Top 20 Joshi Wrestlers of 2018

It is finally time to announce my Top 20 Joshi Wrestlers of 2018! To see how I ranked wrestlers in past years, check out the 2015, 2016, and 2017 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 personal biases are bound to have an impact. But that is why no two lists are ever the same and this is certainly not a definitive ranking. I do 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 2018, or any championship that was held when 2018 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. Also, it should be noted that this ranking is based on a wrestler’s matches/participation in Japan.

1. Momo Watanabe (Stardom)

Championships Held: Wonder of Stardom Championship and the Goddesses of Stardom Championship
Biggest Matches: vs. Io Shirai on 5/23, vs. Jungle Kyona on 6/26, vs. Kagetsu on 9/30, vs. Mayu Iwatani on 10/30, with Utami vs. Kyona and Tora on 11/23
Best Match: vs. Io Shirai on 5/23 in Stardom

2018 was a unique year, as there wasn’t a clear-cut #1 wrestler as we have sometimes seen in the past. Deciding on the top wrestler wasn’t easy, but I went with Momo Watanabe for a number of reasons. She had a fistful of matches in the ****+ range, with her matches against Jungle Kyona and Io Shirai topping the list. She excelled in both singles and tag competition, winning major titles in both divisions and winning a tournament as both a singles and tag wrestler as well (Cinderella and Goddess of Stardom Tag League, respectively). At only 18 years old (she started the year only 17) she is poised to be the Ace of Stardom for years to come, as long as she can fend off her tag team partner Utami Hayashishita.

2. Misaki Ohata (Pro Wrestling WAVE)

Championships Held: Regina Di WAVE Championship
Biggest Matches: vs. Yumi Ohka on 1/20, vs. Arisa Nakajima on 2/12, vs. Rina Yamashita on 6/3, with Mizunami vs. BORDERLESS on 11/1, vs. Tsukasa Fujimoto on 12/9, vs. Ryo Mizunami on 12/29
Best Match: vs. Arisa Nakajima on 2/12 in Pro Wrestling WAVE

The “retirement” bump in rankings strikes again as it tends to, and while Misaki’s retirement did contribute to her great year it was not the only factor. From a title standpoint, Misaki held the top title in WAVE for about half of the year, with wins over Arisa Nakajima and Rina Yamashita along the way. Even though she did not hold any tag titles, she continued to team with Ryo Mizunami and took their entertaining act to many different promotions as a farewell tour, including Diana, Ice Ribbon, Michinoku Pro, YMZ, DDT, and SEAdLINNNG. In regards to just pure match quality, it can be argued that no wrestler surpassed Ohata as she had multiple ****+ matches, including against Arisa Nakajima (twice), Yumi Ohka, and Takumi Iroha. From an emotional and output standpoint, Ohata had a hell of a run for her last year as a professional wrestler.

3. Tsukasa Fujimoto (Ice Ribbon)

Championships Held: Ice Ribbon ICExInfinity Championship and the Ice Ribbon Triangle Ribbon Championship
Biggest Matches: with Nakajima vs. Yamashita and Yoshiko on 5/16, vs. Hamuko Hoshi on 6/16, vs. Maya Yukihi on 8/26, vs. Risa Sera on 12/2, vs. Misaki Ohata on 12/9, vs. Yukihi on 12/31
Best Matchvs. Maya Yukihi on 8/26 in Ice Ribbon

Tsukasa Fujimoto won the Tokyo Sports Award for top women’s wrestler, and well deserved. Tsukasa’s year started a bit slow but once it got into swing in the summer, she was one of the best in Japan for the rest of the way. Tsukasa had two great matches with Maya Yukihi during the year, in August and in December, and she showed her versatility as she also wrestled in a Blast Queen (exploding bat) match as well. She teamed with her best friend Arisa Nakajima off and on all year, and even though they didn’t win any titles, their match quality was still top notch and they did reach the finals of the SEAdLINNNG tournament to crown their first tag champions. Overall, from her controlling Ice Ribbon for half the year to putting on a variety of entertaining matches, it was a banner year for the 35 year old veteran.

