Diva was a term used by WWE, an American professional wrestling promotion, to refer to its female performers. The term was applied to women who appear as wrestlers, managers or valets, backstage interviewers, or ring announcers.
- Beginnings The Moolah Days
- The 1990s 19931997
- Attitude Era 19982001
- Ruthless Agresssion Era 20022008
- WWE Divas Championship and unification 20082012
- Total Divas 20132015
- Divas Revolution 20152016
- Womens Evolution and Superstars Era 2016present
- Reality competition 20102011
- Developmental 2012present
- Diva Search 20032007 and Tough Enough 20012002 2015
- Other media
- Total Divas and Spinoff
- Slammy Awards
- Miscellaneous Contests 20012005
- Championships reigns
The current term the promotion uses to refer their female talent is Women/Female Superstars or simply Superstars since the new Women's Championship was introduced during the WrestleMania 32 event in April 3, 2016.
Beginnings: The Moolah Days
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. 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. 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 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 representing 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.
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 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. When Savage—who had formed an alliance with Hogan—turned on Hogan in early 1989, 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 1987–1989 and was phased into a role as an ill-tempered, venomous valet.
Sherri initially debuted on July 24, 1987 by defeating The Fabulous Moolah for the WWF Women's Championship. Renaming herself 'Sensational' Sherri, she reigned as champion for fifteen months before losing it to Rockin' Robin; after losing several rematches, Martel took a short leave of absence in early 1989 before being repackaged as Savage's valet. 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. 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 as a 'fan' cheering on Dusty Rhodes at ringside in his match against Big Boss Man. 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. Rockin' Robin was the last WWF Women's Champion in the late 1980s.
When the WWF phased out its female-talent roster in 1990, Sensational Sherri remained with the company, joining Sapphire (who then departed from the company in mid 1990) and Miss Elizabeth focusing on managing male wrestlers. Miss Elizabeth took a leave of absence in 1990, but returned in 1991 and was a key player in Randy Savage's retirement match with The Ultimate Warrior at WrestleMania VII; Elizabeth left the company for good in 1992; shortly after her departure, Savage and 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.
The 1990s (1993–1997)
In 1993, the WWF reinstated its Women's Championship, a title that had been vacant since 1990, and Debrah Miceli was brought in by the company to revive the women's division. She debuted under the ring name Alundra Blayze, because WWF owner Vince McMahon did not want to pay Miceli to use the name Madusa, which she had trademarked. 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.
After the tournament, Miceli asked WWF management to bring in new women for her to wrestle. Former champion Leilani Kai briefly returned to the company at WrestleMania X facing Blayze for the Women's title. In mid-1994, Bull Nakano joined the WWF roster and began feuding with Miceli, who was also feuding with Luna Vachon. Blayze defeated Nakano at SummerSlam, but lost the belt to her on November 20, 1994 in Japan at the Big Egg Wrestling Universe event. Five months later on April 3, 1995, Blayze regained the title from Nakano on the episode of Monday Night Raw. As part of the storyline, immediately following the win, she was attacked by Bertha Faye, who broke her nose. In reality, the storyline was written so Miceli could take time off to get breast implants and a nose job. She returned to the ring in August 1995, losing the Women's Championship to Faye at SummerSlam on August 27. Two months later, she won the title a third time, defeating Faye on October 23. 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. In December, due to financial troubles the WWF was having at the time, 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.
Sunny (Tammy Sytch) debuted in 1995 as the manager of The Bodydonnas. Sunny's character was at first a continuation of the female manager that had been popular throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. Over time, the character was significantly sexualized, whereas prior female managers, such as Miss Elizabeth, were depicted as being involved in either platonic or romantic storylines.
Between 1996 and 1997, Marlena, Sable, and Chyna joined Sunny as prominent female on-air talent in the promotion. Marlena and Sable were just as sexualized as Sunny, with Marlena suggestively smoking cigars at ringside during matches and Sable coming to the ring in form-fitting leather catsuits. Marlena was the manager of Goldust, her then real-life husband, and Sable was manager for her then real-life husband, Marc Mero. Sable, however, quickly eclipsed her husband in popularity Chyna was offered as an antithesis to the rest of the Divas, a masculine bodybuilder whose sexual identity was the subject of early storylines. Sunny, Sable, and Marlena 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. Luna Vachon returned towards the end of 1997 as the manager of Goldust.
