When discussing pro-wrestling in 2018 — especially end of the year lists curated by pro-wrestling outlets — many people still point to places or matches that do not include women. Although there is a declarative “evolution” happening as far as perception and opportunities for women who wrestle in the business itself, there are still hordes of fans who ignore the matches and storylines entirely. As a rabid pro-wrestling mark and current pro-wrestling trainee, it stings me in two ways when folks dismiss or discourage women’s wrestling. Firstly, as a fan offended for the performers who destroy themselves like well-disciplined soldiers, and then as a performer myself, who would use all personal self-control to not actually wrestle any of the sexist, opinionated fans in the audience.
Unfortunately for the sexist, opinionated fans, women’s wrestling is in the biggest mainstream upswing in the modern age. The female performers in major promotions are now receiving major opportunities and delivering, which inevitably trickles down to the rest of the industry. There have been countless promotions that I do not want to forget mentioning like Shimmer, Shine, Pro Wrestling Eve, Sendai, and Stardom, who have from day one showcased women’s talent and abilities. Their hard work inevitably led to companies like WWE to take real notice. The sacrifices made this year through insane match-ups, emotional storylines and technical masterclasses only give more ground for women’s wrestlers to stand on.
I watch wrestling every day for the majority of my entertainment. It took me some time to create this list of 15 matches for 2018. This has been a banner year for content; a lot of firsts, a lot of matches, but also a lot of average-to-good matches. I wanted to include the matches that had the most technical prowess, emotion, and quality. In no particular order, here are the best women’s matches for 2018 (with links!):
1. Meiko Satomura v. Mercedes Martinez
This match was definitely one of my personal favorites of the year. When it first debuted on the WWE network, I watched it three times in a row. Satomura and Martinez both have over 40 years in the business combined together. Because of that ocean of knowledge, they are full of counters, quickness, and innovation that only comes with hitting the mat time and time again. Any aspiring wrestlers would kill to be even a 1/10 as great as either of these women.
2. Toni Storm v. Io Shirai — Mae Young Classic ’18 Final
The second annual Mae Young Classic was something women’s wrestling fans and wrestlers alike were chomping at the bit waiting for. It is still such an incredible opportunity that I won’t bore you with dreaming about it. These two finalists in the competition, however, fulfilled their dreams by moving from packed Japanese venues to packed American arenas. This is a match I would suggest to any person who thinks women’s wrestling is not thought-out or dangerous. This was an NJPW style match ; large moves, slower build, intense striking and large satisfactory climaxes as a fan. Shirai and Storm are long-term opponents and friends, which can be shown through their daredevil-like enthusiasm with each other.
3. Charlotte Flair v. Becky Lynch Last Woman Standing
Truly a match that will stand the test of time. You can’t speak about evolution, grabbing opportunities or taking advantage of your hard work without talking about Becky Lynch in 2018. At the beginning of the year, she was floundering through creative, not being taken seriously by management. By the end of the year, she is the biggest star in our entire industry and she earned it without anyone else’s help. Every great anti-hero needs a villain, and Charlotte was just that throughout the developing of this storyline. Flair and Lynch bring the best and worst out of each other in any match, but a match with legal weaponry brings a special venom out of each performer.
4. Shayna Bayzler v. Io Shirai II @ Evolution
As a pro-wrestler and wrestling fan, sometimes MMA fans and MMA practitioners really frustrate me. So many people dismiss pro-wrestling because of its performance art roots and don’t consider it a real sport. The addition to wrestling by MMA powerhouses like Shayna Bayzler, Rhonda Rousey and Matt Riddle brings a different flow to the sport altogether, and admittedly, a legitimacy for those who do not consider this dangerous or risk-taking. Both Shayna and Io know how to fight in and out of the ring, and it makes for some fluid, painful chain wrestling. All of their matches are worth watching this year, but this one was my favorite.
5. Asuka v. Sasha Banks Monday Night Raw
Sasha Banks and Bayley fans definitely had a hard year. WWE is still discovering how to have multiple women’s storylines at once, and because of this, Sasha took the sideline for a lot of this year. The crowd and her skill, however, are completely undeniable! Asuka and Sasha Banks are a sleeper match, a match I would have preferred with a build and a PPV for how good it was for a Raw episode. This is another Joshi style match brought to America. Despite Asuka and Sasha’s booking through 2018, their technical skills will always overcome management’s confusion or consistency with them as characters.
6. Royal Rumble 2018
This is on the list just because it is literally a long time coming. This historic match had everything you needed or wanted in a Rumble: creative hope spots like the ones given by Naomi, debuts of newer talent like the NXT girls, returns like all of the attitude era and ruthless aggression performers, and never before seen match-ups. This gave us the hope of Sasha Banks v. Trish Stratus. BOOK IT WWE!
7. Charlotte Flair v. Rhonda Rousey
We all know who we really wanted instead, but a broken face kept The Man away. For a replacement match with 5 days preparation, this shows you exactly why Charlotte Flair is in the position she’s in with the company. Many folks say it’s just because of who her dad is, even after years of consistently proving herself and her intensity with each new opportunity and stipulation given. This match excites us for the Royal Rumble and Wrestlemania more than ever before, which is great after a lackluster creative patch with WWE.
