When the idea of a weekly women’s column was first batted around by us here at With Spandex, I have to admit I was hesitant. See, the idea was to highlight the horrible things that had either been done to or done in the name of women in wrestling. While that’s fair, and there’s more than enough infuriating and disheartening material to sort through, I think my initial reticence came from just that. The sheer amount of instances of misogyny, exploitation, and just straight up bad booking, bad ideas, and bad direction for talented female performers is staggering. While I do feel that those deserve confrontation, a weekly reminder doesn’t do anything to bolster the idea that women’s wrestling can occupy the other end of the spectrum. There were times where women got to shine in the past, and still get to do so today.
One of the most popular responses I’ve received in my defense of women’s wrestling is “Well I haven’t seen any good matches.” Here’s the deal: if you’re a kid and you can’t see it, you can’t be it. If you’re an adult, if you don’t see it, you can’t believe in it. It’s as simple as that.
So let’s see some, shall we?
August 29th, 1994: Alundra Blayze vs. Bull Nakano SummerSlam
The story of this match doesn’t begin with Bull Nakano. It doesn’t even begin in the WWE. Rather, this match is happening because of the longstanding feud between Alundra Blayze and Luna Vachon.
“She could have done anything. She was a beautiful girl and very intelligent, smart, good looking, of course, like her dad. All she ever wanted to do [was wrestle]. Her idol was my sister, Vivien, who was a wrestler. She had been watching her ever since she was four or five years old. That’s all she ever did. I told her she was a lunatic because all she wanted to do was wrestle. I thought it was the worst business a woman could be in. It’s not even a business for men.” – Paul Vachon
Luna Vachon, daughter of Paul “Butcher” Vachon, goddaughter to Andre the Giant, wrestled all over the place before landing in WWE: Florida Championship Wrestling, Tri-State Wrestling, the AWA, UWF, All-Japan. With that kinda of pedigree, she was bound to end up working for Vince McMahon. It was in Florida where she first wrestled against Madusa. Their feud continued in the Philadelphia-based ECW-predecessor Tri-State Wrestling.
When McMahon reinstated the Women’s Championship after three years of inactivity in 1993, Madusa was brought in to help revive the division. She was renamed Alundra Blayze, as Madusa had copyrighted her wrestling pseudonym, and McMahon did not want to pay to use her name. Blayze, with experience in the AWA, Tri-State Wrestling, All Japan, and WCW, entered into a six-woman tournament for the newly returned Women’s Championship.
Reunited after their feud in the independent circuit, Luna Vachon feuded with Blayze one again. During this time, Luna had been paired with Bam Bam Bigelow. After their on-screen relationship faltered, she sold his contract to the Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase so he could build his Million Dollar Corporation, and she could focus on the women’s strap. Alundra Blayze had requested more women to wrestle as champion, and Luna needed someone new to manage. Enter Bull Nakano.
Bull Nakano started wrestling in All Japan at the age of 15, and won her first championship at 16. Besides her singles accomplishments in Japan over the next five years, she wrestled alongside her mentor, Dump Matsumoto. In 1986 the tag team made their first appearance in WWE, hailed as the “Devils from Japan,” against Velvet MacIntyre and Dawn Marie. After becoming the first World Women’s Champsion in Mexico’s CMLL, Bull found herself working for Vince MacMahon once again.
A few years ago, I contributed to an UPROXX rebuttal list to the WWE’s 50 Most Beautiful Wrestlers. For a better perspective on these two, here’s what I wrote about Luna and Nakano (even though they did not make rank):
As a person who’s always been a little bit different, dealing with conservative friends, family, and employers has often times been a bit rough. If I had a nickel for every time I heard “Oh, you’d be so pretty if you didn’t have that awful pink hair/piercing/so much eyeliner” from a grandparent, I’d…well…I’d probably be able to buy myself a whole lot more self-confidence for my teenage self. Being different is hard. Bull Nakano and Luna Vachon were different.
