Athena vs. Billie Starkz (ROH Final Battle 2023 12/15/23)

Match Reviews

The word “potential” comes to mind when I think of Billie Starkz. Even Billie’s most ardent fans would tell you that Starkz has far from reached the ceiling of her capabilities. Her stock has risen quite a bit in recent months as she’s had the great fortune of being at the heart of a storyline with one of the best wrestlers in the world: Athena. Being packed away onto the HonorClub streaming service has been incredibly beneficial for Starkz, providing her experience in a big TV-style program while racking up experience in front of larger arena-sized cards, but in a much lower stakes setting to avoid forcing her to sink or swim too soon in the Khan promotions.

The problem with working with Athena for so long though is that even in the best case scenario, one is doomed to live in her shadow. Luckily enough, this is a key part of the story the characters follow too, but it’s true in a broader sense too. One can be incredibly promising, but when you’re working in close proximity to a best in the world-level talent, that’s just a losing comparison.

This match asks more of Billie than any other match in her career. Billie receives the space to display as much of her best stuff as possible. It’s a double edged sword, all her best qualities are on display, but in a setting like this, the weaknesses make themselves known as well. It’s a criticism she’s made great strides to address, but mechanically there’s still some issues I have with Billie. A few moments can’t help but take me out of the action. Something like the flip over the ropes into a somewhat half-hearted spear come to mind, even if one can maybe point to this being a result of selling Athena’s beating. Overall, Billie has room to find a little more confidence in her physicality, there’s the slightest occasional awkwardness in her physicality that might yet be smoothed out with more experience.

Given those issues, why do so many critics, myself included, continue to keep an eye on Starkz’s work?

For one, she’s young. Starkz is a literal teenager which makes any comparative weaknesses not only understandable but somewhat expected. It also means that whatever criticisms one might have of her right now, she has basically the rest of her life and career to work on. Time is very much on Billie Starkz’s side.

Another reason is that the things she does well, she does exceptionally.

The skills that Starkz demonstrates the most proficiency in are things that simply can’t be taught. I can not stress enough how valuable it is that Starkz’s greatest asset in the ring is just how damn likeable she is. It’s so easy to be taken to her story–getting started as a teen, literally growing up while making a name for herself on the indies, that’s endearing stuff. The backstory means nothing without the performance of it though, and Billie’s one of the most endearing presences in pro wrestling right now. It’s easy to cheer for her, and that’s a much harder thing to say for any pro wrestler than one might think.

A big part of that likeability too, is that when the brightest lights are on, Billie Starkz is so goddamn willing to die for us. There’s a lot of her career I haven’t seen, but this feels like the worst beating she’s ever taken. She could have used a better bladejob on this night, sure, but bump freak Billie has been a joy ever since that big fall at last year’s SCI. In this match, we get that great suplex off the announce table, the Croyt’s Wrath off the top, all along the smaller moments where Athena’s just rag dolling her in and out of the ring.

Speaking of which, no matter how structured and designed this match is to be a coming out party for Billie Starkz (which it mostly succeeds at), this is the Athena power hour.

In perhaps her career best year, Athena puts in what might be a career best performance in this match. In the effort to make Billie Starkz as a true contender, Athena reaches new heights of ability and brilliance. Across the whole year, you’d be hard pressed to find better individual performances than Athena’s on this night. Mechanically, it’s as excellent as could be expected at this point. Part of that though is that the performance matches the emotional needs of this match. Athena’s brutality through the past year has always had a very competitive tone to it: she’s flexing on her opponents because she can. Here at Final Battle, there’s a much more personal tone to it. She’s not just hurting Billie Starkz because she can, there’s a vindictive feel to the beatdown here. Athena is punishing Billie for the audacity of turning her back on the forever champion, and it makes her work in control so much more violent and compelling for it.

It really is the finest details that put Athena over the top though. Things like finding the most organic way possible to set up Billie’s Sugoi Driver or basically bullying Billie into sharpening up her already promising elbow strikes and giving them a target in her broken nose. Those are the masterful touches that separate here from pretty much every other woman on the roster.

Structurally too, this match goes above and beyond as far as trying to make Billie Starkz. Athena affords her pretty much every favor possible outside of actually dropping the title to her. She beats her up to get the crowd behind her (tall order given this is Athena’s home turf, but the crowd does eventually come around to the correct balance of things), eats a lot of shit to match Billie’s big bumping, and puts together some real convincing false finishes such as the drama with the belt and Lexy at ringside. The finish too does Billie a massive help. Commentary made a clear point of constantly asking: did Athena teach Billie too much? It seems like that might be the case when Billie blocks and counters the O Face, but as we found with Willow in July, Athena’s offensive arsenal goes deeper than one thinks. She has to fully tie up Billie in a submission to force the win here, getting by on the sheer breadth of her abilities.

I do sort of wish I loved this match more than I do, just because it nails so much. Unfortunately, it suffers from a little overambition. Athena goes the maximalist route when it comes to making Billie, by giving her a marquee epic on her resume. It is perhaps just a little too soon for that kind of attempt with Billie, I’ve enjoyed her far more in much tighter, more focused efforts against the likes of Daniel Makabe and Adam Priest in ACTION. That being said, this is a real massive leap forward for her. Athena’s immense talent has a gravity all of its own, the force of it pulling Billie closer to her level.

Very much a case of aiming for the moon and landing among the stars.

Rating: ***1/2

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *