Issue 13: Three Count Fall
STARDOM Cinderella Tournament, Champion Carnival Preview, Around the Rings of NOAH, NJPW, and more!
ONE COUNT: Formation of God’s Eye Stable Highlights Cinderella Tournament Opener
STARDOM’s busy schedule continued last weekend with the opening night of their 2022 Cinderella Tournament on April 3rd before 926 fans at the Tachikawa Stage Garden in Tokyo.
This is a brand-new building for STARDOM and wrestling in general, having opened in April of 2020 and just now getting going with a full slate of events. It was primarily built to be a concert hall, but with a capacity of just under 2,500 people it could make for a great intermediate-size venue for shows that are bigger than Korakuen Hall-level but not quite arena-worthy.
That description is precisely where this show fell, which makes the decision to run it on PPV even more interesting—particularly coming just one week after STARDOM’s massive shows at Ryogoku Sumo Hall. While the action was very good and the show was entertaining enough, the decision to put it on PPV felt like a “let’s see what level of show are people willing to pay extra for” exercise.
The Cinderella Tournament is unique in that all matches in the first round only have a 10-minute time limit and victory can be attained through pinfall, submission, countout, disqualification, or—most importantly as a distinction—over the top rope elimination. While this makes for a certain level of unpredictability and the possibility for major upsets (not unlike the often highly-entertaining elimination tag team matches NJPW sometimes as main events at Korakuen), the ruleset overall guaranteed that this show would not have the MOTY-level matches that STARDOM’s PPVs have been known for over the past 18 months.
With all that description out of the way…this was a very entertaining show, particularly if you are watching it as part of your STARDOM WORLD subscription rather than as a standalone purchase. There were several upsets, one match that was about as high-end as you can get given the aforementioned constraints, and the formation of a new breakaway unit.
If you are looking purely for the best action on this 16 match (15 first round, one second round) show, Starlight Kid and Natsupoi provided that by a fairly wide margin. They wrestled each other several months ago for the High Speed Championship in the main event of a Korakuen Hall show, but the match suffered from being a 30-minute draw. While it was still very good, it lacked the trademark, breakneck pace that these title matches usually delivered—the beginning and the finishing stretch were great, but the middle largely felt like it was just killing time.
Here, the opposite was the case—while they went with a full-speed finishing sequence from the opening bell and never stopped, you couldn’t help but wonder where this could have stacked up against February’s AZM-SLK High Speed Title match. What we got was tremendous, though—highlights included a beautiful cartwheeling evasion by Poi from the top rope to the apron, SLK countering Poi’s running drop kick with a perfectly timed jumping double stomp, and Poi rolling through a TTD attempt on the apron to victory roll SLK to the floor and win via over the top rope elimination.
That was followed by two consecutive draws of different kinds that saw four tournament favorites eliminated on the first night of action. Tam Nakano vs Utami Hayashishita saw the two wrestlers who lost last weekend to Saya Kamitani face off in a bid to get back on the championship track. The opening sequence continued the baffling-but-amusing story of Hayashishita basically pretending to be Nakano—once Utami got that out of her system, the match picked up with a great near-elimination spot as she hit a lariat that came very close to sending Nakano off the apron to the floor. Time expired just as Hayashishita hit a modified Torture Rack Bomb. While both were eliminated from the tournament, the post-match interaction indicated that a non-tournament rematch may be forthcoming.
In the only second-round match of the night, Wonder of Stardom Champion Saya Kamitani may have found her next contender after a unique double elimination finish here. Almost the entire match was contested on the apron with the threat of over-the-top-rope elimination looming—the finish saw Kamitani power bomb Maika off the apron from a seated position, but in doing so they both landed on the floor at the exact same time. Maika immediately challenged Kamitani for the White Belt, with the match having been announced just before press time for May 5th in Fukuoka. Mayu Iwatani will challenge Thekla for the SWA Championship on that same show.
