Top 10 Best Female Wrestlers in WWE History
With WWE's Summerslam this weekend and the Divas Revolution in full swing, we take a look at the top 10 female wrestlers from WWE history.
For those not familiar with the Divas Revolution, for many years now the WWE has operated under Vince McMahon's philosophy that its easier to train a model to wrestle than teach a wrestler to model, resulting in far too many Divas matches that were way beyond sub-par. But with the rise of the WWE's development league NXT, the company has an influx of actual female wrestlers who want to have the best match of the night, leading to a three team Divas match this Sunday at Summerslam.
So let's clarify this list. First, this is of course my opinion. If you think I've overlooked a deserving lady, let us know in the comments. Second, this is NOT the Top 10 WWE Divas of all time because the term "Diva" can refer to valets and managers that have never wrestled a decent match a day in their lives. The Divas Revolution is about getting away from the days of teaching models to pull hair and scratch and get back to butt-kicking women. This list will focus on women who were great in-ring performers for the WWE and known for such, so beautiful women like Elizabeth and Sunny didn't make the list.
Starting the list we feature four women who will likely make up nearly half this list within the next five years, the Four Horsewomen. Yes, Ronda Rousey calls herself and her three fellow-fighter friends by the same name, but these women lay a stronger claim to the title, as one of them is the daughter of the original Horseman himself, Ric Flair. Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair, and Bailey (L - R) make up the strongest female performers in the WWE's developmental brand, NXT. Banks, Lynch, and Flair were recently called up to the main roster while still appearing on NXT events, with Bailey missing out due to an injury. All four women are the perfect examples of what the WWE Divas revolution needs, and all four are nothing short of the future of the industry.
An often overlooked performer from the Attitude Era, the era wouldn't have been the same without Molly Holly. More than most of her fellow Divas, Molly showed diversity in her performance, going from a quirky cousin of Bob and Crash Holly, to a superhero side-kick, to a hard-edged heel. One of the reasons Molly Holly didn't get the attention others like Torrie Wilson and Sable did was her attitude on photoshoots, preferring to participate in more tasteful shoots as opposed to the overtly revealing ones. Instead of stripping down to get noticed, Molly Holly made a sacrifice no other Diva was probably willing to make, having her head shaved after losing a Hair vs Title match at Wrestlemania XX.
While regularly known as one of the greatest managers of all time, Sherri Martel's in-ring work unfortunately gets overlooked. A former AWA Women's Champion and the woman who defeated the Fabulous Moolah to become the WWF Women's Champion, Sherri was a force to be reckoned with in the ring. She was so adept and knowledgeable in her craft that as a manager she could hold her own as a perfect equal to major stars like Randy Savage and the Million Dollar Man, but was also considered a star maker, being put with up-and-coming wrestlers, like a young Shawn Michaels, for instant credibility.
The first third-generation female WWE Superstar, Natalia Neidhart is so adept in the ring that her legacy is linked with her uncle, Bret Hart, more so than her father, Bret's former tag-team partner Jim 'The Anvil' Neidhart. Unfortunately for Natalia, her in-ring career has taken a backseat to her managerial duties for her husband and their roles on the reality show "Total Divas", but the fact remains that she was one of just a few true female wrestlers trying to keep the division alive when the company preferred models to go out and pull each other's hair for three minutes.
Though her time in the WWE pales in comparison to the length of her runs in competing organizations TNA and GFW, Mickie James' WWE run was still incredibly impressive and noteworthy. Considered by many to be the last of the true female wrestlers in the WWE prior to the dark times of Kelly Kelly and Maryse, James was immediately thrust into the spotlight working with the likes of Trish Stratus and Lita, winning the Women's Championship from both. When both ladies retired from the ring, with Mickie defeating Lita for the title in her final match, Mickie James was left on top of the mountain and became only the second woman in the company's history to hold both the Women's title and the Diva's title. Unfortunately for James and wrestling fans, the Women's division was in a transition period towards the Diva's division, and James was released from her contract to make room for lesser talented performers who plagued the company for years after.
At only 23-years-old, Paige is already a 10 year wrestling veteran. Raised in a wrestling family, Paige touts that she started taking bumps in the ring while still in the womb as her mother wrestled while unknowingly pregnant with Paige. Paige signed with the WWE at just 18, a journey that was chronicled by the documentary 'The Wrestlers: Fighting with My Family', and became the first woman to hold the NXT Women's title. Paige's popularity in the developmental league transcended to the main show, with a shocking debut on Raw the night after Wrestlemania 30. Expecting to be unknown by the crowd, Paige was shocked by a standing ovation and chants of "This is awesome!" when she defeated AJ Lee for the Diva's title, becoming the only woman to hold the NTX Women's title and the Diva's title at the same time. Paige is credited as the instigator of the current revolution, credit she passes on to Triple H for giving the women the chance to be more than their predecessors. And on a recent appearance on Steve Austin's podcast, Paige expressed a desire to retire the Diva's title and bring back the Women's championship.
