Women in WWE

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Women wrestlers gather around the ring for Lita's introduction of the WWE Women's Championship in April 2016

Throughout its history, women have served in various onscreen roles in the American professional wrestling promotion WWE. In the 1990s, WWE (then known as the World Wrestling Federation) introduced the term Diva to refer to its female performers, including wrestlers, managers or valets, backstage interviewers, or ring announcers.

In 2016 at WrestleMania 32, WWE abandoned the "Diva" branding for its female performers, as part of a move to present them in a manner more in line with their male counterparts, rather than in a means based around sex appeal. Concurrently, the promotion began to refer to them using the "Superstar" title it uses for all other performers, established a new WWE Women's Championship to replace the WWE Divas Championship, and began to increasingly book women's matches in its pay-per-views' signature matches. WrestleMania 35 featured a women's match as its main event for the first time in WrestleMania history.

History[edit]

Beginnings (1980s–1990s)[edit]

The Fabulous Moolah, recognized by WWE as having held the WWF Women's Championship for 27 years

In 1983, the Fabulous Moolah, who was the NWA World Women's Champion and legal owner of the title, joined the WWF and sold them the rights to the title after they disaffiliated from the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) and recognized her as the first WWF Women's Champion.[1] Additionally, the WWF also recognized Moolah as having been champion ever since first winning the title from Judy Grable in 1956 and disregarded other reigns or title losses that occurred during the title's existence in the NWA. Thus, The Fabulous Moolah's reign was considered to have lasted 27 years by the promotion.[2] WWF also introduced the WWF Women's Tag Team Championship with Velvet McIntyre and Princess Victoria recognized as the first champions after also defecting from the NWA.

The following year, music artist Cyndi Lauper began a verbal feud with her manager "Captain" Lou Albano; this brought professional wrestling into mainstream culture in a storyline that became known as the "Rock 'n' Wrestling Connection". When it was finally time for Lauper and Albano to settle their differences in the ring, a match-up was scheduled with Albano's represented wrestler Moolah against the challenge of Lauper's protégé, Wendi Richter. Moolah lost the title at The Brawl to End It All, broadcast live on MTV. Richter then lost the title to Leilani Kai the following year, but won it back at WrestleMania I on March 31, 1985.

Miss Elizabeth played a central role in the storyline between the WrestleMania IV and WrestleMania V events.

In the summer of 1985, the WWF did a storyline where all established managers in the promotion competed to offer their services to Randy Savage. Savage revealed his new manager to be Miss Elizabeth on the August 24, 1985 edition of WWF Prime Time Wrestling. In real life, Savage and Miss Elizabeth were married, but this was not mentioned on television. Miss Elizabeth's first major angle was during Savage's feud with George "The Animal" Steele in 1986. In the angle, Steele fell in love with Miss Elizabeth, angering Savage and leading to a series of grudge matches between him and Steele. She also figured prominently in Savage's 1986 feuds with Hulk Hogan and Ricky "the Dragon" Steamboat and his 1987–1989 feuds with wrestlers such as The Honky Tonk Man, Andre the Giant, Bad News Brown, Big Boss Man and Akeem. In 1988, Miss Elizabeth was given the title "First Lady of the World Wrestling Federation" due to her being the first woman in World Wrestling Federation history to manage the World Wrestling Federation champion. When Savage—who had formed an alliance with Hogan—turned on Hogan in early 1989, Miss Elizabeth was a major factor, and she eventually sided with Hogan. Meanwhile, Savage became allied with "Sensational" Sherri, who had success as a wrestler from 1987 to 1989 and was phased into a role as an ill-tempered, venomous manager.

Sherri initially debuted on July 24, 1987, by defeating The Fabulous Moolah for the WWF Women's Championship.[3] Renaming herself 'Sensational' Sherri, she reigned as champion for fifteen months before losing it to Rockin' Robin;[4][5] after losing several rematches, Martel took a short leave of absence in early 1989 before being repackaged as Savage's manager. Also in 1987 Mike McGuirk was introduced as the first female ring announcer of the promotion, arriving after Jesse Ventura referred her to the WWF.[6] In the fall of 1987, McGuirk provided color commentary for several arena show tapings in the Houston, Texas area, which aired on Prime Time Wrestling.

The first Survivor Series pay-per-view saw the first female elimination match. In February 1989, the WWF Women's Tag Team Championship was deactivated and The Glamour Girls (Leilani Kai and Judy Martin) were the final title holders. Sapphire debuted in November 1989 on Saturday Night's Main Event XXV as a 'fan' cheering on Dusty Rhodes at ringside in his match against Big Boss Man.[7] Sapphire began to manage Rhodes, who adapted Rhodes' gimmick as she adorned black outfits with yellow polka dots. Sapphire and Rhodes later feuded with Randy Savage and Sensational Sherri and wrestled in a tag team match at WrestleMania VI.[8][9] Rockin' Robin was the last WWF Women's Champion in the late 1980s.

