Stardom Wrestling’s Momo Watanabe has been a interesting topic these last two years, and as we approach the coming Osaka show on December 18th, it seems that Stardom’s True Heart is destined to join the villainous Oedo Tai. As examined in a recent article by James Carlin, this could be a big boost Momo needs (with Starlight Kid’s recent run as an example). This article will not be an examination of the kayfabe fiction but from a real-world decision making that got us here.
Put simply: the fact that this change for Momo Watanabe is seen as a necessity, is a failure on Stardom’s part after last two years.
To understand why the last two years of Watanabe’s booking has been a contentious subject among the fandom we need to breakdown certain aspects, such as Stardom’s booking patterns, her alleged “moments” and a real lazy idea of what constitutes “Heeldom” in Stardom.
Stardom: Joshi NXT
I have used that above comparison several times in the last few years and I stand by it. I compare Stardom to the Triple H era of NXT because they are both promotions that have critically and fan assessed “Great Wrestling”™, which masks the fact that their storytelling can be very basic, nonsensical, or even wasteful. If you are looking for promotions that have long-form or even consistent character building, I wouldn’t recommend Stardom at all.
And that’s fine! If you don’t care about that and just want some great matches, that’s fine, but you have to understand that part to understand part of what has happened with Watanabe the last two years. This booking pattern makes it easy for people to fall through the cracks because it seems like only 2-3 people at a time get true focus with a long-term goal in mind at any given time. How do I know this? Because Momo used to be one of these foci.
While this piece isn’t necessarily a counter-argument to James’ piece, there is one aspect that I completely disagree with: the idea that she has always felt like an afterthought. That is completely untrue. Momo Watanabe was very much the focus and the undisputed leader of Queen’s Quest after Io Shirai departed to NXT – before which she even dropped the Wonder of Stardom title to Watanabe. In fact, Momo then filled a similar spot that Utami Hayashashita fills now: so much focus put on her push that it became contentious to some feeling it came at the expense of others. She was clearly being built for the position of company Ace.
Until she wasn’t.
It cannot be understated how jarring the descent Watanabe went through on the card and as a booking priority was, especially when it came off the hiatus due to COVID-19. While she was understandably on the backburner post-dropping the Wonder belt to Arisa Hoshiki, no one really expected just how inessential she began to feel, to the point that for newer fans they’re surprised to learn that Utami Hayashashita isn’t the leader of Queen’s Quest.
Moments With No Followup
The counter-argument I hear all the time is that at least Momo Watanabe is putting on great matches and having spotlight moments. In the last two years she has been the first defense for Utami’s red belt run where she seemed to get more acclaim than the champion, had a singles match with SEAdLINNNG’s Nanae Takahashi at Nippon Budokan, won the Goddess Tag League with AZM and gone to the Five-Star Grand Prix final against Syuri this year.
There is a two-pronged problem here though. The first one is that, apart from Tag League (which is the company’s lowest non-title accolade), these have all resulted in losses. In a vacuum, that’s fine but, as we’ll look at further this two-year stretch of booking isn’t in a vacuum and it becomes damaging over time. Especially when you consider the other problem: the lack of follow-up between these big moments.
The lack of evidence that there was a bigger plan for Momo Watanabe in between these spotlight moments was where a great deal of the damage happened. To put it simply she was used as a good hand to elevate others and it damaged her standing over a period of time. You can’t just keep using someone like that and expect them to maintain credibility as a fighter when there is no real tangible follow-up.
The big example that stands out to me is the loss to Nanae Takahashi. Now, in a vacuum, I am perfectly okay with Nanae defeating Momo. It made sense, especially considering later on in the same show, SEAdLINNNG’s top champion Yoshiko would be losing to Mayu Iwatani. At the very least, the company Stardom was working with would have even results. Perfectly acceptable. The big problem was what came after. Or what didn’t come after.
This loss wasn’t a catalyst for a longer-term plan for Momo nor would Momo ever see any form of revenge. Momo was there the day after, Nanae wasn’t, and Momo did pretty much nothing in the aftermath but return to limbo with occasional moments that degraded her star power.
This leads us to this coming possibility of a move to Oedo Tai and the final criticism of the last two years.
Oedo Tai is Stardom’s Bullet Club.
Now, I know there’s a bunch of Oedo Tai or Stardom fans about to go into my mentions and lambast me about how dare I compare this group to that faction in New Japan and that group of crap/boring wrestlers can’t compare. To which I reply simply: both groups are the same in that they serve less as a group nowadays and more as a keyboard function. They are both the quick solutions for bookers that have no other ideas for their baddies. If you are a heel with no direction, you must be in Oedo Tai.
A lot of people enjoy the move of Starlight Kid to Oedo Tai. Personally, I think it is overrated and Kid, while improved, gets a lot more praise for her work than she really deserves – she has the potential to be a world-class heel but her work as of now gets more praise than what is mostly decent work deserves.
But for as much as the Starlight Kid turn paid off, the turn itself was such a hammering of a square peg into a round hole. The company wanted Starlight Kid in Oedo Tai, so character progression and logic be damned. They had to tell us that there was tension between Kid and Mayu Iwatani (who has had the betrayal card used against her so many times it has itself become a trope and subsequently makes the soul of your company look more and more like an idiot) when none existed in the two years MK Sisters worked together. Kid basically had a personality transplant, like so many others in that join Oedo Tai, with no thought to character development.
Which brings us back to Momo Watanabe. The idea of a bitter, vicious, no-f*cks-left-to-give heel Momo Watanabe is not a bad idea. Why does she need to go to Oedo Tai to do that? Why would she ever have any comradery with a group that is, frankly, beneath her in skill and subsequently go from leadership to not leadership – and subsequently just hand another accolade in the form of Queen’s Quest leadership to Utami Hayashishita? Momo doesn’t need to be in Oedo Tai to crack a chair over Utami’s head and become a heel.
But if she is a heel she must be in Oedo Tai.
Furthermore, while Starlight Kid’s turn seems successful, that’s not a guarantee for Momo. Others have also joined Oedo Tai to very middling or even no elevation from it. The one that comes to mind is Konami. I understand that she was not originally meant to go to Oedo Tai and only did so due to the worst circumstances in Hana Kimura’s passing, but her tenure in Oedo Tai still did not bring accolades to her and she still feels in the same area in the promotion. In fact, there is a not unlikely reason that Momo is going to Oedo Tai because with Konami possibly leaving for good, Oedo Tai, while it has a lot of members, are really bereft of workers on a main event level. It could be that she’s going there just to make up for that deficiency, which would not bode well for her in the long run.
Conclusion: Don’t Say They Have a Plan
Unless booker Rossy Ogawa goes insane and the coming Oedo Tai vs Queen’s Quest match goes to a draw, then it is looking more and more like Momo Watanabe will be in the clutches of Oedo Tai soon enough. While I understand that there is excitement for some, for others there’s a lot of trepidation based around the last two years of uneven-at-best, nonexistent-at-worst booking. This ‘need for a character change’ wouldn’t be necessary were it not for the last two years of booking letting old and new fans know that Momo Watanabe wasn’t a priority.