Sunday will mark the third trip inside the WarGames structure for Io Shirai.
One of pro wrestling’s most skilled performers, Shirai has excelled in NXT since her arrival in 2018. She crafted a spectacular run as women’s champion during a reign that lasted 304 days. After dropping the title in April to Raquel González, Shirai has worked in different spots on the card, including adding value to the NXT women’s tag titles during a brief run that lasted from July through October while she built rapport with Zoey Stark.
Shirai is a talent deserving of the main event, and she plans to deliver another unforgettable match at WarGames in the show’s signature match. She will team with González, 21-year-old Cora Jade and Kay Lee Ray against women’s champ Mandy Rose, Dakota Kai, Gigi Dolin and Jacy Jayne inside the cage on Sunday at 8 p.m. ET on Peacock.
Speaking with Sports Illustrated through a translator, Shirai discussed this Sunday’s match, her viral trash-can spot in last year’s WarGames match and whether her future goals include a run on Raw or SmackDown.
Sports Illustrated: This year marks your third WarGames match. What excites you most for this year’s WarGames, especially teaming with Kay Lee Ray, Cora Jade and Raquel González?
Io Shirai: I understand that each WarGames match will have a completely different feel depending on the participants. I do not think anyone here is a friend, but I know Kay Lee Ray and Raquel González will be big threats to win. As for Cora Jade, her ability is unknown, so I am looking forward to seeing what she can do in a match like this.
SI: You left a lasting impression in last year’s WarGames match. What served as your inspiration to dive off the cage in the trash can?
IS: It was not a particularly deep idea, and there were a lot of options in front of me. In my eyes, WarGames cages are very attractive and I wanted to do something interesting. It is almost like a child playing with her toy box.
SI: On the subject of incredible moments in your matches, you took a ferocious fall two months ago at Halloween Havoc off a ladder, then crashed onto another. What were you thinking while you were mid-air? And was that the most painful bump you've ever taken?
IS: Without thinking about anything, my body was taking bumps on its own and that is why I am a professional. Bumps on ladders are painful, of course, but any bump can be painful whether it is off a ladder or in the center of the ring. It is our job to train our body to take those bumps so we do not get injured and that is why it is important to not try what we do at home.
SI: You have a global perspective of pro wrestling. What do you think of the changes from the black-and-gold NXT to NXT 2.0? Are you still working closely with Shawn Michaels?
IS: Since NXT 2.0 debuted, the number of new stars has increased, which I have found very fun and exciting. Regarding Shawn, I do still work with and get advice from him, which is always extremely helpful.
SI: After WarGames, is your next goal to challenge Mandy Rose? What would it mean to regain the NXT title?
IS: As long as I am here, my goal will always be the NXT women’s title regardless of my opponent. The title is proof that you are at the pinnacle of your craft and it validates everything we do.
SI: You have already accomplished so much in NXT. Are you open to a move to either SmackDown or Raw? And while we have briefly seen you work with Sasha Banks, is there someone you would really like to work with on either of those brands?
IS: Of course, I would be open to a move to SmackDown or Raw. The opportunity would present new goals and encounters different from what I have achieved and experienced in NXT. I would like a rematch with Sasha Banks as soon as possible. I also heard Bayley say she wanted to have a match with me, and I would definitely relish my first confrontation with her. If it is a title match, even better.
SI: Acclimating to America during a pandemic is no easy task. What has been most difficult about the distance away from home? And has there been a part of American life that you especially enjoy?
IS: It has been hard not being able to see and meet with my family throughout the pandemic. One thing I really enjoyed was a trip I took to Sedona [Ariz.] where I had some wonderful views. I also really enjoy the climate in Florida with a house and large pool.
SI: What have you learned most so far about your WWE experience?
IS: I learned with my own eyes that the world’s top performers within sports entertainment are created on a scale much larger than I expected.
SI: In terms of gear and in-ring moves, do you have surprises in store for WarGames on Sunday?
IS: If I tell you a surprise, it will not be a surprise. With that said, there is no reason for anyone reading this to miss WarGames.
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Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.