She is one of the international wrestling scene’s most respected female competitors. A fearless, high flying beauty – she is known to the world for her passion and incredible talent. Her name is Io Shirai, and they call her the ‘Genius Of The Sky’. Hugely successful runs in several promotions around the world have truly made a household name and a decorated champion. Over the past thirteen years, Io Shirai has proven herself to be one of the industry’s true ground breakers. Her story has been one of taking chances and never being afraid to break barriers for women in wrestling.
Born Masami Odate, Shirai made her in ring debut in March of 2007 at just sixteen years old alongside her older sister, Mio. The talented sisters would go on to work together as ‘Team Makehen’ until 2010. They would later team with Kana (WWE’s Asuka) to form the team of Triple Tails until September of 2011 when Io left to pursue a singles career. Both Team Makehen and Triple Tails definitely made an impact even competing in intergender matches against the likes of Tajiri, Atsushi Kotoge, and Daisuke Harada during their time in Smash.
As her career progressed, Shirai would work with the likes of Ayumi Kurihara and current AEW Women’s Champion, Hikaru Shida. She would also have three runs in Mexico where she went head to head with some of their top stars including Cynthia Moreno and the Apache sisters. The international wrestling scene quickly began to take notice of her unique wrestling style. Heavily influenced by the likes of Rey Mysterio and Hiroshi Tanahashi, her skill set incorporates a mix of high flying and technical skill.
Shirai would also go on to find some of her greatest successes in her native Japan, competing for World Of Wonder STARDOM. There she would become the promotion’s world champion and achieve numerous other accolades. Her body of work there led many in the wrestling world to see her as the Ace of Stardom long before Mayu Iwatani stepped into that role. From 2015 to 2017 she was Tokyo Sports’ Joshi Puroresu Grand prize winner. Shirai was also ranked number 4 in Pro Wrestling Illustrated’s PWI female 50 list in 2018.
Her run in Stardom would also see Shirai help build other future stars like Kairi Hojo (WWE’s Kairi Sane), Mayu Iwatani, Momo Watanabe, and Arisa Hoshiki. She and Kairi Hojo had the industry and fans alike talking with their rivalry. The two even went head to head in a champion versus championship match. Despite being the best of friends, neither woman held back in that hard fought battle. They would later pay homage to that rivalry during their time together in WWE NXT. In many ways, Io Shirai was for Stardom what Hiroshi Tanahashi has long been for New Japan Pro Wrestling.
She would continue putting the industry notice when she began appearing in WWE. After a delayed debut, Shirai would have a strong showing in the second annual Mae Young Classic where she and Aussie sensation Toni Storm had the crowd on their feet in the tournament finals at EVOLUTION 2018. She would later join the company’s NXT roster. Her run there has included several critically acclaimed rivalries. Shirai has gone to war against many of NXT’s best female competitors including Rhea Ripley, Shayna Baszler, and Mia Yim. She and long time best friend, Kairi Sane also became a popular tag team called the Sky Pirates until Shirai’s heel turn in the summer of 2019. Her first run as NXT Women’s Champion came at NXT TakeOver: In Your House when she defeated both Charlotte Flair and Rhea Ripley for the title in a triple threat ladder match.
Now thirteen years into her career, even greater success seems to lie ahead for Io Shirai. As champion she will no doubt continue to face challenges without fear. Her ability and daredevil spirit have made her an inspiration to young women around the world. That’s such an important thing in a business that hasn’t always been kind to women. History will definitely count her among the greatest female wrestlers of all time. Wherever her career takes her, Io Shirai will always be remembered as a true joshi legend.