated DDT and the tilt-a-whirl small package for two. Takahashi drops down on another victory roll attempt, and a gamengiri sets Susa up for the Refrigerator Bomb to end things.

I was pleasantly surprised with this – Eri looked very good, and broke out a bunch of interesting stuff that she hadn’t done yet. A good bout for her to hang her hat on very early in her career.

Yuzuki Aikawa & Natsuki*Taiyo vs. Mayu Iwatani & Yoko Bito

Interesting teams here for the main event – with Aikawa and Bito way better known as partners than opponents. Regardless of how odd the teams read on paper, though, both sides will be out for the win, so let’s get to it.

This is really two matches in one for long stretches – Taiyo and Iwatani engaging in a High Speed showdown, and Aikawa and Bito feeling one another out in terms of being the class’ premier kickers (with apologies to Arisa Hoshiki). This makes it feel different from most of the other main event tag bouts on the early shows. Both mini-matches are quite good, especially Aikawa and Bito trying to one-up each other as they lay their shots in.

Yuzupon Kick Blue puts Mayu away after Iwatani’s able to duck a previous attempt. This is very different from most of the other tag bouts – much less emphasis on teamwork, and much more emphasis on building background for Taiyo vs. Mayu and especially Aikawa vs. Bito, which is interesting given that they would go on to team so soon.

[REVIEW] 3/27/11 (Shin-Kiba)

[REVIEW] 6/26/11 (Shin-Kiba)

Continuing to work our way through Stardom’s first year, we find ourselves at 6/26/11, in what would go on to be Stardom’s home base throughout the years: Shin-Kiba 1st Ring. We have a four match card featuring general staples of the time period, so let’s get into it with a bout that will answer an interesting piece of Stardom trivia!

Mayu Iwatani vs. Eri Susa

The story here is that the winner of this match will achieve their first direct victory in Stardom – and avoid going down as the last person to do so. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the match is that, in spite of the end result, it’s really a showcase for Mayu, who gets the majority of the offense in and looks very good in doing so. Eri fights back with her usual array of DDTs, but this is the Mayu Iwatani show through and through.

The only problem for Mayu? No matter what she does, she just can’t seem to pin or submit Eri, who refuses to throw in the sponge. She keeps kicking out at two and a half, or getting her foot on the rope when Mayu tries kimuras and armbars. After a frantic rollup reversal sequence, Susa manages to snare Mayu with her rope-running tilt-a-whirl small package to get the three count and her first victory in Stardom. An upset Mayu attacks Eri after the bell out of frustration, and has to be pulled off.

Obviously a big win for Eri, and a tough loss for Mayu. Things worked out for her, obviously, but seeing what she’s become from this, her rock bottom moment, is pretty impressive.

Arisa Hoshiki vs. Haruka

Haruka brings her working shoes to this one, hitting a diving karate kick off the apron and a top rope crossbody. Otherwise, it’s your typical Haruka bout, with a little more kicking than usual to emphasize that both women employ the style of kick. Time limit draw, naturally.

Nanae Takahashi vs. Saki Kashima

Welcome to the deep end, Ms. Kashima. This is Saki’s second professional wrestling match ever (and first official bout, as her previous was a three minute exhibition), as she engages in the Stardom rookie rite of passage that is facing Nanae Takahashi.

One of the cool subtle little things about this match is that Nanae lets Saki do most of the technical wrestling. This is cool because Nanae COULD outwrestle her, being more experienced, but that doesn’t help Saki, or prove anything. Instead, most of Nanae’s counters are power-based, or dirty little veteran tricks, like driving her elbow into Saki’s thigh to help escape a body scissors.

Saki is inevitably going to lose, but her confidence grows bit by bit as the contest goes on. Alas, it’s not to be, as Nanae slaps on the One Second (essentially an upside down kimura while holding the opponent in shoulder breaker position) to coax the nigh-immediate tapout.

Yoko Bito & Yuzuki Aikawa vs. Natsuki Taiyo & Yoshiko

This match will go on to occur many more times, but this is the first. The Taiyo/Yoshiko duo are announced as Kawasaki Katsushika Saikyou Densetsu, while Bito and Aikawa are labelled the “Stardom Dream Team.”

This is the first act to a much longer play – Yoko and Yoshiko continue their rivalry, Yoshiko and Natsuki disrespect Aikawa, who does everything she can to prove to the heels that she’s every bit as good as they are. The dislike is there, before it boils into later raging hatred.