While people are crediting women like Paige and Emma with jump-starting the Divas revolution, AJ Lee is definitely the person who breathed life into the dying division. A life-long wrestling fan, whose first encounter with her idol Lita was famously captured by WWE cameras, AJ didn't want to be a WWE Diva, she wanted to be a WWE Superstar and it showed in her attitude in the ring and out. She became the first female WWE Superstar to surpass a million Twitter followers, which she notes she did without posting nearly naked shots of herself like other celebrities, and she demanded change in the division that had degraded to the usual bathroom break match at live shows. So frustrated with the state of women's wrestling in the company, especially the focus on the cast of 'Total Divas' over actual wrestling, Lee cut a famous promo on the cast of the show that hit so close to home that several members of the cast of 'Total Divas' complained to management and the storyline was changed. Like her husband, CM Punk, Lee held her own in every facet of the wrestling industry, being unmatched in the ring and on the microphone. Unfortunately, due to Punk's falling out with the company, several within WWE reportedly made it difficult for Lee to remain there, resulting in her retirement earlier this year.
For decades, the Fabulous Moolah WAS women's wrestling, being the undefeated reigning champion from the late 1960s to the early 1980s. While Moolah's time in the industry has been marred by accusations of political manipulation by Moolah to stay on top and even using female wrestlers in her employ as an escort service outside the ring, her accomplishments as a female wrestler cannot be denied. Moolah saw a resurgence in her career in the 1990s by returning to the WWE with her long-time friend Mae Young, though in a more comedic role than serious wrestlers. Moolah became the first woman inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, and even recaptured the Women's Title in 1999, becoming the company's oldest champion ever at the age of 76. Though not as familiar to fans as other women on this list, no one can deny that Moolah paved the way for women wrestlers to be more than a gimmick match and be respected as actual wrestlers.
While her friend, the Fabulous Moolah, is more successful in terms of title runs and such, Mae Young regularly upstaged Moolah as the old WWE Diva willing to do anything, and I mean ANYTHING, to entertain the audience. Apart from her impressive and iconic career as a female wrestler, her final years in the late 90s and early 2000s cemented her legacy in the hearts and minds of wrestling fans. From her infamous love affair with Mark Henry that resulted in pregnancy and her delivery of a hand (Yes, a hand), to crashing Divas swimsuit competitions, nothing was below Mae if it meant it entertained the audience. But even as she was known for her comedic stints, Mae never lost the salty attitude and edge that kept her going in the early days. At 76-years-old, Mae was still fairly active in the ring, fighting the younger Divas and even being powerbombed off the stage through a table by the Dudley Boyz, telling Vince McMahon afterwards she wanted to be powerbombed off the top of a cage next. And wrestling Eric Bischoff a few years later, 79-year-old Mae Young was asked to perform a "Bronco Buster", where she slammed her crotch into Bischoff's face and chest. Before going to the match, Mae stuffed sardines down the front of her underwear.
While regularly topping lists such as this, Trish was barely edged out in my book for the #1 spot, but we'll talk about that later. Trish Stratus succeeded where so many other women failed, appealing to what the company wanted in a Diva and what the fans wanted in a female wrestler. A former fitness model, Trish definitely have the looks the company was wanting, regularly participating in the much maligned "Bra and Panties" matches or other gimmick matches where a nice rack was more important than having a good match. But Trish took the in-ring portion more serious than other models before and since her, becoming a greatly accomplished wrestler, something that quickly surpassed her looks in the grand scheme of her career, eventually becoming only one of three women to ever main event Monday Night Raw. Though called the "Diva of the Decade" for the 2000s, the Hall of Famer is one of several past and present superstars who are openly critical of the term "Diva" and the company's reliance on and marketing of the term.
While women like Mae Young and the Fabulous Moolah paved the way for the initial Divas revolution, Trish Stratus and especially Lita shattered the glass ceiling and kept going. In the time where fitness models were getting contracts before ever being trained, Lita packed up and moved to Mexico to be trained in pro wrestling by luchadores. Coming back to the states and spending time in ECW, Lita caught the attention of WWE and was brought in as the manager of another wrestler, quickly becoming the center of attention by performing the same aerial moves, which was completely unheard of at the time. Breaking out as a female wrestler, Lita became one of the top draws in the company, being the standout Diva in terms of wrestling ability and look. Much like her best friend Trish, Lita was the total package for the WWE, being a beautiful woman who looked good in a bikini like the company wanted, and being one hell of a wrestler in the ring like the fans wanted. Controversy hit Lita's career when a real life affair with fellow wrestler Edge was exposed on-camera, but this allowed Lita to play up a then-unused villainous side of her character and did nothing but help her in the long run. In the history of Monday Night Raw, there have only been two times that a women's match main evented the show, and both times Lita was in the match, once against Stephanie McMahon and once against Trish Stratus, which speaks volumes for Lita's importance as a female wrestler.