Last night on Monday Night Raw, Sasha Banks defeated WWE Women’s Champion Charlotte in the night’s main event (the first time women have had the main event match on Raw since December 6, 2004) to win her second World title, in what people from wrestling legends down to fans alike instantly dubbed another instant classic on their resume – as Tommy Dreamer put it on Twitter, “not a great WOMEN’S match, a great MATCH”. When storylines can get repetitive with the same match-ups, Charlotte and Sasha once again brought a sense of history and spectacle to the match-up and created another memorable closing segment in Raw’s lengthy history.
Wrestling rivalries are often hot topic debates. Who was the best one? And in nearly every conversation, these feuds are usually male wrestlers, either singles or factions: Hulk Hogan vs. Andre The Giant, Ric Flair vs. Ricky Steamboat, Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels, The Freebirds vs. The Von Erichs. Granted, these are all massive rivalries that made huge impacts on the industry, but after last night’s clash between two amazing athletes like Banks and Charlotte, what have been some of the iconic rivalries that have shaped women’s wrestling?
Here’s a look at 15 rivalries in the world of women’s wrestling – nay, the wrestling industry itself. Since lists are too often subjective, instead of ranking them, let’s look at their place and impact in chronological history.
MILDRED BURKE vs. JUNE BYERS, 1954
If you were to pick a starting point for women’s wrestling being taken seriously, it would be this short lived (but very real) rivalry between early stars Mildred Burke (an early carnival wrestler who legitimately beat nearly 200 male rivals in shoot fights) and young upstart Judy Byers. Their dislike was genuine and their match for the NWA Women’s title in 1954 went from entertainment to shoot match in a hurry. The match was called off due to it’s real life animosity and NWA awarded the title to Byers, despite Burke never losing the match. Both continued to claim the title (NWA only recognized Byers as champ) until Burke finally retired in 1955 after a 20-year in-ring career.
FABULOUS MOOLAH vs. WENDI RICHTER, 1984-1985
The Fabulous Moolah‘s dominance in women’s wrestling for nearly 30 years was more to do with her tyrannical ownership of the title itself, and outside of a mentor-student feud with Judy Grable around the same time as Burke and Byers fought, it was her rivalry with Wendi Richter during the 1980’s Rock N’ Wrestling Era of the WWF that she is perhaps best remembered for. It was a changing of the guard, as the Old School style of Moolah faced off against the young cool rocker with a more diverse arsenal. Richter would beat Moolah for the WWF Women’s title at the inaugural Wrestlemania in 1984 (backed by Cyndi Lauper), before continuing her feud with Moolah through her other students, like Lelanai Kai. While her WWF career ended somewhat sour when she departed in 1985, her induction into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2010 was principally because of her iconic moment at Wrestlemania as the culmination of her singles feud with Moolah.
CANDI DEVINE vs. SHERRI MARTEL, 1985-1986
Before being relegated to primarily valet status in both the WWF and WCW, Sherri Martel – aka “Sensational Sherri”– was one of the world’s top female wrestlers. She began in Verne Gagne‘s AWA and immediately entered a feud with AWA Women’s Champion Candi Devine. In a one year rivalry, Martel and Devine swapped the title three times, with Martel coming out on top following AWA’s Battle By The Bay in June of 1986.
ALUNDRA BLAYZE vs. BULL NAKANO, 1994-1995
Unfortunately, by the end of the 1980’s, a lack of attention – both from management and fans – saw the WWF Women’s division fall by the wayside and ultimately shut down. But in the early 90’s, during the New Generation Era, the WWF re-introduced it, bringing in former AWA and WCW women’s wrestler Madusa Micelli (renamed as Alundra Blayze) as it’s new focal point. They brought in All Japan Women’s Pro Wrestling‘s Bull Nakano to be in archrival and for a brief spell, women’s wrestling began to get some traction again. But during a sabbatical by Blayze, Nakano was released for drug use and the feud never fully got it’s completion. But it’s brief glimmer of hope set the foundation for the WWF to return to keeping women’s wrestling as part of its programming. Although it would be without Blayze either, who returned to WCW upon her return (infamously dropping the WWF Women’s title in the trash on a live Nitro). While the women’s division would be put on hiatus for rebuilding from 1995-1998, Blayze and Nakano gave them hope they could get it right eventually.
