Momo Watanabe v Jungle Kyona
Stardom 5 Star Grand Prix,
11th of September 2016
Shin-Kiba First Ring
The match: It’s the penultimate day of Stardom’s 5 Star Grand Prix tournament, and neither of these competitors have a chance of making it to the final at Korakuen Hall, but there’s still plenty at stake. Momo Watanabe and Jungle Kyona, both around a year into their wrestling careers, have teamed together regularly as JK Green. Momo notes in a pre-match promo that ‘We always get along, we’re always together, and I think because of that, we’re good rivals.’ Kyona notes that Momo has pinned her recently and that she wants to get her win back, and highlights the importance of this match for the growth of the team. We need more booking where tag partners recognise how effective occasionally knocking the shit out of each other can be for consolidating their bond.
Both look anxious as they square up for the pre-match hand-shake. The bell rings and there’s a palpable sense of trepidation; neither partner wants to inflict too much damage on the other, clearly, but they also don’t want to risk being viewed as the weak link. The first couple of lock-ups get things off to a nice boil, with Kyona overpowering the smaller Momo. Unlike the vast majority of wrestling matches in 2016, this early grappling feels significant in terms of the overall fortunes of both competitors. Neither are established in Stardom’s title picture yet, although they did both run company champion Io Shirai close in the opening two rounds of the 5 Star Grand Prix, and both rookies are seeking to prove a point about their prowess on the mat.
Then the moves start. Momo hits a succession of tidy dropkicks. Kyona gets into hoss mode, hitting Momo with a series of headache-inducing snapmares and locking in a nasty camel clutch. Kyona amps things up, tying Momo in the ropes and charging into to her from the far end of the entrance ramp. Things are beginning to break down a bit now, and the team-mates start hitting each other really hard in the chest, and yelling. Momo kicks, kicks, kicks, and floats over from a snap suplex into a cover for the two. Kyona pummels, pummels, pummels. The two start to exchange cover attempts in a compellingly loose, desperate sort of way. They both really want to beat each other. More strikes from Momo, before Kyona slaps her loudly across her face. Receipt. Receipt. Receipt. Receipt. Momo wins the strike exchange but Kyona is able to nail her with a lariat, and another, and another.
Momo is downed now, holding onto Kyona’s leg like an exhausted terrier that just isn’t done playing with that ball. Kyona takes to the top rope for a big splash, but Momo rolls out of the way and nails Kyona with double knees and a cover. Too near the ropes! Momo goes up top now, but Kyona rises to her feet and slaps her out of it. Receipt. Kyona collapses like a felled sapele tree, and Momo is able to hit another diving knee drop for the win. Someone runs in to ice the back of Kyona’s neck, and the scene sets on the two competitors sobbing and hugging. Two months later, Momo will turn on her partner to join Io Shirai’s villainous new stable, making a mockery of this entire touching scene.
Why does it define 2016?: Stardom have had a banner year with regards to international exposure. They launched their own streaming service, complete with English subtitles, allowing their product to permeate further than any other current joshi promotion. Their top three stars – Io Shirai, Mayu Iwatani and Kairi Hojo – appeared first in endless must-watch GIFs on Reddit, then to widespread acclaim on Lucha Underground. Inevitably, talk of Io and Kairi moving to NXT started to develop in the autumn, and at time of writing their contract situation remains unconfirmed.
Little of this international exposure has passed on to Momo and Kyona, but the movement of Stardom’s three “daughters” towards the global limelight puts the importance of this little match into sharp focus. In the face of WWE’s increasing embrace of Japanese talent and women’s wrestling more broadly, smaller promoters can’t be too careful about who they position just behind their top stars. Momo and Kyona are joined in Stardom by a host of other future prospects – HZK, Hana Kimura, Toni Storm – but not all of these performers have been positioned in such a way as to allow them to have a match like this, full of emotion, telling a rich story of friendship intertwined with competitive development. Their gifts may be different to those of the Stardom luminaries that have come before them, but this match confirms Momo and Kyona as two of the company’s best options for an Io-less future, at a time when such questions have become imperative for joshi’s most widely visible brand.
My thoughts: Multiple people have asked me to recommend highlights from this year’s 5 Star GP, and this short match is right there behind Kairi and Io’s brutal barnburner in my estimation. Without any assistance from more experienced hands, the two rookies succeed in putting on a contest which escalates gradually from respectful feeling-out to uninhibited face-slapping, and explodes into a cathartic and highly emotional resolution after the bell. After Momo’s unexpected heel turn last month the pair have even more to work with, suggesting an enduring relevance for this match in 2017 and beyond.