A Tale of Tam 2: Dreams and Nightmares

The following is a continuation on the deep dive of Tam Nakano’s character as previously found here. While it is not essential reading, certain points from that article will return or be further expanded upon here.

For years Tam Nakano had toiled away in Stardom in search of a family, being forced out of her first home in Oedo Tai and then feeling cast aside by her friend and mentor Mayu Iwatani in STARS. As 2020 turned to 2021 Tam was no longer a follower, she was a leader. The Cosmic Angels set out from STARS under her leadership. Alongside Tam was Mina Shirakawa and Unagi Sayaka, two colourful characters who had recently joined Stardom.

As big as their personalities were, both were fairly inexperienced, having previously worked in TJPW’s undercard. To top it off it was just the three of them, and with such a small group the Cosmic Angels felt underpowered, especially compared to the heavy hitter groups like Queen’s Quest and Donna Del Mondo.

The latter of course was led by Tam’s new arch rival, Giulia. Throughout 2020 Giulia had been one step ahead of her with the Wonder of Stardom Title firmly around her waist. Tam needed that belt to fulfil a promise to her frenemy Arisa Hoshiki, who had held that title until she was forced to relinquish both the belt and her career.

Tam Nakano had two goals in 2021: to craft the Cosmic Angels into the family she yearned, building them into one of the top factions within Stardom in the process, and to finally overcome Giulia and win that championship.

The original Cosmic Angels team: Unagi Sayaka, Tam Nakano and Mina Shirakawa. Credit: Stardom

To get that shot at Giulia, Tam would have to, in the words of the champion, ‘walk through hell’. Giulia had given her a chance to win the title before. To earn the rematch, Tam would have to put something precious on the line. Inside the Nippon Budokan for Stardom’s biggest show, she would have to shave her hair if she fell short again.

This was asking a lot. Tam leaned heavily into her Idol-esque appeal. Her image was of utmost important. To risk being shaved bald was taking a huge chance. In an interview with Mugiko Ozaki she spoke of this:

“I think a girl’s beauty is determined by things like how beautiful her hair is or how beautiful her skin is. Even if I think, “Oh, my face is a little puffy today,” if my hair is shiny and silky, I still feel 50% cuter.” 

Translated by Dana @ItsDanaNow

Her hair was crucial to not only her character but also her mental health. Still, it was worth it to get one more shot at that White Belt. Leaving her promise to Arisa unfulfilled was worse, as was letting Giulia of all people take that away from her.

As much as they might not want to admit it, their similarities seem to shine brightest next to each other. Both Giulia and Tam are strong, fiery personalities, and as wrestlers they thrive on their emotions and willpower – it is the foundation of which their wrestling is built upon. They see a bit of themselves in each other, but there’s only room for one at the top.

For Tam, Giulia was always one step ahead. It was hard to feel like equals when she was constantly chasing the champion. The comparisons only fueled her inferiority complex. Giulia won awards, she led a new group to superstardom, and she took the title Tam felt destined to have. If she was ever going to succeed, Tam had to finally defeat this demon of an opponent who had slid into Stardom and taken everything she ever wanted.

On March 3rd, 2021, she fulfilled that promise to Arisa and herself. In an absolute war in front of over 3000 people, Tam pinned Giulia with the Twilight Dream, and finally held the White Belt aloft. Giulia lost not only the title but her hair as well, and after everything they had gone through – despite all the hatred they had for each other – Tam hesitated to claim that final prize. With all their similarities, she knew the cost Giulia was about to pay. It was only at her rival’s insistence that she began to claim that prize.

Tam watches on as Giulia’s hair is shaved off. Credit: Stardom

Tam Nakano joined a list of some of the most accomplished wrestlers in Stardom’s history. Not just anybody was worthy to hold the Wonder of Stardom Championship. It was a symbol of how hard she worked to get there. Tam wasn’t an athletic freak, nor had she been training since she was a kid. She entered the business a bit older than most, and had to work particularly hard to become a top tier wrestler.

