Who are the best female professional wrestlers of all time?
While this is a subjective question, there are several obvious answers. In pro wrestling history, female entertainers haven't been quite as popular as world-famous male wrestlers like Hulk Hogan, Bruno Sammartino, or Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, but prominent women wrestlers have been a part of the sport since its inception.
The Fabulous Moolah might be the most famous female wrestler of all time, and she was certainly one of the biggest names in her era. She won her first Women's Championship in 1956--and held the belt for an unprecedented 28 years. The first woman to wrestle in Madison Square Garden, she was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame (then the WWF Hall of Fame) in 1995. However, in recent years, the Fabulous Moolah has come under fire from wrestling fans for her heinous (offscreen) treatment of other female wrestlers.
Because the Fabulous Moolah dominated women's wrestling for decades, other performers didn't get much of a chance to shine. That changed in the 1990s thanks to high-profile wrestlers like Joan "Chyna" Laurer. The "enforcer" of the classic stable D-Generation X, Chyna regularly had matches against male wrestlers. She became the first woman to win the Intercontinental Championship and the first woman to enter the Royal Rumble; in 2019, she was posthumously inducted into the Hall of Fame along with the other members of D-Generation X.
Chyna left the WWE in 2001, which left a hole at the top of the organization. Trish Stratus stepped up, becoming the face of the women's division in the 2000s. She won seven Women's Championships and was inducted into the organization's Hall of Fame in 2013. A talented in-ring performer, she engaged in numerous high-profile rivalries with wrestlers like Lita, Mickie James, and even Stephanie McMahon. She retired in 2006, but eventually returned to the ring, and she still occasionally performs for WWE.
International wrestling fans might note Manami Toyota as one of the sport's best talents. Toyota favored a high-flying, acrobatic style, and she spent more than three decades wrestling for promotions like All Japan Women's Pro-Wrestling, Gaea, and NEO.
Wrestling Observer Newsletter gave Toyota "Match of the Year" honors twice, and in 1995, she won the publication's "Most Outstanding Wrestler" and "Readers' Favorite Wrestler" awards. As Toyota never wrestled for WWE, she's not well known among casual American wrestling fans, but that doesn't diminish her standing as one of the sport's most engaging performers. When Toyota announced her retirement in 2017, the Observer noted that she was "one of the greatest wrestlers of all-time, regardless of gender."
Worldwide, women's wrestling continues to gain traction. In 2019, WWE announced that a women's match (Charlotte Flair vs. Becky Lynch vs. Ronda Rousey) would be the main event of Wrestlemania for the first time in history. Lynch won the match, becoming the first to capture both the Raw and SmackDown Women's Titles, but perhaps more importantly, the event indicated that female wrestlers are finally drawing as many viewers as their male counterparts. That's thanks to a high level of competition--and hundreds of talented performers who paved the way for the current generation of superstars.
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