Stardom 101: STARS
Updated: Nov 8, 2022
Over the past several weeks, we've gone over four of the six factions that currently compete for supremacy in the Stardom promotion (as of Summer 2022). We've talked about Queen's Quest, Donna Del Mondo, God's Eye, and Cosmic Angels (with COLOR'S) in that order. This week, we'll continue our tour with a look at one of the oldest units currently going in the company, STARS.
STARS was officially started during the Stardom faction draft on April 15th, 2018 by group leader Mayu Iwatani, who would go on to pick Starlight Kid, Saki Kashima, Shiki Shibusawa, Natsumi, and Tam Nakano. Additionally, Hanan is often listed as a founding member, yet she was not officially drafted that night.
As it's the faction led by the company's Ace, STARS is arguably the only pure babyface unit in the promotion. While it's never been positioned as the most powerful crew, it's always fought on the side of good. Because of that, several wrestlers have turned on STARS in subsequent years. Some of them would include Saki Kashima, Ruaka, and the founding members of the Cosmic Angels. For a brief time in April 2021, the faction only had three active wrestlers and one on the injured list. Luckily, the unit is far more healthy today, with six active members.
Over the past four years, STARS members have achieved quite a bit. In all, wrestlers have earned 12 championships and have won one tournament. While this total is quite a bit lower than Queen's Quest's haul of 19 championships and five tournament wins, I'd argue that just like with Cosmic Angels, STARS members have had some of the best reigns, namely Arisa Hoshiki's Wonder of Stardom title run and Hanan's current reign with the Future of Stardom belt.
1 World of Stardom Championship - Mayu Iwatani (1 time)
1 Wonder of Stardom Championship - Arisa Hoshiki (1 time)
3 Goddesses of Stardom Championships - Hazuki (2 times), Koguma (2 times), Mayu Iwatani (1 time), Saki Kashima (1 time)
3 Artist of Stardom Championships - Tam Nakano (3 times), Mayu Iwatani (2 times), Saki Kashima (2 times), Mina Shirakawa (1 time), Unagi Sayaka (1 time)
1 SWA Undisputed World Championship - Mayu Iwatani (1 time)
3 Future of Stardom Championships - Hanan (1 time), Saya Iida (1 time), Starlight Kid (1 time)
1 Cinderella Tournament Winner - Arisa Hoshiki (2019)
(Note: The above list does not feature achievements earned while the respective wrestler wasn't a member of STARS.)
So without further ado, let's talk about the six members of STARS. And as always, thank you for the incredible support.
"Judo JK Fighter"
Debut - April 9th, 2017 vs. Ruaka at "Stardom Grows Up Stars 2017 Night 5"
Date Joined Faction - April 15th, 2018 at "Stardom Rebirth - Night 2: The Stardom Draft"
Titles/Tournaments Won - Future of Stardom Championship
Rival(s) - Rina and Ruaka
Let's begin our tour with a look at the reigning Future of Stardom Champion, Hanan. The up-and -comer has been showing a ton of promise over the past several months, as we'll get to a little later on. She's been wrestling for a little over five years, all spent in the Stardom promotion.
Hanan's rise to. amore prominent spit on the card has run concurrently with her ongoing reign as the Future of Stardom champion. For a little background, the Future of Stardom Championship was created in 2018 as a belt less experienced wrestlers would compete for in their early career. Think of it like a TV championship, except all wrestlers who attempt to win it must have been wrestling for less than three years. During its lifetime, the belt has been held by the likes of Utami Hayashishita and Maika, both of whom have become main event talents.
Hanan won the title on December 29th, 2021 after beating her rival Ruaka, who had previously held the belt for 81 days. The teenager has since successfully defended the strap a record eight times, and has simultaneously brought more prestige to the belt.
Personally, I believe Hanan's reign has helped to bolster the lower end of the card. While it wasn't bad by any means, show opening title matches have become consistently better, as Hanan has proven to be a strong champion. Using her large frame and judo background, she's looked impressive against a wide assortment of talent.
