It is finally time to announce my Top 20 Joshi Wrestlers of 2019! To see how I ranked wrestlers in past years, check out the 2015
, and 2018
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. The ranking is certainly based partially on “kayfabe” aspects such as titles and tournaments won, however other factors are taken into account as well. 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 2019, or any championship that was held when 2019 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 match 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 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 only on a wrestler’s matches/participation in Japan. This is not a list of my personal favorite wrestlers or fun rookies that I enjoy watching, but rather my version of what a “real” ranking of Joshi wrestlers would look like based on their success and status in 2019.
Before we get into it, a couple very established veterans that normally would make this kind of list I wasn’t able to justify including this year – Tsukasa Fujimoto and Meiko Satomura. I realize this opens the list to easy criticism but keep in mind this list isn’t a “best wrestler” list and isn’t influenced by past success – it is based solely on what happened in 2019. Both Fujimoto and Satomura largely took a back seat in their respective promotions last year, allowing the younger wrestlers to take the lead. Which is great! But it makes it harder to rank them with only twenty spots available. So before anyone asks, I didn’t forget them, they just didn’t have enough in regards to in-ring accomplishments or visibility in Japan during the year to make the Top 20. So save any vitriol for a more worthwhile cause.
Without further ado and procrastinating, onto the Top 20 Joshi Wrestlers of 2019!
1. Sareee (Diana)
Championships Held: Diana World Championship (233 days) and the Sendai Girls’ World Championship (127 days)
Biggest Matches: vs. Chihiro Hashimoto on 1/6, vs. Aja Kong on 2/11, vs. Meiko Satomura on 4/16, vs. Aja Kong on 5/12, vs. Chihiro Hashimoto on 6/18, vs. DASH Chisako on 7/7, and vs. Chihiro Hashimoto on 10/13
Best Match: vs. Chihiro Hashimoto in Sendai Girls’ on June 8th, 2019
To say it is difficult to be the top Joshi wrestler of the year when your home promotion literally had zero events available to watch would be an understatement, but Sareee managed to pull it off. What set Sareee apart from others wasn’t just her title success in Sendai Girls’, but the high quality of her matches throughout the year in a variety of promotions. Her matches against Meiko Satomura and against Chihiro Hashimoto (in June) were two of the best Joshi matches of the year, as she went from relative unknown to many newer Joshi fans to one of the most popular wrestlers on the scene. Depending on where her career goes in 2020 she may just be a “one year wonder” in regards to being this high on fans’ Wrestler of the Year list, but what a year it was.
2. Maya Yukihi (Ice Ribbon)
Championships Held: ICExInfinity Championship (322 days), International Ribbon Tag Team Championship (161 days), OZ Academy Tag Team Championship (105 days), and the Triangle Ribbon Championship (52 days)
Biggest Matches: with Risa Sera vs. Kyuri and Ozaki on 3/17, vs. Tsukushi on 3/31, with Saori Anou vs. Beast Friend on 5/12, vs. Giulia on 5/25, vs. Tsukasa Fujimoto on 8/3, vs. Risa Sera on 9/14, and with Risa Sera vs. Giulia and Tequila Saya on 9/23
Best Match: vs. Tsukasa Fujimoto in Ice Ribbon on August 3rd, 2019
It is hard not to respect a wrestler with as many title wins in one year as Maya Yukihi had, as it just shows an enormous amount of faith that the promotion has in her. Few wrestlers dominated their promotion in 2019 as Maya did, not just with her success with the ICExInfinity Championship but with her constant main event presence in some capacity. The focus remained so strongly on her that it was difficult for any other Ice Ribbon wrestlers to really get noticed in 2019. She also continued to have success in OZ Academy as well with her more ‘evil’ side, as she changed her personality depending on which promotion she was in. While consistent match quality wouldn’t land her in the Top 5 for the year, her success just can’t be ignored as she seems poised to be the Ice Ribbon Ace for the foreseeable future.
3. Arisa Hoshiki (Stardom)
Championships Held: Wonder of Stardom Championship (229 days)
Biggest Matches: vs. Konami on 4/29, vs. Tam Nakano on 6/16, vs. Hazuki on 7/24, vs. Jungle Kyona on 8/10, vs. Kagetsu on 10/14, with Tam Nakano vs. Bea Priestley and Jamie Hayter on 11/15, and vs. Konami on 12/24
Best Match: vs. Tam Nakano in Stardom on June 16th, 2019
Sometimes, the number of titles a wrestler held doesn’t tell the whole story. 2019 in Stardom was all about Arisa Hoshiki’s rise from “surprise return wrestler” to being one of the top wrestlers in the promotion. She won the Cinderella Tournament in April and went on to win the Wonder of Stardom Championship. She held the title for the rest of the year with eight defenses, making her one of the most active champions on the Joshi scene. She also was involved in one of the more memorable Joshi storylines of 2019, as she slowly converted her enemy Tam Nakano into her friend over a seven month period, ending in a touching scene after they won the Stardom Goddesses of Tag League together. On top of that, her in-ring quality greatly improved as the year progressed as by the end she was putting together some high end matches. Arisa will have some stiff competition from Mayu in 2020, so we’ll see if she can keep up her momentum.
