Top 25 Stardom Wrestlers – #1 – Io Shirai

No further ado or buildup. Y’all know who this is.

#1. IO SHIRAI

There can be no other answer. It’s impossible. From what @PrivateEyeball told me, there are some #1 votes for someone other than Io Shirai. Let’s review what Io Shirai has accomplished in Stardom, shall we?

  • Two-time World of Stardom Champion, with TWENTY-TWO SUCCESSFUL DEFENSES TOTAL and counting, along with OVER ONE-THOUSAND DAYS as champion. This is basically impossible.
  • The only person to hold every belt in Stardom. Even Mayu is short the SWA Championship, Io has held EVERYTHING. She’s a FIVE-TIME Artist of Stardom Champion, too.
  • Company MVP in 2013, 2014, and 2016.
  • More good matches than you can shake a stick it.

Now, I can see some people arguing that they didn’t want to use kayfabe accomplishments, and would rather focus purely on ringwork. That’s fine with me. Who has had more consistently better matches in Stardom than Io Shirai against as wide an array of opponents? No one. Io has had classics with everyone from Viper to Kairi, from Momo Watanabe to Toni Storm. She has a huge toolbox in the ring, can wrestle as hero or a villain, and is the best rounded competitor on the Stardom roster. She’s as adept at throwing suplexes as she is at going up top – and arguably she’s the model that a lot of Stardom’s best have followed – one can see Io’s influences in Kairi and Mayu’s work.

Character work? Her slow-burning heel-turn over 2016 that led to her turning on Mayu and forming Queen’s Quest was some of the best character work in professional wrestling. Seriously. Watching as Io got pressed more and more by her opposition and her desperation to hold onto that which defined her increased and increased was probably the best storyline Stardom has ever had. Watch her promos from the start of the title reign to the end. Her entire demeanor just changes as the title and the need to be ace alters her into something other than what she once was. Hell, I’m about to start an entire SERIES that’s basically about this, and given how lazy I am, you KNOW something’s good if it’s inspired me to do more work.

Io Shirai has become something of Stardom’s John Cena – with Joshi City’s intrepid reviewer calling her “Big Match Io,” and “LOL Io wins” being a common sentiment on fan Twitter. Look, I get it – I’m as tired of watching Io win match after match as you all are, but her matches are incredible, and very evenly fought.  We’re jaded on this side of the Pacific, I think – the idea of someone being as dominant as Io doesn’t make sense to us, because we know that ultimately the outcomes are predetermined. We also may like certain wrestlers more than Io, and want them to win. Long title reigns are difficult to pull off, but perhaps no one is as deserving of a truly epic run atop a company than Io was.

Look, everyone – you all know how much I like Mayu Iwatani. If I could have put her #1, I would have, I promise you. I generally prefer watching Kairi and Mayu to Io when it comes to the former Threedom. I have a great time generally rooting for Io to lose big matches because I am an unrepentant fan of the underdog.

But…come on. At some point, I have to look at the facts. No one’s resume compares to Io Shirai’s. Not Kairi, not Mayu, not Yoshiko, not Natsuki, not Nanae…no one. No one has been better in Stardom’s history. No one has been more important to Stardom in its history. Io Shirai is the Ace of Stardom, a role that defines her quite nicely. She is her generation’s Akira Hokuto or Manami Toyota – a defining, shining talent that, if the world is just, will inspire many young women to enter the professional wrestling business. She’s that talented. She’s that charismatic.

If rumors are true, the Queen may well be set to abdicate her throne in favor of trying to rule over distant lands when she returns from injury If that is indeed the case, and Io is off to the land of McMahon, here’s the best way I can put into perspective how good Io’s been:

Mayu Iwatani came in at #3 on this list. She has one of the best resumes in Stardom’s history. What would she have to do to one day surpass Io? Become the first-ever three-time World of Stardom Champion? That’s probably not even enough on its own. Capture the SWA Championship, to complete her collection of Stardom titles? That’s probably a prerequisite to be considered.

The idea of anyone holding the belt as long as Io or defending as often as Io seems impossible – like comparing Bruno Sammartino’s run on top to John Cena’s. No matter how impressive a modern feat is, what Bruno did simply blows everything else away in terms of longevity. I don’t see anyone ever holding the red belt as long and as successfully as Io did.

In short, will anyone ever dominate Stardom like Io Shirai has dominated it for the past five plus years?

The answer, in my opinion? No.

Long live the Queen.

