By: Brie Coder
In the world of professional wrestling, specifically, if you work for a company like WWE, it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle. For the 2018 Mae Young Classic Tournament winner, Toni Storm, she has gone from being presented often to hardly seen at all. During her time in NXT UK and NXT, you could guarantee her presence would be felt somewhere on the card. But now, it’s an unlikely story.
Since she ventured over to the main roster on Friday Night SmackDown, she has become a sort of folklore character. We’re told she’s there backstage waiting for her moment, but you can never see it for yourself to confirm it. She has the skills to lead an avant-garde epoch in the women’s division, but it seems WWE won’t give her the time of day to prove it.
Now you may be wondering: Why did I choose Toni Storm as the focal point of my piece? Well, about a year ago, I read an excerpt in Pro Wrestling Illustrated that heavily reflects on Storm’s career one year later.
Every year, PWI creates a poll for their subscribers, where they’re asked to cast a vote on various topics within the industry. Of their specific questions in 2020, PWI asked, “Who Is The Most Underrated Female Wrestler In The World?” Toni Storm won the entire category with a 20 percent vote. PWI commented on this by saying:
“Leading up to her victory in the 2018 Mae Young Classic tournament, Storm was exhibiting all the hallmarks of a big-time star. But, since then, she has been largely hidden from view of most WWE fans as a member of the NXT UK roster.”
And just like an episode of the Twilight Zone, Storm remains in that same déjà vu sequence one year later. The only thing that changed was her going from NXT UK to NXT and now onto SmackDown.
When you read the passage above, you can’t help but think to yourself: How could she be underrated? This woman has all the skills and looks, but not the push. It baffles you.
WWE has always had a reputation of focusing on less than a handful of their overall talent; in the women’s division, it’s the Four Horsewomen (Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks and Bayley). Sure, these wrestlers are entertaining to watch, but what happens when they decide to leave or retire from this company? Who’s the next in line to takeover? Look no further than Storm herself.
Storm brings a whole new vantage point to the table. A light like hers is something that needs to be shown, not hidden, on big platforms like WWE. Whether you followed her work through WWE, STARDOM, or in the indies, Toni epitomizes all the necessary ingredients needed to become the next big generational pillar in this business.
In her honor, I wrote this to commemorate her legacy in hopes that one day, someone within the higher up’s of WWE will regard what a star they have right in the palm of their hands before it’s too late.
In order to prove my point, we must start at the very beginning…
Who Is Toni Storm?
Although Toni Storm looks like she may have stepped out of a Mötley Crüe music video or after-party (hell, why not both), don’t let this livewire firecracker fool you. She is known to adapt Cobra Kai’s mantra of Strike First. Strike Hard. And show No Mercy. Storm is a hard-hitting, fast-paced badass who took her wrestling journey to new heights in Australia, Japan, and the UK, before landing a gig in WWE.
At just 13 years old, Storm (real name Toni Rossall) began training at Impact Pro Wrestling, an Australian-based promotion in 2009. She spent five years in Australia, working day and night to hone the skills necessary to become the next big thing.
After receiving permission from her mother to continue pursuing her dream, she moved to England at 18 and trained under Dean Allmark. Her first big break came from her time in Progress Wrestling.
All Hail the Inaugural Women’s Champion
Progress Wrestling (2015 – 2018)
Storm was with Progress Wrestling for three years (2015 – 2018). There, she became the first-ever Progress Women’s Champion after defeating Jinny (who also works at NXT UK) and Laura Di Matteo in a three-way match at Chapter 49: Super Strong Style 16 in 2017. She held the championship for 357 days. She had a total of 14 title defenses as champion but sadly lost it to Jinny at Chapter 69: Be Here Now. Her overall title reign and rank still stands in second place.
In between her time there, she also worked for World Wonder Ring Stardom, where she became a focal Gaijin wrestler that Japanese fans desired to see more of in the ring. This begins the apex point in her singles career.
A Superstorm Invades The Land of the Rising Sun
World Wonder Ring Stardom (2016 – 2018)
Toni Storm came to STARDOM unsigned in 2016. Her first breakthrough came when she won the SWA World Championship (a title that can be defended globally) against the face of the company, Io Shirai, on July 24. Because she became their new champion, STARDOM offered her a legitimate contract, which she signed three months after her appearance (October 2). She carried the title for 612 days, the longest anyone has held it, and that record still stands today. She’d drop the belt to Viper (aka Piper or Doudrop), who she’d see again in NXT UK a few years later.