This is a good match that, in later iterations, becomes a great match. The pieces are all there, it’s just a matter of time and seasoning and experience. The finish, on the other hand, is extremely interesting, with Bito being saved by Aikawa after eating the Wheelbarrow Codebreaker. She kicks out of the Iguchi Bomb, barely, and Natsuki looks to finish with the Taiyo-chan Bomb, only for Yoko to counter with what I think is her first ever use of the B-Driver for the pinfall – and arguably the biggest victory of any rookie in Stardom. It is the first pinfall achieved by one of the rookies over either Nanae or Natsuki, and is a pretty big achievement for the young Bito.

Another very solid outing for the young company – these 2011 shows fly by, and the work is generally strong, especially when you consider how young and new to the sport many of the competitors are.

[REVIEW] 6/26/11 (Shin-Kiba)

[REVIEW] 7/20/11 (Chiba)

It’s time for an actual show review! I know, I know, I’m as shocked as you. We head to Chiba for Stardom’s 7/20/11 show, from Chiba Blue Field. Any Kaientai Dojo fans out there likely know this as K-DOJO’s home venue – indeed, “Kaientai” is written on the back of the entryway. It’s a nice little venue, with a WCW-esque rampway for the wrestlers to walk down.

Off we go!

Saki Kashima vs. Arisa Hoshiki

Two of my favorites in early Stardom going one on one? Yes please. This is a good showcase for both, and also a good indication of how well Fuka and company teach wrestling psychology. Saki goes for a cover after a pair of facebusters, and gets two. She goes for another cover, and gets two, but immediately fights for a kimura on the second kickout. Hoshiki is able to fight it off. Similarly, when Arisa hits the match ending Brazilian roundhouse kick, Saki lands with her arm splayed out near the ropes. When covering, Arisa grabs the arm and brings it close to Saki’s body, ensuring the three count. Little things like that are pretty impressive coming from rookies, and are one of the things I enjoy about the early Stardom class – they were obviously very well trained, both physically and mentally.

Mayu Iwatani vs. Haruka

Mayu gets her turn to take on the nine year old Haruka in what ends up being one of Haruka’s better outings. The child rudos it up to start with a nose-hook camel clutch, prompting Mayu to return the favor. Haruka chops away at Mayu’s legs with kicks, and Iwatani retorts with several hard bodyslams. The three minutes expire for the draw, but not before Haruka nearly beats Mayu with a step up roundhouse kick to the face. Seriously, if you have Stardom World, watch this for that, it’s a thing of beauty. Fun, as most of Haruka’s stuff is, and I always enjoy seeing baby Mayu.

Natsuki*Taiyo & Yoshiko & Yuu Yamagata vs. Nanae Takahashi & Yoko Bito & Eri Susa

Our essential main event (I tend to count battle royales as the cherry on top, and not the main event), featuring the eventual Kawasaki Katsuchika Saikyou Densetsu taking on a slightly mismatched main army trio of Nanae, Yoko, and Eri. The schoolgirl is the clear weak link, something to watch as the match goes on, because they totally cross things up and have NANAE as face in peril for most of the first half of the match before things really kick into gear.

This is a chaotic, super-fun six woman tag that gets better and better as it goes on. Ultimately, it’s the heels superior teamwork and experience edge that prevails, with Taiyo able to isolate Eri and put her away with the Taiyo*Chan Bomb. Seriously, go look this one up – you won’t be disappointed. Yamagata is very generous in selling for the rookies, the teamwork in general is on point, and bodies fly all over the ring.

Battle Royale

This is pinfall, submission, or over the top rope elimination, and is Royal Rumble style. We start off with Saki Kashima and Nanae Takahashi. They have a spirited go of things until AMA come out as number three, together, and enter the ring to go after both women. They nearly succeed, but Saki and Nanae fend off Arisa and Mayu, and it’s Yoko Bito and Eri Susa coming out to join the fray next. They go right after Nanae, leaving AMA to double-team Saki. Yoshiko and Natsuki*Taiyo are the next entrants, and they go after everyone. Yuu Yamagata and Haruka come out to round out the field, and they join a Taiyo/Yoshiko dogpile on Nanae, who STILL manages to kick out. The heels attempt to corrupt Haruka to the side of evil, but she resists and things break down once again.

