Wrestler of the Week: Kairi Sane

Albert Ching

RondaRousey.com’s Wrestler of the Week series profiles significant wrestlers from the past and present. 

The top rope diving elbow drop is one of the most iconic moves in professional wrestling and for good reason. It was made famous by major stars like Shawn Michaels, CM Punk, Bayley, and, of course, “Macho Man” Randy Savage. It’s a physically impressive move that looks both devastating and dope as hell.

In less than two years in WWE, Kairi Sane has put herself in the conversation for “best flying elbow of all time” for her beautiful yet brutal “InSane Elbow,” that sees her seemingly floating in air before dropping her joint onto its next victim. Sane has also quickly became a major part of the continued women’s evolution in WWE, participating in multiple “first-ever” moments, and attracting fans as one of the most genuinely endearing wrestling personalities in recent memory. (Who doesn’t love a wrestling pirate, complete with her own captain’s wheel?)

Sane first came to international attention under the name “Kairi Hojo” in the Japanese women’s-only promotion Stardom, where she debuted in 2012, adopting a pirate gimmick to reflect her real-life yachting background. In her five years at Stardom, she—along with her rivals-turned-teammates Io Shirai and Mayu Iwatani—became known as one of the most exciting women’s wrestlers in the world, even as she remained mostly unknown to U.S. audiences, save for a one-off appearance on Lucha Underground under a different name. (“Kairi Sane once wrestled Pentagon Jr. on national TV” remains a fascinating piece of trivia.)

Naturally, that changed in 2017, when she made her WWE debut under the new ring name “Kairi Sane” (with her pirate-inspired character intact) as part of the inaugural Mae Young Classic. Sane dominated the tournament, defeating third-generation standout Tessa Blanchard in the first round, “The EST of NXT” Bianca Belair in the second, “The Captain of Team Kick” Dakota Kai in the quarterfinals, current NXT UK Women’s Champion Toni Storm in the semifinals, and two-time NXT Women’s Champion Shayna Baszler in the September 2017 finals, winning with the aforementioned InSane Elbow.

The Mae Young Classic victory also meant a shot at the NXT Women’s Championship, which was vacant due to an injury suffered by long-term champ Asuka. Sane got her shot at November 2017’s NXT TakeOver: WarGames, in a four-way match with Nikki Cross, Peyton Royce, and Ember Moon, who ended up winning the title. Yet that loss was only a minor setback preceding a major few months for Sane, who made surprise appearances at two of the very biggest shows of the year: January 2018’s first-ever women’s Royal Rumble, plus the Women’s Battle Royal at WrestleMania 34; putting the “Pirate Princess” on the main roster radar for the first time.

Sane still had plenty of unfinished business on NXT and resumed her feud with Baszler, who had since become NXT Women’s Champion (bullying the black and gold brand’s women’s division in the process). At NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn 4 in August 2018, Sane defeated Baszler to win her first championship in WWE, this time defeating the former MMA competitor with a pinning counter to the Kirifuda Clutch.

The #PiratePrincess is HERE with her treasure chest of GOLD! ⚓️ #WWEEvolution @KairiSaneWWE pic.twitter.com/szJ6mzmVDO— WWE NXT (@WWENXT) October 29, 2018

It was a huge victory for Sane against a nigh-unstoppable Baszler, and, yes, Sane did carry the title belt in a treasure chest.

Sane’s reign lasted about two months, with Baszler regaining the title at October 2018’s first-ever all-women’s pay-per-view Evolution, thanks in part to fellow Four Horsewomen Marina Shafir and Jessamyn Duke. While her title run may have ultimately been short-lived, 2018 was still an incredible year for Sane, picking up both the “Female Competitor of the Year” and “Overall Competitor of the Year” accolades in NXT’s year-end awards.

In the following months, Sane teamed up with a long-term ally of her own—Io Shirai, who debuted in WWE in 2018’s Mae Young Classic—to take on the Baszler/Shafir/Duke trio. Sane and Shirai have established an NXT team known as the “Sky Pirates,” but that alliance will be tested on WrestleMania weekend, as Baszler is set to defend her title in a four-way match against Sane, Shirai, and Belair at NXT TakeOver: New York.

Kairi Sane looks to become a two-time NXT Women’s Champion at NXT TakeOver: New York, which takes place April 5 on the WWE Network.

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