Professional wrestling is filled with family legacies that have long been celebrated for the multiple generations of prolific grappling clans that have graced the ring. Sons have followed their fathers and grandfathers into battle since the sport was introduced in North America and we have seen these rich bloodlines continue to weave a colorful tapestry of brotherhood with each successive decade.
However, once considered almost exclusively the domain of men to follow in their father’s footsteps, we are starting to see the gender-specific nature of those family ties start to open up further and its now not only the sons who get to cement their own status in the family business. Today’s era of professional wrestling includes as many second and third generation women that are staking their claim to their family’s sporting heritage and those aren’t the only barriers that they are breaking in the process.
Whether making their name on the independents or internationally, paying their dues in the same manner that the previous generation did en route to the heights of their careers, or finding themselves seemingly fast-tracked into the WWE’s developmental system, each of these ladies should be on your radar – as they are poised to demonstrate that the women’s revolution that the sport is experiencing is only just getting started.
20 Noelle Foley
Ever since his days in ECW prior to debuting as Mankind on WWE television, hardcore fans were peripherally aware of Mick Foley’s daughter, Noelle. However, it appeared that she was destined to follow in her mother’s footsteps as a model, as opposed to her hardcore legend dad. But, unless you believe that reality television is completely legitimate, we imagine that the pitch to WWE Network for the “Holy Foley” series went something like this: We’ve got a beauty and the beast scenario to tell the story about Noelle breaking into the wrestling game. Cosmetically, Noelle fits right in with every other woman in the former Divas division. However, time will tell what her career between the ropes will hold and whether she will be able to emerge from the shadow of one of the past generation’s most iconic wrestling personalities. We certainly don’t expect to see her hurdling from the top of a 20-foot cage in the spirit of one-upmanship.
Pursuing a bachelor’s degree in marketing, Leah Van Dale may not have been expected to follow in the footsteps of her father, Paul, as a professional wrestler. Paul wrestled on the independent scene in the American northeast during the 1990s, occasionally appearing as an enhancement talent on WWE television. His daughter may have not only followed in his footsteps, but in her short career already eclipsed her father’s success, signing a contract with the WWE in October 2014. In addition to a University degree, Carmella’s path includes cheer leading for both the New England Patriots and the L.A. Lakers, as well as work as a dancer and fitness trainer.
Learning the ropes in NXT, she has just broken onto the main roster earlier this year, so it’s hard to tell what the future may hold. One thing’s for sure, she has become the star wrestler in her family before the age of 30.
18 Ayako Hamada
The daughter of Japanese wrestling legend Gran Hamada launched her ring career in her teens with big shoes to fill in her professional wrestling journey. Her father, regarded as the first Japanese wrestler to adopt the Mexican lucha libre style of wrestling, saw success on both sides of the Pacific including appearances for the WWE and ECW. Ayako, born in Mexico to her Japanese father and Mexican mother, debuted at age seventeen and has enjoyed an 18-year career in the sport, every bit the international jet-setter as her father.
In the United States, her greatest success has come as a tag team competitor – holding the Shimmer tag team titles with Ayumi Kurihara and also seeing success in TNA as a two-time knockouts tag team title holder with Awesome Kong and Taylor Wilde, respectively. While it is unlikely that we’ll see her in the women’s division in the WWE, she continues to make an impact wherever she appears.
17 Liiza Hall
Mark my words, you will be hearing a lot about the Vancouver upstart Liiza Hall in the years to come. A graduate of the All Star Wrestling training camp under Michelle Starr and Nathan Burke, a program that has graduated former NWA World Women’s champion Madison and former Shimmer World champion Nicole Matthews, it’s not just her ring education that she’ll draw upon for success. Her mother, Raven Lake, has been a mainstay of the wrestling scene in the Canadian northwest during two runs over two decades and her older sister, Bambi Hall, has also been making waves – setting the bar high for this youngster to follow.
In her first year in the sport, she has already competed across half of Canada and is attracting interest from promoters around the world. One of an exclusive female family ring dynasty, Liiza is proud to join her family in the ring, but you can bet that she is looking to carve her own distinct spot in the grapple game.