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Top 25 Stardom Wrestlers – #1 – Io Shirai

Top 25 Stardom Wrestlers – #2 – Kairi Hojo

Welcome back to the Stardom Project, even though it hasn’t been more than a few minutes (as I actually try to produce content! Yay!). Our Top 25 countdown continues towards the end with #2, a Pirate Princess who was part of Stardom’s second class of rookies, and who has now arrived in shores distant….

#2. KAIRI HOJO

If aliens found out about the concept of Stardom and wanted to genetically engineer a top star for the company, they would create Kairi Hojo.

How else do you explain someone with Hojo’s skill in the ring, good looks, and general presence? Perhaps Yuzuki Aikawa’s most underrated strength as a professional wrestler was her presence, how comfortable she was in front of an audience and camera at all times. It’s something that can likely be traced back to her gravure roots, but if that’s the case, Kairi’s talent is even more unique, because it comes either naturally or (more likely, based on her final microphone performance with Stardom) through Kairi’s hard work and determination.

In that vein? Her “Real Pirate” character is incredibly, unbelievably over. Her entrance is a thing to behold live, even in the small community center in Osaka I saw her wrestle in. From the moment she steps out from behind the curtain, she is Kairi Hojo through and through, and she absolutely, utterly owns the audience. This may not be a surprise given Kairi’s acting background – there’s definitely something to be said, I think, that many of Stardom’s most popular competitors over the years have acting/drama experience. Hojo is no different in this regard, and she shines as both a performer and a wrestler.

Everyone talks incessantly about Kairi Hojo’s top rope elbowdrop, but here’s a hot take: I think everyone’s focus on her elbowdrop means she ends up severely underrated as an in-ring performer. She’s fiery and immensely talented, one of the best at fighting from beneath while at the same time extremely capable when pushing the pace and dominating a match. That’s a difficult combination to achieve – many wrestlers never truly excel at one, but Kairi is excellent at both.

In terms of tangible achievements, she has held both the red and white belts, is a three-time Goddess of Stardom (with Natsumi Showzuki, Nanae Takahashi, and Yoko Bito – in addition to her popular Candy Crush team with Chelsea that never won the belts), and held the Artist of Stardom titles an impressive four times with a wide array of partners. She has won both the 5*STAR Grand Prix and Goddesses of Stardom Tag League (even if the latter is tainted due to a certain Io Shirai being a jerkface). She’s done almost literally everything except win the High Speed Championship.

So after all of this, why isn’t she #1?

There are two things that prevent Kairi from being higher. Number one is the fact that Io Shirai is basically a cyborg and has achieved an absolutely ridiculous array of things in Stardom that may never be beaten by anyone.

Number two? Kairi Hojo is now Kairi Sane, NXT superstar and participant in the Mae Young Classic. This development is, in my opinion, likely to work out very well for Kairi in the long term. She is everything the WWE could want – that mix of beauty, persona, and athletic talent that will allow her to rise to the top of the women’s division in time. Asuka has already proven what a Japanese female competitor can do in the WWE system, and I think that Kairi has the potential to go even further as the true female babyface ace for a company (pick one – NXT, RAW, SD) that desperately needs one.

On the verge of stealing the heart of the WWE Universe, Kairi Hojo clocks in at #2 on this list of the best Stardom wrestlers of all-time. Next time on the Project, it’s #1, and it should be a surprise to no one that Stardom’s all-time Ace makes everyone else bow down to the Queen.

Top 25 Stardom Wrestlers – #2 – Kairi Hojo

Top 25 Stardom Wrestlers – #3 – Mayu Iwatani

Welcome back to the Project! With three names to go, it’s pretty clear that Threedom are the top three, but in what order? Well, let’s not waste any time, and kick things off with, y’know, my favorite wrestler in the world.

#3. MAYU IWATANI

I agonized over putting Mayu at #3 – comparing her to #2 on the list is really, really difficult, and ultimately I made this ballot before Mayu defeated Io to finally capture the red belt in her fifth try. Before that? Mayu at #3 was the correct but painful decision. Now? Now, I have no idea. It’s so, so close between her and (SPOILER) Kairi Hojo (SPOILER) that choosing feels like picking nits, but I’m going to stick with my initial ballot in spite of Mayu’s recent success.

