”The Doc” Chad Matthews has been a featured writer for LOP since 2004. Initially offering detailed recaps and reviews for WWE’s top programs, he transitioned to writing columns in 2010. In addition to his discussion-provoking current event pieces, he has written many acclaimed series about WrestleMania, as well as a popular short story chronicle. The Doc has also penned a book, The WrestleMania Era: The Book of Sports Entertainment, published in 2013. It has been called “the best wrestling book I have ever read” and holds a worldwide 5-star rating on Amazon, where it peaked at #3 on the wrestling charts.
QUESTION OF THE DAY: Who is the best women’s wrestler in WWE history? Why do you feel that way?
As we can continue into phase two of this project, a couple of interesting responses to phase one seem worth mentioning, first and foremost among them being the idea that there are not enough top-notch women’s matches in WWE lore to warrant a Top 50 list. While being dismissive of the Revolution is silly, I can appreciate the sentiment that greatness is not yet something that can be found in abundance when reviewing the history of the WWE division; such is why I carefully chose the verbiage “Top” 50. Only about fifteen women’s matches in the entire WrestleMania Era fit the “greatness” description among the groups of performances that, year to year, would be contenders for inclusion on a list featuring the best men’s matches, so I think it completely fair to question the virtue of a Top 50, which inherently includes a lot of good to really good work, but admittedly not a lot of awesome.
That said, context is key, and when you think of how far women’s wrestling in WWE has come in these last four to five years, I think it absolutely is worth celebrating performances that might just be good, 3-star level matches, when you further consider that the vast majority of the women’s matches in WWE history have rarely been anything more than above average. Sub-ten-minute bouts that were five notches below the current era’s base athleticism might have occasionally warranted a 7/10 on the old LOP Davey Boy Wrestling Menu scale, but either via lack of capability or lack of opportunity, matches given the golf clap for exceeding very low expectations back in the day do not connect with me in any meaningful way, hence the Revolution-heavy list here.
So, in honor not just of the upcoming Evolution pay-per-view, but also the start of the second annual Mae Young Classic, let the celebration continue…
#40 – Trish Stratus vs. Mickie James for the WWE Women’s Championship at WrestleMania 22
Time for some brutal honest here, ladies and gentlemen. This match, upon my first viewing of it in at least five years, is nowhere near as good as I remember it being. I was in the building the night that it took place, so perhaps that skewed my perception for a long time as to exactly what made it special, but the in-ring execution certainly was not exemplary. A miscued Matrix dodge of a clothesline and a climax that had to be heavily edited on the WWE Network left me reeling, scrambling to alter my rough draft ranking of the match and searching for the words to blend my present day mindset toward it with my long-term contextualization of it. I am left with the following in its defense: it remains the best example in WWE women’s division history of long-term storytelling culminating in a memorable match on the grandest stage available. Mickie James played her role incredibly well; Trish’s stature at that time afforded this angle the spotlight to coalesce into what it ultimately became; the psychology of the performance at Mania maintains the glory of yesteryear; there is a lot still there to appreciate. However, it should never again be mistaken for something that has a prayer of holding up against even the middle of the pack-level work of the modern era.
#39 – Nia Jax vs. Bayley vs. Mickie James vs. Dana Brooke vs. Emma vs. Sasha Banks in a Gauntlet Match to determine the #1 Contendership to the Women’s Title on the June 26, 2017 edition of Monday Night Raw
Women’s wrestling has not been the discussion-generator that other topics have been for my written work, so I frankly just assumed that the vast majority were on board with the idea that women’s wrestling in WWE has simply matured so far beyond what it had ever previously been that few would be surprised by the strong but not strongest efforts in the Blayze-Nakano and Trish-Lita libraries being early features instead of factoring heavily into the latter stages of this countdown. This Gauntlet Match, for instance, was the perfect vehicle for allowing Nia Jax to show how far she had come as a performer and to establish her as a more significant force on Raw last year. That it began a week that for the first time ever put women’s matches in the main-event slots on all three major WWE TV programs gives it an intangible boost, but the presentation across the run-time was fantastic, progressively escalating as it did to a climactic last match between Jax and The Boss that told a thoroughly engaging story. The finish to end said climax was quite innovative. Jax, to that point, had never looked like a bigger threat, and Banks looked all the more cunning for finding a way to put her down. At #40, it is still better than 99% of the WWE women’s matches that took place prior to 2014.
