Stardom’s Golden Generation

Whenever a group of talented young stars come together, sporting media is quick to dub them a ‘Golden Generation’. Whether it’s the Luis Figo led Portugal football team, or the incredible Argentinian basketball team that won Olympic Gold in 2004 off the back of Manu Ginobli and Luis Scola, the moniker has come to denote a group who is set to dominate for years to come.

Wrestling has never shied away from this concept. Some examples of this includes:

The Four Pillars of Heaven: Mitsuharu Misawa, Toshiaki Kawada, Akira Taue, and Kenta Kobashi

The Three Musketeers of NJPW: Keiji Mutoh, Shinya Hashimoto, and Masahiro Chono

The Three New Musketeers: Hiroshi Tanahashi, Shinsuke Nakamura, and Katsuyori Shibata

The Three Daughters of Stardom: Io Shirai, Kairi Hojo, and Mayu Iwatani

Now the ‘Golden Generation’ has found its way into wrestling, with the moniker appearing to celebrate Stardom’s newest collection of young stars. The five wrestlers under that banner: Utami Hayshishita, Saya Kamitani, Himeka, Maika, and Saya Iida. Five young stars, each with only a few years of experience under their belts, who have already caught the eye of not only the fanbase but management as well.

Stardom president Rossy Ogawa first made mention of the Golden Generation in December 2020, as three of the five were coming together for a triple threat match over the Future of Stardom Championship in Osaka. However, it wasn’t until Maika’s post match promo in Fukuoka this May that it would be acknowledged inside the ring, canonising the designation and affirming to fans that there is a very real focus on these five.

Maika discussing the Golden Generation. Credit: World Wonder Ring Stardom

It’s a group that already found themselves weaving stories together. Of the five, two are in established teams (Hayashishita and Kamitani, Maika and Himeka) and the two Saya’s were originally a team before the taller of the two defected to Queen’s Quest. Maika’s been tied to Utami since before she had even joined Stardom after an inter-promotional match in JTO. She’s also been tied to the two Sayas through the Future of Stardom Title that the three fought over for months. Meanwhile, Himeka and Kamitani have had a back and forth feud that led to Rossy himself commenting on how he hoped he’d see the two of them continue their feud over the Red Belt one day.

The company’s world title has already found its way into the Golden Generation. Utami Hayashishita stands atop the company as the Red Belt Champion, having defeated the Icon Mayu Iwatani after winning the prestigious 5 Star Grand Prix. The person she faced in the final of that tournament? Fellow Generation member Himeka.

Utami had something of a head start. She was the first of the five to appear in Stardom, and was instantly presented as a threat, debuting just before the 2018 5 Star Grand Prix and then making it to the final. Dubbed the ‘Super Rookie’, Utami soon found herself draped in an assortment of championships, and was kept strong through 2019 even as the focus drifted away from her a little. It was when Stardom returned to action after the Covid lockdowns in June that Utami really put her stamp on the company. With the main event scene wide open for fresh talent, upon the restart she was a different beast, with a new Amazonian-esque look that matched a revived focus.

Defeating the Icon for the Red Belt at one of their arena shows was a statement win, affirming what we all suspected: Utami Hayashishita was now a pillar of the company. It’s then notable that after a successful establishing title defence against fellow Queen’s Quest member Momo Watanabe, her next two defenses were against other members of the Golden Generation.

Himeka and Maika vs Utami Hayashishita and Saya Kamitani. Credit: World Wonder Ring Stardom

Maika had a case for challenging, managing to be the only person to outright defeat Utami during her successful 5 Star Grand Prix run, tying their singles series at 1-1. It’s hard to ignore the comparisons between the two. Both started their careers looking far more experienced than they were, who excel in controlling the ring and their opponents with their judo background. Both are fairly quiet characters with a commanding presence, and Maika even looked like she was dressed in Utami’s old gear when they met in JTO.

Now that Maika has had time to settle into Donna Del Mondo, a faction she was recruited into during the aftermath of that JTO match, she’s been able to continue the rivalry while stepping outside of Utami’s shadow a bit. The camaraderie and chemistry within the group is instantly apparent through their interactions, and it’s shone a light on all of their individual personalities. Maika has benefited from this perhaps more than anyone else in the group. Her quiet demeanour could have her fade into the background, but instead she compliments the group dynamic without feeling like she needs them.

Someone whose personality has shone from day one is the other Del Mondo member of the Golden Generation: Himeka. The Jumbo Princess is the most recent addition to the roster in this group of five, but instantly felt at home. Her natural size meant she wouldn’t struggle in standing out, but instead of merely relying on being Stardom’s resident heavy she quickly established herself as one of the more deceptively charismatic members of the roster.

Himeka and Maika entering as champions. Credit: World Wonder Ring Stardom

At no point was this more obvious than when she was the first person to defeat Giulia in singles action, standing tall at Korakauen Hall during the 5 Star Grand Prix, just a month and a half after she debuted in the company. Her mic work instantly shone, highlighting a kind of condescending cockiness in the face of her faction’s leader. It established not only Himeka’s character but the nature of the faction itself. When she was humbled in the return match against Giulia, her emotional breakdown in the face of defeat was on par with some of Tam’s character work.