Other notable action included Giulia defeated longtime friend and current Donna del Mondo stablemate Thekla; Hazuki putting in one of the best and most spirited performances of her comeback in a victory over rookie, Miyu Amasaki; and AZM scoring a minor upset over Momo Watanabe with a cutback cradle in one of the best matches of the evening (which included several callbacks to/teases of Watanabe loaded-boot kick that put AZM out of action earlier this year).
The main event saw World of Stardom Champion face new ally Ami Sourei (fka known at Ami Miura when she competed in the Actwres girl'Z promotion). STARDOM has mined the former Actwres roster to great effect in recent months, picking up the likes of Momo Kohgo, Mai Sakurai, and Waka Tsukiyama. Sourei has the immediate upper-card potential of that group, while Kohgo may have the highest ceiling as a potential top babyface is she can raise her in-ring level in the coming years.
This was one of the best matches on the show, with Sourei showing she belonged in the ring with a dominant main event wrestler. Syrui (much like she did with MIRAI earlier this year in a much longer match) gave Sourei just enough to show that she was worthy of being in a match with her, but put her away with enough ease that it was clear that Sourei was still a level below her. It was another one of those sink-or-swim high-profile debuts that STARDOM Executive Producer Rossy Ogawa seems very fond of, and Sourei passed the test with flying colors.
As Syuri was closing the show with a microphone performance after her victory, MIRAI appeared and entered the ring. It should be noted, as a follow-up to last week’s mention of this, that MIRAI continues to become a fan favorite in short order here. The crowd, which claps along to her music, did the same clap sequence immediately upon MIRAI’s appearance here (and several times throughout the promo).
MIRAI praised Syuri and Sourei for their match, and ultimately appealed to join Syuri’s new DDM-breakaway unit. Syuri embraced MIRAI, who then shook hands with Sourei to officially join GOD’s EYE, the newest stable in STARDOM. It will interesting to see where things go from here, as it’s hard to believe that the God’s Eye will be only a triumvirate for long. While there is absolutely nothing to indicated this is imminent, its hard to imagine a better possible fit for this group than Konami, should she decide to return from her pro-wrestling hiatus. God’s Eye will face Cosmic Angels on May 1st, with an “X” slated to join the unit for this 8-person tag team match.
The Cinderella Tournament continues with two second round matches on April 10th as STARDOM visits the Osaka Edion Arena Second Gymnasium. The key matches on that card include:
Cinderella Tournament - Round 2: Hazuki vs. AZM
Cinderella Tournament - Round 2: Syuri vs. Himeka
Goddesses of Stardom Title: Momo Watanabe & Starlight Kid (c) vs. Giulia & Thekla
The Cinderella Tournament continues on April 17th with the remainder of the second round matches as well as quarterfinal action.
TWO COUNT: All Japan Pro-Wrestling Champion Carnival Preview
While New Japan Pro-Wrestling’s 50th Anniversary celebrations have understandably received much more attention given their standing as the industry leader in Japan, another storied promotion is also celebrating their 50th Anniversary year—All Japan Pro-Wrestling.
Through its many iterations beginning in 1973 the Champion Carnival is the longest-running annual singles tournament in Japan and the highlight of the AJPW calendar (for decades the World Tag League was the premier tournament for the company, but that is no longer the case), taking the traditional round-robin format after being single elimination in that first year.
While AJPW is at one of the lowest points in its 50 year history when it comes to fan interest and attendance, the Champion Carnival always provides an opportunity for the company’s top wrestlers to show that they are at a similar level to the best wrestlers in larger companies. This year’s tournament returns to a block format after being contested in one 10-wrestler group last year—it is also the biggest field since 2019, with 12 wrestlers rather than the 10 we have seen in the past two tournaments.
It is also, barring any last minute lineup changes or show cancelations, the closest to a “normal” Champion Carnival tournament that we have seen since the COVID-19 pandemic began more than two years ago. In early 2020 it felt like AJPW was gaining momentum heading into the April tournament, featuring an 18-man roster with outsiders from Pro Wrestling NOAH (Takashi Sugiura), Big Japan Wrestling (Hideyoshi Kamitani), 2AW (Ayato Yoshida), and MLW/U.S. (Davey Boy Smith, Jr.).