#38 – The Jumping Bomb Angels vs. The Glamour Girls in a Two-Out-Of-Three Falls Match for the WWF Women’s Tag Team Championships at Royal Rumble 1988
Women’s matches so infrequently factored into the programs that were readily accessible when I first started watching WWE in the late 1980s that a match like this one can easily escape your viewing. However, if you commit the attention to it that it deserves, then prepare to be dazzled. In WWE fame, the other half of the Glamour Girls, Leilani Kai, made her name as the Women’s Champion defeated by Wendi Richter at WrestleMania, when Cyndi Lauper was in her corner. Her and Judy Martin watch today like those two women who dress up like old ladies and eventually become monster heels from the Netflix show, GLOW, in that neither looks like they would be any good at wrestling. Contrasted with the Bomb Angels, a pair of Japanese stars who could draw comparisons to a hypothetical team of Asuka and Kairi Sane, the Glamours looked like plain Janes. Tateno and Yamazaki were incredibly fun to watch, as they gracefully moved about the ring and jumped off the top turnbuckle with precision rarely seen between the late ’80s and the Revolution. One could say that this ranking is way too low, but authorial interpretation was limited by lacking the context of the wider story at play circa the original Royal Rumble. Nevertheless, this match is a blast!
#37 – Kairi Sane vs. Shayna Baszler in the Finals of the 2017 Mae Young Classic
Reflecting back on it, the inaugural MYC had a lot of rock solid matches that contended for the #50-ish spots on this countdown, but only a couple of matches that were truly noteworthy. This was certainly one of the noteworthy few, though it was lacking the charm of the bouts hosted at Full Sail. Put it in front of the crowd that had invested from the outset and I suspect it might have been regarded as the definitive best of the tournament, and even with a tired, post-Smackdown crowd cheering it on, it was arguably a tad bit better than the consensus top tournament performance. Baszler seems destined to be one of those wrestlers whose matches watch as incredibly engaging on initial viewing because she is so good at what she does that you always doubt that someone can beat her all the way to the nanosecond before the referee’s hand slaps the mat for the three count signifying her shoulders have been pinned to the mat. Sane and Baszler did a good job of making the much smaller eventual winner seem sufficiently cunning enough to be credible and the tournament-long build did well to make the InSane Elbow Drop a true finishing move so that when Kairi nailed it in the climax, you could not help but assume that The Queen of Spades would kick out. Do those elements hold up on replay? Reasonably yes, but no replay of it can ever top the original viewing experience.
#36 – Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks vs. Bayley for the Raw Women’s Championship at Clash of Champions 2016
Here lies evidence that Bayley was once one of the most anticipated call-ups from NXT, her initial foray into main roster championship contention adding an intriguing dynamic to the classic Banks-Flair feud given Bayley’s history with each. This match was largely what we have come to expect when a combination involving the Four Horsewomen of WWE step into the ring with pronounced stakes, though it is challenging to invest in the teases of friction between Banks and Bayley on rewatch given the constant tease without payoff in 2017 and 2018 to date. What does stand out on replay is that all three were reaching what currently feels like their respective main roster peaks – Charlotte at her heel apex, Banks at her babyface best, and Bayley still profoundly confident coming right off the end of her iconic NXT run – and it shows in the wrestling. Frankly, I’m prepared to draw a line in the sand and call this effort the bare minimum standard that all Women’s Title matches should be held to on pay-per-view; it is a 3 ½ star performance and that is as low as it should go in this day and age. WWE has some work to do to get its division back to that consistent level at the top.
#35 – Tessa Blanchard vs. Kairi Sane in the First Round of the 2017 Mae Young Classic
Comfortably the best match of last year’s ground-breaking women’s tournament, Sane vs. Blanchard was an outstanding way to introduce the broader audience to the eventual MYC winner and to foreshadow what will undoubtedly be the bright future of the second third generation female superstar to compete under the WWE umbrella. Tessa made marvelous improvements from year one (I saw her wrestle at a Jeff Jarrett Global Force show in August 2015) to year three; against Sane, she looked like a woman you would not want to cross and made it quite clear that the apple (Tully’s daugher mind you) did not fall far from the tree. With her daddy’s ring savvy and her stepfather’s passionate expressions (thanks Magnum TA), Blanchard’s outing that night makes you wonder why she is not currently competing for the NXT Women’s Title. Sane, of course, refused to be bullied, reminding me of my childhood 7 pound Yorkshire Terrier, Rocky, who used to chase Dobermans and Rottweilers down the street, a walking exemplification that it is not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog.