4. Kagetsu (Stardom)

Championships Held: World of Stardom Championship and the Goddesses of Stardom Championship
Biggest Matches: with Natsu Sumire vs. Nakano and Shirai on 4/1, vs. Toni Storm on 6/9, with Hazuki vs. Io Shirai and Mayu Iwatani on 6/17, vs. Mayu Iwatani on 8/12, vs. Hana Kimura on 10/23
Best Match: with Hazuki vs. DASH Chisako and Chihiro Hashimoto on 11/16 in Sendai Girls’

What a year for the Oedo Tai leader. As Stardom’s roster continued to change, Kagetsu took full advantage as she won her first singles championship in the promotion when she defeated Toni Storm for the World of Stardom Championship. She also stood atop the tag division for half of the year, and had a memorable feud with former member Hana Kimura for the last few months of 2018. Kagetsu also took part in one of the most unique matches in Stardom history, a Current Blast Exploding Death Match. Kagetsu was frequently overshadowed by Momo Watanabe as she did not have much success on the tournament scene, but overall she was one of the most consistent wrestlers and focuses of the promotion and looks to continue that in 2019 as she still holds the World of Stardom Championship.

5. Miyu Yamashita (Tokyo Joshi Pro)

Championships Held: TOKYO Princess of Princess Championship
Biggest Matches: vs. Reika Saiki on 1/4, with Maki Itoh and Mizuki vs. Azusa Christie, Sakisama, and Yoshiko-sama, vs. Rika Tatsumi on 5/3, vs. Yuu on 8/25
Best Match: vs. Rika Tatsumi in Tokyo Joshi Pro

The undisputed Ace of Tokyo Joshi Pro, Miyu Yamashita dominated singles action in the promotion in 2018. Miyu won the Princess of Princess Championship at the start of the year and ended the year with it as well, with a total of six successful defenses. Miyu had less luck in tournaments (losing in the second round of the Tokyo Princess Cup) and tag division (one unsuccessful attempt to win the tag champion) which hurt her year a bit, but her year-long run with the top title of the promotion can’t be ignored. She also had several matches highly regarded, with her singles matches against Rika and Yuu in particularly getting high marks. As Miyu entered 2019 still the champion, she will look to build on her successes in a new year.

6. Yoshiko (SEAdLINNNG)

Championships Held: SEAdLINNNG Beyond the Sea Championship, OZ Academy Tag Team Championship, Blast Queen Championship, and the OZ Academy Openweight Championship
Biggest Matches: vs. Mayumi Ozaki on 3/17, vs. Hikaru Shida on 6/3, with Yamashita vs. Takahashi and Fujimoto on 7/25, with Yamashita vs. Yukihi and Ozaki on 9/17, with Yamashita vs. Matsumoto and Yoneyama on 12/2
Best Match: vs. Hikaru Shida on 6/3 in OZ Academy

Yoshiko continued her return to relevance after a great 2017 with an even better 2018, as she was a force to be reckoned with in several promotions. In her home promotion of SEAdLINNNG, she became the first holder of the Beyond the Sea Tag Team Championship (along with partner Rina Yamashita) as they held the titles for 141 days before losing them late in the year. She also held the OZ Academy tag titles with Rina as well, as the two were one of the top tag teams in Japan. In singles action, she held the Oz Academy Openweight Championship for the first half of the year before losing it to Hikaru Shida, and was also the Blast Queen Champion for six months. Overall, Yoshiko had 13 title matches in 2018 as she stayed very active. Yoshiko dipped her toe in DDT as well, as she was one of the most-traveled women in Japan with appearances in seven different Japanese promotions.

7. Chihiro Hashimoto (Sendai Girls’)

Championships Held: Sendai Girls’ World Championship and the Sendai Girls’ Tag Team Championship
Biggest Matches: vs. Ayako Hamada on 4/19, vs. DASH Chisako on 6/24, with Iwata vs. Miyagi and Katrina, with Chisako vs. Kagetsu and Hazuki on 11/16, vs. Meiko Satomura on 11/17
Best Match: with Chisako vs. Kagetsu and Hazuki on 11/16 in Sendai Girls’

Chihiro Hashimoto cemented her place as Ace of Sendai Girls’ on 2018, as she made her mark in both the singles and tag team division. She held the Sendai Girls’ World Championship for 10 of the 12 months of the year, and also won the tag team championship with Mika Iwata in September which they held through the end of the year. The only thing holding Chihiro back is a variety of challengers, as since Sendai Girls’ has a smaller roster she is running out of new wrestlers to beat. Sendai Girls’ online streaming service being a flop in 2018 didn’t help, as she had less matches that “made TV” in 2018 than most of the wrestlers around her on this list. Still, Chihiro continued to improve in the ring and put on some quality hoss matches during the year, hopefully she’ll get more of a chance to show her skills to a wider audience in 2019.