4. Chihiro Hashimoto (Sendai Girls’)
Championships Held: Sendai Girls’ World Championship (229 days), Sendai Girls’ Tag Team Championship (146 days), and the KO-D Six Man Tag Team Championship (95 days)
Biggest Matches: vs. Sareee on 1/6, with Mika Iwata vs. Hiroyo Matsumoto and Sareee on 2/3, vs. Sareee on 6/8, vs. Yoshiko on 7/7, and vs. Sareee on 10/13
Best Match: vs. Sareee in Sendai Girls’ on June 8th, 2019
For the third straight year, Chihiro Hashimoto was the main force in Sendai Girls’, as their smaller roster doesn’t give them a lot of options. Just four years into her career she is already on her fifth title reign, as Meiko Satomura takes a lesser role and no other younger wrestler is ready to step up. She had a great series of matches against Sareee in 2019, and just for variety sake also had success in DDT as well. Combined with her tag title run, its hard to deny that Chihiro had a great year and further cemented her place as one of the best young wrestlers on the Joshi scene, but hopefully Sendai Girls’ can find a way to mix it up a bit in 2020.
5. Takumi Iroha (Marvelous)
Championships Held: SEAdLINNNG Beyond The Sea Championship (112 days) and the Regina Di WAVE Championship (167 days)
Biggest Matches: vs. Nanae Takahashi on 5/29, vs. Nagisa Nozaki vs. Ryo Mizunami on 7/15, vs. Arisa Nakajima on 9/18, vs. Ryo Mizunami on 10/5, vs. Chigusa Nagayo on 12/8, and vs. Nagisa Nozaki on 12/29
Best Match: vs. Nanae Takahashi in SEAdLINNNG on May 29th, 2019
Another solid year by the young Ace of Marvelous – Takumi Iroha. Even though Marvelous doesn’t really have its own titles, Takumi still won two titles anyway in 2019 as she visited other promotions. She won the SEAdLINNNG Beyond the Sea Championship from Nanae Takahashi in May and won the Regina Di WAVE Championship against Nagisa Nozaki and Ryo Mizunami in July. She capped off her year by defeating Chigusa Nagayo in a singles match, the first time she has faced off against her mentor in a one vs. one match. Takumi’s future is hard to determine due to her situation in Marvelous, but she will continue to be their Ace as well as traveling to other promotions to take their belts.
6. Mayu Iwatani (Stardom)
Championships Held: ROH Women of Honor Word Championship (55 days), Artist of Stardom Championship, (162 days) and the World of Stardom Championship (57 days)
Biggest Matches: vs. Konami on 2/24, with Saki Kashima and Tam Nakano vs. Hana Kimura, Jungle Kyona, and Konami on 6/23, vs. Tam Nakano on 9/7, vs. Momo Watanabe on 9/22, vs. Bea Priestley on 11/4, and vs. Kagetsu on 12/24
Best Match: vs. Kagetsu in Stardom on December 24th, 2019
Mayu Iwatani won the Tokyo Sports Award Women’s Award in 2019, which was well deserved but that doesn’t mean she had the best year. This ranking is influenced by my own personal biases, not Joshi politics. Still, she did have a great year. She started the year as part of the Artist of Stardom Championship, a title she held for almost half the year total. Even though technically I am not considering matches outside of Japan, I still have to mention that she had a title match at Madison Square Garden, a massive achievement in any wrestler’s career. She ended the year hot, as she won the World of Stardom Championship in November and still held the belt as the year concluded. When considering how she closed the year and the number of high end matches she had, Mayu is easily a Top 10 wrestler for the year, and judging from how it ended I imagine she will be even higher next year.