#34 – Lita vs. Trish Stratus for the WWE Women’s Championship on the December 6, 2004 Raw
It almost feels strange ranking this here. Up until a few years ago, I considered it one of the gold standard performances in the history of the women’s division, but as the narrative here evolves like women’s wrestling itself did over the past half decade, greater context is provided to the quality of what the forebears to the Revolution were capable of producing. Stratus vs. Lita was absolutely perfect for what it needed to be then, with Trish at the peak her powers as the all-time great that she was and Lita as her perfect babyface foil, both as over as any non-main-event acts in the game at the time. All the while, though it maintains that pitch-perfect feel and rewatches incredibly well, it lacks the depth of the modern standard-bearers. You could inquire as to why that depth matters, but I think it matters because the lack thereof made its ceiling “historic” and “performer-enhancing” but not perception-altering. Stratus essentially was the women’s division’s ticket to real big picture relevance and the division tanked when she retired. The Revolutionaries, meanwhile, have done little but try to change perception of the entire idea of women’s wrestling at the WWE level. So, Stratus vs. Lita is still a massive achievement, but the weight of its achievement is becoming a distant memory, fairly or not.
#33 – Bayley vs. Sasha Banks to determine the #1 Contender to the Raw Women’s Championship on the July 24, 2017 edition of Monday Night Raw
Perhaps no pairing to date in women’s division history better exemplifies the complete tonal shift of the Divas Era to the Revolution better than Banks vs. Bayley. They will be discussed at length in the Top 10, as I’m sure you assumed, but their chemistry allows them to take any opportunity for them to wrestle each other and turn it into a thoroughly enjoyable match that athletically and aesthetically stands apart from 95% of women’s wrestling matches in the WrestleMania Era. This spunky display of desire from Bayley that sees the Hugger repeatedly remind that she had Sasha’s number was certainly not greater than Lita vs. Trish, but you would be hard pressed not to notice the difference in quality – not to notice that Bayley vs. Sasha was simply better. Greater vs. Better will be a distinction defined more so in the weeks to come, but it prominently comes to the fore when separating historical pioneering efforts from their contemporary counterparts. Bayley vs. Banks is like watching Dean Ambrose vs. Seth Rollins, and that you can say that with a straight face is one of the things that makes the Revolution one of the most fascinating things to happen in WWE this decade.
#32 – Sasha Banks vs. Asuka on the January 29, 2018 edition of Monday Night Raw
I think that The Boss is the greatest women’s wrestler of all-time, point blank. When she wrestles in the heel role, she is as compelling an in-ring performer as there is in the game today; her personality permeates the airwaves when she plays up her ruthless bitch attitude, while at the same time she is able to maintain a distinct aura about herself that ensures part of you wants to root for her. Sasha is incredibly good at being bad. Asuka at her best is right there with Banks in terms of characterful wrestling. This first ever match between the two obviously should have been saved for a more important moment – hell, you could argue that Asuka vs. Sasha is the biggest dream match in NXT history given what they accomplished there – and unfortunately the The Empress we got during that stretch was in the process of being robbed of a lot of her mystique by sub-standard presentation on Raw, but The Boss was able to tap into her best NXT self and get angry, aggressive, and cunning in her attempt to end Asuka’s undefeated streak. The end result was not everything it could have been, but it was still very good.
#31 – Shayna Baszler vs. Toni Storm for the NXT Women’s Championship at the 2018 UK Championship Tournament
For my tastes, Baszler’s general approach to the in-ring performance is everything that Brock Lesnar’s should have morphed into after 2015 he wrapped up his post- “one in 21-1” angle. Her attitude makes her intimidating against 99% of her potential competitors; her striking gives her that added touch of believability that sets her apart and only amplifies the dangerous aura that she exudes; her submission acumen fits perfectly with the narrative of her mixed martial arts success; and, all the while, she is smooth enough in how she executes the run-time of her matches that it never veers into that monotonous, “look at pro wrestling trying to simulate a UFC fight” nonsense that sucked the life out of so many Beast Mode iterations these past few years with Brock. I absolutely love watching Shayna Baszler wrestle. This hidden gem from the UK Tournament in June against Storm realistically might have been a Top 25 frontrunner had it taken place with more hype behind it and perhaps on an NXT Takeover special; it was that good. The name of the game against Baszler is how well her opponent can make us believe that she can escape her clutches and knock her off course (like the best of the Beast Mode library), and Storm’s creativity and experience were totally believable as she nearly won the title. You should make time for this, especially if you’re hip to Shayna’s work.