If you’ve been paying much attention to this year’s Mae Young Classic, you’ve probably heard quite a bit about about Io Shirai.
The recent WWE signee has a great reputation among those who are keen on Joshi, which has led a lot of people to call her one of the best, if not the best women’s wrestler on the planet. I won’t make an objective statement like that, but I will say that she is definitely one of my favorite wrestlers with no qualifiers attached, and her matches are always exciting. If you weren’t planning on following her closely during the Mae Young Classic, I’d like to make a case for why you absolutely should.
Io Shirai started wrestling when she was sixteen, alongside her sister Mio. She wrestled on the independent scene in Japan for some time, at one point building a stable with Mio and others; most notably the woman we now know as WWE’s Asuka.
She also spent time in Mexico where she worked for AAA and won a few titles. Io also started working as a freelancer for World Wonder Ring Stardom, where she would really make a name for herself as one of the best wrestlers in the business. In the seven years she spent in Stardom, Shirai won every title they had from the bottom to the top, in the process helping to make it one of the more notable joshi promotions as its top ace.
It’s hard to pick a place to start when talking about why Io is one of the best wrestlers in the world. But once place to look is her match with Pentagon Dark in the third season of Lucha Underground, which is one of my favorites. If you haven’t seen it, I absolutely recommend you find it because it is a great match. The match starts off with a massive dropkick from Io, which is where I’ll start talking about why I love her so much as a wrestler.
I think the dropkick is one of the more important moves in wrestling and I frequently use it as a barometer for wrestlers. I’d say Io has the second best dropkick from any woman working today, and the only reason I think it’s second is because I’ve seen Meiko Satomura nearly murder a poor trainee with a dropkick. Whether it was modeled after Manami Toyota’s or not, it’s very reminiscent of it, and that’s a lot of praise coming from me because Manami Toyota has a beautiful dropkick. Io puts her whole body behind it and she can get a ton of air when she wants to. When she kicks someone, the other person usually looks like they’ve come out of a car wreck.
The next piece of her kit that merits talking about is her moonsaults. I have a hard time thinking of anyone who I love seeing pull off a moonsault more than Io. She’s been nicknamed the Genius of the Sky, and in my opinion she has earned it. Her moonsault is simply a thing of beauty and she can pull it out of anywhere: bottom rope, top rope, springboard, inside the ring, outside the ring, from the tunnel entrance, anywhere. I think Kota Ibushi is the only person that can out do her in terms of finding creative excuses to moonsault. She has the perfect form of a gymnast when she does it and she seemingly floats in mid air before crashing (gracefully) onto her opponent.
The last piece I want to talk about is her suplexes. The suplex is one of Io’s goto moves and it’s for a good reason. Just like her moonsaults and dropkicks, she has beautiful form and really makes it look good every time. It also showcases one thing about her that I don’t see people talk about very frequently; this woman is strong. She may be pound for pound the strongest wrestler on the planet, with stiff competition from Tyler Bate. She uses this strength to do ridiculous suplexes including rolling three suplexes together or do ridiculous deadlift suplexes. She effortlessly lifts her opponents and I’ve even seen her deadlift suplex Viper, who is not a small woman.
While the way Io performs these moves in particular certainly elevate her among other wrestlers, what makes her one of the best is how well rounded she is. She’s a fantastic high flyer, a great striker, and a strong technical wrestler who can put together wonderful grappling combinations, not to mention that she tombstones people and has a beautiful butterfly facebuster. She sells well and she effortlessly exudes a dominant aura when she wants to. She places an excellent heel, but can also play the sympathetic babyface. I have no doubt that when she wrestles for WWE, she will have no problem fitting in with the WWE style and will be able to hang with absolutely anyone on the roster. While she really shows her ability when she wrestles other talented wrestlers, she has the talent to elevate anyone she wrestles with.
I’m excited to see Io join the WWE roster because she has the talent to make a significant impact on the roster and bring the women’s revolution into full fruition, if the WWE handles her properly. If they do nothing more than just let her have good matches every week, she would show just how talented women wrestlers can be. I don’t want to draw too many parallels to Asuka, because they’re very different wrestlers. However, while I think Asuka served as somewhat of a wakeup call for the women’s division, Io could be a double-shot of espresso that I think the WWE could really use right now.
Io was the undisputed Ace of Stardom and was named best female wrestler the last three years, and I see no reason why she would slow down now. My only fear is that the WWE simply won’t know what to do with someone of her talent, it’s been happening with Asuka for the last several months and it could happen to Io. That being said, I think that no matter what her role is, Io will execute it at the highest level, and as Macho Man Randy Savage once said “The cream will rise to the top, oh yeah!”
If you’re interested in seeing Io Shirai in action, you can find many of her matches for free online with a little searching, but a good chunk of her best work is available at stardom-world.com for a reasonable price. Recommended matches are anything between her and Meiko Satomura, Mayu Iwatani, or Kairi Hojo (Sane), her match with Toni Storm in the 2017 5 Star Gran Prix, and her match against Pentagon Dark on Lucha Underground.