Her first defense with the belt saw her survive the giant Lady C. She then followed that defense with another against her stablemate, the speedy Momo Kohgo. While some of her matches, particularly against Mai Sakurai and Ruaka, didn't strike me as particularly strong, her sibling clashes, first with Rina and then with Hina, are underrated gems. I'd especially recommend her scrap with Rina from March 26th, 2022, as that match showcased a lot of growth from both competitors.
But if there was one standout match I would recommend above all others, even the one against Rina, it would be her 15-minute slugfest against JUST TAP OUT Ace Tomoka Inaba from June 28th, 2022. I feel like this match is going to be remembered as one where Hanan really showcased her progression in all areas.
Aside from her work with the Future of Stardom belt, you'll see Hanan mostly work a lot of multi-woman matches alongside her fellow STARS teammates, particularly Mayu Iwatani. Her partnership with Iwatani has actually been one of the most consistent in the entire company, as the two are the only founding STARS members remaining. While this affiliation hasn't brought any gold to Hanan yet,
It's hard to know when Hanan's reign as Future of Stardom champ will end, but I think that this run has done a great job at positioning her as a future top star in the company. It's impossible to predict when her ascent will begin, but I'd like to think her inclusion into this summer's 5Star Grand Prix is a good indication that we're approaching it.
GIF Credit: @tde_gif on Twitter
"Wild Heart Reborn"
Debut - July 6th, 2014 vs. Koguma at "Stardom Shining Stars 2014 Night 4"
Date Joined Faction - November 4th, 2021 at "Stardom Goddesses Of Stardom Tag League 2021 Night 4"
Titles/Tournaments Won - 2-time Goddesses of Stardom Co-Champion, High Speed Champion, 4-time Artist of Stardom Co-Champion, 2021 Goddesses of Stardom Tag League Co-Winner
Rival(s) - Momo Watanabe and Giulia
Long Story Sport Accolade(s) - Female Wrestler of the Month (August 2022), Tag Team of the Month (May 2022)
Moving on, it's now time to talk a bit about one of the most popular wrestlers in all of Stardom, Hazuki. Since making her debut in 2014, "Wildheart" has undergone just about every change a wrestler can make over an eight year span. She was an early member of Io Shirai's Queen's Quest stable. Then would get drafted to join Oedo Tai and would become an integral part of the best era of the heel stable, working alongside Stardom legends Kagetsu and Hana Kimura. She would later retire from Stardom under controversial circumstances that no one really understands before finally returning in 2021 to join STARS. All in all, she's pretty much experienced it all.
While she's certainly no slouch as a singles wrestler, I'd argue that Hazuki has built a strong case as being one of the greatest tag team specialists Stardom has ever had. Hazuki is one of 13 women in Stardom history to win the Goddesses of Stardom tag titles at least two times. She and Koguma as the tag team "Fukuoka Double Crazy" are surprisingly the only duo to win the tag titles more than one time together. And finally, only Io Shirai (6), Mayu Iwatani (5), and Saki Kashima (5) have held the Artist of Stardom trios titles more than Hazuki, who's reigned on four occasions.
While she held a ton of gold in Queen's Quest and is currently in the middle of her second Goddesses of Stardom title reign as a member of STARS, it's hard to argue that her most memorable time in Stardom was her time with Oedo Tai. After spending a little over a year with QQ, Hazuki was drafted to join the villainous stable, led by the legendary Kagetsu. Over the next year and a half, until her controversial retirement in December 2019, Hazuki blossomed into one of the best all-around competitors in all of Stardom.
Hazuki's fantastic work was rewarded on Christmas Eve in 2018 when she beat Mary Apache to win her first and so far only singles title, the High Speed Championship. The then 21-year-old reigned with an iron fist for 208 days, during which she successfully defended the title eight times, including against AZM, Konami, Starlight Kid, and Xia Brookside before losing the belt to Death Yama-san on July 20th, 2019. While there weren't any incredible matches during this run, in my opinion, it should be noted that most of her defenses lasted less than five minutes, which was the norm for the High Speed belt at the time.
