In late 2007 and throughout 2008, Gail Kim gallantly stood up to the giant Awesome Kong in one of TNA/Impact Wrestling’s most acclaimed rivalries. It was a high mark in the long-storied history of women’s wrestling.
Women’s Wrestling: A Long, Arduous Battle
It’s easy to take for granted that women’s wrestling today is a given in most events.
We no longer bat an eye when we see a fantastic women’s bout featured in the main event or all-women promotions like Women of Wrestling, Women Superstars United, Shine Wrestling, Mission Pro Wrestling, Shimmer Women Athletes, Stardom (Japan), EVE- Riot Grrrls of Wrestling (England), or Lucha Libre Femenil (Mexico).
But it wasn’t always this way.
For decades, women’s wrestling has had an uphill fight in pushing for respect. The need for diversity, inclusion, and female representation often echoed throughout wrestling promotions’ dressing rooms, only to fall on deaf ears in this notoriously male-driven industry.
Only sometimes afforded the same venues and opportunities as men, they were often relegated to out-of-the-way towns and smaller cities if they weren’t banned outright.
Even with the ever-present threats of protests, media scrutiny, and pressure leading to the local authorities intervening, the show had to go on.
Women’s wrestling proceeded with caution. Then, we saw Gail Kim and Awesome Kong enter the picture.
Gail Kim and Awesome Kong: A Rivalry For The Ages
“People have tried to replicate her, but there’s only one. She was so believable!” Gail Kim always remembers her fiercest opponent, Awesome Kong.
“It was just magical, and to this day, fans always remember that feud. Throughout my career, it’s been the most special for me.”
While both Gail Kim and Awesome Kong had previous experience before their destinies collided on December 2nd, 2007, at TNA (now Impact Wrestling)’s Turning Point event, little could they have predicted how well their matches would turn out, with the insatiable fans pleading for more.
Kong and the athletic never-say-die Gail Kim worked wonders every time they faced each other.
They set a standard ahead of anything WWE did at the time.
We Want to Call You “Kong”
Both Gail Kim and Awesome Kong have exciting stories about their wrestling journey before clashing in TNA.
Although Kia Stevens, when spotted by Japanese scouts in southern California, had only about two months of training, they were so impressed with her looks that they invited her to the All-Japan Women’s Dojo.
According to the recommended book Sisterhood of the Squared Circle: The History and Rise of Women’s Wrestling by Pat Laprade and Dan Murphy, “As a nod to veteran Japanese wrestler Aja Kong, they gave her the name Amazing Kong.”
Perhaps they meant no harm, but Kia Stevens revealed in a Women’s Wrestling Talk interview that she begrudgingly accepted the name.
“I had to think because of all its connotations but thought, ‘This is an opportunity. I will take on this Kong name, but I’m going to make it a name of respect so that when people hear it, they either tremble in fear or stand up straighter.”
She continued, “I thought I’d have to become successful to create other opportunities for women like me where they won’t have to make this decision. It was time to clear the path for the next generation, and even though there were wrestling pioneers before me, I feel like I’ve done my part to keep it going.
Awesome Kong (Kia Stevens): Dominating From Early On
In Japan, Kia Stevens, going by the name Amazing Kong, found early success, not unlike another ‘Gaijin’ (Japanese for ‘foreigner’) monster heel who traveled to Japan years before: Monster Ripper (Bertha Faye in WWE).
Barely 15 months into Kong’s career, she won the prestigious WWWA Championship, which shared a direct lineage with Mildred Burke’s first title she won in 1937. The name WWWA came from the promotion (World Wide Women’s Wrestling Association) Burke founded in Reseda, California, in the 1960s.
Stevens also captured several tag titles with Aja Kong, including titles in WWWA, GAEA, Ladies Legend Pro-Wrestling (LLPW), and HUSTLE.
Back in the USA in 2006, she worked with Shimmer and then arrived at TNA.
In a YouShoot interview with Sean Oliver, Awesome Kong admits that she was excited about TNA’s new women’s division and expressed, “I came back from Japan, and I thought it was cutting-edge stuff.
“It was interesting as far as matches put on by the X-Division, and they were talking about this new Knockouts Division. So I was all aboard.”
What Led Gail Kim to Wrestling
Gail Kim enjoyed participating in sports but never specialized in any until she got into professional wrestling at 23.
Her Korean parents urged her to play golf; however, she enjoyed more conventional sports like volleyball.
Ron Hutchison, the same person who trained Trish Stratus, Edge, and Christian, taught her the ropes. In a Stories With Brisco and Bradshaw interview, Gail remembers after the grueling training sessions, “not being able to move for the first two weeks and having spasms while on the couch.”
