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Jeff Merchant,  Joshi,  STARDOM,  Women's Wrestling

12th Annual 5★ Star Grand Prix: Day One Review

Ladies, Gentlemen, and those not subscribed to a gender, the 5★ Star Grand Prix has officially begun. This is the twelfth year for the best tournament in Women’s Wrestling and it’s become an annual obsession for me personally. The stories, the matches, and everything that comes from this tournament is always gold and must-watch. I know that I’m a few days behind, but real life always gets in the way this time of year. So I’ll be bringing you weekly updates and always reviews on the pay-per-views. Today, I am focusing solely on Day One.

Stardom opened the show with an awesome ceremony where they did a video package covering the last 11 winners and then the twenty participants this year. The video packages were top-notch like always and it showed how important the tournament has become for Stardom. With all 20 participants in the ring, they were announced one by one and they headed to the back, giving each woman a moment with the crowd.

Stardom outdid itself this year with this opener and it was glorious. I also feel like the last two in the ring were kind of symbolic since it was last year’s runner-up and winner, Tam Nakano and Giulia. Will they do as well this year? We won’t know until we get deeper into this year. So, I’ll give you my thoughts on the matches and I’ll even give it a star rating from my opinions. Do with them what you will, of course, but I encourage you all to watch every match. Without further ado, let’s dive into these matches!

Blue Stars | Maika vs Hanan

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Our opening contest saw the eighteen-year-old Hanan taking on Donna del Mondo stalwart Maika. Hanan has come into her own since graduating High School, showing more of her personality and becoming a stronger performer in the ring, it’s great to see. Maika, she’s really carrying herself well since the departure of her long-time tag partner Himeka. She more than deserves the spotlight she is getting.

Hanan came into this match with a lot to prove and she took it to Maika. She actually controlled a good portion of the match, which I did not expect at all. Given the strength difference, I was surprised that Hanan was able to use her speed and judoka expertise to her advantage as she did. She did get a little overzealous with it though and got caught with a Michinoku Driver counter to give the victory to Maika. I think that Hanan did herself in here, her youth and desire to prove herself made her a little too confident in what she was doing. Maika definitely deserved the victory there but damn I wanted Hanan to get it.

Results: Maika pins Hanan. Maika – 2, Hanan – 0

Star Rating: ★★★1/2. The match was a little too quick for my liking. It was a great showing in defeat for Hanan but still a very quick match. Could have been better but it definitely could have been a lot worse. I just hope that Hanan can put this loss behind her and rebound.

Blue Stars | AZM vs Mariah May

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Twenty-year-old AZM enters yet another grand prix looking to improve on her results and earn herself the crown at the end. Likewise, Mariah May enters her first and wants to prove that she deserves the spot that she was given in this year’s tournament. I said in my preview that I was not really looking forward to this match because May hadn’t shown me anything yet. I guess we will see what she does against AZM.

Watching this one, I was a little surprised that May was able to keep up with AZM’s high-speed style at first. I thought for sure that it would be Azumi’s ace in this one as the gaijin isn’t as experienced as the prodigy. But May did slow it down and took control after a brief time. Watching how May acted in the ring made me miss the AZM of old, the one who would have called May a grandma and insulted her like crazy.

Sorry to all of you Mariah May fans out there but other than a powerbomb spot outside of the ring, she did nothing to impress me here. She just seemed like a generic WWE-style wrestler trying to keep up with the better Joshi style. Yes, she “earned” the victory here against AZM but she did nothing for me here and I don’t like that she was put over AZM at all.

Results: Mariah May pins AZM. Mariah May – 2, AZM – 0

Star Rating: ★★. The match seemed longer than the opener but Mariah May did absolutely nothing to impress me here. AZM did her best to make May look good but she could only do so much. Mariah May fans may love this one, but I did not.

Red Stars | Ami Sourei vs Natsuko Tora

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After missing last year’s tournament due to injury, Natsuko Tora comes into this year looking to hurt people and win the crown for herself. Ami Sourei enters her second tournament looking to keep her momentum going from last year and show that her results weren’t a fluke. Stardom hasn’t been pushing Sourei like they have her partner MIRAI, but they have a genuine star here in Ami Sourei if they just open their eyes. Tora, for her part, usually doesn’t care about results and wants to hurt people. Not sure if she will care about wins this year but we will see.

This was a much more back-and-forth match than the two prior matches. Two powerhouses going at it to further the Oedo Tai/God’s Eye feud while fighting for points and momentum in the tournament. I do like that Tora took the match seriously and actually worked to get the victory instead of her usual tricks and shenanigans. She’s a much more competent wrestler than Stardom usually lets her portray.