Hazuki's time in Stardom didn't last too much longer after she lost her High Speed belt as she would shockingly retire from the promotion, and wrestling as a whole, on December 24th, 2019, exactly one year after she won said title. While the circumstances surrounding her departure have never been adequately explained, there have been plenty of fan theories ranging from the somewhat possible to the insane. I will let you look up said theories in your own time.
We wouldn't see Hazuki in a wrestling ring for about a year and half when she made her return during the first annual Hana Kimura tribute freelance show on May 23rd, 2021, teaming up with Kagetsu, Death Yama-san, and Konami against Syuri, Natsupoi, ASUKA (Veny), and Mio Momono in a thrilling eight-woman tag semi main event match.
Around three months after she made this landmark appearance, Hazuki made her shocking return to Stardom in late August, where she would announce her intent to return to full time work with the company. She would make her in-ring return on October 9th, 2021, where she took on Koguma in a match that comes recommended by me. Less than a month later, after teaming up with Koguma during the Goddesses of Stardom Tag Team, she accepted an invitation to join STARS. By the way, Koguma and Hazuki would go on to win said tag league tournament, and later beat Gulia and Syuri to win the Goddesses of Stardom belts.
Hazuki continued her hot streak in 2022 as she reached the semi finals of the most recent edition of the Cinderella Tournament, and then won the Goddesses of Stardom straps yet again, this time off Momo Watanabe and Starlight Kid of Oedo Tai. As mentioned earlier, she and Koguma are the only pair to win the tag team titles together twice. So far during their second reign with the black belts, the pair have successfully defended the titles against Giulia and Mai Sakurai of Donna Del Mondo, Fukigen Death and Saki Kashima of Oedo Tai, and most recently, MIRAI and Ami Sourei of God's Eye.
While she has yet to win another singles title, Hazuki has clearly been positioned as one of the most prominent upper-mid carders in Stardom. At least to me, she could easily be positioned as a challenger for either the World or Wonder of Stardom belts. She's currently embroiled in a few rivalries as of writing, most notably with Giulia. If the leader of DDM is set to win the World of Stardom title in the future, which I expect, you have to believe that the "Wildheart" will be one of Giulia's first matchups.
Suffice to say that there's a lot to talk about when it comes to Hazuki. To me, she's one of the most interesting wrestlers in Stardom based on her career alone. And I believe her future is bright if she stays the course.
GIF Credit: @tde_gif on Twitter
"High Speed Genius"
Debut - November 4th, 2013 vs. Natsuki Taiyo at "Stardom Season 14 Goddesses In Stars 2013 - Night 4
Date Joined Faction - May 15th, 2021 at "Stardom Nagoya Two Days Night 1"
Titles/Tournaments Won - 2-time Goddesses of Stardom Co-Champion, High Speed Champion, Artist of Stardom Champion, 2021 Goddesses of Stardom Tag League Co-Winner
Rival(s) - Starlight Kid and AZM
Long Story Sport Accolades - Favorite Returning Female Wrestler (2021), Tag Team of the Month (May 2022)
Going from one tag team partner to another, it's now time to talk a little bit about STARS' resident bear, the "High Speed Genius", Koguma. Koguma has had an interesting run in Stardom, as just like with Hazuki, she also retired earlier in her career only to return years later. The 24-year-old initially started her career way back in November 2013, where she primarily wrestled in "high speed" matches against early adopters of the style like Kaori Yoneyama, who now wrestles at Fukigen Death, and Natsuki Taiyo.
