Profile and Dream Matches! Introducing: Mayu Iwatani
Mayu Iwatani was born on February 27th, 1993 in Mine, Yamaguchi prefecture. Iwatani grew upon the countryside with her family, which includes two older brothers. In primary school, she practised judo and high jump, but in high school, she began isolating herself from society, spending three years mostly indoors and becoming a hikikomori. After quitting high school, she fell in love with professional wrestling after seeing a Dragon Gate event. She contacted Fuka, the general manager of the World Wonder Ring Stardom promotion, who were looking for new wrestlers, and eventually moved to Tokyo in 2010 to pursue a career in professional wrestling.
Iwatani was part of Stardom’s first class of trainees. She made her professional wrestling debut at the promotion’s inaugural event on January 23, 2011, facing fellow debutante Arisa Hoshiki. Afterwards, Iwatani and Hoshiki formed a tag team named AMA, which became one of Stardom’s most popular acts. Despite her popularity, Iwatani was the last of the class one trainees to obtain a win in a professional wrestling ring. In June, she was defeated by Eri Susa, the other winless Stardom trainee, and subsequently became known as Stardom’s weakest wrestler. Iwatani was winless for the first eleven months of her career, before finally defeating Susa in a rematch on December 25, 2011. Afterwards, Iwatani and Hoshiki became part of Io Shirai’s “Planet” stable, along with Natsumi Showzuki.
Following Hoshiki’s retirement from professional wrestling in June 2012, Iwatani began teaming with Io Shirai under the team name “Thunder Rock”. She also became part of a stable named Tawashis with Hiroyo Matsumoto and Miho Wakizawa. The three went on to win the Artist of Stardom Championship on December 29, 2013, by defeating Alpha Female, The Female Predator “Amazon” and Kyoko Kimura. On July 27, 2014, Iwatani won her first singles title, when she defeated her teammate Miho Wakizawa for the vacant Wonder of Stardom Championship. After a record-setting eight-month reign, Tawashis lost the Artist of Stardom Championship to Hatsuhinode Kamen, Kaori Yoneyama and Tsubasa Kuragaki on August 10, 2014. On January 18, 2015, Iwatani lost the Wonder of Stardom Championship to Act Yasukawa.
On April 23, 2015, Iwatani won the first annual Cinderella Tournament, defeating Koguma in the finals. As a result, Iwatani was granted a shot at Stardom’s top title, the World of Stardom Championship, but was defeated by the defending champion, Kairi Hojo, on May 17. On May 6, Iwatani and Io Shirai, Thunder Rock, defeated Chelsea and Kairi Hojo to win the vacant Goddess of Stardom Championship. On October 11, Iwatani defeated Rosa Negra to also win the High-Speed Championship. During their tag team title reign, Thunder Rock also won the 2015 Goddesses of Stardom Tag Tournament. On February 28, 2016, Iwatani became a triple champion, when she, Shirai and Kairi Hojo, billed together as “Threedom” (a combination of the words “Three” and “Stardom“), defeated Evie, Hiroyo Matsumoto and Kellie Skater for the Artist of Stardom Championship. In April, Iwatani, along with Hojo and Shirai, travelled to the United States to take part in events held by Lucha Underground and Vendetta Pro Wrestling. On April 29, Iwatani won her second Cinderella Tournament in a row, defeating Hiroyo Matsumoto in the finals. As a result, Iwatani received another shot at the World of Stardom Championship but was defeated by Io Shirai on May 15. After setting records for both the longest reign and most successful title defences, Iwatani and Shirai lost the Goddess of Stardom Championship to Kagetsu and Kyoko Kimura in their 11th title defence on June 16. On October 2, Threedom lost the Artist of Stardom Championship to Hana Kimura, Kagetsu and Kyoko Kimura in their third defence.