Of course, though, she wouldn’t be stopped from cheating at all as she used the mist to blind Sourei while the referee was down. Ami Sourei put up one hell of a fight here but ultimately it wasn’t to be as Tora hits a massive Swanton Bomb to pick up two points.

Results: Natsuko Tora pins Ami Sourei. Natsuko Tora – 2, Ami Sourei – 0

Star Rating: ★★★1/2. This was another match cut too short for my liking. I know there is a time limit but damn. It was fun for what it was but its rating is hurt due to the lack of time it got. Could have easily been a four-star match with more time.

Red Stars | Natsupoi vs. Starlight Kid

5★ Star Grand Prix

Perhaps the match I was looking forward to most on day one was this one. Starlight Kid and Natsupoi have a long rivalry now and it is always fun as hell. SLK debuted a new look, a biker jacket and a half-mask to go along with her new haircut. I love her new outfit, every time she changes it up she looks utterly amazing.

Natsupoi comes in just wanting to improve on her results from last year, to be a stronger and more frustrating opponent for everyone. She does wear her Meltear outfit to the ring and it is really cute, especially since she has that adorable flower crown and brought back her baton.

I love how Kid didn’t waste any time here. She took the fight to Poi before the bell even rang and the two of them traded big moves outside. SLK hits a beautiful Springboard Moonsault and then Poi returns the favour with a big release German Suplex to the ring apron. To say these two know each other well is an understatement. It’s a back-and-forth flurry of high-speed offence and big strikes between two amazing competitors. This is one match where the time they got didn’t hurt the product.

You’ve got two high-speed aces in the ring who know how to make use of a short match time. The match may have been quick and short, but there was no lapse in action or even any lulls between these two. It was exactly how you should book a short match, near perfection. Watching Kid hit a Spanish Fly off the top rope will never ever get old. Natsupoi did pick up the victory here, which surprised me a bit, but it was a hard-fought match and well-deserved.

Results: Natsupoi pins Starlight Kid. Poi – 2, SLK – 0

Star Rating: ★★★★1/2. This was nearly perfect for the time it was given. Unlike the other short matches, Poi and SLK knew how to utilize the time they were given and gave us the show we were expecting. I would have given 5 ★’s but there was one blunder near the end that made me have to knock it down a little. It isn’t overly obvious but it hurt the grade for me just a bit.

Blue Stars | Utami Hayashishita vs Mina Shirakawa

The Red Queen returns to Stardom and the 5 Star GP

The Red Queen returns folks! Fresh off an excursion to America where she trained with Nataliya Neidhart, Iyo Sky, Shayna Baszler and more, Utami Hayashishita returns to Stardom to reestablish her dominance and bring Queen’s Quest back to the top. First up for her is Mina Shirakawa, the scrappy and outspoken leader of Club Venus. Mina has been taunting Utami on X (fka Twitter), thinking that she was running from their match and that Utami was afraid to face her. I cannot wait to see what Mina brings this year as she’s improved each time she’s entered the tournament.

Watching this match, I couldn’t help but think about how much both of these women have improved over the years. It’s really impressive just how much each woman has changed and brought new tricks and moves to their arsenals. Truthfully, I wasn’t expecting a whole lot from this match but it damn sure impressed me. It was the most competitive match so far, aside from Poi and SLK, and both women gave us an absolute clinic.

Hard-hitting barely describes this match, it was like watching two completely different people than what I was used to. Counters and big moves aplenty, Mina Shirakawa and Utami Hayashishita gave us a match that, to this point, stole the show. You could tell just how much each woman wanted this match and it was made better for it. I really thought Mina had it when she hit the Glamorous Driver Mina but it was not to be. Utami Hayashishita hits a new finisher, dubbed Shocking Baszler and picks up the hard-fought victory.

Results: Utami Hayashishita pins Mina Shirakawa. Utami – 2, Mina – 0

Star Rating: ★★★★★. This was freaking amazing folks. Both Utami and Mina gave us everything they had and then some, stealing the early show and showing that each woman will be a force this year in the tournament. This could have gone either way but it was Utami earning the points this time. I want to see more between these two ASAP.

Blue Stars | MIRAI vs Momo Watanabe

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After a brief interlude, we get the back-to-back Cinderella tournament winner Mirai taking on the black peach of Oedo Tai, Momo Watanabe. MIRAI seems to be a favourite of the Stardom brass, being heavily pushed despite not winning any major single’s titles yet. She was Stardom’s Iron Woman last year and looks poised to do the same this year. Momo just wants back in the finals. She nearly won it the year Syuri did and wants a chance to do just that. I think she deserves it but that’s not my place as I’m not the booker for Stardom.

