30 Day Wrestling Challenge: Day Two = Favourite Current Female Wrestler

With both Asuka and Kairi Sane currently stuck in a tag team, Charlotte Flair having pissed me off by big-timing the NXT Women’s Championship Rhea Ripley and Candice LeRae having turned into Mrs Johnny ASSHOLE… there was really only one choice for me for Day Two of the 30 day wrestling challenge I’ve turned into a blog series to keep me somewhat sane during this lockdown…

Io Shirai. Io Shirai may well be the best all-round female wrestler in the company. You could attribute that accolade to one of any of maybe 5/6 women on the roster, but for me it’s Io. Yet for some reason she is still, around a year after her signing to WWE, always seems to be the bridesmaid and never the bride of whatever feud or chase for the NXT Women’s Championship she is in… hopefully, as I’ll explain, that may be about to change in the grandest and most mainstream attention grabbing way possible…

Shirai was actually meant to sign for WWE a year earlier than she did, but an apparent issue with her neck stopped that from happening, and the big Japanese female signing that was given all the glory of winning the inaugural Mae Young Classic was instead Io’s real life friend Kairi Sane, as Shirai was left in Stardom for another 12 months… by the time the 2018 Mae Young Classic came about, Shirai was a WWE superstar. And right off the back she racked up wins over Xia Brookside, Deonna Purrazzo and Rhea Ripley as she demonstrated her high flying yet aggressive style as she wowed audiences around the WWE world, all with the biggest of smiles on her face. At a time when Shayna Baszler was feuding with Sane for the NXT Women’s Championship, it seemed dead certain to me that Shirai would soon be around to save her friend from Shayna and co, Sane would ascend to Raw or SmackDown and it would be Io who would be the one to dethrone Baszler once and for all… and then the 2018 Mae Young Classic Final at the all-women’s Evolution PPV took place… and once again it just wasn’t Shirai’s night…

It what was a decent enough match it was Toni Storm, herself someone who I feel could be a Raw or SmackDown Women’s champion today and I wouldn’t bat an eyelid, who won the final. Shirai was a valiant runner up, but it was widely reported that she had signed with WWE before the tournament so it was only a matter of time before she appeared on NXT TV. And we didn’t have to wait all that long… at NXT TakeOver: War Games the next month; during the NXT Women’s title match that saw Shayna Baszler defend against Kairi Sane in a 2 out of 3 falls match, when Baszler’s fellow horsewomen Marina Shafir and Jessamyn Duke made their usual appearance to try and help the champion, Sane needed back up… and she got it in the form of Dakota Kai… and The Genuis of the Sky herself… in my review of the match this is what I wrote:

Jessamyn Duke then distracted the referee enough for Marina Shafir to go at Kairi, only for DAKOTA KAI to come running out for the save. And then not long after IO SHIRAI came running out and hit a moonsault onto Duke and Shafir from the top rope to the outside (whilst wearing JEANS I might add). In the meantime Sane hit her Insane Elbow drop, but mustn’t have got all of it as Shayna rolled her over as eh went for the pinfall and Baszler got the 3rd and final fall to win the match and retain her title.

So, Baszler was still the champion, and whilst it was Bianca Belair who got the next shot at her, meanwhile Sane and Shirai formed the ‘Sky Pirates’ tag team. And over the intervening months on NXT TV would go through various teams as they smiled and wowed their way back into contention for Baszler’s title. At NXT TakeOver: New York in April 2019 a fatal 4 way match with Baszler defending against Belair, Sane and Shirai took place… but again it was Shayna who kept a-hold of her title. A couple of weeks after on NXT TV, before her call-up to SmackDown Kairi Sane got her final shot at Shayna. The stipulation being that if Sane lost she wouldn’t be able to challenge for Baszler’s title again, so we knew where it was going, but it was the way it went down that was interesting… with Baszler on the verge of seriously injuring Kairi, Shirai came out and was left with a choice, save her friend or let it go on and end Sane’s title dreams… Shirai saved her friend… and so that set the stage for NXT TakeOver: 25 when Shirai would finally get her one on one chance to end the reign of terror from Shayna Baszler.

