On July 30th, Stardom will begin its 11th annual 5STAR Grand Prix Tournament, perhaps the greatest competition in all of women's wrestling. Two blocks of 13 wrestlers, will compete in a round robin first round beginning in July and ending in October. The winner of each block will then battle in a final match to crown the 5STAR tournament winner and a subsequent title match of her choosing at a future show. Previous winners of the 5STAR include some of the biggest names in the promotion's history, including Io Shirai, Kairi Hojo, Nanae Takahashi, and Hana Kimura.
Last year, Syuri defeated Momo Watanabe to win the 10th edition of the tournament. She would then defeat Utami Hayashishita on December 29th, 2021 to become the World of Stardom Champion, a prize that she holds to this day. While not one of the favorites, she could conceivably become the first to ever win the 5STAR twice. Mayu Iwatani and Utami Hayashishita, who we'll be talking about in this post, can also reach the same milestone.
I felt that with this tournament rapidly approaching, I'd take a break from my "Stardom 101" posts to list off a few of my favorites to win it all. I decided I'd limit myself to four, but some honorable mentions I feel I must acknowledge are Tam Nakano and Maika from the Red Block, and Momo Watanabe and Saya Kamitani from the Blue Block.
For the second year in a row, Giulia is one of the most heavily favored wrestlers to win the 5STAR GP. The leader of Donna Del Mondo is coming into this year's tournament with a lot to prove, not only because she finds herself as the leader of a struggling stable, but also because her 5STAR run last year was cut short after she was forced to withdraw after three matches because of nagging injuries. So instead of potentially challenging for the crown on the final day in 2021, she was forced to watch ringside as her then tag team partner, Syuri, beat Momo Watanabe.
Physically, Giulia appears to be in way better condition than she was last year. She's been taking good care of herself by all accounts, which to me means that she can throw herself into these next several weeks and go to that next level if needed. Mentally, however, it will be interesting to see if Giulia is able to avoid a slow start. Is she potentially distracted from all the bad things that have happened lately, namely Thekla being forced to miss the 5STAR this year thanks to her own nagging injuries, and of course, Natsupoi's recent betrayal?
I personally believe that she'll be able to find it within herself to pack whatever mental anguish she must be feeling for a chance to make it far in the 5STAR this year. Winners get it done, no matter the circumstances, and you have to know that Giulia is ready to make up for lost time and do what many thought she was destined to do last year, and that's win the whole competition.
Key matches to watch out for in the next few months for Giulia include those against her budding rival Hazuki on opening night, her former stablemates MIRAI (7/31), and Natsupoi (8/28), company ace Mayu Iwatani on 9/11, and perhaps her most hated rival aside from Tam Nakano, Suzu Suzuki, on the tournament's final show.
7/30 vs. Hazuki
7/31 vs. MIRAI
8/14 vs. Hanan
8/20 vs. Saya Iida
8/27 vs. Starlight Kid
8/28 vs. Natsupoi
9/3 vs. Mina Shirakawa
9/11 vs. Mayu Iwatani
9/18 vs. Ami Sourei
9/23 vs. Momo Watanabe
9/24 vs. Saya Kamitani
10/1 vs. Suzu Suzuki
Continuing on, I'm going to show my complete bias by giving a nod to my favorite women's wrestler of all time, Mayu Iwatani. While she's been down-cycled quite a bit since losing her World of Stardom belt in late 2020, she's still Stardom's undisputed Ace, and that alone should make her an early favorite to win it all this year and become the first wrestler in the promotion's history to win the 5STAR twice. This will be the legend's ninth run in the 5STAR, and she's entering the competition in a much better place this year.
Her most obvious upgrade from last year is that she's currently holding a championship, in this case the SWA Undisputed Title. While it's not nearly on the same level as the World of Stardom or Wonder of Stardom belts, seeing Iwatani hold any singles strap automatically gives her more credibility.
And unlike her Blue Block rival Giulia, she has her house in order right now. Her STARS faction is in the best shape it's been in for years. Four members are currently champions, and all six are scheduled to take part in the tournament. It might not be an obvious point to bring up when looking for potential favorites to win a singles tournament, but Mayu has all the tools right now to go into the 5STAR fully focused on her next opponent. Barring another traumatic betrayal, I don't see this fact changing over the next few months.
