What better decade was there to be a wrestling fan other than the 1980s? Often considered the Golden Age of the industry, the pro wrestling world was at the peak of its popularity, with many of the business's foremost talents gaining international stardom — like Ric Flair, André the Giant, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, and of course, the leader of Hulkamania himself, Hulk Hogan.
As exciting a time as it was to be a wrestling fan back then, the 1980s had a long way to go when spotlighting the female competitors who took part in the sport. (After all, this was the same decade Vince McMahon erroneously screwed Women's Champ Wendi Richter out of her title after she asked for a raise.) Unfortunately, this fair representation of female wrestlers didn't get underway until the mid-2010s as part of WWE's revamped emphasis on women's wrestling within the promotion.
Still, that's not to say more than a few women didn't shine in the world of pro wrestling, blazing a trail for every aspiring female competitor who came after. From WWE Women's Champions to competitors in AJW, NWA, and more, here are some of the greatest female wrestlers of the 1980s.
1. Wendi Richter
WWE in the late 1980s was, of course, known for its larger-than-life superstars, and the company's women's division was no exception. Comparable in her popularity and stardom to promotion figurehead Hulk Hogan, Wendi Richter almost single-handedly carried the women's division on her back throughout the late '80s.
Even compared to her male colleagues, Wendi Richter was a breath of fresh air in WWE. Entering her matches to “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” by Cyndi Lauper and matching the same energy and charisma as Hogan or Savage, she made women's wrestling fun to watch, whether she was ending The Fabulous Moolah's 28-year title reign as Women's Champ or facing Moolah's up-and-coming protege, Leilani Kai. But, of course, who knows how much farther she would've gone if WWE hadn't pulled their infamous Original Screwjob stunt?
2. Manami Toyota
If Wendi Richter was the Hulk Hogan of '80s women's wrestling, Manami Toyota could accurately be described as Ric Flair. Though not quite as popular as her WWE counterpart, Manami Toyota is commonly hailed not just as the best female wrestler of all time but among the greatest professional wrestlers to ever compete in the sport.
Known for her impressive 22-year tenure with AJW, Manami Toyota was the ideal successor to well-known '70s female wrestlers like The Fabulous Moolah, setting the standard for the '90s wrestlers that would come after her (like Trish Stratus, Lita, and Chyna). Her matches against Kyoko Inoue, Dynamite Kansai, and Mayumi Ozaki have virtually become the stuff of legend, helping elevate the entirety of women's wrestling onto an entirely new level.
Whether you prefer to call her Alundra Blayze, Madusa Miceli, or just plain Madusa (short for “Made in the USA”), if you follow her career from point A to point B, you'll find that Madusa met with success in whatever company she competed in.
Starting in the mid-'80s in AWA, Madusa was almost instantly thrown into a feud with Sensational Sherri Martel, establishing the young wrestler as a star in the making. Building a name and reputation for herself in her matches against Martel, Wendi Richter, and Candi Devine, Madusa soon wandered over to AJW, revamping her style to reflect the company's standards for pro wrestling. (Interestingly, she also became the first non-Japanese wrestler to sign a three-year contract with AJW.)
4. Jaguar Yokota
As the woman who trained Manami Toyota, it shouldn't be surprising that female wrestling pioneer Jaguar Yokota found a welcome place on this list. Alternating between wrestling and training the next generation of competitors after her temporary nine-year-long retirement in 1986, Yokota continues to be recognized as one of the best wrestlers ever to lace up their boots and one of the best female wrestlers of all time.
Relying on a moveset that incorporated high-flying offensive moves and amateur wrestling-based submission holds, Yokota was like the Bryan Danielson of her day — fast, effective, and agile in the ring. If a long-irksome shoulder injury hadn't caused her to retire early, it's almost guaranteed her success and reputation would rival the likes of Toyota.
5. Sherri Martel
Most viewers might readily remember Sensational Sherri Martel for the latter portion of her career. She managed everyone from Randy Savage and Shawn Michaels to Ric Flair and Harlem Heat. But if you look at the grand scope of Martel's career, you're also able to quickly realize that, in the ring, Sherri was … well … sensational.
Like her later client Ric Flair, Martel liberally bent the rules in her matches, tearing at her opponent's hair and cheating whenever the opportunity presented itself. One of the most accomplished wrestlers of the '80s and '90s, she traveled to multiple companies (WWE, ECW, WCW, and TNA, to name just a few) and managed to delight (and in most cases enrage) audiences in whatever promotion she appeared in.
6. Aja Kong
Aja Kong directly influenced the later, equally entertaining Awesome Kong, another revolutionary wrestler whose influence on future generations cannot be overstated. A competitor of immense strength and physicality, Kong's size lent her obvious advantages over her predominantly smaller opponents, giving her a serious edge in almost all her match-ups.
Wrestling in AJW in the mid to late 1980s, Kong's matches with the company tended to be far more violent and chaotic than the usual, “athletic”-driven bouts favored by Manami Toyota or Jaguar Yokota. Her matches against Akira Hokuto, Toyota, and Bull Nakano, in particular, tend to rank as some of the most violent matches in AJW's history, giving Kong a well-earned reputation for down-and-dirty hardcore wrestling.
7. Akira Hokuto
As with most women signed to AJW, Akira Hokuto was a competitor far ahead of her time. Demonstrating consistent talent, Hokuto's bouts against Shinobu Kandori and Aja Kong stand apart as some of the greatest pro wrestling matches of the 1980s.
