The currently deep and competitive field of women’s wrestlers made filling out this year’s Top 10 very difficult, with the lone exception of assigning the top spot.
After a tremendous 2019, Becky Lynch becomes Sports Illustrated’s Wrestler of the Year for a second straight year. All of the focus was on Lynch as the calendar turned from 2018 to 2019, and she paved a new path for women across the industry as she became one of the marquee stars for WWE.
While there have been other female stars in WWE history, none were built through their in-ring ability and promo skills, especially not as headliners. Women traditionally had a place in WWE, but never atop the card. Lynch’s popularity forced WWE’s hand, making history as the first woman to have her hand raised in the main event of WrestleMania. While Ronda Rousey and a talented roster certainly helped, Lynch was a driving force behind WWE in 2019.
There were many other spectacular moments in wrestling this past year created by women. It is encouraging to see that women headlining a pay per view is becoming less of an anomaly, as the best wrestlers, regardless of gender, should main-event shows.
Specific guidelines were attached to the Top 10. The indie scene is easy to overlook on a mainstream scale, but it provides wrestling with its backbone and its future. So the 10th spot was exclusively for a wrestler on the independent scene, and the other nine spots are made up of talent who shined in 2019.
Factors involved in selecting the Top 10 included a combination of the wrestler’s work in the ring, the attention their work garnered, and the overall impact on the business over the past year. An integral part of a wrestler’s brilliance is her ability to make viewers believe in the opponent standing across from her in the ring, so a wrestler’s skill at consistently elevating her opponent was also emphasized.
Relevance to the wrestling world (i.e. if Sasha Banks is ranked ahead of Charlotte Flair, it means she had the better year, not necessarily that she is the better wrestler) also factored into the decision. Stage and magnitude were important, as was match quality.
Here are my Top 10 wrestlers of 2019, beginning with the notable omissions. And check out my Top 10 male wrestlers of the year here.
Notable Omissions: Io Shirai; Candice LaRae; Britt Baker; Bianca Belair; Chelsea Green; Ronda Rousey; Asuka; Leyla Hirsch; Kelly Klein; Mayu Iwatani; Nicole Savoy; Mia Yim; Toni Storm
10.) MERCEDES MARTINEZ
Top three matches of 2019: Queens of the Ring vs. Thunder Rosa; Beyond Wrestling’s Uncharted Territory vs. Kris Statlander; Beyond Wrestling’s Uncharted Territory vs. David Starr
After more than a decade in professional wrestling, Mercedes Martinez has nothing left to prove, yet she continues to set a new standard of excellence every year.
Martinez starred for Beyond Wrestling over the course of this past year, headlining an episode of Uncharted Territory against David Starr in October that highlighted the importance of intergender wrestling.
She worked throughout the indies and even made a couple of appearances for AEW, but no matter the venue, her work ethic in the ring never changed. Martinez works an extremely physical, nonstop style, and her success is a testament to an unwavering desire to get better, which is a lesson for both wrestlers looking to break into the business, as well as talent who are already stars.
Her Beyond Wrestling match against Statlander served as another reminder that Martinez works at an elite level.
9.) JORDYNNE GRACE
Top three matches of 2019: Beyond Wrestling’s Treasure Hunt vs. Kris Statlander; Impact Rebellion vs. Taya Valkyrie; PROGRESS Wrestling vs. Meiko Satomura
Jordynne Grace is one of wrestling’s emerging stars, and an integral part of Impact’s successful women’s division.
There are only an elite few in wrestling that present themselves as such a true powerhouse, and Grace does so in a manner that is authentic and genuine. Grace’s in-ring style, which was on display in her destruction of Alexia Nicole this past May, showed off her pure physicality.
There just aren’t many other stars that have Grace’s presence in the ring, and I thought she excelled over the past year, seizing this spot from Io Shirai and a number of other talented wrestlers. A run with the Impact Knockouts title–perhaps as soon as this January’s Hard to Kill pay per view, where she challenges champion Taya Valkyrie and ODB in a triple threat match–would only enhance her status.
Grace is creative in the ring, extremely intelligent, and showcased all year why she is going to be a cornerstone in wrestling for years to come.
8.) TIE: SASHA BANKS and BAYLEY
Banks’ top three matches of 2019: Royal Rumble vs. Ronda Rousey; Clash of Champions vs. Becky Lynch; Hell in a Cell vs. Becky Lynch
Bayley’s top three matches of 2019: Money in the Bank match; Extreme Rules in a handicap match vs. Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross; SmackDown title win vs. Charlotte Flair
Fittingly, Sasha Banks and Bayley are together on this list.
