A few weeks later than usual this year, but the tradition must live on! To see how I ranked wrestlers in past years, check out the 2015
, 2018, 2019,
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 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 2021, or any championship that was held when 2021 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 2021.
2021 continued to be impacted by the pandemic, even as many promotions returned to a more normal schedule. The trend of “more Joshi” being available via streaming methods continued, which is great, but also made it harder to keep up with everything. I did my best to do so however, and attempted to come up with a Top 20 list that I feel best shows who in lead the Joshi landscape during these unusual times.
Onto the Top 20 Joshi Wrestlers of 2021!
1. Syuri (Stardom)
Championships Held: SWA Undisputed World Women’s Championship (365 days), Goddess of Stardom Championship (272 days), and the World of Stardom Championship (3 days)
Biggest Matches: with Giulia vs. Himeka and Maika on 4/4, vs. Utami Hayashishita on 6/12, vs. Momo Watanabe on 9/25, vs. Utami Hayashishita on 12/29
Best Match: vs. Utami Hayashishita in Stardom on June 12th, 2021
14 years after she debuted in professional wrestling, Syuri finally had the year that her fans always knew she was capable of. After years of being a Freelancer or focusing on her MMA career, Syuri finally got the chance to take over in Stardom and she did not disappoint. Syuri had a dominant year in both singles and tag matches, going 13-0-1 in title matches. She also won the Stardom FIVE STAR GP, the most prestigious annual tournament in Joshi. As far as match quality, she had one of the best matches of the year against Utami in June, and had five matches rated **** or higher by the Wrestling Observer (all singles matches). She capped off the year winning the World of Stardom Championship, as she goes into 2022 as the top wrestler in the promotion. A hell of a year for Syuri, and one that her fans have long been waiting for.
2. Utami Hayashishita (Stardom)
Championships Held: World of Stardom Championship (363 days)
Biggest Matches: vs. Bea Priestly on 4/4, vs. Syuri on 6/12, vs. Tam Nakano on 9/25, vs. Takumi Iroha on 10/9, vs. Syuri on 12/29
Best Match: vs. Syuri in Stardom on June 12th, 2021
Even though Utami Hayashishita only held one title in 2021, it happened to be the top title in Stardom and she held it for virtually the entire year. In her title reign she had a number of high-end defenses, including wins over Bea Priestley, Takumi Iroha, Hazuki, and Maika. She only stumbled when facing Syuri, as she went 0-2-2 against her in singles matches, which is the reason Syuri ranking over her was an easy decision. At only 23 years old, Utami is poised to lead Stardom for many years to come if that is the path she decides to take in her career.
3. Miyu Yamashita (Tokyo Joshi Pro)
Championships Held: Tokyo Joshi Pro Princess Of Princess Championship (242 days)
Biggest Matches: vs. Rika Tatsumi on 5/4, vs. Yuka Sakazaki on 6/6, vs. Sakisama on 6/26, vs. Mizuki on 7/31, vs. Maki Itoh on 10/9
Best Match: vs. Maki Itoh in Tokyo Joshi Pro on October 9th, 2021
What really puts Miyu Yamashita over the top isn’t just her success in Tokyo Joshi Pro, but her popularity and her ability to put on high-end matches against a variety of opponents. She had four successful title defenses in 2021, and over the course of the year she was 18-1 in singles matches, with her only loss being against Mizuki in the Tokyo Princess Cup. To show her level of popularity in Japan, she finished 4th in the Weekly Pro Magazine fan voting for Joshi MVP, the highest of any non-Stardom wrestler.
4. Tsukasa Fujimoto (Ice Ribbon)
Championships Held: ICExInfinity Championship (294 days) and the International Ribbon Tag Team Championship (16 days)
Biggest Matches: vs. Rina Yamashita on 2/20, with Tsukushi vs. Risa Sera and Suzu Suzuki on 2/21, vs. Maya Yukihi on 3/27, vs. Hiroyo Matsumoto on 8/9, vs. Tsukushi Haruka on 11/13
Best Match: vs. Tsukushi Haruka in Ice Ribbon on November 13th, 2021
With Ice Ribbon going through some turmoil in 2021, their long time Ace took back over as she won the ICExInfinity Championship for the first time since 2018 and held it for the bulk of the year. She was an extremely active champion, with 11 title defenses and wins over Hiroyo Matsumoto, Tsukushi Haruka, and Maya Yukihi along the way. She also had a brief run with the tag titles, although she had no successful defenses of the belt. Tsukasa Fujimoto was the undisputed leader of Ice Ribbon in 2021, showing that even at 38 years old she is one of the best in Joshi wrestling.