I’ve written at length about the path that Iwatani has taken to the top of Stardom – Mayu was never anointed for success from day one. Iwatani was the last of the initial Stardom trainees to win a match, but always seemed to have potential. She found herself a solid niche as the #3 in Planet, behind Io Shirai and Arisa Hoshiki. That relationship with Io would eventually help Mayu rise to the top of Stardom – both as Shirai’s partner in Thunder Rock, and as one of the three Daughters of Stardom.

Let’s focus on her achievements. She finally has the red belt reign to back up her status as Stardom’s Icon. She has truly iconic runs with both the High Speed Championship and the Goddesses of Stardom belts. She is the only woman to ever hold the red and white belts at the same time, and she’s one of two people to ever hold the Wonder of Stardom twice.  Mayu can count three reigns with the Artist of Stardom trios belts to her name, and is the company’s undisputed Cinderella, having won the tournament in 2015 and 2016 (and come runner up in 2017). In terms of her achievements, she can claim several things that very few, if any, other Stardom talents can.

In terms of her in-ring work? She’s the best wrestler in Stardom. Is that arguable? Definitely. Do I believe it? 10000%. She’s one of the few wrestlers who can truly make wrestling look easy, but she can also make it look violent and painful when she’s on the defensive. Her face is incredibly expressive, and her in-ring personality is very multi-faceted. She’s Stardom’s babyface ace right now, and its most popular star…but she can also be a bit of a jerk in the ring some times to lower ranked foes, very much like Nanae and Natsuki*Taiyo were to her earlier in her career. She has this look of glee on her face when she’s being mean to people that makes me think she could easily be Stardom’s top antagonist, should that time ever come.

She had three of the best matches in Stardom’s history with Io Shirai – three very different matches, no less. She takes chances of all sorts, has some of the prettiest bridges in the sport, and has an offence befitting of the Sky Blue Hyper Technician sobriequet. Her deadlifting Dragon Suplex is Stardom’s premiere limit break finisher right now, and it’s a thing of beauty to watch.

Beyond all of that? She’s Stardom’s everywoman hero – arguably the most popular competitor on the roster, but without the dominant record that the likes of Nanae Takahashi and Io Shirai have racked up. That may change a good deal with her standing atop Stardom as its ace at present, but Mayu’s vulnerability and path to the top make her easily the most intriguing red belt holder in the company’s history, and really only Kairi’s too-brief run with the belt comes close.

Where Stardom’s Icon goes from here is anyone’s guess. Stardom is making a big deal about promoting a New Era, and Mayu is certainly at the head of that era. She has big shoes to fill, given how utterly Io Shirai has dominated Stardom. It’s unlikely that Mayu will mirror that dominance, but then again, she doesn’t really have to.

Mayu Iwatani has climbed to the top of the Stardom mountain, and should she ever be knocked down from that perch? She’ll pick herself up, dust herself off, and climb her way back up the mountain, with her legion of fans throwing sky-blue streamers at her back.

Next time on the Stardom Project, I’ll write about a Pirate Princess who’s set off from Tokyo Bay in search of all the spoils Port Royale has to offer.

Top 25 Stardom Wrestlers – #3 – Mayu Iwatani

Top 25 Stardom Wrestlers – #4 – Nanae Takahashi

Welcome back to the Project, and in the interest of saving space, let’s jump right into the #4 Stardom competitor of all time, a woman synonymous with both passion and red – which makes sense, as the first (and longest reigning) holder of the red belt…

#4. NANAE TAKAHASHI

In some ways, I’m more conflicted about Nanae than anyone on this list. She is an excellent professional wrestler. That much is indisputable. Her role in Stardom is equally indisputable – she was a founding member of the roster, its first champion, and played a vital role in helping develop talent from Yuzuki Aikawa to Kairi Hojo. She had quality matches with everyone, from rookie to veteran.

At the same time, in spite of putting on what were undeniably good matches, I found most of her Stardom work less enjoyable than that of the rookies, simply because Nanae lost so little. “Nanae Wins LOL” was very much the predecessor to Io Wins LOL in the early days of Stardom. While it’s understandable – virtually every singles loss Nanae Takahashi has in Stardom truly MEANS something – it takes some of the drama out of her performances, and this high up the pecking order of the rankings? That sort of thing matters.