Her obsession around the White Belt began to reveal itself. With the title now in her hands, she started to believe the title was cursed, feeding on the emotion of those who desired it. With Tam as its champion, Wonder of Stardom title matches became emotionally charged affairs. The belt of emotion and passion being defended by the wrestler who feeds off of that emotion more than anyone else.

Many sought to either break the curse on Tam or gave in to similar desires. They tried, but they were fighting Tam at her own game. It was a fool’s errand.

To free her of the curse, it’d need to be someone who didn’t just know Tam, but understood her. Saya Kamitani had tried to dethrone her early into the reign after winning the Cinderella Tournament, but she wasn’t ready. Saya tried to use her own emotion and like the others were put down.

In December though, she didn’t make the same mistake twice. Kamitani herself is a passionate wrestler, but instead of going head on with emotion, she forced the fight to be on her terms, moving it from a slow slugfest to a faster, high risk affair.

As Tam recovered from the Phoenix Splash that ultimately ended her reign, one might have expected her to be distraught. There was definitely sadness, but it was hard to miss how proud she was too.

Of all the people to finally beat her and free her of the White Belt’s curse, it was someone she had guided since before Saya even started wrestling. The Stardom Idols was a short lived side project that Saya Kamitani had been involved with as an Idol. It didn’t last long, but Saya stuck around, interested in becoming a pro wrestler. At the centre of that decision was Tam, who encouraged her to try it, sensing she was better cast as a pro wrestler than an idol.

The first Stardom Idols event was December 2018. Three years later, Tam saw someone she mentored reach the top. She knew her White Belt was in good hands – they were cut from the same cloth after all. She knew how much this moment would mean to Saya, for Tam herself constantly wrestled with the idea of finally surpassing her mentor. Tam was still chasing Mayu Iwatani, but she was close. In 2021 they had fought twice, both to a draw. She hadn’t defeated Mayu, but she hadn’t lost either.

Tam lands a hard slap across Giulia’s face. Credit: Stardom

Her reign as champion might have ended, but her star had risen so much in that time. She was now indisputably one of the biggest names on the Stardom roster, and looked at as equal alongside the Mayus and Giulias. For someone who for the longest time was just trying to find a place to call home, by the end of her championship reign she seemed genuinely fulfilled. She still desired the White Belt, trying to win it back from Saya during the World Climax shows at the end of March 2022, but even without the belt she was still a key part of Stardom.

A big part of that had been finding that family she had sought for so long. Leaving Mayu and STARS was hard, but it allowed her to build something special with the Cosmic Angels. A group after her own image, given oppourtunities that may not have been easily found otherwise. The concept of the Angels followed Tam herself, a group of Idol-esque wrestlers who had real life experience as wild and out there as their leader.

For the Cosmic Angels to succeed, they’d need to lean on Tam in their early months. Mina Shirakawa and Unagi Sayaka were not seasoned warriors, nor were they prodigies. They might have won the Artist of Stardom Championship from Oedo Tai early into their tenure, but the newcomers were punching well above their weight on the card. When separated from Tam it often led to harsh lessons – particularly for Unagi after she entered a series of seven singles matches against the top talent in the promotion.

Tam’s strength and leadership shined as they grew. The Cosmic Angels enjoyed success throughout the year, and maybe more poignantly, Unagi and Mina both thrived under her guidance. Unagi Sayaka might have endured an unusual amount of punishment in her trial series, but she came out the other side strong and focused, winning the Rumble at the All Star Dream Cinderella and making a semi-final appearance in the Cinderella Tournament. Mina meanwhile also showed noticable growth in the ring as well, though she didn’t truly shine until a little later during the 5 Star GP.

Unfortunately that success would start to get to both of their heads. Tam Nakano had helped unlock their potential, but now they wanted to test themselves against their leader. No longer would they neatly fall in line. Now Tam would experience some of what she put Mayu Iwatani through in STARS.