5. Tam Nakano (Stardom)
Championships Held: Wonder of Stardom Championship (301 days) and the Artist of Stardom Championship (276 days)
Biggest Matches: vs. Giulia on 3/3, with Cosmic Angels vs. STARS on 3/7, vs. Natsupoi on 4/4, with Cosmic Angels vs. Queen’s Quest on 7/6, vs. Starlight Kid on 7/21, vs. Mayu Iwatani on 10/9, vs. Saya Kamitani on 11/27
Best Match: vs. Giulia in Stardom on March 3rd, 2021
Tam Nakano had a hell of a year in 2021. She entered the year as one of the Artist of Stardom champions, but her big moment came when she finally defeated Giulia in a Title vs. Hair match in March to win the Wonder of Stardom Championship. She held the title for almost the rest of the year, with successful defenses against Natsupoi, Starlight Kid, and Mina Shirakawa before losing the belt to Saya Kamitani. As the leader of the Cosmic Angels, Tam was frequently in major storylines and was a constant focus of the promotion. Easily the biggest year of her career, Tam showed in 2021 she has what it takes to lead a promotion.
6. Maya Yukihi (Freelancer)
Championships Held: OZ Academy Openweight Championship (137 days) and the International Ribbon Tag Team Championship (257 days)
Biggest Matches: vs. Tsukasa Fujimoto on 3/27, with Maika Ozaki vs. Dropkicks on 4/11, vs. Kaori Yoneyama on 7/18, with Sera vs. Matsumoto and Fujimoto on 8/9, vs. Mayumi Ozaki vs. Saori Anou vs. Yumi Ohka on 8/18, with Sera vs. Saori Anou and Suzu Suzuki on 11/13, vs. Yuu on 12/30
Best Match: vs. Tsukasa Fujimoto in Ice Ribbon on March 27th, 2021
Maya Yukihi is a constant force in Joshi, as even though she is a Freelancer she has a regular home in both Ice Ribbon and OZ Academy. As a regular, that gives her more consistent opportunities in both promotions, and she took full advantage in 2021 as she found success in both places. In OZ Academy, she won the Openweight Championship in August and held it the rest of the year, with one successful defense against Yuu. Over in Ice Ribbon, her “nicer” persona won the tag titles twice, with nine successful defenses between her two reigns. Being one of the top wrestlers in two different promotions is quite a feat, and I expect that trend to continue in 2022.
7. Rina Yamashita (Freelancer)
Championships Held: Ice Ribbon FantastICE Championship (187 days), Daily Sports Tag Team Championship (241 days), King of FREEDOM Tag Team Championship (107 days), and the OZ Academy Tag Team Championship (2 days)
Biggest Matches: vs. Tsukasa Fujimoto on 2/20, vs. ASUKA on 3/17, vs. Risa Sera on 6/27, vs. Suzu Suzuki on 8/9, vs. with Nakamori vs. Cherry and Leon on 8/29, with Hiroyo Matsumoto vs. Aoki and Kuragaki on 12/30
Best Match: vs. Suzu Suzuki in Ice Ribbon on August 9th, 2021
I love Rina Yamashita. She is capable of wrestling such a diverse style, and is so well-respected by promotions that she held titles in 2021 in FOUR different promotions. OZ Academy and Ice Ribbon were her primary homes in 2021, as she won the hardcore-friendly FantastICE Championship in Ice Ribbon and ended the year winning the OZ Academy Tag Championship with Hiroyo Matsumoto. She also held titles in PURE-J and FREEDOMS, showing her versatility. More wild and unpredictable than your average Joshi wrestler, Yamashita brings a sense of danger to all her matches and is captivating to watch. Yamashita may not ever find a permanent home but she is doing quite well for herself as one of the most popular Freelancers on the Joshi market.