The world’s largest headscissor chain ensues, with Haruka eventually turning it all over into a Boston crab, Susa ties Natsuki in a knot, but Yoshiko lariats her and the group all dogpile Eri for the first elimination. The heels spent half the match betraying each other, which eventually backfires as the group gangs up on Taiyo and Yamagata to send them packing via over the top elimination.

All manners of ridiculousness follow (including Yoshiko using Haruka as a weapon), with Saki Kashima eliminated next after Nanae kicks out of the cascading crucifix and cradles her for the three count. Everyone goes after poor Haruka, with Yoshiko finishing her off with a big backbreaker for the pinfall. Bito looks poised to eliminate Nanae, but Arisa breaks it up, and eventually knocks Bito off the top rope to the floor, giving us a final four of Arisa, Mayu, Nanae, and Yoshiko.

Everyone goes after Nanae, with Mayu even giving her her own Refrigerator Bomb for two. AMA tie Nanae to the Tree of Woe and work over Yoshiko, who comes back and frees Nanae, pushing her to a seated position – before promptly pushing her over the top and out of the ring. The double-team is on in earnest, but Yoshiko manages to maneuver Mayu onto the apron, then presses Arisa and throws her at Mayu for the double elimination, making Yoshiko the battle royale winner.

Fun match – not the kind of thing you want to see on every show, but a nice change of pace. Everyone was in the ring by the five minute mark of this twenty minute match, meaning you got a lot of action. A good way to close the show.

All in all, this was a very good show – and with no Yuzupon, to boot. Definitely check this out if you get the time on Stardom World; you won’t be disappointed.

[REVIEW] 7/20/11 (Chiba)

Top 25 Stardom Wrestlers – #15-11

No preamble today, so let’s get right into it!

#15. HIROYO MATSUMOTO

Hiroyo is officially a freelancer, and is one of the earliest such competitors to compete in a Stardom ring. While she keeps a busy schedule, she appears fairly frequently in Stardom, and has excelled in doing so.  She plays a tremendous “older sister” to many of the younger women she ends up tag teaming with, but has finally found an heir to her throne of beloved power fighter in the form of Jungle Kyona, with whom she currently holds the Goddesses of Stardom belts.

The Lady Destroyer is a threat to anyone on the Stardom roster, having challenged Nanae Takahashi for the red belt at one point, and she’s held the Artist of Stardom on two separate occasions.

Matsumoto is fun to watch in general, but especially so in Stardom. Any time she teamed with Eri Susa in year one was amazing because Eri would get beaten up by the mean heels and then angry older sister Hiroyo would come in and get vengeance. She’s also a physically imposing presence in a way that most of the Stardom roster just isn’t.

With her success in many corners of the joshi universe in 2017, one could easily argue she’s joshi’s MVP this year. In terms of her Stardom career, she has competed against virtually everyone, from the first generation rookies to newcomers to the roster. She has seen many a wrestler come and go, but Hiroyo has always been there to appear for Stardom in whatever capacity needed, be it as a tag team partner for a young rookie, or a main event player. Her versatility has made her vital in Stardom’s history, even as she now enjoys arguably her greatest Stardom accolade alongside Jungle Kyona, a woman who could well inherit Hiroyo’s power fighter throne one day.

#14. MOMO WATANABE

Momo is currently out due to injury – which is sad, because she was (and will be when she comes back) on the verge of breaking out as one of the top next generation stars in the company. She had an amazing match with Io Shirai in the 5*STAR Grand Prix that’s one of my ten favorite matches from 2016. Watanabe turned on Mayu Iwatani to join Queen’s Quest, and was off to a hot start before suffering an injury.

Watanabe had, as did many of the names on this list, a great 2016 5*STAR Grand Prix, and has waged battle on again and off again with Jungle Kyona, her main rival. Expect Jungle and Momo to be fighting it out at the top of Stardom cards for years to come. Momo is less dynamic in the ring than some in Stardom, but she does what she does very well and very crisply. Her diving Somato is a thing of beauty, and she has consistently gotten better as a professional every time she steps into the ring.

A huge part of Stardom’s future, Watanabe’s return to the ring will be a big shot in the arm to Stardom. She’s a potential workhorse who can have strong matches with pretty much anyone on the roster, has undeniable fighting spirit, and was an astonishingly good heel in the immediate aftermath of turning on Mayu.

#13. JUNGLE KYONA

Jungle Kyona comes in at the #13 spot now, but that’s likely to be temporary. If she lives up to what she’s shown thus far in her Stardom career, I imagine she’s going to be reaching the top ten and beyond in the near future.

