It’s difficult to reshape someone’s impression of you.
When Natsupoi returned to Stardom in October 2020, welcomed in as the latest member of the fast rising Donna Del Mondo faction, it was hard not to see Poi as the petulant little sister surrounded by her badass family. Her diminutive size stood in stark contrast to teammates like Maika and Himeka, her boisterous fairy persona contrasted the more intense and cool aura that oozed from the other members.
As a character she was unique amongst Donna Del Mondo. Natsupoi stood out, and while she never felt out of place, it did feel like that ‘place’ was a step below the others. From the outside they seemed like a family and got along famously. The Donna Del Mondo family might have had their first departures early into 2022, but Natsupoi was firmly entrenched in the group. Along with Maika and Himeka they were the Artist of Stardom Champions, complete with a set team entrance and attire. Donna Del Mondo were Natsupoi’s family. But was she the little sister or the family pet?
This question seemed to be at the heart of her internal struggle when she chose to superkick Giulia during an elimination tag team match against the Cosmic Angels. The betrayal led Tam Nakano – a heated rival at the time of both Giulia and Natsupoi – to a big victory.
It was a decision that shocked Donna Del Mondo to its core, even Tam and the rest of the Angels were in shock. This wasn’t some devious plan crafted from the shadows between them – it was an emotional decision from Poi and Poi alone, done out of a desire to break free from an image that was holding her back.
“I am not DDM’s mascot, or your pet! I’m going even higher. In order to do that, I’m prepared to stand across the ring from DDM, from Giulia-chan. I’ll revolutionize Stardom from within Cosmic Angels. That is my resolution.”Natsupoi after turning her back on Donna Del Mondo. Translation by Dana
It was a decision born from the desire to become more than she was. To break free of the limitations that were seemingly imposed on her in Donna Del Mondo. She was their High Speed expert and petite instigator, but among the group her place was clearly below the heavy hitters. To become a major player in Stardom Natsupoi would have to step out of that impression and become a more dynamic performer. That was always going to be difficult in Donna Del Mondo.
One just has to look at Syuri, the then-World of Stardom Champion, who felt it necessary to spread her wings away from Donna Del Mondo. The faction was simply too strong for its own good. Even without Syuri the group was still incredibly stacked: Giulia was one of the stars of the company (and would go on to beat Syuri for the Red Belt), and both Maika and Himeka were perpetually knocking on the door of main event status. Even Thekla, a recent recruit, threatened to usurp Natsupoi’s claim as the resident High Speed expert while also being close with the faction leader, Giulia.
It wasn’t like Natsupoi hadn’t had her chances either. She had challenged for the Wonder of Stardom Championship twice, including earlier in the year. 2022 had been kind to her, but still she laboured underneath the weight of her own image. The cute sidekick, the mascot for the dominant Donna Del Mondo.
She craved more, and whether she was truly the faction mascot or not is irrelevant because it’s what she felt she was. Natsupoi wanted to become a serious competitor, and she saw what she desired of herself in her longtime enemy Tam Nakano.
Her history with Tam stretches back to when they were both in Actwres Girlz in 2016. Back then Tam was still brand new to the world of pro wrestling, and looked up to Natsupoi (then known as Natsumi Maki) as an aspiration figure – the model of the cute, strong kind of wrestler she wanted to become.
Years later, and the tables had turned. Natsupoi now looked to Tam as someone she needed to become. Yet her true feelings were masked by bitterness. In an interview with Weekly Pro Wrestling, she mentioned being furious with Tam Nakano for suddenly leaving the promotion. The feelings each held for the other would come to the surface when Natsupoi first challenged for the Wonder of Stardom Championship in 2021, then held by Tam.
After Tam defeated her in Yokohama, the first thing she said to Natsupoi was a simple question. “Do you hate me?”
“I really hate you. Because of Tam, I got caught up in a bad personality.”
Natsupoi’s focus on Tam Nakano would border on an obsession. She had to finally surpass ‘Tam-chan’, it was her goal in wrestling. No matter what path it seemingly led her down.
The image of Tam Nakano is what Natsupoi desires to be. Someone who has crafted a cute idol image for herself but hasn’t let it restrict her. Tam grew into one of the company’s top names pushing the same kind of ‘kawaii’ persona that Poi found herself restrained by in Donna Del Mondo. Tam wasn’t reduced to being a mascot for a faction, she was leading one.
