With the combined success of this summer’s Cruiserweight Classic – featuring 32 of the top cruiserweight and indie wrestlers from around the world under 205 lbs. – to the 2nd Annual Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Tournament on NXT, it appears that the WWE could be adding a third annual tournament to the WWE Network in the form of one that features 32 of the world’s top independent female wrestlers, with the assumption that, like the CWC, several would be signed to fill in the ranks of NXT and ultimately restock the Raw and Smackdown women’s divisions as well.
Women’s wrestling has never been hotter in the history of professional wrestling. No longer the sex objects or lackeys of the business, removed from the Bra & Panties and Mud Wrestling matches of days gone by, women are now stealing the show from their male counterparts, from local indie promotions all the way up to the WWE. Just this past Sunday, Charlotte and Sasha Banks made history by being the first female wrestlers to headline a major wrestling PPV at Hell In A Cell.
So it’s no surprise that it was revealed the past few days by Wrestling Observer that WWE does indeed plan on a women’s tournament. And not only that, apparently several top names have already been contacted, with the tournament possibly starting as early as January of 2017 (but as late as March).
If the CWC was any indication, it will be a mix of talent featuring international indie performers on their radar, a couple wild cards that may not be on everyone’s scouting lists, a couple familiar NXT names, plus a veteran or two back for one last run. Applying that formula to this as well, here’s a look at 32 women’s wrestlers who could (although depending how certain contracts play out and TNA’s future stabilizes, many may end just being should) be in 2017’s first World Women’s Classic (the current working title).
- TESSA BLANCHARD, USA
Not only is she one of the top women’s wrestlers on the North American indie circuit, she’s a third generation wrestler. Her father is WWE Hall of Famer and Four Horseman Tully Blanchard, and her grandfather is Joe Blanchard, former NWA wrestler and President of AWA. She’s one half of the indies’ great power couples, with international sensation Ricochet (whom the WWE covets), roommates with WWE Superstar Apollo Crews (actually, where is he?) and she’s already made a few enhancement appearances for NXT (much to the internet’s chagrin). She’s almost a lock to be in the tournament and could be an early favourite to win it all.
2. RACHAEL ELLERING, USA
Another indie wrestler with a WWE Hall of Fame father, she’s the daughter of legendary manager of The Legion of Doom/Road Warriors Animal and Hawk, as well as current mentor to NXT’s Authors of Pain. Much like Blanchard, she’s already had some short looks in NXT, so she’s on their radar and another likely entrant.
3. KIMBERLEE, USA
KimberLee may look like a Princess, but she hits like a Dragon. She was created in the brutality of CZW and has toiled for much of the past few years competing in intergender matches alongside the boys, becoming the first woman to capture a major indie’s top belt, when she won CHIKARA‘s Grand Championship last year. She recently had a tryout at the Performance Center for WWE, which could have been more of a glimpse to see if she was good for the WWC. Expect to see Suplex Kingdom on the Network this winter.
4. SANTANA GARRETT, USA
Considered one of North America’s best indie performers (she ranked #4 in the PWI Women’s 50 in 2015), Garrett has been a staple in SHINE and Japan, as well appearances in NXT (with losing efforts against Charlotte and Asuka) and TNA (with a forgettable run as Brittany in 2014). But if she gets room to be herself, you’ll see why she’s been at World Champion in the NWA, SHINE, World Wonder Ring Stardom and more.
5. IO SHIRAI, Japan
One of the names that came up recently in the news in reports that she had given notice to her promotion in Japan, World Wonder Ring Stardom, that she was heading to the WWE. Considered by many as the top female performer in Japan, she’s also wrestled in Mexico for both AAA and CMLL, as well as being former stablemates with current NXT Women’s Champion, Asuka in WWRS’ Triple Tails faction. Another odds on favourite to win the tournament, especially if she, unlike her countryman Kota Ibushi after participating in the CWC, decides to remain.
