Professional Wrestling: The 25 Greatest Female Wrestlers of All Time
These 25 women defy stereotypes of frail females that have to rely on their looks and sex appeal to get by.
These are tough, strong and supremely talented wrestlers.
As far as we've progressed as a society, women still constantly have to prove that they belong in professional wrestling.
Even after witnessing the trailblazing greatness of June Byers and the Fabulous Moolah, after seeing Trish Stratus and Lita's achievements, after women from Japan and Mexico wowed fans again and again, women's wrestling isn't respected or celebrated nearly enough.
Taking into account their in-ring ability, impact on the sport and their success, this list looks for the best from as long ago as the '30s and as far away as Masuda, Japan.
I've included video clips so you can see these women's talents firsthand, and you can decide for yourself who is the greatest woman to ever compete in a ring.
From Mexico: Lady Apache, La Amapola and Marcela
From Japan: Lioness Asuka, Dynamite Kansai, Chigusa Nagayo and Dump Matsumoto
From the U.S.: Mae Young, Luna Vachon and Leilani Kai
25. Sarah Stock: Dark Angel/Sarita
Sarah Stock was known as "Dark Angel" during her run in Mexico and as Sarita while with TNA.
Stock is a well-rounded performer—agile, powerful and exciting to watch. She teems with star power, so it's no surprise that TNA scooped her up.
Her fast-paced matches are marked with entertaining moves like her La Reienera, suicide dives and springboard dropkicks.
Over the next few years we should see her build a resume of great matches and stunning spots.
Though she is not often allowed to show off her athleticism, power and technical skills, Natalya is still clearly a great talent.
Underutilized and underappreciated in WWE, she could be carrying on the great Hart family tradition, but is more often mired in half-bit storylines and squash matches.
The company clearly doesn't respect what she can do, made evident by her recent flatulence angle.
Natalya is one of the smoother performers in the ring, wrestling with a compelling precision. Hopefully the world will get a chance to see her potential blossom, in WWE or elsewhere.
23. Cheerleader Melissa
Despite her ring name, Cheerleader Melissa is the antithesis of a cheerleader: gritty, cold and vicious.
She's been one of the pillars of the Shimmer promotion over the last few years. Her fluid ring work is aided by strength and size.
Melissa wrestled briefly for TNA as a Raisha Sheed and Alissa Flash, but they didn't utilize her talents nearly enough. She's been floating around the independents for most of her career.
She is one of the better female heels we've ever seen. And at only 29, she's got a lot of wrestling ahead of her.
Given the right stage, she could easily climb up the ranks of the all-time greats.
22. Ayako Hamada
Being Japanese, Mexican and the daughter of a lucha libre-inspired Japanese wrestler, it's no wonder Ayako Hamada is such a well-rounded talent.
She blends power and high-flying and displays a natural grace in the ring. Hamada has surprising strength for such a small frame.
The exciting risk-taker and excellent ring-worker does a far better moonsault than Eve and delivers the best powerbomb by a female.
She has wrestled and won championships in AJW, Shimmer and TNA. Currently, she co-holds the Shimmer Tag Team Championship.
It will be exciting to watch what the rest of her career looks like.
21. Beth Phoenix
Like Natalya, Beth Phoenix is not allowed to fully bloom in WWE. She is often given low-rate opponents and asked to work in two-minute matches.
Even in those conditions, her skills are obvious.
She possesses great power and ring prowess. In addition, she has an engrossing presence.
So even amidst all the yelping of her peers, the botching and booty shaking going on around her, she still manages to shine.
Following Chyna's lead in 2010, she became only the second woman to enter the Royal Rumble. If given any chance at all to do what she does best, Phoenix will likely make much more history.
20. Mariko Yoshida
Yoshida is an excellent high-flyer, but once she began to work for the Japanese promotion ARISON, she quickly become one of the premier submission specialists in the world.
During her time with AJW, CMLL and ARISON, Yoshida has displayed a fantastic level of ring execution and ingenuity in the ring, which she shows with her innovative moves the Spider Twist and the Air-Raid Crash.
As superb a wrestler as Yoshida is, she is not nearly as famous as her talent suggests. Only the most dedicated Joshi fans have seen and enjoyed her work.
19. Gail Kim
The current TNA Knockouts champ is simply a dynamic performer.
Her great agility and quickness, powerful kicks and aerial moves are all part of a stunning package. It's not often someone so tough and talented is also pretty enough to sell magazines.
Her matches with Awesome Kong (now Kharma) were spectacular.
They were a chance for her to elevate her game and to show the world the extent of her talent—unlike her time with WWE.
WWE inexplicably chose to sign her and then just keep her out of the ring. Putting such a stud worker on the bench is a baffling choice.