Both had memorable years, especially together, though not always for the right reasons. They won the WWE women’s tag titles in February, and it looked like Banks and Bayley would give instant credibility and meaning to the belts–until they quickly dropped the titles at WrestleMania.
Banks had an uneven 2019 because of her four months away from WWE following ‘Mania, but for the eight months she was there, very few performed at a more elite level. Banks brought out some of the best in Becky Lynch, and their two pay per view matches, especially at Hell in a Cell, were tremendous. Banks also had a fantastic match with Ronda Rousey at the Royal Rumble. She is tremendous in-ring and believable on the microphone, and needs a prolonged run with a belt in 2020.
Bayley’s singles run gained some momentum when she won the Money in the Bank match in May, cashing in that same night to defeat Charlotte Flair for the SmackDown women’s title. She later regained the belt this past October on SmackDown on FOX, defeating Flair again and fully committing to her heel turn. Bayley is one of WWE’s most dependable stars, but she still needs that singles feud with Banks that leads to a definitive match at WrestleMania.
7.) RHEA RIPLEY
Top three matches of 2019: NXT TakeOver: Blackpool vs. Toni Storm; NXT TakeOver: War Games match; NXT vs. Shayna Baszler
No one in wrestling had a better final two months than Rhea Ripley.
Ripley shined at the Survivor Series in November, which took place only a night after her outstanding performance in the War Games match at TakeOver. Ripley then went on to win the NXT women’s title from Shayna Baszler in one of the year’s most breathtaking moments. Her Riptide finisher, delivered off the second rope, produced an exhilarating victory that represents a massive building block as Ripley becomes one of NXT’s top stars.
WWE clearly has big plans for Ripley, who also was booked to defeat Charlotte Flair and Sasha Banks in a triple threat match on SmackDown in the build to the Survivor Series.
6.) KRIS STATLANDER
Top three matches of 2019: Joey Janela’s Escape from LA vs. Chris Dickinson; Beyond Wrestling’s Uncharted Territory vs. Mercedes Martinez; AEW Dynamite vs. Dr. Britt Baker
A lot can happen between now and then, but the breakout star designation for 2020 appears to be a lock for Kris Statlander.
Statlander’s journey toward stardom took place over the past year, where she starred for, among other promotions, Beyond Wrestling, Bar Wrestling, and Create A Pro, which is where she trained. She also just made waves by winning top indie AAW’s women’s championship. She possesses an incredible presence and in-ring ability, which she proved over the past year, and her entire in-ring presentation is unique and memorable. She has brought her alien character to new heights because of her talent as an in-ring performer.
She refers to herself as “the galaxy’s greatest,” and the character makes it easy to identify Statlander. She was a late addition to AEW in 2019, but she instantly created a place for herself and added a new energy to the roster. Statlander has a match with Bar Wrestling this week, then challenges for the AEW women’s championship on the January 8 edition of Dynamite. She finishes this year with a match against fellow AEW talent John Silver at Beyond’s “Heavy Lies The Crown” show on New Year’s Eve. Her aggressive in-ring style is going to win over a lot of people in AEW, and she would make a great fit as champion.
The whole year has been an upward trajectory for Statlander, and she has the potential to be even bigger in 2020.
5.) TAYA VALKYRIE
Top three matches of 2019: Impact Rebellion vs. Jordynne Grace; Impact Slammiversary vs. Jessicka Havok, Rosemary, and Su Yung in a four-way Monster’s Ball match; AAA’s Lucha Invades NY vs. Tessa Blanchard
Somehow, Taya Valkyrie remains one of wrestling’s best-kept secrets.
She does not work for WWE or AEW, so her work is not as well-known as it could be, but Valkyrie is one of the best wrestlers in the world. She has a star presence and offers versatility in the ring with her ability to work off the mat, chain wrestle, or go into the air. Over the past year, Valkyrie has helped carry the women’s division in both AAA and Impact, yet it still feels she has only scratched the surface of what she can become in wrestling.
Valkyrie’s Bound for Glory match against Tenille Dashwood from October is a perfect example of her brilliance. She brought out the best in her opponent, looking like a star while selling Dashwood’s offensive arsenal before taking control and finishing off another opponent.
Valkyrie has earned the right to close out major shows for Impact in 2020, as her work is compelling, physical, and entertaining.
