May 23, 2018, inside the iconic Korakuen Hall. Eighteen year old Momo Watanabe hits her new finisher, the Peach Sunrise suplex, to pin Stardom’s undisputed ace Io Shirai. She stands tall in the main event, winning the Wonder of Stardom Title for the very first time. Stardom owner Rossy Ogawa proclaims Momo the new Ace of the company, as Io prepares for a new adventure in WWE. With the backing of the boss, Watanabe goes on a tear, putting forth brilliant matches against the best Stardom has to offer as she defends the title for nearly a year. It’s a star making run for someone who had only recently graduated from school, and now she can focus full time on becoming the top wrestler in Stardom. The world is hers for the taking.
Two and a half years later, the landscape of the company has changed dramatically. New stars have arrived on the scene. At first, it was a returning Arisa Hoshiki (who beat Momo for the title she won from Io) and Hana Kimura, fresh off a Mexican excursion who struck gold with her Tokyo Cyber Squad faction and gimmick. Both seemed all but guaranteed to be main event staples for the company before Arisa had to retire due to injuries and Hana’s unfortunate passing. But they weren’t the only newcomers to threaten Momo’s position: Donna Del Mondo, and a group of talented outsiders began to arrive, led by a can’t-miss prospect in Giulia.
And then there’s Utami Hayashishita.
When Utami joined Stardom in August of 2018, several months into Momo’s run as champion, she did so with a bang. Generally a Stardom rookie will work their way from the bottom of the card, paying their dues, taking loss after loss and gaining experience. But when Utami debuted, she did so by wrestling respected upper-midcarder Jungle Kyona to a draw. She then went on a tear in the company’s big tournament later that month, making the finals and only just falling short against Mayu Iwatani.
Momo would later recruit the ‘Super Rookie’ to her Queen’s Quest faction, the two enjoying a run as the tag team champions. But while Momo was clearly the leader then, now things aren’t so cut and dry. Utami won back the tag titles alongside Saya Kamitani, and then would win the coveted World of Stardom Championship (casually known as the Red Belt) from Mayu Iwatani in Sendai. She comes to the ring carrying both her titles, while Watanabe comes out with the faction flag, noticeably the only active member of Queen’s Quest without a title around her waist.
When Utami Hayashishita stood tall in Sendai, having dethroned Mayu, Momo Watanabe came out and made it known that she wanted to be the first challenger to the World of Stardom Championship. The match will take place December 20, in one of Stardom’s biggest ever shows at the Osaka Edion Arena. The two are still on friendly terms, but it feels like the match is about more than just the title for Momo. She needs to prove herself as not only as a leader of Queen’s Quest, but of Stardom as well.
At just twenty years old, Momo still has a long career ahead of her. She’s younger than most of the roster (including Utami). But whereas just a couple of years ago it only seemed like a matter of time until she was the face of the company, now it’s not so clear cut. She’s still one of the best wrestlers in Stardom, utilising a small but very exciting moveset punctuated with beautiful roundhouse kicks and several high impact moves, like the Peach Sunrise suplex. But the real challenge for Momo isn’t in the ring, it’s outside of it.
In an industry of big personalities, Watanabe is a quiet assassin. At the height of her Wonder of Stardom run she could deliver some scathing remarks to her fallen foes, but more often than not she’s content to let her wrestling do the talking. Her reserved confidence is justified, but she does struggle at times to show off her charisma and nail down her identity. Queen’s Quest were the ‘cool kids’, but then Donna Del Mondo arrived carrying that same swagger while also being far more vocal. Giulia became the poster child for Stardom alongside Mayu Iwatani, and Utami has begun to put herself squarely in that conversation as well. But not Momo, who seemed destined to be there when she stood tall over Io Shirai in Korakuen Hall.
So when Momo Watanabe steps into the ring in Osaka, the person opposite her might be a stablemate and friend, but it’s also somebody who stands in her spot. Who stands in Momo’s spot despite being unable to beat her one on one. Utami unsuccessfully challenged Momo for the Wonder of Stardom title in America, and then wrestled her to a draw during this year’s Five Star Tournament – though it should be noted that Utami would go on to win that tournament. And they’ve also been facing off numerous times recently in inter-faction matches, and every time she’s in the ring with Utami she’s thrown those deadly kicks of hers just a little harder.
She’s not only challenging for the most prestigious title in Stardom, she’s also looking to remind everybody she was destined to be the Ace two years ago. Once a sure thing, Momo has spent much of the last year and a half watching others climb their way past her to the main event scene. And while a lot has changed since that proclamation from Rossy, it’s in Momo Watanabe’s hands to decide whether this has changed as well.