The Lockup
Sasha Banks & Naomi showcase impressive teamwork against Liv Morgan at WrestleMania 38. That night, the pair won the Women’s tag team championship, making them the first pair of Black women to do so in company history. (PHOTO BY GEORGE NAPOLITANO)

WRESTLEMANIA HAS LONG been known as a place where history is made: Brock Lesnar ending The Undertaker’s undefeated streak in 2014; Ronda Rousey, Becky Lynch, and Charlotte Flair becoming the first women to main-event in 2019; Ultimate Warrior becoming the first to cleanly pin Hulk Hogan for the World title in 1990. And, this year—though perhaps not enough fanfare was made of it—there was another important history-making moment at WrestleMania 38 from AT&T Stadium.

By emerging victorious in their fatal four-way match on night two, Sasha Banks and Naomi became the first Black tag team to win the Women’s World tag team title in the history of WWE … and only the third Black team to win a Women’s world tag team title anywhere, in the history of pro wrestling.

Of course, Banks has already held the WWE Women’s tag title on two prior occasions with Bayley. But this is the first time two Black women have joined forces to accomplish this feat together in WWE. That makes Banks & Naomi the female equivalent of Tony Atlas & Rocky Johnson, who became the first Black male tag team to win the WWF World tag team title when they upended The Wild Samoans on November 15, 1983, at a taping of Championship Wrestling at the venerable Agricultural Hall in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

There was definitely more of a clear acknowledgment of Atlas & Johnson’s achievement on TV at that time than there was for Naomi & Banks. That’s all the more reason for their unique accomplishment to be recognized.

“[It] was such an important moment for Black women in pro wrestling,” offers PWIs own Righteous Reg, known for the #BW500, celebrating the best Black wrestlers in the world. “Sasha had the WrestleMania losing streak, so for her to get a win is history. Naomi has been on the grind for WWE for so many years. She deserves a big win like this. Black women continuing to have big moments, off the heels of last year’s monumental main event and Bianca Belair’s Raw Women’s championship win this year, is going to inspire so many people.”

In case you’re wondering: Yes, I’m also including in my assessment the original version of the WWF Women’s world tag team title that existed in the mid- to late-’80s and was famously held by the likes of The Glamour Girls and The Jumping Bomb Angels. Not only did no Black tag team ever hold that version, but no Black woman did, period.

The National Wrestling Alliance also had its own version of the Women’s world tag title, recognized in different places during the 1950s through the 1980s, and which was recently reinstated by the NWA under Billy Corgan. Before current champion Marti Belle, there were only two Black women who ever held the NWA Women’s World tag team title: One was the celebrated Ethel Johnson, who teamed with former NWA World Women’s Champion June Byers to win it from Penny Banner & Betty Jo Hawkins on July 9, 1957; and the other was the great Sandy Parker, who spent three days as champion with Sue Green in 1971.

Gail Kim and Madison Rayne present Kiera Hogan & Tasha Steelz with the Knockouts World tag title belts. As Fire ’N Flava, Hogan and Steelz comprised the first Black female duo to capture a world tag title in North America. (PHOTO COURTESY IMPACT WRESTLING/BASIL MAHMUD)

Parker experienced greater success in All Japan Women, where, on eight occasions, with three different partners, she held the WWWA World tag team title—the prestigious women’s prize tracing its origins to the legendary Japanese tours Mildred Burke made in the 1960s.

Speaking of AJW, the first prominent example of two Black women capturing a World tag title happened in its midst, when Amazing (Awesome) Kong and Aja Kong (who, like Sasha Banks, is of mixed descent) became the last tandem to win the WWWA World tag team title on October 6, 2004, in Tokyo. But I would humbly submit that Banks & Naomi’s victory is of even greater significance, occurring as it did in a country with a long, unfortunate history of prejudice against (and limited opportunities for) its Black citizens.

To that end, credit must also be given to IMPACT’s Fire ’N Flava, who, last year, captured the rebooted Knockouts World tag title belts on two separate occasions. Kiera Hogan & Tasha Steelz defended the championship proudly at IMPACT events, as well as on the independent circuit.

With all due respect to those previous world titleholders, the WrestleMania championship victory of Naomi & Sasha Banks is still an unprecedented moment in the annals of wrestling history, taking place, as it did, at WWE’s industry-leading event—before tens of thousands of fans watching in person, with 100s of thousands more watching at home.

“The reign of Sasha Banks and Naomi sets a precedent for representation in the corners of women’s wrestling that were still desperately lacking inclusion,” explains another PWI contributor, Kristen Ashly, whose Get The W podcast highlights the accomplishments of women in wrestling. “Naomi and Sasha’s presence has the potential to close the gaps of inequality … while creating a sense of belonging. It’s not enough to just include women as a homogenous group. The message must be that everyone belongs, everyone can be a champion.”

There are always those who look over statistics like this and wonder why people are being singled out by race, or why it matters. To them, I would say the very fact that prior to 2021, two Black women hadn’t won a world tag title in North America—despite the oldest version being established in 1952—is exactly why it matters.

In an industry like pro wrestling, which often bears more resemblance to show business than to other sports—with opportunities granted by power brokers more than necessarily by wins and losses—the fates of performers usually lie in the hands of decision-makers. Those decision-makers are human, bound to their own biases, including the kinds of biases that have plagued us for generations.

This is why there were no Black World heavyweight champions for the first 60 years of world title contention; why WCW didn’t have one until 1992; why WWE didn’t have one until 1998, and has only had five more in the 24 years since; why the NWA didn’t have one until 2002, over half a century after its founding. Milestones like this are important to note because they are rare, and watching them happen more often is a hopeful sign of positive change.

So, all the congratulations in the world go out to Sasha Banks and Naomi, who have broken a very real barrier in our business. What they achieved in Dallas on April 3 will live forever in the annals of wrestling, as it should. And, here’s hoping, as has happened with the men’s singles division in recent years, that this will soon become a more common occurrence.