Right out of the gate, this match was not what I expected. It was a much more technical showcase early on, trading holds and moves that I didn’t think I’d see. Of course that didn’t last long before it turned up the pace and became a more hard-hitting affair between these two super-tough women. Mirai uses submission holds, and Momo tries to use strength to counter and keep Mirai at bay. That said, Mirai did control a good chunk of the match, which isn’t too surprising. She is a damn good wrestler but so is Momo Watanabe.

Momo has her detractors, and I don’t know why, she’s so good in the ring that it’s shocking how many people seem to dislike her. Watanabe did try to use her baseball bat but Mirai stopped that as quickly as Momo tried it. So far the only member of Oedo Tai to not try and cheat was SLK, which is shocking to me. Just as Mirai seemed poised to win the match, Momo hit that punt kick of hers that lead to the Peach Thunder and the victory. Hard fought victory for Momo Watanabe.

Results: Momo Watanabe pins Mirai. Momo – 2, Mirai – 0

Star Rating: ★★★★. Damn, what a match. Momo Watanabe and Mirai have the potential to become heated rivals if this keeps up. The match was hard-hitting and a lot of fun to watch, one that definitely deserves the rating I gave it.

Red Stars | Syuri vs Suzu Suzuki

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Syrui comes in, once again, wanting to become the first two-time winner of this tournament. She won it back in 2020, the year Giulia was supposedly locked to win, but she did have one hell of a tournament and is always one tough opponent. Her opponent, Suzuki Suzu is an insane prodigy. She’s already a veteran, known mostly for her time in Prominence where she was a hardcore wrestling specialist. I love this match-up right out the gate as their styles go so well together.

Suzu hit her impressive Tequila Shot finisher right off the bat and took the momentum. If you’ve never watched Suzu hit that finisher, check it out, damn is it awesome. Of course, she is facing Syuri so you knew that momentum would swing eventually. When it did, it became the type of match I was expecting, extremely physical and freaking nuts, especially when Suzu hit a release German Suplex off the apron to the floor! That spot looked dangerous as hell, not gonna lie but it was still cool.

These two would make one dangerous tag-team I think and I would love to see it. The match itself rivalled Shirakawa and Hayashishita for how good it was. Different style of match-up but it was just as good and I loved this. Shocked that it didn’t go to a draw, to be honest, it easily could have given what these two put each other through. If you’re a fan of either of these two women, you need to watch this match. Syuri picked up the pinfall with, what looked like, a One-Winged Angel but I’m not sure if it was. I want more now!

Results: Syuri pins Suzu Suzuki. Syuri – 2, Suzu – 0

Star Rating: ★★★★★. Just like Utami and Mina, this match was awesome from start to finish. Either of these women could have easily picked up the victory or forced a draw but that didn’t happen. This one deserves to be watched by all, it was that damned good.

Red Stars | Mayu Iwatani vs Hazuki

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Two of the women who saved my love of wrestling face each other in the first round and it’s a match that I will never get tired of watching. Mayu Iwatani, the 2018 winner, hasn’t come close to winning it again and wants to prove that she deserves to be the first to win it a second time. The current IWGP Women’s Champion has a huge match-up defending said title against Utami Hayashishita coming up but that’s neither here nor there.

The Wild Heart Hazuki looks to build upon her performance last year, having never won the tournament but definitely being someone who deserves to do so. I expect great performances from both this year. I have to say that there is something magical about watching these two women in the ring together. They know each other so well and Hazuki is one of the few women that Mayu seems to take seriously in the ring.

As any true Stardom fan knows, a serious Mayu is a dangerous Mayu. There was no holdback in this one at all. Both members of Stars gave each other everything they have and used their years of being rivals to their advantage. Not as hard-hitting or as flashy as some of these matches on the card but you don’t need that every single time.

What Mayu Iwatani and Hazuki bring to the table is a mutual love of wrestling and entertaining the crowd. There is no shenanigans between these two, just two of the best looking to get ahead of the other in a high-stakes tournament. Does it have its moments of hard-hitting and gritty wrestling?

Absolutely it does. Some of the bumps that Mayu takes look absolutely brutal and it’s a shock she isn’t injured more often. After the most competitive match thus far, and Mayu saving Hazuki from a potentially serious injury, Iwatani hits a Two-Stage Dragon Suplex and picks up the victory.

Results: Mayu Iwatani pins Hazuki. Mayu – 2, Hazuki – 0

Star Rating: ★★★★★. It might be biased talking but that was my favourite match so far. I love both of these women and what they bring to the table. Their history together made this match as good as I expected and I’m not disappointed in the results. May Iwatani continues to show why she is the GOAT in Stardom.

