What If – The 2020 Stardom Big Four

From Bioshock Infinite to Community, there’s more than enough media out there warning of the dangers of different timelines. It’s hard not to look at a situation sometimes and wonder though… What If?

The theoretical Stardom Big 4, from left to right: Mayu Iwatani, Arisa Hoshiki, Hana Kimura and Utami Hayashishita

Such is the case with the November 6, 2019 cover of Weekly Pro-Wrestling. In the wake of the Bushiroad acquisition of Stardom on October 16, there were big plans for the joshi promotion that was now coming under the same parent company as New Japan Pro Wrestling. As part of an increased marketing campaign to draw eyes on the product, four of its performers were positioned front and centre at the heart of this push.

Mayu Iwatani, Arisa Hoshiki, Hana Kimura and Utami Hayashishita. A new big four (along with the recently acquired Giulia) were slated to be the stars Bushiroad were backing heading into 2020.

Things started off hot, with four of those five appearing for the first time at Wrestle Kingdom and crowds attending their Korkauen Hall shows in record numbers. Then the COVID pandemic hit, shutting everything down. When the company returned from its forced hiatus, two of that big four were no longer with Stardom. Arisa Hoshiki had to retire due to her mental and physical health and Hana Kimura had taken her own life. Any long term plans were lost to time and Stardom had to frantically pivot, focusing on quickly building up the future with only one established main eventer on their roster: Mayu Iwatani.

Looking at the company’s success now at the end of 2022, it’s easy to forget how concerning the situation looked heading into that June 2020 return. Arisa and Hana had spent the previous year preparing to be the next big stars, and the time was right after the retirement of the incomparable Kagetsu (now Yu Ishino). While they ascended to the top, Utami and Giulia would begin their preparations to join them.

With Arisa and Hana gone, there was no one ready to join Mayu at the top of the card. Utami and Giulia both needed time to grow into the role, and more experienced wrestlers like Momo Watanabe, Jungle Kyona, and Konami were all better positioned as support acts. The future Bushiroad initially envisioned for Stardom never came to fruition.

…But what if it did?

Let’s peer into an alternate timeline, one where both Arisa and Hana were able to keep wrestling, and consider what could have been, as well as what might no longer have been.

Setting the Scene

Arisa Hoshiki hitting her Brazilian Kick on Utami Hayashishita in January 2020. Credit: Stardom

Before doing so, it’s important to remember where the company was positioned at the point where the timelines diverge. Stardom’s final show before their schedule was affected by COVID was February 16 – which was punctuated by Utami relinquishing the Future of Stardom Championship after defeating Saya Kamitani in order to set her sights on bigger prizes. The first major cancelled event was on the 23rd, featuring a World of Stardom Championship match between Mayu Iwatani and Jungle Kyona. Between that first cancellation and their return on June 21 there were two shows: An empty building show on March 8th, and the Cinderella Tournament event later that month on the 24th.

For the sake of this thought exercise, the COVID shutdowns will still take place (though much of what is presented could still play out otherwise). This was the status of the key players when the first show was cancelled.

Mayu Iwatani: Their top star and reigning World of Stardom Champion. Mayu won the title in November 2019 from Bea Priestley and was situated as the first top champion of the Bushiroad era. She was a beloved veteran and the Icon of the company, who had both the support of established fans and the ability to appeal to newer ones. She was the leader of the STARS faction.

Arisa Hoshiki: Was part of the first generation of Stardom trainees back in 2011 before retiring a year and a half later. She returned to wrestling and Stardom at the end of 2018 and quickly became one of their bigger attractions. Arisa won the 2019 Cinderella Tournament and then the Wonder of Stardom Championship, which she held through to the point the timelines split. She also had won the Goddess of Stardom Tag League with Tam Nakano and was the clear second in command for the STARS faction.

Hana Kimura: Was fresh off her 2019 5 Star Grand Prix victory and an unsuccessful challenge of the World of Stardom Championship in October (but one that affirmed her popularity among the fans). Was the founder and leader of the hottest group in Stardom: Tokyo Cyber Squad, which had debuted a year prior and felt fresh.

