Tomorrow, as you already know, new WWE Women’s Tag Team Champions will be crowned in the Elimination Chamber. WWE will call them the first-ever team to hold that title, and that will only sort of be true. In the sense that WWE is not the same thing as WWF, sure. But the WWF became the WWE, and whoever wins tomorrow won’t be the first women’s tag champs that this company ever had.
It was the NWA who had women’s tag titles first (at least in this lineage), and those champions, Velvet McIntyre and Princess Victoria, were working for the WWF when the company split from the National Wrestling Alliance, so the WWF simply purchased the rights to the championship, and Velvet and Victoria became the actual first ever WWF Women’s Tag Team Champions. The titles lasted until 1989, when they were abandoned thanks to some shady meddling from Moolah.
Since women’s tag belts are on our minds this weekend, I decided to check out the matches for those original belts that can be found on the WWE Network. There’s not that many, but let’s take a look at all of them.
Velvet McIntyre and Judy Martin versus Joyce Grable and Wendi Richter
AWA Super Sunday
April 24 1983
This appears to be the only match on the network for the original NWA tag belts, before WWF acquired them. The champs at the time were the “Texas Cowgals,” Wendi Richter and Joyce Grable. Wendi, who’s part of the heel team here, would go on to be WWF’s first attempt at building a huge female wrestling star, and you can see why in this match. All four of these women do a good job, but Wendi stands out both for her skill and her charisma. Velvet McIntyre, who would soon win the belts with a different partner, is also a standout. And as lifelong student of the game Bayley could probably tell you, Velvet wears the original side ponytail in pro wrestling. To be fair, that was more of a mainstream choice in 1983.
The brutality of this match took me by surprise. McIntyre in particular takes a beating, with Grable tossing her around by the aforementioned ponytail, and Wendi just throwing her right out of the ring. Later, Richter puts Martin in a Tree of Woe (although it didn’t have that name yet) and Grable puts her leg through the ropes and her boot on Martin’s neck when the referee isn’t looking. After a pretty impressive 15-minute match, Grable pins McIntyre with a powerbomb, and the Cowgals retain.
Wendi Richter and Peggy Lee versus Princess Victoria and Velvet McIntyre
Real Golden Girls (Women’s Evolution Collection)
May 5, 1984
This is an early title defense by Velvet McIntyre (who has switched to pigtails) and her partner Princess Victoria, who has braids to go with her Native American gimmick. I couldn’t find much out about Victoria, so I have no idea if she’s actually of native descent or not. This match is much more chaotic and less impressive than the AWA match, although Richter and McIntyre still look great. After getting a hot tag, Velvet hits Peggy Lee with three body slams in a row followed by a dropkick for the pin.
Penny Mitchell and Peggy Patterson versus Desiree Peterson and Velvet McIntyre
Prime Time Wrestling 81
September 22 1986
Velvet McIntyre continues to impress in this match, with her new partner Desiree Peterson also coming off well. Desiree does an excellent monkey flip, sometimes with one leg. Penny Mitchell also seems like a contender, and Peggy Patterson has pretty much the exact same hair that Ric Flair had around this time. At one point Desiree is the face in peril, and gets passed back and forth by Penny and Peggy in a side headlock that goes on way too long. There’s also a thing (which comes up again in later matches) where someone will try to tag in while their feet are on the bottom rope instead of the mat so they can lean farther, which the ref doesn’t allow. It comes off like a common tag team trope of the time, which we don’t see much anymore.
Although hair pulling understandably has a bad rap in women’s wrestling, there’s a spot here I actually really like, where Penny has Desiree in a side headlock (again) and reaches around behind her own back to painfully pull Desiree’s hair so the ref can’t see it, even turning around in a circle as the ref moves to block his view. It may not be great technical wrestling, but it’s a great heel move. Once Velvet McIntyre gets that hot tag, she pins Peggy Patterson with a sunset flip. Velvet McIntyre is the wrestler I knew the least about who impressed me the most in watching these matches. Sadly this is her last appearance on this list, but I plan to go find whatever singles matches she has on the Network.
