Old Rivals Toni Storm and Io Shirai Meet Again With NXT Women’s Title on the Line

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Toni Storm on her NXT title match against Io Shirai: “I’m ready to go out there and give the performance of my life, and become the leader of the NXT women’s division”

Toni Storm challenges Io Shirai later tonight, seeking to capture the NXT women’s championship for the first time. And more than a title reign, Storm seeks her first true defining moment in NXT, one indicative of the sacrifices she made and blood she shed to arrive on one of the industry’s most prominent stages.

“This is the opportunity I’ve waited for,” Storm says. “I have wrestled Io so many times, and every one of those matches means a lot to me. I’ve grown so much since our first match, even from our past matches, and I have a chance to show that against her in NXT.”

Storm and Shirai know one another extremely well, with Storm even training earlier in her career at Shirai’s dojo in Japan. They have also wrestled one another in multiple countries, beginning in May 2016 with a bout in Barcelona.

“That was the very first time we wrestled, which was during a European tour in Stardom,” Storm says. “Hands down, she’s the best I’ve ever been in the ring with. Even now, still, I try to learn more about Io every day. I’m so lucky to have trained with her in Japan, back when I pretended to know what I was doing. I was so fortunate to be in her dojo, and I am grateful to have learned from someone so insanely talented.”

The most pivotal moments of Storm’s career have taken place against Shirai. Their rematch from Barcelona took place months later in Osaka, Japan, which marked Storm’s SWA world championship win, beginning a run with the title that is still the longest in Stardom history. Storm also defeated Shirai in 2018 at WWE’s Evolution pay-per-view, a match that was the finals of the Mae Young Classic tournament.

“A lot has happened since we first wrestled,” Storm says. “I was 20 in our first match. If you watch all our matches in order, it’s almost like you see me grow up.”

Storm has already traveled the world in pursuit of her dreams. Born in New Zealand and raised in Australia, the 25-year-old—known outside of wrestling as Toni Rossall—has recently taken on a massive role in NXT, shifting from babyface to heel and completely altering her in-ring style.

“It’s the best thing to ever happen to me,” Storm says. “I’ve finally found a way to show who I really am.

“I can really be creative, which is my favorite thing in wrestling. Before, promos were never my strong point. I used to hate talking. Not anymore. I love being mad and venting to the whole world. This is organic, it’s authentic. The new attitude, the outfits, it’s all who I am.”

Storm began wrestling at the age of 13. She has spent the last dozen years perfecting the craft, craving an opportunity in front of a worldwide audience, which she has on Wednesday evening.

“This journey has been a hell of a ride,” Storm says. “There are still days when it can be just unbearable to be so far away from home. But this is why I moved to America. There is no alternative. I’m not going back. I have gone too far not to make this work. This is my entire life, which is why I can’t wait for this match to get started.”

Although Finn Bálor is also defending his NXT title tonight against Adam Cole, the Storm-Shirai bout is more than worthy of the main event. Storm vowed that every piece of her passion and energy will be on display from the moment she steps inside the Capitol Wrestling Center.

“Expect to see me put my heart and soul into this,” Storm says. “I’m ready to go out there and give the performance of my life and become the leader of the NXT women’s division.”

AEW reaches pivotal moment in Jon Moxley–Kenny Omega feud following ring explosion mishap

Wednesday marks a pivotal night for AEW.

Sunday’s Revolution pay-per-view ended on a disastrous note, as a highly anticipated explosion of the ring at the conclusion of the Exploding Barbed Wire Deathmatch instead became a glorified sparkler show.

Unfortunately, this became the lasting image of the show, which is devastating considering that Kenny Omega and Jon Moxley had just crafted a masterful piece of storytelling in an incredibly restrictive, limited and painful setting. Moxley and Omega deserved a better fate than what happened, and it is imperative that AEW salvage this story on Wednesday night’s broadcast.

Instead of running from it, can AEW somehow turn this into a positive? Will Omega—who was blamed, in storyline, for the weak explosion—cut a promo that makes sense of all this? Could the AEW creative team call an audible and have Omega and Moxley meet in a title match on Dynamite? A handful of options still remain to turn this around.

Another difficult part of the weak pay-per-view ending was the way it overshadowed Eddie Kingston’s babyface turn. After months of pursuing Moxley and the AEW championship, he came to the rescue of his longtime friend turned adversary. Kingston is magic on the microphone. If anyone can transform a negative into a positive, it’s Kingston unscripted on a live mic.

Big picture, AEW will learn from Sunday’s blunder. Omega and Moxley worked a tense, gripping, visceral match, and they deserve far better than any Shockmaster outtakes. For Wednesday night, this isn’t something that should just be glossed over. There is still a chance to help enhance Sunday’s pay-per-view finish, so the response to that debacle will be must-see viewing.