Utami Hayashishita: Made her wrestling debut in August 2018 and won four championships before that year finished. Her 2019 was a little quieter by comparison but was important in preparing her for an upcoming push. Unsuccessfully challenged Arisa Hoshiki for the White Belt in January 2020 but the match reminded everyone she was something of a prodigal talent. A part of the Queen’s Quest faction, either as the second in command or third by seniority behind AZM and leader Momo Watanabe.

Giulia: While not part of the ‘Big 4’ magazine cover, Giulia was clearly being positioned as at least equal to Utami on the pecking order moving forward, including getting the coveted fourth spot on the Wrestle Kingdom exhibition match. She joined Stardom at the end of 2019 after leaving Ice Ribbon, and formed an outsider faction called Donna Del Mondo. Was the Artist of Stardom Champion alongside Maika and Syuri.

Separating the Timelines – The Cinderella Tournament and the Next Champions

Giulia as the 2020 Cinderella Champion. Does this still happen? Credit: Stardom

The first big moment in this point of divergence is the Cinderella Tournament. There are three key things that happen at this one night tournament that are catalysts for where the timelines begin to separate.

  1. Giulia wins the Cinderella Tournament and uses her ‘wish’ to get a shot at the Wonder of Stardom Championship.
  2. Arisa Hoshiki was not in the tournament, missing the event due to undisclosed health issues. It was the second straight event she had to miss due to her health – the first being the ‘No People Gate’ event earlier in the month where she was scheduled to defend her title against Natsuko Tora.
  3. Red Belt Champion Mayu Iwatani and Hana Kimura are both eliminated from the tournament during their first round match against each other.

Arisa Hoshiki would not officially retire from wrestling until May 20th, but by the time of the Cinderella Tournament management were aware that her health is a serious concern. Her future being up in the air would have an undeniable influence on the booking of the tournament, as the tournament has become a launching pad for White Belt contenders. In Giulia’s post match comments, she alludes to a future title match between the two, but more importantly that it might not be possible due to Arisa’s health.

“Today, I’ll say that I want to go head to head with her, and I’ve been waiting for it. I faced her on 1.4 at the Tokyo Dome, she’s really strange, she took me out with one shot. She’s not here today. I want a match with Arisa Hoshiki. I honestly don’t know if we can do it. But that’s what I want. If not, then we can’t help it, but please recover. April 29 at Ota Ward Gym. I want to challenge for your White Belt […] But if you can’t, give me the White Belt and I’ll take it.”

Giulia’s post match comments after winning the Cinderella Tournament, 03.24.20

So the question becomes: was Giulia always the planned 2020 Cinderella Champion in light of Arisa’s situation, or second choice in order to launch one of their key figures into the title scene in the absence of another?

Giulia might have still been new to Stardom, but there is precedent for someone winning the Cinderella Tournament early into their Stardom careers. Arisa had only been back in Stardom for a couple of months before she won it the year prior, and in 2022 MIRAI was crowned despite only joining in January. With this fact in mind, and considering how Giulia was treated as a big deal from the moment she arrived, it’s fair to assume Giulia was always scheduled to win the Cinderella Tournament. Arisa’s health situation likely didn’t influence the booking.

The question then is does she still go on to win the Wonder of Stardom Championship? In the real timeline she wins a mini-tournament – featuring Konami, Tam Nakano and Natsuko Tora – to claim the vacant championship.

This tournament final against Tam Nakano served as the spark for their massive rivalry that stretched through to the Hair vs Hair/Title main event at the Nippon Budokan on March 2021 (and continues to this day as eternal foils to one another).

Tam’s crowning moment at the Budokan was arguably never meant to be against Giulia, but Arisa Hoshiki. From Arisa’s arrival in 2018 the relationship between her and Tam, from a one sided love/hate relationship to genuine friendship, was one of the biggest stories in Stardom. They had already fought once for the White Belt, but it all felt like part of a greater story that would eventually lead to Tam Nakano getting her moment and defeating Arisa for the title.

By contrast, Tam and Giulia had barely interacted with one another by this point, having only faced off once in a tag match. The entire reason Tam was in the mini-tournament and then went after Giulia was because she believed it was her right and destiny to be the White Belt Champion if Arisa Hoshiki was no longer around. Giulia just happened to be the person in the way. It became personal after the fact.

