The Best Female Wrestlers of the 1990s

The 1990s was a period when everything changed in the wrestling industry. As competition continued to mount between promotions, each company underwent a serious tonal shift, ushering in WCW's golden era in the mid-'90s and WWE's Attitude Era by the close of the decade.

With each brand beginning to tweak its weekly programming, women's wrestling similarly began to experience a burgeoning evolution as female wrestlers gained more significant roles in the business.

While it would be some time before WWE's Women's Revolution of the mid-2010s, more than a few female wrestlers used their prominent positions in the company to pave a defining path for future generations.

From stars of the Attitude Era to crowd-favorite wrestling managers, here are some of the best female wrestlers of the 1990s.

1. Madusa

Image Credit: World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc.

Madusa — also known as Alundra Blayze in WWE — will forever be known for the infamous moment she threw the WWE Women's Championship into a garbage can on WCW television. However, as memorably shocking as that moment was, that single scene fails to encapsulate Madusa's incredible career in the ring.

An undeniable sensation in the 1980s when she competed in AWA and AJW, Madusa reached the peak of her popularity in the 1990s. A key member of Paul E. Dangerously's famous Dangerous Alliance in WCW during her first run, Madusa had a successful run in WWE in the middle of the decade. Even when she returned to WCW in the late '90s, she still managed to have several fantastic matches against the company's new generation of talent and reignited her feud with arch-rival Nakano.

2. Chyna

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No female wrestler had an impact on the business as fully as Chyna. Accurately described as “The Ninth Wonder of the World” (André the Giant being the Eighth), Chyna was portrayed on-screen as a woman in a man's world — yet proved repeatedly to be every bit as formidable as her male opponents.

One of the most influential wrestlers in WWE history, Chyna single-handedly broke down barriers regarding female representation in the promotion. Acting first as a brawny enforcer for D-Generation X, Chyna soon became a star in her own right, becoming the first woman to compete in the Royal Rumble and the first (and so far only woman) to win the Intercontinental Championship. Her Hall of Fame induction as part of DX is well-earned, but it seems only a matter of time before she ends up in the Hall as a solo performer.

3. Manami Toyota

Manami Toyota
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Manami Toyota is considered among the best female wrestlers of all time and one of the greatest wrestlers ever to compete — regardless of gender. Trained by the equally fantastic Jaguar Yokota, Toyota got her start in the late 1980s, rising to the forefront of AJW by the end of the decade.

Building off the momentum she'd established in the '80s, Toyota continued to reign supreme over AJW as one of the premiere athletes in the company. Her influence on Japanese wrestling is comparable to Keiji Muto or Antonio Inoki, with her matches against some of AJW's biggest stars (including Aja Kong) now considered all-time classics.

4. Sable

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The fact that Sable surpassed the popularity of her then-husband Marc Mero proves how big of a star she was becoming in WWE in the mid-'90s. Originally a mere manager to Mero, she soon embarked on her own as a full-time competitor, gaining traction among viewers through her early feud with her spouse.

The female attraction of her era, Sable rose to the top of WWE's Women's Division by 1998, claiming the Women's Championship from Jacqueline and holding it for a respectable 176 days. Between her clear in-ring abilities and charismatic personality, she inherited the position of WWE's top female performer after Madusa's unexpected departure in 1995.

5. Jacqueline

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For as inclusive as WWE has become in its current iteration, back in the 1990s, the wrestling world wasn't the most welcoming place for people of color. Breaking down social barriers in this regard were athletes like Jacqueline shattering the glass ceiling placed on female POCs in WWE.

A massive influence on everyone from Trish Stratus to Sasha Banks, Jacqueline was one of the most exceptional talents of her era. Like her recurring rival, Ivory, she brought a more athletic edge in her bouts, arguably surpassing the wrestling abilities of most of her colleagues. Having earned a place in WWE's Hall of Fame in recent years, her influence on WWE's programming cannot be overstated.

6. Sunny

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Yes, Sunny might've been only a manager rather than a full-time wrestler like most other names on this list, but few faces are as tied to the landscape of '90s WWE as much as hers. Widely considered WWE's first “Diva” (the company's classification for on-air female personalities from the mid-'90s to the 2010s), Sunny benefited greatly from the wrestlers she was tied to and the early popularity of the internet.

In her on-screen role as a valet, Sunny was arguably one of the best things about any wrestlers she was paired with — lending some much-needed personality to such teams as the Godwinns or the Smoking Gunns. Her impact in wrestling can most obviously be felt during her three-year stint in WWE, but she was seen as wrestling royalty in whatever company she appeared in, whether it was ECW, WCW, or ROH.

7. Sherri Martel

Sherri Martel
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With the possible exception of Miss Elizabeth, few female managers surpass Sensational Sherri Martel. A noteworthy wrestler from the '80s, Sherri enjoyed renewed success in the 1990s, transitioning away from her in-ring competitor position and focusing more on her managerial responsibilities.

Standing side by side with famous stars like Ted DiBiase and Shawn Michaels in the early '90s, Sherri would venture into new companies like ECW (back when it was known as Eastern Championship Wrestling) and WCW in its prime. Her alliances with Ric Flair and Harlem Heat might've been short-lived, but she was also a fun personality to see on WCW, existing almost as the female equivalent to Bobby “the Brain” Heenan.