Unagi with the special title made for her by Tam: “Everyone can capture there* dreams”. Credit: Unagi Sayaka’s Twitter

First it was Unagi, who managed a shock upset over her leader in the 5 Star GP. What made this victory of particular note however was not just that Unagi had scored a win over a top champion in Tam, but prior to the match she offhandedly made a remark about the match being for ‘the leadership of the Cosmic Angels’. It was never made official, but she returned to that remark on social media after the victory to remind everyone that maybe she should now be the head of their little family.

It’s not the only time Unagi would take it upon herself to act as the leader of the Angels. She would spend much of the latter half of 2021 and into 2022 determining who was worthy of joining the faction. The final answer to all of these potential recruits was a firm no, whether they would later join regardless (Mai Sakurai and Waka Tsukiyama) or be pushed away by her arrogance like Momo Kohgo and a returning KAIRI. The latter of course being one of the biggest names in Stardom’s history, but that’s Unagi for you.

Unagi’s blind arrogance in rejecting KAIRI earned her a slap across the skull from the true leader of Cosmic Angels (and a beat down against the Pirate Princess in Ryogoku) but it showed that even a strong leader like Tam doesn’t always have full control over her team. Unagi was constantly stepping out of line, and several times it cost the Cosmic Angels.

Tam would eventually remind Unagi who was number one when she defended her Wonder of Stardom Title against the eel after the 5 Star GP. The leadership challenge was ultimately shelved even before the match, but the flourish of hunger from an underling was Tam Nakano’s first real test as a leader.

Soon after it was Mina Shirakawa’s turn to challenge the leader. Seeing her tag partner try for the White Belt awakened something inside of her, and soon Mina was overcome by the cursed allure of the title. She became consumed by winning it, and gave into her darker side in an attempt to find the strength to overcome the Cosmic Angels leader.

Tam Nakano unfazed by Mina’s kicks during their title match. Credit: Stardom

She too would learn just how strong Tam is, and that nobody feeds off emotion in a match quite like her. Tam had been moulded by that mindset, and knew how to harness it. In contrast Mina was wild and out of control, and it was clear she was out of her depth trying to match Nakano in emotional warfare.

Amidst all this chaos Tam had looked to strengthen the Cosmic Angels. Their Artists reign had shown their power, breaking both the days held and defense records for a championship that was notoriously hard to keep for any length of time. However as strong as the trio had become, the Angels were vulnerable as a small unit. Mina had missed time to start the year with a broken nose, and it highlighted how easy it was for the team to become outgunned by larger groups.

Tam welcomed Mai Sakurai and Waka Tsukiyama to the team, and they were in the same mould as Mina and Unagi when they had joined a year ago. Neither might have been powerful right out of the gate, but under Tam’s guidance maybe they could become strong. That was the vision.

These decisions and her leadership would come under question by the one person who could hurt her most. Giulia had mostly kept away from Tam after their March war, but she saw a chance to instigate once more. She scoffed at the additions, both of who struggled to make an impact early on. In an attempt to one up Tam, Giulia brought in two new recruits of her own, MIRAI and Thekla, who both immediately established themselves as far stronger than either of Mai or Waka.

That hurt, but Giulia’s next move was even crueler. The Donna Del Mondo leader set her eyes on Sakurai, and begin to tempt her with greener pastures. Mai herself had been enamoured with Giulia since facing her in a singles match in September 2021, though she didn’t dare reveal it at the time.

After a prolonged courtship, Mai eventually chose to defect to Giulia and Donna Del Mondo. It was a knife buried deep into Tam’s back. She had witnessed betrayals when she stood alongside Mayu Iwatani, and she herself had walked a similar line before eventually leaving Mayu. However Tam has never experienced it firsthand. To make matters worse, it had to be Giulia at the forefront of the betrayal.