One of the most “gimmicky” wrestlers in Stardom, in the sense that she portrays a jungle girl character (based, apparently, off of her legitimately spending time in Africa doing aid work), Kyona makes the character work. Her enthusiasm and power wrestling game help complete the image of what she is, and she’s extremely unique in terms of that power game – Stardom is, for the most part, not a company where power moves reign supreme. Combine that with the fact that Kyona’s one of the company’s top faces while still wielding that power game, and you have, all told, an extremely unique talent.

2016 was Kyona’s breakout year, and in 2017 she’s stepped things up another notch. Her 2016 5*STAR Grand Prix performance was very good, and she followed it up by competing for several titles in 2017, capturing the Goddesses of Stardom alongside fellow power fighter Hiroyo Matsumto, defeating Kairi Hojo and Yoko Bito in the process to do it.

Much of what I said for Momo stands for Kyona as well. The pair of them are in all likelihood Stardom’s very near future. Kyona has developed as a professional wrestler extremely quickly – it’s telling that she’s Momo’s main rival in spite of Momo having a significant head start on her. She understands her character well, and is perfectly at home competing in front of crowds.

#12. MEIKO SATOMURA

Full disclosure, I’m probably the biggest Meiko non-fan there is on the internets. A lot of that is for good, well-written reasons – she has been Stardom’s biggest outside rival during the company’s history, and her promotion, Sendai Girls, has waged occasional war with Stardom. Part of it is because I liked younger Meiko better than Grumpy Veteran Meiko. Part of it is because I wish she’d lose a lot more matches in Stardom, but interpromotional workings are always tricky, and I can’t blame Meiko for wanting to protect herself and her company. Still, boourns to Meiko. BOOURNS I SAY. I did enjoy her going 1 on 3 against Team ROH at King of Trios though, that was super fun because Meiko really gives zero fucks.

What I can’t deny, however? Meiko has brought the goods every time she’s stepped into a Stardom ring. She remains one of the most talented performers in joshi puroresu, and brings the surly hate whenever she goes up against Stardom’s best. She’s the only outsider to ever hold the World of Stardom, and her tag match with Kairi against Thunder Rock is beautiful, utter violence.

Satomura has had fewer Stardom matches than anyone else on this list, but the sheer quality of her appearances puts her this high.

#11. TONI STORM

Leaving Toni out of the top ten was difficult, and in the end, it’s only her comparatively short Stardom career that keeps her out of it. She is one of the best young wrestlers on the planet of any gender, smooth beyond her years and confident in the ring in ways that take others a decade to achieve.

In terms of her accomplishments, she won the 2017 Cinderella Tournament and beat Io Shirai (!!!) for the SWA Championship (a belt she still holds, by the way). She fought Io to a draw in a recent bout for the World of Stardom, and put on an excellent performance in the 5*STAR Grand Prix in 2016. She’s scheduled to compete again in this year’s rendition, and I expect another phenomenal performance from Storm there.

Of course, the elephant in the room is that Toni’s signed to compete in WWE’s Mae Young Classic, and I would be Shocked with a capital “S” if she didn’t get a full-time contract offer. She is, in many ways, WWE’s dream female wrestler – beautiful, extremely talented, and young enough that she could have a very, very long run in the WWE system between NXT and her eventual callup.

She has had excellent bouts with pretty much everyone she’s faced in Stardom. She has an exciting, athletic moveset, and exudes an air of confidence in the ring that lets you know that she, too, thinks she’s the best there is. In a pre-Women’s Revolution world, she becomes Stardom’s foreign ace for years on end. In the current timeline? Only Toni Storm knows the answer to what will happen next.

Top 25 Stardom Wrestlers – #15-11

Top 25 Stardom Wrestlers – #20-16

Welcome back to the Stardom Project, where today will be #20-16 on my ballot for the top 25 Stardom wrestlers of all time. We have quite the mix in today’s five, so let’s hop right into it, shall we?

#20: SAKI KASHIMA

If you asked me to make a list of my five favorite Stardom performers, Saki would 1000% make that list. Saki started life as a wrestler midway through Stardom’s debut year, facing Natsuki*Taiyo in a three minute time limit draw and then getting thrown into the fire her next time out in one of Nanae Takahashi’s Passion Injection matches.  Even with a difficult beginning, though, Saki stood out due to her use of elaborate, lucha-influenced moves on a roster that very much tended to stick to the basics in the company’s early days.  Her willingness to try such things meant that they didn’t always work, but it wasn’t for a lack of effort or trying. She reminds me a lot of Natsumi Maki in terms of her ring-work, but with a more lucha-ish tint.