In 1990, Sensational Sherri remained with Randy Savage, while Sapphire worked with Dusty Rhodes. Sapphire later departed from the company in mid-1990. Miss Elizabeth worked primarily with Dusty Rhodes and Sapphire between WrestleMania VI and SummerSlam (1990). Miss Elizabeth returned in 1991 and was a key player in Randy Savage's retirement match with The Ultimate Warrior at WrestleMania VII; Miss Elizabeth left the company for good in April 1992; shortly after her departure, Savage and Miss Elizabeth divorced in real life. At WrestleMania IX, Luna Vachon debuted and initially aligned herself with Shawn Michaels. Later, she aligned herself with Bam Bam Bigelow to feud with Sherri and Tatanka. Martel left the company in 1993.

Japanese involvement and Diva beginnings (1993–1997)[edit]

Miceli, a three-time Women's Champion in June 1995, was the first woman to defend the WWE Women's Championship at Wrestlemania since 1985.

In 1993, the WWF reinstated its Women's Championship, a title that had been vacant since 1990,[10] and Madusa Miceli was brought in by the company to revive the women's division.[11] She debuted under the ring name Alundra Blayze,[12] because WWF owner Vince McMahon did not want to pay Miceli to use the name Madusa, which she had trademarked.[13] She wrestled in a six-woman tournament to crown a new Women's Champion, and in the finals, she pinned Heidi Lee Morgan on the December 13, 1993 episode of All American Wrestling to win the title.[10]

After the tournament, Miceli asked WWF management to bring in new women for her to wrestle[11] and WWF brought Leilani Kai,[14] Bull Nakano[15] and Bertha Faye.[16] Later on as part of a short talent exchange with All Japan Women's Pro Wrestling, various Japanese female wrestlers including Aja Kong debuted leading to the second elimination match at the Survivor Series 1995 event.[17] In December, due to financial troubles the WWF was having at the time,[18] Blayze was released from her contract and was stripped of the title following her jump back to rival company World Championship Wrestling, and the WWF Women's Championship remained vacant until 1998.[19]

Between 1995 and 1998, several valets debuted in WWF: Sunny, Marlena, Sable and Debra. At first, the characters were a continuation of the WWE female manager, but became more sexualized as time progressed. Although the term diva was not used on WWE television until April 1999, these women are considered to be the first divas. In February 1997, Chyna joined WWE as prominent female on-air talent in the promotion. Chyna was offered as an antithesis to the rest of the women, a masculine bodybuilder whose sexual identity was the subject of early storylines. Sunny, Marlena, Sable, and Debra were further marketed as sex symbols through WWF's Raw Magazine, which featured monthly spreads of the women in suggestive poses either semi-nude or wearing provocative clothing.

Attitude Era (1997–2002)[edit]

In 1997, Chyna debuted in the WWF as a tomboy female competitor wrestling male talents.

Sable's eclipsed popularity and her feud with Marc Mero and his new manager, Jacqueline[20] led to the reinstatement of the Women's Championship as well as the promotion's hiring of more female wrestlers. Jacqueline won the title and became the first African-American Women's Champion. Meanwhile, Sable's popularity led her to be a Playboy cover girl, although unlike other women, it was written in her contract that she was not allowed to take bumps.[21]

Sable became the first WWF female talent to refer to herself as a "Diva" during the April 19 episode of Raw Is War in 1999; the term shortly thereafter became the official title for WWF's female performers. During the August 9, 1999 episode of Raw Is War, Chyna became the first woman to main event a pro-wrestling prime time show when she defeated Triple H and The Undertaker in a triple threat match to become the number one contender for the WWF Championship, the only woman to ever do so. Veteran wrestlers The Fabulous Moolah and Mae Young returned to WWF, mostly used as comedic roles. At No Mercy on October 17, 1999, 76-year-old Moolah defeated Ivory to win the Women's Championship, becoming the oldest WWF Women's Champion ever. The late 1990s also brought in new women, such as B.B and The Kat, who won the women's championship[22][23]

In 1999, Chyna became the first women to win the WWF Intercontinental Championship when she defeated Jeff Jarrett. She would win the title one more time in 2000, when she defeated Val Venis and Trish Stratus in a mixed tag team match. She also became the first women to participate in a Royal Rumble match, entering in the 1999 and 2000 editions, as well as participating in the 1999 edition of the King of the Ring tournament. She also was on the cover for Playboy. According to her manager, Vince McMahon offered Chyna to win the WWF Championship if she rejected the offer.[24]

Lita was one of the most prominent women in the later part of the Attitude Era

The year of 2000 saw the debuts of Lita, Trish Stratus, and Molly Holly since the start of the month of February. Lita performed higher-risk moves than the divas before her, such as moonsaults and diving hurricanranas.[25] Shortly thereafter, Trish Stratus debuted as an overtly sexualized valet. Also, later that year, Molly Holly was added to the roster. She was a contrast to most of the other Divas as she was given a more wholesome gimmick and more modest ring attire.[26] On the August 21 episode of Raw Is War defending champion Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley wrestled Lita in the main event.