The distraught Cosmic Angels after Mai’s defection. Credit: Stardom

The departure crushed not only Tam but the entire group. They had a strong sense of camaraderie. They were the family Tam had wanted so badly, but now that family cried as one left the nest, walking away with their rivals.

Mai’s reasoning was simple. She had recently left her agency to dedicate herself to wrestling full time. For all of the Cosmic Angels success, they were built around the Idol concept and spent time on things like dance routines. If Mai was going to focus on wrestling, she needed a group with a similar vision.

The hypocrisy present was that within the various Donna Del Mondo pairings, many had dance routines of their own! It was a fact not lost on Tam Nakano, who stated as much after Mai’s explanation. It felt like an excuse more than a truly valid reason, but it didn’t matter. She had made her decision. She didn’t want anything to do with the family Tam was building.

To make matter worse, it all came during the first real drought for the group. Cosmic Angels had been without a title for a couple of months since Tam lost the White Belt in December, and they were struggling to string together wins, both individually and as a group. Waka Tsukiyama was trying but still winless, unable to make the in ring strides that Tam had perhaps envisioned. Tam Nakano had led them to success, but now she would have to lift them out of drought. A member down, she began to recruit, lining up a new member to join them in mid May – a necessary move to keep pace with the ever growing faction wars within Stardom.

The lessons of the past year ultimately brought Tam right back to The Icon: Mayu Iwatani. Fate nearly brought them together in January for the Wrestle Kingdom tag match, but the random draw placed Mayu with another old friend in Starlight Kid, and Tam with the person who freed her from the curse of the White Belt: Saya Kamitani.

As big as it would have been to team with Mayu in the Tokyo Dome, Tam wasn’t quite ready to stand alongside her mentor. She had experienced the hardships of leading a group, but the final key was Mai’s betrayal. Once she knew that heartbreak, she was able to appreciate the struggles Mayu went through as a leader.

Tam and Mayu together once more. Credit: Stardom

Tam had grown since leaving STARS. She had experienced the highs of being a top champion and seeing a group she created grow into one of the most popular in all of Japan, but she also now knew what it was like to try and keep that faction going as dissent and betrayal came knocking. Now in February 2022, four years since Tam first joined Mayu after being forced to leave Oedo Tai, they were able to stand in the ring together as equals. Two top stars and faction leaders with shared experience. Tam’s heart still yearned to finally surpass The Icon, but she finally understood everything Iwatani had gone through.

Was Mayu the perfect leader? No. She had made her fair share of mistakes that contributed to Tam (and others) ultimately breaking away. However, now Tam too had made those mistakes and could empathise with her. Like a child who grows up and becomes a parent, that new responsibility helps them gain a new appreciation for the efforts of their parents. Only by going through her own turmoil could she understand the other side.

In the ring, it was as if Tam and Mayu had never stopped teaming, such was their chemistry. They seemed genuinely happy to be together again, if only for a night. One day she would still need to defeat Mayu Iwatani and surpass her, but she could leave Nagaoka happy. The burden of their shattered past no longer felt so heavy on her shoulders.

Throughout 2021 and into the early months of 2022 Tam Nakano achieved those key goals she had set for herself. She had forged a family with the Cosmic Angels, one that ultimately endured heartbreak and remained strong together. And she kept her promise to Arisa Hoshiki, winning the Wonder of Stardom Championship and standing tall over someone who she had been chasing all year.

In many ways, she had done all she needed to. But for Tam that’s not the end of her story:

“Ever since I joined Stardom fans have been telling me, “Tam-chan, I want you to win the white belt for sure,” and I was finally able to make those dreams come true. Once you make one dream come true though, you can make another dream come true. We can make dreams come true together forever. So in a way, I hope I stay unfinished forever,”

Interview with Muigko Ozaki, translated by Dana

She won her title and she found her family. Yet Tam Nakano will always be looking for that next goal to fuel and inspire her. She is yet to defeat Mayu, and there will always be something to chase. Tam knows the moment she stops dreaming is the moment she stops completely.

Onto the next dream.