When I first dipped my toe in the wrestling waters of Stardom, I really didn’t know a lot about the promotion. I was aware that Io Shirai and Kairi Sane had come through their ranks, and had also seen a few of its stars on Ring of Honor, but as with starting afresh with any new brand, it took me a while to get into it as I worked to get to know the performers and understand their quirks and characters.
One of the roster however stood out transcended that awkward ‘getting to know you’ period.
Decked with pink hair, multi-coloured leg-warmers, a cape, a gas mask and ring gear that was a colour I’m not sure I’d seen before, Hana Kimura was the picture of greatness from the first time I set eyes on her. Swaggering to the ring to ebullient electro music she exuded the sort of cool that a skinny 35 year old from Surrey could only dream of. From the reactions she received from the crowd it was clear I wasn’t the only person who was intoxicated by it all.
Some have compared her to Tetsuya Naito in terms of her effortless demeanour, but in truth Hana defied comparisons. She was her own brand of remarkable, and in a promotion that is packed with hugely talented wrestlers, she was able to shine by reason of her sparkling character as much as her in-ring work.
In short, she was an absolute joy to watch, and I have little doubt that given time, Hana would have been gracing whichever promotions she wanted on the world stage. Hana Kimura simply had too much about her to not be an international star.
This is not the forum, and neither am I the person, to talk at length about the circumstances around Hana’s tragic death at the age of just 22. I hope that those more learned and more influential than me will continue to look into the horrendous situation and do whatever they can to prevent something like this happening again. All that we can do is understand that words can be devastating whether spoken or typed through social media, and that anyone, regardless of wealth, status or outward appearance can be hurt equally by unkindness.
We all simply have to be better to ensure that people like Hana Kimura never again feel like they have no other choices.
As her effervescent character would have demanded, rather than the sadness I want to focus on the joy that Hana brought to so many by looking at five of her matches across her unfairly shortened career.
As I have only seen Hana wrestle in Stardom, I have centred on her work there, and would heartily recommend that anyone who wants to see not only Hana, but an array of superbly talented wrestlers, have a look at Stardom and what they have to offer.
So please enjoy, and if there are any other of Hana’s matches that you want to bring to my attention please don’t hesitate to do so.
Be kind to each other and be kind to yourself.
As Hana herself said….
Everyone is Different.
Everyone is Special.
Hana Kimura, Kagetsu and Kyoko Kimura v Kairi Hojo, Io Shirai and Mayu Iwatani – Artist of Stardom Title Match – 2nd October 2016
A fascinating match right at the start of Hana’s Stardom career as she teamed with her soon to be mentor Kagetsu and her mother Kyoko Kimura to challenge for the Stardom trios belts against three of the best wrestlers Stardom has seen.
In the pre-match video, it was clear that Hana was nervous, and she is definitely led through the interview by her more experienced partners, but when Kagetsu says of Hana, “there’s room for more belts,” it’s clearly something that she strongly believes to be true.
But whilst there may have been nerves in the build-up, Hana, who was only 19 at the time, brushed them away with ease once she was in the ring. As soon as her name is announced she shows the swagger that soon became her trade mark, and starting the match she posed in front of Kairi Hojo (now Kairi Sane) looking for all the world like a 10 year veteran.
As the match progressed, Hana showed both her athleticism and her ability to mix it in a brawl. Yanking hair and smashing people into ringside chairs, whilst also executing the impressive dropkicks that soon became a consistent part of her in-ring arsenal.
What’s most telling is that even at this early stage of her wrestling development, she already had one eye on showmanship. At one point, whilst merrily kicking an opponent in the face, she put on a red scarf and posed to the delight of the crowd, and then proceeded to use the scarf as a weapon whenever the hapless referee was looking elsewhere.
In a ring filled with world-class talent, Hana genuinely doesn’t look out of place in this match and she more than played her part in what was a quick, action-packed and at times impressively high-flying contest. Her delight at winning her first major Stardom championship is clear to see at the conclusion, and the precocious confidence is clearly on show as she struts whilst Rossy puts on the belt, and fires back with mic in hand when challenged by Jungle Kyona and her crew.
Looking back at these early days for Hana Kimura, it’s not hard to see why it didn’t take long for her to become a star.
Hana Kimura and Kagetsu v Jungle Kyona and Hiroyo Matsumoto – Goddess of Stardom Championship Match – 21st June 2017
Only eight months removed from her first major Stardom title win, and Hana was at it again with Kagetsu, this time picking off her future Tokyo Cyber Squad chum Jungle Kyona and Hiroyo Matsumoto for the Stardom tag-team titles.
But whilst only eight months had passed, it is obvious right from the start that Hana had taken huge strides in that time. Where she had previously seemed reluctant to partake in the pre-match interview, here Hana takes centre stage, with Kagetsu not even uttering one word whilst her young partner holds court.