Blue Stars | Giulia vs Saori Anou

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Saori Anou enters, what I think is, her first Grand Prix and immediately takes on the 2022 winner Giulia. Anou, representing one of DDM’s biggest rival units the Cosmic Angels, has a lot to prove this year I think. She’s like a stone-faced killer when she enters the ring and I think she will be a good foil to Giulia. For her part, Giulia is almost akin to Mercedes Mone when she was in the WWE. Both women are phenomenal in the ring but have been divisive in the past and have caused drama for their respective companies.

It didn’t take long for this match to set its own pace and style as it spilled out of the ring, leading to Anou Suplexing Giulia off the stage and onto the chairs fans were seated in! Already this match is the most insane one of the show and I’m shocked both women landed that as well as they did.

It’s a side of Anou that I have never seen before. She was all over Giulia on the outside, using the seats and everything she could until Giulia decided to step it up and give her a taste of her own medicine. She even busted Anou open somehow, I think when she was tossed into chairs but not sure. Big piledriver spot onto a table and you could have sworn that Giulia had this one in the bag. Anou looked like she was out to lunch and counting birdies.

When the action finally got back into the ring it was two amazing talents trading counters and trying to gain an upper hand. I am not ashamed to admit that I didn’t expect much from this match at first. I didn’t know how well they would work together. That said, this was far better than I anticipated. The brutality of it with two women who just wanted to beat the hell out of each other combined into a slick showcase for both women.

It’s matches like this that show why Stardom is the best when it comes to Women’s Wrestling. I love that this match went the time limit and ended in a draw, having either woman win this one would have felt like a cop-out. Plus, it was the first draw of the tournament of which I expected at least three.

Results: 15 Minute Time-Limit Draw. Giulia – 1, Anou – 1

Star Rating: ★★★★★. I know that I’ve been saying this a lot in the last few matches but damn if it isn’t true. This is a must-watch match that absolutely earned its rating from me. Either woman could have put this away, or it could have been a double count-out, but Stardom had these women work their asses off for fifteen minutes and it was awesome.

5★ Star Grand Prix Main Event | Red Stars | Tam Nakano vs Saya Kamitani

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As anyone who’s watched Stardom over the last two years knows, anytime Tam Nakano and Saya Kamitani step into the ring together we are treated to insane matches that push the boundary of greatness. The World of Stardom Champion Tam Nakano really wants to add this tournament to her legacy and prove her place atop the company. Saya Kamitani, the rumoured favourite to win the tournament, looks to fight her way to the top and earn a chance at Nakano’s World Title. Can she beat Tam again? Time will tell.

As I said before, these two know each other so well by this point. Their rivalry is already reaching legendary status in my opinion. There’s so much work done between these two that you never know what they will do to each other next. Their match was freaking nuts too with Tam Nakano jumping off the display screen platform and onto Kamitani! I don’t know how anyone cannot love Tam Nakano or Saya Kamitani as both women always put their bodies on the line and pull out crazy moves against each other.

You had to know that Saya Kamitani wouldn’t be outdone by Nakano as she climbed the scaffolding and jumped off onto Nakano and the spotters. This unfortunately would be the end of the match for Kamitani as she landed wrong and injured herself. It was clear how everyone was reacting that something was seriously wrong after that spot and the Referee immediately called for the bell, awarding Tam Nakano the victory due to injury.

Winner: Tam Nakano wins due to injury. Tam Nakano – 2, Kamitani – 0

Star Rating: ★★★. This could have been the match of the night. Unfortunately, injury ended it before it could really get out the gates. Sure, they had some time before it but what they had earned the rating it got. Seeing Tam Nakano checking on Saya was a nice touch and it showed there is a lot of respect there. It was hard seeing Kamitani get taken out on a stretcher though. Tam even looked distraught over what happened with Saya, Natsupoi comforting her was a sad sight to see too.

After Saya was taken to the back, The Megasus Megan Bayne entered and attacked Tam Nakano, staking her claim for a chance at the World Title. Never heard of her but she showed up with Utami Hayashishita who then challenged Mayu Iwatani for the IWGP Women’s Title. Both matches are official and we will see how things build up to them.

That’s it for Day One of the Grand Prix folks! Keep a watch for weekly updates for the Grand Prix. They won’t likely be as in-depth as this one or other PPV shows will be but I’ll bring you guys updated results and matches to watch. Stay tuned!

**UPDATE** Stardom released that Saya Kamitani suffered a dislocated elbow and ligament damage on the spot where she hurt herself. All of Saya’s opponents will receive a by and 2 points instead of the promotion finding a replacement for her. Get well soon Saya Kamitani.

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Close the World:txeN eht nepO

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