Io Shirai has had an incredible career to date. Fourteen years, Fifteen title reigns, a combined 3,411 days covering all of her reigns as champion to date, there isn’t much that The Genius of the Sky hasn’t accomplished in her legendary career. From teaming with her sister Mio Shirai to her 304-day reign as NXT Women’s Champion, Io Shirai has cemented herself as one of the greatest female wrestlers of this generation.
After losing her title to Raquel Gonzalez at NXT Stand and Deliver, there is some wonder about where Io goes from here. Instead of focusing on the possible future of this amazing athlete, I chose to look backwards at five of Io Shirai’s greatest opponents and rivals.
Sit back, relax, and enjoy a trip down memory lane. While we’re at it, why don’t you pull up your favourite music streaming service and rock out to Io’s NXT theme “Tokyo Shock” as you read on?
5. Meiko Satomura
We’ll start off the list with the legendary Meiko Satomura. Granted, half of Io’s matches against Meiko were in tag-team contests, but they were still great rivals back in Japan. From 2014 to 2018, Io and Meiko had five singles contests, one triple threat, and five tag team contests.
Other performers involved during this rivalry include Kairi Hojo, Chihiro Hashimoto, Hiroyo Matsumoto, Mika Iwata, Mayu Iwatani, Reo Hazuki, Michiko Miyaga and several others.
While Meiko may not be Io’s greatest rival, her legendary status from her time in Japan warrants Meiko a place on this list. Meiko has a combined title reign time frame of 2,216 days over ten reigns and is currently working on the WWE NXT UK brand. She’s travelled all over the world and established herself as an all-time great. If Io and Meiko stay in NXT, perhaps there will come a day when we will see other singles match between the two.
Perhaps even on an NXT UK vs NXT US type of show, if it ever happens again. For the record, Io Shirai has two wins, two losses and one time-limit draw in her singles career against Meiko. I think we need a true tie-breaker here and my money is on Io.
4. Momo Watanabe
Alright, I’m sure you’re wondering why Momo Watanabe is here when you were likely expecting a list of true rivals for Io. Well, Watanabe is one of the best wrestlers on the Stardom roster at this present time. She is considered a prodigy with six years of experience already at 21 years old.
She’s held four titles for Stardom with a combined reign of 761 days. Io and Momo haven’t faced off too many times in their careers but their matches were always fun to watch. Momo is also one of the few people I’ve personally seen bring out the best in Io, and vice-versa.
At present, Io has a good eight years experience edge and a significant edge in title reigns, but if there ever comes a time when The Genius of the Sky faces off against The JK Fighter again, we can expect a phenomenal showing from two of the best Japan has to offer.
The chances of that are currently looking slim with Io being signed to WWE and Momo still with Stardom, but you know what they say. Never say never. If you follow Stardom, keep your eyes on Momo Watanabe. That young woman has the potential to be one of the best wrestlers on the planet, regardless of gender.
3. Candice LeRae
A 19-year veteran, The Poison Pixie was an indie darling before joining WWE. She has held several championships thus far in her career, totalling 674 days, and when she was the number one contender for Io Shirai’s NXT Women’s Championship, the two of them had absolutely insane matches.
Candice certainly hasn’t had the same amount of success in NXT as she did in the indies, but the current Women’s Tag-Team co-champion definitely gave Io more than she could handle during their encounters. She was perhaps the first opponent of Io’s title reign that you believed she would end the reign.
On the NXT roster, Candice is one of the best performers in the women’s division. You can put her in the ring against almost anyone and the match will be one of the better ones on the card for that night.
Candice is currently involved in a storyline stable with husband Johnny Gargano in The Way and the chances that we see more of LeRae vs Shirai seem slim at the moment, but if WWE ever decides to resume the rivalry you can expect more great matches between the two.
The future looks great for both Candice and Io, and I hope they cross paths again in the future.
2. Kairi Hojo (Kairi Sane)
Coming in at number two is the Pirate Princess, Kairi Hojo. Kairi has eleven championship reigns to her career, totalling 1,230 days, between Stardom and WWE. Sure Kairi hasn’t had the most legendary career to date, and it is currently unknown if the Princess will return to wrestling after ‘retiring’ from WWE several months ago.
However, there is little doubt that every time Io and Kairi stepped in the ring as opponents, the bar was raised. Io and Kairi brought out the absolute best in each other and every time they stepped into the ring as opponents, they only had better matches than before. Kairi and Io, better known together as the Sky Pirates, were an incredible tag team but even better rivals.
It’s a damn shame we never really got a chance to renew this rivalry in WWE. We have had some teases, like at Survivor Series, or in a fatal four-way match, but WWE never gave the fans the match we deserved and wanted. I think WWE was afraid that if they put Kairi and Io in a match, they would overshadow every other match on the card.
If true, I can understand why. All you have to do is look up any Stardom match between the two to see that they made most WWE matches look terrible.
WWE missed a golden opportunity here. Whether as rivals or as the Sky Pirates, Io Shirai and Kairi Hojo (Sane) would have made the crowds stand on their feet and scream in appreciation. Shame on you WWE, shame. The chances we see these two in the ring together again are slim, but there is always hope and I certainly hope to see at least one more encounter between the two.
1. Mayu Iwatani
Last but certainly not least, coming in at number one, is the one and only Mayu Iwatani. Mayu Iwatani is widely regarded as one of the greatest wrestlers in the world, regardless of gender. She is a 10 year veteran of the sport with 13 title reigns totaling 2,686 days.
She is a five time Artist of Stardom Champion, a two time Goddess, Wonder and World of Stardom Champion, a former High Speed Champion and even has had a reign as the Ring of Honor Women of Honor World Champion. At 28 years old, Mayu has a lot of time left before she should be calling it a career.
Io Shirai has been on record herself and said that Iwatani is her greatest rival. Two months ago, Io was quoted as saying ‘Yes, Mayu Iwatani is certainly one of my greatest rivals’. If we ever have the opportunity to compete for the title at an NXT TakeOver, I am confident we would put on a great show.
It is definitely a dream match for me.” Mayu and Io’s rivalry dates all the way back to 2011 with 49 matches to date between the two in some capacity. There is no doubt in my mind that Io Shirai and Mayu Iwatani are the two best women’s wrestlers on the planet today.
Io currently holds a singles advantage at 3-2 against Mayu, but I’m sure each woman would absolutely deliver if they ever got in the ring together again. If you get the chance to, look online and find any of the matches between Io and Mayu. I’m sure you will enjoy what you witness.
There you have it folks, my picks for Io Shirai’s best rivals and opponents.
Io just celebrated her birthday on May 8th, so I wanted to take this opportunity to with the Genius of the Sky a very happy, belated, birthday and tell her that she has a life-long fan in me.
I hope WWE knows and understands what a talent Io Shirai is, and I look forward to whatever comes next for the former NXT Women’s Champion. Will she stay in NXT? Will she go to the main roster? Time will tell. Whatever she does, it will only add to her legendary career.