Paige, Emma, Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks, Asuka, Bayley, Becky Lynch. These are the women who are synonymous with WWE’s Women’s Evolution. In their wake is an impressive list of “first-evers.” First-ever Women’s Royal Rumble, first-ever Iron-Man match, first-ever PPV main event. Each of these women (and many more) have helped cement the legacy of the women’s wrestling in the WWE. But for the Women’s Evolution, the most important first-ever may have happened outside of the ring.
From the very beginning of her pro wrestling career, Sara Amato - better known as Sara Del Rey - spent her time redefining what it meant to be a female wrestler. Amato traveled to Japan and Mexico to perfect her craft. There she trained by some of the very best wrestlers in the world, including Bryan Danielson (Daniel Bryan) and Antonio Inoki. In an interview with WWE, Shimmer Women Athlete promoter David Prazik, said that “she doesn’t wrestle like a girl, she wrestles like a man, and I mean that in the best way possible. She has a very physical ring style; she’s technically very gifted and is probably technically better than a lot of the guys I’ve been in the ring with.”
Amato used that technical and aggressive style to lend more credibility to women’s wrestling. She was instrumental in the development of the all-women’s promotion, Shimmer. In 2006, she was crowned the inaugural Women’s Championship. She also held the Shimmer Tag Team Championship, becoming the promotions first double champion. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Amato said that Shimmer “showed that there was a market and that people were interested in women's wrestling.”
Shimmer wasn’t the only promotion where Sara Del Rey was breaking barriers. In 2009, the Kings of Wrestling reformed in Ring of Honor. But this time, Chris Hero and Claudio Castagnoli were accompanied by the newest member of the stable, who they dubbed the Queen of Wrestling, Sara Del Rey. Del Rey became the first and only female member of The Kings of Wrestling.
In 2012, while Sara Del Rey became just the 4th women to make it on Pro Wrestling Illustrated’s list of top 500 wrestlers in the world, the WWE’s Divas Division was a dedicated bathroom break segment for fans. After all, the WWE women’s division during her reign as the Queen of Wrestling had more to do with looks than it did in-ring skill.
But the fans and the women wanted something more. Though the hashtag #GiveDivasAChance wouldn’t begin trending worldwide for another 3 years, a groundswell was already starting to take place.
Finally recognizing her skill, the WWE signed Sara Del Rey in late 2012. Though it was uncertain at the time if she would compete in the ring or not, Amato begin working as a trainer at the NXT performance center.
Drawing from her insight and experiences as one of the indy’s leading ladies, Amato has helped transform the NXT’s women’s division and in turn the main roster. But she also understands that every women in NXT has different strengths and she aims to highlight them. “All of these girls were signed for a special talent or a specific reason, and that’s awesome. Let’s go with that. If you want to be sexy, I’m not going to tell you not to be. The important thing is to give the best that you have to offer and to feel comfortable doing it,” Amato said in an interview with WWE.
In the wake of WWE’s Women’s Evolution, there is a trail of broken barriers and first-evers, however the most important may be the hiring of Sara Amato to the performance center. Her success in creating impressive female superstars, has lead to women having a more prominent position on the WWE card. While she doesn’t get to experience the achievements of the women’s division in the ring, her impact within it can’t be overstated.