Toward the end of 2021, I wrote about how Mio Momono was the best wrestler the majority of wrestling fans didn’t know about after her incredible year.

Of course, she wasn’t able to finish her year due to injury, which not only hurt her attention in Wrestler of the Year conversations for 2021 but it hurt Marvelous as they didn’t have around their number two option behind ace Takumi Iroha. And what Momono did to reach that spot was step up with the injury of Iroha that had her miss more than half of 2021. So the question heading into 2022 was simple: Who would step up for Marvelous with Momono set to miss time in 2022?

The answer was clear: Maria.

2022 has been the breakout year for Maria that many who follow her and the promotion expected could happen. It was in 2021 when she began to show signs of improvement but was still struggling to put it all together. In the ring, it was apparent that the offense she exhibited was unique to her — having a great mix of physicality and technical prowess that spelled main event player somewhere down the road. But that’s almost all it was. Someone who had cool moves and could put on decent matches. Maria needed to take some steps and maybe that was someone challenging her, but it seemed she was more ready to challenge herself. She challenged herself to not only improve into a complete performer but also step up for Marvelous and represent them wherever she goes. Now she may be the most intriguing talent in every type she steps in the ring.

Maria kicked off her year in Sendai Girls, taking on DASH Chisako. The match challenged her in the early going and helped spark what we’ve seen from her this year. She’s not going to enter matches as the favorite against a veteran like Chisako, but by the end of it, she will make them respect her. “The Lavender Spitfire” brought energy and a great pace to the match, showing a side of determination and bringing an “in your face” style to “The Hardcore Queen” of Sendai. Maria was physically fired up, bringing Chisako to her limits before the veteran could take her down. The match was a loss for Maria but it was an eye-opening evaluation of what she’d bring to the table from here on out.

At the first event of 2022 for Marvelous, Maria faced Makoto in singles action. She wasn’t able to walk out with victory but she earned the respect of Makoto. So much so that they would team together for the AAAW Tag Team Championship tournament a month later. Getting an opportunity to prove herself against these veterans and them taking a liking to her and the mindset she now carried into these matches was no joke. Joshi veterans were taking notice and Joshi fans have been since as well.

Her appearance in Sendai Girls was only the beginning of Maria making a name for herself outside of Marvelous, as she’d participate in STARDOM’s NEW BLOOD 1 show, teaming with Ai Houzan to defeat Unagi Sayaka and Waka Tsukiyama. Few people bring out someone’s true emotions like Sayaka, so seeing these two compete against one another felt like the perfect chance for Maria to show her improvement even from the end of 2021 when she first competed in STARDOM.

Maria would have more matches throughout the year outside of Marvelous with the likes of Chihiro Hashimoto and DASH Chisako again where she had the fiery tendencies of an underdog you can’t help but cheer for. The match with Hashimoto was the match that challenged Maria more than any this year. Hashimoto, the Sendai Girls Champion and one of the most dominant wrestlers in Joshi, doesn’t take it easy on anyone. There’s a reason she’s been champion for over 1,100 days with no signs of slowing down. Her power game is the style that opposes what Maria brings to the table, especially on the technical side, but her fierceness drove the fight she had. There’s a great match that Mio Momono had with Takumi Iroha years ago where she just kept coming back again and again to force a draw as she ultimately survived. Maria’s fight with Hashimoto didn’t reach those levels because she did lose but it was a bout that opened fans’ eyes to what she is on her way to becoming in her career.

The first quarter of the year set the tone for Maria but nothing opened the eyes of fans to what she could be and is becoming more than the feud she had with Riko Kawahata. Two rising stars trying to prove they’re better than their opponent. So simple. So easy. So perfect. These two’s feud began at the Korakuen Hall 60th Anniversary Festival ~ Joshi Pro-Wrestling Dream Festival show, as they’d open the card in the only singles match that night. It was a battle filled with passion and determination between both of them, going to a 10-minute hard-fought draw. Kawahata, much like Maria, has made a step up in 2022 with this feud being the main reason why.

Marvelous was impressed enough by the outing of both women as they’d run back the match, this time at their 6th Anniversary show on May 1. Again these two would wrestle to a 10-minute draw but what seemed to be a friendly trial between two rising stars had become the full-on feud alluded to earlier. The inability to defeat your opponent has to drive any competitor crazy so these two being unable to get the job done twice was a limit. The intensity that this match featured is really what makes Joshi wrestling such a special genre of pro wrestling.

At the August 8 show, these two had one more shot to go head-to-head to decide who was the better of the two. The match was the best of the three as Maria and Kawahata told the story of near desperation in trying to be the one to earn the win over the other. Kawahata’s mixture of kicks and high-risk ability matched with the technician side of Maria, who would use her boots to break her down. The closing stretch was the finest of the series as Maria closed in on Kawahata before being met with a Head Kick that looked to have knocked her out. Once Kawahata tried to set her up for her signature Moonsault, it was Maria who had the adrenaline to attempt a small package to nearly earn the win. As they both got to their feet, Maria got Kawahata with a huge Big Boot for another near fall. That spelled the beginning of the end as Maria crushed Kawahata with a sit-out Michinoku Driver, pinning her to earn the most important win of her impressive 2022 campaign. There was zero doubt this was a feud of growth for both wrestlers and, in turn, has led to them becoming a tag team after earning each other’s respect.

As the year enters the final months, there’s no doubt that Maria has watched her stock rise in Marvelous and the world of Joshi. All these trial-type matches have been challenges to help her grow. The feud with Riko Kawahata was a proving ground for where she was and where she can go. But the match that saw her rise to the level of those top stars in Marvelous was the tag team match on September 16. Maria teamed with Kawahata to face Ayame Sasamura and Mio Momono. The energy this match had was infectious and what Maria did with Momono in the closing minutes was some of the best action in Marvelous and wrestling. These two not only traded off moves but did so with the goal of winning. Maria’s smug confidence had her in it until the end, almost defeating Momono in the process. The final bell would ring at a 20-minute draw with these two wanting nothing more but to keep the fight going. There’s chemistry there but also a feud built in if they go to it. Maria grew to take Momono’s spot and, well, she isn’t going to just let her take it back. Keep an eye out.

Maria has a chance to show the world what she is made of soon enough as she will wrestle Takumi Iroha at Pro-Wrestling EVE’s Wrestle Queendom V. The match is the biggest of her career — no questions about it. It’ll be her first chance to leave Japan and compete internationally. It’s also against none other than the ace of Marvelous, presenting the ultimate challenge for her to cap off a year of growth and improvement.

2023 and beyond is going to be special for Maria. She leaped into a spot opened by injury and made the most of it. Maria is a rising star heading into 2023 but if she can reach her full potential, many championships and moments are ahead in the 22-year-old’s career.

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