8. Hikaru Shida (Freelancer)

Championships Held: OZ Academy Openweight Championship
Biggest Matches: vs. Rina Yamashita on 3/17, vs. Yoshiko on 6/3, vs. Aja Kong on 9/17, vs. Risa Sera on 12/31
Best Match: vs. Aja Kong on 9/17 in OZ Academy

The top Freelancer on the list, Hikaru Shida seemed to be everywhere in 2018. Freelancers are known for having very up and down years, disappearing from this list at a whim, as their successes are so reliant on promotions they are not affiliated with giving them an opportunity. OZ Academy was Shida’s main home for the year, where she won the OZ Academy Openweight Championship against Yoshiko. She also had what is considered by many the top Joshi match of 2018 in OZ Academy against Aja Kong on September 17th in a defense of the title. Beyond OZ Academy, she also had high end matches in Ice Ribbon (including a hardcore match) and Sendai Girls’. Between her great matches and success in OZ Academy, Shida is easily one of the top ten wrestlers of the year.

9. Rina Yamashita (Pro Wrestling WAVE)

Championships Held: OZ Academy Tag Team Championship and the SEAdLINNNG Beyond the Sea Tag Team Championship
Biggest Matches: vs. Misaki Ohata on 6/3, with Yoshiko vs. Takahashi and Fujimoto on 7/25, with Yoshiko vs. Yukihi and Ozaki on 9/17, vs. Arisa Nakajima on 10/3
Best Match: vs. Misaki Ohata on 6/3 in Pro Wrestling WAVE

2018 was an interesting year for Rina Yamashita. She had no singles titles and only had one challenge, however she (along with Yoshiko) had a lot of success in the tag division. Yamashita held tag titles in two different promotions and had a number of memorable matches in the process, including a great match against Avid Rival. Even though she didn’t win a championship as a singles wrestler, she had great singles matches against Arisa Nakajima and Misaki Ohata and also won the Catch the WAVE Tournament. Yamashita goes into 2019 becoming a Freelancer with no belts, so she’ll have an upward battle to maintain a Top 10 ranking.

10. Mayu Iwatani (Stardom)

Championships Held: Goddesses of Stardom Championship and the Artist of Stardom Championship
Biggest Matches: vs. Toni Storm on 4/1, with Kashima vs. Oedo Tai on 6/3, vs. Kagetsu on 8/12, vs. Utami Hayashishita on 9/24, with Kashima and Nakano vs. JAN on 9/30, vs. Momo Watanabe on 10/23
Best Match: vs. Utami Hayashishita on 9/24 in Stardom

Even though Mayu Iwatani has been officially skipped over to becoming the Ace of Stardom, she still had a really solid year. She held both the tag titles and trio titles in Stardom, and most importantly she also won the 5STAR Grand Prix. The Finals of the tournament is considered by some as one of the top Joshi matches of the year, as she defeated rookie phenom Utami Hayashishita. Her feud with Oedo Tai and Kagetsu continued and kept her in the spotlight, however she did go 0-3 in singles title matches. Mayu will always be a fan favorite and will continue to put on great matches, but she may be eternally in the upper mid-card role going forward.

11. Hanako Nakamori (PURE-J) – If I gave a “most improved” award, it may go to Hanako Nakamori. The main knock on Nakamori isn’t her fault, as she just happens to wrestle in a promotion that rarely makes TV and has no streaming service, so not a lot of her matches are available. But she was the undisputed Ace of PURE-J, as she won the PURE-J Openweight Championship in February and held it for the rest of the year. She had several memorable singles matches (including a great match against Arisa Nakajima), and if PURE-J is able to get more exposure she will be an easy Top 10 pick if she continues her current path.

12. Arisa Nakajima (SEAdLINNNG) – Nakajima only held one title in 2018, and she didn’t win it until December, but in regards to match quality she was among the best. She had really well regarded singles matches throughout the year against a variety of opponents, including against Misaki Ohata, Rina Yamashita, Mio Momono, Command Bolshoi, and Nanae Takahashi. She also continued wrestling with Tsukasa Fujimoto as Best Friends, one of the most talented tag teams in the world. While Nakajima doesn’t seem to be overly concerned with winning titles, as she ended the year with one hopefully that success will continue.

