Top Joshi Wrestlers Of 2021

Utami Hayashishita

Over the past few years LWOPW has put together a list of the top Joshi wrestlers of a given year.  This time around we have got nominations and contributions from a number of people involved in covering Joshi wrestling to various degrees to represent the viewpoint of as many different voices as possible.

Contributions from: Parker Klyn (F4W), Beth Harris (Last Word on Sports, Stardust Press Podcast), Phil Lindsey (Bleacher Report, Fansided, Grapsody Podcast), JPQ (formerly No Particular Angle Podcast, Pro Wrestling Illustrated), Alex Richards (Last Word on Sports, Voices of Wrestling, Stardom Quest Podcast, Victory Through Guts Podcast)
Note: This isn’t a competitive ranking or an article with a “winner”. This article aims to put a spotlight on the best Japanese women’s wrestlers of the past year!

The Top Joshi Wrestlers of 2021

Maki Itoh – Nominated by Parker & Phil

Maki Itoh AEW Revolution

Parker – “One of the more baffling moments of 2021 was when the wrestling world, including high-profile media members with a platform, collectively decided that Itoh was one of the worst wrestlers they had ever seen after two tag matches in AEW. It’s true, Itoh was not good in those matches, but using that as the basis of judgment for her career would be like using any random preliminary tag match to judge the career of someone like Kenny Omega or Kazuchika Okada. There was a fairly palpable sexist and xenophobic slant to it, and so Itoh’s subsequent Wrestler of the Year-level run to close out the rest of 2021 felt like a special “f**k you” to anyone who talked down on her.

In my eyes, Itoh had the best match in TJPW history against Rika Tatsumi in April — and then she set a *new* best match in TJPW history six months later at Wrestle Princess in her challenge against Miyu Yamashita. She also had the best match of this year’s Princess Cup in her emotional bout against Mizuki. With each subsequent performance, Itoh continued to exemplify why people enjoy TJPW. This comparison will sound ridiculous, but it’s accurate: Itoh performs closer to the mid-90s WWF house style than any other wrestler today; her matches are structured closer to Bret Hart than they are to Manami Toyota. A high-profile Itoh singles match has become must-see viewing, and at this point, the people who continue to dismiss her are simply missing out”

Phil –   Itoh continues to grow into a noteworthy star outside of Japan. Her appearance in the AEW Women’s World Title Eliminator Tournament was one of the highlights of the company’s attempts to elevate its women’s division.”

Utami Hayashishita – Nominated by Parker & Phil

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Parker – “Coming into the year, Hayashishita had just given the two best matches of her life in her World of Stardom title victory over Mayu Iwatani and subsequent first defense against Momo Watanabe. Then newcomer Maika challenged Hayashishita, and I posted something along the lines of “zero faith these two will be able to put together a worthy world title match.” Parker, you numbskull! Hayashishita’s stellar defense against Maika kicked off a truly magical year for the 23-year-old, carrying the Red Belt throughout. Her defense against Bea Priestley was all physicality and bomb-throwing, like a more refined version of a Charlotte Flair match. The Saya Kamitani match was completely unique within the reign, displaying poise and allowing Kamitani to shine at Budokan. Her draw against Syuri rocked the wrestling landscape, drawing more international eyes to Joshi than perhaps any time since the days of AJW. And she continued things with a stellar run through the 5*STAR GP, more great defenses (including a Hazuki match that firmly re-established her return as serious business), and an all-around aura of vulnerable invincibility, as if each subsequent defense would bring her closer to defeat but would never actually reach that moment. Hayashishita’s got that match with Syuri at Sumo Hall coming up; the world is watching.”
Phil – “Utami Hayashishita earned the second spot on the 2021 PWI Women’s 150 after a stretch of title defenses with Stardom’s red belt including a contender for match of the year with Syuri on June 12, 2021. Dave Meltzer made this highly-acclaimed encounter the highest-rated women’s match of all time.”

Mio Momono – Nominated by Alex

Alex – “If not for injury Mio Momono would have run away with this contest. There were few wrestlers as consistently amazing as Mio Momono who was simultaneously being pushed in MarvelousSendai Girls, and Pro Wrestling WAVE having great matches regardless of the setting or the opponent.  Beyond just her MOTY contenders with the likes of Chihiro Hashimoto, Miyuki Takase, and Sakura Hirota, Momono was also forced into the role as the de-facto ace of Marvelous in the absence of Takumi Iroha. With Marvelous spending the first half of the year at war with Sendai Girls in the lead up to GAEAISM, Momono subtly stepped in to lead the troops and showcased a level of poise, charisma, and leadership that few can match, she took on all comers in Sendai Girls as Marvelous’ biggest threat and was more than up to the task no matter the opponent.