The 2020 Champion Carnival, like so many events in the spring and summer of that year, was dramatically affected by the pandemic. After several postponements and changes to the lineup (none of those outsiders ended up participating), Zeus ended up defeating Kento Miyahara in the tournament final of a 10-man field on Oct. 5th, 2020.
The 2021 edition of the tournament was also dramatically affected, with a COVID outbreak forcing the final night of the tournament on May 3rd, 2021 to be held in a completely empty Korakuen Hall as Jake Lee defeated Kento Miyahara to win his first Champion Carnival.
The 2022 Champion Carnival is set to get underway on April 9th in Osaka with a full slate of A and B block matches.
While there are stronger arguments for some more than others, the A Block could be won by any of the six participants. If we’re looking at tiers, I would say that the two clear favorites from the group are Jake Lee and Shotaro Ashino.
As mentioned earlier, Lee finally won the Champion Carnival with what should have been his signature win over Miyahara in the final, but the no-fans nature of the match blunted the impact of the win. Considering that Lee’s eventual Triple Crown reign ended prematurely due to injury, it would almost be surprising if he did not at least advance to the final here on the road to regaining his championship.
Ashino is on the verge of breaking through and becoming the third major star in the company (behind Miyahara and Lee) with his recent tag title run with Suwama doing wonders for him in terms of his character the AJPW fans’ acceptance of him. His Last Man Standing match with Ryuki Honda last month was a revelation, showing a different side of style and ability to carry a younger, less-experienced opponent to a great match. It’s a matter of when, rather than if, Ashino wins the Champion Carnival.
T-Hawk, representing StrongHearts and the GLEAT promotion, also has an opportunity to come out of his block as an outsider. It’s something we’ve seen relatively recently (Naomichi Marufuji in 2018, Daisuke Sekimoto in 2016) and it’s a strategy that always works with the right guy—either have him win the tournament as an outsider and lose in the subsequent title challenge, or just make the final and lose there. The only complicating factor in a possible run of siginifcance for T-Hawk here is his continued and growing participation in New Japan with stablemates CIMA and El Lindaman.
Having advanced to the final of the four-man tournament to crown a new Triple Crown Champion earlier this year, Ryuki Honda cannot be ruled out here in going on a run to this tournament final as well. I don’t see it as likely, necessarily, but his stock has been raised within the promotion by his strong performances in that tournament and the aforementioned match with Ashino last month. Ishikawa and Irie would be the least likely to advance out of the A Block but are consistent and credible enough threats that it can’t be completely ruled out.
Things are a little less murky on the B Block side, as it is exceedingly unlikely that Yoshitatsu or Kuma Arashi will factor into the final except for potentially acting as spoilers as the Block action winds down. The three favorites to come out of the B Block are Kento Miyahara, Suwama, and Yuma Aoyagi.
For Miyahara, his next few months are maybe the most intriguing of anyone in the tournament or the company at large. He is in the midst of an unplanned fifth Triple Crown reign, having defeated Ryuki Honda earlier this year in the final of a tournament after Jake Lee was forced to vacate due to injury. The temptation to keep the championship on Miyahara long-term must be strong, as he is clearly the top draw in AJPW by a wide margin—that said, Lee’s title reign seemed destined to last through much of 2022 if not for his injury. If I had to pick a B Block winner right now, I would go with Miyahara to reach the tournament final.
Suwama is always a threat in any tournament of championship match setting. I don’t see him winning the Champion Carnival here, but he would be a credible tournament final win for anyone in the A Block. Aoyagi is the toughest to predict here, as he could just as easily finish fourth in this block as he could win the whole thing. He is always in the mix and seems destined to win this tournament one day, but it also feels like the company isn’t quite ready to pull the trigger on him as a top guy just yet.