MANAMI TOYOTA vs. AJA KONG, 1992-1995
It’s unfortunate that the world didn’t have the access to Japanese wrestling in the 90’s like we have today, or more people would be aware of these two. Toyota is widely regarded as perhaps the greatest female wrestler of all-time, and part of that is due to her feuds with the likes of Aja Kong. The two first faced off as members of tag teams, when Toyota and former rival Toshiyo Yamada met up with Jungle Jack (Aja Kong and Bison Kimura) in 1992. By the time both went solo, they were two of All Japan Pro Wrestling (AJW)’s biggest stars. Hard hitting and intense, these two were often the match of the night in their encounters, inspiring a generation of women wrestlers in the mid-90’s, both internationally and in North America.
MANAMI TOYOTA vs. AKIRA HOKUTO, 1990-1995
While it’s arguable these two never truly had a proper feud, Japanese wrestling has always been more about the match-ups than storylines, and these two had plenty. Perhaps the most subtle of the rivalries on the list, but their match-ups were always text book clinics that showed how intense and athletic women’s matches could be. hokuto eventually came to North America in 1997 and joined WCW, winning the inaugural tournament for the new WCW Women’s Championship. Unfortunately, WCW dropped the belt immediately after the tournament.
CHYNA vs. JEFF JARRETT, 1999
Ok, yes, Jeff Jarrett is not a woman. But this was the feud that ultimately put intergender match-ups on the map as a viable possibility in the wrestling landscape. Sure, Jacqueline had done it two years previously in WCW when she defeated Disco Inferno, but it never really had the emotional charge of Chyna vs. Jarrett. For one, Chyna had engaged the public – men and women alike – more than Jacqueline had. And this was not only a women pinning a man, but a woman winning a man’s title. Chyna not only defeated Jarrett for the WWF Intercontinental title at No Mercy in 1999, but would go on to continue facing men, with a program against Chris Jericho shortly after. While WWE has rarely allowed females to compete against male wrestlers again since then (apart from Beth Phoenix‘ 2010 Royal Rumble appearance and mixed tag matches where equal genders must square off), the independent scene has taken intergender matches and made them not only believable, but entertaining. Lucha Underground, Chikara, PWG and many other top indie promotions around the world now showcase intergender matches as part of their programming and not merely as a spectacle.
LITA vs. TRISH STRATUS, 2001-2006
Considered by many to be the greatest women’s feud of all time, it’s amazing it occurred at all. While Lita came from a wrestling background (having previously competed in Mexico, Japan and the original ECW), Trish Stratus was a fitness model created by WWE. Both began their WWE careers as valets, Lita with Essa Rios before joining The Hardyz, and Trish with T & A (Test and Albert). Luckily for everyone, both women’s passion to compete in the ring was noticed early, first by the fans, and they became regulars in the women’s division during the height of the Attitude Era. They teamed up when their outlooks aligned, but it was their matches against each other that inspired a generation of girls around the world.
TRISH STRATUS vs. MICKIE JAMES, 2005-2006
Mickie James debuted in the WWE in 2005 as Trish Stratus’ biggest fan, following her around from event to event. The two eventually teamed up, with James becoming more and more obsessed with Trish’s character – she went from adoring fan to Single White Female. What resulted was an explosive rivalry that cemented James as the heir apparent to Trish and Lita as the head of the WWE Women’s division and pushed Stratus to some of her finest work.
