The Best Women’s Wrestler of the 2010s: Io Shirai
2019 is quickly coming to an end. Over the next few weeks, we would like to take a look back at the top moments in women’s wrestling this year, as well as this decade. With that said, there aren’t many women —or men for that matter— who have accomplished as much as Io Shirai in the last ten years.
For that reason, she has to be the best women’s wrestler of the 2010s.
The 12-year veteran became one of the most decorated champions in the world in her 20s during her historic eight-year run with Stardom. As a result, she was the first woman to win the Tokyo Sports Women’s Wrestling Grand Prize three years in a row. Her extensive list of accomplishments speaks for itself but she’s also easily one of the best wrestlers of her generation due to high flying style and storytelling ability.
Now, American fans are lucky enough to get a chance to see her wrestle regularly as she continues her career with WWE. Her new heel persona is currently one of the most captivating characters on the NXT roster.
At the start of the decade, Io and her sister Mio Shirai teamed up with a familiar face, Asuka. “The Empress of Tomorrow” was billed as Kana at the time and the trio went on to form a team called the Triple Tails. They worked as freelancers and produced three of their own shows before they split up in 2011.
Shirai also went on her excursion into Mexico in 2010, which led to some appearances for AAA. She continued to work shows in the country throughout her career. The Lucha libre influences are present in her in-ring style and some of the ring gear she used later. In the following year, she became one half of the Americas World Mixed Tag Team Champions at Lucha Fan Fest 4.
“The Genius of the Sky” didn’t debut with Stardom until August of 2011 and she struggled for the first two years. Shirai didn’t have success with the Joshi promotion until the spring of 2013. At Ryōgoku Cinderella, she defeated “Alpha Female” Jazzy Gabert to become the third World of Stardom Champion.
Her first singles title win would eventually put her on the map. As a matter of fact, Io Shirai became synonymous with the “Red Belt,” holding it for 468 days with a record ten title defenses. The feat made her the second longest-reigning World of Stardom Champion.
The inaugural champion, Nanae Takahashi, eclipsed her reign with 602 days. However, Shirai is undoubtedly the most well-known and dominant winner since the title was established in 2011.
On May 6, 2014, Shirai defeated the High Speed Champion, Natsuki Taiyo, becoming a double champion. In July, she earned her tenth successful title defense against Meiko Satomura before she lost the World of Stardom Championship in the following month. She became a double champion again in December when she, Mayu Iwatani, and Takumi Iroha won the Artist of Stardom Championship.
The team known as Heisei-gun was eventually forced to vacate titles when Iroha suffered a knee injury in 2015. A month later, Shirai and Iwatani reformed “Thunder Rock” to win a tournament and become the new Goddess of Stardom Champions. They still hold the record for the most consecutive title defenses with 11.
Later, “The Genius of the Sky” beat Nikki Storm, better known as Nikki Cross, for the vacant Wonder of Stardom Championship. The win made her the first Stardom Grand Slam Champion at the age of 25 as she had held all five of the company’s titles. In November, she lost the title in her eighth defense against the NWA World Women’s Champion, Santana Garrett.
Still, Shirai capped off 2015 with an award-winning title match with Meiko Satomura in December and her first Tokyo Sports Women’s Wrestling Grand Prize win. “The Ace of Stardom” ultimately won, becoming the first two-time World of Stardom Champion.
Her second reign set a new record for the most title defenses at 14, which still stands. Io also surpassed her first tenure with the “Red Belt” as she held the title for 546 days. Both of her reigns combined for a cumulative reign of 1,014 days, the longest ever, and a staggering 24 title defenses.
In 2016, Shirai formed Threedom with Iwatani and Kairi Hojo, who is currently billed as Kairi Sane. She became a triple champion and a two-time Artist of Stardom Champion when the trio won the titles in February. Today, Io holds the record for the most stints with the six-woman tag titles at six.
In May of 2016, she was crowned the inaugural Stardom World Association (SWA) World Champion. Shirai gained the fourth title when she defeated Toni Storm in the finals of a tournament held during the promotions European tour. Eventually, Storm won the SWA title in their rematch in July.
Thunder Rock also lost the Goddess of Stardom Championship that summer after 407 days, which set the groundwork for their infamous breakup. Shirai turned on her longtime tag team partner, Mayu Iwatani, after they lost in the finals of the 2016 Goddesses of Stardom Tag League. In one of the most well-executed heel turns of all time, Io closed the door on Thunder Rock and Threedom for good.
This also led to the creation of Queen’s Quest. As the leader of the longstanding stable, she continued her dominant run as World of Stardom Champion and won the Artist of Stardom titles four more times. Incidentally, Iwatani ended her 18-month reign in June of 2017. Afterward, she went on a hiatus to recover from a neck injury she suffered in May.
This injury kept her from competing in the first annual Mae Young Classic. Still, she returned to Stardom in July and went on to become a two-time Wonder of Stardom Champion later that year. Shirai finished her second reign with ten title defense.
Shirai held the record for the most consecutive defenses until Momo Watanabe broke it this year with 13. However, “The Genius of the Sky” still holds the record for the most combined defense at 17.
In May of 2018, she reentered negotiations with WWE and announced she was leaving Stardom at the end of the month. Io Shirai wrestled her last match for the company on June 10, cementing her legacy as the “The Ace of Stardom.”
Over the next few months, she competed in the second Mae Young Classic and made it all the way to the finals. Although she lost to Toni Storm at WWE Evolution, it was surreal to see her on the card for the company’s first-ever all women’s pay-per-view event. At the end of the year, she won the 2018 Future Star of NXT award.
This year, Shirai made her debut in the second women’s Royal Rumble match. In addition, she also took part in the first women’s WarGames match. Then, she helped Team NXT win the first-ever triple threat elimination match in her first appearance at Survivor Series.
Many women’s wrestlers have emerged as stars this decade, but no one carried a company on their back the way Io Shirai did with Stardom. She was the undisputed face of the company and she added prestige to several of their titles. As the promotion attempts to grow under Bushiroad, she will be seen as the standard for the next generation of stars to come.
What do you think? Drop a comment below and let us know who you think is the best women’s wrestler of the 2010s.