Hikaru Shida is the longest-reigning champion in AEW history, and she looks to extend her run Sunday at AEW Revolution on pay-per-view.
Shida, whose title reign has helped define the AEW product, is determined to have the match of the night against Ryo Mizunami, who won the World Championship Eliminator Tournament on Wednesday to claim this title shot.
“We’re proving our division has the power to carry the show,” Shida says. “That drives me. And I always had a dream to work internationally since I was a child, so, I am living my dream right now.”
Before arriving at AEW, Shida starred in promotions across Japan. She used her resources and contacts to help create the Japanese side of AEW’s World Championship Eliminator Tournament, highlighting talent like Emi Sakura, Aja Kong, Yuka Sakazaki, Maki Itoh and Veny. The chance to showcase joshi (the Japanese term for women’s wrestling and wrestlers) is extremely meaningful to Shida. Joshi is less of a style and more of a brand, and it exists across Japan in promotions such as Stardom, Ice Ribbon and Pro Wrestling WAVE, all places where Shida has starred.
“I’ve always felt that Japanese joshi are the best in the world,” says Shida, who organized the tournament matches in Japan and booked the talent. “So introducing them to everyone is very meaningful for me. It’s kind of a way to brag about my home. I also want Japanese wrestlers to know they can reach the top of the world if they work hard. It’s not a fantasy. This is one of the biggest things I have done as champion, and I’m proud of it.”
Shida explained some of the more noticeable differences between joshi, which is far less story-line-driven than American wrestling.
“The thing that surprised me most when I wrestled in the U.S. for the first time is that American wrestlers know how to show their characters so well,” Shida says. “They apply it naturally to their wrestling. On the other hand, I think Japanese joshi style has more martial arts taste. Hard hits and disciplined skills. But the differences have been decreasing gradually.”
A 13-year pro, Shida made her American debut during a show for indie promotion Shimmer in 2013, working a match against current NXT star Mia Yim. After accomplishing so many of her goals in Japan, she signed with AEW in the spring of 2019, which marked the perfect time in her life for a move to America.
“I didn’t hesitate at all to move here,” says the 32-year-old Shida. “A year before that, I felt I had done everything in Japan, won [joshi promotion] OZ Academy’s championship, beat Aja Kong, wrestled against [Naomichi] Marufuji, and produced my own show at Korakuen Hall. So AEW’s offer arrived at the best timing.
“After I decided to move to America, I had the busiest time of my life in Japan. I had over 20 matches a month besides two live acting shows and producing two wrestling shows. I could never do it again.”
Even with her wealth of experience and incredible knowledge of the industry, there has still been a learning curve for Shida in AEW, particularly with the strict nature of live television.
“Dustin Rhodes has been helpful so much,” Shida says. “He is our trainer in AEW, and in his training, we always assume that we’re live on TV.”
A perfectionist, Shida is her own fiercest critic. This is noticeable when she discusses mastering the English language. Despite cutting solid promos in a second language, Shida says there is still a long way to go before reaching the point she desires.
“I know I need to work harder,” says Shida, who answered all the interview questions in English. “But I’m really happy to have promos in English and I am thankful AEW is giving me so much of an opportunity. I’ve been learning English with Harry Potter, Avengers and BBC’s Sherlock.”
Shida has made a major impression in a short amount of time in AEW. She is also well known in Japan outside of wrestling through her work as an actress. She was cast as the lead in the 2009 film Three Count, where she played a pro wrestler—and served as the catalyst for her entry into the industry.
“I was supposed to quit wrestling after I finished filming a movie based on wrestling,” Shida says. “I had always been a sports player since I started judo when I was three years old but became sick of it as I grew older. After watching my movie and seeing myself as a pro wrestler, I became inspired. After that, I began to wrestle seriously, not just as an actor.”
That decision to enter pro wrestling has reverberated across the entire industry, where Shida has emerged as a genuine star. And that will again be on display this Sunday at Revolution, where she plans on building the legitimacy and aura around the AEW women’s championship in a hard-hitting, physical match against Mizunami.
“My new entrance robe is ready,” says Shida, who has special cosplay gear chosen. “And I’ll keep working to accomplish my dreams. The main event for a pay-per-view and Dynamite are always my goals. I’ll continue working hard for it until it comes true.”