For those of you who don't know, "high speed wrestling" is a style in which both wrestlers appropriately go exceedingly quicker than in normal matches. In the past, most high speed matches would go less than five minutes in length and usually end with a flash pin or roll up, yet the style has since evolved in recent years to last a little longer and involve more lucha inspired high flying. The style is synonymous with Joshi, and can be found in a few other promotions besides Stardom like SEAdLINNNG. Some other wrestlers I've talked about in the past who specialize in the high speed style include AZM, Natsupoi, and Hazuki.
Easily the most notable thing to happen to Koguma in her early career was when she shockingly beat Io Shirai to win the High Speed Championship on the same show World of Stardom champ Yoshiko savagely assaulted challenger Act Yasukawa in what has since been called the "Ghastly Match". Less than two months later, she would add the Artist of Stardom strap as well, when she, Kairi Hojo, and Chelsea beat Io Shirai, Mayu Iwatani, and Hazuki. "Koguma Two Belts" lasted for only two weeks however, as she would soon drop the High Speed belt to Mexican wrestler Star Fire after 81 days. On that same day, she would announce her retirement from wrestling.
After spending six years away from wrestling, Koguma returned to the squared circle on March 3rd, 2021 when she took part in the exceedingly entertaining All-Star Rumble during the company's 10th Anniversary super show. Around two months later, on May 14th, Koguma returned once again, this time to aid Mayu Iwatani who was being attacked by Oedo Tai members. She would officially join STARS the next day.
While it took a little while for her to get back in ring shape, she was properly protected in the first few months by being placed in many multi-woman matches alongside her STARS teammates. On June 12th, 2021, she was a part of the 10 woman elimination tag team match between STARS and Oedo Tai, which finished with Starlight Kid losing and subsequently being forced to join the heel stable. On July 4th, she and Mayu Iwatani battled Giulia and Syuri for the Goddesses of Stardom titles, which they would lose. And in a massive return to form, she took AZM to the limit in a match for the High Speed belt. By the time the 5STAR rolled around that fall, Koguma had become one of the more reliable wrestlers on the roster.
After a strong showing in the 5STAR during which she won five matches, she became the first to challenge old friend and training partner Hazuki to a singles match after the "Wildheart" returned to Stardom that fall. After they had a terrific clash, they decided to become a tag team, now known as "Fukuoka Double Crazy" or "FWC". Note that this team up occurred before Hazuki joined STARS, which she would do midway through the Goddesses of Stardom Tag League later that month. The duo would then end up winning the tournament all together after beating AZM and Momo Watanabe in a phenomenal final.
As mentioned earlier, Koguma and Hazuki would later go on to beat Giulia and Syuri for the tag titles. And while they would quickly lose them to Starlight Kid and Momo Watanabe, they would just as soon retake the belts, thus becoming the first duo to hold Stardom's tag titles more than once. On the Long Story Sport blog, I named Koguma and Hazuki my favorite tag team of the month in May, 2022.
On the singles front, Koguma has continued to find moderate success. While she has yet to win it yet, she's taken part in a few really good matches for the High Speed title against the likes of AZM, Starlight Kid, and Natsupoi. In my opinion, her clash with AZM and SLK on December 29th, 2021 and again against AZM on May 8th were especially great. Additionally, she reached the finals of the Cinderella Tournament in April, only losing to MIRAI.
But if you ask me, her greatest moments have happened in multi-woman tag matches. The "High Speed Genius" is exceedingly entertaining and is an underrated comedic talent. Also, in recent weeks, she's proven to be quite the daredevil as well. On June 26th, she along with Mayu Iwatani and Hazuki battled Queen's Quest's AZM, Saya Kamitani, and Utami Hayashishita in Stardom's first ever tag team cage match. Koguma won the match for STARS after she dove from the top of the cage onto a pile of wrestlers on the outside. Jimmy Snuka, eat your heart out.
While she's only been back in the ring for about a year now, Koguma has quickly ingrained herself as one of the most entertaining and likable wrestlers on the entire roster. As a fan of tag team wrestling, she's always been a highlight, and as a personality, she somehow stands out on a roster filled with generational talents. Here's hoping she continues to put in excellent performances for years to come.