Her character sort of came across to me as a magical girl – which made it all the better when she joined Kawasaki Kawashima Saikyou Densetsu Plus One, changed her pink gear to black, and became an EVIL magical girl alongside Natsuki*Taiyo, Yoshiko, and Act Yasukawa. She competed in both the 5*STAR Grand Prix and the Goddesses of Stardom Tag League, and snared the Artist of Stardom belts alongside her stablemates before ultimately leaving Stardom due to poor health.

Considerably talented, Saki is another Stardom competitor who, with further seasoning, could have potentially risen to the level of an Iwatani or Hojo. As stands, however, #20 on this list is nothing to sneeze at.

#19. KAY LEE RAY

Among Stardom’s best international finds is this Scotswoman, who fits in perfectly with the highly athletic and capable upper card of the company. In the post Stardom World, well, world, fans exposed to the best Stardom has to offer want to see competitors who can go in full out sprints with the likes of Kairi Hojo, Mayu Iwatani, and Io Shirai. In many ways, the demands on foreigners are higher than they’ve ever been – go out there and have great matches, oh, by the way, while overcoming language barriers and adjusting to an entirely different culture. No small feat, that.

KLR’s athletic, up-tempo style fit in from the get go. In spite of having only 21 matches for Stardom, many of those matches are barn-burners, including her excellent performance in the 2016 5*STAR Grand Prix and her battle with Io Shirai for the World of Stardom belt.

Really, the only thing likely to stop KLR from rising higher up this list is if World Wrestling Entertainment comes calling. She is supremely talented, willing to take chances few other wrestlers are, and has a habit of ending up in one of the evening’s best bouts.

#18: KRIS WOLF

For much of her tenure in Stardom, Wolf has been something of an ensemble dark-horse – probably the most underrated wrestler in the company who never really got big opportunities. That changed with the retirement of Kyoko Kimura, an event which made Kris one of the front-line players in Oedo Tai.

Ending Mayu Iwatani’s epic High Speed Title reign gave Wolf her first Stardom championship gold, and she’s been on a tear ever since be it in singles matches or teaming with Kagetsu. None of this is any surprise to her legion of fans, who have been waiting for the Wolf to roar for some time now. She’s one of the more popular members on the roster, Oedo Tai or not, and probably single handedly makes the stable more popular than it might otherwise be.

Don’t be fooled by her antics and ongoing efforts to feed the Stardom roster their daily recommended allowance of tail. Kris has developed into a well-rounded performer from her start as the first ever foreigner to pass the Stardom wrestler test and graduate to the full-time roster.

In many ways, she is to Stardom what Prince Devitt was to New Japan Pro Wrestling at one point, a foreigner who was homegrown in so many ways that New Japan crowds thought of him as their own. Kris Wolf may hail from Chicago, Illinois, but as a permanent fixture of the Stardom roster, she has been embraced and welcomed in a way that few foreigners ever truly achieve in Japan.

#17. ALPHA FEMALE

The Alpha Female is one of the most decorated competitors in Stardom – with the World of Stardom, Goddesses of Stardom, and Artist of Stardom titles all in her collection. It was upon realizing this and beginning to think about it that I started to debate if I had her too low. After all, she’s had over sixty Stardom bouts – more than many of the names on this list. She was utterly dominant through most of her tenure, and took part in many monster vs. monster matches against the likes of Queen Maya and Viper. In addition, she was a central player in the Kimura Monster Army during a time when they ran roughshod over Stardom.

So why is she so low on this list? Simply put, she wasn’t given as much time to shine in terms of ring work as many others on this list. She participated in many handicap matches, designed to show off how powerful and threatening she could be. Like Viper on the list before her, she had a job, and did it very, very well.

Even so, in retrospect, I’d bump her up a couple of spots. Her record is as good as anyone in the company, and she beat Nanae Takahashi when Nanae was just about unbeatable. She is Stardom’s original monster heel, and until the likes of Viper can put together a list of accolades to match the master of the Alpha Plex, she will continue to be Stardom’s most successful monster heel.

#16. KAGETSU

When I started putting this list together, I had an imperative: don’t forget Kagetsu.

