It is finally time to announce my Top 20 Joshi Wrestlers of 2017! To see how I ranked wrestlers in past years, check out the 2015
versions of the list. I would hope it would go without saying, but just in case there is any confusion – this list is purely subjective, as I am a human, so some biases are bound to have an impact since in my wrestling fandom I tend to focus on wrestlers/promotions I like. But that is why no two lists are ever the same and this is certainly not a definitive ranking. But I try to have something resembling a method to my madness, to make my ranking the following criteria was used:
- Championships and Tournaments Won: This includes any championship won during 2017, or any championship that was held when 2017 began. The prestige of the championship or tournament will be taken into account.
- Match Quality: The most subjective criteria, extra consideration is given to wrestlers that had high quality matches throughout the year, especially if it was with a variety of opponents.
- Wrestler Popularity: Being able to connect with the crowd is important in wrestling, wrestlers that have success interacting with the crowd and getting reactions will get credit for that.
- Wrestler Status in a Promotion: Generally speaking, the Ace of one promotion will be ahead of the #3 wrestler in another promotion, since wrestling on top means bigger matches, longer matches, and more opportunities. There isn’t a direct correlation, but leading a promotion or being the ‘face’ of a promotion can help a wrestler’s rank as it increases the wrestler’s visibility and importance.
- Match Frequency/Availability: How often a wrestler wrestled is taken into consideration. A wrestler with 100 matches is more likely to be on the list than a wrestler with 10 matches. Also, it is harder to ‘rate’ a wrestler if their matches rarely were distributed via TV or an online streaming service, so visibility is a factor.
One criteria I am not using, because I disagree with it, is ‘drawing power.’ In the current wrestling landscape there are very few wrestlers that by themselves are draws (I could probably count them on one hand), usually it is more the benefit of a good storyline or a hot region that impacts the size of the crowd. While the larger Joshi promotions may have more wrestlers on the list due to the other criteria (visibility being a major one), the size of the crowds will not be taken in consideration.
1. Hiroyo Matsumoto (Freelancer)
Championships Held: OZ Academy Openweight Championship, Artist of Stardom Championship, Sendai Girls’ World Championship, and the Goddesses of Stardom Championship
Biggest Matches: with Kagetsu vs. Shida and Syuri on 1/25, with Kyona vs. Hojo and Bito on 3/5, vs. Chihiro Hashimoto on 6/10, vs. Chihiro Hashimoto on 7/15, vs. Yoshiko on 10/29
Best Match: vs. Chihiro Hashimoto in Sendai Girls’ on 6/10
What made 2017 so special for Hiroyo Matsumoto is not only did she dominate, but she dominated in multiple different promotions. Hiroyo held the top title in two different promotions (OZ Academy and Sendai Girls’) and held two additional titles in Stardom all during the year. Over the course of the year, she had singles wins over Kyoko Kimura, Meiko Satomura, Arisa Nakajima, Chihiro Hashimoto, AKINO, Hikaru Shida, and Mariko Yoshida. In addition to her success against a variety of opponents, in-ring she was on the top of her game, putting on high-end matches throughout the year. No one could have expected that Hiroyo would have the type of year she had in 2017, just showing how unpredictable the Joshi landscape can be.
2. Risa Sera (Ice Ribbon)
Championships Held: Ice Ribbon ICExInfinity Championship and the Ice Ribbon Tag Team Championship
Biggest Matches: vs. Rina Yamashita on 3/26, vs. Akane Fujita on 5/28, vs. Maya Yukihi on 8/27, with Yukihi vs. Lovely Butchers on 10/29, vs. Kurumi on 12/31
Best Match: vs. Rina Yamashita in Ice Ribbon on 3/26
Risa Sera was the undisputed Ace of Ice Ribbon in 2017. She won the main title in the promotion, the ICExInfinity Championship, on the last day of 2016 and did not lose it until the last day of 2017. During that span, she had seven successful defenses against seven different opponents, including Rina Yamashita, Mochi Miyagi, and Maya Yukihi. In addition to the singles championship, she also won the tag team championship with Maya Yukihi in October and held it until the end of the year, with one successful defense during that time. Of all the wrestlers in 2017, none dominated their promotion like Risa Sera did in 2017, so while she didn’t go outside the promotion like I would have preferred for different types of challenges she still had a year to remember.