GIF Credit: @tde_gif on Twitter
"The Icon of Stardom"
Debut - January 23rd, 2011 vs. Arisa Hoshiki at "Stardom Birth Of Nova"
Date Joined Faction - April 15th, 2018 at "Stardom Rebirth - Night 2: The Stardom Draft"
Titles/Tournaments Won - 2-times World of Stardom Champion, 2-time Wonder of Stardom Champion, 2-time Goddesses of Stardom Co-Champion, High Speed Champion, 5-time Artist of Stardom Co-Champion, SWA Undisputed World Champion, 2015 and 2016 Cinderella Tournament Winner, 2015 Goddesses of Stardom Tag League Co-Winner, and 2018 5STAR Grand Prix Winner
Rival(s) - Tam Nakano, Starlight Kid, Saki Kashima, and too many others to name
Long Story Sport Accolades - Female Wrestler of the Month (September 2022), Female Match of the Month (January 2022 vs. Giulia, September 2022 vs. Giulia)
It's going to be hard for me to be objective about Mayu Iwatani as she's not only my favorite wrestler in Stardom's history, but also my favorite female wrestler ever. Everything from her in-ring ability, her storytelling, and her character work are so well refined that I consider her to be the perfect wrestler. While fellow Stardom legends Io Shirai and Kairi Hojo (now KAIRI) have become more famous elsewhere, Mayu has remained in Stardom, the company that not only gave her a livelihood, but also a life.
Born in the middle of nowhere in southern Japan, Iwatani spent much of her early life practicing several sports, including judo, the high jump, and tennis. After a major life event in her teenage years, she withdrew from society and became a "hikikomori", or a shut-in, for around three years. She also dropped out of high school around this time. Luckily for her, Iwatani soon found and fell in love with pro wrestling and subsequently contacted Fuka, the general manager of a new wrestling company called Stardom, and earned an opportunity to train in its first class.
It is genuinely impossible to go over everything that Iwatani has done since she made her pro wrestling debut during Stardom's first ever event on January 23rd, 2011, but suffice to say, she's done it all. I know I've listed it above, but Iwatani has won a total of 13 titles in Stardom alone, and she's also won four tournaments.
Going a little deeper, you'll find that some of Mayu's reigns have been among the greatest for their respective belts. She and Io Shirai, under the "Thunder Rock" name, had the greatest and most important run with the Goddesses of Stardom tag team belts. They held the titles for 407 days and defended them 11 times, the latter being a record. The end of their title run was soon followed by Shirai's heel turn against Mayu, and her subsequent creation of the Queen's Quest stable, which might be the most important moment in Stardom's history and arguably the beginning of the current era.
That same year, Io and Mayu were joined by Kairi Hojo, and as "Threedom", they held the Artist of Stardom trios belts. While their reign wasn't as memorable as one would hope, the fact that these three legends teamed up to do this is notable in and of itself, and worth a separate blog post in the future.
While not as celebrated, Mayu also had perhaps the greatest run as the High Speed Champion back in 2015. She held the belt for an astonishing 501 days, during which she successfully defended it against the likes of Kay Lee Ray, Momo Watanabe, Kagetsu, and the current AEW Women's Champion, Thunder Rosa. To think that all three of these title runs happened around the same time. It's no wonder that around this time, the Wrestling Observer's Dave Meltzer called her among the three greatest wrestlers on the planet, along with Shirai and Hojo.
What makes all this more impressive is that she's only gotten better since then, especially after her "Threedom" teammates left for WWE. Since Shirai's departure in particular, Iwatani has been the company's undisputed ace. Her greatest achievement as the ace occurred on November 4th, 2019, when she beat Bea Priestley to win the World of Stardom belt for the second time. She would go on to hold the belt for 377 days, during both the early days of the COVID pandemic and Hana Kimura's tragic death. Mayu became the rock of Stardom, carrying the company on her back during those dark days.