It’s kind of easy to forget Kagetsu. After all, it was only this year that she received her first-ever shot at either the red or white belts, a losing effort against Io Shirai for the World of Stardom. She spends most of her time in tag team matches, or engaging in one of Stardom’s great never ending rivalries with Mayu Iwatani. Kagetsu is not, generally, a featured player.

What she is, however, is the glue that helps hold Oedo Tai together. She is an excellent wrestler, period – someone capable of great work in singles environments but truly shines when in tag or six person tag bouts. Every time I watch Kagetsu work there’s one or two moments that make me think, “man, Kagetsu’s pretty good, isn’t she?”

She is – and she works tirelessly in the shadows of others, be they former partner and Oedo Tai boss Kyoko Kimura or Kyoko’s daughter Hana. Kagetsu doesn’t need the glory – she takes pride in going out there and grinding out wins using any means necessary. Stardom is full of great tag teams: BY Hou, Thunder Rock, Taiyo & Yoshiko, but in the end, the single best team wrestler in all of the company may well be this 5’3” freelancer who does her best work in the shadows.

Up next will be #15-#11, bringing us ever closer to the top ten!

Top 25 Stardom Wrestlers – #20-16

Top 25 Stardom Wrestlers – #25-21

Today, we’re going to formally start the Top 25 countdown of my ballot, covering #25-#21. One caveat before I start; my watching of Stardom is fairly complete, but does have gaps – the biggest of which is Yuhi, who I’ve only seen wrestle a small handful of times. Without first hand experience, I can’t rank her fairly on my list. She’s probably the biggest name competitor who could show up on this list that I don’t feel comfortable ranking, so I disclose that in the interest of fairness.

Onwards to #25!

#25: SAORI ANOU

We start off the Top 25 with a woman who I think will have a very successful career in joshi, Saori Anou. Based out of Act’wres Girl’z, she came to work in Stardom through an agreement between the two companies. Perhaps the biggest accolade of her career is competing in the Goddesses of Stardom Tag League, alongside Hiromi Mimura, as the Indomitable Two.

As she’s my #25, this is the part where I have to defend why she’s higher ranked than my Honorable Mentions; after all, AZM, Kaori Yoneyama, and Hiromi Mimura all have titles to their name in Stardom. My argument: she’s better in ring than AZM and Hiromi, and is better than Yoneyama in Yoneyama’s current comedy opener incarnation. She wrestles a very fluid and elegant style, and has an undeniable presence about her as a professional wrestler. Saori also possesses one of the prettiest Fisherman’s suplexes I’ve ever seen in wrestling.

I wanted the #25 spot to represent potential as much as actuality. In that sense, for me, Saori is the perfect choice. I expect big things from her – she’s wrestled in as wide a variety of environments as any young wrestler over the past few years, and she’s gaining experiences that will make her a big player one day, whether in Stardom or any of her other stops.

#24: VIPER

In my totally scientific (by which I mean reading my Twitter feed) research, Viper is fairly polarizing. Some people absolutely love her, and probably wonder why she’s this low, and others are less fond of her work and wonder why she’s on at all.

My response to the latter group: monster heels are super important in all forms of wrestling, but in joshi puroresu even more so. Stardom’s identity to many people in 2017 is Kairi Hojo vs. Mayu Iwatani, or Toni Storm vs. Io Shirai. Viper hearkens back to the days of Dump Matsumoto and Aja Kong – but in a more cheerful, agile shell. She’s one of the most important foreigners because she can threaten Stardom’s top talent on an axis that they can’t match – pure power and size.

When the time comes, Viper can throw down with the best of them, and has put on excellent matches with Kairi and Io. At other times, she’s the insurmountable wall other members of the roster have to throw themselves at in an effort to grow as wrestlers. She may not be as generally surly as classic joshi monster heels, but anyone who beats Viper comes out looking much better for having stepped in the ring with her and lived to tell the tale. She is one of the heaviest hitters in Oedo Tai, and helped give the group a new level of credibility when she came in after a stretch during which the vaunted heel faction had taken a lot of losses and generally wasn’t seen as quite as strong as the Kimura Monster-gun or earlier Oedo Tai days.

Ultimately, traditionally, foreign talent’s purpose in Japanese wrestling has been to put over the native wrestlers. While this is changing in promotions all over Japan to some extent, sometimes, you still need a big foreign monster heel to put the fear of God into an adorable, plucky babyface, and no one does that better in Stardom than Viper right now.

