What a Counter(point)! Who is on STARDOM’s Mt. Rushmore?

With their boots tightened and their bodies oiled, Wrestle Inn columnists Ryan Dilbert and Trent Breward are set to collide as they discuss and debate a variety of (joshi-heavy) topics from the world of pro wrestling. Each writer will weigh in, but only one will win. Check it out. 

Today’s topic: STARDOM is in the midst of its 10th year, its popularity surging. What a perfect time to reflect on which four stars best represent the promotion in its first decade. Which wrestlers’ faces most deserve to get figuratively carved into the face of a metaphorical mountain?

Dilbert: One half of the Stardom Mt. Rushmore is super easy to pick. You gotta start with the ace of the aces, Io Shirai and her successor Mayu Iwatani.

Shirai’s collection of awards during her Stardom run is unmatched. She won the Tokyo Sports Women’s Wrestling Grand Prize three times (2015, 2016, 2017). Shirai also took home Stardom’s Best Match Award three times, won Best Tag Team in 2015, and was named the promotion’s Most Valuable Player in 2013, 2014, and 2016.

Pair all that hardware with her being in arguably the company’s best match ever (vs. Iwatani at Year-End Climax 2016) and all the classics against Kairi Hojo and Meiko Satomura, and there’s not really a need to argue her case much further.

Io Shirai Stardom highlights

She, like Iwatani, was the face of the franchise for several years running.

Mayu doesn’t have quite the heaping trophy stash as Io, but she is unrivaled in the best match department. You can’t put together a top 10 Stardom match list without her name dominating the thing.

The competition for the other two Rushmore occupants is tougher.

I’ll go with Kairi Hojo for spot three and Nanae Takahashi for the final one.

The Princess Pirate won seven total Stardom awards:  Best Tag Team (x2), Outstanding Performance (x2), Best Match Award, Most Valuable Player, and Best Technique.

Nanae’s case relies more on helping build the foundation of the promotion. She was the first World of Stardom champ and held that title for nearly two full years. So many of Stardom’s early events featured Takahashi at the top of the bill—Golden Stars 2012, Stardom the Highest, Year-End Climax 2012 and 2014, etc.

Stardom leaned on her star power in its infancy, a fact that makes it hard to leave her off the final Rushmore lineup.

Trent: I would be inclined to trust your opinion on Mount Rushmores, since you live in the country that carves their leaders into the sides of cliffs, whereas down here in Australia we just wait for ours to go missing in the ocean and then name a pool after them.

Your first two are locks as far as I’m concerned. Mayu Iwatani is Stardom. You can’t talk about one without the other; she’s been there from the beginning and her growth as a wrestler lines up with Stardom’s growth as a promotion. Likewise, Io Shirai had such an impact as one of the greatest performers in our generation, and her sheer domination for years at the top of Stardom make both parts of Thunder Rock an easy inclusion.

Both Kairi Hojo and Nanae Takahashi have great claims to the other spots, but they wouldn’t be my picks. I don’t think you can take up three of the four spots on the Stardom Mt. Rushmore (Rossymore?) with The Threedom. As influential as the Three Daughters of Stardom were, there’s a lot more history with Stardom–and of the three I think Kairi is the one who misses out. She spent most of her time in Io’s shadow, and while she was positioned higher than Mayu when they were both in the company, since she’s left Mayu has grown into the role of the company’s top star and surpassed her.

For my money, I’d be replacing her with Kagetsu. Her impact on Stardom is still being felt today through the young performers she helped train, and when she was in the ring she was about as close to a total package as you can find. She served as the perfect antagonist during the latter part of Io’s time with the company, and was instrumental in helping Mayu Iwatani become the wrestler she is today. She took an Oedo Tai faction that had all but run its course and turned it into one of the hottest groups in wrestling. The Stardom landscape would be very different if the Prime Minister had retired when she originally planned to in 2017.

Nanae definitely has the pedigree to be one of the four. As you said she was instrumental in the early years of building up the company into what it could be, and her first run is still unmatched in terms of length. However, I think the issues surrounding her departure with the company alongside Yoshiko during the situation with Act Yasukawa hurts her claim somewhat. Both came back this year for the Nippon Budokan show, so that bridge has been mended somewhat, but I think there’s a better choice when looking at the formative years of the company.