6. MOLLY HOLLY, USA
Much like Brian Kendrick, Molly Holly is a beloved Superstar from the WWE’s past. And, much like Kendrick, she is a skilled wrestler who seemed to be beloved by everyone. Tough to find anyone who didn’t like Molly Holly. Whether it was accompanying “Macho Man” Randy Savage in WCW as Ms. Madness, or her stints in WWF as the little cousin of Hardcore and Crash to a super sidekick to Hurricane Helms. She retired young, but recently has began training other wrestlers. She’s made a couple appearances on the Network the past few years with the Table for 3 series, so she’s definitely a familiar face for the casual viewer that even the indie fans still pine for.
7. MEIKO SATOMURA, Japan
A Japanese veteran and founder of Sendei Girls Pro Wrestling in Japan, she is a study of grace and poise in the ring. A 21-year veteran, she wrestled for WCW in 1997 for the short lived WCW Women’s Cruiserweight title and this year she captained the winning team in the 2016 CHIKARA King of Trios. It would be great for her to get a real shot of exposure to current North American wrestling fans, even if just one match.
8. MADISON EAGLES, Australia
One of the world’s top wrestlers, she’s been a mainstay Superstar of both Shimmer (where she’s a 2-time champion) and SHINE. During her early days in Shimmer, she was in the tag team The Pink Ladies with current NXT Superstar Billie Kay. She’s also feuded with current WWE producer (and former NXT trainer) Sara Del Rey. The WWE sure seems to love their Australian talent of late – Emma, Billie Kay, Murphy (of Blake And…), Peyton Royce and TM61 all come from the Land Downunder. Why not add one more?
9. SOLO DARLING, USA
With her “furry”/Cosplay gear, it’s no wonder she’s attracted a lot of followers, but she’s also a damned good performer. She’s been a regular for SHINE and Shimmer, as well as appearing for the NWA, Ring of Honor and CHIKARA. With her fur-tailed gimmick, she’s a marketing goldmine for the WWE, so don’t be shocked if she ends up in NXT as a hybrid between Dana Brooke and Bayley…with a tail…and fox ears.
10. DEONNA PURRAZZO, USA
By this time next year, Purrazzo could be talked about in the same breath as Blanchard, Eagles and LeRae. She’s had one sky rocket of a year on the indie circuit, that included a one month span that saw her wrestle for Ring of Honor, TNA and NXT. She’s actually had a few NXT appearances (most notably for being knocked out by a kick from Asuka), but don’t be fooled by her work on the Network. Like Blanchard and Santana, she’s miles better than her enhancement appearances and she’s only getting bigger and better.
11. VELVET SKY, USA
I’m sure a lot of die hard indie fans are groaning at this, but Velvet Sky had a great character in the early days of TNA’s KnockOut Division and her work in The Beautiful People was entertaining and fun. Her relationship with Bubba Ray Dudley will open doors that may not have been as accessible and even if it’s just for a one match rub for a younger star, Sky’s familiarity with TNA and indie fans will have some appeal to the WWE brass.
12. HEIDI LOVELACE, USA
Another veteran of CHIKARA, Shine and World Wonder Ring Stardom in Japan (and a stiff firecracker), Heidi has been a force against men twice her size as well as some of the top women’s wrestlers in North America. She’s had appearances with the WWE before (she was one of Adam Rose‘s Rosebuds in a few segments) and was also recently at a WWE tryout at the Performance Center.
13. CAT POWER, Canada
Originally from the East Coast, she’s another product of Windsor, Ontario’s Can-Am Wrestling School, trained by former TNA stars Scott D’Amore and Johnny Devine and CWC competitor Tyson Dux. She’s a long time veteran of Shimmer, as well as in Canada’s elite ECCW (where she’s the current Women’s Champion). She’s currently tearing up Japan in Reina Joshi Puroresu.
14. JESSICKA HAVOK, USA
Havok is an icon in the indie circuit, a veteran of a lot of wars since 2004, where she earned her stripes in the gritty Ohio indie circuit that produced Dean Ambrose, Dolph Ziggler and Johnny Gargano. She’s had stops in CZW, Shine, Shimmer and TNA and now tours on her own schedule. She’s only 30 too, which means she’s got a lot of road wisdom to pass on.
