129. Kairi vs Mayu Iwatani (Women’s IWGP Championship, NJPW/Stardom Historic X-Over)

I am late to the show, but I eventually caught up with the (main event of the)  NJPW/Stardom Historic X-Over. Now, I’m sceptical about anything with the word ‘historic’ in its title. If something is historic, you don’t need to be told that, do you? Anyway, I was intrigued to watch anything involving Stardom. It’s a wrestling organization I am unfamiliar with, and this was my first step to rectify my lack of knowledge. And while I enjoyed Kairi (no sane) vs Mayu Iwatani, it didn’t blow me away…

Perhaps, as I’ve mentioned before, the main problem is the ‘clapping crowd.’ In Japan, audiences have to wear masks (I think?). Thus, people can merely clap, rather than cheer/scream, for what they are witnessing. I never realised how much my enjoyment relies on the engagement of the crowd before Covid 19 is the various restrictions relating to it. When every wrestling organization had no/limited/mask-wearing crowds, it was easier to enjoy the product without the accomapanying crowd noise. Now, with American wrestling audiences enjoying the product without restrictions, it makes Japan’s mask-wearing crowd stick out.

Whatculture.com even excludes any NJPW mayches from it’s ‘Best of 2022‘ List partly due to the ‘clapping crowd.’ And while it’s strange to compile a ‘Best of 2022‘ list before the year is over, I can fully sympathise with their decision.

Kairi and Iwatini have a history together, according to the English commentary. Iwatini’s grievance with Kairi is that Kairi left Stardom for WWE, and then returned to Syardom as a part-timer. Iwatini carried Stardom on her back while Kairi was gone, and when Kairi did return she recevied preferential treatment. It was the commentary that told me that story; it rately felt like they had any history together in the story they were telling in the ring (but maybe that’s just due to my lack of Stardom knowledge).

(Also, why did the English commentary have a Japanese commentator included? A baffling choice, as the English commentators replied to her in Engliah without translating the question!).

There was nothing wrong with the bout. It was a perfectly well-worked bout, with Iwatini focusing on Kairi’s ‘Insae Elbow’ arm in order to weaken Kairi’s finisher. And Kairi sold it really well; at one point she had to let go of a submission because of her injured arm. As you’ll know, inconsistent selling is a pet peeve of mine. Of course, there were times her selling eased off a little bit (especially when she spammed her spinning back forearm in the closing moments), but on the whole, people lile Kenny Omega and Will Ospreay could learn a thing or two from Kairi.

There were timing issues between the two women; an understandable problem due to the sheer ‘historic’ nature of the bout. These two must have been under immense pressure to deliver on the global stage thay NJPW provides (and all the other baggage associated with this cross-over). At times, they looked hesitant, wondering what to do next. Both of these hampered the flow of the bout; at times it resembled more of a performance rather than a wrestling contest (of course, the same can be said of Will Ospreay’s typical match).

And not only that, apart from the final few minutes, it failed to kick in to that higher gear. There was little urgency to the bout, as if they were conscientiously taking their time to put on the bout that this historic x-over required…but they fell short of a great bout. Everything felt just…average. That’s not a lack of effort on the wrestlers’ part. But I found it hard to become invested in the bout, not helped a jot by the clapping crowd.

Hammy’s Rating: *** (out of 5)

(Click here for more of ‘A Wrestling Match A Day‘)


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