If it weren’t for an injury derailing her career there’s no telling the heights Momono could have reached this year but one thing is for sure, she proved to everyone that she is one of the best wrestlers on the planet.”

Itsuki Aoki – Nominated by JPQ

JPQ – Chances are good if you paid attention to the Joshi scene in 2021 outside of STARDOM & TJPW then you are familiar with Itsuki Aoki. Why? Because she gets BOOKED! My personal Ironwoman of the Year (Sorry Hibiscus Mii) – this 24-year-old freelancer is going to find herself in around 120 matches in 2021 – wrestling almost once every three days. This is a 200+% increase in output from 2020.

A valuable asset to Pro Wrestling WAVE, Ice Ribbon, SEAdLINNNG, Marvelous Pro, Oz Academy, Ganbare Pro, 666, Sendai Girls, & AWG – one of Itsuki’s greatest strengths is her versatility. She has wrestled in a variety of match styles from high speed to hardcore, competed in various tournaments in single competition as well as in tag team competition, and found championship success in both Oz Academy & Pro Wrestling WAVE’s tag team division. 

Itsuki Aoki won’t win any “Best Bout” awards this year, however, the exponential growth with work rate, timing, and ring confidence can not be understated. Celebrate what should be a HUGE breakout year in 2022 by recognizing one of the best in Joshi at the end of 2021.”

ASUKA/Veny – Nominated by Beth

ASUKA/VENY Wins SEAdLINNNG Beyond The Sea Championship

Beth – “ASUKA’s stock was already pretty high leaving 2020 but it only skyrocketed in 2021. Making an appearance for AEW at the start of the year in their Women’s Eliminator Tournament put the Genderless Powerfighter on the international stage where people across the globe could see their unbelievable talent. They put on an incredible performance with Kagetsu during the Hana Kimura memorial show back in May and have held multiple titles mostly for SEAdLINNNG throughout the year. “

Syuri – Nominated by JPQ

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JPQ – It’s not hard to add Syuri to the conversation of Best Joshi Wrestlers in 2021 given her resume this year. Title accolades? She’s got them – Year+ SWA Undisputed Title run, 8 month Goddess of STARDOM run, a 5 STAR GP winner. Win/Loss %? You know it – 60% win rate with only three single losses in 2021. Match Quality? How about seven WON three-star plus matches this year including the highest-rated WON match in women’s wrestling – 5.5 stars against Utami Hyashishita at Tokyo Dream Cinderella. 

Syuri’s wrestling ability is so malleable and is underappreciated by most as well. Adding goofy elements to tag and faction matches, personal relationship vulnerabilities between her and Konami during their match trilogy, the complete punishment she inflicts on Unagi during her 7 Match Series, and the fierce competitive fire she has with her epic encounters with Utami – Syuri shows there are a multitude of ways to entertain the audience over the year. 

Between her 2021 wrestling resume and the variety in entertaining the audience, Syuri belongs in the discussion as one of the best in Joshi this year.

SAKI – Nominated by Alex

Alex – “SAKI has been an absolute revelation this year.  With Miyuki Takase and Tae Honma both suffering injuries SAKI got the full spotlight at the top of Actwres girl’Z to showcase her in-ring talent.  After capturing the AWG title from Takase, SAKI did not look back and ended the year with three different titles around her waist as her galaxyPunch! tag team alongside Hikaru Shimizu captured the WAVE tag titles.  She is adept at playing a number of different roles in the ring which has been crucial to AWG this year as she’s been able to mix it up with just about everyone on their varied roster.

Outside of Actwres SAKI has had some stellar performances including a great effort against YuuRI in Ganbare Pro and a one-off stop in TJPW against the Magical Sugar Rabbits.”

Tam Nakano – Nominated by Phil

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Phil – “Tam Nakano took part in one of the best rivalries of the year with Giulia. Their hair vs. hair match at All-Star Dream Cinderella and her subsequent reign as Wonder of Stardom champion has exceeded all expectations.”