7. Arisa Nakajima (SEAdLINNNG)
Championships Held: SEAdLINNNG Beyond The Sea Championship (104 days) and the SEAdLINNNG Beyond the Sea Tag Team Championship (115 days)
Biggest Matches: with Sae vs. Himeka Arita and Miyuki Takase on 3/20, vs. Nanae Takahashi on 4/28, vs. Takumi Iroha on 9/18, and vs. Nanae Takahashi on 11/2
Best Match: vs. Nanae Takahashi in SEAdLINNNG on November 2nd, 2019
After a quiet 2018, Arisa Nakajima came back with a bang in 2019 as she took over SEAdLINNNG. Arisa had two tag title reigns during the year, although both were short, and won the Beyond The Sea Championship in September before holding it for the rest of the year. She also had one of the best Joshi matches of 2019 against Nanae Takahashi in November 2nd. Arisa only had 45 matches in 2019 which hurt her a bit, otherwise she would have been higher, but she is still one of the best in-ring competitors in Japan. If she wrestles more outside of SEAdLINNNG in 2020, she could easily be a Top 5 wrestler next year.
8. Hiroyo Matsumoto (Freelancer)
Championships Held: Sendai Girls’ Tag Team Championship (79 days), SEAdLINNNG Beyond The Sea Tag Team Championship (186 days), OZ Tag Team Championship (131 days), and the Blast Queen Championship (7 days)
Biggest Matches: with Kaori Yoneyama vs. Maya Yukihi and Saori Anou on 5/12, with Yoshiko vs. Himeka Arita and Miyuki Takase on 6/28, vs. Nanae Takahashi on 8/18, vs. Mayumi Ozaki on 8/25, vs. Hanako Nakamori on 9/29, and with DASH Chisako vs. Charli Evans and Millie McKenzie on 10/13
Best Match: vs. Mayumi Ozaki in OZ Academy on August 25th, 2019
Like Arisa Nakajima, Hiroyo Matsumoto didn’t have a great 2018 but had a much better year in 2019. She found her most success in the tag team division, as she ended the year holding two tag team championships. She was very active with 120 matches in twelve different Japanese promotions, so even though she didn’t get any long runs at the top of a promotion this year she stayed visible. Hiroyo didn’t have any noted MOTYC type matches but was very consistent in-ring, and considering she is a Freelancer it was a very solid year overall.
9. Momo Watanabe (Stardom)
Championships Held: Wonder of Stardom Championship (135 days), Goddesses of Stardom Championship (195 days), and the Artist of Stardom Championship (38 days)
Biggest Matches: vs. Tam Nakano on 1/14, vs. Jungle Kyona on 3/3, vs. Arisa Hoshiki on 5/16, with Utami Hayashishita vs. Jungle Kyona and Konami on 7/15, vs. Tam Nakano on 9/1, vs. Mayu Iwatani on 9/22, and with AZM and Utami Hayashishita vs. Andras Miyagi, Kagetsu, and Natsu Sumire on 11/23
Best Match: vs. Jungle Kyona in Stardom on March 3rd, 2019
Momo did the opposite of Arisa and Mayu in 2019, which always impacts one’s impression of a wrestler – she started the year hot but disappeared for the last half of the year as she faded more into the second tier. As 2019 began she held both the Wonder of Stardom and Goddesses of Stardom Championship, but both titles were gone by the summer. She didn’t win any tournaments but did win the Artist of Stardom Championship in November so at least she didn’t end the year with no titles at all. That being said, in the first half of the year she had some great title defenses, and even though she wasn’t always winning she had some really quality matches in the fall as well so her in-ring performances stayed at a high level. Momo may have been passed by both Arisa and Mayu in 2019, with with wrestlers like Utami, Hana Kimura, and Giulia in the wings she may have trouble climbing back to the top.
10. Miyu Yamashita (Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling)
Championships Held: Tokyo Princess of Princess Championship (122 days) and the SHINE Championship (31 days)
Biggest Matches: vs. Maki Itoh on 1/4, vs. Yuka Sakazaki on 3/31, vs. Shoko Nakajima on 5/3, vs. Allysin Kay on 5/6, and with Miu Watanabe vs. Misao and Sakisama on 8/25
Best Match: vs. Shoko Nakajima in Tokyo Joshi Pro on May 3rd, 2019
Tokyo Joshi Pro didn’t have one dominate wrestler in 2019 as their main title was divided between three wrestlers through the year, but Miyu Yamashita still felt like their superstar. She entered the year the Princess of Princess Champion and kept it until May, oddly enough she did not get a rematch for the rest of the year and even lost in the first round of the Tokyo Princess Cup. She did get one tag title shot, but her team lost. Still, she did hold the title for 25% of the year with three successful defenses and continued putting on high quality matches as she always does which helped her sneak into the Top 10 and over her fellow Tokyo Joshi Pro wrestlers.