This growing bravado is also shown in Hana’s ring entrance, which starts with a definite ‘Geisha in a face-mask’ vibe but then morphs into Hana and Kagetsu dancing to their admittedly awesome Oedo Tai music.
For the pre-match photos Hana leans suggestively on an uncomfortable looking Rossy, and she continues this coquettish approach in the early stages of the match, playing with the crowd like a seasoned pro and looking more and more like she owns the ring.
By this stage, Hana has clearly embraced the ‘heel’ nature of being in Oedo Tai (that’s in inverted commas because to be honest they are equally as popular as the sugary sweet babyfaces in Stardom) and she seems to relish this as she ties up Jungle by the hands and spends a large amount of the match delivering dismissive and derisory kicks to her opponents.
It’s very noticeable that Hana is given much more in-ring responsibility in this match than the trios match detailed above. Kagetsu is undoubtedly the star of the team, but it’s clear that she massively trusts her young partner, and Hana repays that trust with both technical skill and a superb sense of in-ring timing to go with her innate athletic ability.
When the finish comes, Kagetsu gets on the mic to address the crowd, but there is only one person they want to hear from. Kagetsu actually has to ask for recognition from the crowd because they are chanting so vociferously for Hana, and when she does get her time, she doesn’t disappoint with a withering promo on Jungle Kyona.
Eight months isn’t always a long time in wrestling, but with this performance, Hana made it look like a lifetime.
Hana Kimura v Kagetsu v Jungle Kyona v Momo Watanabe v Mayu Iwatani – Stardom 2019 Draft Match – 14th April 2019
“Viva La Revolution!” Hana espouses in the pre-match interview, and this was indeed a revolutionary day as it saw Hana Kimura create the coolest stable currently in Stardom, Tokyo Cyber Squad.
Hana had only officially signed full time with Stardom a few weeks earlier, but it was clear that she was held in very high regard and was on the way to big things, as she was given leadership of a faction almost straight away.
For me personally, this was also an important match as it was one of the first Stardom matches I’d seen, and it didn’t take long for me to establish my favourite. “You blocked me on Facebook…now you’re going to die.” With those words and Hana’s entrance I was absolutely mesmerised, and she backed up that first impression both in the ring and in the chaotic aftermath.
It’s quite a strange match to watch as five of the best in the promotion fight to establish the order for the draft picks later in the evening (clearly much more fun than the boring way NFL decides). It starts with comedy as we get a five-way arm-wringer, and then Hana survives a four on one attempt to eliminate her, before engaging in some entertaining chasing of Mayu Iwatani around the apron.
The spots where people win their draft pick are entertaining, and there are quite a few good spots, but the match only really hits its peak when just Hana and Jungle Kyona are left to face-off. One gets the final draft pick, and the other loses the opportunity to lead a faction.
There is clearly great chemistry between the two, and Hana embodies her new persona with some brutal kicks and primal screams to get the crowd right on her side (no mean feat considering Jungle’s popularity). The end comes when following a crazy looking octopus arm-bar from Hana (my detailed research tells me this is called the ‘Grand Manjikatame’), followed by a stiff head-butt off the turnbuckle, the two end up grappling on the apron, both desperately trying to avoid falling off the ring to defeat. With one final, jarring high-kick to the head, Hana sits down her opponent and then dismissively boots her off the apron for victory.
It’s in the actual draft itself though that we see Hana’s star shine brightest. There are some wonderful moments in this angle, including Starlight Kid and Saya Iida’s delight at getting picked by Mayu, Queens Quest retaining AZM much to Kagetsu’s dismay, a beautifully sulky performance from Tam Nakano, and an emotional journey for Natsu Sumire as she almost doesn’t get picked for her beloved Oedo Taoi.
But both metaphorically and literally, Hana Kimura rises above all of this as it plays out. Sitting on the top turnbuckle and surveying her kingdom, she doesn’t even need the microphone to gain the crowd’s attention. First she picks her fallen rival Jungle Kyona, and then pulls apart Queen’s Quest by stealing Konami. There’s a brilliant little ‘handshake and drink’ gesture between her and Rebel Kel and she lilts “Eenie, meanie, mynie, mo” as she picks between the juniors to join her team. It’s all superb theatre as Hana genuinely makes it feel like she’s creating something special.
At the end of it all, Hana returns to her revolutionary theme by referencing Che Guevara, and saying that she will make her team, “shine like diamonds.” In the next 12 months, it was hard to argue that she didn’t do exactly that.