On November 11, both Thunder Rock and Threedom were dissolved, when Shirai turned on Iwatani after the two had lost to Hojo and Yoko Bito in the finals of the 2016 Goddesses of Stardom Tag League. This led to Iwatani unsuccessfully challenging Shirai for the World of Stardom Championship at Stardom’s year-end show on December 22. The following day, the match was named Stardom’s 2016 Match of the Year. Reportedly, Iwatani was originally scheduled to win the match and the World of Stardom Championship, but the result was changed after she told Stardom that she wanted to retire from professional wrestling in 2017. After nine successful title defences, Iwatani lost the High-Speed Championship to Kris Wolf in a three-way match, also involving Kagetsu, on February 23, 2017. On April 30, Iwatani made it to the finals of her third Cinderella Tournament in a row but was this time defeated by Toni Storm. With Storm going after the World of Stardom Championship, Iwatani chose to challenge for the Wonder of Stardom Championship. On May 14, Iwatani defeated Kairi Hojo to win the Wonder of Stardom Championship for the second time. Shortly afterwards it was reported that Iwatani was no longer considering retirement and was being positioned as Stardom’s top star in the wake of Io Shirai and Kairi Hojo’s departures from the promotion.
On June 21, Iwatani defeated Shirai to win the World of Stardom Championship for the first time in her fifth challenge, becoming the first wrestler to simultaneously hold the World and Wonder of Stardom Championships. Afterwards, Iwatani started defending both the World and Wonder of Stardom Championships in separate title matches. On September 23, Iwatani lost the Wonder of Stardom Championship to Yoko Bito in her third defence. The following day, Iwatani lost the World of Stardom Championship to Storm, again in her third defence. The title change was unplanned as the match had to be stopped after only two minutes due to Iwatani legitimately dislocating her elbow, forcing referee Daichi Murayama to award the title to Storm. Iwatani returned to the ring on December 10 to take part in Yoko Bito’s final match in Shin-Kiba 1st Ring.
Since her return, Iwatani became a leader of a new unit named “STARS”. On February 18, 2018, Iwatani and Tam Nakano challenged Oedo Tai (Hana Kimura and Kagetsu) for the Goddesses of Stardom Championship but were unsuccessful. On April 1, Iwatani tried to capture again the World of Stardom Championship from Storm after Iwatani was injured in their last match, but was unsuccessful. On June 3, Iwatani, along with Saki Kashima, defeated Hana Kimura and Kagetsu to win the Goddesses of Stardom Championship. On September 24, Iwatani won the 5★Star GP after defeating Utami Hayashishita in the finals. On September 30, at the afternoon show of 5★Star Grand Champion Carnival, Iwatani won the Artist of Stardom Championship with Kashima and Nakano after defeating J.A.N. (Jungle Kyona, Kaori Yoneyama and Natsuko Tora), however, Iwatani and Kashima lost the Goddess of Stardom Championship to Kyona and Tora during the evening show.
On May 16, 2019, STARS (Iwatani, Kashima and Nakano) lost the Artist of Stardom Championship Tokyo Cyber Squad (Hana Kimura, Jungle Kyona and Konami). Stars won the title for the second time on June 23, after defeating Tokyo Cyber Squad. Stars held the title until July 20, when they lost the championship to Andras Miyagi, Kagetsu and Sumire Natsu. On November 4, Iwatani defeated Bea Priestley to win the World of Stardom Championship for the second time. On November 15, 2020, Iwatani lost the World of Stardom Championship to Utami Hayashishita, ending her reign at 377 days. On October 9, at Osaka Dream Cinderella, Iwatani went into a time limit draw against Tam Nakano for the Wonder of Stardom Championship.
Since making her debut in January 2011, she became a two-time World of Stardom Champion, two-time Wonder of Stardom Champion, one-time High-Speed Champion, two-time Goddess of Stardom Champion, and a five-time Artist of Stardom Champion, while also having won the Cinderella Tournament back to back in 2015 and 2016, and the 2018 5★Star Grand Prix. She also made appearances for Stardom’s American partner Ring of Honor (ROH), where she is a former one-time Women of Honor World Champion.
Ring of Honor (2017–2019)
On December 15, Iwatani made her debut for American promotion Ring of Honor (ROH), when she was announced as part of a tournament to crown the inaugural Women of Honor Champion. At Bound By Honor, Iwatani challenged champion, Kelly Klein, to a title match, in which she defeated Klein for the title. Iwatani successfully defended the title twice before losing the title back to Klein at the G1 Supercard on April 6, 2019.
