Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Io Shirai Joins Kairi Hojo in WWE, and a Note on Women's Division Depth

Shirai is comin' to WWE, but will her talents be utilized?
Photo via Pro Wrestling Wikia
Io Shirai, one of STARDOM Wrestling's three aces, has officially put pen to paper and signed with WWE. The move comes with little surprise as she has been linked to the company and has had a tryout or two in the past. She's not the first native STARDOM joshi to make the jump. Kairi Hojo signed a couple of months ago. Shirai, Hojo, and Mayu Iwatani comprised the nucleus of STARDOM's main event scene, and now all three are leaving the promotion in 2017. Iwatani is set to retire at some point this year. Of course, this exodus might not have stung as bad had Act Yasukawa been healthy enough to assume the mantel as the company's next ace, but Yoshiko robbed the joshi world of that reality. Shirai is also the second of the legendary Triple Tails trio to sign with WWE, Kana/Asuka being the first (the other member is Shirai's sister, the retired Mio).

Shirai and Hojo are presumably signing with WWE to debut in the long-awaited women's tournament to happen this year. Much like the Cruiserweight Classic beefed up WWE's ranks with some of the best junior heavyweight talents in the world, this tournament will infuse the company with much-needed depth in the women's division, although comparing an entire gender to a niche weight class feels insulting to women everywhere. Then again, WWE's entire modus operandi for 20 years was to insult women. The company's incrementalism moves at a glacial pace, it seems. Anyway though, last night's RAW highlighted why this women's tournament can't get here soon enough.

Alicia Fox took on Sasha Banks in a rematch from last week where Banks won but either as a stroke of storytelling or a way to cover their asses, Fox got her shoulder up on the pin attempt. In the match last night, Fox won clean as a whistle with no post-match angle. Now, I'm not saying Banks is BURIED, because that would be stupid. But I did find it curious that a wrestler of her stature would eat a pinfall so cleanly to a wrestler coming off such a cold streak. Hell, even Jinder Mahal had the Singh Brothers to help him kick start his main event push. If Fox was going to get a (long awaited, long-time coming, in my opinion) push, giving her the upset win over Banks in that manner felt out of place without having some momentum behind her.

But whom was Fox going to defeat otherwise? The only other woman on the roster of lower stature than her right now is Summer Rae, and when was the last time she was mentioned by someone other than the throng of Twitter folks who demand her back on screen1? WWE's women's division on either show is at a point where everyone is a prospect, and everyone is a wrestler who could add something if pushed. Look at RAW; the closest thing to enhancement talent right now is Dana Brooke, and she'd be in a feud with Emma right now if Emma wasn't cursed by some Egyptian Injury God right now. Even in the post-brand split era, WWE's male roster is deep enough on either brand that wrestlers with name value who don't need to be pushed can be sacrificed for someone on the rise. One could argue that Sasha Banks is that wrestler for the women, but it also feels asinine to sacrifice someone who's been over as fuck as recently as two weeks ago to raise up someone, who though deserving, whose role in life has been to be a living, breathing love MacGuffin for two (three?) cruiserweights to fight over.

Circling back to Hojo and Shirai, I'm not saying they'll be enhancement/booster veteran talent, nor should they be. But this women's tournament isn't going to be filled with Hojo/Shirai top prospects from top to bottom, just like NXT has the Liv Morgans and Australian Mean Girls, err, I mean, Iconics to act as midcard filler talent for the Asukas and Ember Moons of the world. WWE's neglect of its women's division for so long has given it a top heavy feel, one that doesn't lend itself to healthy storytelling.

Of course, WWE will need to stop treating women's wrestling like some boutique division and start following through on the promises it made when highlighted Banks and Charlotte Flair as a main event feud last autumn. If it doesn't, then why even raid STARDOM's top talent? Taking Hojo and Shirai from their top perches just to let them drift aimlessly during the times when they don't have title feuds going for them would be goddamn criminal from an artistic standpoint, regardless of what money is involved.

1 - Of which I am one, of course. Summer Rae as the top villain in NXT during the Paige/Emma days fuckin' ruled.