16 Raquel Diaz
Raquel Diaz enjoyed only a brief career in wrestling, becoming the second in a third generation of wrestlers in her family which began with her grandfather Gory Guerrero. Born Shaul Guerrero to parents Eddie and Vickie Guerrero, the aspiring gal grappler holds a unique distinction on this list as one of three women who were attracted to wrestling, which already featured both of her parents in on-screen roles. Eddie, a one-time WWE heavyweight champion and Vickie, one of the most memorable on-screen general managers, have both cemented their place in WWE history.
Signing with the WWE and sent to developmental in 2010, she spent four years in the WWE’s training system first with Florida Championship Wrestling and later with NXT before she elected to leave the sport for the good of her own health. Diaz maintains a tie to the current generation of professional wrestling as the wife of Vaudevillain, Aiden English.
15 Amy Hennig
While WWE fans are very familiar with Curtis Axel, a third generation mat man from the state of Minnesota, they may not be aware that he is not the only sibling in his family to grace the ring. Amy Hennig, sporting the same trademark curls of her famous father, Mr. Perfect, didn’t rely on her family name to coast into the sport of wrestling. Training first under Brad Rheingans and later under Harley Race (who incidentally saw his earliest successes in the sport as a tag team with Amy’s grandfather, Larry Hennig), Amy was tested to the limit as she prepared for her debut in 2008. While she secured championship success on the independents as the World League Wrestling Women’s Champion, she never made the leap to WWE television like her older brother.
14 Lacey Von Erich
One of professional wrestling’s great family legacies is sadly summed up by a period during the 1980s as “The Von Erich Curse”. Over a successful period of a few years, four out of five of Fritz Von Erich’s sons all perished under very unfortunate circumstances. Mike, David, Kerry and Chris Von Erich all passed away, three of them at their own hand between 1984 and 1991. For her part, Lacey Von Erich, the daughter of the most successful of the Von Erich second generation – Kerry, entered the sport with an aspiration to create positive headlines again for the Von Erich wrestling bloodline.
The statuesque blonde signed a developmental contract with the WWE at age 21, however she was released from her contract after only a few months. Her greatest success in a three year ring career included a reign as TNA Knockouts Tag Team Champion, aligned with Velvet Sky and Madison Rayne.
13 Leilani Kai
Many people may not realize that former WWE Women’s singles and Tag Team Champion Leilani Kai is a second generation wrestler. In fact, the information available on the world wide web seems to be inconsistent at best. However, the former Glamour Girl is the daughter of 1970s journeyman Hans Schroeder who is best known for a brief run as a villain in the WWE during that decade.
Born Patty Karisma, she was sent to train with Fabulous Moolah who was one of few trainers in the mid-70s that worked with the ladies. Though she was born and raised in Florida, Moolah thought that she looked somewhat Hawaiian and dubbed her Leilani Kai. Incidentally, Moolah would be in Kai’s corner for the first WrestleMania to oppose Wendi Richter, who was seconded by 1980s pop star Cyndi Lauper. Many fans may be unaware that Leilani’s career continued long after the WWE spotlight, including laying claim to the NWA World Women’s Title at one time.
12 Tessa Blanchard
The first time that many of us heard the name Tessa Blanchard, was at the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony when the Four Horsemen were inducted and Tully pointed out his four children on hand for the festivities. However, Tessa has started to earn a solid reputation of her own between the ropes, becoming a third generation Blanchard to pursue a ring career. The family’s lineage starts with the late pro football player-turned-wrestler Joe Blanchard who enjoyed a lengthy career as a wrestler and promoter throughout North America.
In her short career, Tessa has toured Canada and the United States, appearing for a number of top independents as well as testing the waters in the WWE. Given the family history, some diehard fans are interested to see if a Blanchard-Flair reunion could be in the cards with Tessa and Charlotte perhaps becoming a next generation stable in the years to come.