On January 4, 2020, Iwatani along with Giulia, Hana Kimura and Arisa Hoshiki made an appearance at New Japan Pro-Wrestling’s Wrestle Kingdom 14 event at the Tokyo Dome in a dark tag team match where they defeated Giulia and Hana Kimura.
Mayu has the ability to make hardcore fans, casual fans and new fans all genuinely worry about her, her selling skill is top tier. And it’s unique.
She has an incredibly dominant win record but she is not oppressive with it like a Hulk, Goldberg or Roman Reigns. She loses occasionally and no one doubts her as Icon. Even though she wins things like 5 vs 1 faction wars she still somehow manages to play the babyface in peril. I believe this is because she has saddled herself with so many flaws and inadequacies we always think one of them could cause her to lose any match at any time. Hell, she has us sighing relief when she wakes up on time, gets on the right plane, remembers to pack all her gear and show up to the correct venue. When SLK betrayed her I was worried that Mayu may need a new personal assistant.
She understands pro wrestling psychology on a deep level. It was not long ago that HZK was thought to have insulted Stardom and the fans to the point where she may have burned the bridge, but Mayu cooked up the perfect angle and sold it to the fans. She also has a knack for putting over Takumi Iroha and the rest of Marvelous even though they should be booed as the “away team” and the competition. It’s important to Mayu for fans to cheer them, so she makes it happen.
With Tam Nakano, she appeared as an incarnation of a Goddess of Cosmic Angels and her vibe was, “You, your faction, you’re aesthetic, it all comes from me. I’m not a star, I’m not the sun, I am the Universe.” She communicated that if she wanted Tam’s white belt, she could have taken it.
One thing to keep in mind in Stardom is that while there are wrestlers who are the very clear face and heel, nobody is purely one or the other. Natsuko Tora is about as fully heel as you’ll get with Stardom, but the way she acts around her fellow Oedo Tai teammates it’d be easy to support her. Mayu is a true babyface, but she’ll take glee in picking on rookies and youngsters if she’s in a match against them.
I don’t think Mayu truly moved on from either of Tam or Kid’s departures (Fukigen does seem to be that way though). With Starlight Kid, after she beat her in the 5 Star she basically forced a hug on her and told her that the door is always open. I think (both in kayfabe and real-life) she recognises that for Tam and Kid to become the best version of themselves, it needed to happen outside of her shadow. Even if it’s painful. And both of them have explicitly stated that their goal is to surpass Mayu. That’s not because they don’t like her, but because they recognise how good she is.
It’s important to note that of the many, many, MANY people who have turned their backs on Iwatani, neither Tam nor Kid did so violently – specifically their moments of saying “I’m done with you”.
You can see in how she interacts with Tam and Kid that while she’s no longer trying to bring them back into STARS, there’s still that ping of guilt and regret – that question of am I doing the right thing? So the best thing she can do for them is to be that impenetrable wall of a goal and push them as a rival rather than as a friend – make them truly earn their goal.
All that said, it’s difficult to dispute that Mayu Iwatani has earned her place at the top of the world for the best wrestler. She may even go down as the greatest female wrestler of all time when all is said and done.
Thanks for making it this far folks. It’s time for what you, most likely, are really here for and that is the dream matches portion. As usual, I’ll be picking five women from around the world who I would love to see in a match with Mayu Iwatani.
Honorable Mention: Io Shirai
Io and Mayu have faced each other countless times in the past and have a lot of history together. That said, it’s been years since Io and Mayu faced each other and that is criminal. They are the two best women’s wrestlers in the world today and it’s a damned shame that we have to wait so long to see them face off with one another. Alas, Io is not on my list today due to that history. Just enjoy who I picked though.
5. Sasha Banks – WWE
Sasha Banks doesn’t get the credit that she deserves, in my opinion. The IWC either loves her or they hate her. Me?, I love her, truthfully. She’s one of the best performers that WWE has on its roster right now, the main roster mind you, but the Boss is running out of things to achieve in the company. The most unfortunate thing with this situation is that she frequently plays second fiddle to Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair. That’s freaking criminal since she is, in my opinion, better than both of them in the ring. Let’s face it, Sasha would be foolish to not want to face Mayu Iwatani someday. Mayu can make Sasha look like the biggest star in the world. Sure, she could wrestle circles around her, but Mayu would absolutely work with Sasha and make her look so much better than she already is. That’s the beauty of Mayu Iwatani.
