STARDOM x AEW: Top Kawaii of the Cosmos

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The world of professional wrestling keeps turning, and in its orbit brings new tidings brought by an unseen but generous moon. And the light it refracts upon the rippling lake’s visage is delicious.

World Wonder Ring Stardom is the latest entity caught within the spin; global expansion, a change in regime, and the start of new relationships.

Under the BUSHIROAD umbrella, the Japanese promotion is seeing new heights. And such new heights bring about new visions. With an expanded budget and a centered focus, that horizon isn’t so far off!

There’s a murmuring growing louder for an eventual meeting for AEW and New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Forbidden Door event to include the joshi warriors of Stardom, and it’s been so for years. It’s hard, nearly impossible to ignore. Can you hear it?

Spring of 2024 has already provided glimpses of this future ahead of us. Stardom and All Elite Wrestling (AEW) are working together. For Western viewers, talents like AZM and Mina Shirakawa have popped up on TNT and TBS for AEW’s weekly programming. Other roster members have appeared in sibling promotion Ring of Honor during Supercard of Honor and ROH TV

History is already being made in Stardom itself, thanks in part to this collaboration. For the first time, an AEW title is being defended in the joshi wrestling promotion. Yes, at Flashing Champions 2024 on May 18, the TBS Championship’s defender WIllow Nightingale visits the Cosmic Angels leader Tam Nakano to settle a dispute: who is the top kawaii in all the cosmos?

For Tam Nakano, this title represents a chance to add a new legacy to Stardom following the overwhelming changes in the company. For Willow Nightingale, this title represents all the wrestlers whose matches were broadcast on the TBS television channel, and the women in AEW who’ve fought to make the title mean something: Jade Cargill, Kris Statlander, Julia Hart, and Willow. If Nakano were to win, it would add prestige to this new era. But if not, it would mean an opportunity for Mercedes Moné to take that dream for herself, only for Nakano to watch it happen. Or, it’s an opportunity for Willow to have tested herself against two of today’s greatest and come out of the smoke and fumes the victor.

There was a time where this situation would have been unthinkable.

In one of pro wrestling’s beautiful moments, the persona of the cute and bubbly Tam Nakano is put to the side as she expresses the emotions that got her, in returning to a home that saw tenants move out and the structure is under renovation. With but a clutch of her hair, her demeanor returns as she declares she will “grab the bangs of opportunity”. The emotion informs the intent, and the ride is set.

Though Stardom has allowed its wrestlers to work abroad for a show here and there and vice versa before, it hasn’t seen quite the same collaboration on a scale as its sibling promotion, NJPW. In fact, the only full collaboration Stardom has had throughout a show was the Historic X-Over show, featuring New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) and Stardom talent teaming up or having their individual matches.

One such partnership NJPW has enjoyed that Stardom hadn’t was a blossoming coexistence with All Elite Wrestling. Whether it was the COVID-19 Pandemic or accidentally timing one’s show on the same weekend as the other, things simply couldn’t work out. 

Interestingly enough, Stardom isn’t the only one this roadblock has afflicted. In fact, NJPW had the same problem that persisted until a few years ago. Let’s recap, shall we?

Following the announcement of All Elite Wrestling’s inception in 2019, there seemed to be a stigma between New Japan Pro Wrestling and All Elite Wrestling. Aside from Jon Moxley’s IWGP United States Heavyweight Championships in 2019 and 2020 and Chris Jericho both losing his IWGP Heavyweight Championship to Kazuchika Okada and defeating Hiroshi Tanahashi at WrestleKingdom also in 2019 and 2020, there hasn’t been much in the way of NJPW and AEW collaborating.

It’s not for a lack of trying, as AEW had featured prominent former NJPW talents, going so far as to reference history and title reigns. For a while, it seemed that the only crumb fans would get would be a Jeff Cobb appearance during Jon Moxley’s chase for Chris Jericho’s AEW World Championship reign in February 2020. 

Then, the COVID-19 pandemic started and a global lockdown halted any chances for collaboration. 

It wasn’t until 2021 that fans everywhere were shocked when NJPW talent and puro legend KENTA feuded with Jon Moxley in the company. I recall a fervor and excitement in wrestling fans online, as they thought up possible crossovers and dream matches.

A Yuji Nagata match in AEW here, some Lance Archer appearances in NJPW there, and yet fans of both companies craved more.

In the Summer of 2022, these hungry masses received just that when both companies announced Forbidden Door, where NJPW wrestlers teamed and/or locked up with AEW wrestlers. Finally, talents who seemed unlikely to collaborate were at last able to.

The rest was history.

Or was it?

