Athena vs. Billie Starkz: Someday, But Not Today


If not now, when?

That is a question I’ve asked myself a couple of times during Athena’s reign as the Ring of Honor Women’s World Champion. It’s been a truly historic run and one that fans will remember for many years to come, and she became one of my favorite wrestlers in the world because of her work this year. But, with her win at Final Battle, number 44 in what has developed into an unparalleled reign of dominance, I find myself asking it again.

Athena beat Willow Nightingale at Death Before Dishonor in the promotion’s first main event between two women. The two of them tore the house down and delivered my personal favorite women’s match of the year, one that would easily find a place on a hypothetical “2023’s Top Matches” list of mine. It was the type of hard-hitting affair one would expect from those two, and it also paid tribute to the past in an emotionally resonant way. However, the match’s result caused me to wonder who, if anyone, will end her reign. Enter Billie Starkz.

The Athena, Billie Starkz, and Lexy Nair story has been one of my favorite stories told in wrestling this year. Athena adopted Nair (a backstage correspondent) and Starkz (a 19-year-old girl with very high potential) as her “Minions,” putting them through rigorous training. Their story has been taking place primarily on Ring of Honor’s weekly HonorClub show, but the videos have been so good that they’ve had no choice but to be posted on social media. Additionally, Starkz has worked as Athena’s “manager,” often refusing to engage in the heel activities put forth by her coach, much to Athena’s chagrin.

Athena mistreated Billie for most of the year, even naming Lexy Nair the “valedictorian” of the Minion In Training (the superior MIT) program, despite Starkz being the actual wrestler between the two. A few weeks ago, Starkz finally had enough of the treatment and snapped, leading to the ROH Women’s World Championship being put on the line at Final Battle, the final ROH pay-per-view of the year and traditionally, one of the two most important shows on their calendar. It was also going to be in the main event, making it Athena’s second pay-per-view main event of 2023.

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In a lot of ways, this match doubled as a test for Starkz. Her first pay-per-view main event ever, at 19 years old, opposite one of the best wrestlers in the world. To say she passed would be an understatement.

Across nearly 30 minutes, Athena (complete with Bane-inspired gear) and Starkz had a wonderful Teacher vs. Student affair. It opened with Athena bullying her opponent, just as so many of her matches this year have. She threw Starkz around the ringside area, seemingly making it her mission to have her personally meet every barricade with her back. Starkz bled early, and because Starkz is already a sympathetic babyface, it became even easier to root for her for the rest of the match. 

For a moment, it almost felt like Starkz was going to get steamrolled, with Athena’s offense looking especially stiff on the night and Starkz looking like a wrestler way out of her depth. However, her fortunes changed when she reversed a move into a suplex into the turnbuckles. After that, the match becomes significantly more competitive, with Starkz beginning to fight back and slowly wear down Athena through a combination of actual offense and flash pin attempts. However, I will note that this match is at its best when Athena is in control and looking for new ways to beat down her protégé. A move for move breakdown will never do a match like this any favors, so I will spare you the finer details. 

In the move that signaled the beginning of the match’s finishing sequence, Starkz takes an elevated release German suplex from the middle turnbuckle that looked both visually incredible and like something that would keep the average person down for at least a month. Of course, these are not average people. After the near fall, Athena goes to pick Starkz up, but Starkz kicks her away and she’s sent flying into the referee, which leads to my least favorite moment of the match. 

Athena hits Starkz with the Bayonet, then gets a visual pin because the referee is down. She then asks Lexy Nair to hand her the title so she can hit Starkz with it, and the two play a game of tug of war with the belt until Starkz gets back up, dropkicks Athena into the title and hits the Star 10 for another near-fall. I did not love the tug-of-war sequence and I am not a fan of referee bumps, so that two-minute stretch took away from the match for me, though the rest of what took place here was excellent. Starkz’s last big maneuver was hitting Athena with an Electric Chair Driver on the ring apron, and though Starkz tried to fight back after Athena regained control, it was clear that she was running on fumes. A few minutes later, Athena forces Starkz to tap out, ending what was one of the strongest women’s matches to take place in the United States this year and a coming-out party for the younger half of this contest.

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The post-match angle left me with more questions than answers. Starkz offered Athena a handshake. She refused, to which Starkz asked what more she wanted from her. Athena wanted Starkz to be her minion, even though it felt like the point of the match was to show that she was more than a minion. After, Athena and Starkz hug it out and, along with Lexy Nair, leave the arena together.

Which brings me back to my question from the beginning. Athena has dominated the women’s division. There have now been two opponents in the last few months that have presented themselves as legitimate options to dethrone her. In the pre-match video package, Athena said that if she lost, she would leave Ring of Honor forever. Fans have been clamoring for her to become a regular on AEW’s weekly programming, and Athena herself has reiterated a desire to dominate that group of talent as well. But now, she’s won again, and it does not feel like she’s any closer to losing. Perhaps Willow Nightingale was not the right woman for the job. If she wasn’t, then who is? Perhaps Billie Starkz was not the right woman for the job. If SHE wasn’t, then who is? 

I’m sure there’s an answer. I just hope it’s a good one.

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