While it could be sufficiently argued that Mayu doesn't need another 5STAR tournament win at all and the winner should be someone new, there's a part of me that's all in on the Ace to make history. If anyone deserves to win this competition for the second time, I believe Iwatani should be the one to do it first.
Some of her key matches to look out include her crucial first matchup against MIRAI, her 9/3 clash against Wonder of Stardom champ Saya Kamitani, and then every one of her matches from 9/11 against Giulia to 10/1 against her former best friend Starlight Kid. If there's an opportunity for the Sky Tiger to spoil Mayu's run to the final, on the final day no less, then you know she'll do everything to do just that.
7/30 vs. MIRAI
8/6 vs. Hanan
8/11 vs. Saya Iida
8/27 vs. Mina Shirakawa
8/28 vs. Ami Sourei
9/3 vs. Saya Kamitani
9/4 vs. Natsupoi
9/11 vs. Giulia
9/12 vs. Suzu Suzuki
9/23 vs. Hazuki
9/24 vs. Momo Watanabe
10/1 vs. Starlight Kid
This year's 5STAR was made all the more interesting when Stardom announced that two members from the well known Joshi freelance group, Prominence, would join the field of 26 wrestlers. One of those two is the tremendous Suzu Suzuki, someone who I believe could become the first outsider to ever win this competition. While her chances are the lowest of all the wrestlers I'm talking about in this post, I think this might be the most interesting option.
Suzuki is a true prodigy in pro wrestling. While she's only wrestled for around three and a half years, she's already won a few major singles titles in other Joshi companies, most notably in Ice Ribbon, and just this month she defeated Miyuki Takase to win both the 2022 Catch the Wave Tournament as well as the "Regina Di WAVE" Championship, the top prize in Pro Wrestling WAVE. Within Stardom, she has yet to truly show what she's made of, but I think the 5STAR is the best time for her to erupt as a bonafide top star in this promotion.
One of the things that Suzuki has that can't be ignored is that she can withstand more punishment than perhaps anyone else in her block. A lot of her resilience comes from her background as a deathmatch wrestler, something she continues to do at a high level when she's not competing for Stardom along with her fellow Prominence teammates. With this comes a heightened sense of fearlessness, another tangible quality that might help push Suzuki to some victories. There's little doubt in my mind that some of her opponents will look at her as an unstoppable force they are unable to fully put down.
The one drawback to her fearlessness and resilience is that she might be too willing to get into the weeds of a physical match and subsequently lose in a foolish manner. Looking at some of her future matchups, I wonder if Suzuki will be able to keep her focus high and her head on a swivel, because as a pure wrestler, I truly believe that she is capable of beating anyone in her block.
One of the cool things about this tournament is that it'll feature many first time matchups, and with Suzuki being someone who's had only two singles matches in a Stardom ring, all but one of her upcoming matches (vs. MIRAI) will be totally new, at least in Stardom. With that being said, look forward to her clashes with Starlight Kid (7/30), MIRAI (8/11), Natsupoi (8/27), Saya Kamitani (9/11), Mayu Iwatani (9/12), Momo Watanabe (9/18), and of course, against Giulia on the final day.
7/30 vs. Starlight Kid
7/31 vs. Ami Sourei
8/11 vs. MIRAI
8/20 vs. Hazuki
8/27 vs. Natsupoi
9/11 vs. Saya Kamitani
9/12 vs. Mayu Iwatani
9/17 vs. Saya Iida
9/18 vs. Momo Watanabe
9/19 vs. Mina Shirakawa
9/23 vs. Hanan
10/1 vs. Giulia
The only wrestler on this list to be competing in the 5STAR's Red Block, we'll finish today with the former World of Stardom Champion, Utami Hayashishita. The leader of Queen's Quest has been pretty quiet for most of the year so far, although she remains one of the most dominant wrestlers on the roster. She's spent most of 2022 working to bring her faction into a new era following Momo Watanabe's defection to Oedo Tai in late 2021.