Her accomplishments rank up there with Stardom’s best – a long World of Stardom reign and two runs with the Goddesses of Stardom titles with two very different partners (Miho Wakizawa and Kairi Hojo) along with a 5*STAR Grand Prix victory ensure that. Any Best of Stardom list will be full of bouts that Nanae had.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Nanae in Stardom is just how different stylistically she was from the rest of the roster. She was an established wrestler with main event experience in Japan, who wrestled a high impact style. Much of early Stardom was very MMA-influenced, and what wasn’t MMA-influenced was often lucha influenced, with high flying tactics and tricky rollups. Nanae? Nanae went out and forearmed you in the face and dropped you on your head with the One Second EX, or splattered you with her patented Refrigerator Bomb off the top rope.

She was the veteran through and through, often almost heelish in mannerisms against Stardom’s youth, but always working to help them succeed. It’s easy to forget at times that when Stardom launched, Nanae, Natsuki*Taiyo, and Mika Nagano were the only launch wrestlers with experience in the ring. Nanae’s Passion Injection series of matches against new Stardom talent produced a lot of excellent bouts – springboards for new talent to launch from having thrown down with the best in the company.

At the end of the day? It’s entirely possible that I’m ranking Nanae too low. It is very, very possible that she should be #2 – because there’s only one wrestler who has, from an in-kayfabe sense, truly and clearly surpassed her. She did her job very well during her tenure – I rooted fairly consistently for Stardom’s youth to beat her in every encounter she had against them. In many ways, Nanae’s dominance of Stardom was all about waiting for the day when someone knocked her from her perch. That never truly happened (for a variety of reasons, some controllable and some not), but names such as Yuzuki Aikawa, Yoshiko, and Kairi Hojo were able to pick up rare wins against Takahashi, and their careers greatly benefitted from doing so.

Ultimately, I invoke my general tiebreaker here – did I like watching Nanae wrestle more than #1-3? The answer was no, and thus the first woman to hold the red belt clocks in at #4.

When next we meet, well…considering the holiday that just passed in the United States, Threedom will reign over the Top 25 list.

Top 25 Stardom Wrestlers – #4 – Nanae Takahashi

Top 25 Stardom Wrestlers: #5

Welcome back to the Stardom Project, where we’re going to continue with the Top 25 Ballot I put together! We’re up to #5 – and at #5 is a woman that is perhaps better associated with a different number – IV.

#5. YOSHIKO

There are people, I suspect, who will leave Yoshiko off their ballots entirely, or dock her spots, because of what happened on 2/22/2015. I cannot blame them for doing so; but the Stardom Project’s goal is and always has been to tell the story of World Wonder Ring Stardom, through good times and bad. To that end, Yoshiko belongs in this spot for myriad reasons, and I wouldn’t really quibble with her being higher. In case you haven’t seen a Yoshiko match in a while (and I hadn’t until I started re-watching early Stardom), a reminder: Yoshiko’s really, really good, and was really, really good from a very early time in her career.

Yoshiko is arguably the best trainee of Stardom, which is saying something considering Stardom has produced both Kairi Hojo and Mayu Iwatani. She is the best heel in the company’s history, and pretty much was the best heel in the company when she debuted, fully-formed, in her awesomely terrible gold lame jumpsuit with her female gang leader character. Only Yuzuki Aikawa and Act Yasukawa can really compare with Yoshiko in terms of her understanding of pro wrestling basically from jump. Yoshiko understood how to make people hate her and how to portray her character in a way that takes other wrestlers years to develop.

She wrestles as you would imagine her character would – tons of choking and general rudo-ry, but then there’s the bits of agility that she pulls out, like her surprisingly pretty Codebreaker and diving sentons. Her offense in general, complete with arrogant covers, makes total sense in context of who she is. Perhaps no one’s “total package” in Stardom ever made as much sense as Yoshiko’s did.

She has defeated virtually every top star in Stardom’s history, and had excellent matches against all of them. She is the first homegrown competitor to capture the company’s top title, and is one of only seven women to hold the red belt in Stardom’s history. She is the woman who, essentially, retired Yuzuki Aikawa by defeating her in her final match. She is part of the second best tag team in Stardom’s illustrious history, alongside Natsuki*Taiyo. When you add up all of Yoshiko’s accolades and skill in the ring, it is impossible to come to any other conclusion than that she is one of the best wrestlers to ever step into a Stardom ring. She was an undisputed highlight of the company’s early days, and grew into becoming the company’s homegrown ace by the time she defeated Io Shirai for the World of Stardom Championship.

Of course, most of that went up in smoke thanks to the incident that resulted in Yoshiko’s (temporary) retirement, Act’s retirement, Nanae Takahashi leaving Stardom, and the company’s rulebook undergoing some drastic changes. It’s been over two years since that day, and yet the reverberations are still being felt.