15. BEA PRIESTLY, England
After the recent headaches caused by Paige, the WWE may be a little sour on young British wrestlers. Priestly is only 22, but she’s already turning heads in the UK scene, which is becoming one of the globe’s hottest upcoming wrestling circuits. Her series of matches in WCPW recently with Nixon Newell were great fun and being part of another indie power couple with international sensation Will Ospreay doesn’t hurt either.
16. KHARMA, USA
During her run as Awesome Kong in TNA during the KnockOut Division’s peak years, her feud with Gail Kim helped put TNA on the map. She was an unstoppable force on the indie circuit (as Amazing Kong) and was the buzz of the internet when she signed with WWE and became Kharma. But an unplanned pregnancy and painful aftermath pulled her from the scene, except for a brief TNA comeback last year. Even if it’s just to put over one of the younger girls, one more look at Kharma (because let’s face it, WWE will go with their name for her) would be a nice happy ending considering the tragedy that ended her last run.
17. COMMAND BOLSHOI, Japan
A 25-year Japanese wrestling legend, Bolshoi was part of the early 90’s women’s wrestling scene that bears a striking resemblance to a lot of the high spot style than the male indie stars are doing today. Her clown lucha mask hides a mystery that even social media hasn’t been able to crack – in true lucha fashion, no one knows her true identity. An icon from JWP Joshi Proresu, she recently made a splash in North America as part of the Team JWP in the 2016 CHIKARA King of Trios, where the faced the Sendei Girls in the finals.
18. SHAYNA BALSZER, USA
While NXT has their Four Horsewomen in Charlotte, Sasha Banks, Bayley and Becky Lynch, before them UFC had theirs. Lead by UFC Champion Ronda Rousey alongside Marina Shafir, Jessamyn Duke and Shayna Balszer. And it’s no secret that UFC’s were all big wrestling fans – Rousey has appeared at a Wrestlemania and Natalya has mentioned training various members at times. Balszer was recently announced as attending a WWE tryout and it could very well be for this tournament. They’d love to have a female Brock Lesnar in NXT (and eventually the WWE) to face Asuka…and potentially Rousey herself when her own UFC career ends.
19. NICOLE SAVOY, USA
At 31 years old, Savoy is a veteran of the indie circuit and as good as they come. She’s been a main event wrestler in Shimmer for years now and her Heart of Shimmer Championship win over Wrestlemania weekend at a Shimmer event was apparently received with high marks from a WWE scout in attendance. She’s definitely on the company’s radar and adding an older veteran will only help the roster.
20. NICOLE MATTHEWS, Canada
A product of one of Canada’s premiere indie promotions, Vancouver’s ECCW. She’s not only a 4-time ECCW Women’s Champion but a 2-time ECCW Champion as well. She’ll throw down with anyone, man or woman. She’s also taken her trade to the U.S., where she’s captured the Shimmer Championship as well.
22. LuFISTO, Canada
This Montreal wrestling queen is an indie legend. Before Rosemary, Crazy Mary Dobson and Jessicka Havok, there was LuFisto. She’s a 19-year veteran of the ring and she’s not afraid to get her hands dirty either. She’s the only woman ever to win the CZW Iron Man Championship (beating current WWE Universal Champion Kevin Owens in Philadelphia in 2006) and won the IWA: Mid-South Queen of the Deathmatch a year later. She’s been a part of Shimmer for a decade, as well as stints in Shine. An NXT run (possibly joining SaNitY?) and possible position as a trainer aren’t out of the question either.
23. NIXON NEWELL, Wales
WWE is certainly expanding their British stocks and Nixon Newell could very well be on the horizon. Another young one, she made a buzz this past summer with a series of matches against Bea Priestly in WCPW, where Newell claimed the inaugural WCPW Women’s Championship.
24. THEA TRINIDAD, USA
Trinidad has had quite the career for a 25-year old. She started in TNA at the age of 20, as Rosita, part of the Mexican America stable with Hernandez, Anarquia and Sarita. She left after a couple of years and hit the road, wrestling for CMLL in Mexico, Jeff Jarrett’s Global Force Wrestling and Ring of Honor. In Ring of Honor she would manage her fiance, NXT Superstar Austin Aries. Her TNA tag partner Sarita was played by current NXT trainer Sarah Stock, she was trained by CWC winner TJ Perkins, and Trinidad recently had an NXT appearance in a match versus Asuka. It’s almost a lock she’s part of the tournament (and most likely billed from Puerto Rico).
