2021 has been a banner year for professional wrestling around the world all things considered. Sure, it hasn’t been easy as the world continues to bounce back from COVID-19, but it still has seen promotions grow, moments be made, and wrestlers become solidified stars. At the end of the day, that’s a good sign for wrestling moving forward. For those who are fans of All Elite Wrestling (AEW), it has been a year of repeated records being set, moments being made, and just fantastic pro wrestling being displayed time and time again. There’s no doubt that when it comes to the hottest promotions in the world, AEW is at the top of the list. It also goes without saying that they have seen more growth this year than any other. But who is number two? That would be World Wonder Ring Stardom, which has been led into this level up of sorts by their world champion Utami Hayashishita.
Hayashishita has been everything for Stardom and more. Becoming World of Stardom Champion in November of 2020, she would be positioned to lead Stardom into a new era that had unlimited hopes and dreams for the promotion as a whole. While the likes of Mayu Iwatani are still there to right the ship as the promotion’s “ace,” it’s Hayashishita who has taken center as their shining star. In doing so, she has made 2021 the year of “The Red Queen.” Here’s a look at Hayashishita’s year to this point, why it will go down as a historic one for her and Stardom, and what to look out for in these final two months.
Utami Hayashishita: From Golden Prodigy To The One
It’s no secret that since she became a member of Stardom that Utami Hayashishita was going to do big things for them. She debuted on Aug. 12, 2018, and wrestled to a 15-minute draw with Jungle Kyona. From there, Hayashishita entered the 5 STAR Grand Prix and made it to the finals just over a month after her debut. “The Red Queen” may not have won, but the direction was a bright one — they has major plans for her. Hayashishita would become the belt collector of sorts during the next couple of months. She’d win the Goddess of Stardom Tag League with Momo Watanabe then proceed to defeat Jungle Kyona and Natsuko Tora for the Goddess of Stardom Championship. She would go on to win the SWA World Championship, EVE International Championship, Future of Stardom Championship, and the Artist of Stardom Championships with Watanabe and AZM within the next year. Everything pointed to her being the one they wanted to believe in and it wouldn’t take long for her to get to the very top at the end of 2020.
Winning the 5 STAR Grand Prix felt like the launching point she was destined for and that’s what she accomplished in 2020. She would follow that up by defeating Mayu Iwatani for the World of Stardom Championship at Sendai Cinderella, signaling the change in Stardom that we see today. Since that moment, she’s been world champion and has had a title reign that leaves her in the same breathe as someone like Io Shirai when it comes to Stardom royalty. It’s a reign that has helped morph Stardom from an indie to a potential powerhouse in the world of wrestling. She has dreams and aspirations to be to Stardom what Kazuchika Okada has been to New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) over the last decade. Lofty goals and aspirations but ones that have begun to be proven in her title reign as you read this. It has been masterful defense after masterful defense mixed with a promotion-altering match and a historic defense.
Her reign is one that feels of the most importance. Every match has shown something new out of the champion. Hayashishita’s very first defense came against her Queen’s Quest stablemate and its leader, Momo Watanabe. A woman who has won titles with her and has the most dominant title reign in the history of Stardom to her name. By all accounts, it was Stardom pulling out the big guns for defense number one with an instant story between the two. Hayashishita could not best her friend when they faced off in the 5 STAR Grand Prix, one of the two blemishes on Hayashishita’s road to winning the tournament. By the end of their match at Osaka Dream Cinderella, she righted the wrong that was hanging over her, proving she had made it to the level of someone like Watanabe.
Next up was her match with Maika at the 10th Anniversary show. To think 10 years after Stardom was created, Hayashishita took the mantle to main event such a show. That’s more important than some may realize. Maika was the one person to actually defeat Hayashishita in the tournament, making this a must-win for the champion. To the surprise of no one, it was the second defense in her pocket in what was an eye-opening match for both women.
