Netflix’s new comedy GLOW, based on the 1980s cult classic TV show Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, has brought women’s professional wrestling into the mainstream like never before. The Netflix show follows a group of struggling actresses who audition, then train to become professional wrestlers for the upstart promotion Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (or the titular GLOW). In the show’s nostalgic world, wrestling’s carnival-like atmosphere complements the cultural attitudes of the ’80s, as the women of GLOW transform into over-the-top, stereotypical archetypes sure to draw a reaction from any crowd. Ruth (Alison Brie) adopts an exaggerated Russian accent for her virulently anti-American character Zoya the Destroya. Zoya’s rival is, naturally, the apple-pie-loving Liberty Belle, played by Ruth’s former best friend Debbie (Betty Gilpin).
Despite pro wrestling’s popularity in Latin America–particularly in Mexico, where beloved luchadors and luchadoras achieve an almost folkloric status–the show sadly lacks in Latina characters. The closest would be Carmen (Britney Young), who wrestles as the gentle Peruvian giant Macchu Picchu, despite neither the character Carmen nor the actress Britney being Peruvian, or even Latina (also disappointing is the missed pun opportunity; come on, GLOW, Macchu Beat-You is right there). Thankfully, life doesn’t imitate art, as plenty of Latinas have made their names in wrestling on a national and global level.
If GLOW has you fired up for more scripted athletic competition, here are 8 luchadoras who will stoke those flames.
It’s Bayley! This San Jose native is the Latina wrestler of the moment. Soon after her debut on WWE’s developmental TV show NXT, Bayley became a fan favorite with her dogged determination, positive attitude, and penchant for hugging everyone–fans, allies, even opponents. Her storyline with longtime rival Sasha Banks, which culminated in a 20-minute barnburner at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn that saw Bayley’s first championship win, is considered one of the best women’s matches in WWE history. Bayley’s popularity has even made its way onto GLOW: Sam (Marc Maron) explains that he cannot film the actresses doing “the hugging move” (what he calls a lock-up) for 20 minutes, prompting Rhonda (Kate Nash) to pose the question, “But what if your gimmick is hugging people?”
When Ivelisse enters a ring, you can see why she calls herself “the baddest bitch in the building.” Wrestlers create the illusion of causing pain to their opponents through careful choreography, and while this is also true of Ivelisse, the puertorriqueña utilizes MMA-style strikes and holds that look legitimately painful. Like Bayley, Ivelisse came to national prominence through the early days of NXT, where she wrestled as Sofia Cortez before her release in 2012. Since then, she has continued to work for multiple North American promotions and can be seen on El Rey Network’s dramatic pro wrestling series Lucha Underground, where she became the first winner of the show’s trios titles alongside her partners, Angelico and Son of Havoc.
The “Latina Sensation” Mercedes Martinez hasn’t had much television exposure throughout her 16-year career, and that’s a shame, as she is ranked as one of the best female wrestlers in the U.S, if not the world. Her match against current WWE trainer Sara Del Rey at the first SHIMMER taping in 2005 not only earned a standing ovation from the crowd, it set the tone for what would eventually become the premiere women’s wrestling promotion in the United States. Mercedes currently holds the SHIMMER championship, and if casual wrestling fans don’t know her now, they will soon: she is among the competitors in WWE’s upcoming women’s tournament, The Mae Young Classic.
Thunder Rosa/Kobra Moon
Thunder Rosa is fairly new to wrestling, having debuted in 2014, but she has quickly become a luchadora to watch. Aspiring wrestlers can be taught the moves and techniques, but when it comes to charisma, you either have it or you don’t. Thunder Rosa, with her signature sugar skull make-up, has that in spades. When she is not tearing it up in local promotions, she performs as the mysterious Kobra Moon on Lucha Underground, where she has held the trios championship with her wrestling stable, The Snake Tribe.
Though she often plays the villain, it’s hard to boo someone who loves her pajón as much as Marti Belle. The hairspray-wielding dominicana first gained TV exposure on Impact! Wrestling as a member of the The Dollhouse alongside her tag team partner, Jade. She has also competed for SHIMMER, Shine Wrestling, and Women Superstars Uncensored. Like Mercedes Martinez, she is also taking part in WWE’s Mae Young Classic.
You may have already seen Nikki Bella on the E! Network reality show Total Divas and its spin-off, Total Bellas, alongside her twin sister Brie (who retired from in-ring competition last year), but there’s more to this Mexican/Italian powerhouse than photoshoots with Latina magazine. Before WWE phased out the “Divas” branding, Nikki was its longest-reigning champion at 301 days. Sadly, neck injuries have plagued her as of late, and in April 2017, she announced via Instagram that she would be taking time off from wrestling. Here’s to hoping her next announcement isn’t that she’s joining her sister in retirement.
Mexican wrestling fans already knew Sexy Star through Lucha Libre AAA WorldWide, but it wasn’t until she debuted on Lucha Underground that U.S. wrestling audiences became aware of her (ahem) star power. Drawing from her experience as a survivor of domestic violence, Star assumed the role of the ultimate underdog, the woman who “fights for every girl who needs a hero.” Star was given the kind of complex storylines not often seen with female wrestlers on TV at the time, and she went on to win the Lucha Underground Championship, the first woman to do so. Although Star retired from wrestling in 2016, the first two seasons of Lucha Underground are currently on Netflix. Think of it as your after-GLOW nightcap.
Las Cholitas Luchadoras
And of course, no post on Latina wrestlers is complete without mentioning the cholita wrestlers of Bolivia. Cholitas–indigenous Bolivian women noted for their distinct style of dress that includes long, colorful skirts and bowler hats–faced severe race and gender-based oppression (the word “cholita” began as a pejorative against them), leading some to channel their frustration into wrestling. Wrestling promoter Juan Mamani decided to showcase them in his own company, and soonafter, cholitas captivated the Bolivian wrestling scene, drawing hundreds of locals and tourists to their shows and even becoming the subject of an award-winning short documentary. And yes, they wrestle in their traditional clothing!