But her resiliency powered her through this challenge, and she said, “I never had any doubt from day one that this is what I wanted to do and was meant to do.”
With Molly Holly’s help, two years later, WWE signed her at age 25. She left her native city of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, to train in Kentucky for eight months at WWE’s development territory at the time, Ohio Valley Wrestling (OVW). Then she was called up to the main roster.
“I saw in WWE that I had a great group of girls to work with,” Gail remembers. “Trish, Nidea, Victoria, Jazz, and Traci [Brooks]. There was hope for me because this was the biggest group of girls I had worked with. I was just happy that the women’s division was going strong.”
Impact of Gail Kim’s WWE Release
On June 30th, 2003, with an injured Jazz putting her title on the line, Gail Kim became the WWE Women’s Champion in her first televised RAW match by winning a seven-woman battle royal.
She only held the title for four weeks and was later caught off guard by her release on November 3nd, 2004. Nidea and Jazz were also future endeavored.
Kim was so disappointed that she almost quit and took very few bookings when let go by WWE. But her arrival at TNA revitalized her career and passion. She never looked back.
“I was there for two years, and then they switched things back, and things like the ‘Divas Search’ happened, and that was disappointing, but that gave me a chance to go out there and fight for women’s wrestling as best as I could and create other opportunities for myself.”
“Not only did we have the chemistry and the David and Goliath story, but they took their time to allow the fans to get emotionally connected with our characters and get into the feud.”
–Gail Kim on her feud with Awesome Kong
Awesome Kong Terrified Gail Kim At First
When Scott D’Amore and Jeff Jarrett convinced Gail Kim to sign with TNA, it took them more than a year to establish their promised women’s division. Gail was comfortable being around many of the wrestlers she’d first started training and working with while in Canada, but she still didn’t have another opponent.
Gail Kim started managing America’s Most Wanted (Chris Harris and James Storm) and Jeff Jarrett. But although this was a good spot within the company, it was hard seeing the men performing in the ring when she couldn’t.
Jeff Jarrett finally brought Jacqueline, AKA Jackie Moore, for Gail Kim to work with. And when their feud concluded in a street fight rules match on Impact!, Awesome Kong entered the picture.
Lo-Ki recommended Kong to Gail when TNA evaluated the talents that would form the ‘Knockouts’ headed by Dutch Mantell. And Gail vividly remembers her first ring encounter with the steely-eyed, mighty Kong.
“When I met [Awesome Kong] backstage,” Gail Kim remembered, “she was sweet and all about Harry Potter and love. But before we had the title gauntlet match [at Bound For Glory 2007], they had a setup for it, and it was Kong and me with the girls around the ring like a Lumber Jill match.
“I had never seen her in her gear, had never heard her entrance music, and had never seen her perform. So, if you go back and watch that match that day, my reaction is real.
“You see me say, ‘Oh, ****!’ I was legitimately scared! That’s how believable she was with her aggression.
“I loved that because I’d been through Fit Finlay in WWE, and I hadn’t found girls willing to take it or be at that level of physicality. So, it was magical from day one.”
Fighting Through the Pain
In a revealing retrospective with Fight Network, Gail Kim poured her feelings about the match at 2008’s Final Resolution in what many fans consider their best bout and why her feud with Awesome Kong worked so well.
“I remember we got plenty of time for that match which was unheard of for girls back then,” noted Gail.
She then spoke about a unique situation in which she was legitimately scared of Awesome Kong again.
“The fighting in the crowd when I picked up the Coke bottle, that just happened. I remember, even though I’d wrestled her several times, fighting back, thinking, ‘Oh crap, she’s coming after me!’ and legitimately being scared and running.
“Then I remember seeing that Coke bottle and thinking, ‘I’m just going to pick it up [and use it to hit her]!’ Those are the moments you can’t plan.”
Kong was selfless and sacrificed her well-being for the good of the match, and they shared respect for each other as a result.
Gail Kim also confessed to always giving up her whole body to make it believable.
“Whenever they recommended we use a chair, Kong replied, ‘Yeah, no problem!’ ‘You better bring it!’ And I’m like, ‘Really, on the head?’ She didn’t want to sell something [bad]. ‘Oh, I’ll bring it!’ I’d answer.”
“There’s one shot, the last one, where it looks like it gets caught in her head. I had little experience with weapons, so I don’t know if I hit her on the wrong side of the chair because there’s a proper way. But she never complained; she was always fine after!”