11 Rachael Ellering
When you utter the name Ellering to fans in wrestling circles, the first name that comes to mind is “Precious” Paul Ellering. Ellering is best known as the manager and associate of the Legion of Doom – Animal and Hawk, accompanying them from their earliest days as a team and joining them as they became one of the most successful tag teams in wrestling history. Certainly, his appearance on NXT as the corner man of the Authors of Pain may suggest he’s trying to re-create that success for a new generation. However, his interest in the future of wrestling may be more closely aligned with the destiny of his daughter Rachael, who has trained under WWE alumnus Lance Storm and aspires to a career of her own between the ropes.
Making just a few appearances on NXT television to date, both under her own name as well as Rachael Fazio, the future looks bright for this rising star who is just coming upon the first anniversary of her pro career.
As we have watched a sea of second generation wrestlers turn up on the WWE scene and hit their stride, many of us are still waiting for Tamina Snuka to become a breakout star in her own right. The daughter of “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka, Tamina’s introduction to the business came in 2009 when she received a scholarship to train at Afa the Wild Samoan’s wrestling school. Following her older brother into the sport, she spent a year in the Florida Championship Wrestling developmental program where she won the FCW Divas Championship. While she has enjoyed a seven-year career in the WWE to date, she has failed to make a lasting mark on the industry, and championship success continues to elude her.
Still, she is in the mix during one of the most exciting eras of women’s wrestling in WWE history, so we may yet see her ascend to represent the Snuka wrestling legacy.
9 Bambi Hall
Can you imagine launching your professional career and within four weeks finding yourself on the set of a reality TV series alongside WWE Hall of Famer, Roddy Piper? That was Samantha Hall’s introduction to the sport, given the name “Bambi” by the late WWE star. The eldest daughter of west coast mainstay Raven Lake, some of her first tests as a wrestler were against her mom before her career went national with opportunities from coast to coast. A former CNWA Women’s champion, Hall was selected as a runner-up in the 2012 Pro Wrestling Illustrated Awards for Rookie of the Year.
One of the most versatile wrestlers of her generation, she is still on the rise and showings against Sarita, Nicole Matthews and Malia Hosaka only serve to further cement her place in the sport’s history. While she may be cute as a doe, her opponents are coming to learn that she’d tough as a buck.
While recent months have seen Paige at the center of attention, it certainly hasn’t all been the positive acclaim that seemed to follow her on her ascent from the United Kingdom to signing with the WWE. Young Paige was born into the business, the daughter of British wrestlers Ricky Knight and Sweet Saraya Knight and she debuted at age 13 after being trained by her father. By age 18 she was appearing across Europe and the following year made her American debut for Shimmer. She dazzled WWE scouts during a tour of England at age 19 and was signed to a WWE developmental contract in 2011.
After three years in the WWE’s training system where she won the first NXT Women’s Title, she made an explosive impact upon her national debut, defeating A.J. Lee to win the WWE Divas Championship in her very first televised match on the main roster. At only 24 years old, there’s still much more left for us to see from this second generation performer even if she leaves the company that made her famous.
7 Cheerleader Melissa
Largely considered a west coast mainstay, Melissa Anderson followed her father into the sport of wrestling, beginning her training at age 15 and debuting two years later. Since 1999, she has been one of the most dominant women in the sport to never receive a serious look from the WWE. Named by the Cauliflower Alley Club as a Future Legend in 2004, Melissa is a two-time Shimmer World champion and has been influential as both a performer and a trainer on both sides of the Pacific Ocean. Though somewhat known for her tenure in TNA as Raisha Saed and later Alissa Flash, Melissa is currently relishing her role in Lucha Underground which allows her to push the boundaries of what women wrestlers have traditionally been allowed to do in the realm of pro wrestling.
Though second generation, her training didn’t come from her father. Instead she credits instruction from Christopher Daniels, Daniel Bryan, Billy Anderson and Robert Thompson among her influences.
6 Rockin’ Robin
Grizzly Smith was a ring legend in the Mid-South wrestling territories where he both wrestled and later became a road agent for the territory. Three of his children would follow him into the sport, and while their relationship to one another was never acknowledged during the era of kayfabe, they would all find themselves in the WWE at the same time in 1988 – but only one of them would secure a championship in the company. Though one brother Jake “The Snake” Roberts would become one of the most celebrated wrestlers of his era and second brother Sam Houston had a lot of TV visibility as well, Robin Smith, under the name Rockin’ Robin would become the only Smith sibling to capture WWE gold, unseating Sherri Martel to win the WWE Women’s Championship.
