Apparently, this is the best women’s wrestling match ever.
It’s said to be better than anything involving WWE’s Four Horsewomen; better than anything from AEW, TNA, and any other indies; and even better than peak 1980s and 1990s joshi. Quite a few people even voted it as Match of the Year for 2021. But was it really that good? Read on to find out.
As a reminder, I am reviewing Five Star and almost-Five Star wrestling matches as rated by Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. It goes back to the 1980s and I’m going to pick different matches from different eras to see how they look today. Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here.
Since most of you might be unfamiliar with these two wrestlers, let me introduce them to you.
Syuri was the challenger in this match. She was trained by TAJIRI and became highly skilled as a kickboxer. Before becoming a pro wrestler, Syuri went 13-1 in professional kickboxing. Then she dabbled in MMA and went 6-3 in UFC. In other words, she’s like Ronda Rousey if Rousey was way better at kicks than anything else. Syuri’s a dangerous fighter here and isn’t to be taken lightly. Also, Syuri has a special goal here: she wants to win the title in honor of her late mother, who passed away not long before this match took place.
As for Utami, she’s more of a ‘modern wrestler’ in the sense that she grew up watching it and decided to become one (funny enough, she also recalls watching TAJIRI wrestle and inspired to follow in his footsteps). She’s also a blackbelt in judo so she has the martial background to, at the very least, keep pace with Syuri or keep her at bay.
This match originally took place on June 12th, 2021 at STARDOM’s Tokyo Dream Cinderella show. It’s a one-fall match with a 30-minute time limit. It was rated *****1/2 by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. By that metric alone, this is (allegedly) THE best women’s wrestling match of all time. Let’s see if that’s true.
The two women lock-up and jockey for control until Utami gets a clean break. Syuri gets a clean break right after and Utami ducks a massive kick. We get a New Japan-style ducks-and-sprint that ends with Syuri putting Utami in a grounded armlock. That leads to some great scientific wrestling and countering as Utami escapes a cross armbreaker into a double leglock. Syuri counters that with the Ric Flair rollover into a pin for a one-count, leading to a stalemate.
Utami single-legs Syuri and lands some cool neck-based takedowns for a one-count. Utami breaks free of Syuri’s control and applies a hammerlock but Syuri quickly counters back into a headlock. Utami counters out and tries some grounded moves of her own but Syuri has her scouted and breaks away.
They go for the Greco-Roman knuckle lock but Syuri’s faster and goes for a headlock instead. Syuri gets some quick two-counts as Utami struggles to kick out in time. Utami wrestles out of another headlock and the two women trade more holds and counters. Yet another stalemate ensues after Syuri avoids a sliding lariat out of nowhere as applause fills the venue. If this were another (non-COVID) era, the crowd would be screaming in joy at them at this point.
Both women go nose-to-nose and then trade forearm smashes. Utami lands a flurry to gain control but Syuri rushes her and both women fall through the ropes and to the floor. Syuri slams Utami’s head into the ring apron hard and climbs onto it. Both women see each other and charge but Syuri hits first with a kick to Utami’s arm to stop a clothesline. Syuri follows with a running hurricanrana to the floor and goes for a big roundhouse kick…but Utami blocks it. Utami spins Syuri around lifts her up for a back suplex, and smashes Syuri’s knees into the edge of the ring. Just like that the champion has gotten control of the match.
Back in the ring, Utami stomps and kicks Syuri’s left leg. Utami applies a heel hook and Syuri responds with the same but Utami hits elbows to Syuri’s leg to force Syuri to let go. Syuri gets a ropebreak so Utami tries sending her into the opposite corner. The women land three consecutive Irish whip reversals and Syuri lands a kneelift with her good leg. She hobbles over for a corner clothesline but Utami ducks it and goes for the leg again. But this time Syuri counters with a double leg takedown and then wrestles into another cross armbar attempt. Her ground game is amazing. Syuri locks in the cross armbar. Utami desperately drags herself to the ropes for a break. Syuri responds with a snapmare and some vicious kicks to Utami’s back for a two-count. Syuri hits the same stiff kicks to Utami’s chest but gets the same result on a cover. Utami kicks out of another pin following an underhook suplex so Syuri drops her into a corner. Syuri’s leg has recovered enough for her to land a running knee to Utami’s face in the corner. One, two, Utami kicks out.