13. Maya Yukihi (Ice Ribbon) – Maya Yukihi slowly is making her case to become the true Ace of Ice Ribbon. Yukihi has two personalities – in Ice Ribbon she is the fan favorite while in OZ Academy she is part of the evil Ozaki Army and wields a whip. She has success as both versions of herself which is a big plus, and even though she isn’t regularly putting on high end matches she makes a point to shine at least a few times a year. Yukihi won the ICExInfinity Championship on the last day of 2018, as she goes into 2019 the top wrestler in the promotion.

14. ASUKA (Pro Wrestling WAVE) – ASUKA made history in 2018, becoming the first openly transgender wrestler to win the top title in a Joshi promotion. She won the Regina Di WAVE Championship from Takumi Iroha in June and held it until December, with two successful defenses between. She also teamed with Hana Kimura in WRESTLE-1, and overall participated in 10 different Japanese promotions over the course of the year. ASUKA became a Freelancer in 2019, opening up her options and she will have plenty of opportunities to grow in new environments as her career continues to move forward.

15. Takumi Iroha (Marvelous) – My personal bias may be coming through a bit, but I really love Takumi Iroha’s wrestling style as she always feels fresh in whatever promotion she is participating in. She did hold two Joshi titles during the year, including the top singles championship in Pro Wrestling WAVE. She was also the top wrestler in her home promotion of Marvelous, which thanks to their streaming service is an easy promotion to watch. I’m not sure what Iroha’s ceiling is with her current situation, but since Chigusa Nagayo has a good relationship with most promotions I am sure we will be seeing much more of her next year.

16. Io Shirai (Stardom) – Even though Io Shirai only wrestled half of the year in Japan, she still left a strong impression in that time period. She held two Stardom titles in 2018, including the Wonder of Stardom Championship. She also took part in a fun Current Blast Exploding Death Match, showing her range, and had an emotional farewell show. On top of that, she had great matches against Momo Watanabe (twice), Meiko Satomura, and Oedo Tai as part of Thunder Rock. If she had wrestled all 12 months in Japan she would have been much much higher on this list, but even with her last match being in June she still had an amazing year before bidding Stardom farewell.

17. Risa Sera (Ice Ribbon) – Risa Sera fell from her throne of Ice Ribbon Ace, but what really set her apart in 2018 was her willingness and ability to go outside the box. Whether it be in a death match or a hardcore match, Risa Sera always kept things interesting and put on matches that you were going to remember. She had some title success as well as part of Azure Revolution with Maya Yukihi and ended the year as the Blast Queen, but the main factor that got her on this list was that she brings something different to the table. She may never become the consistent Ace of Ice Ribbon but she will always put on a entertaining show.

18. Meiko Satomura (Sendai Girls’) – Aside from a brief run as the DDT KO-D Openweight Champion, Meiko Satomura was mostly quiet in Japan in 2018 as she took her talents outside of the country for a good percentage of the year. She still was on Sendai Girls’ events as well, but she mostly took a back seat to Chihiro Hashimoto and Mika Iwata. Satomura is still one of the top wrestlers in Japan skill-wise, however with her limited number of televised singles matches in Japan (six) she didn’t have as much of a chance to shine. Satomura will continue to be one of the best wrestlers in Joshi for years to come, but at 39 years old her time as the top wrestler in a promotion are likely over.

19. Utami Hayashishita (Stardom) – I will get some flack for putting a rookie with four months experience on this list, but I can handle it. Utami took the Joshi world by storm after her debut on August 12th, and just a month into her career had one of the best matches of the year against Mayu Iwatani. She didn’t miss a beat after the loss as she joined up with Momo Watanabe to win the Goddesses of Stardom League and then the belts themselves in November. Joshi hasn’t seen a wrestler like Utami in a long time, and at just 20 years old her potential is limitless. Barring an injury, I fully expect Utami to be in the Top 5 next year.

20. Maki Itoh (Tokyo Joshi Pro) – Maki Itoh is still developing in-ring and isn’t known for her technical abilities, but it is hard to deny the impact that she has had on fans just with her personality and charisma. She did win the DDT Iron Man Heavy Metal Championship so she wasn’t title-less for the year, however she made a couple attempts at the Tokyo Princess Tag Team Championship with no success. Still, it is her presence that draws people to her, and if she can improve her wrestling skills (and doesn’t retire) she may move up this ranking next year.