GAIL KIM vs. AWESOME KONG, 2007-2016
As WWE’s Women’s division slowly degraded into it’s Divas Division, TNA‘s Knock-Out Division soon became the gold standard bearer of women’s wrestling in North America in the mid-2000’s. And if Stratus/Lita is WWE”s greatest women’s rivalry, then their TNA counterpart is Gail Kim vs. Awesome Kong. Two juxtaposing styles, these two managed to maintain an intensity and chemistry for nearly a decade. While Kong was released earlier this year for clashing with Reby Hardy, Kim was inducted into the TNA Hall of Fame this past Sunday at TNA’s Bound For Glory. And while Kim has faced many competitors in her storied career, both in TNA and WWE, no rival comes close to the magic created by these two together.
ANGELINA LOVE vs. MADISON RAYNE, 2009-2016
These two on-again, off-again team mates from TNA’s The Beautiful People have more battles against each other than together. Two more names that helped build the Knock-Outs into a rival division that outshone WWE’s Divas Division on a nightly basis most times, Angelina Love and Madison Rayne’s careers are forever entwined – three of Love’s six Knock-Outs title wins came against Rayne, while two of Rayne’s five were off of Love.
KAITLYN vs. AJ LEE, 2013
It took WWE seemingly forever to realize that their Divas concept (hiring actresses or fitness models instead of wrestlers), which had produced WWE Hall of Famer Trish Stratus, was producing more duds than future Legends. But in 2014, it took one of each to set the Divas Division on fire for one brief year and reignite the passion for legitimate women’s wrestling in the WWE Universe. Kaitlyn, a former fitness model, and AJ Lee, a former indie wrestler, both met in NXT in 2010, arriving on the main roster as wrestlers together in 2011 as The Chickbusters. Kaitlyn would strike Divas title gold first in early 2013. What followed next was an explosive year long rivalry with former friend Lee, which ultimately saw Lee win her first Divas title. Kaitlyn retired shortly after the loss, but those months and feud of 2013 helped spark the change needed to get the Divas back to Women.
SASHA BANKS vs. BAYLEY, 2015
The feud that proved women could main event again. Sasha Banks and Bayley tore up NXT for the better part of 2015, with not one, but two Match of the Year candidates, stealing the show at TakeOver: Brooklyn and then a few months later main eventing TakeOver: Respect in the first ever women’s Iron Man match. With Bayley now on the main roster and same show as Banks, it’s only a matter of time before one of them turns (almost guaranteed to be Sasha) and this future legendary feud continues for the whole WWE Universe to witness.
SEXY STAR vs. MARIPOSA, 2016
Lucha Underground has been a game changer since it’s debut in 2014, with it’s intricate sci-fi noir storylines and amazing wrestling, and with it, bringing intergender match-ups to its canon with great regularity. Sexy Star established herself early, with a mid-Season One victory over Pentagon Jr. Season Three saw Star enter a twisted feud against the mysterious and demented Mariposa (played by indie veteran Cheerleader Melissa), that culminated in the astounding and brutal No Mas match. While many women have had more violent matches in other indie promotions, the storytelling and athleticism made this one of the Season’s stand out matches. The moment Sexy Star proclaimed “F*ck YOU!” when asked to submit was one of the year’s most chilling moments in wrestling. While it’s unlikely this brief feud will continue with Sexy Star’s apparent retirement from wrestling, it showed that when push came to shove, the women were willing to push themselves as far as, and in some cases, further than many of their male peers.
CHARLOTTE vs. SASHA BANKS, 2013-2016
While Sasha Banks’ feud with Bayley was the talk of 2015, her true archrival is the “genetically superior” Charlotte, the daughter of 16-time World Champion Hall of Famer Ric Flair. They both arrived in NXT around the same time in 2012, and by 2013, were partners in the BFF’s. An eventual turn and consistent feuding has ensued ever since, from their days competing over the NXT Women’s title, right on through to the main roster, where both have become two-time WWE Women’s Champions in under a year (technically, Charlotte is a three-time, as the last woman to hold the defunct WWE Divas title). With each match topping the last – plus the rumours that these two will next face inside the namesake cage at this year’s Hell In A Cell – it’s clear that Charlotte and Banks will forever be linked in the history books. And it wouldn’t be surprising if in 10 years that these two former BFF’s take the top women’s rivalry mantle from Trish and Lita.
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