Yuzuki Aikawa in many ways was the company’s first shining star. Entering as one of Japan’s top gravure idols, she represented Stardom’s vision in those early years. Like Nanae she had a long run with a top singles title, holding the Wonder of Stardom championship for 618 days before vacating it as she retired. She has a slew of awards both from within Stardom and in Japanese publications, all around those first few years as the company was growing. When she appeared at the Budokan show this year, she helped lift up two wrestlers who in many ways embody her spirit in 2021: Mina Shirakawa and Unagi Sayaka. She represents the early growth for Stardom, but fits that Stardom ideal better.

Ryan: I definitely didn’t feel right taking up 75 percent of the mountainous real estate with The Threedom, but Kairi’s case was strong enough to offset that awkwardness.

Kagetsu is a deserving candidate, someone I strongly considered. Match quality ended up being the deciding factor when mulling over whether to include her or Kairi, though.

Kairi and Kagetsu both have 13 total matches rated 8.0 or higher on CageMatch.net, but if you narrow that down to one-on-one action, The Pirate Princess grabs the lead just slightly. Kairi had 10 singles matches rated at least 8.0 from her time in Stardom; Kagetsu wrestled in 8 such matches.

And while Kagetsu and Kairi both won Stardom’s Best Match Award (2018 and 2014 respectively), Kairi can also boast taking home a 5STAR Grand Prix Best Match Award, something Kagetsu never did.

Mayu Iwatani, Kairi Hojo, and Io Shirai. 3/4 of Stardom’s Mt. Rushmore?

In a race so close as this one, these slight edges are key. That has me leaving Kagetsu off the Mt. Rushmore albeit too afraid to tell her that to her face.

Aikawa is a smart pick, too. Stardom’s present is built on the past’s central figures, The Gravure Queen included. It’s the early retirement you mentioned that weakens her case.

Less than three years into Stardom’s existence, Aikawa left wrestling at only 30 years old. As a result, she was in a total of 81 matches for Stardom before her return appearance this year. Nanae, meanwhile, more than doubled that with 173 matches for the company.

Nanae was simply around longer, carrying the torch for Stardom into 2015 while Aikawa was out of the business. 

Trent: Narrowing down the Kairi/Kagetsu match argument to just singles matches kind of ignores how big of a deal tag team wrestling is in Stardom. The Goddess of Stardom Tag team titles are among the most prestigious tag belts in terms of importance within their promotions, and Kagetsu is the most prolific tag wrestler in Stardom’s history in terms of time spent as champion. Kairi herself owes a lot to the importance of tag wrestling due to her time with both Yoko Bito and with The Threedom. Even if you just look at singles wrestling, Kagetsu’s World of Stardom Championship run feels far more notable than Kairi’s, both in terms of length and total defences.

It feels like when forced to decide between performers, you looked to accomplishments, whereas I’ve looked to legacy. For me, Kagetsu’s legacy in Stardom is stronger than Kairi’s due in part to her time as head trainer. You can see the impact she had in several of Stardom’s Golden Generation, including the current World of Stardom Champion Utami Hayashishita. She also kind of popularised a more body-centric focus within the roster. Her lean muscular physique stood out at the time, but it’s slowly become a more popular look within the roster. Mayu herself seemed to develop her physique more as her connection to Kagetsu grew.

Kairi’s legacy in Stardom just suffers from being overshadowed by her Threedom teammates by comparison. Natsupoi and Jungle Kyona are really the only ones flying the Hojo banner nowadays.

I agree that Aikawa’s relatively short time in the company is a mark against her. But the flame that burns twice as bright may only burn half as long. Sometimes that brightness is enough. There was a reason she was the wrestler Rossy wanted to lift up and represent Stardom in the beginning, and Nanae actually played a notable role in helping that dream be realised. She was the perfect choice to be the inaugural Wonder of Stardom champion, setting the tone for that title that can still be seen today in Tam Nakano. I also can’t help but dock points from Nanae since after she left in 2015 she went and formed a rival Joshi promotion in SEAdLINNNG, of which she’s been with for longer than she was Stardom.

At the end of the day all four have strong cases as to why they should be on the Mountain alongside Io Shirai and Mayu Iwatani. What deciding factor puts one over compared to the other really comes down to personal preference. For me it was about encapsulating all the full breadth of Stardom. Io Shirai represents in-ring excellence. Mayu Iwatani represents the spirit and heart. Kagetsu represents uniqueness and charisma. And Yuzuki Aikawa represents the Idol philosophies that are present through the company.