That same bad personality that had taken over Natsupoi in April 2021 started to arise inside of her once more in mid-2022. Natsupoi was enjoying being an Artist Champion as a part of MaiHimePoi, but still her envious eyes drifted to Tam.
They were thrust into the picture together with the Artist belts and history on the line. Tam and her Angels challenged MaiHimePoi for the Artist Belts, as their record breaking reign was now under threat. For thirty minutes the two teams fought hard, but as the clock ticked down the two legal women, Tam and Poi, couldn’t put the other down. The bell rang, a draw was announced, and the record was equaled.
In the aftermath Natsupoi started to wonder if Tam had lost her touch since losing the White Belt. She openly questioned her former friend if she was just getting too old. If the thirty minute war their two teams had just gone through wasn’t enough, these comments reignited a rivalry that could only be settled in one on one combat.
With Natsupoi so desperately focused on beating Tam, it wasn’t too surprising to see her team lose their next title defense against Oedo Tai – with Poi’s shoulders pinned to the mat by a surprise Revival pin by Saki Kashima.
She was distraught at her mistake, but it didn’t deter her true focus. Natsupoi had to beat Tam, she had to prove herself against the one person she had been chasing. Poi would get two chances at achieving that. Once inside a steel cage, a first ever for Stardom, and then a straight up singles match.
The steel cage didn’t just trap the two rivals inside the ring with one another, it trapped their emotions inside as well. For the next twenty five minutes the two battered each other to a pulp, using the cage to rake each other’s faces in an attempt to rip away the cuteness of their opponent.
Natsupoi, to her credit, threw everything she could at Tam, but she constantly seemed outmatched by her stronger and harder hitting foe. Her goal was to surpass Tam, but for much of the match all she could aim to do was survive.
As Tam Nakano climbed the cage one last time, Natsupoi dragged her broken body towards her, using what little she had in a last desperate bid, clutching onto Tam’s leg knowing that if she let go – she’d be letting go of her dreams. All that effort, only to be dragged up and choked out. Natsupoi’s legs dangling as her body loosely hung from the top of the cage, until Tam dropped her near lifeless body to the ground and left the cage.
It’s in the aftermath of this war that the veil of hatred would first fall, and their deeper feelings for one another would start to show. Instead of celebrating, Tam immediately rushed back in the ring to check on Natsupoi. She even, perhaps accidentally, would sow seeds of dissent, proclaiming that “only Tam could understand someone clumsy with a bad personality like you.”
Anyone would be forgiven for not getting back in the ring with a heated rival just two days after such a draining battle. However Natsupoi had still not reached her goal. Even if hatred was starting to morph into a different sort of feeling, she couldn’t rest until she finally defeated Tam Nakano. Friend, foe, whatever. Only the result would matter.
Those two days later Natsupoi would finally reach that goal, throwing everything she had at Tam inside Korakuen Hall. A wave of relief washed over her as the bell rang. She had finally done it! She had finally beaten Tam Nakano. Once more the words in the aftermath were less heated than they had been. In the place of hatred, respect had grown. She admitted how amazing she thought Tam was. That early ActWres friendship had started to grow once more.
Then Natsupoi said something very particular, something that didn’t stand out at the time but carries a lot more weight in hindsight.
With their two match series tied at 1-1 and a Donna Del Mondo vs Cosmic Angels elimination match booked less than two weeks away essentially serving as the tiebreaker, Natsupoi proclaimed it would be settled there.
“This time, I take control.”
And take control Natsupoi did – just not in the way anyone would have expected. She did what we wanted to do. She chose to no longer fight Tam, but stand alongside her.
It’s interesting that Tam would note Natsupoi’s ‘bad personality’ after the cage match, because it clearly had been causing problems for some time. After Poi had made her decision to betray Donna Del Mondo, each member took a moment to address their former friend. An emotional Himeka put forth her feelings to one of her closest friends as a fire burned in her eyes.
