— We Are Stardom (@we_are_stardom) December 25, 2019
After World Wonder Ring Stardom (Stardom) announced they would have a dark match on January 4th at Wrestle Kingdom 14 on their Stardom Year-End Climax event, they didn’t wait long to announce what the featured bout would be.
STARS unit mates World of Stardom Champion Mayu Iwatani and Wonder of Stardom Champion Arisa Hoshiki will face Tokyo Cyber Squad member Hana Kimura and her new rival Giulia.
New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) also took to Twitter to hype the match.
Newly added to Wrestle Kingdom 14!
— NJPW Global (@njpwglobal) December 25, 2019
However, excitement wasn’t the only emotion at display in the comment thread from NJPW fans. Many fans demanded the match be shown live on NJPW World, instead of being a dark match. While Bushiroad owns both NJPW and Stardom, NJPW has minority owners who have a 15% stake within the company.
TV Asahi owns 10% of NJPW and is responsible for NJPW World broadcasting. While Stardom is fully owned by the Bushiroad Fight subsidiary of Bushiroad, their two television deals are with Tokyo MX (operates solely in Tokyo, Japan) and Broadcasting Satellite (BS) Nippon TV (NTV). NTV is a major corporate competitor in the broadcasting world to TV Asahi, therefore taking the situation mostly out of NJPW’s hands.
TV Asahi And NTV Competition
NTV and TV Asahi are satellite networks operating in Japan. Along with Fuji Television, Tokyo MX, NHK, Tokyo Broadcasting System, and TV Tokyo compete within Tokyo for viewers. Both NTV and TV Asahi are national broadcasters with NTV offering Nippon TV BS 4 as their flagship station. TV Asahi offers TV Asahi 1 and TV Asahi 2 through a Communications Satellite (CS) option.
The national rivalry between the two companies makes matters peculiar for NJPW and Stardom. If Bushiroad were to attempt to broker a deal for Stardom matches to air on NJPW World, TV Asahi would counter with that would help the television exposure of Stardom for a regional rival (Tokyo MX) and a national rival (NTV).
NTV would also likely object due to their existing contract with Stardom. It would be seen as TV Asahi receiving free programming that they are paying for to broadcast on their network.
Despite this political rivalry the Stardom World streaming service exists, meaning the Wrestle Kingdom 14 dark match will likely find its way to the platform. The same for any other future dark matches Stardom has on large, featured NJPW events.
History Of Women’s Wrestling In Japan
Wrestling commentators, reporters refusing to research deeply, and fans have long begged for NJPW to feature women’s wrestling on their undercard. Some individuals have stated NJPW is sexist for not deciding to do so, ignoring the history and unique equality of opportunity for women wrestlers in Japan.
For historical purposes, it’s important to point out that NJPW has indeed featured women on their shows in the past. Manami Toyota wrestled in the first two NJPW matches featuring women.
Shortly after the tag match in 2002, Joanie Laurer (Chyna) wrestled in 13 matches for NJPW over 3 months.
All Japan Women’s Pro-Wrestling (AJW), which was in operation from 1968-2005 was majorly responsible for breaking the glass ceiling in Japan for women in wrestling. While women competed on Joshi (women) shows before AJW opening in 1968, they would go on to show the heights women could achieve in wrestling without settling for undercard placement on a predominately male show.
Fumi Saito of the Pacific Rim podcast on the Wrestling Observer network is a top wrestling journalist and historian in Japan. According to his reports, AJW sold more tickets than NJPW and All Japan Pro Wrestling (AJPW) in the 1980s.
In 1994, AJW successfully ran the Tokyo Dome for their AJW Doumu Super Woman Great War ~ Big Egg Wrestling Universe event. The marquee of the event was Akira Hokuto against Aja Kong in the finals of the one-night V*TOP Five Star Tournament. According to various sources, the event drew approximately 32,500 fans leading to a gate of approximately $4 million and $1.6 million in merchandise sales. AJW’s Queendom large featured events were also a success for the company over multiple years.
Women like Aiko Kyo, Jumbo Miyamoto, Jaguar Yokota, Bull Nakano, Manami Toyota, Kyoko Inoue, Aja Kong, Akira Hokuto, Jumping Bomb Angels (Itsuki Yamazaki/Noriyo Tateno), and Crush Girls (Chigusa Nagayo/Lioness Asuka) are all names associated with the rise of AJW, and many of which were innovators that go on to influence wrestlers in the modern era.
Today Joshi promotions such as Stardom, Ice Ribbon, Tokyo Joshi Pro, Oz Academy, Pure-J, Sendai Girls’ Pro Wrestling, Pro Wrestling Wave, World Woman Pro-Wrestling Diana (Diana), and others exist to give women a platform where they can thrive and build as their own.
Western fans often conflate the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) model with being an equal opportunity for women in the wrestling industry. However, a huge gender pay gap exists within the WWE, the company has working agreements with countries that treat women as second class citizens, and they are often relegated to the undercard in the majority of circumstances despite dropping attendance numbers.
Despite Japan having roughly one-third the population of the United States, a women’s centric promotion within the US hasn’t come close to achieving the success of AJW. NJPW and Stardom will remain separate entities, which in the long run is far better for women’s wrestling as a whole.
Bushiroad and specifically Kidani have an impressive success record with wrestling through NJPW. If they can deliver with Stardom that will translate to more and higher paying jobs for women in the wrestling industry. Stardom dissolving into a small women’s division within NJPW would be a step back for women’s wrestling.