More Rivalries That Shaped Women’s Wrestling (2020)

Women's Wrestling

Four years ago we discussed 15 rivalries that had shaped women’s wrestling. That article went back to the 1940s and spanned many companies as we visited a number of key feuds that helped women’s wrestling.  It’s four years later, and with a  different writer, so we’ve decided to revisit this idea and detail more women’s feuds that shaped women’s wrestling from Japan to the indies to the majors and everywhere in between.  Once again they will be listed in chronological order.

Beauty Pair vs Black Pair, late 1970s

All Japan Women’s Pro Wrestling (AJW) is without a doubt the biggest women’s wrestling company of all time.  But the company was not always the giant it would become in the late 80s.  In its early days, the company had a hard time drawing fans, and even finding venues willing to book women’s wrestling.  This all changed when AJW discovered the power of idols, Mach Fumiake was their first experiment with this as the entertainer won the WWWA Championship at 16.  While Fumiake only wrestled for a year AJW had found a formula for success, and that’s where the beauty pair come in.  Jackie Sato and Maki Ueda were pop stars and both became huge stars for AJW that helped the company become a hot commodity in the late 70s.  The Beauty Pair were the nature babyfaces beautiful, strong, and honorable, which meant that they needed rivals.  In stepped the Black Pair of Yumi Ikeshita and Shinobu Aso.  The two were absolutely ruthless heels who broke the rules when they wanted and personified everything the Beauty Pair fought against.

While the two teams didn’t feud for the long the rivalry launched Ueda and Sato into superstardom and allowed Sato to become the company’s ace until her retirement in 1981.  It’s uncertain what would have become of AJW had this feud never happened but we do know that the Beauty Pair become such big stars that their confrontation in 1977 drew 13,000 people to Budokan.

Crush Gals vs Atrocious Alliance (Chigusa Nagayo vs Dump Matsumoto), 1985-86

Arguably the biggest feud in the history of women wrestling saw the Crush Gals take on the Atrocious Alliance.  Similar to the Beauty Pair the Crush Gals found success as pop stars which translated to them gaining a cult-like following amongst teenage girls.  The Crush Gals’ most famous feud was against Dump Matsumoto‘s faction.  Matsumoto was unlike anything AJW had seen before, her and her faction bucked the trend of the heels who came before them as they had colorful hair, face paint, insane hair cuts, and they cheated without repent.  Matsumoto took great joy in stabbing opponents with a fork, she even went as far as employing a crooked referee to aid her.

The feud saw the two teams clash a number of times over the WWWA tag team championships, and Tag League The Best.  By putting the Crush Gals against such despicable heels AJW made them into two of the most popular wrestlers Japan has ever seen.  The feud was a television and live draw, reportedly gaining 12.0 ratings on AJW’s television show.

As a result of this tag feud Chigusa Nagayo and Dump Matsumoto had a spin-off singles feud.  The two women met in two hair vs hair matches, one in 1985, the other in 1986.  Matsumoto won the first match, which brought Crush Gals fans to tears as they saw their hero’s head shaved.  The second match took place in Osaka Jo Hall and saw Nagayo get her revenge leading to one of the biggest reactions in wrestling history.  This win launched Nagayo into the main event scene of AJW and made her the company ace until her retirement in 1989.

The Crush Gals were cultural phenomenons, on the level of Hulk Hogan, but without Dump Matsumoto and her gang, they may never have reached the level of superstardom that they did.

Bull Nakano vs Aja Kong, 1990-93

In 1990 Nakano and Kong were members of Gokumon-To, Nakano was the ace of AJW as an unstoppable monster that stood atop the company.  At this time Kong was not the monster that we would come to know, she was a young powerhouse but one that had a ways to go before she could be on Nakano’s level.  By the end of 1990, the two were at war, having taken part in two separate cage matches against one another, they were joined by Bison Kimura, siding with Kong, and Kyoko Inoue, siding with Nakano.  While Kong did beat Nakano in their first cage match this came thanks to a biased referee helping Kong escape the cage.  Every other time they met Nakano came out on top, proving that she was superior.

The two continued to be at odds for years, during this time Kong improved and managed to unleash her full potential.  This culminated in the two colliding over the WWWA World Championship in November 1992, Kong won this matchup and ended Nakano’s 1000+ day reign as champion in a passing of the torch moment.  It had taken her three years but finally, Kong had surpassed Nakano and she went on to lead AJW as one of their biggest stars of the 90s.

Sara Del Ray vs Mercedes Martinez, 2005-06

While Japanese women’s wrestling had seen a boom in the 80’s and international success in the 90’s the United States was still trailing., especially on the indie scene.  SHIMMER was designed to change this.  An all women’s promotion that brought together the best women’s wrestlers from all over the country to showcase professional wrestling.

SHIMMER needed to start with a bang to prove that the women could hang with anyone.  Their choice of headline feud saw Mercedes Martinez and Sara Del Ray collide.  These two women went to war on a number of SHIMMER’s early shows in matches that, for the most part, hold up today.  With this feud SHIMMER successfully put itself on the map and established Del Ray and Martinez as two of the best women on the indies.

Io Shirai vs Mayu Iwatani, 2016-2017

Photo: Stardom

The Threedom became known worldwide as three of the best women’s wrestlers in the world.  At one time a unified trio all three would end up competing against one another at various points.  No rivalry was more vitriolic than the grudge between Io Shirai and Mayu Iwatani.

Shirai and Iwatani at one point made up the tag team Thunder Rock.  Shirai turned on Iwatani and made it clear she believed Iwatani wasn’t good enough for her.  Iwatani, someone who had fought an uphill battle to even become a wrestler was not as naturally gifted as Shirai so this feud really hit home for fans of Mayu.  After a number of unsuccessful attempts to beat Shirai, Iwatani finally defeated Shirai in June 2017 to win the World Of Stardom Championship for the first time and became a double champion.

Ronda Rousey vs Becky Lynch, 2019

Photo: WWE

It would be impossible to do a list like this without including the feud that brought the women to the main event of WrestleMania.  Rousey was easily one of the biggest names in all of women’s sports coming off her run with the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).  When she came to the WWE she quickly dominated all that stood before her and reigned as the unbeaten Raw women’s champion.

Rousey needed a rival that could equal her star power, in stepped “The Man” Becky Lynch.  Lynch became red hot in late 2018 thanks to her gimmick change and added edge.  Lynch’s Royal Rumble win remains one of the most memorable moments in recent WWE history and set the red hot Lynch on a collision course with Rousey.

While Charlotte Flair would be shoehorned into the match the heat between Rousey and Lynch carried the feud all the way to Mania where the three women made history and main evented WrestleMania.

Bayley vs Sasha Banks, 2020

Women's Wrestling
Photo: WWE

Five years after they made history in NXT Sasha Banks and Bayley did it again.  2020 has been a rough year for the WWE by most accounts.  One of the bright spots saw Banks and Bayley steal the spotlight and become two of the company MVPs.  While they have only wrestled once as of this writing their feud was built over the course of many months as they captured every championship on the main roster and sewed seeds of dissent as time went on, culminating in Bayley sadistically beating up Banks after they lost their rematch for the tag titles.

For months fans were drawn to this feud and kept their eyes on every segment featuring the two to see what new layer would be added to the story.  Bayley and Banks became two of the biggest draws in the company and proved that women can be big draws when given the spotlight to tell stories.

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