#23: ARISA HOSHIKI

We now go from one of Stardom’s more recent competitors to someone who debuted on the very first show. Modern Stardom fans may not be particularly aware of Arisa, but she was one of the bright spots on what in retrospect can be called a pretty stacked debut class of Stardom trainees.

Really, Arisa’s finisher, the Brazilian Kick, was going to earn her a spot on this list somewhere. Seriously, that thing is nasty. Arisa herself is a supremely interesting case in that she debuted with Stardom, competed on the company’s first show, and very much looked on the way to being one of the company’s top stars before her retirement. She featured early on as part of the AMA tag team alongside Mayu Iwatani, and was arguably the #2 in Planet behind Io Shirai once the stable was formed.

Among her best bouts are the Rookie of Stardom 2011 final against Yoshiko, and a spirited clash with Yuzuki Aikawa for the Wonder of Stardom title. Her retirement in 2012 came seemingly out of nowhere, and put an end to a promising young career.

She’s one of the best reasons to go watch early Stardom shows, so if you have Stardom World, go fire it up and wonder along with me what might have been. This may or may not be a recurring theme on this list, given the history of Stardom, so we may as well get used to it now.

#22: NATSUMI MAKI

Like Saori Anou, Natsumi came to Stardom as part of a working agreement with Act’wres Girl’z. Like Saori Anou, it’s been a while since Maki’s worked in a Stardom ring. Also like Saori Anou, though, Natsumi made a strong impression during her time in Stardom rings.

She’s my personal favorite of the StArt group of competitors, and not just because she’s cute as a button and has a penchant for “poi!” I am a big fan of wrestlers who work their personality and character into their ring work – the best examples I can give of this probably only make sense to CHIKARA fans, but Ophidian spent much of his CHIKARA career slithering around and executing moves that would make sense for a serpent. Similarly, Kobald wrestled like an obnoxious little kobald would, and it was great.

How does this apply to Maki? Maki is obviously extremely athletic and flexible, and makes significant use of it in her ringwork. Many of her moves and evasions show off her flexibility, and her offense is accentuated with little flourishes and twists. She’s the most offensively developed of her peers, but still invokes significant sympathy during the many times she’s forced to fight from beneath.

Maki qualified for the 5*STAR Grand Prix in 2016, and while she only picked up a single victory, she gained considerable experience competing in the murderer’s row of talent that was last year’s B Block.

It has been a while since Natsumi has appeared in a Stardom ring, but her talent and personality have earned her the #22 spot on this list. It’s only a matter of time before she makes a name for herself, be it in her home promotion, any of her various and sundry stops in the world of joshi puroresu, or hopefully back in Stardom.

#21: NATSUMI SHOWZUKI

Ms. Showzuki is filed in what is, tragically, a rather large file folder in the Stardom Cabinet labelled “What Might Have Been.” Debuting alongside what has to be considered Stardom’s best rookie class since the first (featuring Natsumi, Kairi Hojo, Act Yasukawa, and babyface-among-babyfaces Yuuri Haruka), Showzuki quickly stood out due to her martial arts oriented offense and decision to wear a gi to the ring.

Showzuki showed a lot of acumen for the ring early on, much like her counterparts. Her unique style made her a key player in the early Class One versus Class Two battles, and a valued member of the Planet stable.  Barely a few months before her in-ring career came to an end due to a cervical spine injury, she was being positioned as one of the major players in the company – as part of Ho-Show Tennyo alongside Kairi Hojo, the duo defeated Hailey Hatred and Kyoko Kimura in an immense upset to win the Goddesses of Stardom belts from the Kimura Monster Army. Had she not gotten injured, it seems highly likely that she and Kairi were being positioned as the heirs to Yuzuki Aikawa, who had retired in 2013 after the Ryogoku Cinderella show.

Exactly how far Natsumi could have made it remains lost to conjecture. Personally, I believe she would have become one of Stardom’s top talents, alongside Kairi and Act from her class. She stood out in the best of ways from her colleagues, and would have been a unique attraction, especially compared to Kairi and Act’s more conventional in-ring styles.

With our first five completed, it’s time to take a break. Never fear, because I’ll be back tomorrow with #20-#16, the most gaijin-heavy section of the list, including one woman I almost certainly underrated when putting together the ballot.

Take care, folks!

Top 25 Stardom Wrestlers – #25-21