Not only was winning and retaining the SWA Championship a primary bullet point on her résumé, but Storm became both the 2017 Cinderella and 5 Star GP tournament winner, a lightning strikes twice rarity in either the Gaijin or Joshi scenes. For there, her eye was captivated by another additional prize, the big F’N belt – the World of Stardom Championship.
Following her yearly tournament wins, Storm challenged Mayu Iwatani for the World of Stardom Championship. At the beginning of their match, the chemistry between them was electrifying and exceeding fan’s expectations. But towards the middle of their bout, Iwatani got hurt, which caused STARDOM officials to change the original booking of the match, and crown Storm, the new pinnacle champion.
“Triple Threat Toni” was a force to be reckoned with as she sustained not just the SWA and the World of Stardom Championships in Japan but also the inaugural PROGRESS Women’s title in England. And get this, she did all of this at 21-years-old! Sure, there’ve been many wrestlers globally who’ve carted prime titles at an age similar to Toni’s. But you’ve got to admit it’s impressive for someone like her to possess and regularly defend three top belts on two various continents.
Her career in STARDOM ceased on June 9, 2018, when she lost the World of Stardom Championship to Kagetsu. Storm had a lucrative career in STARDOM that still resonates among peers and fans to this day. She decided it was time to say ja mata ne (Japanese for see you later), and now say hello to the big bright lights of America, where she would begin her uphill career in WWE.
To recap, this was the portfolio she brought to WWE:
All Action Wrestling:
* AAW (Australia) Women’s Championship (1 time)
British Empire Wrestling:
* British Empire Women’s Championship (1 time)
Impact Pro Wrestling Australia:
- IPW Australian Women’s Championship (1 time)
- IPW Australian Cruiserweight Championship (1 time)
- IPW Australian Hardcore Championship (1 time)
* Australian Women’s Championship (2 times)
* PROGRESS Women’s Championship (1 time)
Westside Xtreme Wrestling:
* wXw Women’s Championship (2 times)
World Wonder Ring Stardom:
- SWA World Championship (1 time – held it for 612 days)
- World of Stardom Championship (1 time – held it for 258 days)
- 5★Star GP (2017)
- Cinderella Tournament (2017)
Toni’s Big Break Comes, Or Does It?
WWE (2017 – Present)
Now that she was a world-class traveler, Toni Storm tested her strength in 2017 when she was one of the first four names announced to compete in the first-ever Mae Young Classic Tournament. She came to WWE in 2017 with a diverse background in brawling, technical, freestyle, and to some degree, folkstyle. A hybrid like her was rare to see in WWE.
When she competed in the 2017 Mae Young Classic Tournament, she came within an eyelash of winning the entire thing. But it was Kairi Sane who won the overall event. Sane won her spot in the finals after beating Storm in their quarterfinal match. Because of her performance, WWE invited Storm back to the same tournament a year later in 2018.
Mae Young Classic Tournament: Take Two (2018)
It may be true what Shinedown once sang: “Sometimes goodbye is a second chance,” and for Storm, that certainly was the case. One by one, she took every one of her competitors down. Her craftsmanship earned her a headlining match at WWE’s first-ever all-women’s pay-per-view event, Evolution. To score the home run, she had to overcome her former STARDOM foe, Io Shirai.
The stage was set, and the fans were on the edge of their seats. Both women kicked, clawed, piledrived and smacked their way throughout this match, but it was Storm who got her retrieval moment from the year before. Storm took her long-awaited bow as the 2018 Mae Young Classic victor.
Don’t Call It A Comeback; She’s Been There For Years…
Toni returns to the United Kingdom (2018-2020)
The sky was the limit for Toni Storm, who was ready to take on anyone past or present. Because of her previous track record in the UK, she was invited to initiate the state-of-the-art NXT UK women’s division in 2018. A rising star with many loyal fans from yesteryear, she climbed the ranks rather steadily, which presented her with another opportunity to surmount the NXT UK Women’s Championship against another brazen competitor with the same magnitude and draw like her, Rhea Ripley.
Ripley, who seized the privilege as NXT UK’s first-ever women’s champion, gave her former fallen opponent another chance to redeem herself, which she did at TakeOver: Blackpool when she hit two back-to-back Storm Zeros on Ripley. It was an unforgettable night. And to top it all off, it was her first piece of gold she’d win just three months after her WWE career took flight. Not too shabby for a newcomer.
Storm took her rightful throne and ruled the roost as the queen of the division from January 12, 2019 – August 31, 2020, before losing her first WWE title to Kay Lee Ray at TakeOver: Cardiff. Currently, she’s recognized as the second-longest overall champion.
The foremother of NXT UK headed across the pond to the United States once more to embark on her pre-main event and NXT journey.
