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Is Joshi Wrestling the Most Globally Successful Women's Wrestling?

For a long time, Joshi wrestling was considered the red-headed stepchild of Japanese wrestling. They weren’t always given the same market share as the male-led promotions.

Now, is it true that the all-women-led Japanese wrestling companies of the past like AJW, GAEA and Arsion always had top-tier wrestling, and during their peaks would easily sell out arenas and create an amazing life for their young female wrestlers? However, major international appeal was another story. Despite the huge boom that Joshi wrestling had in the 1980s and '90s in Japan.

I wage to argue that over the past two years, Joshi wrestling has gotten an international spotlight than they have ever had before.

Companies like Stardom, NJPW, NXT, Tokyo Joshi Pro Wrestling, Progress, ROH, Pro Wrestling EVE, Shimmer and AEW, have played a big role in the new pairs of eyes around the world that are looking at some of the best women’s wrestling in the world. Over the past decade, Joshi Wrestlers have produced wrestlers for Western audiences. Similar to their male counterpoints in Japan. Let’s take look a at what contributed to this international boom for Joshi Wrestling.

Prominent runs in NXT of legendary Stardom Wrestlers

Triple H had a mission with NXT, to not only develop new talent in the industry but to make NXT its own brand. He also wanted to showcase international talent that could shape up the next generation of WWE superstars. The talent taken from Stardom, one of the first being Asuka, later on, KAIRI and IYO Sky made such an impact on the American scene as major attractions and champions that you can’t think of the black and gold era of NXT and not put these three former NXT women’s champions in the conversation. NXT gave a spotlight to these women’s backgrounds in Joshi wrestling and put them over majorly as women who are the standard of how wrestling should be. For the longest time, the question on everyone’s lips was who could beat Asuka. This was certainly due to the strong style approach that Asuka had to her wrestling which was unmatched at that time. KAIRI’s unbelievable aerial ability, but also her enchanting entrances were a sneak peek to women’s wrestling fans who not have seen the Stardom’s wrestlers pageantry that is at another level in Japan. IYO made such a splash that in NXT and the main roster her heavyweight title reigns were demanded.

Kenny Omega’s dream to bring Joshi Wrestling to AEW

When AEW was formulating its roster, one of AEW’s VPs, Kenny Omega’s biggest goal was to showcase Joshi wrestling for the women’s division.

In his own words on what his motivation was to use Joshi wrestlers initially for the AEW roster:

"There hasn't been much exposure to Stardom on a worldwide scale, but people know who they are, mainly due to Kairi Sane and lo Shirai.
Since their NXT debuts, people have dug a little deeper and gone back to the roots and seen what Stardom is all about. I'm sure they've gained fans through that, but there are other styles of Joshi wrestling and other talent that people haven't seen, that don't wrestle for Stardom. These are the people I want to introduce to the world”.

Talent like Aja Kong, Yuka Sakazaki, Emi Sakura and Roy Mizunami were given opportunities to progress in tournaments and the women’s rosters, showing what they were bringing to the table.

Was the booking great? No. Did Covid also put a halt to this Joshi takeover of the AEW roster? Absolutely.

However, it can be said, that the mission to have phenomenal Joshi wrestlers spearhead the AEW women’s locker room is still a priority.

Especially with seeing women like Riho and Hikaru Shida get major storylines and championship runs.

NJPW and Stardom Partnership

In late 2019, NJPW’s parent company, Bushiroad, purchased Stardom. This was the beginning of us seeing women’s matches in NJPW.

This collaboration helped NJPW gain customers that they lost, that Stardom was drawing in.

To have a female-led promotion have this level of drawing power internationally is no small feat.

A year ago, Stardom outdrew New Japan’s three Korakuen shows with just one of theirs.

This is not a knock against New Japan of course.

Because they had to deal with reduced seating during the pandemic years. So these huge promotions working together for the greater good of both promotions make sense.

In the 2022 Stardom strategic meeting, it was announced that Stardom and NJPW would create a title for defences not just in Japan, but also in the US on New Japan Pro wrestling events.

This was a major deal and a brilliant strategy to bring light and attention to the women of Stardom.

A historic moment as well since this was the first time in NJPW’s 50-year history, that a belt for female talent would be featured.

That showed the confidence that Bushiroad has in the Stardom World brand.

Foreign wrestlers goming to Japan to successfully bring in American viewers

Initially, many American fans were perplexed when they tried to piece together why Mercedes would want to go to NJPW after such a successful career in WWE.

They knew that she had the pick of the litter when it came down to where she could sign, but she chose NJPW.

When those same fans tuned into her first match in NJPW and saw the pageantry, the out-of-this-world entrances and five-star calibre matches with not only Mercedes, but the women of Stardom, many minds changed.

It also opened the eyes of many American female fans, who never knew what Stardom was. Or where KAIRI was before coming into NXT.

Now, you see more wrestling fans talking about factions like Oedo Tai and wrestlers like Mayu Iwatani.

Mercedes Mone was able to have this successful transition in her career, because she chose the right dance partners and promotions, during this Joshi boom.

The emerging creation of US based All Japanese promotions

As the popularity of Joshi wrestling spreads across the globe, it seemed fitting for Japanese promotions to take a cue from NJPW and have a US-based promotion as well.

In September, it was announced that the all-women’s Japanese promotion, Sukeban would debut in Manhattan on September 21st.

This exciting new promotion has a unique, yet very Japanese approach with the wrestlers having very elaborate characters, and some comedic bits, but still showing off some hard-hitting action.

Even having legendary Joshi star Bull Nagano as their commissioner.

This pro wrestling league reminds me of the authentic punk rock, hard-hitting and over-the-top showcase that was frequent in the 70s and 80s for Joshi promotions like AJW.

Spark Joshi is seen as the first Japanese pro wrestling promotion based in the US. They feature well-known talents such as Maya Yukihi, Sumie Sakai, Malika Ozaki and American wrestlers as well.

A promotion like this allows American fans, like me, to be able to support Joshi wrestling locally and see this phenomenal wrestling up close.

I think it’s very important, especially in this global age, to see how impressive it is to have female-led promotions corner the market in their respected country, but also be able to bring in the same amount of crowds across the globe. The gym regime, the hours of practice at the dojo, the delivery of well-developed characters that hold a strong level of kayfabe in this era, the unmatched entrances and fascinating characters. I would be lying if I said that I don’t feel that Joshi wrestlers are the benchmark for modern women’s wrestling.


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