Io Shirai opens up about turning heel in WWE and future dream opponents - Exclusive
World Wonder Ring Stardom to her various stints in Mexico and Japan, Io Shirai was known for her connection with the fans and it was not much different when she joined the WWE NXT ranks in 2018.
When Io Shirai participated in the 2017 Mae Young Classic, there were only a few wrestlers who caught the imagination of the crowd like her. The ‘Genius of the sky’ quickly found a special place in the heart of the WWE loyalists and her babyface gimmick made her a favourite among almost all age groups. From World Wonder Ring Stardom to her various stints in Mexico and Japan, she was known for her connection with the fans and it was not much different when she joined the WWE NXT ranks in 2018. However, it all changed in TakeOver XXV.
Shirai attacked Candice LeRae after her match against Shayna Baszler and in the following episode, she arrived with a completely new look and a new entrance music. This was completely different from what the fans expected from her character and when asked about her change, Shirai explained the reason behind the move.
“To the fans, my character changed suddenly. But I took a long time to think about it and it was a gradual process for me. When I came to WWE, I wanted to try out something different. They already had Asuka and Kairi (Sane). So, I wanted to show something new. I wanted to show a new side of Japanese woman wrestlers. I have mainly been a babyface in my career but I wanted to make a big change,” she told Hindustan Times at the WWE Performance Centre in Orlando, Florida.
This was not technically the first time Shirai decided to include a negative edge in her character. During her brief stint with Lucha Underground, she wrestled under the name ‘Hitokiri’ and she believes that it was that role that played a major part when she was deciding on how she can change her character in WWE.
“That was just one time. I can see the small similarity but that was a small part of it. I got the idea from that character but this is what Io Shirai is capable of. This is something that I have worked a lot on,” she said.
Since her change in character, Shirai has been on a roll with a number of victories and she will be part of the first ever women’s WarGames match along with Candice, Rhea Ripley, Tegan Nox, Dakota Kai, Shayna, Jessamyn Duke, Marina Shafir and Bianca Belair. While wrestlers keep changing their character to keep storylines fresh in the WWE, Shirai was clear that the change has boosted her confidence a lot in the past few weeks.
“This has given me more confidence. The heel turn has added a lot of new things to my character and that has certainly boosted my confidence. I came with a different role but this change has been a boost for me.”
With WWE NXT coming a two-hour show and the company looking to integrate it with the two major brands (RAW and Smackdown), it is a good time for Shirai to take on other established stars and when asked about her dream matches, the veteran Japanese wrestlers was quick to name her desired opponents.
“I would really like to fight Sasha (Banks), Charlotte and Asuka,” she concluded.