Penny Mitchell and Candice Purdue versus Judy Martin and Leilani Kai
Boston Garden (Old School) (Also on Prime Time Wrestling 90)
November 1, 1986
I don’t have much to say about this match, because I honestly didn’t think much of it. Judy Martin and Leilani Kai would go on to become the Glamour Girls, but we’re not there yet. At this point Leilani was still doing her “Hawaiian Princess” gimmick, despite being blatantly a brown-haired white lady. Judy Martin, on the other hand, was already doing a glamour gimmick. Penny Mitchell is pretty good, but Candice Purdue doesn’t make much of an impression. Before too long, Leilani Kai hits a power bomb (more or less, although they don’t call it that yet) to pin Mitchell.
The Jumping Bomb Angels versus Judy Martin and Leilani Kai (1)
Prime Time Wrestling 124
July 20 1987
This is the first of five matches between the Jumping Bomb Angels, newly imported from All Japan Women’s Pro Wrestling, and the team who will soon become the Glamour Girls. The fact that Leilani is still pretending to be Polynesian at this point, while sharing the ring with actual Asian women feels a little embarrassing, but this was 1987 WWF, after all. This is also a non-title match, obviously intended to build up the Bomb Angels for title contention.
The Japanese team gets no respect (and a bit of blatant racism) from commentary, but they’re by far the most impressive wrestlers we’ve seen in this division so far. Itsuki Yamazaki plays the face in peril well, with the heel team ganging up on her every time the ref looks away. When Noriyo Tateno gets the hot tag, she does too many rapid fire dropkicks to count, and it’s pretty great. The major problem with this match, commentary aside, is that the American team genuinely doesn’t seem ready for the Jumping Bomb Angels, and often don’t look like they have any idea how to react to them or sell their moves. Nevertheless, the finish is something to behold, as Yamazaki hits Kai with a sunset flip off the top rope to get the pin, although the Angels would have to wait another half year to get their hands on the actual titles.
The Jumping Bomb Angels versus Judy Martin and Leilani Kai (2)
Prime Time Wrestling 127
August 10, 1987
You can tell the two teams (which seem to comprise the entire WWF women’s tag division at this point) have had time to get used to each other and build some in-ring chemistry. Kai and Martin will never be on Yamazaki and Tateno’s level, but it’s not their fault they trained at Moolah’s school instead of a Japanese dojo. There’s a great spot where Tateno bridges out of a body press by Judy Martin and flips her onto the mat in one fluid movement. Then later Tateno helps Yamazaki get Martin in a wrist lock from the top rope, and then Yamazaki jumps off and flips Martin over her on the way down. It’s hard to describe in words, but it looks really cool.
Kai and Martin have no patience for their younger, faster opponents, and do all the things desperate heels do, like when they take turns stepping on Tateno’s neck behind the ref’s back. The Jumping Bomb Angels keep getting close to pinning Leilani Kai, but Judy Martin runs in and breaks it up every time. It particularly looks like the match should be over after Yamazaki hits Kai with a frog splash, but after Martin averts the pin she power slams Yamazaki despite not being legal (the ref is of course distracted) and Kai gets the pin to retain.
The Jumping Bomb Angels versus The Glamour Girls (3)
Prime Time Wrestling 145
December 14, 1987
Leilani Kai and Judy Martin have now had a makeover courtesy of their new manager Jimmy Hart, to become the Glamour Girls. They have fancy black and gold gear (Hart has a matching suit, of course), and Kai has bleached and styled her hair to match Martin’s. On the one hand she’s not pretending to be Hawaiian anymore, but on the other hand I now have a hard time telling them apart. Meanwhile the commentary team never bothers to distinguish between Itsuki Yamazaki and Noriyo Tateno at all, just calling them things like “this Jumping Bomb Angel” and “the Angel in the ring right now.” Interestingly, the Angels are wearing American flag gear, with Tateno’s in the traditional colors and Yamazaki’s palette-swapped with black stripes and a red starfield.
Now that we’re in the third match, we start to see spots being repeated. Nowadays there would be a demand that they do completely new stuff in every successive match (which is how long-running feuds end up with things like peeling the rubber mats off the floor at ringside) but clearly priorities were different in the 1980s. The Jumping Bomb Angels are total babyfaces, but their frustration at being unable to finally defeat the Glamour Girls and win the titles is pushing them to a boiling point. They’re all about skill — bridging out of pin attempts and taking flight at any opportunity — while Kai and Martin are all about doing whatever sneaky thing will help them retain. They’re a Jimmy Hart team, in other words.
