Before the journey began for a number of WWE talent, their skills were being honed in gymnasiums, auditoriums and in front of crowds of a few hundred people. They never wavered in the pursuit of their goals, and those roads they traveled helped them achieve the success they have today. This is the newest series to be found here on Pro Wrestling Post, titled “Before the E”. ‘The E’ is inspired by a common nickname for WWE. In order to understand where talent is today, it is important to understand how they came to be part of the Entertainment side of World Wrestling Entertainment. This week we present Io Shirai.
She was born Masami Odate, but current NXT superstar Io Shirai’s story in wrestling began long before her time in North America. A twelve-year professional, Shirai developed her craft alongside her sister. Together, Io and Mio would take the wrestling world by storm competing both Japan and Mexico. The name Shirai translates to ‘Purple Thunder’. When they first came together they joined the faction Team Makehan. It was based on those trained by Tomohiko Hashimoto. The sisters moved around Japan quite a bit competing for women’s promotions such as Sendai Girls and Joshi Puroresu. The Shirai sisters’ first championship came when they captured the Totally Lethal Wrestling World Young Women’s Tag Team Championship.
A few years after teaming together they formed the faction Triple Tails with former NXT Women’s Champion Asuka (at the time she competed under the name Kana). The trio For all their success as trio, it became equally important to emerge as a success independently.
It was at this time where the journey of Io Shirai’s singles success began in Stardom.
Before doing that however and after she separated from Triple Tails, Shirai began to team with Nanae Takahashi. Despite not winning any championships together the duo did compete fairly regularly even competing in tournaments and emerging with solid win-loss records. This took place when the two took part in Stardom’s Goddesses of Stardom Tag League. Unity and solidarity were always two things that came part in parcel with Shirai. This was evident in her formation of Planet stable alongside Natsumi Showzuki, Arisa Hoshiki, and Mayu Iwatani. Together with Showzuki, Hoshiki the trio went as far as the finals of the six-woman tag team tournament to recognize the promotion’s top faction.
Shirai returned to Stardom after some time away in July 2012. At this time she earned the final spot of the 5 Star GP2012 tournament. In four matches of the tournament, she won two while losing one and earning a draw. Her record wasn’t good enough for her to advance. It wouldn’t be until 2014 when Shirai would win the 5 Star GP2014 tournament.
Her success alongside Maya Iwatani was undeniable.
Together the duo captured the Artist of Stardom Championship twice with a different third partner and the Goddess of Stardom Championship. However, when you can succeed alongside someone the rivalry that can ensue against one another is equally as breathtaking. In 2016, the Thunder Rock faction after having countless matches of success with one another was the end. Shirai turned her back on Iwatani. Together they were among the most successful tag teams in Stardom but against one another their matches were considered classics. This was evident in their World of Stardom Championship match against in December 2016.
Io Shirai journeyed to Mexico. This trip would prove to be beneficial for Shirai. While there she began to compete under the alias Biba Kasai. Her first booking was with IWRG. This was an eight-person tag team match with famed Mexican luchador Monster Clown. It was while in Mexico, that Shirai adopted the tiger/cat style mask. She brought that memory back with her upon her return to Japan. Her movement from one promotion in Mexico to another also meant a change in character. While in AAA, she became Oyuki. Shirai along with her sister, Mio joined La Legion Extranjera. Upon her return to Mexico, Shirai competed without her mask and resumed working under her actual name.
She returned to Mexico for the third time.
This time she competed in DragonMania 10 teaming with Stardom talent Mayu Iwatani. Her brief stay also included taking part in Lucha Fan Fest 8. She had now established herself in two different countries. In both Japan and Mexico, Io Shirai was able to find a place for herself. She was able to reinvent herself in Mexico. Shirai didn’t simply compete in Mexico but was able to adjust to the culture and the language.
Iwatani wasn’t the only notable rivalry Shirai had. When she returned from Mexico, Shirai offered her next title defense be against Meiko Satomura. Prior to this meeting, Satomura defeated Shirai during a Sendai Girls event in a non-title match. Her ninth title defense Shirai retained the championship against Satomura. Shirai’s reign would end after 10 successful title defenses and 468 days.
After seven years and countless matches, feuds, accolades, factions, and championship reigns Shirai had seemingly achieved all that she could have done there. On May 29th, 2018 Stardom and Shirai had announced that Io Shirai was leaving the company. Her final matches would be on June 10th. They consisted of ten one-minute matches on the last day. Multiple championships through Pro Wrestling Wave with her sister Mio Shirai, Stardom and classic matches about to leave the land of the rising sun.
While it appeared her journey had come to an end in Japan, reports surfaced a couple of years earlier that she was coming to the WWE. After a successful tryout and eventual signing, Io Shirai didn’t officially arrive in the WWE until two years later. A neck and heart issue delayed her joining the company. After eleven years competing in Japan and Mexico, Io Shirai was about to embark on a new journey. With her close friend Kairi Sane already firmly seated in the WWE’s NXT brand it was now time for the Genius of the Sky to join her. As for her time now, that is for another time as this all took place for Io Shirai before the E.