The “eye-opening” aspect is important here. That’s something that Hayashishita’s reign is built by. Not only does she prove those who doubt her wrong but has done so with challengers who have elevated themselves along the way. That’s a clear distinction to what makes her reign on top so special. Stars are made, elevated, whatever you prefer. And it only continued when AphroditE came together at the biggest Stardom show to date. All Star Dream Cinderella.
Names like Nanae Takahashi, Yoshiko, Chigusa Nagayo, and Yuzuki Aikawa graced the show in some fashion. However, it was Hayashishita in the world title match. It did not go on last, but she defended her World of Stardom Championship against Saya Kamitani in what was a battle between teammates for the top prize — something Hayashishita was used to from her first defense against Watanabe. The two women surprised the world, displaying a title match that brought intense drama, terrific near falls, and completed as a great title match for the show. It was this match that started to make it feel as though no matter what challenger was put in front of her, she would bring it on with open arms.
The next defense was Hayashishita’s first defense against a former World of Stardom Champion as Bea Priestley challenged. It ended up being more easy work for Hayashishita as they managed to have one of Priestley’s best career matches. All these defenses were grand. Success after success. Great match after great match. None reached the point of reign-defining and none of the opponents necessarily felt to be the true rival to her and her reign. Well, little did anyone know that when she and Syuri would go one-on-one at Tokyo Dream Cinderella, the game would change for the promotion and both wrestlers.
Utami Hayashishita vs. Syuri was as exciting of a match as any Stardom had put on prior in 2021, but this one felt as though it could be special. Maybe that’s how others felt going into other bouts throughout the year, but this had that feeling. Enter Tokyo Dream Cinderella and feel the entrances. As a viewer, there was a special feeling in the air. Syuri was as serious as ever heading into this match. This was her goal — win the World of Stardom Championship. Nothing else mattered. She was doing it for her late mother. On the other side of the ring was Hayashishita. Calm, cool, and collected as she tends to be no matter how big the stage is. Inside Ota Ward, a place of great history in pro wrestling and Japan. It all made sense.
Once the match got going, that feeling of “something special was happening” followed through. They battled and battled and battled. No wasted movement, everything felt as it mattered. “The Red Queen” did her best to take down the one woman she could not defeat while Syuri did what she could to try and capture the gold. 30 minutes in and no winner was crowned. It was a time-limit draw but they weren’t content with that finish. Time was added to the match and for the next 13 minutes, they would give it everything they had before not having anything left in the tank. The match ended, no winner was named, and Hayashishita’s reign survived for at least one more defense. Hayashishita had found her rival, her title reign’s defining match, and potential for more.
Hayashishita would face Natsuko Tora in her next defense. Just after a defense that felt so special and important, disaster struck in her defense with Tora. The simplest of foot stomps by Tora resulted in heart-breaking injury for her. The match was ended due to referee stoppage, leaving a sour taste in the mouths of many — especially the two competitors. Onward and upward as they say, but Hayashishita promised to hold onto the title until Tora came back so they could have a rematch.
Moving forward from there, it became time for Hayashishita to buckle down. Any challenger she had from here on out can see her weaknesses. Or so the world thought. Hayashishita didn’t develop many weaknesses as is but completely changed the way she was going to wrestle. She transformed herself throughout the title reign and was no longer the champion who would fight back and pull off the win by the skin of her teeth but become dominant. And when saying dominant, there’s a sense of her understanding her gifted talent and putting it to the best use. Takumi Iroha of Marvelous would step up next. An ace of her own promotion and a former Stardom-contracted wrestler, Iroha showed that she was one of the best in all of Joshi during her run in the 5 STAR Grand Prix. She was a win away from making it to the finals and brought the champion to a 20-minute draw.
