Today, at the very first Stardom and New Japan joint show, STARDOM X NJPW: Historic X-Over, history was made by two of the greatest women’s wrestlers of all time. While yes, Stardom has had matches featured on New Japan shows in the past, this was the very first time that the two Bushiroad-owned companies worked together for an entire card. There is a lot to unpack for the entire show, however, I am going to focus this article on one match, -the- match that made this card absolutely must-see. The match that I am referring to is none other than Mayu Iwatani taking on KAIRI for the inaugural IWGP Women’s Championship.
When it was announced that there was going to be an IWGP Women’s Championship created, shockwaves went all throughout the wrestling world. New Japan has never had a women’s championship, to my knowledge, in their storied history. This was pretty much due to NJPW being a promotion that was only for men. Where NJPW failed, companies like Stardom and TJPW stepped up and gave the women of Japan a main stage to showcase that they are just as good, if not better than the men in NJPW. What we got was a tournament that would set up the main event and title match for STARDOM X NJPW: Historic X-Over at Ariake Arena in Tokyo.
Kairi and Mayu Iwatani are the first women to ever main event a New Japan show, to my knowledge. Yes, this was a joint show with Stardom, but this was still very much a New Japan show and even aired as a NJPW pay-per-view. That alone is a history-making moment for Japanese wrestling, but when you add that this match was for the IWGP Women’s Championship, it made the match mean so much more than just that.
The IWGP brand is a brand known the world over and it represents the absolute best in professional wrestling. For those of you who are unaware, IWGP stands for International Wrestling Grand Prix and is the backbone and governing body of New Japan Pro Wrestling. For them to add a Women’s Championship is a huge accomplishment for Women’s Wrestling and a statement to the growing popularity of companies like Stardom and Women’s Wrestling as a whole.
A Brief History
Before we get into the meat and potatoes of the article, let’s take a brief look at the history between Kairi and Mayu Iwatani. These two greats first faced off, in single’s competition, on March 20, 2012, at Stardom The Highest in Tokyo. The match went seven minutes and saw Kairi pick up the win, giving her the 1-0 advantage. Their second match took place at Stardom Season 9 Goddesses In Stars 2012 – Tag 3, on November 3rd and saw Mayu even up the score. Mayu defeated Kairi after little more than five minutes to bring their single’s record to 1-1.
Mayu and Kairi would face off next in a Wonder of Stardom Tournament match at Stardom Shining Stars 2014 – Tag 6, July 27th at Nagoya. Mayu defeated Kairi in a match that went a bit over eight minutes and later that night went on to win the vacant Wonder of Stardom Championship, bringing her record to 2-1 against Kairi. Their fourth match would take place nearly a full year later as Kairi, the World of Stardom Champion at the time, faced off and defended her title against Mayu at Stardom Gold in May 2015. The match, having taken place on May 17th, marked their fourth match and evened the series between the two at 2-2.
On May 14, 2017, Kairi and Mayu would face off in single’s action once again, but for the final time before Kairi departed for the US and WWE. Their match took place at Stardom Gold May 2017 – Tag 1 and it was for Mayu Iwatani’s Wonder of Stardom Championship. After nearly twenty minutes, Mayu walked away victorious over Kairi, taking the lead in their long rivalry at 3-2. This would mark a five-year gap between the two women facing off in single’s action again.
Kairi’s Road To Stardom X NJPW: Historic X-Over
When the tournament was announced, perhaps surprising to many, KAIRI wasn’t included on the Japanese side of the bracket. Instead, she was booked on the International side of it. She had to defeat the winner of Alpha Female, Jazzy Gabert, and Ava White. Alpha Female ended up winning that match and set the stage for herself to face off against Kairi. The match took place on October 23rd at the Goddess of Stardom Tag League Night One event. Jazzy took Kairi to the limit in their match but the Pirate Princess managed to hit the Insane Elbow and picked up the victory.
Leading up to STARDOM X NJPW: Historic X-Over, it was announced that KAIRI would face off against Saya Kamitani for the Wonder of Stardom Championship. That match took place on November 19th, less than 24 hours ahead of the IWGP Championship Match at STARDOM X NJPW: Historic X-Over. For 30 minutes, Kairi and Saya Kamitani took each other to task and gave the fans a showcase of wrestling mastery. At one point in the match, Kairi hit an elbow drop onto Saya when she was covered in steel chairs, injuring Kairi’s elbow in the process. This didn’t stop Kairi however and she kept coming against Saya.