We never saw Arisa and Giulia face off one on one. We could have though. Credit: Stardom

In the new timeline Giulia’s entire career trajectory changes. If the original plan was for Arisa to remain champion and complete her story with Tam Nakano, Giulia never has her 220 day reign with the Wonder of Stardom Championship. The Tam feud was also essential in establishing her in the company. 2022 Giulia relies on that rivalry with Tam to be where she is now.

Of course, while Tam Nakano’s greatest rival was always meant to be Arisa Hoshiki, Giulia’s primary antagonist was never meant to be Tam either. They just managed to be each other’s perfect backup plan.

Hana Kimura was Giulia’s first real rival in Stardom, with their match at the 2019 Year End Climax setting the violent tone that was to define their ongoing battles. While Tam and Hana are not replicas of one another, they both would be able to highlight her strengths – raw brawling buoyed by heavy character work and emotionally charged narrative beats. The key difference is that while Tam was always chasing Giulia, a rivalry with Hana would have been fought on more equal terms and built directly around their character dynamics, rather than being a byproduct of Tam’s hunt for destiny.

In this alternate timeline, Giulia wins the Cinderella Tournament but does not go on to win the Wonder of Stardom Championship, and Arisa Hoshiki heads into the 5 Star Grand Prix in August as champion. During the tournament she’s placed in the same block as Tam Nakano, who manages to defeat Arisa. She uses this as a stepping stone for another title match, which leads to the culmination of her near two year story arc where she finally wins the Wonder of Stardom Championship. Tam’s story as champion would then play out similarly to how it does in the real timeline, only it starts three months earlier.

If you are curious, if Arisa were to drop the title to Tam at the December 20th PPV (where the original match was Giulia vs Syuri), her reign would have ended at 585 days, still shy of eclipsing Yuzuki Aikawa’s record for longest reign (Arisa is currently second either way). She would have also added a couple more defenses during this time (at least Giulia and Natsuko, and possibly one other between the Grand Prix and the Tam match), potentially tying Momo Watanabe’s record.

The World of Stardom Championship also experiences a key point of divergence between these two timelines. Mayu Iwatani and Hana Kimura wrestling to a double elimination in the first round of the Cinderella Tournament was almost certainly designed to establish Hana as the next challenger for the Red Belt (we saw this exact strategy implemented in the 2022 tournament between Himeka and Syuri).

To fit this match in between the tight schedule of their return in June and the 5 Star Grand Prix, it likely has to replace the July defense against Jungle Kyona. It is a shame to lose what was one of the better Stardom matches in 2020, but Hana vs Mayu would be a much bigger match to kick off the company’s return and regain the momentum they had at the start of the year. The booking of their Cinderella match was far too specific to not have been laying the foundation of this showdown. The Kyona defense was just a logical substitute given the original match was cancelled.

What Hana would have looked like as Red Belt Champion. Original unaltered images credit to Stardom

Does Hana Kimura win here? Mayu Iwatani’s second run as the World of Stardom Champion was an important one. Firstly as the company Icon leading them forward into a prosperous new era under Bushiroad, and then as a stabilising force in the aftermath of the pandemic lockdowns and the loss of their next big stars. It was a crucial year long reign even if it is overshadowed in hindsight by the next few champions and what those reigns would also mean for the company.

The lockdowns surrounding the pandemic affected the momentum of her reign, much in the same way Tetsuya Naito’s IWGP Heavyweight Title reign never really got going during the same period. If in the alternate timeline she were to lose the title in July to Hana Kimura, this similarity would be even more pronounced.

That being said, it was only a matter of time until Hana Kimura won the World of Stardom Championship. Even among the key players Bushiroad had chosen, Hana felt like the most important piece. She was the one interacting with Bushiroad president Takaaki Kidani, and was potentially tapping into new fans through her reality TV appearances. Hana had legitimate game changing star-power potential.

Mayu would have suffered a second Red Belt reign cursed by outside factors, but crowning Hana the champion around this time would have made sense from a business standpoint. Hana Kimura with the title would have helped create a buzz as Stardom looked to re-establish themselves.

From there there are plenty of interesting matchups that could be explored, and the 5 Star GP would have worked to build the next batch of challengers. Among those would have been an upstart Giulia, continuing to feed into the rivalry that had already been developed in the real timeline. The hair stipulation that was implemented in Giulia’s Nippon Budokan match with Tam could have been used in this rivalry as well, only altered to suit the new story beats.

