The complete history of women in the WWE

On July 23, Stephanie McMahon, Chief Brand Officer and on-screen commissioner of Monday Night Raw announced the first-ever WWE all women’s pay-per-view, Evolution.

Set to take place on October 28 at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, New York, every woman’s title will be on the line. Additionally, there will be some veteran women’s wrestlers making a comeback and the finale of the Mae Young Classic—a tournament featuring 23 women from the NXT roster and the independent circuit — will also take place.

With that, it’s important to understand the history of women’s wrestling, as well as popular women’s wrestlers in the WWE as its history dates all the way back to 1983.

Here, we’ll touch upon the important moments in history that led us to where we are today, Evolution.

History and Popular Women’s Wrestlers

1983-1989

WWE women’s wrestling started back in 1983 when The Fabulous Moolah, who owned the NWA Women’s Championship came to the then-WWF and sold the rights to the title to the company.

Moolah had held the title for 27 years since defeating Judy Garble in 1956.

In that same year, the Women’s Tag Team Championships were introduced, and Velvet McIntyre and Princess Victoria — who, like Moolah, defected from the NWA — were named the inaugural champions.

WWF came into the public limelight in 1984 when “Captain” Lou Albano and rock star Cyndi Lauper entered a feud known as the “Rock N Wrestling Connection” which ultimately culminated in a match with Moolah representing Albano and Wendi Richter for Lauper.

The match, won by Richter, was live on MTV and became known as the “Brawl to End it All.” However, Richter’s reign would end in 1985 after losing to Leilani Kai at WrestleMania I.

Also in 1985 was a prominent storyline involving multiple women vying to acquire the services to be “Macho Man” Randy Savage’s manager. On “WWF Primetime Wrestling”, Savage revealed Miss Elizabeth won the competition. The two were also married in real life.

Her first prominent angle came in 1986 when Savage was feuding with George “The Animal” Steele after fell in love with Elizabeth.

In 1987, “Sensational” Sherri Martel debuted and defeated Moolah, winning the Women’s Championship before losing 15 months later to Rockin Robin.

In 1988, Mike McGuirk became the first-ever female ring announcer, joining Jesse Ventura on the desk. This was also the year that saw the first-ever Survivor Series women’s elimination match.

When 1989 rolled around, Savage turned on Hulk Hogan which led to Elizabeth leaving Savage to side with Hogan. From there, Martel started managing Savage. But 1989 didn’t stop there as the Women’s Tag Team Championships were deactivated with the Glamour Girls (Kai and Judy Martin) being the final belt holders. It was also the debut year for Sapphire, who started as a fan cheering on Dusty Rhodes from the stands.

This ultimately culminated in a match with Sapphire and Rhodes against Savage and Martel at WrestleMania VI in 1990.

1990-1999

However, 1990 was the year in which the WWF started phasing the women out, including the Women’s Championship.

Sapphire would eventually leave mid-1990, Elizabeth took a leave of absence before returning in 1991 to be part of Savage’s retirement match against The Ultimate Warrior and Martel would leave in 1993.

Speaking of 1993, this would be the same year the Women’s Championship would return and Alundra Blayze would debut.

Blayze would defeat Heidi Lee Morgan in a six-women tournament to be named the champion.

Kai would make her return in 1994 and Bull Nakano would come in to the company, where she would feud with Blayze who was already in a storyline with Vachon.

Blaze would lose the championship on November 20 at Big Egg Wrestling Universe to Nakano, but would get her comeuppance in April of 1995, defeating Nakano to get the belt back.

She was then attacked by Bertha Faye who broke her nose, though it was actually so Blaze could be off camera to get breast implants and a nose job. She returned in August and lost the belt to Faye at SummerSlam.

But once again, Blaze would win the belt back on October 23.

This year also saw the debut of Sunny with the Bodydonna’s. Sunny was the first over-sexual manager as opposed to a more romantic female manager.

Survivor Series of that year would involved an All Japan Women’s Pro Wrestling promotion in which WWF and them were involved in a “talent exchange”.

Blaze would then be released from the company in December of that year due to financial issues. The belt was again vacant again until 1998.

From 1996-1997, Terri Runnels, Marlena, Sable and Chyna would debut. Runnels would begin managing Goldust, Sable would manage her real-life husband Marc Mero and Vachon would return to the company and eventually manage Goldust.

Another prominent women’s talent, Debra, would debut after a Raw Magazine spread as Jeff Jarrett’s girlfriend.

This would be the birth of the term “puppies”. Road Dogg started the trend, referencing breasts, and Jerry “The King” Lawler would adopt the phrase and use it for the foreseeable future.

Jacqueline would soon debut and manage Jarrett.

There were a myriad of different match types, including evening-gown matches, intergender-tag-team matches, and strap matches. The first-ever WWF bikini contest, featuring, Sable versus Jacqueline, also took place.

In 1999, Tori, Ivory and Victoria would debut. The debut of the term diva also came into the limelight after Sable referred to herself as one on April 19.

September 6 would be the first-ever women’s hardcore match with Ivory and Tori.

On September 27, Moolah and Young would return, defeating Ivory in a Handicap-Evening-Gown Match.

This would culminate in a October 17 match with the then 76-year-old Moolah topping Ivory for the Women’s Championship, only to lose it eight days later.

Moolah is the oldest Women’s Champion ever.