Attitude Era (1998–2001)
In 1998, Debra debuted and shortly thereafter was featured in a Raw Magazine spread. At the beginning of her WWF career, she played the part of a shrewd businesswoman, wearing business suits. and Jeff Jarrett's girlfriend. Debra, however, began utilizing a new strategy during Jarrett's matches, distracting his opponents by unbuttoning her blouse. She willingly took off her blouse to show the crowd her "puppies", a nickname originally bestowed upon her chest by wrestler Road Dogg and later utilized by commentator Jerry Lawler.
Sable's eclipsed popularity and her feud with Marc Mero and his new manager, Jacqueline lead to the reinstatement of the Women's Championship as well as the promotion's hiring of more female wrestlers. Sable's popularity led to a shift in the role of women in the WWF, as the promotion began to rely less on its female performers as simply eye candy and placed a greater emphasis on female athletes who actually competed in matches including re-establishing a women's division. She was one of the first females to compete in such specialty matches as evening gown matches, inter-gender tag team matches, and strap matches, competed in the first-ever WWF bikini contest against Jacqueline, and was also the first female talent to be a Playboy cover girl. Unlike Jacqueline, Ivory, Tori, and Luna Vachon, the more physical and experienced wrestlers at the time, Sable later admitted that it was written in her contract that she was not allowed to take bumps.
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. In February 1999, the WWF also debuted another veteran female wrestler, Ivory. In August 1999, Lilian Garcia joined the promotion as the 2nd official female ring announcer. On the September 6, 1999 episode of Raw Is War, Ivory defended her Women's Championship against Tori in the first Women's Hardcore match. The Fabulous Moolah returned to the WWF along with Mae Young the following week on the September 9, 1999 episode of SmackDown!, Jeff Jarrett invited Moolah, into the ring and smashed a guitar over her head. Moolah and Young then started taking part in various storylines and angles including comedic roles. Moolah returned to the ring teaming with Mae Young on the September 27, 1999 episode of Raw Is War, defeating Ivory who was the Women's Champion in a Handicap Evening Gown match, which led to a title match 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, but she re-lost the title to Ivory eight days later. Moolah and Mae Young would continue to make occasional appearances with the company until both of their passings.
The year of 2000 saw the debuts of Lita, Trish Stratus, and Molly Holly since the start of the month of February. All three female talents brought their own uniqueness not only into the company but the women's division. Lita performed higher-risk moves than the Divas before her, such as moonsaults and diving hurricanranas. Shortly thereafter, Trish Stratus started off as a valet who brought pure sexuality to the ring. Also, later that year, Molly Holly was added to the roster. She was a contrast to most of the other Divas because she was given a more wholesome gimmick and more modest ring attire. The Women's Championship was defended in the main event on two occasions. On the March 30 episode of SmackDown! defending champion Jacqueline wrestled Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley. Four months later on the August 21 episode of Raw Is War defending champion Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley wrestled Lita.
In early 2001, Stratus became involved in a storyline with WWF Chairman Mr. McMahon, the premise of the storyline was when McMahon's wife Linda was kayfabe institutionalized following a demand Vince had made for a divorce during an episode of SmackDown! on December 7, 2000. McMahon and Stratus' relationship increasingly angered the boss' daughter, Stephanie McMahon. At No Way Out on February 25, Stratus and Stephanie squared off, with Stephanie scoring the victory after interference by William Regal. The Kat departed from the company two days later after being in a storyline with the Right to Censor group. As part of the continuation of Trish Stratus and the McMahons' storyline, it was revealed that Stratus was the victim of a set-up by Vince, Stephanie and Regal. The angle continued the next week on Raw with Vince forcing Stratus to strip down to her black underwear in the ring and bark like a dog. The storyline came to an end at WrestleMania X-Seven when Stratus slapped Vince during his match against his son Shane McMahon.
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, into the WWF; Keibler and Wilson debuted throughout the summer, Jazz debuted at Survivor Series, while Sharmell was initially sent to then-developmental territory, Ohio Valley Wrestling before being placed on the SmackDown brand as a backstage interviewer. Also later in the year at the start of autumn, Tori was released from the WWF entering September while Chyna left the WWF towards the end of November due to real-life issues between herself, Triple H, and Stephanie McMahon. Chyna's departure (who was the reigning Women's Champion) lead to the Women's Championship being vacant for the second time until Survivor Series. Also 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.
Ruthless Agresssion Era (2002–2008)
Much of entering the year of 2002 saw Trish Stratus continuing her feud with Jazz over the Women's Championship, where she retained the championship at the Royal Rumble, but lost it to her two weeks later on the February 4, 2002 episode of Raw. In April 2002, Lita suffered a neck injury and was the first Diva to have neck fusion surgery. She was out of action for almost a year and a half. As she rehabilitated, she kept herself visible by co-hosting Sunday Night Heat on MTV. Molly Holly (competing as Mighty Molly), Trish Stratus, and Terri also held the Hardcore Championship briefly.