8. Aja Kong

Aja Kong, Survivor Series
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A veteran wrestler at the end of the 1980s, Aja Kong continued to entertain audiences well into the 1990s and 2000s, serving as a clear stylistic precursor to Chyna, Awesome Kong, and Nia Jax. A well-known talent in AJW, Kong's reputation grew more renowned with time, owing to her appearances in WWE and Arsion (a company she founded, competed in, and led until 2001).

As with the '80s, Kong ran roughshod over her in-ring opponents in the '90s, relying on her size, power, and immense physical strength. A certified star in Japan, Kong also finally received the exposure and recognition she rightfully deserved through her appearances in WWE. If WWE hadn't temporarily ended their female division — cutting short a feud between Madusa and Kong after the former defected to WCW — who knows how much farther she would've gone in the U.S.

9. Luna Vachon

Luna Vachon
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One of the most underrated wrestlers of the Attitude Era, Luna Vachon carved out a name for herself by the end of the 1980s, competing in several prominent indie promotions like Powerful Women of Wrestling, Stampede Wrestling, and AWA. (More to the point, it'd be easier naming the companies Vachon didn't wrestle for).

Debuting in WWE in 1993, Vachon was easily among the better female competitors during a noticeably disappointing time in the company's female roster. Like Chyna or Aja Kong, she was booked as a drastically different competitor, as seen from her outward appearance alone (the white braided hair, the Mohawk haircut, the facepaint). Audiences might've had a tough time reacting to such peculiarities then, but those things set her apart from her contemporaries, helping her remain fresh and exciting as the years drew on.

10. Mariko Yoshida

Mariko Yoshida
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An incredible wrestler when she was first starting in AJW in the 1980s, Mariko Yoshida only grew better as the 1990s finally rolled around. Initially using a high-flying moveset common in luchador-based promotions, Yoshida completely reinvented herself upon her 1997 debut in Arsion, relying on a completely different wrestling style.

Reverting to a more physical, submission-based style, Yoshida was instantly pushed to become the main face of Arsion (earning her the nickname “Arsion True Heart”). She might've slowly edged away from her luchador-esque moves, but she managed to blend her former aerial moves into her new ground-and-pound style, ending many of her matches with such devastating moves as the “Spider Twist.”

11. Bull Nakano

Bull Nakano
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In a testament to her clear in-ring abilities, Bull Nakano became a star unto herself in AJW while still only a teenager. Taking a page from Aja Kong's book, Nakano opted for a largely unconventional presentation, billing herself as a powerhouse performer known for her unique physical appearance (as seen with her skyscraper-style hair and theatrical face paint).

Getting her start in the 1980s, Nakano — like her biggest rival, Madusa — reached the apex of her career in the 1990s. Continuing to wrestle part-time with AJW, Nakano ventured across seas to WWE, winning the Women's Championship from Madusa within a few months of her arrival. After her dismissal from the company, she went to WCW, continuing her feud with Madusa until her retirement in 1997.

12. Ivory

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By the late 1990s, Ivory was one of the few wrestlers on WWE's women's roster who could accurately be described as a veteran, having gained over ten years of experience competing in companies like GLOW, Powerful Women of Wrestling, and the Ladies Professional Wrestling Association.

Initially starting in WWE as the valet to D'Lo Brown and Mark Henry, Ivory soon pursued a career as a full-time wrestler, chasing after Sable's Women's Championship. When measuring Ivory's success in the ring, it's important to note that — as an unfortunate byproduct of the Attitude Era — female wrestlers were known primarily for their physical appearances alone. That being said, Ivory's lengthy wrestling background helped her stand in stark contrast to the competitors who were there simply for their attractiveness.

13. Francine

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Like its main competitor, WCW, ECW never had an intrinsic focus on its women's division. The company did not even really have an official women's division. Despite this, ECW had several fantastic female personalities who proved themselves every bit as brutal and rough-edged as its male athletes.

While we'd love to shine particular light on Beulah McGillicutty, we'd be remiss if we didn't single out Francine, the premiere female star on ECW television. An occasional wrestler and full-time manager, Francine instantly elevated whoever she aligned herself with, very much in the same manner as Sunny, Chyna, or Sherri. The actual matches she participated in were few and far between, but she nevertheless delighted (and infuriated) fans whenever she came down to the ring.

14. Debra

Steve Austin, Debra McMichael, WWE Raw, My Name Is Paul Heyman
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Like Francine, Debra's time in the industry isn't strictly relegated to a full-time wrestling position. More often than not a manager/valet, Debra was still one of the more refreshing females on Monday night TV, whether appearing on Nitro as the “Queen of WCW” or escorting Jeff Jarrett to the ring on Raw.

Briefly holding the Women's Championship after a gimmick match against Sable, Debra soon reverted to her position as a valet, managing Jarrett again. The bouts she performed in may have been only meh, but overall, she was a beloved presence whenever she strode to the ring, regularly receiving cheers even when her clients were emphatically booed.

15. Torrie Wilson

Torrie Wilson
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As many mentioned, WCW didn't exactly have the best women's division during the latter years of the company's operations. Still, more than a few standout female performers, including former fitness model Torrie Wilson, managed to shine bright as WCW began its inevitable decline.

Debuting in the promotion in 1999, Wilson wasn't an active wrestler during her early run in WCW. Instead, she served as a manager to David Flair, Billy Kidman, and Shane Douglas, becoming involved in a few prominent WCW storylines — such as Ric Flair's feud with the n.W.o. She was almost definitely better used in WWE, but her tenure in WCW showed a young woman with an infinitely bright future ahead of her.

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).