They’re both promising singles wrestlers, but they’ve also found a solid groove as a team. While their Goddess of Stardom title run only lasted about a month and a half, they compliment each other well and have been able to build upon their already strong wrestling foundations. Maika’s technical game continues to stand out while Himeka can bulldoze anyone who doesn’t get out of her way with her size and strength.

Saya Iida might not have Himeka’s height as she stands at a diminutive 144cms tall, but she hasn’t let that hold her back. If anything, she’s embraced it. Affectionately referred to as Giant Saya and embracing the gorilla motif, Gori-Chan has started to mold her game after one of the industry’s best in Tomohiro Ishii. Both stand underneath most opponents but can go toe to toe in heavy exchanges, fitting in as a natural fighting underdog whose power should not be underestimated. If you don’t believe this, just check out the post-match pictures of her opponent, showing the battle scars on their chest after eating some of Iida’s vicious chops.

Saya Iida dropkicking Saya Kamitani. Credit: World Wonder Ring Stardom

There was a time when it would have been difficult to see her as anything more than a low card underdog in the Hiromi Mimura framework. A fine role, but not something befitting of a Golden Generation member. Instead, Iida has become a statuesque warrior who has continually built upon her game. At first she didn’t stand out much; then suddenly her personality started to shine. Then the obvious issue is that she’s really too small to succeed, so she hits the weights and ends up with a bodybuilder physique. Complaints start to come that she’s a bit one dimensional in the ring, so she expands her moveset with logical in ring storytelling to become a more complete performer.

It’s not just fans who have warmed to Iida. Rossy has spoken highly of her several times, and Joshi legends Akira Hokuto and Chigusa Nagayo have both singled her out and praised her. Kagetsu, former top champion and head trainer for Stardom, has also made a point to lift her up, having one of her last ever matches against Iida and showering her with compliments. Her recent injury will put a halt to her momentum, but her run as the Future Champion will leave a lasting impression moving forward.

While Giant Saya might not have instantly shown her potential, there was little doubt Saya Kamitani was destined for big things within Stardom from the moment she stepped inside the ring. Tall Saya came in and instantly stood out, pulling off athletic moves nobody else on the roster could match, with a bright charismatic persona drawing from her Idol experience as a part time member of AKB48 (under the banner Baito AKB). She seemed like a natural fit for the STARS faction, but instead joined up with Queen’s Quest, which has allowed her to bring some depth and complexity to her character.

Kamitani might have stood out straight away upon debut, but she hasn’t rested on her laurels, making a point to continually improve and take every chance with open arms. Her athleticism made her stand out, but at first she struggled to control it, leading to some very unpredictable and questionable looking offence. Kamitani has tightened up that area of her game substantially, even while adding even more impressive moves to her arsenal like the Phoenix Splash.

Saya Kamitani takes flight. Credit: World Wonder Ring Stardom

Management have a lot of faith in her, giving her several spotlight moments, including getting the pinfall in her 6 person tag match inside the Tokyo Dome at Wrestle Kingdom. Two months later when she found herself challenging her tag partner Utami for the World of Stardom Championship at the company’s biggest ever show, she silenced a lot of critics who felt she wasn’t ready for that kind of spotlight. It’s been a fast rise for Kamitani, but she’s delivered each time it’s been asked of her.

This group of five known as The Golden Generation are both immediate threats within the company and long term prospects set to dominate the scene for some time. In this year’s Cinderella Tournament Himeka, Maika and Kamitani fill three of the four semi finalist spots. Utami was knocked out in the second round but holds the title they’ll all be trying to earn the right to challenge for, and Iida’s injury prevented her from taking part.

Most of their ages fall between 22 and 24. Himeka’s three and a half years of experience makes her the ‘veteran’ of the group. Nobody is close to their prime yet, and they have plenty of years to reach that level. They can continue to improve as wrestlers and performers, all the while building long running and interwoven stories among each other.

Utami hits Maika with a German Suplex. Credit: World Wonder Ring Stardom

In a couple of years time Himeka and Saya Kamitani could be fulfilling Rossy’s desire to see a Red Belt match between them. It’s a classic size versus speed rivalry that already has solid foundations laid through their early encounters, with a Cinderella Tournament semi final matchup set to add more fuel to that fire. By the time they’re squaring off for the Red Belt they’ll have years worth of chemistry and story built up to make that a must see match.

Stardom’s future has arguably never looked brighter when you consider the sheer depth of up and coming quality on its roster. Much of its roster is either under the age of twenty five or are young enough to the industry to not have racked up an extensive bump mileage on their bodies yet. In the case of the Golden Generation, both of those facts are true. All five have already shown how capable they are, holding championship gold and putting on great matches. Beyond that though, all five will only continue to improve as they gain experience and continue to expand their game, all the while competing with each other, pushing to become the best of The Generation.

Himeka, Maika, Saya Iida, Saya Kamitani, Utami Hayashishita.

Don’t forget the names, because the Golden Generation are here to stay.