Momo Watanabe: How Stardom’s Peach Went Rotten

In 2018, Momo Watanabe was crowned the ‘Future Ace’ as she defeated top star Io Shirai for the Wonder of Stardom Championship. In 2021, it felt as though the company she was meant to lead had passed her by.

A lot had changed in those three years: the roster was nearly unrecognisable, factions had come and gone, and Stardom grew from a niche within a niche to become one of the hottest promotions in all of wrestling. Within all that change, Momo had proven to be one of the few constants, for better or for worse.

Now, in an effort to reach the vision of her future that was set forth in 2018, Watanabe has shed that which held her back, reborn into Oedo Tai‘s mericless killer. Old friends and standards no longer matter, because they never brought her the one thing she craves most. The World of Stardom Championship. That’s all that matters to her.

The pressure of being crowned the future of the company didn’t weigh her down initially. Her reign as the Wonder of Stardom Champion was a record breaking one, falling exactly one week shy of a full year and featuring a still unbeaten 13 defences against some of the company’s top talent. She main evented Stardom’s first American show since 2015 and even became a double champion, winning the Goddess of Stardom Tag Titles during this time. 2018 had been Momo’s year. When she dropped the title to Arisa Hoshiki it would have been natural to expect her to soon be challenging for the top prize or winning the 5 Star Grand Prix.

What instead followed was something of a holding pattern after dropping the tag titles soon after. She’d challenge for the World of Stardom Championship against each new champion and enjoy a couple of months as part of the Artist of Stardom Champions, but that was about it. She’d continue to do well in the 5 Star GP and always be a ‘threat’, but it no longer felt like Momo Watanabe was the sure thing she was a few years ago.

Momo with her newly won Wonder of Stardom Championship. Credit: Stardom

The Future Ace tag had seemingly been handed over to someone within her own faction. Her tag title run had been with Utami Hayashishita, a rookie just three months into her career at the time they were crowned. Of course, Utami was no ordinary debutante. The Super Rookie moniker wasn’t just a cute nickname, but proof of what Stardom had on their hands. Momo would prove herself stronger – for now – defeating her in that American main event, but there was no denying that Stardom was quickly being prepared for its Red Queen.

Fast forward to 2021, and Hayashishita would spend practically the whole year as the World of Stardom Champion after defeating Mayu Iwatani for the belt back in November 2020. Momo tried to end that reign prematurely, but she was the first of many to fall short. Instead, she watched from the side-lines as Utami’s reign would garner never before levels of domestic and international attention.

Queen’s Quest was led by Momo Watanabe, but it’s top star was Utami Hayashishita. And despite being leader, Momo didn’t have the final say when it came to new additions to the group. That role belonged to AZM, the brash teenager who held seniority despite being three years younger, having started wrestling a few months earlier than Momo.

AZM’s career was really beginning to blossom during this time, breaking out into one of the industry’s most promising wrestlers and enjoying a strong run with the High Speed Championship. Alongside them was Saya Kamitani, another young star with a bright future who won the Cinderella Tournament, the same tournament that catapulted Watanabe towards her big breakout three years prior.

Momo Watanabe was the leader of Queen’s Quest, but it felt like every Queen was succeeding but her. The breaking point seems to be, by her own admission, the 2021 5 Star Grand Prix.

Momo roughing Iwatani up in the first night of the 5 Star GP. Credit: Stardom

Entering the tournament, Momo Watanabe was in a slump. A year without any kind of accolades and failure at every big oppourtunity. She was meant to be the company’s future, yet that future was now passing her by. A year of watching the person she took under her wing hold the championship she desired more than any other. Seeing her walk to the ring for her first tournament match against Mayu Iwatani, there was no questioning Momo’s fierce determination to change her fortunes.

And fortune seemed to shine on her. Entering the final night of the competition, Momo found herself with a victory via forfeit as top contender Giulia was forced to bow out earlier due to injury. It gave her the final points she needed and a bye, while the other finalist Syuri had only thirty minutes to recoup from a grueling war with Marvelous’ ace Takumi Iroha. Syuri looked visibly tired as she trudged back out to the ring, Momo looked ready for a marathon.

Despite all of this, Momo still fell short.

“I lost in the 5 Star Finals and then everything about me went crazy, huh?” Momo stated at the Midsummer Champions press conference this June, as she prepared to once more go against Syuri. Only this time, the World of Stardom Title was on the line.

Crazy is one way to put it. The Momo Watanabe at that press conference had undergone quite the transformation since her and Syuri had squared off in the 5 Star GP. For years, Momo Watanabe had tried to mould herself in the shape of her mentor and Stardom’s former Ace: Io Shirai. A stoic and cocky badass whose immense talent and innate charisma would draw you in.

Now, Momo walked under the banner of Io’s former archrivals: the villainous Oedo Tai. Queen’s Quest wrestled with victory as the only goal, no matter how big or small the match. Oedo Tai wasn’t shy about throwing a result away if it meant inflicting pain and chaos.

This is most apparent in the wrench that Watanabe now carries with her. A simple, inelegant tool of destruction that she’s maimed the roster with. The first time we saw it was when she stuffed it into the side of her boot before concussing AZM with a vile punt to the face during their January Korakuen Hall match. AZM spent most of that month out of action. Later in the year she cracked Natsupoi over the head with it, leaving her silvery blonde hair stained blood red, causing her to miss several weeks.

There is no remorse to be found from Momo in the aftermath of these attacks. Quite the contrary, she seems to be fulfilled by it. Even during the peak of her White Belt reign she never seemed truly happy. Her smile never seemed complete.