On May 5, 2002, the WWF officially changed its name to World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). Over the next few years, WWE hired more female wrestlers 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 husband Stone Cold Steve Austin. The WWE women's division would see itself competing in more match-ups previously contested only by men (including for the Women's Championship), such as street fights, hardcore matches. 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.
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. Sable spent several months in a storyline with new Playboy covergirl Torrie Wilson. In June, Gail Kim became the first woman with a Korean background to win the Women's Championship. Victoria and Lita competed in the first Women's steel cage match towards the end of the year on November 24th.
Jacqueline held the Cruiserweight Championship briefly in 2004 in the month of June. WWE eventually introduced the Diva Search, in which Christy Hemme became the inaugural winner. Within mid-to-late 2004, Terri Runnels, Jacqueline, Sable, Gail Kim, Nidia, Jazz, and Linda Miles all departed from the company mutually or due to budget cuts. leading to Trish Stratus, Lita, Molly Holly, Victoria, Ivory, Dawn Marie, Torrie Wilson, Stacy Keibler, Jackie Gayda, and Lilian Garcia remaining from the original female roster and continuing on with the company. In December 2004, Lita and Trish Stratus main evented Raw for the Women's Championship, making it the 3rd 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.
Lita and Stratus carried on and continued their feud entering the year of 2005. They faced each other again at the New Year's Revolution pay-per-view event, that lead to Lita suffering another injury by tearing her ACL. However, she kept herself visible in Christy Hemme's feud with Stratus before transitioning into Edge's valet. Sensational Sherri made a cameo appearance on the March 25, 2005 episode of SmackDown! in Shawn Michaels and Kurt Angle's feud, where Sherri and Angle sang a parody of Michaels' entrance theme. Molly Holly departed mutually from the company in April 2005, and Jackie Gayda and Dawn Marie departed from the company entering July 2005 as part of talent releases. Later on, Ivory also departed mutually from the company towards the end of July. The departures of the four original female talents from the company yet again lead to Trish Stratus, Lita, Victoria, Torrie Wilson, Stacy Keibler, and Lilian Garcia remaining from the original female roster. WWE introduced a new host of female talents in what would be a new generation of Divas with the company.
Melina made her debut part of the tag team trio as MNM in WWE on the April 14, 2005, episode of SmackDown!. While managing the WWE Tag Team Champions, Melina's character was developed to be more egotistical as she declared herself "the most-dominant Diva in WWE". She made her official WWE in-ring debut on June 30 against Michelle McCool and had her first pay-per-view match against Torrie Wilson at The Great American Bash, winning both matches. Trish Stratus returned from a legitimate injury to help Ashley Massaro against Candice Michelle, Torrie Wilson, and Victoria who Massaro was feuding at that time.
Mickie James debuted in WWE on the October 10, 2005 episode of Raw, under her real name, as an obsessed fan of Trish Stratus. The storyline had James and Stratus competing together in tag team matches, with James' character becoming increasingly infatuated with Stratus. This led to various angles including a Halloween Costume Contest in which James was dressed like Stratus and helped Stratus retain the Women's Championship in a Fulfill Your Fantasy Battle Royal at Taboo Tuesday by eliminating herself and Victoria at the same time to even utilizing Stratus' signature finishing moves as her own during matches. Subsequently, the storyline between Mickie and Trish also developed into a lesbian angle after Mickie had a kiss with Trish under a sprig of mistletoe. In the championship match at the pay-per-view, James lost to Stratus, but continued to be enamored of her the next night on Raw, and she confessed her love for Stratus at the Royal Rumble. On March 6, 2006, the storyline had Stratus confronting James, telling her that they needed time apart from each other.
The climax of the storyline lead to James and Stratus wrestling each other at WrestleMania 22 for the Women's Championship, where James won the match and became the new champion. Her angle with Stratus continued into Backlash during a rematch after Stratus legitimately dislocated her shoulder when James threw her out of the ring. Beth Phoenix then debuted on the May 8, 2006 episode of Raw attacking Mickie James while James was assaulting Trish Stratus. After this incident, James berated Phoenix for "ruining everything" and questioned why she even showed up in the first place. A week later, Phoenix was formally introduced by Stratus and then attacked a distracted James on Stratus's behalf. When James finally escaped, Phoenix claimed that James had ruined her life and would not let her get away with it, before calling her a "psycho".