Takuya Nomura of Big Japan is by far the most intriguing entrant in this tournament. As BJW continues to struggle, Nomura is the brightest spot in that company and one can’t help but wonder if he will ever move on to greener pastures—Daisuke Sekimoto and Yuji Okabayashi never did, and it feels like Nomura is reaching a similar “now or never” point in his career.
If I was booking this tournament, Nomura would defeat Miyahara in Block competition, then defeat Ashino in the final, and go on to lose to Miyahara in subsequent Triple Crown match on May 4th. I do not expect that to happen, however. If I had to make a prediction right now, it would be that Lee wins the A Block, defeats Suwama in the final, and goes on to defeat Miyahara for the Triple Crown on May 4th.
The 2022 Champion Carnival tournament gets underway this weekend in Osaka:
April 9th in Osaka
- Champion Carnival - Block A: Shuji Ishikawa vs. Shigehiro Irie
- Champion Carnival - Block A: Jake Lee vs. Shotaro Ashino
- Champion Carnival - Block A: Ryuki Honda vs. T-Hawk
- Champion Carnival - Block B: Kento Miyahara vs. Kuma Arashi
- Champion Carnival - Block B: Suwama vs. Yuma Aoyagi
- Champion Carnival - Block B: Yoshitatsu vs. Takuya Nomura
THREE COUNT: Around the Rings of New Japan Pro-Wrestling, Pro Wrestling NOAH, SEAdLINNNG, and more
In potentially the most significant development yet in the burgeoning relationship between New Japan Pro-Wrestling and All Elite Wrestling (AEW), the two companies have reached a deal to air AEW’s flagship television programs (“Dynamite” and Rampage”) on NJPW World for Japanese fans at no additional cost to beyond the basic 999 yen monthly cost of the streaming service.
The shows will initially be delivered on a Video on Demand (VOD) basis, but there are plans in place for them to be shown live with full Japanese commentary in the near future. These broadcasts will be geo-blocked so only Japanese viewers can watch them on NJPW World, which is to be existed given AEW’s television contracts with Warner Media and other international partners.
So why is this so important to English-speaking fans if the shows are geo-blocked? A few reasons, really. First, and this cannot be reiterated enough, this is by far the highest level deal brokered between the two companies. This isn’t Rocky Romero brokering a deal for KENTA to appear on Dynamite, or Tony Khan allowing Jon Moxley to work the occasional NJPW show in the U.S. This is the two companies as a whole entering into an agreement to carry AEW programming on NJPW’s streaming service, which is partially owned by TV ASAHI.
It doesn’t take an overly active imagination to envision a realistic scenario where NJPW live events, archival footage, etc. could be part of an AEW/ROH content deal with a domestic streaming partner like HBO MAX or Discovery+. Beyond that, this feels like the first real formal arrangement between the two companies beyond “hey, we like a few of your wrestlers, can we use them?” type of one-off deals. With this AEW-on-NJPW-WORLD arrangement in place, the notion of a co-promoted event between NJPW and AEW in Japan, the U.S., or both seems more likely than ever before.
In-ring, New Japan only had one televised show this week (April 4th) on the road to Hyper Battle in Ryogoku Sumo Hall on April 9th. It was a largely paint-by-numbers show, only notable for the no-rope sumo-style match preview that the Dangerous Tekkers vs Kazuchika Okada and Toru Yano main event evolved into.
Great O-Khan also made his first in-ring appearance since the incredible story of him rescuing a young girl from an attack last week in Kawasaki City. While I expected a brief acknowledgement of this on-air, I was genuinely surprised by how heavily they leaned into the story at Korakuen Hall. O-Khan brought his commendation from the local police department out with him to the match, told Hirooki Goto that was now a hero and went to shake his hand, only to kick him in the midsection to jumpstart the match. In the postmatch, O-Khan hid behind the commendation as YOSHI-HASHI dared him to put it on the line in their IWGP Tag Team Championship match on April 9th.