I have more memories of you as my partner than anyone else, you were so sweet all the time, I loved that straightforward Natsupoi, and respected you. I never, ever thought of you as a pet, or a mascot, that’s never what you were to me, I thought of you as my precious, cherished teammate. Lately you’ve been acting selfish and saying such egotistical things, and now it’s really gone this far, huh. I misjudged you. You really have changed, then. Betrayed by my precious partner… I’ll never forgive you for this.Himeka to Natsupoi. Translation by Dana
That bad personality had unveiled itself through her arrogance. Natsupoi’s selfishness and single minded focus on Tam not only cost them their trios titles together, but it had pulled Poi away from the entire faction. One friend dumped in the pursuit of another.
In all of Donna Del Mondo, it was Himeka who was closer to Natsupoi than anyone. Like Tam, Natsupoi had first met Himeka back in Actwres Girlz, even coming to see her as a best friend. When Natsupoi made her return to Stardom as a part of DDM, she did so sitting atop Himeka’s shoulders. The two won the trios gold together and teamed in the Tag League. On the surface they seemed inseparable.
Only, it was at the end of that Tag League where their relationship first started to fracture. Before the tournament even started, Natsupoi made Himeka sign a contract, promising to never throw her away. It was a moment played for laughs (with Natsupoi leaning into a pun where throw away was pronounced ‘poishite’), but it would become very important as the Tag League continued.
Their tournament ended due to communication issues and friendly fire, which led to the two snipping at each other and even getting physical. When both were booked in a triple threat match to determine the next Wonder of Stardom contender, they couldn’t work together, opening the door for Saya Kamitani to snatch the victory (one she would use to win the title). Natsupoi seemed to question Himeka’s passion, while Himeka pointed to Poi’s self centred nature. The bad attitude.
It felt like the inseparable friends were well and truly separating. It wasn’t until December’s Osaka Super Wars event that they seemed to be able to settle their differences. During the ladder match with STARS, Himeka chose not to secure the victory herself, but to help Natsupoi climb the ladder, giving her the crowning achievement. Together, the two embraced on top of the ladder, victorious and together once more.
Despite their differences, they made up. Himeka lived up to the ‘contract’ Natsupoi made her sign months back. Only to find herself standing opposite Natsupoi less than a year later, not because of her actions, but because of Poi’s.
Natsupoi might have broken the hearts of her friends and painted a target on her back by betraying Donna Del Mondo, but from the moment she joined Cosmic Angels she instantly felt like a bigger deal. No longer overshadowed by the powerhouses, Natsupoi found herself as one of the main names in her new faction.
In an interview with Fightful, a rather diplomatic Giulia mentioned that she was “concerned for her [Natsupoi], because it may be difficult to maintain a strong presence in a unit full of members with similar appeal”. It’s true that among the idol centric Cosmic Angels Natsupoi no longer stands out quite in the same way, but she’s quickly made her presence felt, and her star is all the bigger for it.
She certainly wasn’t getting to perform songs at Bushiroad’s 15th Anniversary Show before she joined up with Tam Nakano. For as heated as their rivalry was, they intimately learned what makes each other tick and it translated to instant success as both a tag team and as a performing duo.
The betrayal still hangs heavy on the hearts of the Donna Del Mondo members. Whenever the faction wrestles against Natsupoi they look to put a little extra into each strike, brutalising the person they once considered a sister. The Cosmic Angels had always been their primary rival thanks in large part to the history between its two leaders. Now they don’t just see their fiercest rival in Tam Nakano, but the friend that betrayed them.
Despite this, Natsupoi’s star is now shining brighter than ever alongside the Cosmic Angels. 2022 was a difficult year for her in many ways, but it was also the most successful and arguably important year of her wrestling career. She won multiple championships, was featured in more prominent spots, and generally felt like a bigger deal. The Natsupoi that had followed her herd towards Tam and the Cosmic Angels could now go higher than she ever had before.
Was she selfish in leaving Donna Del Mondo like some in the group suggest? Maybe, but sometimes you have to be a little bit selfish to get what you desire most. She couldn’t reach her full potential in Donna Del Mondo, so even if it hurt her friends she had to stand opposite them.
Natsupoi got a Goddess of Stardom Tag reign out of it. She released a song and performed it at the Seibu Dome in front of more people than she ever has as a wrestler. She defied the image that had held her back in Donna Del Mondo, breaking free and becoming a second in command for the Cosmic Angels.
Did it cost her the family she had? Yeah. But now she’s no longer a pet, she’s a star.