Japanese history is filled with stories of onna-bugeisha and kunoichi, proud warriors who fought for what they believed in and those stories continue to repeat themselves in the modern day.
Wrestling is a medium where many Japanese women are leaving their mark, redefining the industry and kicking down doors. A woman at the forefront of this movement is Masami Odate, better known by her ring name Io Shirai.
Odate first joined the wrestling world alongside her older sister Mio, making their debut in 2007. The sisters adopted the ring names of Io and Mio Shirai (translated as Purple Thunder in Japanese). At this time, Odate was only 16 years old, working part time while still attending high school. This passion for professional wrestling would stay with her throughout her entire career.
Once she’d graduated, Odate became a full-time wrestler with her sister, representing Team Makehen. This was a stable made up of wrestlers who were trained by Tomohiko Hashimoto and within a year the sisters wrestled for promotions that included Ibuki, Sendai Girls’ Pro Wrestling, JWP Joshi Puroresu and Pro Wrestling Wave.
In 2008, Odate wrestled for arguably Japan’s biggest wrestling promotion All Japan Pro Wrestling. She debuted with Mio against the team of Kyoko Kimura and Mikado in a losing effort. In April of that year, the Shirai sisters won their first championship, becoming the first Totally Lethal Wrestling World Young Women’s Tag Team Champions.
Improving her craft
In 2010, Odate went to Mexico so she could improve her craft. She worked under the name of Biba Kasai, debuting in International Wrestling Revolution Group. Being exposed to the lucha libre style of wrestling helped Odate to further develop her high-flying style and embody the characteristics of one of her main influences, Rey Mysterio.
She made several trips to Mexico over the next few years, until being arrested in Japan under suspicion of marijuana smuggling in 2012. Denying the charges, Odate worked on moving past the hurdle and regaining her connection with fans.
Becoming a part of World Wonder Ring Stardom, Odate built her reputation as one of the most dynamic wrestlers on the planet. It was here that she captured a world championship, winning the World of Stardom Championship in 2013. Odate went on to hold the title for fifteen months and recaptured a further two times.
Taking it to the next level
In 2017, Odate got on the radar of the WWE, successfully passing her try-out with the wrestling giant. Unfortunately, she’d be diagnosed with a neck injury and heart problems, causing the WWE to rescind the contract.
Refusing to give up, Odate continued to train and she was eventually signed to the WWE. Taking part in the 2018 Mae Young Classic, Odate stood out and it wasn’t long before she was performing on the NXT brand, following in the footsteps of her contemporaries Asuka and Kairi Sane.
She initially worked as a high-flying babyface as part of a team called The Sky Pirates with Sane. This earned her the nickname of the Genius of the Sky. It wasn’t until 2019 that Odate truly came into her character when she turned heel by attacking her friend Candice LeRae. From there, she adopted a darker, unhinged appearance.
Despite being a heel, the fans continued to cheer for Odate, helping her transition back into a face in 2020. At NXT TakeOver: In Your House 2020, the Genius of The Sky defeated Rhea Ripley and Charlotte Flair to win her first NXT Women’s Championship.
Odate’s fast-paced style, coupled with her tenacity and ring presence, makes her one of the greatest wrestlers in the world.
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