During her run, Mayu displayed mastery in just about every aspect you would want in your top star. She showed fearlessness in her brutal war with Kagetsu. She had a pair of technically sound matches against both Momo Watanabe and Syuri. She perfectly adapted and wrestled a more heel style against the beloved Jungle Kyona. And in maybe her best match, she had a true blue classic against Takumi Iroha.
Iwatani's reign on top ended on November 15th, 2021 when she lost to Utami Hayashishita, who would go on to have a phenomenal run herself. And in the year and a half since, Iwatani's career has shifted from earning titles to trying to keep her stable alive. Around a month after she lost to Utami, the Cosmic Angels subunit left to create their own faction.
Two months later in February 2021, Ruaka turned on STARS to join Oedo Tai. In April, Gokigen Death was forced to leave STARS and also join Oedo Tai after the unit lost a ten-woman elimination tag team match. On June 12th, Mayu's best friend and second in command, Starlight Kid, was also forced to join Oedo Tai after a similar match. For longtime Mayu fans, this was par for the course fr her, as many wrestlers from Saki Kashima and Io Shirai also turned their backs on her in previous years.
Luckily as all this was happening, reinforcements came to replenish STARS. Koguma returned after a lengthy retirement a month after Gokigen Death was taken by Oedo Tai, and then Hazuki joined later on in the fall. Then in January 2022, Momo Kohgo came from outside the company to fly the flag for STARS, all the while Saya Iida returned to action after missing a year to injury. Most of 2022 has seen a renaissance for STARS as members are now starting to find success. Mayu herself won her first singles belt since losing the World of Stardom title, when she beat Thekla to win the SWA Undisputed World Championship, thus becoming the second Stardom wrestler to ever notch a Grand Slam, after Io Shirai.
I could go on forever preaching Mayu Iwatani's greatness, but as this is an introductory blog series, I'll leave those stories for another time. Heck, I didn't even talk about how Mayu's character is essentially that of an idiot savant. While she's a genius in between the ropes, the same cannot be said about her life outside the ring. For all you New Japan fans, think of her like the Kota Ibushi of women's wrestling, neck bumps and all. While there are a ton of excellent wrestlers in Stardom, I don't think there's one as great as the Icon. The Stardom original is not just the Ace of the promotion, she's the soul of the promotion as well. And I don't want to think of Stardom without her.
GIF Credit: @tde_gif on Twitter
Debut - April 30th, 2019 vs. Noa Igarashi at "AWG Actwres girl'Z In Korakuen"
Date Joined Faction - January 23rd, 2022 at "Stardom 11th Launching Anniversary"
Titles/Tournaments Won - N/A
Rival(s) - No one yet
The newest member of STARS, Momo Kohgo is also the only member of the unit to have started her career outside of Stardom. Starting her run in 2019, "Komomo" split her time working for both Actwres girl'Z and Ice Ribbon before jumping to the largest Joshi company in the world in early 2022.
While her time in Actwres girl'Z is largely similar to a lot of other Stardom wrestlers who spent time there in the past like Himeka and Tam Nakano, Kohgo did find a bit of success while at Ice Ribbon, which culminated in her taking a brief sabbatical to Mexican promotion, CMLL, in October 2021. This sabbatical was actually the first time I had ever heard of the young wrestler, as she joined two of Ice Ribbon's top stars, Tsukasa Fujimoto and Tsukushi, on the trip.
Other than that, Kohgo also took some dates in other Joshi companies, namely Pro Wrestling WAVE, where she took part in the 2021 Catch the WAVE tournament's "Young Block Oh! Oh!" alongside other future Stardom talents Ami Sourei and Waka Tsukiyama. Suffice to say, barring some notable details, Kohgo's pre-Stardom run wasn't really anything special. She never won any titles, a fact that remains today, and she didn't really have much buzz until she made her trip to Mexico.
