Women’s wrestling is supposedly having a moment in WWE right now. From the outside, that’s certainly true: between the success of Total Divas and the TMZ-flavored buzz around Ronda Rousey, the presence of WWE’s women’s wrestlers in the mainstream media cannot be denied. Unfortunately, if you enjoy watching women’s wrestlers actually wrestle, WWE is probably a weekly disappointment for you. Yes, they have incredible women’s talents, but that doesn’t mean much if you mire them in go-nowhere storylines and limit their matches to six minutes or less. No wonder Sasha Banks is ready to jump ship. In steps in independent women’s promotions.
The good news is that WWE is just one of many places you can watch women’s wrestling. Independent women’s wrestling is a world of it’s own, and if you love wrestling, it’s worth getting into. That’s what this guide is for. These four promotions were chosen on the basis of their quality, general accessibility, and use of talents you are likely to recognize. I’ve even highlighted the WWE talents at each of these promotions so if you have a favorite you’re hoping to see more of, you know where to look for them.
Pro Wrestling: EVE
What it is: An independent British all-women’s wrestling promotion with a take-no-prisoners feminist ethos.
How to watch: Subscribe to EVE Online here!
Watch this if: You’re already watching WWE UK or PROGRESS. You’ve ever gotten in a fight with a heckler at an wrestling show because they wouldn’t stop yelling gross stuff at the wrestlers you like. You want to see the best Meiko Satomura singles matches outside of Japan.
WWE Talents Featured: Nikki Cross, Paige, Viper, Kay Lee Ray, Jinny, Isla Dawn, Charlie Morgan, Toni Storm, Meiko Satomura, Xia Brookside, Killer Kelly, Nina Samuels, Jazzy Gabert
One of the worst aspects of the way WWE’s programming treats female talent is the dated, gross misogyny that tends to make its way out of the writers room on a regular basis. From cringy moments like Ronda Rousey slut-shaming Nikki Bella to the lecherous creepiness that oozes out of Corey Graves’s face whenever a blonde woman is on screen, no female talent goes unscathed.
If you’re over it, Pro Wrestling EVE might be the promotion you’ve been waiting for. This UK-based promotion touts itself as the riot-grrl response to toxic wrestling masculinity. EVE is unapologetically feminist, progressive, and body-positive. But before you assume that they put politics over a good product, think again! EVE boasts some of the absolute best wrestlers in the world today and some of the best commentary and video production in the independent game thanks to the efforts of Dann and Emily Read. EVE’s sell-out shows at the Resistance Gallery mix the grit of a good indie show with a commitment to respecting their talent and fans, and they never lose the thread on the fun.
Even if you haven’t heard of EVE, I guarantee you that you’ve seen an EVE talent kill it in the ring. Nikki Cross and Paige were both EVE champions, and joshi legends like Meiko Satomura and Aja Kong make regular appearances at EVE events. Their mainstay roster talents are incredible too. Jetta is probably one of the best heels working today, and faces like Charlie Morgan put in fantastic performances at every event. If you like your women’s wrestling with an edge, EVE is worth your time and attention.
Where to start: WrestleQueendom was a historic undertaking for EVE. They gathered the best women’s wrestlers in the world and let them have at it in the largest women’s wrestling show ever staged in Europe. WrestleQueendom brought us a War Games match, a great ladder match, international dream matches between literal legends in the field, and one of the best championship matches I have ever seen in any promotion. It’s a great way to get introduced to EVE. It’s also free on YouTube!
What it is: The best independent talent today meets the future of women’s wrestling in this American promotion.
Watch this if: You’re curious about the world of SHIMMER and you don’t know where to start. You’re in it for the storylines. You want to see who’s going to be in the Mae Young Classic next year.
WWE Contenders Featured: Chelsea Greene, Aerial Monroe, Karen Q, Ashley Rayne, Deonna Purrazzo, Mercedes Martinez, Xia Brookside, Mia Yim
One of the most frustrating things about watching WWE as a women’s wrestling fan is that it’s apparent that they don’t trust women’s talent to be a draw of its own accord. Women’s matches in WWE suffer from lots of interference, flashy gimmicks, and storytelling decisions that don’t make any sense. Remember the Becky/Charlotte/Ronda plotline mess leading up to WrestleMania? And that’s to say nothing of the talents that get sidelined for this nonsense. Has anybody seen Nikki Cross? Seriously, is she OK!?
If you want to see a women’s promotion where wrestling is actually the focus, you might start with SHIMMER. Created in 2005 to provide a women’s wrestling promotion focused on athletics and competition, SHIMMER is the place to see the best of the best in independent women’s wrestling. It’s also one of the best places to see women’s wrestling live; if you can make the schlep to the Berwyn Eagles Club in Illinois, you won’t regret it. But SHIMMER has also been running for a long time, and while their streaming library continues to grow, many shows are still only available on DVD. With that much content and history, it can be tough to know where to jump in.
Luckily, RISE is here to serve as your gateway to SHIMMER. RISE is SHIMMER’s developmental brand, but it’s also very much it’s own product; think NXT, if there was more crossover between the yellow brand and it’s main roster counterparts. SHIMMER superstars like Tessa Blanchard, Kimber Lee, Nicole Savoy, and Kris Wolf appear regularly in RISE matches to challenge the new talents and put them over for the crowd. RISE also has a talent-sharing partnership with IMPACT, which means you’ll see Allie, Su Yung, Kiera Hogan and even Rosemary running her own stable of evil minions in the tag team division.