While AJW’s largest demographic in the early-mid nineties was the young, female set, it probably goes without saying that WWF’s primary audience was, frankly, not us young ladies. Sure, Elizabeth was great of you wanted to learn how to never speak in public or look really great in white gloves, but she wasn’t exactly a paragon of great life choices. Bull Nakano had hair as tall as I was and blue lipstick and holy crap you can be famous and look like that? Who knew? I know I didn’t.
Admittedly, Luna was in some truly terrible angles, but it’s hard to look at her standing in the ring with Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania IX, larger than life, and deny that she was absolutely stunning. These two ladies embody everything that a mixed-up little girl like me aspired to. Strong, confident – forces to be reckoned with.
These days it’s incredibly easy to endlessly complain about the lack of legitimate female role models in professional wrestling. There are beautiful, talented female wrestlers across the globe who don’t fit a conventional beauty standard that we gravitate to for the exact same reasons Bull Nakano and Luna Vachon inspire. That’s why Kharma was so damn exciting, even if she was only on television for a month. Different is strong. Different is bold. And most importantly, different is beautiful.
Nakano and Luna were important in providing role models for girls like me, but it’s also important not to dismiss the accomplishments or even looks of Alundra Blayze. Blayze famously had an in-ring angle where her nose was broken so that she could take time off for breast enhancement surgery and a nose job. The pressure for women to look a certain way still exists in wrestling on every level, but most who change their appearance are then demonized for giving into that societal pressure, or even simply wanting to look how they themselves want to look instead of trying to confront or attempt to understand the culture that surrounds plastic surgery. There’s this idea that natural women have more natural talent and a truer desire to wrestle, whereas women who feel they have to change any physical aspects of their body are just in it for the popularity and adulation of being famous. The answer to all of this is, of course, that looks have nothing to do with wrestling, and wrestlers should be judged on their physical abilities instead of physical appearance, but baby steps, right? Blayze is certainly someone who would merit this kind of consideration.
This isn’t Blayze’s best match, nor is it Nakano’s. This isn’t even their best match together. Remember that when you watch, because seriously, this match rules. While Bret Hart vs. Mr. Perfect in 1991 may occupy the top spot as my favourite SummerSlam match of all time, this one isn’t all that far behind. Twenty years to the day, and it still holds up as a solid bout.
There are a lot of things to love about this match. I love the way Blayze just goes all in on everything. I talk a lot about the important of effort when I’m writing about Impact each week, and in that aspect, Blayze would get an A. Look at the way she struggles to get out of the submissions Nakano puts her into. Most wrestlers, male of female, don’t even do that today. A lot of what can bring down a match is the set up and waiting for a move to happen. Why doesn’t anyone ever fight to get out of a Pedigree or facebuster variant or a Neutralizer? Little efforts like that can elevate a match to the next level. Speaking of submissions, you know we’ve gotta talk about this one:
Some of you may have seen this for the first time when Paige used the Scorpion Crosslock to defeat Emma at NXT ArRIVAL during her NXT Women’s Championship defense. And that’s pretty cool. If it wasn’t your first time seeing it, you were probably popping as hard as I was to see a Bull Nakano submission back in the WWE. Knowing your wrestling history means that a lot of the time you get tired of retreads and exhausted tropes, but seeing something special that you loved once pop back up unexpectedly like that? It’s wonderful.
Nakano doesn’t win the match with it, but is forced to begrudgingly break the hold. She doesn’t want to stop murderizing Blayze. When Nakano steps in the ring, she is going to hurt you, and she’s going to use her strength and her skill and everything she has at her disposal to do it. When I say she’s a lady hoss, I really mean it. Look at the way she tosses Blayze around. Her chokeslam is so nasty it’s got some stink on it. Blayze takes it, and goes back for more.
You can go away from this match thinking it’s a pretty good wrestling match on it’s own. What I hope you can take away from this match is that if you treated this like a bathroom break, or something to be fast-forwarded through, you missed the story of someone couldn’t get what they wanted on their own, so they got fed up and brought in a monster to help take it away. You missed two strong competitors of differing styles throwing everything they had at each other for something important.
If that doesn’t match up to your ideal of what wrestling should be, you just might be beyond help.