Finally in the spring of 2001 saw the WWF's purchase of its chief competitors, World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW), and the consequent entry of former WCW and ECW female talent, such as Stacy Keibler, Torrie Wilson, Jazz, and Sharmell. WWF Women's Champion Chyna left the WWF towards the end of November due to real-life issues between herself, Triple H, and Stephanie McMahon. In the autumn of 2001, Trish Stratus was trained by Fit Finlay, who was the road agent responsible for the women's matches, and drastically improved her in-ring ability. She worked her way up to the top of the division and eventually won the Women's Championship at Survivor Series. Stratus then entered in a prominent feud with Jazz who debuted at Survivor Series.[27][28]

Ruthless Aggression Era (2002–2008)[edit]

Much of the year of 2002 centered around Trish Stratus and her feuds with Jazz, Molly Holly, and a re-debuting Victoria including over the Women's Championship.[29][30][31] In April, while filming a small acting role for Dark Angel, Lita suffered a neck injury and was the first female talent to have neck fusion surgery.[25] She was out of action for almost a year and a half.[25] As she rehabilitated, she kept herself visible by co-hosting Sunday Night Heat on MTV.[32]

Since May 5, 2002, the women's division saw an expansion including a departure and a return of a former talent when the WWF officially changed its name to World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) as the company first began to hire more female talents than ever before, including female winners of the reality television show Tough Enough, which featured contestants aspiring to be professional wrestlers (Nidia in 2001, Linda Miles and Jackie Gayda in 2002). Debra departed the company in the month of June along with her then-husband Stone Cold Steve Austin.[33] Sable returned to WWE on the April 3, 2003 episode of SmackDown! for the first time since controversially departing from the company in late 1999; her first storyline returning to company for several months was with new Playboy covergirl Torrie Wilson. The WWE women's division competed in more match-ups previously contested only by men (including for the Women's Championship), such as street fights and hardcore matches. The debuting Gail Kim would go on to become the first woman of Asian descent to have held the WWE Women's Championship after winning a battle royal. Numerous Divas competed in contests ranging from "Pillow Fights" and "Bra and Panties" match-ups to "Bikini Contests", which were based more on the sexual appeal of the women involved. Women's trainer Fit Finlay said he was embarrassed to explain the women how to strip during bra and panties match. According to him, "It was degrading to them" and tried to teach them how to wrestle, but WWE told him they do not want women to wrestle like men.[34]

Victoria and Lita competed in the first Women's steel cage match towards the end of the year on November 24.[35]

Christy Hemme, inaugural Diva Search winner in 2004

WWE eventually re-introduced the Diva Search, in which Christy Hemme became the inaugural winner. In December 2004, Lita and Trish Stratus main-evented Raw for the Women's Championship, making it the 2nd time in history for female talents to main event one of WWE's main shows. Moreover, Lita became the only female talent to main event Raw on three occasions including winning the Women's Championship.

Since mid-2004 and through various periods over the years until the year of 2011, most of the original female roster departed from the company, most notably in 2006, when Trish Stratus retired at Unforgiven and Lita retired at Survivor Series.[36][37][38][39][40][41][42][43][44][45]

During this period, several women made their debut, like Melina,[46] Mickie James,[47][48][49] Beth Phoenix,[50][51] and Layla.[52]

Trish Stratus celebrating her victory as a 7-time WWE Women's Champion in her retirement match

On the March 5, 2007 episode of Raw, Mickie James and Melina competed in the first Falls Count Anywhere match to be contested between Divas. It was also the first time that the Women's Championship was contested in this type of match. At Vengeance: Night of Champions in 2007, Candice Michelle became the first woman from the WWE Diva Search contest to become the WWE Women's Champion.[53] In December 2007, Trish Stratus, Lita, Molly Holly, and Sunny returned to WWE for a one night special appearance on an episode of Raw due to the show's 15-year anniversary.[54] At One Night Stand 2008, Beth Phoenix and Melina competed in the first "I Quit" match to be contested between Divas.