Twice in this match the Angels pin Leilani Kai, but both times Judy Martin distracts the ref and he fails to count it. When the Glamour Girls inevitably squeak out an unfair victory, Tateno and Yamazaki beat them up after the bell, and chase Jimmy Hart out of the ring. It’s clear that this rivalry is about to come to a head, which obviously has to happen at a major event.
The Jumping Bomb Angels Versus The Glamour Girls (4)
Royal Rumble 1988
January 24 1988
This is a Two Out Of Three Falls Match, which is a good way to sell its importance after these teams have faced each other so many times. For the occasion, the Glamour Girls enter in gold robes, while the Jumping Bomb Angels enter in kimonos. Vince McMahon and Jesse Ventura are on commentary, and for the first half of the match Vince refuses to even attempt saying the Angels’ names, calling them the Pink Angel and the Red Angel based on their ring gear. It’s not a great look, especially when talking about a team that the company as put so much effort into building up at this point.
At one point in this match, the Angels put the Glamour Girls into figure four leglocks at the same time, which is fun. Afterwards Jimmy Hart massages Leilani Kai’s leg on the apron, saying “Gotta get the circulation back.” I bet he never did that to Jim “the Anvil” Neidhart. Naturally the heels get the first fall by trickery, both hitting moves behind the ref’s back (referees in the ’80s were even less observant than they are now).
As the match goes along it begins to look sloppier, especially on the part of the Glamour Girls. Kai and Martin were obviously working their hardest for this entire feud, but you can just tell they were never trained on anything like the same level that Yamazaki and Tateno were. Toward the end of the match, after getting the second fall by pinning Kai, Yamazaki bodyslams Martin into the corner, setting her up to take Tateno’s knee drop off the top rope. Then both Jumping Bomb Angels hit her with simultaneous drop kicks from two corners, enabling Tateno to get the win, and the joyful Angels to finally get that championship gold.
The Jumping Bomb Angels Versus The Glamour Girls (5)
Prime Time Wrestling 166
May 16 1988
This match isn’t as good as the three before it, but it’s nice that there’s one title defense from the Jumping Bomb Angels on the network, before the whole division fell apart. The Glamour Girls are obviously still angry about losing at the Rumble, and the match starts quickly and brutally. Unsurprisingly, however, the new champs quickly get the upper hand, with Yamazaki scoop-slamming Leilani Kai. Then she does what I thought was going to be a head scissors, but catches Kai’s arm between her legs instead and pulls her down to the mat and directly into an armbar. I have to agree with commentary that it’s a very impressive maneuver.
Judy Martin gets really nasty when she detaches the tag rope from the ringpost and brutally chokes Itsuki Yamazaki with it. It looks nasty, and leaves Yamazaki in a visibly weakened state. Fortunately she manages to give Noriyo Tateno that hot tag, and Tateno hits both the Glamour Girls with rapid-fire high knees, leading to a backslide pin to retain.
And that’s simply all there is. That’s the 1980s WWF Women’s Tag Team Championship story, as told by the WWE Network. It’s possibly I missed a match somewhere, because the Network’s search functions aren’t always the best, but considering it’s only nine matches (five of them between the same two teams) this should give you a sense of what women’s tag team wrestling was like in the 1980s. A lot of it is surprisingly good, reminding us that women’s wrestling in this company got worse before it got better over the past thirty years.
It would have been cool to see what became of the Women’s Tag Team Championship if Moolah hadn’t sabotaged it by lying to the Glamour Girls about WWF’s booking when they were in Japan, and then letting them and the Jumping Bomb Angels take the fall for supposedly going against the plan. Eventually other teams would have to become contenders, and the division might even have expanded as WWF looked for new things to do in the post-Hulkamania period. Would the women’s tag belts have survived the Attitude Era? Who knows. But as of tomorrow, we get to start over in a world with more than two teams and no Moolah to mess everything up. Whether WWE wants to acknowledge that any of this ever happened or not, at least the matches are on the Network and the legacy lives on.