Full transparency here. I’ve been a fan of this great industry of ours for almost ten years at this point (shoutout to Money In The Bank 2013) but, the world of joshi pro wrestling is something that evaded me until very recently. I’m not afraid to admit that it took five years for my horizons to be expanded beyond WWE’s four walls, with my eyes only opened to New Japan when I heard the buzz at the start of Okada and Omega’s epic rivalry.
It’s true that we all grow up with the WWE, but once we choose to venture beyond that point, we truly immerse ourselves into what it means to be a wrestling fan. It’s absolutely okay to only watch wrestling casually but sometimes delving deeper into what the sport has to offer can lead you down a rabbit hole of awesome in-ring styles and vibrant personalities which you wouldn’t have otherwise seen.
As I mentioned, for about half of my time watching wrestling, I have been a casual viewer of New Japan. However, within the last six months or so, fellow WrestlePurists contributor Jamie (@JamieRossWP) has made a considerable effort to ease me into the landscape of World Wonder Ring Stardom. To me, getting engrossed into a new company full of on-going stories and a roster that was completely unknown to me was a daunting task at the time, but it wasn’t long before specific personalities caught my eye.
Cosmic Angels immediately became something to latch onto, and, as you can guess from this feature, I’m fascinated by the journey of Mina Shirakawa. This is someone who I was told quite early on wasn’t really on the level of the rest of the Stardom roster when it came to performances in the ring and that’s no real disrespect to her, the level up and down the card is insane and that’s something a new viewer picks up on straight away.
Though, while having an awesome crop of talent is obviously a positive for any wrestling company, it can seriously impact the number of opportunities that a performer is given to be rewarded with a championship. Stardom’s Red Belt is obviously the top prize and the White Belt isn’t far behind, but if you want to be recognised as one of the company’s top stars, there are an awful lot of people standing in your way.
This means that when you get your shot, you have to take it. So, when Mina Shirakawa stepped into the squared circle to challenge long-time Wonder Of Stardom Champion Saya Kamitani for her title on November 3rd of last year, the pressue was on to deliver. Heading into the bout, not many believed that Mina could come out on top, though the match would provide fans with a glimpse into just how good Mina could potentially become.
Their first encounter was hard-hitting from the start. The fight spilt to the outside and even featured Shirakawa exposing the wooden boards on the outside to work on the leg (something that has become a key aspect to her game). All in all, a lot of the Stardom faithful were blown away by the performance of Mina in this match as not many had her pegged to have a match of this calibre, however, it’s unfortunate to say that the finish of the November match grabbed the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Saya would ascend to the top rope to deliver her patented Phoenix Splash, though, instead of landing as she normally would, the move ended up connecting flush to the jaw of her challenger. To her immense credit, Mina was able to lift a shoulder in the subsequent cover, but to protect the competitors, the match was stopped anyway. It was obvious that Shirakawa was hurt, but nevertheless, the post-match procedures took place.
“No matter how many times in my life that I thought I couldn’t do it anymore, that’s what made me keep on living, to grasp hold of my dreams because my dreams are my hope.”
These words were just part of the promo that a bloody Mina Shirakawa delivered following her unsuccessful bid for Stardom’s white belt just five months ago. It was a rousing speech of someone who was filled with disappointment, regret, and pain. She knew this opportunity had passed her by and was forced to publicly deal with overwhelming emotions and uncertainty over her health.
The 35-year-old would spend almost two months away from the ring, but her craving for the white belt never went away. Kamitani kept her injured foe in mind as she continued her reign, making it clear that she wanted to run it back once Shirakawa was ready, though, in the meantime, defences against the likes of Ami Sourei, Momo Watanabe, and Hazuki only strengthened the resumè of an already formidable champion. Saya was in the midst of an awesome title reign, and everyone knew it would take a monumental effort to bring it to a close.
That brings us to April 23rd, All Star Grand Queendom, and the biggest show in Stardom history to date. Mina Shirakawa’s one shot at redemption following a gruesome end to her first attempt at glory. At that point, Saya’s reign had reached 476 days, and Kamitani had already set the record for most wins with the title. When she first picked up the accolade, not many would’ve imagined that Mina could’ve had a chance at being the one to topple her, but, having been one of the most improved performers of 2022, Shirakawa had gone a long way in proving that she deserves a seat at the top table.
The bout begins with the trading of technical holds, but it isn’t long before the challenger puts all the pressure on the champions leg. It’s a strategy which Mina had implemented into her game throughout the summer of last year but, knowing how desperate she is to come out on top over someone who bloodied her last time, it’s something she immediately jumps to this time round. She viciously throws her opponent’s knee into the mat several times before dragging the action towards the corner and applying a Figure Four around the ring post.
Disabling the leg is always a useful plan during a match, however, for these two in particular, the leg work is so vital. Let’s not forget, it was a botched Phoenix Splash that fuelled Mina’s rise to White Belt status, so removing the champions ability to climb to the top rope and find enough power to deliver her finisher.
Small moves, such as receiving an Irish whip across the ring, caused Saya to fall due to the effects of a relentless attack on her knees. Even the moves Saya did nail that involved a modicum of power from her base depleted her strength further. Whenever Kamitani builds up momentum and has a flurry of offence, the Club Venus leader usually cuts it off with a quick strike to the leg.
Saya’s offence was fast and strong as it always is, with the champion looking to rely on the offence that led her to such a legendary reign. Soon enough, it was time for Kamitani to set up for her Phoenix Splash. However, the White Belt champion of 476 days couldn’t commit to the final blow. She stood on the top rope with perhaps an inch of doubt over her ability to hit the move or even a hint of sympathy, not wanting to injure her opponent yet again. It was never Saya’s intention to bust Shirakawa’s jaw in November and she couldn’t trust herself to nail the move she’d used countless times before in a way that would get the job done without any long term damage.
Any hint of delay left the door open for Mina to reestablish control. Saya’s resilience kept her kicking out of her challenger’s offence as well as brief rushes of adrenaline, allowing her to fire off some slick manoeuvres. She included many moves that resulted in pin attempts such as a Schoolboy Suplex to symbolise the champion had reached sheer desperation mode to try anything to leave Shirakawa’s shoulders to the mat and escape with her title in tact. She’d never been in this position before, but Saya was holding on.
Her pure desire to remain the Wonder Of Stardom Champion drove her past her limits and kept her trying for the Phoenix Splash. She could power herself up to the top rope and fight through the physical pain, but she still had to convince her mind to let the move go ahead. Kamitani launched into the air and landed her finishing move successfully, but many were shocked to see that Mina wasn’t done.
The mental anguish the champion went through to hit the move was devastating, and it still didn’t get the job done. Instinctively, she climbed the top rope again, but this time, she was met by her challenger, who began an onslaught of lefts and rights. Shirakawa was matching the champion’s level and more as she caught her opponent in a DDT from the top. The pair crashed to the mat, and both lay in the middle of the ring, physically and emotionally spent.
Determined to turn this momentum into a championship, Mina seemed to have an answer to everything. She returned to her leg-based offence with a figure four attempt in the middle of the ring, hoping to break Saya’s spirit. Following a rope break, Shirakawa hit one Glamourous Driver after another, planting Kamitani hard on her head and neck, and just like that…we had our seventeenth Wonder of Stardom Champion.
It was a match a level above many people’s expectations and, while it’s true to say that Mina and Saya have insane chemistry together, Shirakawa walked out of this encounter with the prestigious title around her waist. The era of Venus is upon us, and if the reign we’re about to witness is half as great as the journey it took to get here, we could be in for something truly incredible.