With WWE’s women’s revolution celebrating its fifth anniversary recently people are looking back at wrestling history to women that led revolutions elsewhere. The topic of conversation has turned to wondering who the best women’s wrestler ever is. We decided to throw our hat into the ring with our picks for the top 5 women’s wrestlers of all time.
The criteria for our selections are star power, match catalog, influence, and drawing power. To get it out of the way, no Charlotte Flair is not on this list, nor is Trish Stratus, in fact there is only one North American to be found on our list. With that said let’s get into it and list our top 5 women’s wrestlers of all time. BUT first some honorable mentions:
Bull Nakano, Devil Masami, Aiko Kyo, Akira Hokuto, Lioness Asuka, Meiko Satomura, Maki Ueda, Sandy Parker, Kyoko Inoue, Dump Matsumoto
5. Aja Kong
If this were a listing based purely on in-ring abilities Aja Kong would be a strong contender for the number one spot. Kong was a genius in the ring and was one of the best monsters of all time, she knew when to sell and just how much to sell to make her opponent credible while retaining her own monstrous aura. When not selling she was a murderer in the ring and dished out stiff strikes with her signature Uraken (spinning back fist) finishing off more than one tough opponent. She had memorable rivalries and matches including her series of brutal matches with Bull Nakano, and of course her famous matches with Manami Toyota.
Few women can say they performed in the Tokyo Dome, even fewer can say they were the main event at the dome. Aja Kong is one of those women, she went on last against Akira Hokuto at the Joshi supershow Big Egg Wrestling Universe. Not only this but Kong was one of AJW’s top stars in the 1990s when the company was packed to the gills with talent and ended Bull Nakano‘s record-breaking 1057 day run as WWWA Champion (the top championship of AJW). She did all of this whilst being a mixed-race woman in Japan which deserves some acknowledgment.
21. 4-8-16, Sendai Girls Meiko Satomura vs Aja Kong. Thank gif culture for this one. I only watch joshi when something special goes down and pic.twitter.com/7OQGj6KNqX
— JMeyer (@ultimoDANK) December 13, 2016
After leaving All Japan Women’s Pro Wrestling (AJW) in 1997 due to the company owners’ financial issues (covered in detail here) Kong continued to be a big star in Joshi going on to become a part of the top heel faction in GAEA Japan for a period. She would also have success in ARISON. Kong still wrestles to this day and is one of the most protected women in Joshi, despite her age she uses her experience and her aura to have good matches with up and coming talent. She’s still a credible name in the scene and has held top titles in companies as recently as May 2019.
Aja Kong is, without doubt, one of the top 5 women’s wrestlers of all time. From her legendary matches to her star power and to her long, long list of accolades and championships, few can say that they have had the longevity or success of Aja Kong.
4. Jaguar Yokota
Number 2 on the list of combined days as WWWA Champion, the first-ever AJW Champion, the first-ever AJW Junior Champion, a woman who retired as WWWA Champion ending a 900+ day reign, Jaguar Yokota was not only a big star for AJW in the 80s but she was also one of the most influential people in pro wrestling history.
Aside from her accolades in-ring and her memorable feuds Jaguar Yokota was the head trainer of the AJW Dojo after her retirement and trained Aja Kong, Manami Toyota, Kyoko Inoue, and many others from AJWs 90s boom. She also innovated a number of wrestling moves that have been made famous over the years like the jackhammer. It’s generally regarded that she was ahead of her time in the ring and she took part in the first-ever women’s match to be rated 5-stars by Dave Meltzer.
Jaguar Yokota escaping a pin attempt like only she can! pic.twitter.com/oKI5ZncC39
— Andy (@Asuka_City) November 6, 2018
Yokota’s feuds with the likes of La Galactica and Devil Masami helped AJW keep steady following the retirement of Jackie Sato and while she doesn’t stand out as one of the biggest draws in AJW history she was a credible ace for them and an even bigger part of pro wrestling history. Yokota still wrestles to this day and has now been in wrestling for over 40 years. She was rightfully inducted into the inaugural Wrestling Observer Newsletter hall of fame and was also inducted into the AJW hall of fame.
