Toni Storm Is Leading A New Charge For Aussie Wrestlers In WWE

Toni Storm Is Leading A New Charge For Aussie Wrestlers In WWE

Australian wrestling was once underground, with few stars or successes to its name. But over the past decade, the movement has shifted — and Australian wrestling has gotten its well-deserved time in the sun with the likes of WWE star Toni Storm.

Between world-class local shows in Sydney and Melbourne, championship victories in New Japan Pro-Wrestling and a WWE roster filled with local heroes, Australia has made a massive dent in the global wrestling industry. For Storm, her ascent was a hard-fought battle.

Storm began wrestling in Australia and New Zealand when the local scene was still in an uncertain state.

“You gotta start somewhere, and I have a lot of good memories from my time working there,” Storm told Kotaku Australia. “Unfortunately there wasn’t as much wrestling as I would’ve hoped in Australia at the time, which led to me moving overseas.”

In the mid-2010s, at just 18 years old, Storm moved to the UK with five years of experience under her belt. Even in those early days, her talent was clear, and she quickly moved up the ranks, performing in Britain’s Progress Wrestling and Stardom in Japan before debuting for WWE in the inaugural Mae Young Classic in 2017.

This all-women’s tournament spotlighted wrestlers from around the world, and it opened many eyes to just how powerful women’s wrestling had become. It was also the moment Storm hit the mainstream, as WWE fans discovered her unique persona and wrestling style.

“It’s important that [women’s wrestlers] get seen as well and that we have a platform to show what we can do,” Storm said. “We’re tucked away in Australia or the UK and it’s hard to be seen and heard. Those tournaments really get right to the roots of the independent scene and pull out who’s doing well. The [Mae Young Classic] is probably the reason why I’m here.”

toni storm wwe wrestler
Image: WWE

While Storm was defeated in the semi-finals of the event her turn impressed watchers, and led to her participating in the WWE United Kingdom Championship Tournament and ultimately signing with WWE to appear on their NXT UK brand and other cross-branded shows. She also went on to win the 2018 version of the tournament.

But beyond being an opportunity for Storm, the Mae Young Classic had long-term impacts for WWE. In many ways, it legitimised women’s wrestling for many fans and helped inspire a new generation coming up.

While Storm says she had wrestlers like Mickie James to look up to when she first began, it’s hard to deny wrestling has a long and troubled past with giving women wrestlers the chance they deserve. Even in the early 2000s, women wrestlers received minimal screen time and often acted as arm candy, rather than legitimate competitors.

Mickie James was a wrestler who, along with performers like Lita and Trish Stratus, broke the mould. They opened eyes to how women could wrestle, and the knock-on impacts from their time in WWE are still being felt.

In many ways, Storm is continuing their legacy while she carves out her own — and she’s not alone in pushing for more prominent spots for women wrestlers.

She’s also not the only Australian making a major impact.

“I remember the first time I saw Emma [Tenille Dashwood] in NXT I was like, oh here we go,” Storm said of her inspirations and drive. “I knew stuff was going to get rolling, and it was going to get more and more popular… Before those times, wrestling just wasn’t very popular in Australia and it’s crazy because it started to progress. Then you had the Iiconics come in, and then Rhea [Ripley]. We’ve really built up and up.”

Beyond Storm and Ripley, who’ve both had a phenomenal year orbiting championship scenes, there’s also even more Australian wrestlers waiting in the wings. Indi Hartwell and Steph De Lander, who both recently joined WWE from local Australian organisations PWA and MCW, are already making a name for themselves.

Hartwell in particular is winning over audiences via her love story with fellow NXT wrestler Dexter Lumis.

nxt indi hartwell steph de lander
Image: WWE

Women’s wrestling, particularly Australian women’s wrestling, has never been hotter — and that’s thanks to names like Toni Storm, Rhea Ripley and the Iiconics. A lot’s changed over the past decade, and it’s been fantastic to see how the scene has grown.

For Storm, her next steps are clear. Reaching WWE has been a major dream for her since she was 10, and as a newly minted member of the WWE SmackDown roster she’s looking to make a big name for herself. “It’s crazy intense,” she said. “Right now, it’s time for me to shape up everything that’s been in my head.”

As for her first opponents? She has her eyes set firmly on Natalya, who she says is one of her biggest inspirations. And beyond that, Bianca Belair is top of her radar.

Belair is currently set to face-off against Sasha Banks at SummerSlam 2021 for the WWE SmackDown Women’s Championship, and it’s a match Storm will be watching intently. With her skills and pedigree, she’s looking mighty likely to be one of the next big contenders in line for a shot at the belt.

It’s not bad going for someone who grew up working in such a small and unremarkable scene.

WWE SummerSlam 2021 airs on Sunday, August 22 from 10 a.m. AEST in Australia, and you’ll be able to watch it via WWE Network.

You can catch Toni Storm on episodes of WWE SmackDown airing weekly on FOX8 every Saturday at 10 a.m. AEST.


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