At the time of this writing, former AEW Women’s Champion Riho is back home in Japan nursing injuries. Hikaru Shida has seemingly returned to Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling (TJPW) as she has a March 19th match booked against Hikari Noa at Grand Princess ’22. Ryo Mizunami left the company in 2021, and Emi Sakura continues to float on Dark…
Yuka Sakazaki has been competing in TJPW for some time now, recently in a winning effort at Positive Chain ’22. None of these four competitors are, or have been, largely over — as good as they are. I don’t want to take away anything from their ability — these are high level wrestling talents.
But suffice it to say, Kenny Omega’s AEW/Joshi dreams have fallen a bit short. Even with the championship successes of Riho and Shida, they never really took the AEW women’s division by storm, did they?
However, this is fixable. But before we dive into how to fix the lack of “over-like-rover” Japanese women’s wrestlers in AEW, we need to address the elephant in the room.
Does AEW even need Joshi wrestlers?
Joshi in America
I would argue that if one considers themselves a ‘world’ promotion, then yes, you do need representation from around said world. 1990’s ECW perfected this with brining in Hayabusa, Jinsei Shinsazki, Rey Mysterio Jr., Juventude Guerrera, and many other imports outside the U.S.
WWE has been doing this for years. From all the talent in NXT:UK, from bringing in Australian and Japanese talent, this is a fairly common practice. As we’ve seen, whether it’s Asuka, Kairi Sane, or Io Shirai — there is an ability to get over foreign talent to American audiences — in WWE of all places.
But honest statement:
Riho was given a world championship at a time where the AEW women’s division was at its weakest, and Hikaru Shida carried the championship largely through the ‘pandemic’ era.
These are very talented wrestlers. But while they received positive audience reaction overall, they pale in comparison to reactions to Britt Baker, Thunder Rosa, Ruby Soho, and Jade Cargill. So what separates wrestlers like Asuka, Io and Kairi from Riho, Shida and Yuka?
Personality = Profits
Not everyone is a wrestling nerd like myself. Yes, I did watch the most recent TJPW Positive Chain event in its entirety. You can actually watch it at the link below for free. But unless you watch joshi puroresu, and follow promotions like Stardom, TJPW, Ice Ribbon or Gatoh Pro — you may be in the dark a little. And I totally get that.
So what separates a name like Asuka from a name like Shida comes down to personality. Asuka/Kana has a range of emotions during any given match. She can be fierce one moment, cocky the next, and goofy if needed. Asuka has an on-screen presence that isn’t duplicated by just any other wrestler — and the fans become attached to that.
In the same light, Io Shirai is a straight badass, and Kairi Hojo was endearing, yet impressive.
Something has to engage the audience other than a perceived level of normality.
Riho, Shida and Emi are great talents, but nothing really stands out about them enough to highly engage the audience. Even Yuka Sakazaki wasn’t taken too seriously with the “magic girl” gimmick, even if it works in Japan and like others, is a really good wrestler.
Example: If I put Dana Brooke, Carmella and Mandy Rose (pre-black hair) in a ring together — I would hardly care about any of them. They all sort of look the same — none really stands out. They just look like three American blonds with a tan not as good as MJF’s.
It sounds stupidly ‘Murican of me, but to a larger sect of American audiences, the same sentiment is likely carried for imports like Shida or Riho. When there is a language barrier, there must be a heightened level of personality and character that drives audience interest. Most fans aren’t like me and follow Tokyo Joshi Pro and Stardom.
So we need something much, much different. Not in the sense that we need to be extraordinarily goofy, but that something notably unique needs to come in future Joshi talent to the U.S.
…or they’ll end up doing a school girl gimmick like Sarray…
The Next Wave of Joshi Puroresu to AEW
Something has to be largely unique about any new talent that may or may not get brought into AEW in the future. I am not Tony Khan, I don’t know the available budget nor the intentions if any new joshi talent is desired.
I also wouldn’t know the availability or intention of any of the wrestlers I’m about to mention. I’m taking my picks from TJPW, Stardom, and Ice Ribbon. There is a bit of fantasy booking here, but it is what it is…
Star-power. That’s how you describe Giulia. An instant main event player, Giulia has gone from a blossoming rookie to the leader of Stardom’s Donna Del Mondo stable. A stable which includes current Stardom World Champion Syuri (also a badass).
Giulia, (who like Julia Hart also wears an eyepatch at times), simply has an “it” factor. She even once shaved her head due to a stipulation match with Stardom favorite Tam Nakano.
Any match she would be booked in AEW would automatically have a “big fight” feel, and she would be a “special attraction” member of the roster. Of course, I don’t know if: A) Stardom would let Giulia go, even temporarily B) if AEW’s relationship with Stardom even exists or C) Giulia would even want to give up her spot in Stardom.
But one can dream, right?
She’s a “failed” former pop-star with an ego with an undying “simp army” fan base. She loves to learn new ways to curse in English. She’s undoubtedly an attraction when on television.
And yes, her in-ring ability has improved (though she still tends to work too safe at times). Maki was well received in AEW, and would be great in a return. She currently holds the International Princess Championship, which she wants to defend around the world. Could she come back to AEW to defend her title? It would be a smart move, in my opinion.
Plus, she’s already worked with Thunder Rosa, which I’ve linked below, as well as an endearing Maki Itoh moment.
How about a Joshi hardcore wrestler? Risa Sera likes violence, and an outwardly violent Joshi wrestler is something you don’t often see in America. In 2021, Rina Yamashita appeared in GCW which also resulted in violence — but I’m keeping the focus on Risa.
Risa simply has a swag about her that (in my mind) edges her out over Rina – but not by much. Risa Sera in AEW would put the entire division on notice, especially ladies that aren’t afraid of a little blood and guts. But seriously, look at her. (violence begins at 1:08 mark)
Miyu simply looks like she wants to kick everyone’s head in — and if you watch her matches, she usually does just that. However, she is also the ace of Tokyo Joshi Pro (and current Princess of Princess Championship), so I doubt the company would let her leave anytime soon.
She is one of the best pound-for-pound women’s wrestlers in the world right now. She would have an immediate impact on the AEW Women’s Division, if she ever arrived.
You’ve never really seen the exotic dominatrix look in American wrestling when it comes to joshi puroresu. This is common in Japan, but not many can pull it off. Sakisama very much can. She’s working with TJPW at the moment, but freelances for Sendai Girls and SEAdLINNNG.
Sakisama used to be a fairly ‘meh’ wrestler — I’ll admit it. But she’s improved in the ring and plays greatly to her strengths now, which is that she’s really damn tall. She’s more of a character wrestler, but that’s not always a bad thing. Sakisama would be a great fit for AEW in certain aspects.
I’m not ignoring names like Konami (who is on hiatus), AZM, Syuri, Utami Hayashishita, Hikari Noa, Mei Saint-Michel, the Cosmic Angels, or Mayu Iwatani (THE GOAT). There’s boatloads of talent overseas, but I also recognize that not all of them would be instant successes in AEW, and pulling them away from their promotion is simply not possible.
Honestly, none of the five I mentioned may even be available or desired by TK. But if Joshi is to succeed in AEW, there needs to be something different done with their talent. None of whom are currently signed has an “it” factor, and this prevents them from truly standing out, language barrier or not.
This can be done — but it’ll take some scouting and investment in some very unique talents. As great as they are, for an American audience, Riho, Shida, Yuka and Emi just aren’t it. It’s time for a bit of a shake-up.