Suzu Suzuki – Nominated by Beth

Tsukasa Fujimoto

Beth – “After losing her IcexInfinity Championship at the start of the year, the young ace made it her mission to put herself on the map when it comes to deathmatches. Competing in a seven-match deathmatch trial throughout the better part of 2021, she took on the biggest names such as Yuko Miyamoto, Rina Yamashita, Jun Kasai, and Masashi Takeda. Her match with Takeda gained National press after how shockingly violent it was. At only 19, she has bet on herself and walked away from her home promotion of Ice Ribbon to further her dream of deathmatches.”

Yurika Oka – Nominated by JQP

JPQ – “Best rookie in Joshi today. This Sendai Girls’ Junior Champion has as much upside moving forward in her career as any younger wrestler going today, regardless of profile or promotion. She has proved that time and time again over the course of the year.

Super solid suplex game and above-average offensive playbook (relative to her experience), Yurika Oka has anchored the opening match for Sendai Girls, WAVE, Marvelous. She’s leading less experienced wrestlers in the ring having built rivalries with Riko Kaiju and Manami, while finding a good foothold in her strong style tag matches with veteran talent. 

Simply put, Yurika Oka makes you want to watch a card start to finish because she is showing signs of a wrestler that could take over Joshi in the next 5 years. 2022 will be another rung on the ladder to super stardom.”

Tsukasa Fujimoto – Nominated by Parker & Beth

Parker – “At the time of writing, the future of Ice Ribbon is filled with uncertainty. Attendance is down, even by pandemic standards, and three of their top five stars — Maya Yuhiki, Risa Sera, and Suzu Suzuki — are leaving the promotion at the end of the year. It’s a shame, because ace/head trainer/longtime champion/all-around face of the promotion Tsukasa Fujimoto was the best Joshi wrestler in 2021, a year in which she faced unbelievable competition for that award.

I would argue that Hayashishita had a more consistent overall run with her world championship as compared to Fujimoto and the ICExInfinity title (Fujimoto had a couple middling defenses against Totoro Satsuki and Mochi Miyagi during the summer where Suzuki’s deathmatch series was the top draw in Ice Ribbon), but nobody could reach Fujimoto’s heights as champion. There’s so much care and creativity and hard work woven into the fabric of Fujimoto’s performances, such as out-wrestling the rookie upstart Suzuki to win the title in January, taking current (former?) top star Yuhiki to the limit to the point that she had to defend the title with Manami Toyota’s Japanese Ocean Cyclone Suplex, and extending Tsukushi Haruka’s chase in April.

But Fujimoto’s 2021 pinnacle came in the match she lost, putting over Tsukushi to win the title with Toyota looking on at Ota Ward in one of the very best Ice Ribbon matches of all time. There’s been nobody better than Fujimoto for a long time, but in 2021, she finally gave herself the whole year to show it. With Ice Ribbon’s uncertain future, there’s a decent chance she never gets that opportunity again.”

Beth – Tsukasa held the IcexInfinity championship for a good portion of 2021, consistently putting on top-level matches with everyone she faced. From capturing the title off Suzu Suzuki back in January right up until she lost it to tag partner Tsukushi, every single match has shown why she is not only Ice Ribbon’s ace but also one of the best women to come out of Japan. Traveling to Mexico on excursion to better her in-ring work, something that doesn’t sound possible for one of Manami Toyota’s trainees but she is always trying to prove just why she’s the best. “

Arisa Nakajima – Nominated by Alex

Nanae Takahashi & Arisa Nakajima

Alex – “It’s been an interesting year for SEAdLINNNG, one in which top star Yoshiko missed the majority of the year while Nanae Takahashi was trying to find her best form after an injury sidelined her for all of 2020.  Given those circumstances, the pressure was on the veteran Arisa Nakajima to perform and continue attracting fans to shows. This is a task she grabbed with both hands, becoming a consistent highlight of SEAdLINNNG events throughout the year in both tag team action alongside Takahashior Fujimoto and in singles in the latter half of the year.  Her renewed grudges with Takahashi and Hanako Nakamori provided a spark to SEAdLINNNG’s Autumn with her newly adopted heel role fitting her like a glove.

Outside of SEAdLINNNG Nakajima had a standout match on the final ASSEMBLE show as well as Yumiko Hotta’s anniversary show and an end of year run in PURE-J which saw her capture the company’s tag titles alongside Nakamori.

Much like Mio Momono, I was equally impressed with Nakajima’s willingness to step up to the plate and hit a home run when her promotion needed her most”.

And there we have it.  Not all, but a collection of the top Joshi wrestlers of 2021.  Not everyone can make the cut and injuries certainly thinned out the field this year but the Joshi scene is alive and well with talents like this running the show.