PG Era and Divas Championship (2008–2012)[edit]

Michelle McCool, the inaugural and two-time Divas Champion

In 2008, WWE entered its PG Era and adapted a family-friendly format.[55] WWE distanced itself from the sexual content that was pervasive throughout previous eras.[56] However, the role of women within WWE during this time was criticized because their matches were not as integral to the show as male wrestler's matches were.[55]

At The Great American Bash 2008, Michelle McCool defeated Natalya to become the inaugural holder of the WWE Divas Championship, a championship exclusive to the SmackDown brand. During the 2009 WWE draft, the championships switched brands after Women's Champion Melina was drafted to the SmackDown brand and Divas Champion Maryse was drafted to Raw. Beth Phoenix made history by becoming the second woman to compete at the Royal Rumble event that year and managed to eliminate The Great Khali. The Women's Championship was unified with the Divas Championship at Night of Champions 2010, as then Divas Champion Melina faced then-self professed co-Women's Champion Michelle McCool (as part of LayCool with Layla) in a lumberjill match, which McCool won. This also made the Women's Championship defunct after 54 years, making Layla the final holder and only woman of Arab descent to have held the championship.[57] During that year, Alicia Fox became the first and only African-American WWE Divas Champion.

NXT replaced ECW programming in 2010. Originally existing as a seasonal show which was presented as a hybrid between reality television and WWE's scripted live event shows, selected wrestlers from WWE's then-developmental territory Florida Championship Wrestling (FCW) participated in a competition to become WWE's next "breakout star". The third season, which aired in late 2010, featured only female contestants and was won by Kaitlyn.[58]

Winner of NXT Season 3, Kaitlyn

Kharma made her debut at Extreme Rules 2011 by attacking Michelle McCool, and attacked other divas over the next couple weeks on Raw and SmackDown, however this was cut short as she was granted a maternity leave due to her real life pregnancy.[59] 2011 saw the departures of Maryse and Michelle McCool, the latter of whom retired from WWE on May 1, after losing to Layla in a Loser Leaves WWE match; Melina, who was released in early August; and Gail Kim resigned from the company due to frustration with their lack of focus on the women's division.

On the April 23, 2012, episode of Raw, Nikki Bella defeated Beth Phoenix in a lumberjill match for the Divas Championship, ending Phoenix's reign as champion at 204 days.[60][61] Layla returned from her injury on April 29, 2012, at Extreme Rules and defeated Nikki Bella to become the fifth woman to have held both titles.[62] The Bella Twins' contracts expired the following night, where they were fired by Eve Torres in the storyline.[63][64]

On July 9, 2012, Eve Torres and AJ Lee became the first Divas to main event Raw since Trish Stratus and Lita in 2004, in a tag team match alongside CM Punk and Daniel Bryan. During mid-2012, AJ became involved in various relationship storylines with several male wrestlers such as CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Kane, John Cena and Dolph Ziggler, including a stint as the General Manager of Raw. The later part of 2012 saw the departures of Kharma, Kelly Kelly and Beth Phoenix.[65] A month after Phoenix's October departure, WWE published an article on their website claiming that there was a new era for the Divas division.[66]

Beginning of Total Divas (2013–2015)[edit]

AJ Lee tied Eve Torres at three in September 2014. She is the second longest reigning WWE Divas Champion at 295 Days. She was also the first and only woman to defend & retain the WWE Divas Championship at WrestleMania.

The 20th anniversary of Raw on January 14, 2013, saw Kaitlyn defeat Eve Torres for the Divas Championship. Eve departed the company later that night after her contract expired.[67] The Bella Twins returned to WWE on the March 11, 2013 episode of Raw.[68] Kaitlyn lost her Divas Championship to her former tag team partner AJ Lee on Payback, ending her reign at 153 days. The first in-ring Divas contract signing took place on the July 12, 2013 episode of SmackDown between AJ Lee and Kaitlyn, as part of buildup for a rematch of the Divas Championship at Money In the Bank. AJ defeated Kaitlyn to retain the title at the event.

In August 2012, WWE ceased operating FCW, its developmental promotion in Tampa, Florida, deactivating FCW titles, and began running all of its developmental events and operations at Full Sail University under the "WWE NXT" banner. In October 2012, WWE hired Renee Young, and in September 2013, Young made her commentary debut on NXT, making her the first female on-air commentator in the company in over a decade.