It’s one thing to hate Yoshiko, to proclaim loudly that she should never have been given a chance by Nanae Takahashi to return to wrestling for Seadlinnng (sorry Nanae, I’m too lazy to look up the proper capitalization or lack thereof). Until I began to make my ballot I myself hadn’t seen any of Yoshiko’s post Stardom work, or even watched back anything she’d done in Stardom.

With that said, however, the truth is the truth, and the truth is that Yoshiko is one of Stardom’s best ever. No matter what one thinks of her actions, they don’t negate what she was and what she meant to Stardom. She was on pace to become Stardom’s Aja Kong, and while she still may get there as a freelancer, the events of 2/22/2015 that tragically ended Act Yasukawa’s career will likely prevent Yoshiko from getting the recognition that every other day of her career has earned. For some, that may be some small amount of justice.

2/22/2015 will go down as the darkest day in Stardom’s history. As for Yoshiko? To some, she’s a pariah. To others, she’s a young woman who made a mistake out of rage that she will pay for the remainder of her wrestling career, and life beyond. For the purposes of this list, however? She’s the #5 Stardom competitor of all time, and someone that, had 2/22/2015 never happened, would likely be even higher.

Next time, we’ll be back with #4 – one of the company’s pioneers, and a woman that I may well be underrating by putting her outside the top three.

Top 25 Stardom Wrestlers: #5

Top 25 Stardom Wrestlers – #6. Natsuki*Taiyo

Welcome back to the Stardom Project! We hit the top six for the Top 25 countdown, which means I’m going to be writing a little (but not as much as I expected – yet, anyway) more about each of the competitors.

The sixth best competitor in Stardom’s history is perhaps its most unsung hero, and one of my personal favorites.

#6. NATSUKI*TAIYO

Natsuki*Taiyo competed on the very first Stardom show, in its very first match. Alongside her friend, Nanae Takahashi, she was one of the very few established names that Stardom began with.

Unlike Nanae, Taiyo was ostensibly one of the company’s antagonists in the early days – one of the founding members of the company’s first heel stable, and primary ally of Yoshiko, the company’s first home-grown heel. Nanae spent most of her time as Stardom’s Ace in the early days, but Taiyo was a vital role player in so many ways – the woman who brought the High Speed title (and style, in many ways) to Stardom, half of the one of the company’s best tag teams, and a difficult but attainable barrier for the young, new talent of Stardom to overcome.

She is an incredibly talented performer, and her match for the World of Stardom against Nanae Takahashi is one of the best, most poetic, and saddest matches in company history. In many ways, it’s an analogy for Taiyo’s career in Stardom. Nanae Takahashi may have a bigger name, but Natsuki may well have been the better in-ring competitor – and if not, was definitely the competitor whose style better suited what Stardom worked to develop.

A former Goddess of Stardom and Artist of Stardom, Taiyo never was able to grasp one of the company’s top two belts, but she virtually defined the High Speed Championship for long stretches. Elements of her style can be seen in the main events of modern Stardom shows – all three members of Threedom wrestle up-tempo, aerial styles, and Shirai and Iwatani are of course former holders of the belt Taiyo made famous in Stardom. Compare modern Stardom bouts to the styles of Nanae Takahashi and Natsuki*Taiyo, and it’s easier to see who things are modelled more after.

Currently Seadlinnng’s referee for High Speed matches, Taiyo followed Nanae to the latter’s new company after her retirement match in Stardom – a losing effort to her friend. Natsuki was never able to beat Nanae – not in their excellent World of Stardom match, not in a 5*STAR Grand Prix bout where victory would have put Natsuki on to the finals, and not in Taiyo’s retirement bout, either. Just as Taiyo was a wall for much of the roster, Nanae was ultimately a wall that Taiyo couldn’t surpass – albeit, with one caveat.

On her own terms? Natsuki*Taiyo could, and did, beat almost anyone. Her blend of speed and aerial tactics all packed into a spark plug of a body was a challenge for the best Stardom had to offer. Watching her bout against Nanae for the red belt, one thing was clear right away – Nanae had NO answer for any of Taiyo’s High Speed offense. And yet, Natsuki spent large stretches of the match standing and trading with the larger, more powerful Nanae. Why? My read has always been that Natsuki wanted to prove that she could beat Nanae at Nanae’s own game. She wanted to leave no doubt that she was the best – that she could mix it up with her good friend on any and all terms.