Layla made her first "official" WWE appearance at the 2006 SummerSlam pay-per-view in a backstage segment with several other divas as a form of initiation. The week after SummerSlam, she made her debut as a member of the SmackDown brand in a in-ring segment with Mike "The Miz" Mizanin although he did not allow her the chance to say much, spending most of the time talking about himself. Subsequently, she did not appear on WWE television for almost a month, reappearing on the September 22 episode of SmackDown! and getting into a confrontation with both Kristal and Jillian Hall.
In mid-2006, Stacy Keibler left WWE to pursue an acting career, Trish Stratus retired at Unforgiven, and Lita retired at Survivor Series. Jazz returned to WWE due to the relaunch of the ECW brand, though her second run was short lived as she departed from the company again the following year in mid-January as part of talent releases. Torrie Wilson retired in mid-2008 due to back problems and Victoria left in January 2009 after a nine-year career with WWE; she subsequently signed a contract with rival Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA) in April 2009 as a Knockout under the ring name Tara. In November 2008, however, Gail Kim returned to WWE after working for TNA as a Knockout. Lilian Garcia, the promotion's long-time ring announcer, retired in September 2009 when she made her final WWE appearance on the September 21 episode of Raw.
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. 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. At One Night Stand 2008, Beth Phoenix and Melina competed in the first "I Quit" match to be contested between Divas.
WWE Divas Championship and unification (2008–2012)
The WWE Divas Championship was introduced in middle-2008 on the June 6, 2008 episode of SmackDown, when then SmackDown General Manager Vickie Guerrero announced the creation of the championship, a SmackDown Diva exclusive title. Natalya and Michelle McCool became the first two contenders for the new championship, and, at The Great American Bash, McCool defeated Natalya to become the inaugural champion. At WrestleMania XXV, former WWE Divas Sunny, Victoria, Molly Holly, Torrie Wilson, Miss Jackie, and Joy Giovanni returned to WWE for a one night special appearance in the 25 Divas Battle Royal match to crown Miss Wrestlemania. During the 2009 WWE draft, then Women's Champion Melina was drafted to the SmackDown brand, making the Women's title exclusive to SmackDown. Later that same night, then Divas Champion Maryse was drafted to the Raw brand, making the championship exclusive to Raw, effectively switching both female champions and championships between brands for the first time in history. At The Bash in 2009, Michelle McCool defeated Melina to capture the Women's Championship and became the first Diva to have ever held both the Women's Championship and the Divas Championship. Mickie James defeated Maryse on July 26, 2009 at Night Of Champions, ending Maryse's reign at 216 days (also longest reign of the title at time) and becoming the second Diva to hold the Divas Championship and Women's Championship. James lost the title 78 days later to Jillian Hall on Raw, where Hall lost the title four minutes later to Melina who became the third woman to hold both titles.
At the 2010 Royal Rumble event, Beth Phoenix competed in the Royal Rumble match, making her the second of only three women to have competed in that particular match, the others being Chyna and Kharma. On February 22, 2010 episode of Raw, Maryse won again the Divas Championship after defeating Gail Kim in a tournament, becoming the first Diva to hold the title twice. On the April 12, episode of Raw, Eve Torres won the Divas Championship by defeating Maryse thus becoming the first Diva Search winner to win the Divas Championship. Mickie James was released from WWE on April 22, causing a lot of controversy. Beth Phoenix became the new Women's Champion for the third time on April 25, 2010 in an Extreme Makeover at Extreme Rules pay-per-view. On the May 14, 2010 episode of SmackDown, Layla won the Women's Championship for the first time by defeating Beth Phoenix in a two-on one tornado handicap match with Michelle McCool thus become the only British Women's Champion (McCool was unofficially the co-champion During this reign, she defended the championship in Layla's place on some occasions, but was not officially recognized as the title holder).
At Night of Champions 2010, the Divas Championship was unified with the Women's Championship as then Divas Champion Melina faced then-self professed co-Women's Champion Michelle McCool in a lumberjill match. McCool won the match to unify the two titles due to interference from Layla, then McCool locked in her finisher, thus creating the Unified Divas Championship following the lineage and history of the Divas Championship. This also made the Women's Championship defunct after 54 years, which made Layla the final title holder. McCool lost the title to Natalya on 21 November 2010 at Survivor Series in a handicap match involving Layla, and then they competed against Natalya and Beth Phoenix in the first tables match of the Divas division at TLC: Tables, Ladders and Chairs. Trish Stratus returned to WWE as one of the trainers for the newly relaunched Tough Enough season.