Although her run was brief, she was never unseated for the title. Instead the women’s division went into a period of dormancy for a while.
In the current climate of women’s wrestling in the WWE, the world belongs to Charlotte. Already a two-time WWE Women’s Champion in her young career, one wonders if she might aspire to achieve the level of success as her father “The Nature Boy” by becoming one of the most decorated performers in her division. Carrying with her many of the attributes of her Hall of Fame father, Charlotte may have launched her career off the Flair pedigree, but the reputation that she is earning as a performer is all her own. From the efforts that she is putting forth between the ropes against a strong field of opposition to the way she walks down the aisle, Charlotte demands attention.
Expect Charlotte Flair to enjoy a lengthy stay in the WWE with all of the notoriety that we have come to associate with the name Flair; maybe she will even become a 16 time World Women’s Champion. At her present pace, anything is possible – with or without Ric in her corner.
Approaching ten years under contract with the WWE, Natalya may arguably be the greatest success of the Calgary Hart family’s third generation. Granddaughter of Stampede Wrestling founder Stu Hart, Natalya’s connection to the famed clan is through her mother Ellie, who married pro footballer-turned wrestler Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart. Among her cousins Harry Smith (son of Diana Hart and Davey Boy Smith), Teddy Hart (son of B.J. Annis and Georgia Hart) and Michael and Matthew Hart (sons of Smith Hart), she has maintained the most visible presence and the longest tenure with a national company of them all.
A one-time Divas Champion, we are hopeful that Natalya didn’t arrive too early to capitalize on her skill and experience in the women’s revolution that is now taking center stage on an international level. Heavily featured on the Total Divas reality program, and regularly showcased for a soundbite on WWE Network programming, Natalya’s WWE tenure has eclipsed that of even her own father.
3 Brooke Hogan, Brittany Page, Ariel Toombs (Piper)
This is a recent entry to the list, but the daughters of Hulk Hogan and DDP recently announced that they will be forming their own wrestling league featuring daughters of past wrestlers. TMZ recently interviewed DDP's daughter, Brittany Page, who mentioned that along with her, Brooke Hogan, Ariel Toombs (Roddy Piper's daughter) and Lacey Von Erich will all be joining this upstart promotion.
There's not much detail on what exactly this will all mean, but we do know Brooke Hogan had a forgettable stint in TNA, while Brittany and Ariel don't have much experience in the business. We may have to wait a while to see how they will carry on their fathers' legacies. All we know for now, is that they're going to try.
2 Stephanie McMahon
Representing the fourth generation of McMahon sports impresarios, Stephanie McMahon’s grew up around the wrestling industry and slowly has evolved before our very eyes to become one of the most influential people in the business. From her childhood when she appeared as a model for products in the WWE magazine insert catalog, to becoming an on-screen character with her own action figure, Stephanie has re-defined the roles available to women in the world of wrestling.
As we look back on 20 years of her career on screen, we’ve seen her involved with the WWE brand on the corporate side, as well as being willing to roll up her sleeves and get between the ropes to do what’s best for business. With Vince McMahon now 70 years old, there may soon become a time to pass the torch – a hand off that undoubtedly is designed for Stephanie to seize.
1 Debbie Combs
One of the few mother-daughter combinations in professional wrestling the duo of Cora Combs and Debbie Combs were both leading stars in the sport of professional wrestling in their day. Cora first emerged as a featured star on the wrestling scene in the 1950s, trained by Billy Wolfe. Debbie would follow her mom into the sport twenty-five years later at age 16.
With her platinum blonde locks, she saw success touring the wrestling territories including work for the WWE in 1986 and 87. While she won a number of regional championships during her career, she is best recognized as an NWA World Women’s Champion under multiple banners. Interestingly, Combs was romantically linked to another second generation star, Randy Savage, for five years before his ascent to the WWE. In the absence of significant opportunities for women wrestlers during her era, she served as the president and booker of Women’s Pro Wrestling in the 90s, an all women's promotion that produced direct-to-video matches.