With all that being said, I could see this 5STAR as the moment her "break" ends and her ascent up the Stardom card begins again. Hayashishita appears to be in a prime position to run the table here at the 5STAR and earn another shot to take on Syuri in what would surely be another classic match later this year. Additionally, a good run in the 5STAR would remind those who can only barely remember her legendary Red Belt run that she's one of the finest women's wrestlers on the planet.
Hayashishita's greatest tangibles coming into this competition are her incredible intelligence and strength in between the ropes. She knows exactly what to do in any given situation, and she has the frame to make any of her strategies come to fruition. In a lot of ways, Utami is the perfect wrestler for this tournament, as she's also really fresh, having not had too many grueling singles matches in recent months.
While part of me would love to see Mayu become the first to win the 5STAR twice, there's another part that really wants to see the Red Queen retake her throne as the head of Stardom. While she's only 23, and will turn 24 during the tournament, Hayashishita has already proven herself to be an Ace in the making, and I think that a second 5STAR crown would not only cement her as the new Ace, but a true Stardom legend.
She will definitely not have an easy road to winning her block, let alone the entire tournament, as she'll begin her marathon with consecutive matches against the "Jumbo Princess" Himeka and Syuri herself on the first weekend alone. Other key matches for Utami include against her career rival Maika (8/27), stablemate AZM (9/11), and the always difficult to put away, Tam Nakano (9/24). If she's able to make it past all these women, she'll have a strong shot to clinch her group by October 1st, when she'll battle Goddesses of Stardom Co-Champion and 2022 Cinderella Tournament finalist, Koguma.
7/30 vs. Himeka
7/31 vs. Syuri
8/7 vs. Unagi Sayaka
8/11 vs. Risa Sera
8/14 vs. Momo Kohgo
8/27 vs. Maika
9/11 vs. AZM
9/12 vs. Mai Sakurai
9/17 vs. Saki Kashima
9/19 vs. SAKI
9/24 vs. Tam Nakano
10/1 vs. Koguma
Full Competitors List:
AZM - Queen's Quest, 4th Appearance, Current High Speed Champion
Himeka - Donna Del Mondo, 3rd Appearance
Koguma - STARS, 3rd Appearance, Current Goddesses of Stardom Co-Champion
Mai Sakurai - Donna Del Mondo, 1st Appearance
Maika - Donna Del Mondo, 3rd Appearance
Momo Kohgo - STARS, 1st Appearance (Replacing Thekla)
Risa Sera - Prominence, 1st Appearance
SAKI - Cosmic Angels, 1st Appearance
Saki Kashima - Oedo Tai, 5th Appearance, Current Artist of Stardom Co-Champion
Syuri - God's Eye, 3rd Appearance, 2021 Winner, Current World of Stardom Champion
Tam Nakano - Cosmic Angels, 6th Appearance
Unagi Sayaka - Cosmic Angels, 2nd Appearance
Utami Hayashishita - Queen's Quest, 5th Appearance
Ami Sourei - God's Eye, 1st Appearance
Giulia - Donna Del Mondo, 3rd Appearance
Hanan - STARS, 1st Appearance, Current Future of Stardom Champion
Hazuki - STARS, 4th Appearance, Current Goddesses of Stardom Co-Champion
Mayu Iwatani - STARS, 9th Appearance, Current SWA Undisputed World Champion
Mina Shirakawa - Cosmic Angels, 2nd Appearance
MIRAI - God's Eye, 1st Appearance
Momo Watanabe - Oedo Tai, 6th Appearance, Current Artist of Stardom Co-Champion
Natsupoi - Cosmic Angels, 3rd Appearance
Saya Iida - STARS, 2nd Appearance
Saya Kamitani - Queen's Quest, 3rd Appearance, Current Wonder of Stardom Champion
Starlight Kid - Oedo Tai, 3rd Appearance, Current Artist of Stardom Co-Champion
Suzu Suzuki - Prominence, 1st Appearance
The video above features the now historic match where Syuri defeated Utami Hayashishita to win the World of Stardom Championship. I've included it here for three reasons. One, because this match came as a result of Syuri winning the 2021 5STAR Grand Prix. Two, because it's a match that will once again take place on 7/31, and possibly once again if Utami wins the 5STAR again this year. And three, because it's an incredible match. So, if you have some time to burn, check it out!
Featured Image Credit - Shine Today, Believe Tomorrow Blog
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