Despite not being what WWE typically viewed as a WWE Diva, on August 31, WWE signed 6'9" female wrestler Isis the Amazon who was set to compete under the ring name Aloisia. She appeared on the show vignette for the third season of NXT, but was released two weeks later, due to the company allegedly finding adult photos, and was replaced by Kaitlyn on the show. On the November 30 season finale of NXT, Kaitlyn was announced as the winner of season three, defeating Naomi in the final to become WWE's first "breakout Diva".
In late December 2010, WWE signed world-renowned wrestler, Kharma, formerly known as Amazing/Awesome Kong. The company proceeded to air disturbing video packages of her flicking off heads of female dolls and laughing maniacally building towards her tentative arrival. Stacy Keibler would make a appearance on the third episode of the re-launched season of Tough Enough on April 18th. Kharma made her debut at Extreme Rules attacking Michelle McCool and making a huge impact through the course of a couple weeks on Raw and SmackDown. She was later granted a maternity leave due to her real life pregnancy. Michelle McCool retired from WWE on May 1, after losing to Layla in a Loser Leaves WWE match. On the June 20, 2011 special episode of Raw "Power to the People", Kelly Kelly won a fan vote to determine the challenger for the Divas Championship that night; Kelly went on to win her first Divas Championship by defeating Brie Bella. Her win later garnered her a Slammy Award for "Divalicious Moment of the Year" and she also went on to become the youngest Divas Champion in WWE history, until her record was broken by Paige in 2014. Melina was also released in early August. Gail Kim resigned from WWE on August 5, 2011, due to frustration with WWE's lack of focus on the women's division. She was officially released, for the second time, on September 30, 2011. However, she returned to TNA once again in October.
In late Summer 2011, the controversial issue of what makes a "true" WWE Diva was largely disputed, stemming from an article posted on WWE.com and the high-profile feud between Kelly Kelly and Eve against The Divas of Doom; Beth Phoenix and Natalya. Phoenix defeated Kelly Kelly for the title at Hell in a Cell. Maryse was released from her WWE contract on October 28. After retiring in September 2009, Lilian Garcia returned to WWE on December 5, making her the last remnant of the previous generation of Divas. At the Royal Rumble pay-per-view, Kharma became the third woman to compete in a Royal Rumble match. On the April 23 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. Layla returned from her injury on April 29, 2012 at Extreme Rules and defeated Nikki Bella to become the fifth woman to hold the titles. The Bella Twins' contracts expired the following night, where they were fired by Eve Torres in the storyline.
In July, Kharma was moved to the alumni section on WWE.com, and she later confirmed her release from the company. 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. On September 16, 2012, at the Night of Champions pay-per-view, Eve Torres defeated Layla to win the Divas Championship, becoming the first Diva in history to hold the title on three occasions. On September 28, Kelly Kelly was released from her WWE contract due to her absence from the company.
On October 29, 2012, Beth Phoenix left WWE after her contract expired. Her final match was on Raw defeating AJ Lee after Vickie Guerrero restarted the match. A month after Phoenix's departure, WWE published an article on their website claiming that there was a new era for the Divas division. At TLC, AJ interfered in John Cena's ladder match against Dolph Ziggler, pushing Cena off the ladder.
Total Divas (2013–2015)
The 20th anniversary of Raw on January 14, 2013 saw Kaitlyn defeating Eve Torres for the Divas Championship. Eve departed the company later that night after her contract expired. The Bella Twins returned to WWE on the March 11, 2013 episode of Raw. 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 July 2013, the first season of the Total Divas reality television show starring WWE Divas premiered. 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. 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. 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. 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 would be defended at WrestleMania. At the event, AJ Lee retained her championship by forcing Naomi to submit.
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. With this win, Paige became the first NXT female talent to hold both the NXT Women's and Divas Championships simultaneously as well as becoming the youngest Divas Champion in WWE history at the age of 21.
Brie Bella entered a storyline with Stephanie McMahon after 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. In mid-June, Vickie Guerrero departed mutually from WWE, after losing to Stephanie McMahon in a pudding match. 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. At SummerSlam, Stephanie McMahon defeated Brie Bella in her first match from ten years, after Nikki Bella attacked her sister. 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. AJ Lee won the Divas Championship for a record-tying third time at Night of Champions against Paige and Nikki Bella. 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. The duo had reconciled at this point.