Kohgo made her in-ring debut in Stardom on January 23rd, where she took on company gatekeeper Unagi Sayaka. Soon after her match, she would be accepted into the STARS faction. Six days later, she would take the win in a five-woman elimination match during the pre-show of Stardom's first pay-per-view of 2022, "Nagoya Supreme Fight."
Kohgo's run in Stardom so far has been really interesting to watch. While it took a little bit of time for her to do so, she's been gradually progressing in the ring. In recent months, she's started to bring in many lucha-inspired moves from the 619 (seen below), tilt-a-whirl arm breakers, and springboard planchas. She's also started to shine as an underdog baby face, and she easily fits in with the rest of her STARS teammates.
Her quick rise has allowed for more opportunities, specifically in the singles realm. So far, she's had some underrated contests against her "sensei" Hazuki, Hanan, for the Future of Stardom title, Gatoh Move's Sayaka during the first ever "New Blood" event, Thekla. She took part in Stardom's first ever 5STAR Qualifying Tournament, and even though she didn't win enough to earn a spot in the upcoming 5STAR proper, she did have strong showings against Miyu Amasaki and Ami Sourei.
Kohgo's crowning achievement so far took place on July 9th, when she had her best singles match ever against AZM for the High Speed Championship. This was Kohgo's debut in the division, and I think she opened up a few eyes that night. Definitely check that out if you can.
While it's unclear what's in Kohgo's immediate future, I think what's best is for her to continue practicing more and more lucha moves. While she's not the biggest or strongest competitor on the roster by any means, that won't matter at all if she continues to sharpen her high flying. Anything to help differentiate herself even in her own stable is a smart strategy.
All in all, Kohgo has become a fast fan favorite in the fan community. I can conceivably see her win the High Speed title at some point in the future, but who knows? Maybe her ceiling will continue to rise as she continues to progress.
GIF Credit: @tde_gif on Twitter
Debut - January 14th, 2019 vs. Natsuko Tora at "Stardom 8th Anniversary"
Date Joined Faction - April 14th, 2019 at "Stardom Glory Stars: The Stardom Draft 2019"
Titles/Tournaments Won - Future of Stardom Champion
Rival(s) - Saya Kamitani and Maika
We're going to finish strong today because it's time to talk about the squad's diminutive giant, Saya Iida. The 25-year-old has been wrestling for over three years, and in that time she's progressed into quite the talent. While a major injury she suffered last year has arguably thrown a monkey wrench into her ascent, I believe "Gori-chan" is still destined for success if she stays healthy.
During her run in Stardom so far, Iida has spent practically all of that time as a member of STARS. She did start her career with the now defunct "Jungle Assault Nation" faction, although she swiftly switched over to Iwatani's crew during the 2019 unit draft, the same day J.A.N. dissolved. Iida was added as yet another young rookie on STARS, alongside other youngsters Hanan and Starlight Kid, yet she quickly became a strong part of the unit.
Although she was a part of STARS, Iida also created a tag team with Saya Kamitani, who was herself a rookie on the rise. The duo teamed up in the 2019 Goddesses of Stardom Tag League, where they ended up winning only once. They would go on to team up occasionally in the next year, but it's unlikely that a reunion will happen.
If you ask me, the first major match in Iida's singles career happened on July 17th, 2020 when she, Saya Kamitani, and Maika battled for the Future of Stardom title, which had been vacated by Utami Hayashishita several months prior. While she didn't win, Iida would receive an opportunity to challenge Maika for said title a few months later, which she once again lost. Luckily on December 20th, 2020, Iida would defeat Maika and Kamitani to earn the Future of Stardom strap, which she held for 141 days.
Iida would've held the title longer, however on April 4th, 2021, Iida suffered a cataclysmic knee injury during a multi-woman match and was forced to miss nearly an entire year to repair the torn ACL and LCL in her right knee. And that's unfortunate, not only because it's always sad to see someone get injured, but because I felt that her run with the Future of Stardom belt was going really well. While she held the belt, she successfully defended it three times, once against Unagi Sayaka, another against SEAdLINNNG's Honori Hana, and the last against Ruaka, who had only recently turned on STARS to join Oedo Tai a month prior.