A hardcore wrestling buff before starting in the industry, Hokuto debuted in AJW shortly before turning 18, making her one of the youngest athletes signed to the promotion. However, far from allowing her extraordinarily young age to get in the way of her success, Hokuto utilized her youthful athleticism to her advantage, forging a reputation for her hard-edged exterior and competitive personality. (This is the same woman who broke her neck in a tag team match against the Red Typhoons — and still managed to finish the match regardless of the serious injury.)
8. Bull Nakano
Relying as much on toughness than purely on athleticism, Bull Nakano was one of the most revolutionary female wrestlers back in the 1980s. Her unique physical appearance — the towering hair, the cracking face paint, and her more imposing size — made her stand out in her competition, whether wrestling in AJW, WWE, or WCW.
Wrestling for AJW from 1983 to 1996, Nakano can essentially be described as a mix between Cactus Jack and Brock Lesnar. A female powerhouse, she was able to go head-to-head with some of the most formidable opponents that stood in her way (especially Aja Kong). Not only that, but her participation in unorthodox bouts like chain matches and steel cage matches was considered highly ahead of their time
9. Leilani Kai
Training under The Fabulous Moolah in the late 1970s, Leilani Kai had an almost unparalleled ascent to stardom within the wrestling industry. After appearing on WWE television by the mid-1980s, Kai was instantly thrust into a feud between Wendi Richter and Moolah for the Women's Championship shortly after arriving at the company.
To the shock of everyone in attendance and watching at home, Kai did the unthinkable in one of her first matches in WWE, winning the Women's Championship from Richter at The War to Settle the Score. It was a surprising moment, and although Kai's reign as champion was short-lived (she'd lose the belt back to Richter one month later at WrestleMania I), it nevertheless illustrated Kai's clear capabilities in the ring.
10. Velvet McIntyre
How Velvet McIntyre hasn't already been inducted into WWE's Hall of Fame is a question we're only left puzzling over. One of the most innovative and exciting wrestlers of her era, McIntyre was the epitome of an unorthodox performer, relying on a more high-flying offensive moveset and her trademark penchant for competing while barefoot in the ring.
It was these idiosyncrasies and more than helped McIntyre win over audiences. Getting her start in Canada before appearing in WWE from 1984 to 1988, McIntyre accomplished practically everything there was to accomplish in Vince McMahon's company, whether it was feuding with The Fabulous Moolah over the Women's Championship or competing in the first female Survivor Series five-on-five match.
11. Mariko Yoshida
Arriving in AJW in the late 1980s, Mariko Yoshida was considered one of the company's promising young stars of tomorrow. With speed, agility, and stamina in her corner, Yoshida was a high-flier of magnificent capabilities, her moveset more closely aligned to that of a luchador than a traditional mat-based wrestler.
Of course, Yoshida would only grow better with age, her lucha libre background eventually evolving into a submission-based, ground-and-pound style when she signed with Arsion in the late 1990s. However, even before then, Yoshida was a rising talent in her own right, evidenced in her matches against Takako Inoue.
12. Debbie Combs
The daughter of wrestling legend Cora Combs, Debbie Combs was destined for greatness in the pro wrestling industry. Sadly, like so many wrestlers on this list, her contributions and achievements have been overshadowed by time, washing away what was an otherwise fantastic career.
Making her debut in ICW, Combs eventually headlined the women's division in both WWE and NWA, competing against the likes of Fabulous Moolah and Sherri Martel. However, perhaps the most notable of her accolades came when she competed for NWA, winning the company's World Women's Championship on three occasions.
13. Tina Ferrari
The most notable wrestler to graduate from the influential GLOW wrestling promotion, Tina Ferrari is almost certainly better known under her later moniker of Ivory. Ferrari was an undeniable asset for WWE during their famous Attitude Era, a clearly skilled wrestler when she appeared in GLOW.
Some of her GLOW colleagues might've had better gimmicks, but few possessed the keen in-ring abilities as Ferrari. Whether she was facing Colonel Ninotchka for the GLOW Championship or wrestling in the Powerful Women of Wrestling promotion, she was a distinct young talent back then who eventually became a standout performer in the 1990s.
14. Misty Blue
Misty Blue Simmes had that valued characteristic in spades if wrestling is all about showmanship. Decked out in her signature red, white, and blue attire, Misty Blue was the all-American patriot who was like the female combination of Kurt Angle and Hulk Hogan.
Trained by the legendary Killer Kowalski when she was just 18 years old, Misty Blue made her career in AWA and NWA, facing some of the most iconic female wrestlers of her era (Sherri Martel and Debbie Combs being prime examples). Her gimmick and personality might be a bit bland for some, but her accolades (including a reign as the NWA United States Women's Champion) speak for themselves.
15. The Fabulous Moolah
No female wrestler has as accomplished and problematic a career as The Fabulous Moolah. But, numerous controversies aside, when you look at Moolah's professional record, you'll see a woman whose participation in pro wrestling can be traced across numerous eras, dating back to her debut in NWA in the late 1940s.
When Moolah returned to the ring in the 1980s, she was far past her prime. However, despite her age, she still participated in some fantastic feuds late in her career, culminating in an unprecedented 28-year reign as NWA World Women's Championship. For better or worse, she's unparalleled in terms of her achievements and is almost definitely among the most important female wrestlers in the sport's history.
This post was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Richard Chachowski is a freelance writer based in New Jersey. He loves reading, his dog Tootsie, and pretty much every movie to ever exist (especially Star Wars).