AZM vs Starlight Kid: Eternal Foes

In the final moments of a heated tag match between Queen’s Quest and Oedo Tai in Nagoya on January 29th, Starlight Kid introduced to the world her new finishing move: a top rope Spanish Fly that slammed AZM to the mat and brought Kid and her team the win.

That night on Twitter, she revealed that move’s name: Eternal Foe. A fitting title considering it defeated the one person who truly lives up to that reputation for Starlight Kid. For as long as Kid has been running the Stardom ropes, she’s been competing with AZM. Two teenagers rising through the ranks, two in-ring prodigies in a constant battle for supremacy.

It all began December 2015. Just two months into her career and with only half a dozen matches to her name, fourteen-year-old Starlight Kid went one on one with an even younger (yet more experienced) Azumi. Their first confrontation went to a five minute draw, and when they had a rematch two weeks later Kid scored her very first win in professional wrestling.

Starlight Kid and Azumi, alongside Hiromi Mimura in 2016. Credit: Stardom

Unfortunately the Stardom World archives are spotty through the mid 2010s, so to watch these early clashes are easier said than done. Though, even in what snippets are available of their first few years in wrestling two things become clear very quickly: these two were destined for great things, and they’re destined to do so against each other.

Now, at the ages of nineteen and twenty, they’re no longer the future of Joshi, they’re the present. The tiny and mischievous Azumi became the effortlessly cool and supremely skilled AZM. The bright and bubbly Starlight Kid grew a mean streak, embraced the darkness and became the talk of the town. The potential was always there, but trying to predict the future of schoolkids in a sport that is particularly demanding when it comes to success is always a risk.

As it turned out, both were up to the task. Both were incredibly committed even when juggling the pressures of school, but there was always going to be a limit on how far up the ladder they could climb before graduation. Their closest contemporary Momo Watanabe was seemingly ready to burst into stardom, but had to wait until she finished school before immediately being thrust into the main event picture with the Wonder of Stardom Championship around her waist.

Success was inevitable, allowing fans plenty of time to theorise who would become the best. AZM seemed to be a stronger wrestler, Starlight Kid appeared to win fans over more. Stardom President Rossy Ogawa even weighed in on the debate on an episode of VICE’s The Wrestlers in 2018, which focused on Stardom. He bluntly stated that Starlight Kid was “ten times” more popular with fans. AZM simply wasn’t as marketable.

Starlight Kid also had the early victories on her side. It took AZM eight matches and nearly five years until she would manage to defeat Starlight Kid in a one on one match. Despite this, it only fueled the younger rival to get better.

Starlight Kid hits a Tiger Feint Kick on AZM. Credit: Stardom

Despite Rossy questioning her, it was AZM that was given the nod to join the 2019 5 Star Grand Prix as a replacement. She went on a warpath, finishing up with eight points, just two shy of eventual tournament champion Hana Kimura. This was an eye opening performance, showcasing her skill against the best in the company when the pressure was at its highest.

In the aftermath of that performance there seemed to be a shift in perceptions. No longer was the gap between the duo all that wide. AZM’s wrestling continued to grow exponentially, but she started to develop her character beyond just a loud-mouthed kid, becoming more bold with her look. For the next year or two it felt as though Starlight Kid was now chasing a surging AZM.

Of course, that would only inspire Starlight Kid to become bigger and better. A year later she would make her own 5 Star debut, and in the following months we’d begin to see a more aggressive and outgoing side of her; the early foreshadowing ahead of her dramatic heel turn.

It might have felt like there was a ceiling over their heads while they were still at school, but it didn’t stop their pursuit of championship gold. AZM was the first to strike in 2017, winning the Artist of Stardom titles twice at just fourteen years of age alongside Io Shirai and HZK. Both title reigns however lasted less than a month, and the team failed to earn a single successful defence.

AZM as the Artist Champion, Starlight Kid as the Future Champion. Credit: Stardom

AZM might have beaten her to the glories of title belts, but Starlight Kid got a measure of revenge by being the inaugural Future of Stardom Champion (winning a tournament that also featured AZM). And unlike her rival, Kid would remain champion for nine months before dropping the title to Utami Hayashishita. A far more successful first championship run, and it was with a belt that literally identified her as the future of the company.

The one belt that they seemed to covet more than any other though was the High Speed Championship. Both knew they were the future of the company, they didn’t need a newly minted belt to prove that. However the High Speed title represented both of their in-ring philosophies – to overwhelm the opponent with dazzling speed, high flying offence, and deadly flash pins.

It’s a championship with a rather unusual legacy. Some of the greatest to ever step foot in Stardom have held the title aloft; Io Shirai, Mayu Iwatani, and Hazuki to name a few. Yet the title has more often than not felt like an afterthought, burdened with a limited number of contenders and the home for short, sharp matches that felt more at home at the beginning of a show to warm crowds up, rather than in the prestigious main event spot.

It was AZM and Starlight Kid who started to raise the profile of this championship. When AZM won the title from Riho (in a threeway match that also featured…Starlight Kid), it felt like she was finally being rewarded for all her hard work. Her defences were still reserved for the first half of shows, but AZM made the title feel important. She put a lot of pride in being champion and defining the concept of a High Speed wrestler. She welcomed in rare challengers from outside the promotion too, defending against another exciting prospect in Mei Hoshizuki.