3. Jackie Sato
A member of the Beauty Pair, Jackie Sato was one of the main causes of AJW’s initial surge in popularity. While Mach Fumiake started the trend it was Sato and her Beauty Pair partner Maki Ueda that stuck around and became big crossover stars as they were both wrestlers and singers. Supposedly they had a single sell 800,000 copies! Their fame in the entertainment world created a cult fanbase around their wrestling as the androgynously beautiful duo did battle with the Black Pair (Yumi Ikeshita & Shinobu Aso).
The reason we gave Sato the nod ahead of Ueda was the fact that Sato had a run as the singles ace of AJW after defeating Ueda in a “Loser must retire” match. Despite not having her tag team partner Sato remained just a big a star with the same cult fanbase. When we say cult we mean cult, here is a clip of fans hitting the ring to protect her from a heel referee, the pop when she won was also indicative of the reactions she was getting throughout her career.
— Allan (@allan_cheapshot) January 3, 2018
According to WrestlingData a 1977 clash between Sato and Ueda drew 13,000 people to Budokan while their retirement match drew 10,000. Sato was also the trainer for AJW and helped train legends like the previously featured Jaguar Yakota, and Devil Masami. She was also inducted into the AJW hall of fame and went into the inaugural class of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter hall of fame. Oh, and to top it all off she and Ueda have a MOVIE
After being forced to retire from AJW (AJW at the time forced talents to retire at 25) Sato would go on to help set up Japanese Women’s Pro Wrestling (JWP) in the late 80s. This promotion would go on to become an incredibly important part of Joshi history as it ended AJW’s monopoly of women’s wrestling in Japan and would later split into LLPW and JWP, the two promotions that battled with AJW in cross-promotional warfare in the mid-90s, leading to some of the highest drawing shows in Joshi history, as well as a number of cross-promotional dream matches.
While her workrate won’t blow anyone away everything else will. Sato was deservedly the second-ever three-time winner of the WWWA World Championship and propelled AJW to new heights and for that, she takes her rightful place at number 3 on our list of the top 5 women’s wrestlers of all time.
2. Mildred Burke
In an article dedicated to the history of women’s wrestling, we previously detailed Burke’s impact. Originally a big draw in the United States Burke was part of a wrestling power couple with Billy Wolfe. Wolfe was a terrible person though and cheated on her many times leading to her leaving him, Wolfe had gained so much influence in the wrestling world that he was able to get her blackballed from every major promotion. Not having much luck at home Burke went to Japan where her in-ring style became an influence for the women in Japan. Once home Burke would set up the World Women’s Wrestling Association (WWWA), whose world title would become AJW’s when Aiko Kyo won it from Marie Vagnone
Probably the best bit of #ProWrestling between Mildred Burke and Mae Weston in 1949. The style was still reasonably technical, even for a work that included some over the top hits in it. pic.twitter.com/mpAtdftNBd
— Catch Wrestling U – #BlackLivesMatter #SpeakingOut (@CatchWrestling) March 2, 2020
Burke was recognized as WWWA Champion for an incredible 7000 days!, holding the title from 1937 until 1956. She retired as champion before it went to Vagnone and Japan. It’s hard to put into words but Burke was a phenomenon who defeated men and women alike reigning at the top of her field for two decades. If not for the politics involving her husband she no doubt would have gone on to be the best women’s wrestler of all time but alas that is not where her path led. Instead, she made one of the biggest impacts on wrestling by bringing her style to Japan and allowing them to excel with it.
Chigusa Nagayo is without doubt the number one women’s wrestler of all time. Alongside her Crush Gals tag team partner Lioness Asuka the duo took part in one of the most famous feuds in Joshi history when they clashed with Dump Matsumoto‘s Gokuaku Domei faction. The feud drew big money at the gates and was a TV attraction regularly drawing millions of viewers to AJW’s TV show, drawing 12.0 ratings at times. At the pinnacle of the feud, Nagayo battled Matsumoto in a hair vs hair match at Osaka Jo Hall. The images of fans in tears as Nagayo’s head got shaved are burned into this writer’s memory as some of the most memorable images in pro wrestling history. This was the kind of fan support Nagayo and Asuka received, the fans sang them to the ring and screamed their lungs out to support their heroes.