Utami escapes another cross armbreaker but Syuri switches to a triangle choke. Utami counters that by deadlifting Syuri and tossing her into a corner bucklebomb-style. Syuri follows with a second-rope dropkick and two running lariats for a two-count. Utami has control when suddenly Syuri explodes with more roundhouse kicks. Utami catches Suiri’s leg just like she did earlier, but this time Syuri pulls her leg free before Utami can hit it and lands another kick. It’s great when wrestlers repeat spots from earlier but change them in the smallest of ways to keep viewers guessing. Syuri lands more Danielson-style chest kicks and then pulls Utami up for a full-power roundhouse kick to the head. But she knows that’s not enough so she hits a soccer kick to Utami’s face. Utami rolls to the floor and the ref checks on her to see if she’s still conscious. She is, so Syuri rolls her back into the ring for a two-count.
Syuri dropkicks Utami into a corner and lands another kneelift and a diving guillotine leg drop for yet another two-count. Utami elbows out of a German suplex attempt, ducks an elbow, and Germans Syuri into a turnbuckle. That’s the same spot that left Shinjiro Otani paralyzed. Both women struggle to their feet and Utami hits first with a corner clothesline. They struggle in the corner and Syuri escapes a corner Air Raid Crash with a sunset powerbomb attempt. But Utami resists that so Syuri lands an Ospreay-like kick to Utami’s head through her legs. Syuri follows with a fireman’s carry gutbuster as we pass the twenty-minute mark. Utami dodges a running kick from the apron and Syuri lands on her back hard.
Both women slowly make it onto the ring apron and smash each other’s heads in with forearms. Syuri lands more stiff kicks but Utami catches one and tries another Air Raid Crash. Syuri blocks it so Utami slaps her very hard and then finally lands the Air Raid Crash. Utami drops Syuri head-and-neck-first on the ring apron. Syuri goes a bit limp in the ring as Utami recovers at ringside. Utami recovers but Syuri rolls to the floor to try and do the same. Utami goes after Syuri but Syuri hits first with a dropkick out of nowhere. She follows with some kind of tilt-a-whirl armdrag and a DDT on the ringside mats. Both of them struggle back to the ring when Utami grabs Syuri from behind…and then lands a wheelbarrow German suplex into the edge of the ring apron. My God, what a brutal move.
The ref checks on Syuri and she confirms she can still go. Both make it into the ring before the count of twenty and Utami lands a top-rope shotgun dropkick for a two-count.
Five minutes left.
Utami applies a choke sleeper hold but Syuri reaches the ropes so Utami lands a Backdrop suplex. One, two, Syuri kicks out. Utami goes for a Rack Bomb. Syuri counters with a DDT followed by more kneelifts. Then Syuri locks in a cross armbreaker but Utami gets a ropebreak. Syuri scoops Utami up but Utami counters into another choke sleeper. Syuri almost gets to the ropes but Utami flips over and locks in a bodyscissor as well.
Three minutes left.
Syuri gets a ropebreak but Utami drops her with a top-rope German suplex. Both women fight to their feet and trade stiff slaps.
Two minutes left.
Syuri gets the upper hand (literally) and switches to stomps as Utami sinks to the mat. She charges to the ropes but Utami drops her with a massive slap, followed by another German and another Air Raid Crash. One, two, and – Syuri kicks out.
One minute left.
Syuri escapes another Rack Bomb with a sunset flip for a two-count. Then she manages a rolling cradle but only gets two again.
Thirty seconds left.
Utami blocks a kick and lariats Syuri.
Twenty seconds left.
Syuri ducks another lariat and hits a bicycle knee to Utami’s face. Both of them collapse. This is how you do a proper ‘time is running out’ stretch.
Ten seconds left.
Syuri crawls over but she doesn’t pin. She sees that Utami’s still moving so she hits some desperation elbows. Utami hits back. She’s still got some fight left in her. Then the bell rings. They both collapse. Time has run out!
Match result: 30-minute DRAW…?
The bell has run but both women keep hitting each other until the referee forces them apart. Syuri gets up first and grabs a microphone. She says she can still and wants to keep going. She says she’s fully alive still despite barely managing to stay standing. She asks Utami how she will survive in a world like this and Utami takes the mic. Utami says she can still wrestle also and she’s willing to go another round. After a minute or so, STARDOM president Sanshiro Takagi announces that the match will go into sudden death overtime.