8. Giulia (Stardom)
Championships Held: Wonder of Stardom Championship (62 days) and the Goddesses of Stardom Championship (272 days)
Biggest Matches: vs. Starlight Kid on 2/13, vs. Tam Nakano on 3/3, with Syuri vs. Himeka and Maika on 4/4, with Syuri vs. Mayu and Starlight Kid on 5/15, vs. Mayu Iwatani on 8/1
Best Match: vs. Tam Nakano in Stardom on March 3rd, 2021
The only thing that held Giulia back in 2021 was an injury that kept her out for a few months, but she still stayed in the spotlight in Stardom as one of their most important wrestlers. She had a great match in March against Tam Nakano, in which she ended up losing her hair. Giulia had no issue rocking the “short hair” look however and never really missed a beat, as she held the tag titles with Syuri for the bulk of the year. As the leader of DDM she was the focus of multiple major storylines, and ended the year defeating Konami in Konami’s last match before going on a long-term break. Even a “down” year for Giulia is a damn good one, and she’ll look to rebound in 2022.
9. Mei Suruga (Gatoh Move)
Championships Held: Asia Dream Tag Championship (365 days) and the Princess Tag Team Championship (175 days)
Biggest Matches: with Akki vs. Emi Sakura and Fujita on 3/27, with Sakisama vs. Tenma and Aino on 4/17, with Sakisama vs. BeeStar on 5/4, vs. Minoru Fujita on 6/12, with Sakisama vs. Maki Itoh and Yamashita on 6/17, vs. Emi Sakura on 8/9/21, with Sakisama vs. Sugar Rabbits on 10/9
Best Match: vs. Emi Sakura in Gatoh Move on August 9th, 2021
When I was compiling the ranking, I really struggled with the rest of the list as almost every wrestler has a different justification for being ranked ahead of another. What put Mei over the the top for me (if I can be permitted to put kayfabe aside) is her run in Tokyo Joshi Pro. As Mei Saint-Michel, Mei won the tag titles with Sakisama and together they had two successful defenses during their 175 day run. It also helps that Mei’s matches are extremely accessible, which builds up her popularity and makes all her bigger matches available to watch. In Gatoh Move, Mei held the tag titles for the entire year, with nine successful defenses. Mei may have reached her ceiling if she remains primarily in Gatoh Move, but even though she is in a smaller promotion she still puts on great matches and has a wide fanbase that spans the globe.
10. Miyuki Takase (AgZ)
Championships Held: AgZ Championship (94 days) and the Diana Tag Team Championship (289 days)
Biggest Matches: vs. SAKI on 4/4, with Umesaki vs. 3A on 4/18, vs. Rin Kadokura on 7/1, vs. Leon on 12/13
Best Match: vs. Mio Momono in WAVE on June 1st, 2021
Miyuki Takase gained more visibility in 2021 due to wrestling in more promotions and AgZ regularly updating their streaming service, but she was hurt by missing a chunk of the year due to an injury. Miyuki only had 60 matches during the year but made the most of it, as she held titles in two different promotions. Miyuki’s epic run as AgZ Champion ended in 2021, but she continued to be the best wrestler in the promotion. In WAVE, she won the Catch the WAVE Tournament, which is still one of the most prestigious Joshi tournaments even though WAVE itself has dropped in popularity. In Diana, Miyuki had two runs with their tag team championship, although she had a lack of defenses due to missing so much time. As the year ended, AgZ folded their wrestling division so Miyuki officially became a Freelancer. Hopefully she can turn that into a successful 2022 as she is well regarded in several Joshi promotions from her work over the years.
11. Chihiro Hashimoto (Sendai Girls’) – Chihiro again fails to crack the Top 10 for the same reason as last year – visibility. Sendai Girls’ doesn’t run as many shows as other promotions, and not as many of their events “make air” as they don’t have a dedicated streaming service. Hopefully next year we will get to see more of Chihiro as the matches we have seen (vs. Mio Momono and vs. Takumi Iroha in particular) were great and she deserves more attention.