This is how the timelines first diverge. The Tam/Giulia rivalry reverts to the previously established Tam/Arisa and Giulia/Hana feuds. The White Belt never makes it to Giulia, instead staying with Arisa until dropping it to Tam in December, and Mayu loses the Red Belt to Hana Kimura.

There are two more important diversions in the timeline that need to be addressed in September and October of 2020. In the real timeline, Utami Hayashishita is crowned the 2020 5 Star Grand Prix Champion en route to winning the World of Stardom Championship, and Tokyo Cyber Squad are forced to disband at the hands of Oedo Tai. Both of these events are no longer guaranteed in the alternate timeline with Arisa Hoshiki and especially Hana Kimura still being around.

The 2020 5 Star Grand Prix

The theoretical 2020 5 Star GP poster, with Arisa replacing Death Yama-San and Hana replacing an ‘injured’ Jungle Kyona. Original unaltered images credit to Stardom

With the main event scene very empty upon Stardom’s return in June, the 5 Star Grand Prix was always going to be essential in establishing the next star of the company. In hindsight it’s a deceptively stacked tournament, but at the time it was filled new and up and coming talent. Himeka, who had only joined the company upon their return in June, found herself in the final of this prestigious tournament just three months later.

Utami Hayashishita would go on to win that tournament, using it as a launching point to claim the World of Stardom Championship in November. It would take a few months for her to grow into the role of top champion (having made her wrestling debut just two years earlier), but by June of 2021 she was shocking the entire wrestling world with her incredible 40+ minute draw with Syuri.

In the alternate timeline, Utami is still clearly pegged as someone they are going to push to the moon. She wouldn’t be a part of the Big 4 otherwise. However there is less pressure to immediately ‘make’ her with Hana and Arisa still around. If Hana Kimura is fresh off a World of Stardom title victory over Mayu, whoever wins the 5 Star Grand Prix would not go on to win the title in its immediate aftermath.

Realistically the pool of viable winners isn’t that high. If they are looking to lift up someone new, then former winners Mayu Iwatani and Hana Kimura wouldn’t make sense. Arisa Hoshiki would in this timeline still be the Wonder of Stardom Champion, so winning the tournament limits its effectiveness as a tool for setting up the next big challenger, and setting up a title vs title match hurts their ability to stack big shows as they begin to experiment with the PPV model.

Utami still makes the most sense to win from their batch of up and comers. Giulia would have still been fresh off of winning the Cinderella Tournament, so using both major tournaments on one person during this point in time would be less than ideal. Syuri would be a viable possibility. She even challenged for the title after the Grand Prix in the real timeline. However her climb up the ranks felt particularly methodical through 2020 and 2021, sacrificing an immediate push for slow and sustained dominance. Tam could use the tournament win to challenge for Arisa’s White Belt but that story doesn’t need the tournament to progress it. Finally, they could have given the win to a Momo Watanabe or Konami, but considering how they were used in 2021 they probably weren’t realistic considerations.

So the theoretical order of likelyhood would be: Utami Hayashishita, Syuri, Tam Nakano, Arisa Hoshiki, Giulia, Momo Watanabe, Konami.

Utami winning the 5 Star GP makes the most sense, even if she wouldn’t convert it into an immediate World of Stardom title reign. It would have given her a huge singles accolade in 2020 and she would have been free to gradually grow her character rather than being thrown into the deep end and forced to adapt on the fly. While that worked out for Stardom, it is clear that Utami had to conform to a certain ideal through 2021, one which held back a more well rounded personality we’re now starting see in 2022. If that development could have come a year prior before eventually wining the title, the process could have resulted in a more organic and dynamic character.

What Becomes of Tokyo Cyber Squad?

The moment Tokyo Cyber Squad died in the real timeline. Credit: Stardom

Tokyo Cyber Squad disbanding in October felt like an unfortunate necessity. Despite it being a fiercely popular group, it was built squarely around Hana Kimura’s personality and leadership. In the wake of her passing TCS just served as a constant reminder of what everyone had lost. The team valiantly tried to keep her spirit alive, but it wasn’t the same. With Jungle Kyona’s health rapidly falling apart as well, breaking the group up had to be done.

