The world of professional wrestling is so vast and fast-moving that it’s damn near impossible to keep up. Luckily, your pals at Deadshirt are here to keep an eye on squared circles everywhere, from modest bingo halls to packed football stadiums, and bring you the most notable matches and storylines from throughout the past week. And it’s a good thing, too, because there’s just TOO MUCH WRESTLING!
Starfall at Korakuen Hall
World Wonder Ring Stardom
July 21st, 2017, Tokyo, Japan
Stardom World ($6.50/mo, think about it)
Mirroring last year’s talent raids of foreign and independent promotions for their new Cruiserweight division, WWE currently has its sights on female wrestlers from around the world for their upcoming Mae Young Classic tournament. While this is fantastic news for the women getting called up, it’s also a drain on the female-fronted promotions they leave behind, such as Japan’s World Wonder Ring Stardom. Stardom just lost one of their biggest stars, Kairi Hojo, to a WWE contract (confirmed for the Mae Young Classic just this morning), and her fellow standard-bearer Io Shirai is reportedly following close behind (though her WWE debut may be delayed by a neck injury; you can see she’s taped up for this match).
Stardom needs someone to carry the company into its next chapter, and they’ve chosen Mayu Iwatani, who along with Shirai and Hojo was named by Dave Meltzer as “three of the best wrestlers in the world.” Since debuting with Stardom in 2011 (in the promotion’s very first show), Iwatani has been Artist of Stardom Champion (six-woman tag team title), Goddess of Stardom Champion (tag team title), High Speed Champion (compare to TNA’s X-Division, focused on high-flying stunts), and most recently won the Wonder of Stardom Championship from Kairi Hojo before her departure, but she’s never been a World of Stardom Champion. Now, Mayu Iwatani faces Io Shirai for the promotion’s top prize.
But even without knowing the history (I didn’t know most of the above until after the match was over), the Iwatani and Shirai do an excellent job of conveying the stakes of this battle through their physical performance. First—this was a Champion vs. Champion match, with both women entering the ring with a belt. Both received a warm response from the crowd. Shirai, the world champion, asserted dominance early on, establishing Iwatani as the underdog, the de facto babyface of the match. It’s quickly made clear what this match is about: Iwatani must prove to her opponent and to the Stardom faithful that she can carry this company.
In terms of in-ring work, Shirai/Iwatani has something for everyone, with stiff strikes, twisting, submissions, and high spots to spare. Iwatani dives ten feet off of a staircase and Shirai attempts a dramatic flying elbow in tribute to their friend Kairi, to name a few examples. Late in the match, Iwatani drops Shirai with a piledriver, and as a viewer accustomed to modern WWE (where the move is banned) this always shakes me. Finally, Iwatani puts Shirai away with a beautiful bridging dragon suplex—her signature—cementing herself as the new face of Stardom.
Both stars take some time on the mic after the match to pay respect to the other, and the two share a laugh when Shirai struggles to buckle the World of Stardom title belt around Iwatani’s waist. “Mayu, you’re too skinny!” says the departing former champion. (Stardom World subtitles their promos in English, which is a great feature.) It’s a cute moment, and bittersweet, like two siblings before one of them leaves for college. And while on the one hand it’s a kayfabe-bending moment of levity between two characters who were trying to kill each other five minutes ago, it’s a well earned moment of catharsis that I’m certain hit much harder for longtime Stardom viewers than a newcomer like me.
– Dylan Roth
Aired June 28th, 2017, Orlando, Florida
WWE Network (Also on Hulu)
Was a big week in women’s wrestling—last Friday saw the release of women’s wrestling-based Netflix comedy GLOW (which is excellent), and the following Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights of WWE programming featured women’s matches in the main event. (I don’t think this is a coincidence, seeing as WWE likes to be led around by whatever else is on TV, but hey, anything that gets more respect and attention to their female performers is a win in my book.) Monday Night Raw had its gauntlet match, SmackDown Live had its retake of the infuriating Money in the Bank ladder match from two weeks ago, and NXT had a 30+ minute Last Woman Standing match for the NXT Women’s Title between challenger/Scottish madwoman Nikki Cross, and the undefeated, record-setting, history-making Empress of Tomorrow, Asuka. And damn, did it not disappoint.
After holding the title for 454 days and counting, it’s hard to imagine Asuka losing her NXT Women’s Championship on a pretaped episode of NXT —in fact it’s hard to imagine her losing it anywhere but at NXT TakeOver, and to anyone but Ember Moon, and on any date other than August 19th, 2017. But while the finish is predictable, the match is intense as hell nevertheless. Asuka has defended her championship in triple threats, fatal four-ways, and elimination matches, but this is new territory: a match with no pinfalls, submissions, count-outs, or disqualifications. The match only ends when one competitor fails to return to her feet after ten seconds. And Nikki Cross is the perfect opponent for such a match, the personification of intensity and madness who feels no pain and respects no rules. These are two women who hit very very hard and who can absorb a ton of damage, and that’s exactly how that shit went down. There were tables. There were chairs. There were ladders and a trash can and a broken announce table. This is about as close to a hardcore match as WWE gets these days, and despite there being no blood, thumbtacks, barbed wire, or any other cheap violent gimmickry, this match was brutal.
That brutality begins with the in-ring styles of the two athletes, it’s only amplified by the props of a no-DQ match. Asuka is a stiff striker whose kicks look like they can knock your head off your shoulders, but when they ring against a trash can, even though logically that should hurt an opponent less, it sells as more painful. Cross is a hundred-pound hoss whose swinging fisherman neckbreaker should break an opponent in half when it’s done on a plain mat. But do it onto a pile of steel chairs? Forget about it. I’m dead just watching. These two work great together; Asuka’s hitting that Brock Lesnar sweet spot of being so convincingly dominant that she’s neither heel nor face and getting great matches out of everyone she wrestles, but Nikki Cross does intense and insane so well that an audience can still fear for Asuka’s safety, even though she’s proven to be indestructible to the tune of a 187-match undefeated streak.
Asuka’s a guaranteed Hall of Famer even if she never comes to the main roster. Nikki Cross is a future champion. This match was excellent, I’m exhausted. Count to ten, ring the bell, I need a nap.
– Dylan Roth
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