Finally, we come to our third and final part of our look into the career of Io Shirai.
Last time, we delved into her final years with Stardom. We looked at the formations of Heisei-gun and Queen’s Quest, along with her record-breaking reigns as the World of Stardom and Wonder of Stardom Champion.
Now, let’s look Io Shirai, her start in NXT, and her accomplishments since then!
Departure from Stardom/Arrival to WWE
While Io Shirai joined WWE in the summer of 2018, her journey originally started back in 2016. That October, WWE offered both her and Kairi Hojo contracts. In March 2017, she traveled to the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, Florida for a tryout. Several months later, she accepted WWE’s contract offer.
However, things started to get dicey. At the time, Shirai suffered a neck injury after taking a piledriver from Toni Storm during a World of Stardom Title defense. The doctors cleared her, but then found an issue with her heart. Even though both WWE and Japanese doctors cleared her, WWE took their offer off the table.
Shirai continued to wrestle for Stardom until announcing she would be leaving in June 2018. Her final Stardom appearance was on June 10, where she wrestled in a gauntlet-style match with one-minute time limits against her opponents. She took on numerous members of the roster, including Deonna Purrazzo, Hazuki, Kagetsu, Mayu Iwatani, Momo Watanabe, Toni Storm, and Zoe Lucas.
She made her first WWE appearance during a house show in the Sumida ward of Tokyo, Japan. There, she announced that she was signing with WWE and joining NXT.
Mae Young Classic
The following month, Io Shirai was named as a participant in the 2018 Mae Young Classic. In her debut match for WWE, she closed out the first round of the tournament with a win over Xia Brookside. She went on to defeat Zeuxis, Purrazzo, and then Rhea Ripley to advance to the finals.
After that, Shirai appeared at numerous NXT house shows throughout Florida. She mainly teamed with Dakota Kai, Kairi Sane (formerly Hojo), Nikki Cross, and Mia Yim. They often faced the team of Shayna Baszler, Jessamyn Duke, and Marina Shafir. She also had a couple singles matches, defeating the likes of Bianca Belair and Aliyah.
The finals of the Mae Young Classic took place on October 28 at WWE Evolution, the first all-women’s pay-per-view. In a hotly contested match, Shirai fell to her old rival, Storm.
Her NXT debut
Io Shirai’s first official appearance for NXT came on November 17 at TakeOver: WarGames. She did not wrestle, instead showing up during the two-out-of-three falls match for the NXT Women’s Title between Sane and Baszler. Duke and Shafir attempted to again interfere on the champ’s behalf, but Shirai and Kai came out to even the odds. It didn’t matter, however, as Baszler scored the winning pinfall to retain the title.
Her NXT TV debut came a month later, where she and Kai defeated Duke and Shafir in tag team action. The win earned her a spot in a fatal-four way match the following week to determine a new number one contender for the NXT Women’s Title. She came within seconds of winning, until Belair swooped in and picked up the win.
To finish off 2018, Shirai won the NXT Year-End Award for Future Star of NXT. She beat out Matt Riddle, Keith Lee, Yim, The Forgotten Sons, Dominik Dijakovic, Candice LeRae, Duke and Shafir, and Kona Reeves for the honor.
On January 27, 2019, Shirai wrestled in her first women’s Royal Rumble match. She entered at number 23 and lasted 13 minutes and 21 seconds before being eliminated by Nia Jax. She then appeared during WWE’s Worlds Collide event on April 4, taking part in a battle royal won by Belair.
The next night, Io Shirai got her first title opportunity at TakeOver: New York. There, she competed against Sane, Belair, and Baszler in a fatal-four way for the NXT Women’s Title. She did not factor into the decision, though, as Baszler submitted Belair to retain the gold.
With Sane moving to the main roster, Shirai continued to feud with Baszler, Duke, and Shafir. Things came to a head on June 1 at TakeOver: XXV, where she took on Baszler for the NXT Women’s Title. She fought valiantly, and had LeRae to watch her back, but ended up tapping out to Baszler’s Kirifuda Clutch.
Following the loss, Shirai lost her cool and attacked the champ with a kendo stick. She capped off the attack by hitting a moonsault on Baszler with a steel chair.
Several weeks later on NXT TV, Shirai got a second chance at the gold in a steel cage match. She once again had LeRae in her corner to even the odds against Baszler, Duke, and Shafir. After getting locked in the Kirifuda Clutch, Shirai was able to slam the cage door against Baszler’s head. Unfortunately, this caused Baszler to fall out of the cage and onto the floor, retaining her title in the process.
Once the match ended, Shirai turned on LeRae, attacking her and claiming she didn’t need friends. She later stated there was no one worthy of standing next to her and she was going to reach the top by herself.