Konami’s betrayal and defection to Oedo Tai brought it to a definitive end. Rina, Ruaka, and Death Yama-San all joined STARS, only to find their way over to Oedo Tai with Konami over the course of the next 8 months. Jungle Kyona meanwhile joined STARS for one night before disappearing to have multiple surgeries. She would never return to a Stardom ring, officially leaving a year later before eventually returning to wrestling as a freelancer.

If Hana Kimura was still with us, then all of this doesn’t need to happen. Tokyo Cyber Squad still has its heart and leader, who is also now the World of Stardom Champion. This ripple effect ends up changing the Stardom landscape quite dramatically.

First of all, what happens to Jungle Kyona? This is perhaps the biggest question mark of the entire thought experiment. Jungle’s health was still going to be an issue – it wasn’t a sudden explosion of problems but a gradual build-up caused by wrestling through gradually worsening injuries. Without Hana, Tokyo Cyber Squad needed a leader and Stardom needed someone like Kyona to temporarily fill a main event spot.

On top of that, Jungle had internal pressures to keep Hana’s spirit going inside the ring, only taking one show off (and still appearing, just not wrestling) while she dealt with the aftermath of her close friend’s death. Over the next few months her injuries reached a literal breaking point. This is highlighted by the almost comically large knee brace she wore in her final match with Stardom. To this day her knee is still a major issue, extenuated by unsuccessful surgeries.

If Hana (and Arisa) were still with Stardom in June, there would have been less pressure on Kyona to keep wrestling, and the extent of her injuries could have at least been minimised somewhat. With this in mind, the other big question is – does Jungle Kyona stay in Stardom in this situation? While it’s never been officially announced, her ability to keep wrestling at Stardom’s pace and schedule seems to have been a factor in her departure from Stardom. If the injuries never become so severe, she might have been able to return sooner and in better health. On top of this, her close friend Hana Kimura would have still been there waiting for her.

*It is important to note that Kyona’s injury situation here is particularly theoretical. She had already shown a willingness to fight through injuries and return sooner than she should have. Part of the long term issues also stem from unsuccessful surgeries that may or may not have still been needed in this alternate timeline

With Tokyo Cyber Squad still existing, there is a strong case for Konami never joining Oedo Tai. Like Kyona, Konami clearly benefited from the dynamics of the faction and it allowed her to grow as a performer. With Jungle Kyona taking time off to heal, there would be even more imperative to keep the Submission Sniper in Tokyo Cyber Squad to serve as a strong second in command. Beyond their big three the group wasn’t particularly strong.

Who would have been Oedo Tai’s fourth woman in this scenario? Credit: Stardom

With no Konami, Oedo Tai would be in dire need of support. At this point in time the team is just Natsuko Tora, Bea Priestley, Saki Kashima, and Natsu Sumire (who would leave around October). The arrival of Konami brought with it some much needed firepower and in ring legitimacy. Replacing Konami with another strong wrestler would be essential to keeping the group relevant, especially while they continue to find their identity under new leader Natsuko Tora.

Replacing Konami is easier said than done. The best option, especially in hindsight, is turning Momo Watanabe heel a year earlier. Outside of making the 5 Star GP final, 2021 was a quiet year for Momo before her defection to Oedo Tai. That is an accomplishment that could still be kept as well in this timeline. Like Konami, she would instantly add in ring credibility to the group, and potentially give them more direction leaning into a Queen’s Quest feud.

The risk is that pulling the trigger early on Momo’s heel turn might have affected Utami Hayashishita and Saya Kamitani’s growth. Both grew substantially in 2021, but they were free to do so while Momo provided a steady foundation as leader. It also leaves the group notably depleted, as Hina was away from Stardom for a while due to school commitments. A group of three is workable, especially with Utami, Saya and AZM’s overall strength, but it leaves little room for error.

If Queen’s Quest stays put, you could possibly take someone from Donna Del Mondo. They certainly had the strength to lose a member and still keep going, especially in early October when they added Natsupoi. Syuri would be the most apt replacement for Konami as a wrestler, though Himeka might be the better option. Her size would give Oedo Tai an additional edge, and her character work would comfortably translate. However Oedo Tai might benefit from someone with more experience, especially in the Stardom system.