In July 2013, the first season of the Total Divas reality television show starring WWE Divas premiered.[69] On the August 26 episode of Raw, AJ Lee cut a worked shoot promo on the cast of Total Divas, stemming again, but partially from the controversial issue of what makes a "true" WWE Diva and the theme of the show leading towards a feud between Lee and the cast. At the 2013 Slammy Awards show, the Diva of the Year award was won by Brie and Nikki Bella. On January 8, 2014, Kaitlyn decided to depart from WWE to pursue other endeavors, losing her last match against her former friend and rival Divas Champion AJ Lee.[70] Later on towards the end of the month, AJ Lee became the longest reigning Divas Champion in history, surpassing Maryse's reign of 216 days.[71] On the March 12 episode of Main Event, Lee successfully defended the Divas Championship against Natalya, in a match that lasted fourteen minutes—the longest women's championship match since 1987.[72] On the March 24 episode of Raw, it was announced by Vickie Guerrero that Lee would defend her Divas Championship against the entire Divas roster at WrestleMania XXX, making it the first time the title was defended at WrestleMania.[73] At the event, AJ Lee retained her championship by forcing Naomi to submit.[73]

Paige was the youngest Divas Champion and inaugural NXT Women's Champion, and briefly held the titles concurrently

On the post-WrestleMania episode of Raw on April 7, 2014, Paige made her debut on the main roster and defeated AJ Lee for the Divas Championship ending her record reign at 295 days. At the time, Paige was also the reigning (and first) NXT Women's Champion, having won the belt on June 20, 2013, after defeating Emma in the tournament finals to crown the inaugural champion.[74] With her Divas Championship win, Paige became the first wrestler to simultaneously hold both titles, as well as becoming the youngest Divas Champion in WWE history at the age of 21.[75]

Brie Bella entered a storyline with Stephanie McMahon at Payback — as part of her husband Daniel Bryan's storyline with McMahon — McMahon threatened to fire Bella if, an injured, Bryan did not relinquish the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, which forced Brie to "quit" before slapping McMahon in the face.[76] In mid-June, Vickie Guerrero departed mutually from WWE, after losing to Stephanie McMahon in a pudding match.[77] AJ Lee returned after a two-month hiatus, defeating Paige in an impromptu match to regain the Divas Championship as both then traded the championship until at SummerSlam, then Night of Champions.[78] At SummerSlam, Stephanie McMahon defeated Brie Bella in her first match in ten years, after Nikki Bella attacked her sister.[79] This led to a match between the twins at Hell in a Cell, where the loser was forced to become the winner's personal assistant for 30 days, where Nikki defeated Brie.[80] AJ Lee won the Divas Championship for a record-tying third time at Night of Champions against Paige and Nikki Bella.[81] With this win, AJ Lee tied with Eve Torres for the most reigns ever at three.

Nikki Bella received her title match against AJ Lee on November 23 at Survivor Series, which she won, with Brie's help, to become a two-time Divas Champion.[82] The duo had reconciled at this point.[83][84][85]

Divas Revolution (2015–2016)[edit]

Nikki Bella is the longest-reigning Divas Champion at 301 days, and is the only member of Total Divas to hold the title while on the cast.

On the February 23, 2015 episode of Raw, The Bella Twins faced Paige and Emma in a widely criticized match that lasted around 30 seconds. After the match, a hashtag on Twitter trended worldwide for around a day and a half, called #GiveDivasAChance. This hashtag brought attention to various multi-media outlets over the long-tenured controversy over the company's treatment of their women's division, including AJ Lee who publicly criticized Stephanie McMahon over the issue.[86][87] On April 3, five days after Lee and Paige defeated the Bella Twins at WrestleMania 31,[88] WWE announced that Lee decided to retire from in-ring competition and departed from the company.[89] In June, Paige started serving as a judge on the sixth season of Tough Enough, while Renee Young appeared as co-host of the show and Lita served as a coach.[90][91]

On the July 13 episode of Raw, Nikki Bella claimed that there were no challengers for her championship. As a result, Stephanie McMahon proclaimed a revolution in the women's division and introduced Charlotte, Becky Lynch, and the NXT Women's Champion Sasha Banks as the newest additions to the main roster.[92][93] In the following weeks, a three-way feud began between Team B.A.D. (Naomi, Tamina and Sasha Banks), Team Bella (Alicia Fox and The Bella Twins) and Team PCB (Paige, Charlotte, and Becky Lynch), with the latter team being renamed from Submission Sorority due to links to adult content.[94][95] The three teams faced off at SummerSlam in a three team elimination match, where Becky pinned Brie to win the match for Team PCB.[96]

On July 29, WWE announced that Layla would depart from the company and retire.[97] On the August 31 episode of Raw, Nikki introduced the Bellatron timer which counted down the remaining time until she surpassed the record for the longest-reigning Divas champion of all time. Charlotte won the first Beat the Clock challenge for a title shot.[98][99] Her title match with Nikki was initially advertised for Night of Champions,[100] but instead took place the Raw preceding the pay-per-view, after Charlotte issued a petition, granted later by The Authority, to face Nikki before she surpassed the record to become the longest-reigning Divas Champion.[101] Charlotte won the match by disqualification when Brie and Nikki switched places and Charlotte pinned Brie. However, since the title could not change hands by disqualification, Nikki retained the championship, and in the process, became the longest-reigning Divas Champion in history, surpassing AJ Lee's previous record of 295 days.[102] Several days later, on September 20 at Night of Champions, Nikki lost the championship to Charlotte, ending her reign at 301 days.[103] Shortly after, Nikki went on a hiatus from television due to a neck injury which would require surgery,[104][105] but returned for one night on December 21, to accept the Slammy Award for Diva of the Year.[106]

