Watching wrestling is one of my favourite pastimes. From an early age, I remember watching the likes of The Undertaker, Triple H, Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock putting on instant classics in the ring, and my appreciation for the sport has only grown over the years. In recent times, the WWE has become more open to signing independent talent from across the world, with Japan standing out as a premier destination.
When it comes to signing Japanese talent for the women’s division, WWE has outdone itself. In this article, I’m taking a closer look at the Japanese women wrestlers who have made their mark in the company.
Building the future with The Empress of Tomorrow
In my opinion, Asuka was the first Japanese female wrestler who grabbed the attention of mainstream wrestling fans. Having built up a reputation on the independent circuit as a hard-hitting competitor, Asuka was signed to WWE’s NXT brand in 2015. As soon as she debuted, The Empress of Tomorrow made an impact and started to wrack up victories quickly, a sign that the WWE were fully invested in pushing her.
It wasn’t long before Asuka captured her first mainstream title in the form of the NXT women’s championship by defeating Bayley at NXT TakeOver: Dallas. From that point on, the WWE continued to build her as an unstoppable force in the women’s division. She went on to hold the title for an impressive 510 days, until she was forced to give it up due to a collarbone injury.
WWE continued to push Asuka on the main roster, with her winning the first ever women’s Royal Rumble in 2017. At Wrestlemania 34, Asuka lost her first match to Charlotte Flair, ending her unbeaten streak of 914 days. After Wrestlemania, WWE dropped the ball with Asuka by booking her in feuds that didn’t go anywhere, destroying her previous mystique. Asuka regained some of her former momentum when she won the Smackdown Women’s Championship in 2018, but the reign didn’t last long because of Becky Lynch’s current popularity.
Even though Asuka is no longer in a main event spot, she remains one of the greatest wrestlers on the planet. Her technical skills, body language and storytelling ability make all her matches worth watching. There’s a reason why the WWE gave her the longest undefeated streak in the history of the company, and she kicked down the door for other Japanese women to break into WWE.
A Pirate Princess and a Genius of The Sky
Other Japanese stars like Kairi Sane have made an impact in NXT. Sane debuted in WWE in 2017, winning the Mae Young Classic. She quickly won over fans with her entertaining pirate gimmick and ring skills. Where I think Sane truly shines is in her selling and emotional delivery. She has a habit of screaming out to the fans when firing up, and you can hear how much passion she puts into her voice.
Io Shirai is another Japanese wrestler making waves in the women’s division. Nicknamed ‘The genius of the sky,’ for her acrobatic ability, Shirai fought her way back from injury to get into the WWE. In 2017, it was reported that Shirai suffered from a neck injury that delayed her WWE debut. But after doctors had cleared her to compete, the company rescinded her contract on the grounds that they didn’t sign new talent with a history of neck issues. However, Shirai continued to rehab and the WWE signed her to an official contract in 2018.
Shirai’s story is an example of the lengths that wrestlers go to achieve their dreams. Shirai, Sane, Asuka and so many others put their bodies on the line to entertain people around the world. Every wrestler is a storyteller and deserves respect for what they go through on a regular basis.