Additionally, Iida was put in more singles contests while champ. It was during some of these clashes, particularly against Momo Watanabe and Giulia, where she showcased her intense fire, incredible strength, and an almost genius level selling ability. For someone who had been wrestling for less than two years at the time, her selling especially stood out as better than most.
Iida returned to action on March 11th, 2022 and has since started to find herself in the ring again. While she's understandably fallen a little behind her rivals Saya Kamitani and Maika, she's still one of the best at selling in the whole company. Since returning, she's also been consistently given more singles matches to sink her teeth into. Her matches against God's Eye powerhouses MIRAI on March 26th and Ami Sourei on May 15th were great watches. But her best match since returning was easily her clash with Natsupoi on April 24th. Definitely check that out.
With the advent of the largest 5Star Grand Prix in history, which is due to start on July 30th, Iida took part in the first ever Grand Prix Qualifying League. Iida successfully edged out much of the competition to earn a slot into the tournament field, alongside Ami Sourei and Mai Sakurai. She is scheduled to compete in the "Blue Stars" block alongside fellow STARS teammates Mayu Iwatani, Hazuki, and Hanan, as well as former allies Starlight Kid, Mina Shirakawa, and Saya Kamitani. If there was a time to jump into Stardom if you haven't already, it's this tournament.
Saya Iida might not be one of the premier stars in Stardom right now, but she's definitely one of the promotion's hidden gems. From her strong selling ability to her unique fire, the Gorilla of STARS has gradually progressed into one of the best baby faces in Stardom, and hopefully, one of the bigger stars in the future.
GIF Credit: @tde_gif on Twitter
Former Members of STARS
Arisa Hoshiki - (11/23/2018 - 5/20/2020) Found massive success as a member of STARS. She won both the Cinderella Tournament and the Goddesses of Stardom Tag League in 2019, and also reigned as the Wonder of Stardom Champion for 370 days, during which she successfully defended the title 10 times. She left STARS when she retired from competition in May, 2020.
Saki Kashima - (4/15/2018 - 1/3/2020) Was a founding member of STARS, and a key ally for Mayu Iwatani, especially in the group's early years. While with the group, she won the Goddesses of Stardom titles with Iwatani once as well as the Artist of Stardom belt twice. On January 3rd, 2020, she turned on Iwatani and STARS to join Oedo Tai, where she's been ever since.
Starlight Kid - (4/15/2018 - 6/12/2021) A fellow founding member of STARS, Starlight Kid spent most of her early time in the promotion learning the graps under the faction's senior members. After a while, SLK became the group's second in command to Mayu Iwatani, even teaming up with the Ace numerous times as "MK Sisters". She was famously torn away from STARS from Oedo Tai on June 12th, 2021, and while she did struggle with her new teammates for a little while, she's since embraced the darkness.
Tam Nakano - (4/15/2018 - 12/20/2020) The last former founding member of note, Tam Nakano spent a lot of time with STARS after she was forced to leave Oedo Tai in early 2018. After spending over two and a half years with the crew, she along with Unagi Sayaka and Mina Skirakawa left STARS to create the Cosmic Angels faction, which is going strong to this day.
Additionally, Alex Garcia, Gokigen Death, Itsuki Hoshino, Jungle Kyona, Mina Shirakawa, Natsumi, Rina, Ruaka, Shiki Shibusawa, Unagi Sayaka, and Zia Brookside were also members of STARS at some point.
BEST SURE TO COME BACK NEXT WEEK WHEN WE'LL COVER THE CURRENT DAY LINEUP OF OEDO TAI
STARDOM 101 SERIES:
Special thanks to WhoScored, Transfermarkt, Baseball Reference, Baseball Savant, Fangraphs, Cagematch, and 1.02.JP for helping make me a more well-informed fan.
Featured Image Credit - @iwatanimayu on Instagram
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