The (online) week in wrestling

  • Kenny Omega will be headlining a second straight Impact Wrestling pay-per-view, this time competing in a singles match for the world title. 
  • Congratulations to newest WWE Hall of Famer, Molly Holly. 
  • For the second straight week, Bobby Lashley wrecked The Miz on Raw­. And for the second straight week, Drew McIntyre and Bobby Lashley destroyed each other in the ring.
  • And though it seems like a smart bet that McIntyre regains the WWE championship at WrestleMania 37, Lashley looked fantastic on Monday during his new intro and in the ring as champ.
  • Following Raw, Peyton Royce cut an outstanding promo on Raw Talk. She needs the chance to win matches, heat up (which WWE does extremely well when building up a talent), and keep getting opportunities on the mic. 
  • Shaq took a spectacular bump last week on Dynamite in his tag match with Jade Cargill against Cody Rhodes and Velvet Sky, but the entire match was extremely well crafted and a perfect way to open the show. 
  • As much fun as it was to see Shaq in the ring with Rhodes, the stars of last week’s match were Jade Cargill and Red Velvet. It was a missed opportunity not to have them meet in a singles match at Sunday’s Revolution pay-per-view. 
  • Christian was revealed as AEW’s surprise signee at Revolution, and he went into detail about the moment with Renee Paquette. 
  • Finn Bálor has worked a different story in every title defense in this reign as NXT champion, and he has another chance to make magic this week against one of the industry’s best in Adam Cole. 
  • During a call last week with press, Cody Rhodes claimed Pat McAfee is seeking employment with AEW. McAfee responded diplomatically, careful not to draw too much attention to AEW. 
  • PAC is outrageously talented, and I am very excited to see his tag-team work with Fénix—though both would have added tremendously to Revolution’s Face of the Revolution ladder match. 
  • Sami Zayn shared an inside take on the word “fake” and how it pertains to pro wrestling.

Lee Moriarty wins IWTV independent wrestling championship

Lee Moriarty with the IWTV independent wrestling championship

Lee Moriarty is the new IWTV independent wrestling champion.

The title changed hands on Saturday night during night two of New South’s 2021 HOSS Tournament, with Moriarty defeating Warhorse courtesy of an inside cradle.

“My plan is to continue what Warhorse was doing, and that’s continue to hold a high standard to independent wrestling,” Moriarty says. “Warhorse built a huge name and following, and I want to do the same—not just for me, but for independent wrestling.”

The 26-year-old Moriarty has emerged as one of the most prominent stars on the indie scene, developing himself into one of the premier in-ring workers in the industry.

“I always want to keep evolving,” Moriarty says. “I don’t like the idea of being stagnant or complacent, especially as an artist. My mind is never settled with what I’m creating. I don’t want someone to see the same picture when they’re watching my matches. I think of wrestling as a sport and an art, and I want to continue to push and reach new levels.”

A five-year pro out of Pittsburgh, Moriarty possesses an unrelenting drive to be different, unique and spectacular, which was visible during his run on The Masked Wrestler. He won that tournament under a mask, performing as Genkai, and that win put him in the title match against Warhorse. With the title victory, Moriarty becomes only the seventh different wrestler to wear the IWTV independent wrestling title, joining an elite group that includes AEW’s Orange Cassidy and Kris Statlander, Ring of Honor’s Jonathan Gresham and Tracy Williams, as well as Erick Stevens and Warhorse.

“What I bring to the table is very different from what Warhorse does and what any other champion did,” Moriarty says. “I have a different aesthetic and a different mindset, and I think I can bring new fans to independent wrestling. I want to help independent wrestling grow while putting on the best matches I absolutely can.”

Despite the limited number of shows running due to the pandemic, Moriarty plans on working as often as possible to fully maximize the potential of indie wrestling.

“I have a lot coming up, and I’m really excited to show what I can do,” Moriarty says. “I’m competing in the Enjoy Wrestling Cup Tournament in Pittsburgh. I’m part of a daily wrestling tournament called Match Madness, which releases a new match every single day. I have GCW’s Acid Cup coming up in April, and a big match against Lio Rush in April during GCW’s For the Culture event happening during ’Mania weekend. I’m looking forward to all of it. My priority is trying to be the best independent wrestler I can be.”

Moriarty is considered by peers to be one of the best in-ring performers in the industry, which is praise he does not take lightly.

“Over the past year, I’ve been compared to Bryan Danielson a lot,” Moriarty says. “It’s such a humbling comparison and not one that I would expect. While he was on the independents, that was his focus–becoming the best. He wasn’t racing to sign a contract. If a contract comes my way, that’s one thing, but my focus is on what happens in the ring.”

Moriarty plans on becoming an independent wrestling staple, one who helps restore aura and buzz to the scene once shows start to take place in front of larger crowds again. And with a combination of heart, tenacity and skill, he believes he can bring a lot of attention to the indies.

“Independent wrestling, this is the foundation of professional wrestling,” he says. “You’re watching a painting being created in real-time. This is so important, and my focus is on becoming the best independent wrestler and helping this part of professional wrestling grow.”

Tweet of the Week

Ryan Loco is an incredibly talented photographer, and he did brilliant work capturing the Exploding Barbed Wire Deathmatch at Revolution.

Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.