Female wrestlers have been around since the beginning of the sport. Workhorses like Mae Young and The Fabulous Moolah had careers that went on from their 20’s to the end of their lives. In the 1980s and 1990s though, female wrestlers began to get more credit and TV time.
Today, some pay per view events are just as likely to be headlined by female wrestlers as they are by males. Here are a number of divas that helped pave the way for them and a peek at what they look like now.
With Hulk Hogan ruling the WWE in the 1980s, the organization decided that they needed a female counterpart. While women had always been a part of pro-wrestling, most of the feminine stars of the promotion were on the older side.
Wendi Richter entered the promotion young, pretty and ripped. She won the Championship belt off the Fabulous Moolah and became one of the WWE’s biggest stars. Richter would refer to herself as “160 pounds of twisted steel and sex appeal.”
The WWE had come up with their breakout star in Wendi Richter. The chief adversary for Richter, though, was the Fabulous Moolah. While Moolah was an absolute legend in the sport, she was also in her 60’s during her feud with the young star.
So the WWE decided to have Richter wrestle someone closer to her age in Moolah’s protege, Leilani Kai. Kai won the title from Richter in 1985, but only held it for a month before dropping it back at Wrestlemania.
Many of the biggest stars in wrestling history came from a family with significant roots in the sport. That was certainly true for Rockin’ Robin who was the daughter of Grizzly Smith and the sister of Sam Houston and WWE legend Jake the Snake Roberts.
Taking over as the promotion’s main female face, Robin entered a feud with Sensational Sherri. She won the belt from Sherri and held it until the promotion deactivated the women’s championship.
Jeanie Clarke, who took the name Lady Blossom, made her wrestling debut in England in 1979. She was initially the manager of her boyfriend, Chris Adams. Once Adams made the move over to the U.S., Lady Blossom followed him.
She managed other wrestlers while working with the WWE, most notably Steve Austin. She later married Austin and is credited with coming up with the nickname, “Stone Cold.” She retired from the sport in 1991 after becoming pregnant.
Torrie Wilson came into the world of professional wrestling by chance. She was spotted by talent scouts while attending a WCW event with her boyfriend. She soon became an integral part of the promotion.
After the WCW was dissolved she moved over to the WWE and often appeared in storylines with her real-life husband Billy Kidman. Wilson wrestled in the organization until 2008 when a back injury forced her to retire. She was inducted in the Hall of Fame in 2019.
Throughout much of the early ’90s, there were really no headlining women in the promotion. Sunny, born Tammy Lynn Sytch, came into the WWE as the manager for the Smoking Guns tag team. Soon, fans were paying much more attention to her than her wrestlers.
Sytch became one of the major stars of the WWE even though she never entered the ring as a competitor. Unfortunately, Sunny’s career was derailed by substance problems that continue to this day.
Debra Ann Micelli wrestled under a number of different names during her career. And thanks to her incredible talent, she performed all over the world. When she worked for the WWE, she was known as Alundra Blayze.
She almost immediately won the title belt off Heidi Lee Morgan. Despite her talent, the promotion struggled to find opponents for her to wrestle. She soon left the WWE to join up with the WCW. She was still WWE Champion at the time and famously dropped the belt in the trashcan.
When Paul Heyman started the ECW he wanted the promotion to be very different than the WCW and WWE. And that went not only for the male wrestlers but for the female performers as well.
Bealuh McGillicutty was the real queen of the ECW. She was frequently involved in the storylines with wrestlers like Shane Douglass, Raven and Tommy Dreamer. She later married Dreamer and left the business to raise the two daughters the couple had.
While Beulah McGillicutty worked mostly as a valet in the ECW, Francine was something kind of different. Sure she was a manager for wrestlers like the Pitbulls, Stevie Richards, and Tommy Dreamer, but Francine wasn’t afraid to mix in the ring either.
She wrestled sporadically and often took male wrestler’s finishing moves. She later moved on to the WWE and wrestled matches during the brands ECW pay per view events. She announced her retirement from the sport in 2006.
While Sunny was a big star for the WWE during the 1990s, Sable became an even bigger star. Also known as Rena Mero, she debuted as the valet for her husband, grappler Mark Mero.