3. Io Shirai (Stardom)
Championships Held: World of Stardom Championship, Wonder of Stardom Championship, and the Artist of Stardom Championship
Biggest Matches: vs. Shayna Baszler on 2/23, vs. Kagetsu on 3/5, vs. Kairi Hojo on 3/20, with AZM and HZK vs. Oedo Tai on 4/15, vs. Toni Storm on 5/14, vs. Mayu Iwatani on 6/21, vs. Yoko Bito on 11/19
Best Match: vs. Mayu Iwatani in Stardom on 6/21
It was an interesting year for Io Shirai. She started on top, where she always seems to be, as she held both the Wonder of Stardom Championship and the Artist of Stardom Championship early in the year. Then the rumors started of her going to WWE, leading to her dropping all her titles in mid-June. But she didn’t go, and she ended up winning two more titles before the end of the year, as she concluded 2017 the Ace of Stardom just as she started it. All told, she had 19 title matches in 2017, with big wins over Viper, Shayna Baszler, Kagetsu, Kairi Hojo, and Yoko Bito. Io Shirai also continued being one of the top in-ring wrestlers in Japan, with many great and memorable matches.
4. Chihiro Hashimoto (Sendai Girls’)
Championships Held: Sendai Girls’ World Championship
Biggest Matches: vs. Aja Kong on 1/9, vs. Aja Kong on 4/6, vs. Hiroyo Matsumoto on 7/15, vs. Meiko Satomura on 9/24
Best Match: vs. Meiko Satomura in Sendai Girls’ on 9/24
By far the least experienced wrestler in the Top 10, Chihiro Hashimoto had a big year in 2017. She held the Sendai Girls’ World Championship three different times during the year and picked up some big wins along the way, including singles victories over Aja Kong, Hiroyo Matsumoto, and Meiko Satomura. She also branched outside of Sendai Girls’, with fun matches against WAVE’s Rina Yamashita and Takumi Iroha from Marvelous. In-ring, Chihiro showed a lot of improvement in 2017 compared to 2016, and I expect her to continue working to solidify herself as one of the top Joshi wrestlers in 2018.
5. Manami Toyota (OZ Academy)
Championships Held: Ice Ribbon Triangle Championship
Biggest Matches: Gauntlet Match on 11/3
Best Match: vs. Aja Kong on 10/29
Placing Manami Toyota on this list was hard, as even though I knew she deserved to be on it, her 2017 arch was very different than everyone else. Manami Toyota is one of the most legendary female wrestlers in the world, period, and the impact she had on Joshi wrestling can not be overstated. Toyota announced early in the year that she was retiring on November 3rd, which lead to her having a lot of “farewell” style matches throughout the year. Her farewell tour was grand, as she made stops by virtually every promotion (with Stardom noteably missing) including OZ Academy, ZERO1, Big Japan, WAVE, Ice Ribbon, PURE J, and multiple wrestler produced shows. Along the way she had singles matches with many old foes and current stars, including Shinobu Kandori, Yumiko Hotta, Aja Kong, Takako Inoue, Hikaru Shida, Sonoko Kato, Nanae Takahashi, and many more. She ended her career with a very entertaining 50 Match Gauntlet, refusing to ease her way into retirement. A true living legend, Manami Toyota ended her career with a bang, and gave us many happy memories in the process.
6. Ryo Mizunami (Pro Wrestling WAVE)
Championships Held: Regina Di WAVE Championship, WAVE Tag Team Championship, and the International Ribbon Tag Team Championship
Biggest Matches: vs. Misaki Ohata on 2/11, with Ohata vs. Kurumi and Tsukushi on 3/26, vs. Rina Yamashita on 7/2
Best Match: with Ohata vs. Best Friends in SEAdLINNNG on 8/24
Ryo Mizunami had the longest run with WAVE’s biggest title in 2017, and for much of the year acted as the face of the company. She had stiff competition from Rina Yamashita and Misaki Ohata, but when also taking in considering her work in the Avid Rivals tag team, she had the best year of any wrestler in the promotion. Ryo entered the year with both the singles and multiple tag championships, but quickly lost the WAVE Tag Team Championship in January and then the Ice Ribbon Tag Team Championship in March. She held onto the singles championship until July however, and picked up wins over Misaki Ohata, Yuki Miyazaki, and Moeka Haruhi along the way. She cooled off the second half of the year however and lost singles matches to Nagisa Nozaki and Yumi Ohka, keeping her out of the title scene. Ryo will look to climb back to her old spot in 2018.