As stated earlier, under the same BUSHIROAD umbrella, World Wonder Ring Stardom did not have that same luxury, despite the desire between both companies. While AEW referenced the history of its talent who’ve wrestled in the joshi wrestling promotion before, fans had yet to wait for any collaboration on that front.

Fast-forward to NJPW’s Resurgence pay-per-view in 2023. Fans found the closest thing to a crossover when Willow Nightingale faced Momo Kohgo in Long Beach, California in a tournament for the freshly debuted NJPW Strong Women’s Championship, which Willow later defended against former Stardom talent Giulia at NJPW’s Independence Day.

But the industry had yet to see Stardom talent on a Tony Khan wrestling product. Thankfully, another former Stardom wrestler made an appearance. In July 2023, Utami Hayashashita competed in Tony Khan’s Ring of Honor against Trish Adora, whom she defeated.

There was yet more waiting. This time, however, there would be a more permanent solution. After an early 2024 change in the company Stardom and AEW were finally allowed to feature the other’s talents. 

April 13, 2024 – The former High Speed Champion AZM tests her mettle against an over-the-top AEW Women’s Champion Toni Storm in an explosive bout that filled the American with such life. The young joshi wrestler left quite an impression on what’s to come, not just from her, but from Stardom.

April 2024 would then see AEW star Mariah May reunited with Club Venus leader Mina Shirakawa at Stardom American Dream 2024, where AEW Women’s Champion Toni Storm would promptly confront Shirakawa. The latter would also make AEW appearances to save May from various foes.

Ring of Honor’s 2024 Supercard of Honor event would see Stardom talent on a larger scale with Momo Kohgo facing Mariah May in the free Zero Hour pre-show while Mei Seira and Empress Nexus Venus (Maika and Mina Shirakawa) faced Tam Nakano and Queen’s Quest (Saya Kamitani and AZM).

Later in April, Toni Storm would defend her AEW Women’s Championship against the young but ever-impressive AZM.

It would seem that this “forbidden door” was now open. Wow, right? I’m still excited. There are AEW fans who’ve yet to see what Stardom has to offer, and this feels like only the tip of the iceberg.

While the next exciting step is the looming 2024 Forbidden Door, where featured women from Stardom and AEW collide, the excitement refuses to stop there.

On social media, Cosmic Angels leader Tam Nakano challenged TBS Champion Willow Nightingale for a match on her home turf, Stardom. 

President Taro Okada mentions the importance and want for an AEW collaboration and title defenses on Stardom territory. Okada-san praises and mentions his surprise at Tam’s challenge to Willow Nightingale. In this, Okada, Stardom, and BUSHIROAD put their faith in her. They believe in Tam.

Of course, Willow accepted. Cute versus kawaii. West versus East.

This match was then made official on AEW Dynamite, thus promoting Stardom’s upcoming Flashing Champions event on May 18th. My jaw dropped as I heard the AEW broadcast team announce it. 

There is so much history between most of the AEW women’s division and Stardom’s roster, and there are many first-time matchups to be had. More storyline dominoes can be set in place, ready to be knocked over.

As I write this, my mind rushes to the possibilities. Jamie Hayter versus Mayu Iwatani for the first time since the late 2010s? Sign me up. Two of the youngest stars in Billie Starkz and AZM? Yes, please.

But perhaps one of my favorite aspects? The change of scenery between wrestlers of each company could be beneficial for the talents involved. Sure, I’ve spent a lot of time talking about dream matches, but imagine a talent in one company that is either over or underexposed. What do you do? Let them loose in another promotion where they can work overseas, perhaps even develop or update their style and character. For those who need direction, this is a great opportunity. 

I admit, my hype from this stems from the excitement I had as a child seeing WCW and NJPW collaborate. Future generations get to feel that. Young girls get to have that representation and feel equally as in awe as I was when I’d see matches like Jushin Liger versus Rey Misterio Jr. Oh, that mention just gave me goosebumps.

Willow Nightingale professes her respect for Tam while maintaining that she’s going to defend the TBS Championship with every fiber in her being.

And let’s face it – both companies are moving in exciting new directions. Stardom is expanding globally while setting in motion storylines that will take the promotion to new heights with the backing of BUSHIROAD. AEW’s relationship with Warner Bros Discovery seems to be strong, bolstered by more focused storylines in the women’s divisions and the recent addition of Mercedes Moné.

With both companies moving in new and exciting directions, partnerships like this add to the wild and bustling landscape in this evolving wrestling industry. 

As Tam Nakano is set to claim AEW gold in Willow Nightingale’s TBS Championship at Flashing Champions on May 18, let’s sit back and enjoy this. We’ve waited for partnerships like this. We’ve got them. 

With that said, I hope this new door stays open for a long time to come.

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