Divas Revolution (2015–2016)
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 1.5 days, 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. On April 3, 2015, five days after Lee and Paige defeated the Bella Twins at WrestleMania 31, WWE announced that AJ Lee decided to retire from in-ring competition. 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.
On the July 13, 2015 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. 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. The three teams faced off at SummerSlam in a three team elimination match, where Becky pinned Brie to win the match for Team PCB.
On July 29, WWE announced that Layla would depart from the company and retire. 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. Her title match with Nikki was initially advertised for Night of Champions, 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. 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. Several days later, on September 20 at Night of Champions, Nikki lost the championship to Charlotte, ending her reign at 301 days. Shortly after, Nikki went on a hiatus from television due to a neck injury which would require surgery, but returned for one night on December 21, to accept the Slammy Award for Diva of the Year.
Women's Evolution and Superstars Era (2016–present)
The WWE Women's Championship would return in the year of 2016 when WWE Hall of Famer Lita unveiled a brand-new Women's Championship belt during the WrestleMania 32 pre-show to signify a change in the status of the division. The title shares its name with the original Women's Championship, however, the new title does not share the same title history as the original as it was merged into the Divas Championship in 2010 when it followed its lineage and history. WWE acknowledges the original championship as its predecessor, and notes that the lineage of female champions dates back to The Fabulous Moolah's reign in 1956. The then-current Divas Champion Charlotte would win the new championship by defeating Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks in a triple threat match. This also made the Divas Championship defunct after 8 years, which made Charlotte the final title holder. It was also announced that female performers in the WWE would be referred to as "WWE Superstars" in the future, the same as their male counterparts as the term Diva would be dropped after seventeen years since April 1999 when the company began using the term for the women's division. The following day on Raw, Maryse returned to WWE interfering in her real life husband, The Miz's Intercontinental Championship match against Zack Ryder by helping him win the title for the fifth time. Three months later, WWE would re-introduce the brand extension on July 19th and WWE Women's Champion Charlotte would be drafted to the Raw brand, making the Women's title exclusive to Raw leaving SmackDown without a women's championship yet again for the second time in history.
Lilian Garcia would depart from the WWE yet again on August 1, 2016 due to personal reasons as her departure would officially leave a brand new generation of WWE female talents. Nikki Bella returned from a legitimate injury at SummerSlam in a six woman tag team match. The WWE SmackDown Women's Championship was introduced on the August 23, 2016 episode of SmackDown, when SmackDown General Manager Daniel Bryan and Commissioner Shane McMahon announced the creation of the championship, a SmackDown women's exclusive title and announced that the inaugural champion would be determined at Backlash in a six-pack challenge between Alexa Bliss, Becky Lynch, Carmella, Naomi, Natalya, and Nikki Bella, where Becky Lynch became the inaugural champion. Most of the year of 2016 saw Charlotte and Sasha Banks feuding and trading the WWE Raw Women's Championship including main eventing Raw twice (one in a Falls Count Anywhere match to be contested between women since 2007) since Trish Stratus & Lita in December 2004, for the Women's Championship, competing in the first ever female Hell in a Cell match in WWE history at Hell in a Cell, also the championship was revealed to be the main event of the pay-per-view, marking the first time a women's match would headline a WWE pay-per-view event. Mickie James would return to WWE in a one night only match when it was announced by the company in late October 2016 that she would compete against title holder, Asuka for the NXT Women's Championship in the developmental territory's semi-monthly NXT TakeOver event. On the November 29 edition of SmackDown Live, it was announced that Becky Lynch would defend the SmackDown Women's title against Alexa Bliss at TLC in the second female tables match since 2010, where Bliss defeated Lynch to become new champion.
Mickie James would return to WWE on the January 17, 2017 episode of SmackDown Live by helping Alexa Bliss retain her SmackDown Women's Championship against Becky Lynch in a main event steel cage match. WWE announced on January 28, 2017 that Nikki Bella would be 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 company related show.
Reality competition (2010–2011)
WWE NXT originally existed as a seasonal show which was presented as a hybrid between reality television and WWE's scripted live event shows, in which they acquired any select talent contracted from WWE's then-developmental territory Florida Championship Wrestling (FCW) to participated in a competition to become WWE's next "breakout star" with the help of select main roster talents. Five seasons of this version of NXT were broadcast from February 23, 2010 to June 13, 2012.
The second season of NXT started on June 8, 2010 and ended on August 31, 2010, lasting thirteen weeks. LayCool (Michelle McCool and Layla) were the first female talents featured on the show as 'mentors' and their male talent was Kaval who won the second season on August 31.