7. Mayu Iwatani (Stardom)
Championships Held: High Speed Championship, Wonder of Stardom Championship, and the World of Stardom Championship
Biggest Matches: vs. Kairi Hojo on 5/14, vs. Io Shirai on 6/21, vs. Yoko Bito on 7/16, vs. Kagetsu on 8/13, vs. Yoko Bito on 9/23
Best Match: vs. Io Shirai on 6/21
Sometimes the perfect story gets spoiled by a force outside anyone’s control, which was the case for Mayu in 2017. She should be much higher on this list but fate was not on her side. The first half of the year was set up to position Mayu as a potential Ace of the company – she defeated Kairi Hojo for the Wonder of Stardom Championship in May and then beat Io Shirai for the World of Stardom Championship in June, making her the undisputed top wrestler in Stardom. But then Io Shirai didn’t leave for WWE as expected, and even worse, Mayu was injured in September and missed the rest of the year. So 2017 concluded with Mayu holding no titles, and Io Shirai back to resume her role as Ace. Mayu still had a very good year but it could have been better, she’ll look to rebuild in January 2018 when she returns from injury.
8. Misaki Ohata (Pro Wrestling WAVE)
Championships Held: Regina Di WAVE Championship, International Ribbon Tag Team Championship, and the WAVE Tag Team Championship
Biggest Matches: vs. Ryo Mizunami on 2/11, with Mizunami vs. Kurumi and Tsukushi on 3/26, vs. Rina Yamashita on 10/9, vs. Nagisa Nozaki on 11/16
Best Match: with Ryo Mizunami vs. Best Friends in SEAdLINNNG on 8/24
Like Ryo Mizunami, Misaki Ohata entered the year with both the WAVE and Ice Ribbon Tag Team Championships. She also won the Regina Di WAVE Championship, defeating Rina Yamashita in October, but lost the belt before the end of the year against Yumi Ohka. Ohata was a very active champion however, and in less than three months had five successful defenses, including wins over Nagisa Nozaki and Manami Katsu. Ohata ended the year with no belts, so she’ll have her work cut out for her in 2018.
9. Hanako Nakamori (PURE-J)
Championships Held: JWP Openweight Championship, JWP/Daily Sports Tag Team Championship, and the PURE-J Openweight Championship
Biggest Matches: with Kimura vs. Bolshoi and Leon on 1/9, vs. Yoneyama on 3/8, vs. Kuragaki on 4/2, vs. Manami Katsu on 10/9, vs. DASH Chisako on 12/27
Best Match: vs. Manami Katsu on 10/9
Nakamori is in an interesting position, as she was the clear leader of a promotion with very little TV time, so most of her matches were not available for easy viewing. I purchased some JWP/PURE J DVDs just so I could keep up, but I certainly recognize that even more hardcore Joshi fans may have only seen a handful of Hanako matches in 2017. Still, she had a very good year, as she easily transitioned from being the JWP Openweight Champion to the PURE-J Openweight Champion when JWP officially closed and PURE-J was launched in its place. As JWP Champion, she had wins over Leon, Kaori Yoneyama, and Tsubasa Kuragaki, while she did not have any successful defenses with the PURE-J Championship before losing it to DASH Chisako. I wouldn’t consider Hanako a great in-ring wrestler, but she still had a year worth discussing as she helped lead the struggling promotion.
10. Rina Yamashita (Daijo Pro/Pro Wrestling WAVE)
Championships Held: Regina di WAVE Championship
Biggest Matches: vs. Risa Sera on 3/26, vs. Ohata on 6/4, vs. Mizunami on 7/2, vs. ASUKA on 9/17, vs. Misaki Ohata on 10/9
Best Match: vs. Yoshiko in WAVE on 8/12
While Rina Yamashita did not have the numerous title reigns of most others in the Top 10, she asserted herself in so many promotions in 2017 and really raised her stock overall more than perhaps any other wrestler. Rina invaded SEAdLINNNG, Marvelous, Ice Ribbon, and OZ Academy throughout the year, and had big matches against Yoshiko, Hikaru Shida, and Risa Sera. In WAVE, Rina won the Catch the WAVE Tournament, defeating Misaki Ohata, and then beat Ryo Mizunami in July for the Regina di WAVE Championship. She had three successful defenses before losing the title to Misaki Ohata in October, including wins over Yoshiko and ASUKA. On top of all that, Rina in-ring was fantastic in 2017, with many memorable matches. Keep an eye out for Rina Yamashita in 2018, her stock is only going to go up.
11. Toni Storm (Stardom)
– The sole reason that Toni Storm isn’t higher on this list is because she was only a part time wrestler in Japan, with only 36 matches on the year. But to say she did the most with those matches would be an understatement. Toni won the Stardom Cinderella Tournament, held the SWA Undisputed Championship all year, and also won the World of Stardom Championship in September under unfortunate circumstances (Mayu Iwatani was injured during the match). I’m sure Stardom would love to have her full time, which probably won’t ever happen, but whenever she is in Japan she always has an impact.