11. Saori Anou (Actwres girl’Z) – The undisputed Ace of Actwres girl’Z in 2019, Saori also saw title success outside the promotion for the first time as she held the OZ Academy Tag Team Championship for over 100 days. She lost the AgZ Championship and OZ Academy Tag Team Championship in August however and was more under the radar the rest of the year, as her future went into limbo as she announced she was leaving AgZ in December. As of the time of this review, we still don’t know what her future holds, and that will be the determining factor on where she is on this list next year. If she is on it at all.
12. Hanako Nakamori (PURE-J) – Like last year, Hanako took control of being the Ace of the seldom seen PURE-J promotion. More of her matches seemed to “make tape” in 2019 than 2018 however, her main issue this year is that due to the retirement of Command Bolshoi she wasn’t really the focus the first quarter of the year. Once she won the PURE-J Openweight Championship in April she held it to the conclusion of 2019, with five successful defenses. Hopefully more PURE-J is available to watch in 2020.
13. Mayumi Ozaki (OZ Academy) – Even though I find Mayumi Ozaki’s match style to be predictable and not overly entertaining, I can’t deny her success in 2019 as she led OZ Academy. She held the OZ Academy Openweight Championship from April until the end of the year, and won the Blast Queen Championship as well. She wasn’t as active as most wrestlers on this list with only 46 matches however, which isn’t a surprise considering her age, and none of her matches were highly ranked. She deserves being on the list just due the stranglehold she held on OZ Academy, but hopefully in 2020 a younger wrestler with a different wrestling style will take over.
14. Riho (Gatoh Move/Stardom) – Riho found a good deal of success in AEW in 2019, but even beyond that she had a good year in Japan. She was the Ace of Gatoh Move for the first half of the year, holding both the Super Asia Championship and the Asia Dream Tag Team Championship. After joining AEW in late summer, Riho still wrestled in Japan and won the High Speed Championship in Stardom. Riho may be focusing more on AEW in 2020, but for 2019 she still did enough in Japan to make the top 20 Joshi wrestlers of the year.
15. Kagetsu (Stardom) – In her final full year as a professional wrestler, Kagetsu continued to put out great matches in 2019. She opened the year as World of Stardom Champion, holding the title for four months. From then on her championship success was more limited, with just a short Artist of Stardom run, but she was constantly involved in the title scene and had great matches with Hazuki, Toni Storm, Konami, Jungle Kyona, Arisa Hoshiki, and Mayu Iwatani. In a promotion where it is easy to fade in the background, Kagetsu never did and stayed a visible and popular wrestler for the entire year.
16. Shoko Nakajima (Tokyo Joshi Pro) – Shoko had the longest Princess of Princess title reign of 2019, holding the title for over 180 days. She didn’t have the same level of matches as Miyu Yamashita, and was also often overshadowed by other fan favorites like Maki Itoh and Yuka Sakazaki. Still, she did have four successful defenses and stayed in bigger matches even outside her title reign, so even though she was sometimes overlooked she still had a really solid year for the promotion.
17. ASUKA (Freelancer) – ASUKA had an interesting year, as even though she did not win any major titles she was a force to be reckoned with wrestling in the male-dominated promotions DDT and ZERO1. She took part in the Fire Festival in 2019, and even though she didn’t do great in the tournament she did have a big win over Masato Tanaka. She also battled Akito in DDT for the DDT Extreme Championship, considered by many to be a stealth MOTYC candidate. ASUKA set her own path in 2019, one not many Joshi wrestlers have attempted, and came away with a very memorable year. As a Freelancer, its always hard to predict her future, but being a regular in DDT made her in 2019 one of the most visible Joshi wrestlers in Japan and the quality of her matches proved that she belongs in the big leagues.
18. Utami Hayashishita (Stardom) – Utami dealt with some injury issues in 2019 but still collected titles like few others can. She held five championships during the year, four in Stardom and one from EVE, and for the year she had a total of 21 title matches. She ended the year still holding three belts, as she seems poised to move up the ladder further if she can stay healthy.
19. Risa Sera (Ice Ribbon) – I really didn’t want to only have one Ice Ribbon wrestler on the list, and Risa Sera seemed like the most deserving to also be included. Risa had two tag title reigns in 2019, plus she held the Blast Queen Championship for the first month and a half of the year. She had one shot at the ICExInfinity Championship, but lost, and ended the year with no titles. Her match quality continued to be high however, making it easier to justify placing her on this list.
20. Hikaru Shida (Freelancer) – Hikaru Shida held the OZ Academy Openweight Championship until April of 2019, but did not win any other titles the rest of the year. To many she was still considered one of the best in-ring wrestlers in Japan, however, and she had over 90 matches in Japan for the year even though she left in October to join AEW. Hikaru may not be eligible for this list for awhile if things go well in AEW, but she earned her spot this year with her versatility in the ring and general popularity.