AZM bragging about beating Kid to the High Speed Championship. Credit: Stardom

Then, the title’s profile was raised even more under the guidance of a new look Starlight Kid. 2021 saw a reinvention of the young masked star, turning her from a lovable babyface to one of the key members of the villainous Oedo Tai. The new attitude paid dividends, turning her into one of the most captivating members of the roster, and soon she had the High Speed belt around her waist.

The championship never felt more important as its position on the card rose with each defence, even in the face of a somewhat reluctant challenger in Momo Watanabe. And Starlight Kid was the reason why. With each successive victory she continued to raise its profile, and accompanied it with some special theatrics of her own.

Throughout her championship reign Starlight Kid would celebrate each successful title defence with a custom made mask, specially designed to represent her challenger. After beating them she’d force the fallen foe to wear it, mime slicing their throat, and later would walk to the ring with that very mask attached to her cape. Each mask a symbol, proof of her growing dominance within the division. The masks of Momo, Koguma, Natsupoi and more hung from her as trophies while she confidently strode to the ring.

If AZM had clawed her way ahead in 2019 and 2020, Starlight Kid had definitively asserted herself as the bigger star in 2021. Their rivalry became more personal when AZM’s long term tag team partner Momo Watanabe eviscerated a steel chair over her skull, marking her move to Starlight Kid’s Oedo Tai. MOMOAZ was replaced by Black Desire. A friend betrayed her for the rival.

The biggest moment in both their careers and their rivalry came on February 2022 in Nagaoka. One month after Starlight Kid made history by defending the High Speed Title in the main event of a Korakuen Hall show, now she was in the semi-main event of a PPV defending said belt. Standing opposite her? It could only be AZM. The High Speed title had never been featured in a more prominent spot before, and all eyes were on the two eternal foes to see if they could deliver on the big stage.

What came from this oppourtunity was a match that garnered more hype than any Stardom match since the famed Utami/Syuri draw in June 2021. For seventeen minutes these two put on a clinic, showcasing the true potential of a High Speed Title match in the way Mysterio Jr and Guerrero did in the Cruiserweight division twenty five years prior back in WCW. The frenetic pace was matched by a burning intensity that could only come from a genuine, career long rivalry.

Like she had a month before, Starlight Kid had AZM perched on the top rope, ready to hit the Eternal Foe Spanish Fly on her eternal foe once more. In doing so, Kid would halt AZM’s chase to overtake her, definitively affirming just who is the stronger of the two.

However AZM was not going to give up that easily. Starlight Kid hit the Eternal Foe, but to do so she had to leave her weakened arm vulnerable. In a fit of pure desperation and instinct, AZM endured the impact from the top rope slam, and caught Starlight Kid off guard with a submission. It was enough to keep the champion rattled as the pain from such a devastating top rope eventually overwhelmed AZM and slowed her down.

Starlight Kid hitting the first Eternal Foe. Credit: Stardom

She could not let Kid get this definitive win over her, so AZM endured. Five minutes later, she trapped Kid in the Numero Uno submission, a relatively new move in her arsenal but one she had been using to great effect. The same arm that had saved the challenger after being hit with her namesake, Eternal Foe, now betrayed the champion. AZM wrenched it backwards in an unnatural form, leaving Starlight Kid with no option but to verbally submit.

A year after losing the belt to Natsupoi at the Nippon Budokan, the High Speed belt was back around AZM’s waist. After watching Starlight Kid storm ahead, the gap had been closed once more in the biggest match of their careers.

Afterwards, Starlight Kid put forth a rare show of humility. After masking each person who had fallen before her, she gave AZM the mask she had designed and sat cross legged, ready to accept the fate she had bestowed on everyone else.

A younger AZM might have milked this moment and savoured humiliating her rival. In 2022 however, she threw the mask away and offered Kid a fist bump instead. A show of respect and solidarity. For as much as they’re fighting against each other, they both know what the other has gone through. Literally growing up in between wrestling ropes, both fighting to show that High Speed matches and the philosophy behind them are just as deserving of main eventing shows as any other.

AZM and Starlight Kid show respect with a fistbump. Credit: Stardom

Neither could be in the spot they were now, the semi-main of a PPV, if it weren’t for the other. They bumped fists, and Starlight Kid said goodbye to the belt that they both had fought so hard over.

As she celebrates her big win, AZM knows this rivalry is far from over. And so does Starlight Kid

“I said I wanted to be in the main event today, but it didn’t turn out that way. But next time we do Kid and AZM it’ll be the main event of a big show. The white belt, the red belt, I don’t see why they have to go on after High Speed. I want to show exactly why the two of us are the absolute most incredible, premium singles matchup in joshi wrestling.”

Starlight Kid’s post match comments, translated by Dana @ItsDanaNow

For six years Starlight Kid and AZM have been wrestling against each other, but they’ve also been wrestling together to prove themselves. When Stardom ran their first domestic PPV in November 2020, the two opened the show in a High Speed Title match. Nearly a year and a half later there was no way this match could be anything but one of the headliners.

Give it another year and a half, and they might very well be the main event. They will keep fighting, pushing to be the best. When one starts to succeed, the other will strive to catch back up, trading momentum as if they were inside the ring against one another. Eternal Foes.