Before the WWE had a women’s revolution that led to the rise of Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks, Bianca Belair and others, IMPACT Wrestling gave women a significant platform to display their talent in the Knockouts Division. Rather than be treated as sexual objects, the women of IMPACT were showcasing their talent that was on par with their male contemporaries.
Perhaps no women’s feud in North America epitomized the brilliance of women’s pro wrestling than the fantastic rivalry between Gail Kim and Awesome Kong.
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And at IMPACT Wrestling’s Bound for Glory pay per view in Las Vegas, the recently retired Kong will be celebrated for her contributions to pro wrestling and inducted into IMPACT’s Hall of Fame by none other than Kim.
“She was the right person at the time when wrestling – especially women’s wrestling – needed her,” Kim tells The Sporting News ahead of Kong’s induction that will take place on the “Countdown to Glory” pre-show (9:30 p.m ET/6:30 p.m. PT via FITE.tv). “Fans in the US, certainly, hadn’t seen a strong style woman before – and I don’t think there were many men doing what she did at that time which made her even more special. She was a dominating force, absolutely, she had that intimidating look but she also had the talent once the bell rang. And we’ve all seen what kind of actress she is – she can do it all.”
Kong — real name Kia Stevens — has done it all. She is a two-time Knockouts Champion and was ranked number one on PWI’s “Top 100 Women’s Wrestlers” list in 2008. Recognized for size and power, Kong broke down barriers and shattered stereotypes during her remarkable feud with Kim that lasted from 2007-2008. It was a series of matches where each showdown ramped up the physicality to awe-inspiring heights.
“Kong was perfect as the monster of the Knockouts division,” Kim says. “Simple storylines work – and Kong and I had a David and Goliath storyline that we took our time with and it was, really, an overnight success.”
Following her tenure in IMPACT, Kong had a short stint with the WWE from 2010-2012 as Kharma and eventually returned to IMPACT while also working in Japan. From 2017 to 2019, Stevens made her acting debut on the well-received Netflix comedy-drama about the 1980s syndicated women’s professional wrestling circuit “GLOW” as Tamme “The Welfare Queen” Dawson. The show ran for three seasons but was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down production.
She resurfaced one last time in All Elite Wrestling in 2019 and announced her retirement on August 28, 2021, thus ending a remarkable 20-year career.
But through two decades, the feud most will remember her for was with Kim, who herself was inducted into the IMPACT Hall of Fame in 2016. Kong will be the eighth pro wrestler to enter the Hall of Fame, joining the likes of Sting, Ken Shamrock, Kurt Angle and Jeff Jarrett.
For Kim, what we saw on television between her and Kong was a far cry from the person she knows.
“If you meet the real Kia Stevens, she’s the sweetest person,” Kim continues. “She has the biggest heart. She’s the type to make you feel like you’ve been friends for years right away. I think she was telling me all about the new Harry Potter book she’d be reading within five minutes of being introduced to her. She’s very friendly – nothing like who she is in the ring.”
What also made the Kong-Kim rivalry unique was that it shattered stereotypes. During a time when women of color didn’t get the spotlight in professional wrestling, the fact that an Asian and a Black woman were involved in one of the most significant feuds in women’s pro wrestling history speaks in volumes of how these two women broke doors down for minorities in professional wrestling.
“I have experienced racism in wrestling,” Kim says. “And the fact a company – when women’s wrestling was supposed to be dead – went with two women of color meant so much. I don’t think they even looked at it as two women of color at the time, or taking a chance, but looking back, that was big.
“To be able to have a partner in affecting change like Kia… it just meant everything. It was a special partnership we had. I’m so lucky to have had her. Everyone in wrestling is lucky to have had her.”