Eventually, the promotion realized Sable was a much bigger star than her husband and she was entered into storylines and wrestled against other divas. While she no longer wrestles, Sable is still involved in the business as she is now married to wrestling megastar Brock Lesnar.
There was no bigger name in the WCW during the 1990s than Diamond Dallas Page. And as the wife of DDP, Kimberly Page was a pretty big name in the promotion too. She began her career by leading the Nitro Girls dance crew.
As time went on, Kimberly began to appear more and more in the organization’s storylines. Kimberly and Dallas divorced amicably in the early 2000s. She now appears as an actress in movies like The 40-Year-Old Virgin.
While there had been some very impressive female wrestlers, there were never any quite like Lita. The incredible athlete took women’s wrestling off the mat and up on the apron.
Born Amy Dumas, the grappler would take the same kind of bumps as the tag team she supported, The Hardy Boys. Many of the female athletes that came after her would point to Lita as an inspiration. She entered the WWE Hall of Fame in 2014.
Like many of her male counterparts, Stacy Keibler came to the NFL from a football background. Prior to her wrestling career, Keibler performed as a cheerleader for the Baltimore Ravens.
She began her career in the WCW as Ms. Hancock. She later moved over to the WWE where she was involved in a number of different storylines until her retirement in 2006. She stayed in the public eye following her career dating Hollywood royalty like George Clooney.
Prior to entering the WWE, Gail Kim wrestled in indie promotions. Thanks to impressionist Jason Sensation, she was able to get a video to Molly Holly who decided to hire her.
Kim was a popular wrestler for the promotion but had frequent problems with injuries. She later left for TNA wrestling where she flourished. Kim won a record 7 championships in the women’s knockouts division. Following her career in wrestling, she married celebrity chef Robert Irvine.
The WWE’s decision to promote the “Holly Family” ended up springing two stars. The first was Bob “Hardcore” Holly and the second was women’s wrestling legend Molly Holly, who made her debut in 2000.
Molly, born Nora Greenwald, had a long and distinguished career with the promotion. Holly wrestled both men and women and held both the Hardcore and Women’s championships over the course of her career. She was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2017
The WWE knew they had a runaway phenomenon in Sable and now they needed an opponent for her. Enter Jacqueline Moore, who spent some time with the company in 1993.
Jacqueline won the women’s belt from Sable at Summerslam 1999, becoming the first African American female champ. She also won the men’s cruiserweight belt in 2006 after answering an open challenge from Eddie Guerrero. Moore was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2016.
Kelly Kelly, born Barbara Blank, was never supposed to be a big time wrestler in the WWE. She was initially hired after some higher-ups came across her modeling photos. She began with the promotion as a manager at just 19 years old.
Kelly worked hard on her wrestling, though, and eventually made a big mark in the company. She eventually became the Divas Champion in 2011 after defeating Brie Bella. She is retired now, but still makes sporadic appearances for the promotion.
Michelle McCool attempted to break into the industry the same way a bunch of 2000’s divas did, through the show Tough Enough. She didn’t win or even come close to winning, finishing 7th overall. She impressed enough to win a contract though.
McCool, a fitness instructor and fanatic, became one of the promotion’s biggest stars. She won the championship belt on numerous occasions and had a memorable tag team with Layla El. McCool later married Mark Callaway, better known as the Undertaker.
Beth Phoenix always knew she wanted to be a professional wrestler. She got help along the way by another woman on this list. After a tape of her work was shared with WWE star Molly Holly, Holly decided to help pay for Phoenix’s training.
The move turned out to be golden as Phoenix became a decorated 3 time champion for the promotion. Following her career, she married fellow superstar Edge and became the youngest woman ever inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Trish Stratus, born Patricia Stratigeas, began her career like many other divas on the list. She was brought in as eye candy working as a manager for Test and Albert. Her first few times on the mic were rough, but she slowly worked her way up the ladder.
And by the time she really got cooking, she became maybe the biggest female star in the history of the promotion. She won the championship belt a record 7 times and was named to the Hall of Fame in 2013.