12. Yoshiko (SEAdLINNNG) – Yoshiko had a resurgence in 2017, as she had success in a number of promotions outside of her home base. She feuded with Rina Yamashita from Pro Wrestling WAVE, Takumi Iroha in Marvelous, and Hiroyo Matsumoto in OZ Academy, with a fair amount of success whenever she went. She won the OZ Academy Openweight Championship in October, her first title since leaving Stardom in 2015. Yoshiko has also continued to excel in ‘hoss’ style matches, with entertaining brawls against a variety of opponents throughout the year.
13. Yoko Bito (Stardom) – Bito had an interesting year and would have had a chance of being higher on the list, but she missed a few months due to injury and was simply outranked by too many other wrestlers in her own promotion. She did win two titles in the Stardom, including the Wonder of Stardom Championship which she won from Mayu Iwatani. Yoko Bito retired on December 24th, ending her wrestling career for a second time.
14. Tsukasa Fujimoto (Ice Ribbon) – While still the veteran face of Ice Ribbon, Fujimoto took a bit of a back seat in 2017. She held the Triangle Ribbon belt for half the year, which is a less serious title in Ice Ribbon, while concentrating on building up the younger wrestlers such as the DATE sisters. She did do a ‘tour’ of other promotions with Arisa Nakajima as Best Friends, perhaps for the last time, and still was putting on high end matches even though she wasn’t in the main event scene.
15. Takumi Iroha (Marvelous) – After a quiet year as she trained and grew in Marvelous, Iroha branched outside the promotion more in 2017. She won her first title since leaving Stardom in 2015, winning the WAVE Tag Team Championship with Rin Kadokura in September and they kept the titles through the end of the year. She also challenged for both the Regina di WAVE Championship and the Wonder of Stardom Championship during the year. In-ring, Iroha continued to improve as well, and overall for someone that is affiliated with a promotion with no TV deal, she had a fair amount of exposure and success.
16. Kagetsu (Freelancer/Stardom)
– I’d love to put Kagetsu higher on this list as I think in-ring she is a fantastic wrestler, she just didn’t have the level of the success of many others and in past years her work in OZ Academy was more of a factor which it isn’t now that she only wrestles in Stardom. Kagetsu held the trios and tag titles in Stardom in 2017, but failed in each of her attempts to win a singles championship. As the leader of Oedo Tai in Stardom, she is a constant source of entertainment either with their promos or in-ring antics, and if she can finally get over the hump in Stardom she may have a big year in 2018.
17. Meiko Satomura (Sendai Girls’) – Meiko Satomura took the Tsukasa Fujimoto route in 2017, letting the younger wrestlers take over Sendai Girls’ while she mostly took a back seat. Satomura had a high number of singles losses (compared to past years) and only once challenged for the Sendai Girls’ World Championship, losing to Chihiro Hashimoto. Still, Satomura continued to excel in match quality and is one of the top in-ring wrestlers in Joshi wrestling.
18. Hikaru Shida (Freelancer) – Shida mostly had success in the tag scene in 2017, with her and Syuri dominating the first half of the year. Unfortunately for Shida, Syuri stopped wrestling in July to concentrate on MMA, leaving Shida with less of a purpose. She challenged for the OZ Academy Openweight Championship in August, but failed, and that was her last title match in Japan for the rest of the year. Shida is still a force in the ring and had many entertaining matches, but she’ll need to find her place next year to have more success.
19. Arisa Nakajima (Freelancer/SEAdLINNNG) – When I was compiling this list and doing research, I was shocked to see how much of a drop Nakajima had in 2017 compared to past years. Nakajima had no titles in 2017 and only had one title match period, which was a failed defense at the Ice Ribbon Triangle Ribbon Championship. She is only on the list at all because her matches as part of Best Friends were great, and she had some entertaining matches in SEAdLINNNG. I don’t know what the future holds for Nakajima, but she is still a high-end wrestler so I hope we see more of her in 2018.
20. Reika Saiki (Freelancer/TJP) – I really wanted a wrestler from Tokyo Joshi Pro here since the promotion got more popular in 2017, but they didn’t have a real dominate wrestler and since their wrestlers rarely go outside the promotion, they have limited visibility. Reika Saiki won the Princess of Princess Championship on August 26th from Yuka Sakazaki and held the title the rest of the year, with two successful defenses. She also had a fair amount of exposure outside of the promotion, as she is also a body builder and model. Saiki is definitely one to keep an eye on next year, however I think Miyu Yamashita will likely have the bigger year so watch for her as well.