Stardom turned 11 years old on Jan. 23, 2022, and we have made it to the point that there is a noticeable before and after in the promotion. When Stardom was forced to take a three-month hiatus after the Cinderella Tournament in March 2020, they came back very different from where they were before. Seeing that it was months earlier that Kagetsu and Hazuki retired then during the break Arisa Hoshiki had been forced to retire and Hana Kimura passed away, the promotion had no other choice but to rebuild themselves. As we sit here in the present, Stardom has never been more popular. They experienced a boom that has them on the levels of All Elite Wrestling (AEW) in terms of being one of the hottest promotions in the world.
So many new fans have been made thanks to the likes of Utami Hayashishita, Syuri, and Giulia. That results in the newer fans knowing far too little about the nine-plus years that came before it, which made Stardom what it is today. There’s an entirely different Stardom that built itself up to be where they are today and there’s a number of wrestlers, matches, and rivalries that should be explored by the fans who call themselves Stardom fans. It’s easy to go back. Stardom World has plenty of the library up for anyone to check out. That’s where we go exploring.
Classic matches didn’t just start happening after the well-known battle between Hayashishita and Syuri at Tokyo Dream Cinderella. Not even close. Io Shirai and Kairi Hojo, for example, had the best matches of their careers in a Stardom ring – not WWE. Mayu Iwatani has a long list of classics from her previous title reigns and bouts with the other two-thirds of Threedom. Kagetsu is another who didn’t have the longest of runs but made every match count on her way to having some of the best matches in Stardom history. But the match that might perfectly encapsulate how amazing Stardom was before their rise is the one where Hazuki challenged Arisa Hoshiki for the Wonder of Stardom Championship.
As Good as it Gets: Arisa Hoshiki (c) vs. Hazuki for the Wonder of Stardom Championship (Big Summer in Tokyo, 7/24/19)
Before we get into it, it’s best to say that this probably isn’t the best Stardom match of all time. Might not even be the best from 2019 alone. But it captures everything that has made Stardom special for so long. It captures that passion, that intensity, that meaning of “shine today, believe tomorrow.”
Once upon a time, Korakuen Hall was the PPV venue of Stardom. Hard to believe nowadays as a Korakuen Hall show has become just another show for the promotion, but back then it was the big one. On July 24, 2019, Arisa Hoshiki would defend her Wonder of Stardom Championship against Hazuki. Now, there’s a lot to get into when talking about these two as competitors.
Let’s start off with Hoshiki. There was always something special about the “Shining Star.” Her nickname was fitting seeing that anytime Hoshiki wrestled in Stardom, she shined brighter than anyone. When Hoshiki returned to the promotion in 2018 after a six-plus year absence, she was instantly a star again. Rightfully so as Hoshiki was the definition of a prodigy. She would win the Cinderella Tournament six months after returning. Using that win, Hoshiki would be the one to end Momo Watanabe’s historic Wonder of Stardom Championship reign in 2019 and never lose the title before having to retire in May 2020.
Hoshiki had special title defenses in her reign with the most prominent one being against her best friend Tam Nakano. That was an emotional struggle that brought out the best in the two of them for one of the best Stardom matches in history.
Hoshiki was still learning, still growing, and only getting better as the matches went on. By the time her third defense came against Hazuki, she was hitting on all cylinders.
Then there’s Hazuki. If you see the Hazuki of today compared to back then, they are very different. Hazuki was part of Oedo Tai, second in command behind Kagetsu. It would have been preposterous to think back then that Hazuki would return to pro wrestling and be a part of STARS of all units. But here we are and she’s thriving.
The one thing about Hazuki back then that we haven’t fully seen in her yet since returning is the intensity that she had brought to the ring. She was stiff in there. Nothing was held back as she wanted to hurt whoever stood across from her. Hazuki was very no-nonsense and that’s what made her so special at the time. It made the return that we saw in 2021 one of the most highly anticipated for a reason. She, like Hoshiki, was hitting on all cylinders before retiring. It made their lone meeting one-on-one so perfect.
Hazuki was all about winning the Wonder of Stardom Championship. It was the only title that mattered to her. In terms of singles, it likely still is the only title that matters to her. Heading into the match with Hoshiki at Big Summer in Tokyo, it was the best chance for her to reach that achievement.
There was a certain intensity to these two as they stood across from one another. Hazuki vs. Hoshiki was the semi-main event, wrestling behind World of Stardom Champion Bea Priestley and Momo Watanabe. They proceeded to go out there and steal the show.
Korakuen was rocking before the opening bell rang. You could feel the buzz in the building. That buzz would become deafening noise that only got louder as the match went on. The best feeling when you watch a match is that the result is in question. Hazuki was ready. More than ready for a shot at being champion. Arisa Hoshiki just became champion and didn’t plan on losing it anytime soon. There was a feeling there that you could feel with the atmosphere that no one really knew. It added excitement and drama that made the final five minutes some of the best in Stardom history.
Instead of giving a step-by-step summary of this match, it is better to leave a link so you can watch it yourself and experience what made it so special.
Back when COVID-19 wasn’t a problem, it became a trend that matches would end up in the crowd and that’s what happened here. Hazuki dragged the body of Hoshiki out to the stands to, you know, smash the champion’s face against the wall and go on with her day. It wouldn’t last long out there before they got back into the ring and the action picked up. For 15 minutes and 35 seconds, Hoshiki and Hazuki challenged each other to show who had what it took. Both of them got incredible near-falls towards the end that were just as good on second viewing.
Hoshiki hit her famous Brazilian Kick, a move that had finished a number of opponents before but it had not been enough to keep out Hazuki. The challenger was able to apply the Hazukistral, resulting in a Korakuen Hall-filled gasp when Hoshiki managed to just kick out at 2.9 seconds. All that could result was a standing ovation because they were putting on a show. Eventually, Hoshiki had enough. A devastating running knee would put an end to Hazuki’s aspirations of becoming Wonder of Stardom Champion as Hoshiki had the look of someone who managed to survive the challenge of her life.
When this match ends, all you can do is applaud what you witnessed. These two showed how much they wanted it. They made you believe that there was nothing else more important than the Wonder of Stardom Championship. That title’s rich history has a number of defenses that make that belt feel important and we have seen a number of them over the last two years alone. Yet, on this occasion, it felt as special as any title in history without the emotional back story and added drama of a stipulation. Hazuki and Arisa Hoshiki didn’t need all that. All they needed was each other, a great crowd, and the desire to be Wonder of Stardom Champion. It was a match and story that wrote itself. That’s when pro wrestling is at its best.
Stardom is where it is today because of matches like this one. The pace, the emotion, the drama, the excitement, and the “whatever it takes” attitude. It all captures what Stardom has always stood for. They shined that day and tomorrow looks brighter and brighter as Stardom continues to boom in popularity.
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