Sudden Death Overtime – There MUST be a winner
The bell rings and both women wail on each other. Syuri sinks down first but then fires up with kneelifts. Then Syuri lawn dart tosses Utami into a turnbuckle. Utami breaks free and goes for a lariat. Syuri avoids it and plants her with a DDT. One, two, Utami kicks out. Syuri escapes a fireman’s carry and lands flurry of kicks, followed by a cross armbreaker rolled into a Dis-Arm-Her-style armbar. Utami rolls out and into yet another choke sleeper. Syuri escapes that with a Stunner and lands a kick to Utami’s spine. She charges but Utami dodges and hits a rebound German off the ropes. That’s followed by another brutal slap exchange. Syuri wins that one and goes for another cross armbreaker but Utami floats over into a pin for a two-count. Syuri charges for a running kick but Utami ducks and rolls her over. Another stiff strike exchange ends as Syuri hits a Codebreaker. But Utami collapses on top of an exhausted Syuri and that counts as a cover. One, two, Syuri barely kicks out.
Both women charge at each other and Syuri hits first with a high kick. Syuri locks in an armtrap stretch muffler hold but Utami gets yet another ropebreak. Syuri deadlifts Utami up into a low-angle powerbomb but only manages another two-count. She tries lifting Utami up but Utami breaks free and lands a dropkick. Utami goes to the top rope but Syuri cuts her off and lands a wristlock takedown into a kimura lock. Utami comes so very close to tapping out when she gets yet another ropebreak with her foot. No matter what submission hold Syuri tries, Utami keeps getting ropebreaks at the right moment.
Utami breaks free of Syuri’s grip and lands a wheelbarrow German suplex. Then she finally connects with the Rack Bomb but Syuri kicks out. Utami goes for a spinning Razor’s Edge. Syuri escapes into another cross armbreaker/Dis-Arm-Her. Utami gets yet another ropebreak to break both that hold and Syuri’s follow-up Rings of Saturn hold. Running knee to the face from Syuri. Utami kicks out again. Emerald Flowsion! Utami kicks out at 2.99! Syuri goes for a roundhouse kick to Utami’s head. Utami counters with a powerbomb out of nowhere and then lands a spinning Razor’s Edge. One, two, and th – Syuri grabs the bottom rope. Utami lifts Syuri up but Syuri breaks free and roundhouse kicks the side of Utami’s head. Utami fights back with forearms to both sides of Syuri’s head. Syuri hits back with Aja Kong-style spinning backfists. Another roundhouse from Syuri. And another lariat from Utami. Syuri staggers about and lands one more roundhouse. Both of them collapse. The referee begins counting. Neither woman makes it up to her feet or even her knees. The referee calls for the bell. Utami retains her title due to a double knock-out/draw!
STILL World of Stardom Champion after 43:19 total time: Utami Hayashishita
Post-match, neither wrestler moves for a long time. As Utami is announced as still champion, the camera pans to Syuri, who is openly weeping. One of Utami’s teammates puts the title on her and a devastated Syuri slaps her one last time as her emotions get the best of her. Clearly not all dreams come true.
Had this match taken place under normal circumstances that allowed cheering, then the crowd noise during this match would’ve been deafening. This match was insane! It wasn’t a women’s wrestling match in the sense of it being a special attraction. Instead, this was a classic wrestling match that just so happened to feature women. It was basically a modern New Japan-style main event but with women instead of men. It didn’t come across as some kind of spectacle or a film, but as a professional combat competition. From the early scientific wrestling, to the matwork, to all the brutal strikes, this was like a long fight. It gave me WALTER vs. Ilya 2020 vibes in that it told such a great story without the added benefit of a rabid crowd.
This match fully sold the idea that women’s wrestlers were actually wrestlers with the same knowledge and skills as their male counterparts. Everything they did gave them and the match a sense of legitimacy and sports-like realism. That’s something not seen much in most of modern women’s wrestling or in 1990s joshi. The former rarely sees women go to the mat like amateurs and the latter was more about explosive and innovative offense that defied reality instead of emphasizing it. This match’s novelty really made it stand out in a positive way, especially since both women were skilled in martial arts and knew exactly what they were doing. They didn’t just go to the mat for the sake of it; the early stuff served a purpose (for the most part) and played into the later parts of the match’s story.