Women's Evolution (2016–present)[edit]

Lita presenting the WWE Women's Championship on Raw in April 2016

At WrestleMania 32 in April 2016, WWE announced a major re-launch of its women's division: the "Divas" moniker was dropped, with the company now promoting its female talent as "Superstars" as with their male counterparts. Lita made an appearance to unveil a new WWE Women's Championship belt; the title, which replaced the WWE Divas Championship, shares its name with the original Women's Championship, but does not share the same title history as the original. WWE acknowledges the original championship as its predecessor. Later in that night, Divas champion Charlotte won the new championship by defeating Lynch and Banks.[107][108][109]

WWE had faced criticism from critics and performers for having portrayed female wrestlers as a source of sex appeal, rather than showcasing their athletic prowess.[108][110] Stephanie McMahon explained that the changes were part of a move towards gender equality within the company by dropping the "derogatory" Divas title, and thereby placing its entire roster on a "level playing field" as "Superstars". In the years that followed the relaunch, the increased prominence of the women's division in WWE programming, events, and reality series had helped to, in turn, attract more female viewers to WWE programming; McMahon stated that "Women love action, but I think they also really love the stories. They love the characters, they love the drama. Women need a reason to watch, more so than men I think, so the more you can get your female audience engaged in the character and in the story, then they care. They care about who’s going to win, they care about who’s going to lose."[108]

Alexa Bliss is the first woman to have held both the Raw and SmackDown Women's Championships, holding the former three times and the latter twice, making her an overall five-time champion in WWE.

In April 2016 at a show in Dubai, Alicia Fox became the first female performer in WWE history to appear in front of a live crowd in the Middle East.[111] After the second brand split and 2016 WWE draft, the Women's Championship became exclusive to Raw. An equivalent SmackDown Women's Championship was unveiled on the August 23, 2016 episode of SmackDown;[112] at Backlash the following month, Becky Lynch would become the inaugural SmackDown Women's Champion. During the year of 2016, Charlotte and Sasha Banks feuded over the Raw Women's Championship. They main-evented Raw on two occasions that year, they competed in the first women's Hell in a Cell match in WWE history that same year, marking the first time that a women's match had headlined a WWE pay-per-view event.

In 2017 and 2018, WWE also began to promote women's Royal Rumble,[113] Money in the Bank,[114] Tables, Ladders, and Chairs,[115] and Elimination Chamber matches for the first time. The inaugural winners of these events were Asuka, Carmella, Asuka once again and Alexa Bliss.[116][117] On January 28, 2017, WWE announced that Nikki Bella would serve as an executive producer for Total Divas starting in the second half of the sixth season in April. Nikki would become the first female talent within the company to become a producer of a WWE-related show.[118] That year, WWE also held an inaugural women's tournament, the Mae Young Classic, and signed Jessika Carr as the first woman to be a full-time WWE referee.

On August 26, 2018, Rhea Ripley defeated Toni Storm in the United Kingdom Championship Tournament to win the inaugural NXT UK Women's Championship, which became the top women's championship of the NXT UK brand.[119] In October 2018, WWE hosted Evolution, its first-ever pay-per-view to consist only of women's matches.[120][121] Executive vice president of talent, live events and creative Triple H stated that it "was simply the right time for this to happen".[122] In December 2018, a new WWE Women's Tag Team Championship was unveiled; it was contested for the first time at Elimination Chamber in February 2019, and won in a tag team Elimination Chamber match by Sasha Banks and Bayley.[123][124][125]

Lynch defeated both Ronda and Charlotte in the first WrestleMania Women's Main Event and is the only woman to hold the WWE Raw and SmackDown Women's Championships concurrently

Amid a feud with Charlotte Flair after SummerSlam in 2018, Lynch began to refer to herself as "The Man"—adopting a persona of a poorly-treated underdog.[126][127] The storyline coincided with a major increase in Lynch's popularity,[128][129][130] and culminated with Lynch defeating the Raw and SmackDown's women's champions Ronda Rousey and Charlotte Flair in a winner takes all triple threat match at WrestleMania 35 in 2019—marking the first women's main event in WrestleMania history.[131] After 14 years with WWE, veteran wrestler Alicia Fox retired, returning to participate only at Royal Rumble events in the future.[132] At Crown Jewel in 2019, Natalya and Lacey Evans competed in WWE's first women's match in Saudi Arabia; WWE had previously not held women's matches at its events in Saudi Arabia due to the country's women's rights policies.[133][134][135]

