Io Shirai faces her toughest challenge to date tonight at NXT TakeOver: Stand & Deliver. During night one, she will defend the NXT Women’s Championship against the powerhouse, Raquel González.
While there is a definite size difference, Shirai is not backing down and will do whatever she can to retain the title, But some may wonder before she joined NXT, what was her career like in Japan?
In a two-part piece, I look at Io Shirai and her career so far, from the early years to where she is now.
The Birth of Io Shirai
Io Shirai’s career began in early 2007, when she was only 16 years old. Trained by Takashi Sasaki and Tomohiko Hashimoto, she made her debut on March 4 at a Makehen event. It was a successful debut, as she, her sister, Mio, and Toshie Uematsu won a six-woman tag match.
Since she was still in high school, Shirai worked part-time. Once she finished up school, she became a full-time pro wrestler with her sister. The two freelanced for the first year, wrestling for the likes of JD Star Women’s Pro Wrestling, Ibuki, Pro Wrestling Wave, JWP Project, and Sendai Girls’ Pro Wrestling.
The duo made their All Japan Pro Wrestling debut on October 19, 2008, losing to Kyoko Kimura and Mikado. They made their Pro Wrestling ZERO1 debut on January 23, where Mio and Hikaru defeated Io and Saki Maemura.
In April, they entered a tournament to crown the first TLW World Young Women’s Tag Team Champions. They beat Kimura and Mika Mizunuma in the first round, then Apple Miyuki and Cherry in the semifinals. In the finals, they beat Moeka Haruhi and Tomoka Nakagawa to win the titles.
On July 12, Shirai received her first singles title shot, challenging Misaki Ohata for the Princess of Pro Wrestling Title/JWP Junior Title. However, she could not win the gold from Ohata.
Shirai made her Ice Ribbon debut on July 29, where she and Kaori Yoneyama beat Hikaru Shida and Natsuki Taiyo. She spent the next four months appearing for the promotion. During that time, she faced the likes of Mai Ichii, Nanae Takahashi, Mima Shimoda, and Makoto.
Her and her sister defended the TLW World Young Women’s Tag Team Titles on December 23 against Ohata and Haruhi. However, the challengers beat the duo for the titles, ending their reign at 238 days.