Sumie Sakai has been so good for so long and has such a humble demeanor that it’s been easy to take her for granted. After what Sakai accomplished at Supercard of Honor on April 7, however, no one will be taking the 21-year veteran for granted any longer.
Sakai made history before nearly 6,000 fans at UNO Lakefront Arena in New Orleans by becoming the first Women of Honor Champion. And she did so in spectacular fashion, defeating former WWE star Tenille Dashwood in the WOH Title Tournament semifinals before scoring a three count over heavily favored Kelly Klein, who had not been pinned or forced to submit since making her WOH debut in October 2015, in the final.
Before the tournament began, much of the focus was on Klein, Dashwood, Deonna Purrazzo and competitors from Japanese women’s wrestling promotion Stardom. Despite her tenure and accomplishments, Sakai was not included in the discussion when it came to tournament favorites. That’s what made the sentimental favorite’s triumph that much sweeter.
After Sakai beat Dashwood, Klein -- who had scored an impressive victory over Stardom star Mayu Iwatani in the first semifinal match -- was brought out to the ring to shake hands with Sakai and pose for a customary photo. In a classless move, Klein shook Sakai’s hand but then delivered a stiff forearm to the face.
All Klein really did was fire up Sakai, who attacked her foe before the opening bell in the championship match. Klein quickly gathered herself, however, and took control of the match. “The Gatekeeper” dished out her hard-hitting offense and appeared on her way to victory, but Sakai survived the onslaught.
As Sakai continued to battle, several members of the WOH roster came out and surrounded the ring to cheer her on. Perhaps sparked by the support of her peers as well as the fans, Sakai rallied and went on to drop Klein on her head with a wicked DDT. Sakai made the cover, and when the referee slapped the mat a third time, Klein’s undefeated streak was over and Sakai was the first WOH Champion.
The crowd seemed to be stunned that Klein had actually been beaten, but then it showered Sakai with cheers once the reality of the situation set in. A journey that began back in June 2002, when Sakai defeated Simply Luscious in the first women’s match ever to take place on a Ring of Honor show, had finally reached its destination.
In an interview with Sakai prior to her semifinal match, it was obvious how much winning the championship would mean to her.
“I always loved wrestling in Japan,” said an emotional Sakai, who started her career in Japan in 1997, “but when I came to Ring of Honor, my life changed.”
The woman nicknamed “Women of Honor’s Ray of Sunshine” now has the spotlight on her -- and also a target. The competition in WOH is fierce, and top stars from around the globe want a shot at the gold belt Sakai proudly wears around her waist.
However, as Sakai proved in the tournament, defeating her will be a tall task regardless of how tough or heralded her challengers may be.