25. LEVA BATES, USA
Leva Bates had a brief flirtation with WWE in NXT as the quirky Blue Pants. She became an internet sensation, which was surprising as she was supposed to be an enhancement character. In a way, she was Ellsworth before Ellsworth. But indie purists knew her as Leva Bates, one of the circuit’s most entertaining performers. She’s had solid matches in Shimmer, SHINE, Full Impact Pro and appearances with TNA. Whether it’s as Blue Pants or a fresh start under her name (or Beva Lates), unless the rumours of her burning bridges are true, it would only make sense she may make an appearance.
26. MERCEDES MARTINEZ, USA
A 35-year old veteran of the indie circuit, Martinez still has a lot to bring to the table. She’s a 10-year veteran of Shimmer, Ring of Honor, and Germany’s premier promotion, wXw. She’s a natural bad-ass and would be a solid veteran to hold together a tournament or a division.
27. JADE, USA
Before debuting as Jade with the Dollhouse in TNA a couple of years ago, she was indie sensation Mia Yim. A solid combination of athleticism and charisma, she was trained in CZW, where she began as the manager for current ROH World Champion Adam Cole. She ended her career in CZW a wrestler before moving on to Shine and Shimmer – she even had an NXT appearance versus Charlotte prior to joining TNA. Jade is still under contract with TNA, so unless something significant happens in the next few months, chances are slim we’ll actually see her in the tournament. But if she does happen to find herself out of work by January…
28. KAIRI HOJO, Japan
Many international wrestling fans consider Hojo one of, if not the best women’s wrestler in the world. Another rumoured roster member of World Wonder Ring Stardom to have given their notice that they were heading to the WWE. Seriously. THAT ELBOW DROP THO.
29. MARTI BELL, USA
Trained by WWE Hall of Famer Johnny Rodz, Bell was an indie standout in Shimmer, Shine and Evolve before joining TNA with the Dollhouse angle in 2015. Much like her former Dollhouse cohort Jade, the stability of her current employer will see if she’s even available come January.
30. CANDICE LeRAE, Canada
Arguably one of the indie circuits top women’s stars, LeRae is a 10-year veteran of PWG, and tag team partner of Joey Ryan, she became the first woman to compete in PWG’s prestigious Battle of Los Angeles in 2014. She’s got more guts than most men, with athleticism and charisma to boot. She’s also recently married to NXT Superstar Johnny Gargano.
31. SEXY STAR, Mexico
Earlier this year, Sexy Star stunned Lucha Underground fans when she announced she was retiring from professional wrestling. She wrapped up her recording for future seasons of Lucha Underground and left AAA, Lucha Underground and wrestling behind her to become a boxer. But even though she’s retired, this 10-year veteran of the ring is only 34. While a full time return to the ring may be out of the cards, a couple of matches in an international tournament on the WWE Network may be enough to entice her back for a match or two.
32. SARA DEL REY, USA
If the Women’s Revolution in wrestling had happened 10 years earlier, Sara Del Rey may be the biggest name in women’s wrestling. Don’t get me wrong, she still had a helluva career. She was a long time face of Shimmer (including winning the company’s inaugural Championship), with great matches in Ring of Honor, CHIKARA, all the way to Mexico and Japan. She retired in 2012, at the young age of 32, to take a trainer position with the WWE Performance Center and producer role with NXT. She’s currently the co-head trainer with Matt Bloom, as well doing more frequent producer/road agent work with the WWE main roster as well. She’s only 35 years old. If they wanted to create a Brian Kendrick story of a veteran with one more run in her, Sara Del Rey is the one to do it. She never got the big spotlight but perhaps no one else in this list has deserved it more.
So who would YOU put on your list? Obviously there’s many, many more women who deservedly could (and should) be considered. Who would you add to this list? Let us know your substitutions in the comments below!