The third season of NXT was exclusive for Divas. The majority of the season three cast was revealed on the second season finale on August 31, 2010. The first four episodes of season three were aired on Syfy. Due to the debut of SmackDown on Syfy in October 2010, NXT left the channel and became a webcast at WWE.com for visitors from the United States from the fifth episode onwards. AJ Lee, Naomi, Aloisia, Maxine, Aksana, and Jamie Keyes were initially announced as part of the show with Primo, Kelly Kelly, Vickie Guerrero, Alicia Fox, Goldust, and The Bella Twins as the select main roster talents featured on the show as 'mentors'. However, before the season's premiere aired, Aloisia was dropped from the show. On screen, Aloisia's exit stemmed from an argument between Aloisia and her pro, Vickie Guerrero, forcing Guerrero to fire her. In real life, she was released two weeks later, due to the company allegedly finding adult photos, and was replaced by Kaitlyn on the show. The reward to the victor was changed in contrast to the previous seasons. Unlike the first two male victors, the female victor of season 3 would not get a shot at a championship of her choice (the only title being the Divas Championship) but rather, a main roster spot.
The fourth season of NXT started on December 7, 2010 and ended on March 1, 2011. Maryse with Ted Dibiase Jr. and Vickie Guerrero with Dolph Ziggler returned to the show as featured mentors. In the fifth edition of the program on March 8, 2011, Maryse became co-host of the show up until August 24 when taking time off due to personal injury. She departed from the company on October 28.
Throughout the years, WWE began hiring new Divas and assigned them to their development territories to train and wait to be called up to the main roster. These new Divas were recruited from the independent circuit and modeling agencies including previously the Diva Search.
Sara Del Rey signed a contract with WWE on July 9, 2012 and became the first female trainer in WWE's developmental territory NXT, based at the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, Florida. In August 2012, WWE ceased operating Florida Championship Wrestling (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. WWE had been using the NXT name for a television program featuring rookies from FCW competing to become WWE main roster members, though the "reality television" aspects of the show had been dropped earlier in 2012; WWE NXT now serves as the primary television program for the promotion. NXT has received praise for the opportunities they afford female wrestlers as opposed to on the main roster, which has led to a change on how women's wrestling is portrayed on WWE's main roster.
The following year in 2013, the NXT Women's Championship was first introduced on April 5, 2013 at WrestleMania Axxess. It was announced at the May 30, 2013 tapings (broadcast in the June 5 episode) of NXT, by Stephanie McMahon that there would be a tournament, featuring four developmental divas and four divas from the main roster competing to be crowned as the inaugural NXT Women's Champion in a knockout system format. Tamina Snuka, Alicia Fox, Aksana, and Summer Rae represented the main roster in the tournament. The first champion was crowned on June 20, 2013, with Paige defeating Emma in the tournament finals.
John Layfield stripped Paige of the title on the April 24 edition of NXT in order to give the divas on NXT a chance, as Paige had been brought up to the main roster on April 7, 2014 on Raw upon defeating AJ Lee for WWE's Divas Championship. The following week, a new tournament was started for the NXT Women's Championship. Natalya, Layla, Alicia Fox, and Emma represented the main roster in the second tournament. At NXT TakeOver in the finals, Charlotte defeated Natalya to win the vacant NXT Women's Championship.
In February at NXT TakeOver: Rival, Charlotte lost the championship to Sasha Banks in a fatal four-way match that also involved Bayley and Becky Lynch, ending her reign at 258 days.
On May 19, 2015, Sara Del Rey was promoted to NXT assistant head coach by WWE, following the resignation of Bill DeMott. On August 22, 2015, Bayley defeated Banks in a singles match to become the new Women's Champion at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn. On August 27, it was revealed that Kana had signed with WWE a few weeks earlier. She appeared at the September 10 tapings of NXT, where her new ring name was announced as "Asuka". In her debut match on October 7 at NXT TakeOver: Respect, she defeated Dana Brooke.
On the September 16 episode of NXT, William Regal announced that Bayley would defend the NXT Women's Championship against Sasha Banks in the main event of NXT TakeOver: Respect on October 7, in the first 30-minute Iron Woman match in WWE history, where Bayley defeated Banks with 3 falls to 2, and retained the championship.
Diva Search (2003–2007) and Tough Enough (2001–2002, 2015)
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. The winner of the competition received a one-year contract worth $100,000. Previously the contract was worth $250,000. On March 29, 2015 it was announced by the company that the contest would return in fall of 2015 and would air exclusively on the WWE Network. However, the Diva Search did not return that year.