We will have full coverage of the Hyper Battle event in next week’s issue, but it struck me today that main roster NJPW is running a show with six title matches…and I would not trade my front row ticket to the NJPW of America Windy City Riot show one week later to attend Hyper Battle.
New Japan also had a heavy presence in Dallas, Texas last weekend during WrestleMania weekend—most notably, for the NJPW STRONG Lonestar Shootout iPPV. What stood out most to me on that show was Ren Narita’s performance in defeating Rocky Romero—this was by far the most confident, polished, and fully-formed version Narita that we have seen to date. He bears no resemblance stylistically to the wrestler who left NJPW on excursion to Katsuyori Shibata’s LA Dojo—and while he certainly bears a close resemblance to Shibata now, he is not a clone and is his own wrestler. It’s difficult to see exactly how such a hard-nosed and straightforward wrestler like Narita will fit in a New Japan that is so dominated by House of Torture and Bullet Club-style wrestling, but he is 100 percent ready to be a featured player in the promotion.
As always, it was another mixed bag in the world of Pro Wrestling NOAH. On the positive side, Katsuhiko Nakajima and Hideki Suzuki had one of the best matches of 2022 just before press time on April 8th at Korakuen Hall. An outpost of sorts leading up to the GHC Tag Team Championship on April 30th, Nakajima and Suzuki met in a match that felt in some ways more like a New Japan battle from the ‘80’s or ‘90s than a modern day match in NOAH or elsewhere. Nakajima went heavy on the strikes, Suzuki leaned into his high-level catch wrestling, and the match featured several sequences that led a “reset” of sorts each time—even very late into the match, which is again something that you would see more often 30 or 40 years ago than you see today. It was one of the most uniquely entertaining matches you will watch this year, regardless of the fact that it went the full 30 minutes.
On the other side of the coin, the finish and postmatch of the main event of that same April 8th show was pure NOSAWA’s NOAH at its worst. In previous weeks, I laid out the likely scenario of GHC Heavyweight Champion Kazayuki Fujita defeating Go Shiozaki on April 30th at Ryogoku and going on to CyberFight Festival in June as champion. If that is indeed the case, what happened at the end of the Fujita/Sugiura vs Shiozaki/Tanaka match was about as bad as it gets from a booking standpoint.
Fujita absolutely obliterated Shiozaki with a Beast Bomb and a punt kick to the face before pinning him with one knee on the chest. Fujita then hit Shiozaki with a second Beast Bomb postmatch, then attacked Tanaka, and then took out his own partner Sugiura. The final scene, fittingly and frustratingly for NOSAWA’s Pro Wrestling NOAH, saw Fujita and Kendo Kashin standing tall over everyone. Under any other booker, I would be convinced that this would guarantee a Shiozaki victory on April 30th…but suffice to say I’m not convinced that will be the case here.
While we’re on the subject of Pro Wrestling NOAH and less-than-ideal decisions, it was announced that Michael Elgin would be returning to the promotion for the first time since January 2020 to take on Masa Kitamiya on the April 30th show at Ryogoku Sumo Hall. No one was clamoring for this to happen, yet here we are.
I had the opportunity to watch SEAdLINNNG’s March 31st show and found it to be the most enjoyable event they’ve put on in several months. The main event was a reminder of what we will be losing, at least temporarily, when Tsukasa Fujimoto steps away from wrestling following her recent wedding. Her “Best Friends” team with Arisa Nakajima continues to be one of the best tag teams in the world, and one that would be recognized as such much more widely if they competed on a larger stage.
Here, they defeated the team Miyuki Takase and Yuu in a typically energetic and exciting match that featured Nakajima and Takase in an outstanding finishing stretch. With the impending departure of wrestlers like Fujimoto, Takase seems well-positioned to step into that spot of being a top wrestler who can put in a high-end main event level performance in any promotion or situation. A singles match between Takase and Nakajima would have the potential to be an under-the-radar 2022 Match of the Year candidate, should it occur.