Joe, our Online Editor, is what you might accurately describe as ‘hipster trash’. It is somewhat surprising that it’s taken him this long to properly explore the world of Joshi, Japanese Women’s Wrestling. Find out what happened in Joe-Shi Explored… This month – World Wonder Ring Stardom rising star wonder, Giulia.
Before we begin, a clarification. Many of you will know the term ‘puroresu’ just comes from a colloquial pronunciation of ‘pro wrestling’. Joshi literally translates as ‘women’ or ‘girls’. So when we say Joshi Puroresu, we are talking of women’s professional wrestling.
Beyond that, if you were to ask me what was the main difference between men’s and women’s wrestling in Japan, I wouldn’t be able to give you an informed answer but assuming you have a working knowledge of New Japan Pro Wrestling: imagine if even the youngest of lions seem to have the urge to brain their opponent of Katsuyori Shibata, and the hatred for their own necks of Kota Ibushi. In other words, it’s hecking rad.
It is important to establish that Joshi is like other wrestling in that it is not some magical land where everything is perfect. My first full show from World Wonder Ring Stardom (but we’ll call them Stardom. Because we’re friends) was March 2020’s No People Gate, a show brought to us for free on YouTube from a fanless Korakuen Hall. The show was, to be honest, fine.
It was a good show with a fun, inventive opening battle royal that really highlighted talents like Natsu Samire, Momo and others, it had some solid upper card action with World of Stardom (main title) champion, Mayu Iwatani taking on former friend Saki Kashima. But even that battle royal suffered from over-length, it also leads to a short but reasonably unsatisfying match between battle royal winner Saya Lida in a Super Strong Machine tribute and Natsuko Tora.
In between this, we had the perfunctory tag action with Jamie Hayter, Momo Watanabe and Utami Hayashishita putting on a solid tag title match that also featured Bea Priestley and some stable warfare with Tokyo Cyber Squad’s Hana Kimura and Konami taking on Donna Del Mondo’s Giulia and Maiki.
This match was very standard stuff in terms of tag structure but everyone managed to perform well and it had some strong intensity between stable leaders Kimura and Giulia. My next show would be 2020’s Cinderella Tournament, a single-elimination, one-night tournament where the winner gets to wear a princess dress and is granted a wish.
The first round of the tournament was also posted for free on YouTube. It was all good, literally all of it. Some of it was even very good, including a banger between Kimura and Iwatani. But then after it was done, I thought ‘why not? Let’s get a cheeky month’s subscription going. I want to see how this plays out’.
I warn you though, this is where I was hooked so if you don’t have 900 yen a month lying around, stop here before you get caught up in the second-round action. Also, spoilers.
So there were only two second-round matches as Maika and Hayashishita went to a time limit draw & Kimura-Iwatani was a double top rope elimination in a mad spot that I still can’t work out if it went to plan. This gave Tam Nakano and Tora byes to the semi-finals where Tora would get another quick, unexciting win.
So our matches were one-third of the Artist of Stardom (trios) champions, along with Maika and Giulia, Syuri, taking on Konami and Giulia vs Momo Watanabe, a woman that if I hear any of you say a mean word about her, I will stab.
Giulia wasn’t messing about here. She’s arguably not the best wrestler in Stardom, especially when Arisa Hoshiki is still in existence but she immediately presents like a champion. I remember when they announced there would be a Stardom exhibition match at Wrestle Kingdom this year, and I was intrigued as to what Giulia brought to the table.
I knew of Hoshiki and Iwatani, debuting on the first-ever Stardom show, being intertwined ever since, I knew of Kimura and Tokyo Cyber Squad, very much the Los Ingobernables de Jápon of Stardom in that they don’t really need to define as face or heel, they’re just vibing. Obviously, I knew of Kagetsu, the ace heartbreakingly retiring before her time, I knew of the two that went off to WWE (and hopefully might be back soon), Kairi and Io.
But Giulia, here was a 26-year-old, not even five years into her career, not even ten matches into her Stardom career; put up alongside the top talents in the company, having a stable built around her, standing on the grandest stage in men’s wrestling. And they had to make sure no one who wasn’t there saw it, because they knew it would probably show up the men. Especially Jay White. (Editor’s note: SteelChair opinions on Jay White may vary.)
Giulia’s finisher remains one of the sickest things I’ve seen in a good while. I love a twisted, little submission and Giulia’s Stealth Viper, a surfboard stretch arm and chin lock looks painful as anything but most importantly, like the snake it takes its name from, she latches on quickly and doesn’t let go till her opponent is gone. I like submissions wrestling, but when you’re watching someone spend thirty seconds lock something in, it loses impact. When you can lock something in at a speed that would make Jonathan Gresham blink, you’ve got something going on.
I’m intrigued by her character. I’m not sure whether it’s an oversight or a ruthless instinct but her semi-final in the Cinderella Tournament was her stablemate Syuri. She had no hesitancy in going for her like she did her other opponents. She presents with an awareness of the various facets of performance.
It’s not that she’s already a top-tier performer but for someone so young, she’s pushing herself to try. It can take performers an entire career to discover their niché so seeing her trying different things instead of settling into a rut of ‘good at wrestling but without a character’ is satisfying to see.
Watching the final, it became clear to me that over one night, Giulia had actually gone from being an intriguing prospect to basically a complete package. Given Oedo Tai’s Natsuko Tora in the final, a wrestler I find it somewhat baffling that Kagetsu bestowed upon her the honour of holding her Wakizashi. It would be like if Takashi Lizuka had granted the Iron Claw to Taichi, oh wait, that did happen.
Tora is kind of the anti-Giulia for me in that she has a cool look and a fun finisher as who doesn’t love a frog splash? Beyond that, she doesn’t do anything for me. But, while it was far from the best match of the final, they managed to create a genuinely exciting moment as I was fully sincerely rooting for Giiulia to overcome her vicious opponent.
Even Tora’s somewhat lax-looking forearms looked more motivated in this match. This tournament was, and I don’t care if you think I’m speaking hyperbolically, as good a star-making performance as Steve Austin in King of the Ring, but with the hope that twenty years from now we won’t have to ignore Giulia’s crimes to enjoy her.
This is just the tip of the Stardom iceberg. From this year alone, we’ve had bangers from Jamie Hayter and Utami Hayashishita from the 9th Anniversary show, two performers who can be quite hit-and-miss but seem to really be finding themselves in 2019. Talking of Hayshishita, her match with Arisa Hoshiki for the Wonder of Stardom (Stardom’s secondary title) championship was legitimately exciting.
Of course, there’s been the Kagetsu retirement tour which was unmissable, especially her singles work with Tam Nakano and, surprise surprise, Giulia which has showcased what a loss to the scene Kagetsu is – especially as no one else knows quite how to spit water at a referee.
But really wanted to take a moment here to say that even if you don’t care about anything I’ve said so far, Stardom World is worth your month’s subscription just for the match between Mayu Iwatani and Marvelous’ Takumi Iroha. Originally planned to be Iwatani vs Sareee but illness forced plans to change.
The story was simple, Iwatani was preparing for a more technical match and instead was confronted wth a sheer punishing force in Iroha and was not prepared for it. Iwatani’s selling in the match is proof that she is an all-time great, completely ragdolling for suplexes and making every kick look like it could be a knockout blow. Obviously though, Iroha is not someone who needs to be made to look good, she is just that good. So good in fact, I’m thinking next month, I might just go and check out what Marvelous is all about.
You can check out Stardom’s complete library of shows at stardom-world.com. Thanks to Alex Richards for dealing with my roughly 100 irritating questions about Joshi