Both women showed off their amateur and martial arts backgrounds early on with plenty of grappling, matwork, counters, and strikes. These two women just pummeled each other with tons of stiff shots. Neither wrestler held back here. Both of them endured full-contact and stiff punishment like absolute tanks. These two went the extra mile to sell the idea that they were legitimate badasses. And that wasn’t just done through their hard-hitting strikes; both of them threw some insane bombs at each other and spiked each other just like modern New Japan wrestlers do. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that New Japan’s influence was felt here since Stardom is NJPW’s sister company now. As such, the same stuff common to many top-level New Japan matches – back-and-forth counter sequences, BRUTAL head spikes, full-contact strike exchanges, and lots of believable near-falls – were on full display here. Once the match was over, both women came across as tough-as-nails warriors that really pushed themselves to their respective limits for a coveted prize. One got the impression that these weren’t entertainers but competitors with specific skills that made them look legitimate. That’s refreshing to see, especially with so many ‘outsiders’ looking down on wrestling as something easy that just anyone could pick up.
But is this the best women’s match ever? No.
The only reason the match doesn’t reach that highest level is because of, once again, inconsistent limb selling. Even though much of the match’s logic and psychology was so airtight, there were some pockets in which it sort of fell apart. It made little sense for Syuri to be able to move so smoothly and use both legs so soon after getting both knees smashed into the ring apron and getting her leg worked over by Utami. And Utami was in the same camp as she endured so many armbars to the point that it became too hard to believe. Syuri was a legit mixed martial artist and submission specialist yet none of her many armbars and arm-targeting holds could make Utami tap out. Utami barely even sold both the pain from each armbar/armlock and the cumulative damage her arm should’ve gone through from the beginning. She kept hitting moves without stopping to sell or struggling to use her left arm fully. As such, it was harder to believe that Syuri was really doing any damage, to the point that Syuri’s constant armbar attempts started getting repetitive due to the diminishing returns she was getting from them.
This issue reminded me of a match from 2003 between Kenta Kobashi and Yuji Nagata that had this same idea but executed it better. Nagata destroyed Kobashi’s right arm (his main weapon) to the point that each time Kobashi hit a chop he had to stop himself and try and fight through the pain. But as Nagata’s arm-targeting escalated, Kobashi was forced to shift gears and attack with his left arm. Since Syuri did more or less the same thing to Utami here, it would’ve made more sense for Utami to do what Kobashi did in his match, especially with all the forearms, lariats, and slaps she threw at Syuri here. Utami had a healthy left arm she could’ve used, which would’ve done more damage to Syuri and sold Syuri’s combined work on her right arm. But she neglected to do that and instead just swung with her weakened right arm in a rather silly and psychologically empty way.
The match also got a bit repetitive and hard to believe towards the end. The token ‘Strong Style forearm exchange’ spot has become something to be expected in basically every big Japanese match but it’s nothing more than a tired cliché at this point. Rarely does it lead to anything significant, as was the case here. They did this same sequence over and over and while it made sense during the sudden death round, it got bit cheesy earlier on, especially since, once again, Utami was attacking with a supposedly weakened arm and that was somehow enough to keep her on equal footing as Syuri with her healthy arms.
Final Rating: ****3/4
This is definitely a must-watch match because it’s so different from what most of us are used to. Modern women’s wrestling, especially in WWE, is largely similar to the men’s wrestling style but with (mostly) smaller performers. And the 1990s joshi that we’ve covered here before was more about pushing boundaries and doing the impossible. This match was something different. It was closer to a “pure” understanding of professional wrestling but with women. How many people reading this have seen women doing scientific grappling like Bret Hart or Hiroshi Tanahashi? This match had that and so much more. It was one of the most competitive, tense, and well-wrestled match in years, regardless of gender.
Even with the lack of a crowd, this match was fantastic. It was long but that’s to be expected with a match designed to make both combatants come across as equals. But by no means was it boring; it had a solid pace that made it go by smoothly without any issues. It had some minor speedbumps, but that’s what happens when wrestlers try to be so ambitious.
It was like a great orchestral performance with a single instrument being slightly off-key once or twice or a well-made luxury dinner with its balance of ingredients slightly off. It doesn’t ruin the whole experience, but it causes it to fall just below that elite level.