Now? When a smile reaches her face it feels more genuine. She no longer has to keep up a certain appearance. Momo’s free to inflect the kind of suffering she has always desired. Such is the influence of Oedo Tai.

The defection was as shocking as it was brutal. High Speed Champion Starlight Kid, who had beaten Watanabe in both major tournaments in 2021, had taken it upon herself to make Momo’s life miserable at every turn. It all led to a faction versus faction match where the losing captain would have to join the other team.

It’s not clear at what point Momo decided to just join Oedo Tai of her own volition, announcing the move by cracking a steel chair over the head of long term friend AZM mid-match. It’s fair to assume that she was at least partially inspired by seeing Starlight Kid’s meteoric rise since donning the purple. Like Momo, Kid’s momentum had stalled somewhat in the lead-up to 2021. The turn to the dark side seemed to revitalise her, giving her a newfound confidence and swagger once she embraced the group. She went from another of Mayu Iwatani’s friends to the belle of the ball.

The act of betrayal. Credit: Stardom

From one perspective, Starlight Kid just became another person who overtook Momo Watanabe. Or, she could learn from Kid’s success, and try something new. So, Momo did what many others had done before, and gave in to the corrupting influence of Oedo Tai in search of greater glory.

There is a certain freedom to be found in the group that simply wasn’t available to her before. As leader of Queen’s Quest, there was a certain expectation of her, not only in terms of in ring success but in how she carried herself. It’s a lot of pressure on someone just fresh out of high school, and of all the factions a lack of championship success really stands out there.

There’s also something to be said for the bond within the purple group of misfits. A lot of people have left good positions and betrayed friends to find a new home in Oedo Tai, and very few go on to leave the group once they’ve arrived. Disillusioned, someone will join Natsuko Tora’s family and seem revitalised in the process.

Momo Watanabe too, seemed to need the change of scenery and be able to lean into her true self. At her best she’s a violent being that can tear through opponents with bone rattling kicks, several high impact suplexes and slams – all the while her arrogance shines through. This was the Momo Watanabe that set records during her White Belt reign, the one who heard people crowning her as a future Ace and was determined to prove it.

It was something she seemed to lose in the aftermath of her reign. We would see inklings of it (like on the opening night of the 2021 5 Star Grand Prix against Iwatani) but it felt like she had lost that confidence the longer she was without a championship, or felt too restricted in how she could act as the leader of Queen’s Quest.

Rina, Ruaka, Momo and Starlight Kid. Credit: Stardom

That cocky, violent streak is back now and arguably stronger than ever. She revels in making her opponents suffer. With Utami and Kamitani learning under her she needed to serve as a proper role model – she’s not interested in doing the same for Ruaka and Rina, and they’re happier for it.

The betrayal shook Queen’s Quest to the core. They had never experienced it before, let alone from their leader. Through that first month Watanabe would come face to face with Queen’s Quest several times, but a funny thing happened. The dominant future ace she had found herself playing second fiddle to no longer seemed to be the quite as large a threat.

The unbeatable Utami Hayashishita had finally been bested, losing her Red Belt to Syuri on the final show of 2021. The match took place just ten days after Momo’s betrayal, barely enough time to process such a heinous act and be 100% focused on the biggest match of her career.

Truthfully, Utami has yet to recapture that same level of dominance since losing the title, spending the majority of the first half of 2022 floating around, training up Miyu Amasaki or imitating Tam Nakano. She was even unable to defeat her fellow AphroditE and Queen’s Quest teammate Saya Kamitani in a match for the White Belt, a match Saya requested, not an Utami hungry for more championship gold.

This was not the Utami Hayashishita that Momo had envisioned destroying when she left Queen’s Quest. After she and and Starlight Kid beat Utami and AZM on the January 29 Nagoya PPV, she seemed confused that this was the person who had managed to rocket to the pinnacle of Stardom over her.

“You don’t even have the red belt any more. This kind of Utami Hayashishita is of absolutely no use to me. Your existence isn’t even worth the tiniest sliver any more.” (Translated by @ItsDanaNow)

Momo asserting her dominance over Utami Hayashishita. Credit: Stardom

She must have spent many a sleepless night picturing the moment she would end Utami’s World of Stardom reign, and proving to everyone that she was the real future of Stardom. Now, beating Utami doesn’t bring her the satisfaction she wanted. Beating the World Champion Utami would have given her everything she desired.

Even her claims of destroying Queen’s Quest seemed to fade. In March, the two factions would eventually square off in a best of five series in Takadanobaba, but the series ended in a 2-2 split after Utami and Momo fought to a time limit draw. Momo’s focus waned from both Utami and the group, her heart yearned for what it truly always wanted.

The World of Stardom Championship. The Red Belt.

She doesn’t just want it, she craves it. She made it clear back when her and Starlight Kid were feuding that she was only interested in one title: the World of Stardom Championship. She’s challenged the last four champions for that belt and come up short each time. She makes her fifth challenge against Syuri on the July 9.

In those previous four attempts, though, she carried the baggage of Queen’s Quest on her shoulders. Momo fought hard then, but she also fought fair. With Oedo Tai she has no such qualms about doing whatever it takes. Syuri has tried to draw her into a clean duel – Momo responded by attacking her at the press conference and holding the wrench against Syuri’s face, replying quite simply, “Whether or not I use this isn’t something you get to decide, bitch.”

It’s now been four years since Momo Watanabe was declared the ‘Future Ace’ by Stardom’s President Rossy Ogawa. She’s done playing nice in her attempts to get there. Playing fair has seen too many people step over her. Now the Black Peach will do reach to restore that moniker however she sees fit.