Through all of this Oedo Tai also lose one of the defining features of their current iteration: the youth delinquent angle. Rina and Ruaka’s futures are far cloudier in this scenario. Ruaka might still defect, but Rina’s connection to Hana probably keeps her in Tokyo Cyber Squad. Death Yama-San could skip the Gokigen gimmick entirely and go straight to Fukigen Death to help give Oedo Tai the all important numbers advantage. Balancing all the factions is difficult with Tokyo Cyber Squad still around, especially once another faction arrives on the scene.

Other Key Changes and Further Along the Timeline

How different does Tam’s break-up from STARS look if Arisa Hoshiki was involved? Credit: Stardom

The last big faction question that needs to be asked concerns the Cosmic Angels. The October 2020 PPV that saw the disbandment of Tokyo Cyber Squad also saw the introduction of Mina Shirakawa. In the real timeline this marks the beginning of a big shakeup that saw Tam Nakano eventually leave STARS in order to form her own group with Mina and Unagi Sayaka. The key difference in the STARS civil war in the alternate timeline is that Arisa Hoshiki would be involved.

Tam left STARS in part because she felt isolated in the group, particularly with Mayu constantly turning her attention to new toys. While Arisa Hoshiki was something of a catalyst to these feelings forming in 2018, by 2020 their relationship is both complicated and incredibly strong. A departure from STARS in this alternate timeline would be even more emotionally charged with Arisa, who would potentially be trying to play peacemaker between her two best friends. If in the alternate timeline Tam wins the title from Arisa on the December 20 PPV, then it would occur on the same night that Cosmic Angels officially separated from STARS in the real timeline.

There’s no guarantee that the Cosmic Angels come into being while Tokyo Cyber Squad exist. Much like Tam inherited the Giulia rivalry, it’s also possible they saw her as someone who could lead a new personality heavy group built around its leader in the place of Hana and Tokyo Cyber Squad. Considering she was being positioned as a potential top champion, transitioning into a leadership role makes sense, and the faction allowed her to really grow into the role of a top star. That would have been difficult in a group with both Mayu and Arisa (as well as a rapidly rising Starlight Kid).

By contrast, Arisa Hoshiki never felt limited in the same way serving as a second in command in STARS. She was never made to feel ‘lesser’ much in the same way Utami was able to be the World of Stardom Champion while Queen’s Quest was led by Momo. Arguably it would have been even more important since STARS would have lacked depth without the immigration of Tokyo Cyber Squad talent. A core of Mayu, Arisa, Starlight Kid, Saya Iida and Hanan would still have plenty going for it. The story of Tam’s departure would need tweaking, but it still feels like a necessary progression.

The real ripple effects of all these changes really start to be felt in 2021. This alternate timeline massively shifts the trajectory of the Red Belt and its champions. At a minimum you would expect Hana to carry the championship through to at least the Nippon Budokan show at the end of March (giving her a respectable eight month reign). By the time Hana drops the title you could choose to pull the trigger on Utami Hayashishita, but there is also Arisa Hoshiki. She had already proven herself as a Wonder of Stardom Champion, and her becoming just the third person to win both the Red and White Belts would make fitting history as one of the original debutantes back in 2011 alongside Mayu Iwatani.

The June draw between Utami and Syuri never happens in the alternate timeline. Credit: Stardom

Potentially the entire World of Stardom Title lineage as we currently know it gets pushed back a year, with Utami not winning the Red Belt until around the end of 2021. This also means Stardom don’t get the immediate influx of global interest that grew from the Utami/Syuri main event rivalry. It’s important not to understate just how big of a deal their June draw was to changing the discussion surrounding Stardom in the Western markets. There’s no guarantee that is replicated with a different set of champions. Or does the undeniable megastar attraction of Hana Kimura as a top champion accelerate the gradual growth of the foreign markets and offset that jump?

A dynamic top tier trio of Mayu, Hana and Arisa alongside fast rising stars like Utami, Giulia, Syuri and the then recently crowned Tam Nakano still provides much of the appeal that Stardom would have in the post pandemic period, just with a little added polish and star-power in the earlier months. Even if there’s not one single match that turns heads, the potential is still there. The Syuri/Utami match was such a watershed moment for Stardom’s international presence though that losing it is important to consider.