In 2021, Bianca Belair and Sasha Banks reached a new feat in women's wrestling when they became the first two black women to main event Wrestlemania.[citation needed]

Reception[edit]

While Stephanie McMahon credited Triple H and Vince McMahon as the creators of the Women's Revolution,[136] wrestler Gail Kim countered that Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (now Impact Wrestling) was the promotion where the Women's Revolution began.[137] Former WWE wrestler Maria Kanellis complained about how WWE uses women, stating that feels more like a "promotional tactic".[138] After being released in 2021, Mickie James said that one WWE executive told her "Women's wrestling doesn't make money".[139]

Promotional pushes[edit]

The popularity of women in WWE has resulted in various cross-promotions with other brands featuring WWE Divas. Various Divas have posed in Playboy, and others have appeared in commercials for WWE and non-WWE products as well as men's interest magazines.

The WWE Divas normally went on an annual photoshoot every year, usually to a different location each time. The photoshoot was followed by a magazine featuring photos from the shoot as well as a television special or video release of highlights from the shoot. The first initial annual photoshoot was in 1999 in Santa Fe, New Mexico, which was promoted through video release by WWE entitled Come Get Some: The Women of the WWF. Debra, Chyna, Sable, Tori, Jacqueline, Terri Runnels, Ivory, Luna Vachon, and Ryan Shamrock were part of the photoshoot and promotional material.

Videography[edit]

Annual photoshoots:

  • 1999: Come Get Some: The Women of the WWF
  • 2000: Postcard From The Caribbean
  • 2001: Divas in Hedonism
  • 2002: Tropical Pleasure and Undressed
  • 2003: Desert Heat
  • 2004: South of the Border
  • 2005: Viva Las Divas
  • 2006: Divas Do New York
  • 2007: Los Angeles
  • 2008: Summer Skin

Other:

  • 1998: Sable Unleashed
  • 2000: Chyna Fitness: More Than Meets the Eye
  • 2001: Lita: It Just Feels Right
  • 2003: Trish Stratus: 100% Stratusfaction Guaranteed
  • 2005: $250,000 Raw Diva Search
  • 2014: Stephanie McMahon: Fit Series
  • 2018: Then, Now, Forever: The Evolution of WWE's Women's Division
  • 2019: Trish & Lita: Best Friends, Better Rivals

Playboy[edit]

Chyna autographing her issue of Playboy in 2007

Since 1999, seven WWE Divas have appeared on the cover of Playboy:

  • 1999: Sable (2) - April & September
  • 2000: Chyna - November
  • 2002: Chyna (2) - January
  • 2003: Torrie Wilson - March
  • 2004: Torrie Wilson (2) and Sable (3) - March
  • 2005: Christy Hemme - April
  • 2006: Candice Michelle - April
  • 2007: Ashley Massaro - April
  • 2008: Maria Kanellis - April

Actual Playboy playmates, such as Carmella DeCesare and Karen McDougal have also appeared in the 2004 Diva Search contest. Former WWE female talent Taryn Terrell and current female talent Maryse Ouellet have also posed nude. Past female talents such as Trish Stratus, Lita, Debra, Sharmell, Stacy Keibler, Michelle McCool, and Melina Perez have said that posing for Playboy magazine is out of the question for them. Trish Stratus appeared on Canadian sports talk show Off The Record and said that she did not pose because she wanted to be known as "multiple time Women's Champion Trish Stratus" rather than "the girl who posed in Playboy". Stratus also claims that she refused the shoot because she says she can still be sexy without taking her clothes off.[140] Lita has said that she did not pose because she felt it was wrong for her (she was known as a role model for young girls at the time) to pose for the magazine.[141]

Shortly following Maria's pictorial, WWE transitioned to a TV-PG rating and ended its connection to Playboy as part of the move.

Reality shows[edit]

Diva Search (2003-2007, 2013) and Tough Enough (2001–2002, 2011, 2015)[edit]

The Diva Search was an annual competition that occurred every summer. The purpose of the Diva Search was to find new women to be wrestlers, interviewers, and/or valets for WWE.

Tough Enough is a professional wrestling reality television series produced by WWE, wherein participants undergo professional wrestling training and compete for a contract with WWE.

Total Divas and spinoffs (2013–present)[edit]

On April 22, 2013, it was announced that the Divas would be getting a show on E! network titled Total Divas. It would follow the lives behind the scenes of select Divas. Natalya, Naomi, Cameron, The Bella Twins (Brie and Nikki), and also Eva Marie and JoJo Offerman from the developmental territory WWE NXT were announced as the inaugural cast for the show. The show premiered on July 28. The show was an instant hit, and was renewed for a second season.[142] Since season 2, various former and current company female talents all have either departed or joined the show including being regulated to recurring or guest roles.[143][144][145] There has been nine seasons of Total Divas so far.