Natsuki*Taiyo may have lost those battles, but in many ways, she won the war for the heart of Stardom. Many of Stardom’s top wrestlers, and many of its up and coming competitors, all resemble the woman who gave everything she had as Stardom’s most unsung and enduring hero. Natsuki*Taiyo was more than just High Speed, she was a blueprint for the style that thrills Stardom fans to this day.

And that’s something that, deep down, could well be more valuable than any belt, red or not.

Top 25 Stardom Wrestlers – #6. Natsuki*Taiyo

Top 25 Stardom Wrestlers – #8-7

Welcome back! We wind our way towards the top six, but before we can get there, we have #8 and #7 to cover. Without further ado, here we go!

#8. ACT YASUKAWA

Some people were born to perform. Act Yasukawa is one of those people.

Professional wrestling training is grueling and exhausting. Yet, at the end of the day, the amount of people who can learn the craft and physically execute it is likely significantly higher than the amount of people who can truly perform. Watching Act Yasukawa, a woman with a theater background, is to see the potential when you blend the worlds of wrestling and theater – worlds which have really always been blended to begin with.

Whether as the junior partner of Natsuki*Taiyo and Yoshiko in the very early stages of her career, or stepping right up fearlessly to Nanae Takahashi, Act displayed a command of her character and a comfort with being center stage that takes many wrestlers a career to develop – if they ever develop it at all.

Act was a good wrestler, but a truly transcendent performer. Whether on the mic or during her matches, you knew what she was feeling. She could make you laugh. She could make you cry. She could make you angry. She rode that ability to two reigns as Wonder of Stardom Champion and being one-third of the first ever Artist of Stardom Champions. Had fate not intervened, she could have achieved a lot more.

She is, in many ways, an embodiment of everything that Stardom represents. For many Western fans, she is one of the gateways to the company. I sometimes wonder if Stardom would be anywhere near as popular in the West if not for Act’s story becoming more well known among hardcore wrestling fans.

Everything about Act was unique – from her philosophy to her ring attire to her style in the ring. In an industry in which anything that works is copied ad nauseum, Act Yasukawa is something and someone unique – a true unicorn, a one-off the likes of which we’re unlikely to see ever again.

#7. YOKO BITO

Yoko Bito is the Arn Anderson of Stardom, something I say in as complementary a fashion as humanly possible. She has never been the company’s top star, always in the shadow of someone else, whether that person was Yuzuki Aikawa or even Yoshiko in the company’s early days, or Threedom ever since her return to Stardom. She’s always been a main event level talent, but not THE main event level talent. That is arguably the story of Bito’s career, whether she was trying to do the impossible by beating Nanae Takahashi for the World of Stardom months into her career, or (in my opinion) being robbed of the same belt in 2016 by an overzealous referee when she faced Io Shirai.

Yoko’s not a flashy wrestler – she doesn’t do a whole lot different from when she debuted. She relies on her karate-ka skills and basic wrestling to see her through, and she does everything she does well and with snap and pop. She’s agile enough to compete against the High Speed competitors, yet tall enough to credibly throw strikes with the likes of Nanae, Kyoko Kimura, and many of the foreigners who populate Stardom tours.

She has had good matches against virtually everyone you can imagine, both in singles competition and as a tag team. Perhaps no one in Stardom’s history has main evented against as wide a variety of competitors as Bito. She has been the partner of both Yuzuki Aikawa and Kairi Hojo, holding the Goddesses of Stardom with each, and finally got her due as a singles wrestler by picking up the 5*STAR Grand Prix crown in 2016.

Bito is the most hard-luck competitor in Stardom. She could well have become the company’s top star had she not suffered a serious injury in her Wonder of Stardom match with Yuzuki Aikawa. Upon her return, it finally seemed that she could perhaps ascend to the pinnacle, winning the 5*STAR Grand Prix, only to have her chance at glory snuffed out by the indomitable Io Shirai and a referee that, I continue to insist, flat out cost Bito the title. Her team with Kairi Hojo brought her Goddesses glory once more, but an injury cost her more time before her recent return to action.

The Stardom that Yoko Bito returns to is one without Kairi Hojo, and quite possibly one without Io Shirai as well. There may well be no better time for the Ace Candidate to finally, finally shed “candidate” from her former nickname and become, well and truly, the Ace of Stardom.

Six names remain. I’m sure many of you know who they are, but the question remains as to what order they come in.  We’ll be back soon with #6!

Top 25 Stardom Wrestlers – #8-7