As for the White Belt, in this scenario Tam would be winning the title a couple of months earlier than she did against Giulia. The main consideration here is whether they follow the same pathway that leads to Saya Kamitani winning the belt from her former mentor in December of 2021. Doing so eliminates Giulia’s defining reign with the title, but there may be a way to minimise that loss.

The SWA Title essentially limped through the post pandemic era, struggling to remain relevant with so few viable contenders due to the border closures. Syuri got around this by representing her mother’s Filipino heritage. It’s important to remember that both Giulia and Hana Kimura would also qualify for similar loopholes. Hana Kimura could use her Indonesian heritage from her father’s side, and Giulia was born in London and has Italian parentage.

Much like how Giulia was able to establish herself with a White Belt reign that had the constant presence of her rival Tam Nakano, a SWA title reign that grows from a war with the heavily protected Syuri to then continuing her rivalry with Hana (fresh off losing her World of Stardom Championship to Arisa) could have a similar effect.

The value of the belt certainly isn’t on par with the White or Red Belts, but that was because the belt felt aimless and overly predictable. If the division was built around three high level performers representing non Japanese countries (as well as any other Japanese talents booked against them). The division suddenly becomes infinitely more interesting and dynamic. Add in the fire from the Hana/Giulia feud and suddenly the SWA Title matters.

Beyond those three singles titles, most of the other titles can play out as they did in the real timeline, with the possible exception of the Goddess of Stardom Championship. In the original timeline Utami Hayashishita and Saya Kamitani win the vacated titles in July (due to Jamie Hayter and Bea Priestley being unable to return to the country during this period) and hold them until December.

Due to the schedule there weren’t many chances to actually defend the titles, and soon Utami had the Red Belt and bigger things to worry about. In the alternate timeline she wouldn’t win the World of Stardom Title, and so it is possible that AproditE could go on to have a more substantial reign. In the real timeline the belt jumped from AphroditE to a 50 day reign for Konami and Bea, followed by a 49 day reign for Maika and Himeka. Utami and Saya remaining champions through this extended period would keep Utami relevant while Hana and Arisa have the World of Stardom Championship. It also helps grow AphroditE’s reputation as one of the company’s premier tag teams with a more substantial reign.

In Conclusion

Mayu Iwatani vs Hana Kimura in the 2020 Cinderella Tournament. A glimpse at what could have been. Credit: Stardom

In hindsight it is clear that while the losses of Arisa and Hana were incredibly challenging, it didn’t stop Stardom from growing into one of the most notable promotions in pro wrestling. In fact their absence led to the aggressive pushes of wrestlers like Giulia and Utami, who have both been critical in that ascension.

Both wrestlers would have obviously still been pushed in a timeline where Arisa and Hana were still there, but it is likely that said growth is more methodical in pace. Hana Kimura was definitely next in line for the championship, and Arisa potentially in line after that.

In their absence, they no longer had the luxury of a slower build, but both wrestlers were forged like diamonds under the pressure. A post pandemic Stardom led by World of Stardom champion Hana Kimura would have been huge, but Utami’s reign coincided with big growth moments for the company. We might not have gotten to see the conclusion to the Tam and Arisa story arc, but that same magic was captured with Tam and Giulia.

There’s so much that could have been. Arisa and Syuri, two of the best strikers in wrestling, were only in the same company for two months. That would have been a huge match. Given how Hana and Tam’s story had unfolded through and beyond Oedo Tai, how would that next step have looked as Tam branched out with her Angels. An extra year under the Oedo Tai banner might allow Momo Watanabe to rise to the next level, or perhaps Himeka shines brighter away from the stacked Donna Del Mondo. While in both scenarios the tournament results are the same, so much else around it changes in the continued presence of two stars like Hana Kimura and Arisa Hoshiki.

Either way Stardom still grows, both domestically and globally. Predicting how as the timelines branch out in ever more diverging paths makes this thought experiment so fascinating. In trying to account for how Arisa and Hana’s involvement affects one aspect of the promotion, three more branching paths appear. It’s impossible to know just how much changes in this reality.

What if indeed.