12. Arisa Nakajima (SEAdLINNNG) – The only thing holding back Arisa Nakajima is she continues to have a light schedule, with only 32 matches on the year. Seven of those matches were title matches however, so when Arisa did wrestle she wrestled with a purpose. Over the course of the year she held three titles (SEAdLINNNG singles, SEAdLINNNG tag, and PURE-J tag) and continued to put on high-end matches. I’d like to see more of Arisa, but she seems to be happy with her current situation and she has certainly earned the lighter workload after the long career she has had.
13. Starlight Kid (Stardom) – In regards to growth in 2021, few wrestlers had the success of Starlight Kid. Starlight Kid has been a great wrestler for years, but she stepped up her game in 2021 not only by winning the High Speed Championship but turning on her friends and joining Oedo Tai. Ever since she became more…. dark, she’s become one of the stars of the promotion as she was immediately thrust into several major storylines. She is still a little young and undersized to expect a climb to the top in 2022, but I’m not going to be the one to doubt her as she has shown she is capable of anything.
14. Maki Itoh (Tokyo Joshi Pro) – Like Starlight Kid, Maki Itoh is here on the list due to her growth in popularity. Arguably the most popular wrestler in Tokyo Joshi Pro, Itoh didn’t win any titles in 2021 but did win the Tokyo Princess Cup when she defeated Shoko Nakajima in the Finals. She challenged twice for the Princess of Princess Championship without success, so even though she didn’t win as many matches as she’d have liked, she stayed in the main event scene. Itoh’s career path is one of the harder ones to predict, but I don’t see her popularity waning anytime soon.
15. Leon (PURE-J) – Leon dominated PURE-J in 2021, holding both the Openweight Championship and the PURE-J Tag Team Championship. At 41 years old, Leon is still a very good wrestler but doesn’t put on the high end matches anymore that many others on this list do. Still, she provided the old school promotion with stability and due to their streaming services, virtually all of her big matches were available for fans to watch.
16. ASUKA/Veny (Freelancer) – ASUKA was everywhere in 2021, as they wrestled in over a dozen promotions over the course of the year. ASUKA’s main home was SEAdLINNNG, where they won both the singles and tag team championship. A very active Freelancer that puts on high end matches wherever they go, even though in some ways this was a down year for ASUKA I am sure they will rebound next year and find even more success.
17. Nagisa Nozaki (Pro Wrestling WAVE) – Nagisa continues to lead a promotion that no one watches, due to WAVE not having a regular streaming service and most of their events only being available via PPV. Nagisa won the Regina Di WAVE Championship in August and held it for the rest of the year, however she only had one successful defense in that time. She is a very solid wrestler, not spectacular but whenever her matches do become available they are generally entertaining. I hated to have a promotion with no representation and Nagisa is the best pick from WAVE, but if you haven’t seen any of her matches from 2021 I assure you that you are not alone.
18. Tsukushi Haruka (Ice Ribbon) – Now that Suzu Suzuki is gone from Ice Ribbon, Tsukushi becomes the wrestler most likely to take the role of Ace from Tsukasa Fujimoto. She started that process by winning the ICExInfinity Championship in November – she has held many titles in Ice Ribbon before but this time it feels more serious as Tsukushi is now an adult and has started using her last name. A spunky murder machine, Tsukushi is poised for a big 2022 if she can keep up her current momentum.
19. Rika Tatsumi (Tokyo Joshi Pro) – Rika started the year hot but cooled off a bit as it came to a close. She came into 2021 the Princess of Princess Champion but lost the title in May and did not even challenge for any other titles for the rest of the year. She is only ranked at all based on her being the top title holder for the first quarter, but by the end of the year she had been passed by several other Tokyo Joshi Pro wrestlers. Rika is going to have to re-find that magic in 2022 or she will likely drop off the list altogether.
20. Suzu Suzuki (Ice Ribbon/Prominence) – Suzu gets the final spot this year (there are a dozen wrestlers that could have a legitimate argument for being on this list that aren’t) mostly due to her love of being blown up. Suzu turned to hardcore wrestling in 2021, which apparently is her true love and she wrestled anyone she could find that didn’t mind some extra pain. Her love for deathmatches helped lead to her leaving Ice Ribbon and forming her own group, which needless to say was a major step for the young wrestler. It remains to be seen if her venture will be a success, but I respect her willingness to risk it all by giving up her comfy Ice Ribbon “future Ace” role for the less steady realm of Joshi hardcore wrestling.