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Lessons Learned in UFC Propel Stardom Champion Syuri to Pro Wrestling Success

The 32-year-old credits her ‘irreplaceable experience’ in MMA with helping her capture one of the prestigious titles in women’s wrestling.

The first month of 2022 has been extremely eventful in pro wrestling.

January opened with must-see shows on multiple continents. WWE ran its Day 1 pay-per-view in Atlanta, where Brock Lesnar crowned himself champion. Nearly 7,000 miles away in Tokyo, The New Year saw Katsuhiko Nakajima establish himself as the most prominent figure in Pro Wrestling NOAH by defeating Go Shiozaki to retain the GHC heavyweight championship. Since then, New Japan Pro-Wrestling held its three-night Wrestle Kingdom extravaganza, where Kazuchika Okada reclaimed his spot atop the company’s throne, and Hangman Adam Page ushered in the AEW-on-TBS era with a physical, bloody affair against Bryan Danielson.

Now, on the heels of WWE’s Royal Rumble event on Saturday, another seminal card will seize the wrestling world’s attention. Taking place in Nagoya, Japan, at the Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium, World Wonder Ring Stardom—best known as Stardom—presents Stardom Nagoya Supreme Fight.

The card is filled with big names, including Mayu Iwatani and Utami Hayashishita. The headline bout features Syuri defending her World of Stardom championship against Mirai, the first title defense for Syuri since winning it last month.

“This match is for me,” Syuri says through a translator. “My goal is to have the best match, and I think she’s up to it. I want to fight and win at the highest peak of Stardom.”

Syuri is Syuri Kondo, an accomplished pro wrestler, mixed martial artist and kickboxer. She made her Stardom debut nearly a decade ago in 2013 but has made an even greater impact since coming on full-time in January 2020. That is when she joined the Donna Del Mondo faction, which has dominated Stardom ever since.

A former UFC competitor, Syuri brings legitimacy and authenticity to the ring every time she steps between the ropes. She immediately added to the legacy of the World of Stardom championship, which has also been held by Io Shirai and Toni Storm, as soon as she won it in December at Stardom Dream Queendom. Syuri became champ by defeating Hayashishita at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan—starting her first run with the title, known as Stardom’s famed Red Belt.

“I joined Stardom with the determination to win the Red Belt, and I finally got it,” says the 32-year-old Syuri. “After winning it, I could feel my mother with me. And to my mother in heaven, I said ‘Mom, I won the belt!’ I was so happy to tell her. And my dad came to see me wrestle for the first time. His brother watched the match with a picture of their mother. It’s been a while since my family has been ‘together.’

“It has been almost 10 years since my grandmother’s funeral, but I was very happy to be able to unite my family again by having a title match on the big stage of Sumo Hall. DDM, Konami, my family. Also, my cousin and best friend came to see me. Of course, there are also many people who have always supported me. I was able to win the belt because of all of them. And I am grateful to have met my best rival, Utami Hayashishita.”

Syuri won the title in a phenomenal 36-minute match against Hayashishita when she hit her new Syu Sekai finisher.

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“It is something I had been thinking of since June, when Utami Hayashishita and I battled to a 43-minute double K.O.,” Syuri says. “Before the Ryogoku show, I finally realized what it would be. It is a development of one of my special moves ‘Ryuen’ and I lift the opponent onto my shoulders, then all drop forward together.”

There are only a small number of stars in wrestling that have also competed in the UFC, including Syuri. She won her first fight in the Octagon, then dropped her next three. Her most recent fight came in June 2019. That experience has helped further elevate her work, placing an even brighter spotlight on joshi (the Japanese term for women’s pro wrestling and wrestlers).

“In mixed martial arts, I learned to fight in tense situations, I learned many techniques, and I went through extreme training—and many other things that cannot be experienced in pro wrestling,” Syuri says. “In the UFC it was an especially irreplaceable experience to be able to take on the toughest fights abroad, to cut weight and make adjustments, and to stand on the highest stage of MMA, which I couldn’t experience in Japan. My experience from all of that is used now in my professional wrestling.

“Kickboxing, MMA, professional wrestling, I use all of this to create my world, Syu-World. I am putting all of my experience into Stardom and becoming the person to carry women’s professional wrestling on my back. I accept the responsibility, and I am prepared to go in that ring.”

Syuri is even willing to defend the belt in matches against talents that wrestle outside of Stardom, including longtime rivals/partners Asuka, who is now a WWE star, and Hikaru Shida, who is making a name for herself in AEW.

“I will continue to prove that the Red Belt is the pinnacle of women’s wrestling around the world through my title defenses,” Syuri says. “Asuka and Hikaru Shida are rivals that have done what many others could not, and play on a global stage. If I have the opportunity to compete against them, I think we can see a more evolved world. If it could be arranged, I want to defend my title against them.”

Syuri now turns her attention to Mirai, the talented 22-year-old who is also part of the Donna Del Mondo group. The two will square off at Stardom Nagoya Supreme Fight.

“On the last show of 2021, I was finally able to reach the highest peak of Stardom, the World of Stardom title,” Syuri says. “And with my first title defense, my real challenge begins. As the World of Stardom champion, I want to help Mirai break past her limits, and then I want to beat her. I hope that by challenging me, Mirai will become stronger, that she will take something away from the match.

“I want to show everyone a match that will impact the viewers hearts and remain in their hearts. We will have a match that will not only affect Japan, but people all over the world.”

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Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.