She makes even the best wrestlers look that much better. I’m sorry, but if Sasha Banks doesn’t get to ever face Mayu Iwatani in the ring then she will never be able to call herself the best. As Ric Flair once said, “To be the best, you have to be the best”. Let’s face it, Sasha came up short against Io Shirai, so she has to face Mayu someday if she wants to be considered among the best.
4. Deonna Purrazzo – TNA
Deonna Purrazzo has faced Mayu Iwatani in a single competition one time and that was in Ring of Honor back in 2018. So it’s been a long time since the Virtuossa has faced off against the Icon. She had a long run as the Impact Women’s Champion and she’s gotten a lot better in the ring than she used to be, but it remains to be seen if she’s improved enough to even be considered on Mayu’s level. So it’s knowing that I must see them face off at least once more. Yeah, Deonna’s not at the top of my list for dream matches, but it’s still one that I think would be a lot of fun to watch.
There’s a lot of intrigue in a potential match between the two. I could go on and on but I’ll just let their bodies of work speak for themselves. Love her or hate her, Deonna is a good match for Mayu Iwatani. Is she on her level? No, absolutely not, but it would still be fun.
3. Hikaru Shida – AEW
Who better to represent AEW in a match against Mayu Iwatani than their best women’s champion to date, Hikaru Shida? That’s not even a real question, truthfully. They’ve faced exactly off one time ever, and that was a triple threat match on 7/31/2016 also featuring Kotori. The fact that these two icons of the Joshi scene have never faced each other one on one is criminal. Sure, there’s really never been a chance for it to happen, but it is still criminal. Hikaru Shida is without a doubt the best woman on the AEW roster and it’s not close. Sorry folks, it’s just not. So she could be considered their Ace, even if they don’t book her as such.
Given that, you need to have her get to face Mayu someday. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, to be the best you have to beat the best. If Hikaru wants to ever be in consideration for the best in the world, then she has to face off with Mayu Iwatani. Win or lose, that match would cement her legacy in the sport.
2. Miyu Yamashita – TJPW
The Tokyo Joshi Ace, Miyu Yamashita, is the one wrestler in their promotion that absolutely must face Mayu Iwatani someday. She is, without a doubt, the best that TJPW has to offer on their roster. She’s got lethal head kicks, she’s badass and she can make even the worst in TJPW look like they’re some of the best in the world. She’s gotten match of the year contenders out of Maki Itoh and several others in TJPW, plus there really isn’t anything left there for her to accomplish. That said, I think the best thing for her career would be a transition to Stardom. Yes, it would leave TJPW without their ace, but hear me out. Miyu has literally done everything in TJPW.
She’s held all their titles, she’s carried their promotion and she’s just better than 90% of their roster. She needs a change of scenery to continue growing as a performer and the next logical step is to go to Stardom. If she went there, there are a plethora of dream matches for the young striker. The biggest thing though is that someday, she absolutely must face Mayu Iwatani. It could be a passing of the torch moment or it could be Mayu cementing herself as the best. You never know in dream match scenarios. The only thing that I know for sure is that someday, this match absolutely has to happen.
1. Asuka – WWE
Outside of Mayu and Io Shirai, there really is only one person who has a legit claim to being the greatest of all time in the Joshi scene. That woman is Asuka. Formerly known as Kana when she was in Japan, and now the best WWE women’s champion in the last 20 years, Asuka’s legacy speaks for itself. She’s been champion everywhere she has gone. She’s done it all in her 17-year career except face Mayu Iwatani. For Mayu’s legacy, it is a match that absolutely has to happen before Asuka calls it a career. I love Asuka. She’s one of a handful of reasons why I still watch WWE, despite not having competed in a WWE ring in over 100 days.
Despite being a 17-year veteran, and being 40 years old, Asuka still has all the skills and tools to remain at the top of the food chain no matter where she is. I just want to see her and Mayu Iwatani face off one time, that’s all I want. Give me one match between these two legends and I will be able to die a happy man.