“If anyone is wondering if we are making money on these shows, we aren’t expecting to,” revealed Stardom President Rossy Ogawa in a recent interview on the company’s website when speaking about this weekend’s Stardom USA tour. It was an odd thing to hear from any wrestling promoter, let alone one whose employees affectionately refer to as “Uncle Scrooge.” Ogawa has a firm grip on how many tickets, T-shirts, and 8x10s are sold by each wrestler at each event in Japan, but Stardom’s American shows—October 16th in Covina, CA and October 18th in Baldwin Park—are about something more: “My dream is to bring the best Joshi pro wrestling show to the fans in Los Angeles.”
Rossy Ogawa has been a mainstay of the Joshi pro wrestling scene since the late 70’s. He went from a fan photographer to the front office of the legendary All Japan Women’s wrestling. Ogawa saw first-hand the rise and fall of Joshi as a juggernaut of the entertainment business. Stardom is a company built on Rossy’s dream to recapture that glory: “We want to host a show in Mexico and Europe as well. I want to build Stardom Tower. I want a dojo on the first floor, and have offices on the second floor.”
While Stardom’s AJW aspirations have guided the company, they have not defined it. Its fan base and roster skew much younger than companies like Oz Academy and DIANA, who readily revel in nostalgia. The departure of Nanae Takahashi earlier this year left 25-year-old Io Shirai as the most experienced wrestler on the Stardom roster. While many promotions have tried to revive 90’s Joshi by using 90’s Joshi wrestlers, Stardom has instead tried to adopt the methods that made AJW successful in the first place: creating new young stars, catering to mainstream audiences, and gaining international recognition.
“Stardom always has a crew of three or four foreign wrestlers from many different countries on three-month tours. They want to have truly international appeal,” said Stardom’s English web master Sonny Gutierrez when I talked to him backstage at an event this summer.
Gutierrez, who has been following Joshi since AJW’s heyday, sees the potential for greatness in Stardom, “Stardom tries to appeal to pop culture with musical performances, but the wrestling also has a more realistic and sports driven approach. You can see beautiful women that are also very skilled, and show a lot of heart and emotion in the ring. They’ll win you over.”
“Stardom USA means more opportunities to women to make their dreams come true, and more opportunities for women to make a living in wrestling,” said Thunder Rosa, a California native who has toured with Stardom and will appear on this weekend’s shows.
Rosa described her stint with Stardom as a challenging but rewarding experience, “It’s an investment to come to Japan. You give up a lot but you have to take that chance. It’s hard being a Joshi wrestler, but the women know this is their life and the pain is worth it.”
Rosa—who has been wrestling for less than a year—credits “keeping [her] ears and mind open,” and Cheerleader Melissa for the opportunities she has received with Stardom: “Melissa is a legend in wrestling, but also a true businesswoman. Wrestling needs more women in power. She sees things in people and she’s opened many doors for me.”
“It’s very humbling,” said the ‘Future Legend’ Cheerleader Melissa on being referred to as a legend in the present tense. “When I talk to younger girls I don’t see myself as any different. My path seems to change all the time, but my goal in my career now is to help young girls.”
Melissa doesn’t seem like a veteran wrestler ready to step aside just yet. She’s in the best shape of her career, and still main-eventing shows across the world. In an industry where careers are usually short and time at the top is even shorter, Melissa seems poised for another decade of championships: “The drive is in me, I can’t get rid of it. Wrestling has its ups and downs, but over my career I’ve learned to endure.”
Melissa first met Rossy Ogawa during her 2002 tour with his post-AJW promotion, ARSION. There, Melissa learned the hard-hitting Joshi style that has defined her wrestling. Along with contemporaries like Sara Del Rey and Mercedes Martinez, Melissa redefined what it meant to be a female wrestler in the US, creating what is sometimes referred to as ‘American Joshi.’ With Stardom USA, Melissa hopes to change things again: “I want to mix the Stardom experience with the American Joshi experience. Stardom is a unique, happy, and very TV friendly product. Joshi has produced many stars who were foreigners, like Madusa and I want to see more of that.”
While Stardom USA was still in the planning stages development an ugly incident propelled Stardom into international spotlight for the all the wrong reasons. Tens of thousands of wrestling fans watched then champion Yoshiko brutally assault challenger Act Yasukawa, bloodying her and visibly damaging her already surgically repaired eye. Stardom’s response to the incident was suitably severe—Yoshiko was indefinitely suspended and stripped of her title, members of management had their salaries cut—but delays in publicly responding cost Stardom international goodwill just before they needed it.
With Yoshiko no longer part of the company, and changes made to improve wrestler safety and morale, Stardom is ready to move out of the shadow of the incident. No one in the company is more ready to leave it in the past than Yasukawa herself. During her recovery, Yasukawa continued to attend Stardom shows, setting up the ring, selling tickets, and acting as a ringside second.
Yasukawa wrestled her return match late last month, but was still recovering from her injuries when I spoke to her about Stardom USA. In spite of her ordeal, Act’s deep love of pro wrestling and loyalty to Stardom had not waned: “Everyone should come see Stardom USA. Stardom has the soul of AJW; it’s very hard-hitting and very intense. You can feel our spirit and see our hearts in the ring.”
Stardom USA’s events will bring women like Io Shirai, Kairi Hojo, Kris Wolf, and Act Yasukawa to the US for the first time, and the company’s foreign mainstays like—Cheerleader Melissa, Hudson Envy, and Kellie Skater—will round out the card. With the additions of freelance wrestlers Hiroyo Matsumoto and Kyoko Kimura, as well as elite American talent like Mia Yim and Santana Garrett, the quality of the Stardom’s USA shows will be on par with any Japanese event.
Stardom USA will be the first time ever that a Joshi promotion has run in the US mainland—the closest AJW ever got was Guam—but if Rossy has his way this is just the beginning of Stardom’s expansion across the globe. Here’s hoping he makes enough money to get started on Stardom tower.
Stardom USA Tour: Friday, October 16th 8PM at 4315 N Vincent Ave, Covina, CA 8 PM and Sunday, October 18th 6PM at 4100 Baldwin Park Blvd, Baldwin Park, CA