So, despite Candice LeRae coming out with a kendo stick to bat away potential interference of Duke and Shafir, Shayna still managed to keep her title. But after, the previously (seemingly) holier than though ultimate-babyface Io unleashed…

The Genuis of the Sky had indeed SNAPPED! And so this led to a rematch between the two on NXT TV a few weeks after… this time inside a steel cage! Candice LeRae again pledged to help fend off any potential Horsewomen meddling, and well… see for yourself what went down…

So Shayna won… and Shirai took out her frustrations on the one person who had tried to help her! The Genuis of the Sky was no more… Io Shirai had changed…

And then… we got somewhat of a dream match… probably the two best in-ring competitors in the NXT Women’s division would get their grudge match… and they’d get to do it on the grand stage of NXT TakeOver: Toronto!

NXT TakeOver: Toronto (2019) – Io Shirai defeated Candice LeRae 

I’m delighted to write this was a good match. Heel Io Shirai came out and had me swooning I’ll just say that… She was the scariest heel I’ve seen in the women’s division for some time and when you think of just how much a contrast that is from the Genius of the sky mega-babyface she was before you have to credit her skills as a versatile performer. Candice was Candice in that she played the fighting babyface who is a good wrestler to an exceptional standard. It was nice to see LeRae be the one to take the fight to Shirai as she attacked Io before the bell had rung. Eventually Io suplexed Candice onto one of the announce tables which did not look fun to take. Io took charge of the match from here on, until she missed an attempt at a missile drop kick and LeRae got back into it. She got an octopus lock in and then blocked an attempted 619 and followed up with a neckbreaker. However Io Shirai did hit the 619, and not long after in an amazing spot Candice went flying to the outside of the ring with a tope which turned into a ddt to the floor that looked awesome. Candice hit a double footstomp for a nearfall, then another via a reverse-rana, before a 3rd near pin that came after she hit a move associated with her indie tag team partner Joey Ryan, which if you knew was a nice touch. The crowd popped big for Io hitting a top rope Spanish Fly, only for Candice to kick out of the pin. Io then countered a backslide attempt from Candice into a backbreaker. Shirai then went to the top and hit her Moonsault finisher… but CANDICE KICKED OUT!!! The crowd popped big for that as I think they thought, and us watching on the TV all assumed also, that Candice was going to get the win. But not long after Io locked in the Koji Clutch and Candice eventually passed out and Jessica Carr the ref rang the bell. The crowd were gutted their hero Candice didn’t win but they were totally invested into this match. Io Shirai came off as a megastar heel here and if Shayna was to lose the title you could easily see Io holding it for just as long and being just as unbeatable. Candice was also very good here. This was the best women’s match I’ve seen this year and one of the best women’s matches I’ve seen for a while.

****1/2

After this Shirai continued her run as a heel, racking up wins as she left chaos in her wake, all whilst still even as a heel beating one of the best women’s wrestlers in the world. She was even given a big rock-star entrance on an episode of NXT TV after it had gone live on the USA Network each week…

Io was and is a star, even as a heel that was in no, and if not even less doubt. She would go on to play key roles in both the Women’s War Games match and the win at Survivor Series for the NXT Women’s team. She would have to take some time out for an injury in January of 2020, but just in time for a qualifier to decide the next contender for the NXT Women’s Championship after WrestleMania…

So I’ll finish this off on a positive note and say that this led to the ladder match on NXT TV on the April 8th NXT TV episode, where a ladder match took place between Io, Chelsea Green, Mia Yim, Tegan Nox (a close second to be the subject of today’s blog post by the way), Candice LeRae and Dakota Kai. And well… 🙂 …

Right now might not seem it but what a time to be alive it is when we have the prospect of Charlotte Flair vs Io Shirai to look forward to… NXT TakeOver in Boston is scheduled (currently) for August… here’s hoping…

Josh. 

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