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.
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 as Come Get Some: The Women of the WWF and Debra, Chyna, Sable, Tori, Jacqueline, Terri Runnels, Ivory, Luna Vachon, and Ryan Shamrock were part of the photoshoot including promotional material.
Sunny, Sable, and Chyna were the only three female talents that WWE created a separate website in their years with the company. WWE also released sports fitness clothing line for Chyna called, C9 that was based upon her nickname.
Since 1999, seven WWE Divas have appeared on the cover of Playboy:
Actual Playboy playmates, such as Carmella DeCesare and Karen McDougal have also appeared in the 2004 Diva Search. Former WWE Divas Taryn Terrell and Maryse have also posed nude. Past female talents such as Trish Stratus, Lita, Debra, Sharmell, Stacy Keibler, Michelle McCool, and Melina had 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 didn't 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. Lita has said that she didn't pose because she felt it was wrong for her (who was known as a role model for young girls at the time) to pose for the magazine.
Shortly following Maria's pictorial, WWE transitioned to a TV-PG rating and ended its connection to Playboy as part of the move. Even as Playboy itself went non-nude starting with the March 2016 issue, until the March 2017 issue when nudity returned, WWE is unlikely to resume its female competitors posing for the magazine.
In the mid 1980s, an animated version of the Fabulous Moolah and Wendi Richter was included on a CBS Saturday morning cartoon during this lucrative time, titled Hulk Hogan's Rock 'n' Wrestling. In addition, both appeared in two of Cyndi Lauper's music videos, "The Goonies 'R' Good Enough" and "She Bop".
From 1999 to 2000, Sable appeared as a guest star on an episode of Pacific Blue in 1999, 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. In her finalIn November 2001, Trish Stratus, Lita, and Stephanie McMahon appeared as contestants on The Weakest Link's "WWF Superstars Edition". Lita, Molly Holly, and Jacqueline appeared as contestants on Fear Factor in February 2002. In April 6, 2002 Lita appeared in a small role on Dark Angel. In March 2004, she appeared on an episode of Headbangers Ball.
In 2007, Ashley Massaro, Torrie Wilson, Maryse, Brooke, Layla, and Kelly Kelly shot a video for music producer and rapper Timbaland. 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.
Total Divas and Spinoff
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, also Eva Marie and JoJo Offerman from 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. 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.
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.
Miscellaneous Contests (2001–2005)
Babe of the Year contest was a contest where fans voted on who was their favorite Diva for that year. Trish Stratus won the inaugural competition in 2001. Stratus had her own mini-site on WWE.com and her photoshoot of choice was a space-type theme. The corresponding mini-site was fittingly named "The Stratusphere". Stratus retained her title until 2004, where Stacy Keibler ended Stratus' reign and won the honor, receiving her own mini-site and a photoshoot for every month in the year, sometimes two. In 2005, WWE would host the sole 'Rookie' Diva of the Year contest at No Way Out, where Joy Giovanni defeated Michelle McCool, Lauren Jones, and Rochelle Loewen. Giovanni received more than half of the vote, followed by McCool who got just under 20%, Loewen got just over 10% and Jones received just 6%. The competition was hosted by Torrie Wilson and Dawn Marie.
Trish Stratus was named "Diva of the Decade" on a special 10th anniversary episode of Raw on January 14, 2003. The other nominees were Sable, Sunny, Lita, and Chyna.
This chart lists every female wrestling superstar who held more than one title in the company.
The list is in order of who won the record, the first is Leilani Kai who won the WWF Women's Tag Team Championship and the WWF Women's Championship in 1985, the latter is Bayley, who won the NXT Women's Championship in 2015 and the Raw Women's Championship in 2016, while Charlotte Flair is the only superstar to have won three championships in WWE history.
There are two titles under the name WWE Women's Championship; On September 18, 1956, The Fabulous Moolah became the inaugural WWF Women's Champion as recognized by WWE. The WWF Women's Championship is descended from the original NWA World Women's Championship of the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA), which is still active today. In 1983, the World Wrestling Federation (WWF, now WWE) disaffiliated with the NWA and recognized then-NWA World Women's Champion The Fabulous Moolah as the promotion's Women's Champion. The second title was introduced on April 3, 2016 at WrestleMania 32 to replace the Divas Championship, with Charlotte Flair (at the time simply known as Charlotte) becoming the first WWE Women's Champion of the second title. In August 2016, the WWE created the SmackDown Women's Championship. As of 2017, no holder of this title has held a second title in the WWE system.