4.) SHAYNA BASZLER
Top three matches of 2019: NXT TakeOver: New York vs. Bianca Belair, Io Shirai, and Kairi Sane; NXT TakeOver XXV vs. Io Shirai; NXT title loss vs. Rhea Ripley
Shayna Baszler held the NXT women’s championship in all 12 months of 2019, before she dropped the belt to Rhea Ripley on NXT’s December 18 show. But Baszler no longer needs a title to define her–she needs more opportunities against Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks, Charlotte Flair, and Bayley.
Baszler was presented as dominant in NXT, especially this past year. Her craft as a submission specialist helped make her an unstoppable force, and she delivered some fantastic matches throughout the year, particularly at TakeOver XXV against Io Shirai. She helped define NXT during its move to live television, proudly representing the best women’s division in all of wrestling.
Despite such a phenomenal year, Baszler’s Survivor Series triple threat main event against Lynch and Bayley did not meet the high expectations set for stars of their caliber. Given more of an opportunity, Baszler will bring an aura of toughness to Raw or SmackDown, hopefully getting a chance to prove her value to the company by being placed in a spot to win the Royal Rumble.
3.) CHARLOTTE FLAIR
Top three matches of 2019: WrestleMania 35 main event vs. Becky Lynch and Ronda Rousey; Money in the Bank vs. Becky Lynch; SummerSlam vs. Trish Stratus
Incredibly, it felt like an off year for Charlotte Flair. But that perception should not take away from the fact that Flair helped carry WWE’s product throughout 2019.
Flair is a massively popular star for WWE, and her work in the ring backs up her popularity. But she was a victim of a lack of creativity urgency, as she went from a marquee match at SummerSlam against Trish Stratus to nearly December without a major purpose on the card, despite holding the SmackDown title during that stretch.
Flair helped create history at WrestleMania 35 with her role in the first all-women’s main event. Her star presence is undeniable, and that was on display as she grabbed hold of people’s attention with her entrance in a way that neither Ronda Rousey nor Becky Lynch could.
2.) TESSA BLANCHARD
Top three matches of 2019: Impact’s Rebellion vs. Gail Kim; Impact’s Slammiversary main event vs. Sami Callihan; AAA’s Lucha Invades NY vs. Taya Valkyrie
At the age of only 24, Tessa Blanchard put together an unforgettable year. She starred for Lucha Libre AAA Worldwide in Mexico, as well as became the face of WOW-Women of Wrestling on AXS TV. Blanchard is also being positioned as a world champion contender in Impact, where she challenges Sami Callihan for the belt at January’s Hard to Kill pay per view.
Blanchard’s work throughout 2019 was remarkable, and gives credence to why big promotions want to build their show around her. Blanchard was spectacular for Impact, and her work with Taya Valkyrie was a big reason. Valkyrie defeated Blanchard at January’s Homecoming show, which built to a wonderful piece of business between Blanchard and Gail Kim at the Rebellion show in April. Blanchard and Valkyrie were never too far away from one another, as Blanchard defeated her in a seven-woman Tables, Ladders, and Chairs match at TripleMania in August to claim hold of AAA’s Reina de Reinas championship for the first time in her career. She dropped the belt back to Valkyrie the next month at a show in Madison Square Garden’s Hulu Theater, and the opportunity to work high-profile matches with Valkyrie has helped prepare her for a run with the Impact world title.
Blanchard is extremely talented in the ring, as well as confident on the microphone, and her work in 2019 resonated in a spectacular fashion.
1.) WRESTLER OF THE YEAR: BECKY LYNCH
Top three matches of 2019: Royal Rumble match winner; WrestleMania 35 main event vs. Ronda Rousey and Charlotte Flair; Hell in a Cell vs. Sasha Banks
Becky Lynch brought women’s wrestling, and the business as a whole, to new heights in 2019.
The historical significance of the WrestleMania 35 main event runs deep. There is no doubt that the presence of Ronda Rousey made that triple threat match even more of a draw, but Lynch served as the backbone to WWE’s programming over the past year. She was placed in programs with Flair, Rousey, and later Sasha Banks, but she was also asked to bring out the best in Natalya Neidhart at SummerSlam as well as work with a still developing Lacey Evans.
Lynch closed out Survivor Series in a triple threat match and Tables, Ladders, and Chairs in a tag, but it would be great to see her go one-on-one with Rousey or Shayna Baszler at WrestleMania 36.
She served as an ambassador for the company, cut incredible promos all year long, and continues to stand for making the impossible possible. Lynch represented the business in a way no other star did in 2019, and she is Sports Illustrated’s Wrestler of the Year.