The match ended in a 30 minute Time-limit Draw but it put Kairi at a disadvantage going into her match against Mayu Iwatani. That said, Kairi had a far easier road to this main event spot than her opponent, Mayu Iwatani, did.
Mayu Iwatani’s Road To Stardom X NJPW: Historic X-Over
After defeating the Alpha Female in a SWA Championship match, Mayu decided to vacate the title so she could focus on the tournament coming up. Compared to Kairi, however, Mayu’s road to STARDOM X NJPW: Historic X-Over was far more intense and could have completely derailed at any time. First off, Mayu had to get through a woman who has had her number in recent years, Momo Watanabe. Once again, Momo took Mayu to the absolute limit and forced Mayu to pull out a trick she rarely uses in a match, the Poisonrana, for Mayu to pick up the victory. Sure, the match lasted 12:32 but that was 12 minutes of Mayu and Momo putting on a wrestling clinic.
Up next for Mayu was the woman who dethroned her for the World of Stardom Championship, The Red Queen Utami Hayashishita. Utami, like Watanabe, has had Mayu’s number in recent years and made Mayu reach deeper into herself than even Momo did prior. Somehow, someway, Mayu found the strength and resilience needed to pick up a hard-fought victory against The Red Queen and set up a showdown with Kairi in the Finals.
Before the Finals could happen, however, Mayu Iwatani was to be featured at the Stardom Gold Rush 2022 show as part of the Moneyball Tournament with stablemates Hazuki and Koguma. Like with Kairi, this would happen less than 24 hours before STARDOM X NJPW: Historic X-Over. Mayu wrestled twice on the Gold Rush show, competing against God’s Eye (Ami Sourei, Tomoka Inaba, and Mirai) and Donna del Mondo (Giulia, Thekla, and Mai Sakurai). Unlike Kairi, who went to a 30-minute draw, Mayu and STARS won both of their matches and the Moneyball tournament. Mayu’s total match time came in at roughly 20 minutes, 10 minutes less than Kairi’s.
The Pirate Princess vs The Stardom Icon: A History-Making Main Event for NJPW, Stardom, and the entire Wrestling Community
During the build-up to this match and STARDOM X NJPW: Historic X-Over, Kairi showed Mayu nothing but respect and was quite civil during their media interactions. Mayu, however, showed open contempt for Kairi. She believed that Kairi abandoned her and Stardom when she left for the US. What’s worse was that, in Mayu’s eyes, Kairi is now a Stardom part-timer. Mayu pours her heart and soul out for the Stardom audiences on a near-nightly basis while Kairi’s matches are few and far between. It all came to a head finally and the women took the Main Event spot.
Mayu Iwatani and Kairi facing off for the sixth time in single’s action, this time for the Inaugural IWGP Women’s Championship. Two women who, at one time, were both in consideration for the best women’s wrestler on the planet, fighting to add one more championship to their already storied legacies. Who would walk away as the IWGP Champion? Time would tell us all.
As soon as the bell rang, their rivalry renewed in full. Kairi and Mayu tore each other apart and showed the world why they deserved the main event spot on STARDOM X NJPW: Historic X-Over. Twenty-five minutes of non-stop action followed the ringing of that bell, Kairi and Mayu throwing everything they had at each other. You saw it all in this match, high flying, out-of-the-ring action, zombie Mayu and even better the trading of nasty and stiff strikes. When I say that this match is a clear Match of the Year candidate, know that I am not saying this lightly. To me, personally, this -is- the match of the year, and nothing that’s happened so far has come close.
After twenty-five and a half minutes of jaw-dropping, bone-breaking action, Kairi nails Mayu with the second Insane Elbow Drop of the match and stands tall as your inaugural IWGP Women’s Champion. Not only does she add a new title to her impressive resume, but she evens the series against Mayu at 3-3 all-time. Unfortunately for Kairi, the new champion didn’t get to celebrate for too long as her first challenger made herself known. What a way to end a truly amazing event like STARDOM X NJPW: Historic X-Over.
At Wrestle Kingdom 17, KAIRI will defend her IWGP Women’s Championship against Tam Nakano and before that, Kairi will wrestle Utami Hayashishita on December 29th in a straight single’s match. Kairi’s plate surely is full heading into 2023 and I cannot wait to see what awaits the Pirate Princess.
A heartfelt congratulations goes out to Kairi, our first-ever IWGP Women’s Champion. May the Pirate Princess reign long as she cements her legacy as one of the Greatest Women’s Wrestlers of all time.