Additionally, the E! Network announced on April 18, 2016, that The Bella Twins (Brie and Nikki) would be getting their own spinoff show titled Total Bellas following the lives of the twins.[146]

On January 8, 2018, it was announced that Maryse and her husband The Miz would be getting their own reality television series titled Miz & Mrs.[147] The show premiered on July 24, 2018, on the USA Network.

Other shows[edit]

Animated versions of the Fabulous Moolah and Wendi Richter were included on a CBS Saturday morning cartoon Hulk Hogan's Rock 'n' Wrestling.[148]

WWE Sunday Dhamaal, an Indian show produced by WWE, aired a special WWE Evolution episode hosted by Shenaz Treasury focusing on Women in WWE.[149]

In 2019 WWE announced a reality series for Quibi Fight Like a Girl in which Stephanie McMahon will pair a WWE superstar with a young girl in each episode.[150][151]

WWE Network shows[edit]

Behind the scenes look of various WWE female superstars and Events were featured in WWE Network's documentary series WWE 24. Episodes Women's Evolution and Empowered focused on History of Women in WWE while episodes Becky Lynch:The Man and The Years on Ronda Rousey focused on individual career of Lynch and Rousey respectively.[152][153][154] Another documentary series on Network WWE 365 aired Alexa Bliss special on June 23, 2019.[155] Paige, Charlotte Flair and Sasha Banks specials were part of another WWE Network's documentary series WWE Chronicle.[156][157][158]

Several episodes of Table for 3 like Diva Legends,[159] Millennium Divas,[160] Divas Champions Club,[161] Future Empowered,[162] Women's Championship Evolution,[163] Restaurant Riott[164] and Ladies' Luncheon[165] featured current and former WWE female superstars discussing various aspects of their personal and professional life.

Animated version of various female WWE superstars like Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch, Bella Twins, Charlotte Flair, Paige and Stephanie McMahon were included in Camp WWE.[166]

Other media[edit]

Fabulous Moolah and Wendi Richter appeared in two of Cyndi Lauper's music videos, "The Goonies 'R' Good Enough" and "She Bop".[167]

From 1999 to 2000, Sable appeared as a guest star on an episode of Pacific Blue in 1999,[168] and the following year, Chyna appeared as a guest star on Mad TV and 3rd Rock from the Sun as Janice, a police officer, as well as several Stacker 2 commercials and was a presenter at the MTV Video Music Awards.[169] In November 2001, Trish Stratus, Lita, and Stephanie McMahon appeared as contestants on The Weakest Link's "WWF Superstars Edition".[170] Lita, Molly Holly, and Jacqueline appeared as contestants on Fear Factor in February 2002.[171] On April 6, 2002, Lita appeared in a small role on Dark Angel.[172] In March 2004, she appeared on an episode of Headbangers Ball.[173]

In 2007, Ashley Massaro, Torrie Wilson, Maryse, Brooke, Layla, and Kelly Kelly shot a video for music producer and rapper Timbaland.[174] In the same year, Torrie Wilson, Candice Michelle, Michelle McCool, Maria, Layla, and Kristal appeared in an episode of the U.S. reality show Project Runway (season 4), in which designers were asked to design in-ring attire for their designated Diva. In 2008, Layla, Mickie James, Kelly Kelly, and Melina appeared in the U.S. reality show Celebrity Fit Club: Boot Camp to get the celebrities in shape.

Fighting with My Family, a 2019 film co-produced by WWE Studios depicts the WWE career of Paige portrayed by Florence Pugh.[175]

The Fabulous Moolah was the sixth and season finale episode of the professional wrestling documentary series Dark Side of the Ring. It covered various events of Moolah's life like Rock 'n' Wrestling Connection, The Brawl to End It All, The Original Screwjob, WrestleMania 34 name controversy and various other WWE related incidents.[176]

The video game WWE 2K20 has a Showcase mode named Four Horsewomen which revolves around Bayley, Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch.[177][178]

Championships and accomplishments[edit]

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Bibliography[edit]

  • Olson, Cristopher; Reinhard, Carrie Lynn D. (2021). "Wrestling with Eating Disorders: Transmedia Depictions of Body Issues in WWE's Women's Professional Wrestling". In Johnson, Malynnda; Olson, Cristopher (eds.). Normalizing Mental Illness and Neurodiversity in Entertainment Media (1st E-book ed.). London: Routledge. doi:10.4324/9781003011668-15. ISBN 9781003011668. S2CID 233598773.

External links[edit]