The Prelude Taste of WWE’s Main Roster
(Survivor Series 2019 and Royal Rumble 2020)
For many of us who follow WWE and its blockbuster pay-per-views over the years, Survivor Series has always been about which brand is superior: RAW or SmackDown.
In 2019, the tables were turned when WWE decided to include NXT and NXT UK as their third main promotion, which meant they could compete up against the main event Superstars of RAW and SmackDown. I’ll give two guesses as to who was added on Team NXT for the women’s Survivor Series match? You guessed right!
WWE management was enamored with how quick fans were to get on their social media accounts to discuss NXT’s decision to add Storm to their triple threat match at Survivor Series. The reaction was so massive that she became a trend on Twitter.
The women’s triple threat was incredible. Storm surprised many new fans that night. She was added to the Women’s Royal Rumble just two months later. It was like all her accomplishments were coming tenfold. She didn’t need to explain herself. Her work spoke for itself.
Toni Returns to the Black-and-Gold Brand
(Oct. 2020 – July 2021)
Even though she tried her hand at NXT in the past, Toni Storm received her official roster jacket in October of 2020 when she interrupted Io Shirai’s title defense victory to call her bluff and prepare the Genius Of The Sky her past was coming back to haunt her.
To prove she was ready for Shirai again after some time away from their STARDOM days, Storm worked her way up the ladder by defeating her scheduled opponents, and then NXT TakeOver: Vengeance Day came along. What better way to break the hearts of Shirai and her fans on Valentine’s Day than by walking out as NXT’s newest women champion? Add Mercedes Martinez to the bout, and WWE had themselves a Valentine’s Day show no one would forget.
In contrast to what she believed would happen, Storm came short of dethroning Shirai’s noble title reign. Storm’s theme for the night: “Love Stinks.”
As she was chugging along, trying to add more wins to the column, fate would open another door of opportunity again when she was called to face Shirai again in a singles tangle for the title two months later in March. There were so many nail-biting moments. Even though Storm was within an eyelash of unseating her former foe, Shirai, once again, toppled the fireball Storm from any thoughts of becoming a brand-new champ.
Nevertheless, Storm brought a new sense of identity throughout her short period in NXT. It’s a shame she did not hold any title there, but in a sense, it’s made her a more ferocious and hungrier talent.
Bait and Switch:
Now that we’re up to speed, we head into the pit that I like to call Tunnel of Angst: Toni’s Era on SmackDown.
Here’s a question I’d like to ponder: has Toni Storm been on TV for more than 10 minutes this whole year? I don’t think so! In fact, it has to be less.
When hype videos ran over the early summer to inform us of Storm’s upcoming arrival, it felt like change was coming. Good change. Instead, it seems they were foretelling the trials and tribulations Storm was about to face.
One win against Zelina Vega on July 23 carried over to a loss against Vega in the opening round of the Queens Crown Tournament earlier this month.
I don’t think most would have minded the outcome of the match between Vega and Storm earlier this month had they’d given them a longer thought-out contest instead of a less than a two-minute dud.
Let’s not forget the nixed tag match pitted between Storm and Liv Morgan against Vega and Carmella that was set for their SmackDown show at Madison Square Garden last month. The rants of disappointment that swam throughout social media about this and the Queens Crown Tournament were astounding. Fans were agitated, and rightfully so.
If WWE supposedly says they listen to their fans and revolve their decisions around their WWE Universe, the real question is, do they? Are they not seeing the outpour of support towards their overall women’s roster and the lack of TV time they’re given each week? We all know women like Storm have a lot of star power, but how can you see that in a rushed two-minute match?
Let’s Change Toni Storm’s ‘Underrated’ Status
As we step back and admire the complete portrait that’s Toni Storm’s career, think about the bits and pieces that still haven’t been discovered or displayed properly.
With so much competition from promotions all over, it’s time for WWE to pull out the big guns and female stars who can stand toe-to-toe with their adversaries. If they want to modify their ratings to new heights, it’s best to push Toni Time up sooner rather than later.
Storm has mesmerized audiences and promoters all over, and if WWE were to build her up properly, she could become the next generational pillar. Now could be Storm’s moment to cash in on that spotlight opportunity and revolutionize a movement that brought her to the forefront of its popularity years ago.
Looking back at all of the prizes she apprehended in her late teens and early ‘20s, the mileage she’s trekked to make it to the bright lights of WWE, what would urge any promotion to waste such a lightning in a bottle talent?
Lord knows if they were to lose her, there would never be another woman like her in their divisional league. Should they decide to pull the trigger and make the right call on Toni, just watch. She’ll headline this industry as “The Storm of the Century.”
Follow Brie on Twitter @TakeABumpBB!
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