But the draw of RISE isn’t just the SHIMMER connection. RISE recruits featured talents directly from their developmental seminars, and that means you consistently get to see promising new talents at the very start of their careers. Standouts like recent AEW signee “Smiley” Kylie Rae and 80’s throwback Delilah Doom bring a variety of strengths to the product and make it a genuine joy to watch. It’s also an episodic, story-based promotion that puts the effort into building up great plotlines and characters. The unique talents will draw you in and the ongoing soap opera– in particular Rosemary’s quest to conquer the promotion and the feuds surrounding the Phoenix of RISE title –will keep you hooked.
Where to start: RISE ASCENT is their weekly show, and watching a couple of episodes before you check out a longer PPV will help you get grounded in the roster and get a feel for the product. If you’re ready to jump in to one of their PPV’s, RISE: LEGENDARY was an incredible show. The main event matchup between Kylie Rae and Mercedes Martinez is not to be missed.
What it is: Possibly the most famous modern joshi wrestling promotion in the world today.
How to watch: Stardom World (use Google Translate to access the app)
Watch this if: You want to know who’s who in the world of joshi wrestling. You want to see what all the fuss is about Oedo Tai. You want to see all the bonkers stuff WWE won’t let Io Shirai do anymore.
WWE Contenders Featured: Io Shirai, Kairi Sane, Toni Storm, Deonna Purrazzo, Hiroyo Matsumoto, Tegan Nox
WWE’s record of recruiting joshi stars is excellent. Their record of using that talent is…less great. Asuka, Kairi Sane, and Io Shirai were huge signings for the company, but we’re yet to see any of them really live up to their potential. While there are some high spots like Kairi Sane winning the Mae Young Classic, missteps like Asuka’s botched title run means WWE fans don’t always get to see the best of what these women can do.
So where can you see good modern joshi wrestling outside of WWE? Getting into joshi can be a challenge. It’s a huge, and yet incredibly niche, part of the women’s wrestling world. Thanks to savvy attempts at engaging multiple audiences by recruiting international talent and prioritizing translated content on their streaming service, STARDOM is the joshi company that wrestling fans tend to be the most aware of, and it’s probably the best place to jump in if you’re a brand new fan.
It isn’t just a good web presence that gets people into STARDOM. STARDOM roster is full of awesome talent, and their shows are unique, energetic, and have everything from dance numbers and entertaining promos to intense singles and tag team matches.
The promotion’s mix of out-there characters and over-the-top adorableness are an accessible gateway to the the incredible showcase of technical skills that joshi wrestlers are renowned for. There’s a reason that companies like WWE, AEW and Ring of Honor recruit so heavily from the STARDOM roster. If you want to see the future of women’s wrestling, STARDOM is the place to start looking. If Utami Hayashita doesn’t show up in the Mae Young Classic in the next three years, someone screwed up.
Where to start: The We Are Stardom Twitter account is a great way to get acquainted with the service. They regularly post links to content on STARDOM World, as well as translated promos and announcements on upcoming events. STARDOM World can be difficult to navigate at first if you don’t know what you’re looking for, but if you use the Twitter feed as a guide, it’s easier to get started.
Women of Honor
What it is: Ring of Honor’s attempt at launching a women’s division has met mixed reviews, but is still worth checking out depending on who is in the ring.
How to watch: Most matches are on their YouTube channel.
Watch this if: You still miss Emma. You’re already a Ring of Honor fan. You want to see Sumie Sakai kick some ass.
WWE Contenders Featured: Deonna Purrazzo, Karen Q, Ashley Rayne, Tenille Dashwood (fka Emma)
Ring of Honor has long had women’s matches, including a notable partnership with SHIMMER, but those efforts have often lacked the push and prestige given to their main roster product. In 2017 they attempted to address this by creating an actual women’s championship and a new women’s brand, Women of Honor. The announcement of the tournament was accompanied by a murderer’s row of well-known indie talents and individuals that had previously wrestled for Ring of Honor and other companies, including Karen Q, Deonna Purrazzo, Tenille Dashwood and Sumie Sakai.
Women of Honor continues to attract top talent, and some of the individual matches that they’ve put on have been great. However, there are some common complaints about Ring of Honor’s efforts in launching Women of Honor as its own brand. While they have a great roster to work with, the initial Women of Honor tournament and subsequent matches have suffered from short in-ring time, confusing booking choices and a lack of effort to adequately promote and feature women’s matches on their weekly shows and PPVs. There is nothing more frustrating than seeing talented women’s wrestlers perform brief, weird matches for a dead crowd, and that has happened way too many times for the women on this roster.
In other words, of all the independent promotions featured here, Women of Honor is the one that really nails the WWE approach to women’s wrestling. There have been improvements, but the fact remains that Ring of Honor could be doing a lot more to get people excited about their women’s division. Until they do, it will probably remain a frustrating watch. I put them on this list because Women Of Honor is very accessible and there are some excellent matches to be found in their catalog, but I’d check out RISE or EVE first if you’re looking for a more solid overall product.
Where to start: The first Women of Honor tournament was pretty uneven, but it did have some great match-ups. Holidead vs Deonna Purrazzo was a good early tournament highlight, and Kagetsu vs Sumie Sakai was probably the best of the semi-finals. If those matches catch your interest, shift through their YouTube channel and see what else looks interesting.