Listen to how hot this crowd is for Chigusa Nagayo. For a knuckle lock. pic.twitter.com/t6qRxKtypc
— Puro Central Shop (@purocentralshop) May 7, 2016
Listen to how HOT this crowd is for Chigusa Nagayo's entrance pic.twitter.com/liGFNoA7gX
— Rasslin Uploader (Armstrong Alley on YT) (@KrisPLettuce) July 7, 2019
Nagayo and Matsumoto would have a second hair vs hair match, Nagayo would come away with the win this time and the pop when Nagayo wins is one of the biggest this writer has heard in my nearly 20 years of consuming wrestling. Nagayo and Asuka’s team would lead to a new boom for AJW as they were cultural phenomenons and made women’s wrestling more popular than it had ever been. Nagayo retired for the first time in 1989 as a former four-time WWWA Tag Team Champion, two-time All-Pacific Champion, and WWWA World Champion. Her retirement show allegedly became the first women’s show to ever draw a $500,000 gate according to Sisterhood of the Squared Circle: The History and Rise of Women’s Wrestling
Nagayo would return in 1993 as part of the Dream Slam event to wrestle Devil Masami in a nostalgic battle. By 1994 she had returned to wrestling with JWP and made occasional appearances in AJW. In 1995 she would set up her own promotion GAEA Japan, kickstarting a new phase of her career.
GAEA Japan would go on to become a major player and notably the home of Meiko Satomura, Nagayo’s protege. Nagayo was the top babyface of GAEA and even brought her former partner Lioness Asuka in as leader of a heel faction featuring some of the biggest names in Joshi for Nagayo and her home talents to fend off. The Crush Gals would inevitably reunite in GAEA to form Crush 2000 and remained big draws until the promotion closed down in 2005 when Nagayo and Asuka retired again. Thanks to Nagayo, GAEA became a major player in the Joshi scene for its ten-year run. It speaks to her staying power that GAEA’s penultimate show drew 5,800 (per Wrestlingdata) and their final show sold out Korakuen (per Cagematch) with Nagayo in the main event of both, twenty years after her peak.
Nagayo wasn’t done with wrestling just yet and returned to found Marvelous. The group has held some big shows including a show that featured team Nagayo vs team Matsumoto that drew 3,500 people around thirty years after their feud took place. With Marvelous, Nagayo once again showed her skills as a trainer taking Takumi Iroha under her wing and molding her into one of the best active wrestlers today and has trained a fantastic crop of talents in Mio Momono, Maria, and Mikoto Shindo who are sure to be the future of Joshi. Even in 2020, Nagayo is delivering high-level matches as she took part in a tag team match in March that topped our Joshi Match Of The Month list for that month.
There are few wrestlers more influential than Chigusa Nagayo. She has been a big part of wrestling for four decades through various eras and multiple companies whether as a trainer or a performer she has excelled and had a hand in molding the future. Don’t just take our word for it though, Dave Meltzer was quoted as saying:
SHe’s the single most popular, and arguably the most historically important female wrestler who ever lived. To this day, in pro wrestling or MMA, not Hulk Hogan,Steve Austin, Kerry Von Erich, Dusty Rhodes or CHuck Liddel could match the reaction i saw that woman recieve live in her heyday” – From Sisterhood Of The Squared Circle: The History And Rise Of women’s wrestling
Chigusa Nagayo was a cultural icon in the 80s and to this day remains an important part of professional wrestling. There are few people, regardless of gender, that are on her level and she should be in the discussion for Greatest Of All Time. Nagayo was inducted to the AJW hall of fame in 1998, the WON hall of fame in 1997, and the Cauliflower Alley Club hall of fame in 1996, she was the top star of two of the biggest women’s wrestling companies of all time, and through various stylistic shifts has delivered countless classic matches throughout the years. There will never be another Chigusa Nagayo and there may not ever be anyone better than Chigusa Nagayo, now or ever. And for that, she takes her rightful spot as the best women’s wrestler of all time.