These two titans would square off inside Osaka-Jo Hall with No Time Limit to restrict them. It was Hayashishita’s persistence to change the way Stardom was seen, making the push to move past the 30-minute time limit that had possibly hurt her chances of defeating Syuri in her prior defense. Trying to become the Okada of Stardom, quite frankly. It’s a lofty goal but she’s having a title reign that is Okada-like. “The Red Queen” became “The Final Boss” almost overnight though. She credited her father for getting into her head after she lost to Tam Nakano at the 5 STAR Grand Prix finals, saying it was time to stop losing and be that much better. Looking at her match with Iroha, she shifted the style dramatically. There was dominance followed by more dominance. Iroha, someone who often fights with the upper hand, looked helpless at times. Iroha fought back time and time again but it was never enough. Hayashishita finished her off with a BT Bomb, acquiring the most decisive win of her reign and giving the feeling that she’s only getting started. “The Red Queen’s” eyes have now been set on another milestone that is of the highest of accolades for anyone.
Io Shirai is Stardom royalty and for good reason. Hayashishita is the woman who is positioned to replace her after all this time. Shirai’s 546-day reign as World of Stardom Champion saw the champion successfully defend the title 14 times. That’s the number Hayashishita is now chasing. With this being the year of Utami and her becoming what she is today, it feels believable that it can be reached. And not only reached, but shattered. Of course, her latest defense was one that she needed to power through to make those dreams survive.
Hazuki presented an entirely different challenge to Hayashishita than any one of her prior challengers. Not only was she someone that remained a major question mark in terms of where she was at in her comeback, but her skills bring some of the best wrestlers Stardom has seen together. The daredevil mindset of Shirai’s high-flying mixed with the smarts and craftiness of Kagetsu. Plus all of what Hazuki has made her own, it set for a dangerous match for the champion to take on. But as Hayashishita does, she welcomed the challenge and survived that challenge. Survival because that powering style that had taken down Takumi Iroha was not happening with Hazuki. The challenger came .01 seconds from winning when she rolled up Hayashishita for one of the best near falls you will see in wrestling this year. She even hit her signature Brainbuster but the champion survived again. “Wildheart” brought it to “The Red Queen,” but at the end of the day, it was another BT Bomb and successful defense for the undeniable world champion. The win keeps her on track for the rematch of the year with 5 STAR Grand Prix winner Syuri on December 29. It’s difficult to doubt the champion even if the match feels more 50-50 than any of her defenses before. It’s that confidence in her winning that has made 2021 her year.
Utami Hayashishita has become the centerpiece of not only Stardom but Joshi wrestling as a whole in 2021. She remains the talk of Joshi and is helping the style make its way out of its slumber, bringing it to light once more. Pro Wrestling Illustrated acknowledged “The Red Queen” as number two in all of wrestling for women’s wrestlers over the past year, finishing just behind WWE’s Bianca Belair. The Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer sang the praises for her match with Syuri, making it the highest-rated women’s match in over two decades at 5 1/2 stars. Tom Lawlor, Justin Barrasso, the list goes on of those who applauded what that match was. She has people talking and that’s what Stardom needed when they ran with her as number one. 2021 has been as bright of a year for a Joshi as any in a long time, solidifying this as the year of Utami and truthfully… it’s only the beginning.
To reiterate, Hayashishita is what wrestling looks for in a superstar. Not what WWE calls a superstar but a legitimate name to break through and bring eyes to their promotion and style. We have seen it time and time again. The last decade alone has done wonders. Punk. Okada. Lynch. All different ways, all different styles, but a result that is similar. People care. They become fans. And they become major superstars in the process. Hayashishita hasn’t reached those levels yet but she is the one to do it and it will be soon enough.
Setting records, having classics, and making her own mark on the world. “The Red Queen” is just getting started.
More from LWOS Pro Wrestling
Stay tuned to the Last Word on Pro Wrestling for more on this and other stories from around the world of wrestling as they develop. You can always count on LWOPW to be on top of the major news in the wrestling world, as well as to provide you with analysis, previews, videos, interviews, and editorials on the wrestling world. If you want to see more from Stardom, you can check out their subscription service Stardom World for all your wonderous Joshi needs.