8. Meiko Satomura v. Killer Kelly
An amazing first round match-up for the MYC tournament. For all non-Joshi fans, this was their introduction to the legend of Meiko Satomura. Satomura — who I mentioned before — has been wrestling since she was 14 years old. I was always in awe of her ability, but thoroughly impressed with Killer Kelly. Her ability to not only keep up with Satomura, but present believable offense at times, was a showcase of Meiko’s respect of Kelly as a performer and Kelly’s ability to show up during a big show with a big opponent. Kelly crying at the end would be all of us if we got beaten by a warrior like Meiko Satomura.
9. Rhonda Rousey v. Nikki Bella
I appreciated this match because it features two performers who are used to people assuming the worst of them and their abilities. Nikki Bella, who people assume only got her position because of her looks and former partner, and Rhonda Rousey, whom after her string of losses in MMA was counted out as a failure. Rhonda is a natural in pro-wrestling and makes the sport better for her contributions. In this match, you could see the superstar quality the WWE looks for and promotes for their talent in Nikki Bella. The storyline and crowd made this match worth tuning into.
10. Io Shirai vs. Meiko Satomura in Sendai Girls’
Before Io and Meiko both came to America for the MYC, they had a series of final matches in Japan. Sendai Girls’ is Meiko’s Joshi promotion which features incredible women’s performers from all over Japan and the world. Io and Meiko matches are similar to Ric Flair and Steamboat in the way they probably do not even communicate with each other at this point. The pair know each other so well and enjoy the competition genuinely, which is evident in the way they move and respond to each other. Io Shirai was the best-kept secret of the deep wrestling community until last year. I am so eager to see what she will do in a global setting! Especially after seeing what she did in packed Japanese halls with 2–3,000 folks.
11. Io Shirai vs. Momo Watanabe
Io, as mentioned above, is an incredible talent. She was the ace of Stardom for many years. With her moving to America, they were very excited for her, but terrified of the giant hole she would leave in the promotion. Although she is young, I believe Momo Watanabe is the next woman to fill Io’s shoes. Momo is newer to wrestling, but has a distinct swagger and approach to each move which makes her stand out. Io noticeably trusts and believes in Momo, which was great to see this year and last through Queens Quest. This match shows you of Wanatabe’s great future with Stardom, being able to hang with one of her idols!
12. Hikaru Shida vs. Aja Kong
God made the Devil just for fun and when he wanted the real thing, he made Aja Kong! Hiraku Shida is a wrestling veteran and legend of her own right, but there’s no one man or woman who could probably face Aja Kong easily. Aja is made of legend. Like Meiko Satomura, she has been a Joshi since she was very young, but she even surpasses Satomura’s tenure status (her first match was in the late ’80s). Constantly evolving, her move set continues to be dangerous, and this match is very worthy of the watch! Poor Hikaru and her poor head.
13. Reika Saiki vs. Miyu Yamashita
Tokyo Joshi Pro is a promotion I am giving more time to with a purpose. When it comes to Joshi, like most American fans, I am biased and only focus on Stardom. There are too many good promotions in Japan to ignore, however. Reika and Miyu both fight for the ace position regularly, and this match shows off their quickness and skills. I’m hoping they continue to have bouts like this to showcase the skills they surely have.
14. Tessa Blanchard vs Madison Rayne vs Chelsea Green vs Britt Baker
I had to feature All In just because of what the show represents and means for our industry. There has never been an independently run show of that caliber ever before in history! It is very inspiring as an aspiring pro-wrestler to see that there are many ways to succeed in this industry, if you’re creative enough. The ending of the match left wrestling nerds on Reddit in total chaos (mistakes happen, dweebs who have never touched a wrestling ring), but the action and creativity of the women involved was great to watch. Tessa Blanchard is a standout performer, giving 100% to every move she does and every move she takes.
15. Tessa Blanchard v. Brian Cage
To end the list of 2018, I wanted to feature the controversial intergender match. Depending on where you sit on this issue, this match can be the most incredible feat you’ve seen of the type this year or the worst thing I put on this list. As a fan of intergender wrestling, let me make the case. Women’s wrestling is still growing, but from city to city, school to school, there may be less than three women at each place. At most schools, if there is a woman, she is the only one there. Because of that ratio, women’s wrestlers almost always train and wrestle with men for many months/years until they actually can wrestle women who are booked to come to the area. We as performers are expected to work with any size of competitor, so that is not a reason to discourage against intergender wrestling. Brian Cage and Tessa Blanchard have obvious respect for each other, which is displayed in this match. Full of colossal moves, counters, and drama, this is a great introduction both to intergender matches and Tessa B. if you’re not too familiar.
There’s so much wrestling in the age of information and I’m sure I missed some worthy matches, but these are the few that were impossible for me to forget this year. Women’s wrestling is a force to be reckoned with and always has been from its inception, but it’s been a slower climb to the top because of decades of undermining. I am hopeful for the future of the business with each woman on this list and many others continuously pushing themselves further than they expected to go for the good of the sport. Women’s wrestling in 2019 will only go higher!