“I prefer not to do that,” Kim continued. “I don’t want to hurt anybody. Plus, that’s banned today because of concussions. But I did that to Kong twice: once in the Christmas-themed Gauntlet match [at Turning Point 2007] and then at Final Resolution 2008.”
Kim continued, “Kong told me a couple of years later, ‘Oh my gosh, Gail, I feel like I’m in Japan whenever I’m wrestling you.’
“I took that as a compliment; I just loved that we could raise the bar, push, and trust each other.
“By the end of our second run, we were talking in the back about our upcoming match, and suddenly Kong’s back went out. She took some Advil and some ‘whatever’ and said, ‘Okay, let’s do it.’
“‘Okay… but if you seem out of it, I’m going to slap you across the face and tell you to wake the **** up!’
“We have that kind of relationship. ‘If that’s the case, then slap me!’ Kong quipped back.”
Yes, these rivals were certainly double tough.
Ending of the Gail Kim and Awesome Kong Rivalry
Like standing up to the perennial schoolyard bully, Gail Kim battled Awesome Kong on four occasions and in various tag team bouts in her two runs with TNA.
They were at a standstill in one-on-one battles, each scoring a pair of victories. But ultimately, Kim pulled ahead, tallying two more wins against her during her second TNA run.
But once Dutch Mantell left, the successful Knockouts division began to falter and go by the wayside.
“At first, Dixie Carter was down with us in the trenches building a product that would take the world by storm, and then they forgot about the people who helped them get there.”
Moving on From Their Feud
Gail Kim and Awesome Kong would soon move on to other things.
Seven-time Knockouts Champion Gail Kim married English celebrity chef Robert Irvine on May 10th, 2012. She also worked as an executive at Impact Wrestling with a strong love still burning for the sport.
Awesome Kong would continue to ply her craft with Ring of Honor (ROH), Shimmer Women Athletes, All Elite Wrestling (AEW), and with WWE under the ring name Kharma.
Kia Stevens (Awesome Kong) hopes to continue to impart her knowledge to today’s women wrestlers. She became a recurring character in Netflix’s GLOW series (2017-2019) and received a starring credit for the third season.
Kia also advocates for professional wrestlers worldwide to unite to break the stigma and normalize a conversation about mental health.
She would retire at NWA‘s EmPowerrr event in 2021, which was a move that surprised everybody, including Gail Kim.
However, in wrestling, retirement is not necessarily permanent.
Gail Kim and Awesome Kong: Their Wrestling Return at IMPACT 1000 in 2023
For the first time since 2019, Gail Kim made her return to the ring at Impact’s 1000th episode at the IMPACT 1000 event on September 9th, 2023. Alongside Kim was her long-time rival and fellow Impact Hall of Famer, Awesome Kong.
On that eventful night, they teamed up with Mickie James, Jordynne Grace, and Trinity to face Gisele Shaw, Savannah Evans (with Jai Vidal), Deonna Purrazzo, Tasha Steelz, and Angelina Love (with Velvet Sky).
According to Post Wrestling author John Siino’s live report, the match was enjoyable and felt like a main event. James, Kim, and Trinity were especially involved with the crowd, which added to the fun of the match.
The match would build to a hot tag to Kong, which got a rapturous pop from the crowd.
The ending of the match saw Gail Kim dive onto everybody on the outside of the ring while Kong hit the Implant Buster on Shaw, leading to a victory for their team.
Blazing a Trail for Future Generations
Speaking prior to Awesome Kong’s retirement in 2021, Gail Kim spoke about her friend.
“In wrestling, we already all have a brotherhood and a sisterhood. But when you share that kind of magic with someone, you just have that bond, a special bond that you always hold dear.
“I will always cherish [Awesome Kong] as a person, as a human. As a fellow wrestler, I will always have that love and respect for her."
In the heat of battle, these warriors forged an unbreakable bond built upon trust, sweat, and tears, overcoming near-crippling injuries and dangerous concussions. Both pushed each other to their limits and once the smoke cleared years later and their bodies began to heal, their friendship grew even stronger.
The rollercoaster ride of emotions and physicality both displayed captured fans’ imaginations. They also enforced the idea of women main-eventing like their male counterparts.
They can both take pride in their rivalry ranking among the greatest feuds in the rich history of wrestling.
These stories may also interest you:
- Mildred Burke – Blazing Trails for Women in Wrestling
- Strength in Numbers: Roots of a Women’s Wrestling Revolution
- Secret Story Behind the Unforgettable Aja Kong
- Monster Ripper to Bertha Faye: Secret Story of Rhonda Sing
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