Hana Kimura v Konami – Five Star Grand Prix Final – 22nd September 2019
With such illustrious winners as Io Shirai, Kairi Hojo, Yoko Bito, Toni Storm and Mayu Iwatani, and with a list of previous participants including Tessa Blanchard, Viper, Kay Lee Ray and Alpha Female (recently known as Jazzy Gabert), Stardom’s equivalent of New Japan’s G1 Climax is a prestigious tournament. And on this day, Hana Kimura added her name to the list of winners after a pulsating 15 minute match with her TCS compatriot Konami.
Again showing her flair for showmanship, Hana had created a new character for the tournament, adorned in pink camouflage trousers, magnificent pink braids and singing ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, This Is My Five Star’ before every match. With tournaments like this you can sometimes get jaded by the pure amount of wrestling, but as ever Hana kept the audience captivated.
Having overcome Tam Nakano, Momo Watanabe and Mayu Iwatani in her block, Hana came face to face with Konami, a match we hadn’t seen for a while owing to their allegiance since the 2019 draft. But whilst the third member of TCS Jungle Kyona held the ropes for Konami’s entrance, any sense of camaraderie was gone within seconds as Konami jumped Hana during her ring-walk.
The first part of the match centred around Konami targeting Hana’s leg with a series of brutal holds and kicks, a fact acknowledged after the match by Hana when she told her partner, “You basically killed my leg!” Hana’s selling of this attack is superb throughout the match, at one stage simply collapsing to the floor whilst running across the ring due to the pain in her now mangled limb.
Hana briefly rallies, not with the three amigos, but putting her own mark on it, with the five amigos, before Konami again smashes the leg this time with a vicious stomp from the top rope followed by a half-sharpshooter that has Hana screaming in agony before she crawls to the ropes in desperation.
Eventually Hana gets back into the match, and following an intense strike-contest in the middle of the ring, and a hooked suplex from Konami that folds Hana in half, Hana manages to lock in the Grand Manjikatame forcing Konami to tap.
In truth it’s a slightly anti-climactic finish, but all of that is forgotten immediately as we go to the victory ceremony. Hana wears the champions crown as if she was born to royalty, and shares a lovely moment with Konami as they show the respect that each of their performances deserved.
“Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, This Is My Five Star…..I WOOOON!” The elation is infectious and the crowd laps it up as Hana celebrates by inviting Konami to go to the hospital with her.
There is still time for a quick exchange with then champion Bea Priestley where Hana explains to Bea in English, “I wanna kick your ass.”
An incredibly worthy winner of a tournament that Hana Kimura had made her own from the start.
Hana Kimura v Giulia – Singles Match – 24th December 2019
Disappointingly, Hana didn’t go on to win the red belt from Bea, but after a tremendously entertaining run in the Stardom Tag League with Death Yama-San (in which Hana, of course, became Death Hana-San), she instead went on to have the best feud I’ve seen in Stardom since I started watching.
In October 2019, Giulia surprisingly, and controversially, joined Stardom from rival promotion Ice Ribbon. It didn’t take long for her brash and bold approach to draw the attention of Hana Kimura, and the two were slated for a match at Stardom’s year-end show.
The build to this match was superb with the two engaging in brawls in the ring, outside the ring, outside the arena and even at the pre-event press conference which went from slightly tedious corporate chat to explosive violence as soon as the two came face to face. In the pre-match interview, Hana states, “I’m going to destroy Giulia’s face,” and the animosity they had built up felt both earned and genuine.
In the introductions they immediately go nose to nose, and as soon as the bell rings they rip into each other with a flurry of forearms, with the scene more reminiscent of an East-End bar fight rather then the pinnacle of Joshi wrestling. The crowd are white hot throughout as the intensity radiates through the arena, and it doesn’t take long for the chaos to spill to the outside.
Chairs, fans and metal signs are smashed into heads in call-backs to their previous scraps, and Hana is also smacked face first into the press table as an alarmed Rossy looks on. Following further carnage, where Hana crashes a chair baseball bat style into an onrushing Giulia, the match does eventually make it back within the ropes.
But that doesn’t stop the brutality with Hana delivering a particularly nasty looking axe-kick to a prone Giulia, before the struggle descends into both holding each other by the throat and participating in a sickening exchange of headbutts.
At one stage Hana is left clinging to Giulia’s leg like a wounded animal, but we then get a flurry of submission attempts and near falls before the match reaches its finale.
Trapped in a particularly nasty looking STF, Hana refuses to give up, meaning the match ends in a Time Limit Draw. Not even the bell can separate them however as they continue to scrap before finally being pulled apart and exchanging a respectful, but guarded fist-bump.
Giulia gets on the mic to say, “the two of us aren’t through yet,” and after a match like that the crowd are desperate for more. Undoubtedly these two would have fought again, and it would have been superb to see them duke it out over the red belt at some stage.
It is a small part of the tragedy that we won’t get to see this intense rivalry reach the volcanic conclusion that Hana would have ensured it achieved.
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