Perhaps TNA will fully appreciate Kim's skills and allow her to be as great as she can be.
18. Mickie James
With an impressive combination of power and athleticism, Mickie James has been consistently one of the best women's wrestlers wherever she's gone.
She is one of the most decorated women’s wrestlers of all time. James has won titles in nearly every imaginable promotion—from WWE to TNA, Delaware Championship Wrestling, to the CyberSpace Wrestling Federation.
Her departure in 2010 from the WWE was a clear sign of their disinterest in talent and their obsession with Barbie doll-type women.
A popular and gifted wrestler, hopefully James will be appreciated for years to come.
17. Sara Del Rey
Arguably the best female wrestler in the world right now, Sara Del Rey is the total package.
She gives you everything you want: speed, athleticism, power and showmanship. Some wrestlers just have a feel for the sport; it flows through them like their own blood.
Del Rey is one of those wrestlers.
Whether in Mexico, Japan or as the centerpiece of the Shimmer promotion, she has amazed fans every time she's climbed through those ropes.
She is compelling and crisp in the ring and can tap the absolute best out of her opponents.
Del Rey is a shooting star with seemingly unlimited potential. Who knows how impressive her legacy will be once her career is over?
16. Akira Hokuto
Hokuto also wrestled with WCW where she fought against Madusa Miceli and teamed with Bull Nakano.
Her near-perfect, five-star match with Shinobu Kandori alone should rank her among the greats. Her wrestling style was equal parts brutality and precision.
She is a deserving member of both the AJW and Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fames.
15. Madusa Miceli
Despite all the great matches she had and all the titles she's won, Madusa Miceli will likely be most remembered for throwing the WWE Women's title in the trash on an episode of Nitro.
A superb ring worker and great in-ring storyteller, Miceli succeeded everywhere she went.
In AWA, she had a fantastic feud with Sherri Martel. And her matches with Bull Nakano are some of the best women's matches in WWE history.
Her toughness is obvious enough in the ring, but the fact that she also drives a monster truck is further proof.
14. Judy Grable
In the '50s and '60s, wrestling fans were treated to the exciting ring work of Judy Grable.
One of the first female high-flyers, Grable used her quick feet to lift off for graceful aerial moves and for kicking her opponents in the face.
She was nearly as famous for her acrobatic wrestling style as she was for her movie-star looks and the fact that she wrestled barefoot.
Grable was trained by the Fabulous Moolah who later became her friend and in-ring rival. She didn't have the impact that Moolah did, but it is still talked about today, some 50 years after her retirement.
13. Wendi Richter
As WWE exploded into a national power in the '80s, Wendi Richter was an important part of their success. Her championship match with the Fabulous Moolah in 1984 drew incredible ratings.
Richter drew on her high energy and charisma to become one of the most popular women's wrestlers of all time.
A former AWA and WWC women's champ, Richter lost the then-coveted WWE Women's title in controversial fashion in what some people call the Original Screwjob.
Richter is a Hall of Famer and an influential performer.
12. Bull Nakano
Her trademark Kid 'n Play-esque hair and spooky spiderweb-like face paint are the first things you'll notice about Bull Nakano.
Watch her in the ring, though, and it will be guts and skills that will stand out.
Nakano won multiple championships with AJW as well as the WWE Women's Championship, which she held for several months.
She routinely performed stunning and inventive moves like her Bull's Poseidon and Somersault Guillotine Leg Drop.
Nakano was one of a kind. How many female wrestlers would be willing to fight in a chain match?
She also fought in an awesomely brutal cage match against Aja Kong, where Nakano performed a leg drop from the top of the cage.
What would her career and women's wrestling have looked like had she not been fired for possessing cocaine in 1995? Her toughness and mat skills could have the landscape of women's wrestling in America forever.
11. June Byers
During her near decade-long NWA Women's Championship reign, June Byers utilized athleticism and superior ring psychology to entertain and entrance wrestling fans around the country.
She is often seen as the successor to Mildred Burke and the face of women’s wrestling during the '50s. Burke and Byers fought in one of the most discussed matches in wrestling circles.
Their 1954 two-out-of-three falls match in Atlanta may have been partly a shoot and ended in controversy.
Byers was famous for being one of the toughest women in the sport, sometimes breaking her opponents' noses in the ring. She was a pioneer, laying the foundation for future women.
10. Jaguar Yokota
Hall of Famer Jaguar Yokota was one of Japan's greatest wrestlers, male or female. She was a consistent headliner throughout the '80s for AJW.
Though agile enough to pull off moonsault and other high-flying moves, Yokota's strength was in her submission holds and devastating power moves.
During her career she piledrived the likes of Lioness Asuka and Wendi Richter into the mat.
