On Sunday night, Tessa Blanchard captured the IMPACT World Heavyweight Championship when she defeated Sami Callihan in the main event of IMPACT Hard to Kill. With the win, Tessa Blanchard became the first woman to capture a major world title (or the top title in the promotion normally fought over by the men). It marked the first of the “majors” to put their top strap on a women’s wrestler (out of WWE, AEW, IMPACT, and Ring of Honor).
The bravery of a major promotion like IMPACT to push through the backlash and stereotypes held by many of the fans of pro wrestling has opened the world to new possibilities in intergender wrestling. While women winning major titles was originally a by-product of Chyna winning the Intercontinental Championship back during the Monday Night Wars, that saw a spree of women winning lesser titles in major promotions – Madusa won the WCW Cruiserweight title, while Jacqueline also won the WWE Cruiserweight title. On the independent scene, it wasn’t uncommon for women to win secondary or tertiary titles. But all good revolutions begin in the indie scene, and the rise of women capturing main titles in promotions where the top title is predominantly held by men helped lay the trail for a major like IMPACT Wrestling to make the move to put it’s World Championship on Tessa Blanchard, becoming the first North American major to anoint a woman as their main champion.
Here’s a look at the slow ascent of women’s wrestling, with women who took home a promotions top title.
The Road to Tessa Blanchard: A Look at Women Capturing Main Titles
August 23, 2014 – Nicole Matthews defeats Bishop for the ECCW Championship
Nicole Matthews has been an unheralded indie veteran the past two deccades, who has held multiple titles across North America, including the SHIMMER Champion (for 257-days) and 2x SHIMMER Tag Team Champion with Portia Perez. But in the summer of 2014, the Caanadian reached the pinnacle of her home promotion, Elite Canadian Championship Wrestling (ECCW), when she defeated Bishop for the ECCW Championship. ECCW is one of the premier promotions in the Pacific Northwest/Western Canada, and while she’s also a 5x ECCW Women’s Champion, she would go on to become a 3x ECCW Champion, holding a title that has also been held by El Phantasmo, Kyle O’Reilly, and Artemis Spencer.
2015 – LuFisto Wins Atomic Championship Wrestling (ACW) Championship
While she won the Combat Zone Wrestling (CZW) Iron Man Championship in 2006, that title was never CZW’s top title. But in 2015, she was crowned the inaugural champion with Pennsylvania’s ACW, which has not been held by a woman since.
December 5, 2015 – Princess Kimber Lee defeats Hallowicked for the CHIKARA Grand Championship
CHIKARA has long been an advocate for intergender wrestling – they don’t actually have a women’s division, it’s all united – but it wasn’t until December of 2015 that a woman finally won the “Big One” in CHIKARA, the CHIKARA Grand Championship. That night it was CHIKARA fan favorite defeating the evil Hallowicked to become the first female to win the Grand Championship, making headlines around the world. She was even the subject of an article in Rolling Stone magazine, as the first woman in a major indie to win the top title.
April 9, 2016 – Sexy Star wins 20-person Aztec Warfare Match for Lucha Underground Championship
Lucha Underground was a ground-breaking series during it’s cursed run of four years, but it helped elevate many wrestlers to national stars, such as Ricochet (as Prince Puma), Jeff Cobb (as Matanzas) and many more. But in April of 2016, Sexy Star became the first woman to win the main title on television, when she outlasted 19 other wrestlers in an Aztec Warfare Match to win the Lucha Underground Championship.
May 16, 2016 – Heidi Lovelace defeats Josh Alexander for the Alpha-1 Alpha Male title
Before she was Ruby Riott in WWE, she was an indie veteran under the name Heidi Lovelace. As Heidi, she fought in any division possible, capturing several titles normally held by men. But while some where lesser titles – such as AAW Heritage Championship and CHIKARA Young Lions Champion – in the spring of 2016, she captured the Alpha Male Championship, the top title for Canadian indie Alpha-1 Wrestling. But that wasn’t her only main title victory in 2016 – that October, she won the FEST Wrestling Championship in Florida.
May 12, 2017 – Naveah defeats Jeremiah for Rockstar Pro Championship
Naveah has been a veteran of the US indies for years now, especially in the Midwest area. She’s part of the Killer Death Machines with Jessicka Havok, but in May of 2017, Naveah defeated Jeremiah to capture the Rockstar Pro Championship.
March 30, 2018 – Meiko Satomura defeats Chris Brookes for the Fight Club: PRO Championship
Meiko Satomura is one of the greatest wrestlers of the past few decades, and continues to be a presence in the Japanese joshi scene, as both a wrestler and a trainer. In March of 2018, while competing in the UK indie scene, she defeated Chris Brookes to capture the Fight Club: PRO Championship. Her intergender wars also took place in Japan, and that August she defeated Danshoku Dino for the KO-D Openweight Championship, the top championship in DDT Pro, arguably making it the first major company to put their top title on a woman.
April 21, 2018 – Jordynne Grace defeats “Filthy” Tom Lawlor for the Black Label Pro Heavyweight Championship
Before becoming a Knockout with IMPACT Wrestling, Jordynne Grace was a dominant force on the US indie scene. In April of 2018, with Indiana’s Black Label Pro, a promotion on a rocket ship rise to one of the top Midwest indie promotions in the United States, Grace defeated former UFC fighter “Filthy” Tom Lawlor to win the top prize in BLP.
January 26, 2019 – Mercedes Martinez defeats Tyler Bateman for Alternative Wrestling Show (AWS) Championship
Mercedes Martinez is one of the greatest women’s wrestlers and last January she proved that by capturing the AWS Championship on the West Coast, a title she’s held now for 352-days.
February 1, 2019 – Kylie Rae defeats Isaias Velazquez for the Freelance Wrestling World Championship
Kylie Rae has been one of the most popular women on the US indie circuit for the past couple years, especially in the Midwest region around her home town of Chicago, Illinois. In early 2019, she captured the Freelance Wrestling World Championship by defeating 2x Freelance World Champ Isaias Velasquez. She would lose it shortly before signing with All Elite Wrestling (AEW), but since departing the company, she has gone on to defeat “All Ego” Ethan Page this past December, entering her second reign with Freelance’s top strap.
May 26, 2019 – Kris Statlander defeats Orange Cassidy for the IWTV Independent Wrestling Championship
IndependentWrestling.tv (IWTV) has had their own top title, the IWTV Independent Wrestling Championship, that has acted as the unifying top title for all the promotions who are part of the IWTV streaming service. It’s been previously held by Jonathan Gresham, Orange Cassidy, WARHORSE, “Hot Sauce” Tracy Williams, and Erick Stevens, but in May of last year, new AEW signee Kris Statlander became the first woman to capture IWTV’s top title.
January 12, 2020 – Tessa Blanchard defeats Sami Callihan for the IMPACT World Heavyweight Championship
After months of feuding with Sami Callihan and his cronies in OvE, Tessa Blanchard finally made history as the first woman to win a World title with a major promotion. It’s been a long time coming and Sunday was truly an historic moment, as intergender wrestling finally had a proper story and payoff to show just how far women’s wrestling has come.
List any other major indie titles (primary, not secondary or tertiary) held by women in the comments below! This is just a small taste of the rise of women in the wrestling scene.
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