Syuri: From Pro Wrestling to Kickboxing, The UFC and Back Again
Syuri has done it all. There have been many men who have crossed back and forth between pro wrestling and combat sports – but Syuri is probably the most notable example of a woman doing it, aside from the obvious Ronda Rousey. Syuri is also a much better professional wrestler than Rousey. Today for women’s history month, we’ll be taking a look through Syuri’s fascinating and dynamic career, from karate, to pro wrestling, to one of the most interesting styles of kickboxing out there, to the UFC and all the way back to pro wrestling.
Syuri’s trained karate from a young age. While we can talk about all the successes she’s had in various sports, it’s fair to say that karate was what truly changed Syuri’s life. It was karate that gave her all the career opportunities she has enjoyed. Training karate gave her the mobility and athleticism that would serve her well as she embarked on a professional wrestling career.
Syuri began her career in Hustle, a short lived Japanese promotion founded by Nobuhiko Takada. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Takada got around. Having wrestled at New Japan Pro Wrestling and Universal Wrestling Federation, as well as being a cornerstone of Pride Fighting Championships. Pride was the largest MMA organisation in the world at the time, and Takada brought many eyes to Pride, in addition to working behind the scenes. In practise, he mostly just got beat up. He helped to further pad Rickson Gracie’s largely manufactured record and ‘beat’ Mark Coleman in the rare example of a blatant fixed fight.
His promotion, Hustle, aimed to be more like WWE, with focus on outlandish drama, and it was here that Syuri made her debut as KG, short for Karate Girl, of course. She was trained by Taijiri, a legend of pro wrestling who is unique for being one of few Japanese wrestlers who’s more known for his work in America than in Japan. Taijiri also shared Syuri’s love of hard hitting kicks, which is probably why they got along so well in the ring.
Syuri’s career in Hustle was respectable, over a year she got to wrestle with some of the best wrestlers in the business, including her mentor Taijiri and in her final match in Hustle, she teamed with all time great Ultimo Dragon.
It’s here where Syuri’s story starts to branch off from most other hopeful wrestlers, as Syuri would take an unusual career turn. While wrestling in SMASH (against the likes of Meiko Satomura) Syuri would begin dabbling in kickboxing, but her debut not the kickboxing you’re probably thinking of.
Wrestling and Kicking
Shootboxing is a wonderful sport. It has its rooted in Japanese kickboxing, which in turn has its roots in Kyokushin and Muay Thai. It is the most complete form of stand up fighting. Allowing for all the legal strikes of Muay Thai, as well as throws and takedowns, like Sanda but also adding in standing submissions.
Her first two bouts were contested under these rules and before long Syuri was splitting her time between professional wrestling and kickboxing under K-1’s rules. Amassing a 13-1 record, Syuri’s fights are actually quite hard to find online, as is often the case with smaller level kickboxing bouts. However we do know from her record that Syuri was more of a decision fighter, lacking the power to put opponents away in the shorter, fast paced kickboxing bouts.
Most of her career took place in the organisation Krush, an offshoot of K-1, and Syuri would become the first ever Women’s Flyweight Champion. In this same time period, Syuri is wrestling in promotions like the WNC and CMLL (one of Mexico’s top promotions). While having a very good career, for one reason or another, Syuri just wasn’t getting that much attention. She could wrestle her heart out but the crowds weren’t amassing around her. As the frustration grew she turned her focus to mixed martial arts, which is probably how most people first heard of Syuri outside of Japan.
Pancrase and MMA
Syuri’s MMA career was to put it simply, completely acceptable, she was able to both make history, while also being a mid-level fighter. She had success in Pancrase, before moving to the UFC and retiring on a three fight loss streak. That being said she achieved more than most do by virtue of actually getting to the UFC in the first place. Which should tell you something about her skill relative to the other women in her division.
WMMA is not high level, purely because it’s simply not popular enough to draw in a wide enough range of women. This is a problem with women’s sports in general, where women can feel discouraged from taking up a sport due to social and societal pressures. Combat sports get this the hardest as fighting is considered to be the antithesis of what women should be doing. That being said the strawweight division that Syuri found herself in is the deepest division as far as talent is concerned in WMMA. This is the same division that Joanna Jędrzejczyk was ruling with an iron fist not six months before Syuri’s UFC debut.
Her early MMA career however would be contested in Pancrase, perhaps the oldest mixed martial arts promotion, co-founded by fellow pro wrestling/MMA crossover artists Minoru Suzuki, Masakatsu Funaki and Ken Shamrock.
Syuri would remain a decision fighter in MMA, despite being a former kickboxing champion striking with mixed martial artists. The one TKO of her career saw Syuri carefully walking her opponent back to the cage where she could utilise her shootboxing experience to clinch and knee.
Her karate and kickboxing background is clearly what let excel but Syuri would once again make history by becoming the inaugural strawweight champion, or Queen of Pancrase, marking the second time she would become an inaugural champion of a sports promotion. With that she would moved to the UFC. Unfortunately Syuri’s UFC stint wasn’t successful, going 1-3 with her only win being questionable to say the very least.
Syuri’s UFC dreams did not pan out – but ironically it was her return to full time pro wrestling which would launch her into “Stardom”.
Stardom is the largest professional wrestling company in the world to exclusively focus on women. Depending on who you ask, some will also argue that it is the second largest professional wrestling promotion in Japan, behind New Japan (the number 2 promotion in the world).
Syuri joined full time in 2020, which would ordinarily be an awkward year to start at a new promotion but Syuri quickly emerged as one of the hottest stars in the company. Women’s wrestling in Japan is very different from wrestling in the United States. While shows like TNA/Impact and the independent scene have always had good women wrestling, WWE was mostly full of attractive women, with poor wrestling skills, until the women’s wrestling scene until the ‘women’s revolution’ – an awkwardly named era which really only referred to NXT’s four horsewomen, and a handful of Japanese stars such as Kana and Kairi working at the company. While the women’s division is very strong in WWE now, it’s a new phenomenon.
Women’s wrestling in Japan is as serious as men’s. While the costumes lean towards the cute cosplay vibe, the actual wrestling is some of the most hard hitting stuff you will see without actually watching a shoot-fight. Stardom is considered the best women’s promotion in the world, and it is notable in that wrestlers from Stardom are usually trained and developed by the company, as opposed to hired, like Syuri.
Syuri’s approach to wrestling is a mix of traditional wrestling offence and hard hitting kicks honed from her days in kickboxing. What really sells her though, is her ability to act. Having wanted to become an actor at one point, Syuri is able to seamlessly blend all these skills together, to create a dynamic, interesting character who can really work in the ring. Syuri debuted in 2020 and has been in the main event picture pretty much ever since, always floating about the top of the card in some way shape or form.
What makes Syuri’s career so fascinating, is that she has managed to make a small bit of history every where she’s gone. She’s held inaugural titles in humble promotions with a lot of history and she has wrestled at the very top of the industry. Hours could be spent talking about Syuri’s best matches, her best fights and all the nuances of her performance, but it would simply take too long, so instead, take some time out of your day and watch Syuri vs Utami Hayashishita at Tokyo Dream Cinderella. There are many people who have wrestled, kickboxed, or fought in MMA, but there are very few who can genuinely say they have succeeded at all.
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