Yokota was forced to retire early at only 24 due to a shoulder injury, but still made a deep mark on wrestling history. She went to become an excellent trainer, most notably mentoring Manami Toyota.
There has not been a wrestler who has crossed more boundaries than Chyna.
She was the first woman to enter the Royal Rumble, to wrestle in the King of the Ring tournament and to win the WWE Intercontinental Championship.
When she wrestled against men it was not a novelty act. Her power and toughness made those contests legitimate and entertaining.
In such a short career, Chyna made a lasting impact, carving her name into the annals of wrestling history.
8. Sherri Martel
A predator in the ring, Sherri Martel was one of the most entertainingly vicious wrestlers of all time.
She spent much of her early career in the AWA, pulling the hair and kicking the head of Madusa Miceili, Candi Devine and whoever else got in her away.
Later with WWE, she managed more often than she wrestled, but when given some ring time, she impressed as always.
Her intensity and adept in-ring storytelling were of Hall of Fame quality. And there may never be as enthralling a female mic worker ever again.
7. Awesome Kong/Kharma
The only one woman who even comes close to Kharma in terms of power and dominance is her former namesake, Aja Kong.
But she is not all size and intimidating presence; she's a great overall performer.
Kharma is riveting to watch in the ring—she's a beast of a wrestler. Her feud with Gail Kim was the most entertaining material TNA has had to offer thus far.
Will she be given a chance to break heads and bend bones in WWE? Or will Vince McMahon and company water her down? If they aren't ready for her excellence, they need to let her go.
She is a megastar on the way to even bigger things. Wherever she is, she will definitely make history.
Supremely agile, a risk-taker and a groundbreaker, Lita was an exceptional talent.
There have been few American women willing and able to pull off hardcore matches and battles inside a steel cage.
Lita alternated lucha libre-inspired moves with hammering away on her opponent with her fists. Seeing her in action, it's no surprise how popular she became and still is.
Her matches with Trish Stratus are some of the best women’s matches WWE has ever produced.
Though she's busy with her musical endeavors, the wrestling world would be better off if she decided to come back and DDT a few more ladies.
5. Mildred Burke
During the '30s, '40s and some of the '50s, Mildred Burke was the undisputed queen of pro wrestling.
Despite performing in front of an audience that considered women's wrestling a sideshow act, Burke was an incredible success and a huge pioneer.
She took on all challengers: men, women and society.
Burke's sustained reign at the top is reminiscent of Bruno Sammartino's long WWE title run.
Her talent and toughness convinced fans that women could in fact wrestle. Without Burke, there's no telling what women's wrestling would look like today.
4. Aja Kong
Aja Kong is an unforgettable force. Her face covered in red and blue warpaint, her gloved hands at the ready, Kong exudes strength.
She has dominated Japanese women's wrestling for years, racking up titles and esteem.
Kong briefly joined the WWE in the mid-'90s, infamously breaking Chaparrita Asari's nose.
Kong spent much of her career with AJW where she compiled some of the greatest matches ever seen. Her battles with Bull Nakano, Manami Toyota and Dynamite Kansai are pure, violent fun.
Will she spend the last few years of her career roaming the independents in Japan or perhaps come to the U.S. and show us how kicking butt is done?
3. Trish Stratus
One of the most popular and most successful female wrestlers of all time was also the catalyst for WWE's obsession with turning models into divas.
Stratus started out as a pretty face on the sideline. Once put in the ring, she quickly found her footing and became a compelling worker.
During her seven WWE Women's Championship reigns, she gained a throng of dedicated fans and helped launch the careers of several divas.
There are more talented wrestlers than Trish, but no one combined a marketable look, mic skills and in-ring storytelling like she did. And save for one fabulous wrestler, no one impacted the sport like her either.
2. Fabulous Moolah
The Fabulous Moolah set the standard for every woman to come after her.
She was undoubtedly the best female wrestler for several decades, her prime stretching from the '50s to the '70s.
Hulk Hogan and Bruno Sammartino have nothing on Moolah in terms of sustained success. Her WWE title reign officially lasted for an insane 10,170 days.
Mixing a well-executed technical style with a flash of nastiness, Moolah entertained crowds like few wrestlers ever have.
There is no more influential or iconic female wrestler.
1. Manami Toyota
Moolah and Trish may be more well-known to U.S. fans, but Manami Toyota is the most talented female wrestler ever.
She's compiled an astounding 10 five-star matches during career.
Here athleticism alone is enough to rank her among the all-time greats. She leaps from the mat to the top rope like a cat and glides as gracefully as Jimmy Snuka.
Toyota is a powder keg of raw emotion. She entrances an audience with intensity.
And for having such a thin frame, she has surprising strength.
She's often wrestled much larger women and had no issue executing perfect suplexes on them. Her wrestling should be studied by every aspiring female wrestler.