2000-2009

After the turn of the century in 2000, a new wave of women athletes would debut such as Lita, Trish Stratus and Molly Holly.

On March 30, McMahon defeated Jacqueline for the Women’s Championship after a number of years being an on-screen character. McMahon then lost the belt to Lita on August 21.

In 2001, a storyline that is still discussed today took place in which Stratus and Vince McMahon became smitten with one another, following Linda McMahon — Vince’s wife — being kayfabe institutionalized.

Due to their relationship, Stephanie would challenge Stratus to a match at No Way Out on February 25 and McMahon would win with some help from William Regal.

However, Stephanie, Vince and Regal were all in on the angle and Vince had Stratus come out to the ring, strip down and bark like a dog in the ring.

At WrestleMania X-7, Stratus would slap Vince across the face.

That spring, the WWF finalized purchases of their competitors WCW and ECW. Over the remainder of the year, Stacy Keibler, Torrie Wilson Jazz and Sharmell made their debuts.

When 2002 came, Lita was involved in a small acting role with the film Dark Angel and suffered a neck injury and became the first female talent to get neck fusion surgery.

She was on the shelf for almost a year and a half, but would remain in sight of the viewers as she co-hosted Sunday Night Heat while rehabbing.

Molly Holly, Stratus and Runnels would have short stints as Hardcore Champion during this year, too.

On May 5, the WWF became the WWE.

The series “Tough Enough” would also launch and Nidia, Linda Miles and Jackie Gayda came from the program.

In June of 2002, Debra would leave the company with Stone Cold Steve Austin. Gail Kim would also become the first Korean Women’s Championship.

Other match types such as Pillow Fights” and “Bra and Panties” match-ups came into the fold to promote the women’s sex appeal.

Lita and Victoria would wrestle in the first-ever women’s Steel Cage Match on November 24.

Turn to 2004, and Jacqueline also held the Cruiserweight Championship in June. WWE also hosted a “Diva Search” where they discovered Christy Hemme.

During the mid-to-late portion of the year, Runnels, Jacqueline, Sable, Nidia, Jazz, Kim, Linda Miles departed from the company under mutual terms due to budget cuts.

In December of that year, Lita and Stratus would be the main event at Raw, marking the third-time ever a woman had headlined the show.

While Lita participated in that event, she would then suffer another injury, a torn ACL, in early 2005 at New Year’s Revolution. When she came back, she transitioned to Edge’s valet.

Sherri Martel made a brief cameo in which she and Kurt Angle did a parody of Shawn Michaels’ theme song.

In April, Holly left. In July, Gayda, Dawn Marie and Ivory were released.

In the same month Holly left, Melina would debut with the tag team MNM on April 15.

October 10 would mark the debut of Mickie James. She debuted as a mark fan for Stratus and they were eventually involved in a lesbian storyline. At the Royal Rumble in 2006, James confessed her love for Stratus.

In March of 2006, Stratus told James they needed time apart and they eventually had a match at WrestleMania 22 for the championship.

On May 8, Beth Phoenix would debut attacking James.

Layla would make her debut appearance at SummerSlam in 2006, but then after a brief television hiatus, she returned on September 22 with Jillian Hall and Kristal.

In the middle of 2006, Keibler would leave the company to pursue acting. Stratus retired at Unforgiven. Lita retired at Survivor Series.

With all of that, WWE brought Jazz back to try and help re-launch the ECW brand before departing in January 2007. In 2007, James and Melina would be involved in the first-ever women’s Falls Count Anywhere match.

Candice Michelle also became the first-ever Diva Search winner to become the Women’s Champion.

There would be more departures in 2008. Wilson would retire mid-2008 due to back issues. During that same time, on-screen Smackdown general manager Vickie Guerrero would introduce the Diva’s Championship.

Natalya and Michelle McCool would face off at the Great American Bash for the belt which McCool won.

Earlier that year at WrestleMania, there was a 25-women Battle Royal to crown “Miss WrestleMania”. At One Night Stand, Phoenix and Melina would participate in the first-ever women’s I Quit match. In November, Kim would return.

The WWE also held another brand-split draft and Melina, who held the Women’s Championship would go to Smackdown and Maryse, who held the Diva’s Championship, would go to Raw.

McCool would beat Melina and the Great American Bash to become the first women’s wrestler to have won both the Diva’s Championship and Women’s Championship.

James would beat Maryse on July 26, ending her reign of 216 days, which was the longest reign ever at the time.

2010-Current

Heading into the next decade, Phoenix would enter the Royal Rumble, only one of three women to ever do so (Chyna, Phoenix, Kharma).

At Night of Champions, the Diva’s Championship and Women’s Championship were unified. McCool would face Melina in a lumberjill match where McCool would win. McCool would also, in that same year, team with Layla against Natalya and Phoenix in the first ever women’s tables match at TLC.

WWE also brought in the largest women’s wrestler we have ever seen, signing a wrestler by the name of Amazon, who is 6’9”. However, adult photos of her soon leaked and WWE pulled the plug.

Kelly Kelly would also become the youngest Diva’s Championship at the time, defeating Brie Bella.

In early August of that same year, Melina was released and Kim left the company. Later that year, Maryse was also released before eventually coming back.

At the Royal Rumble in 2012, Kharma entered the match.

In a storyline, on April 30, the Bella Twins contracts would expire and Eve Torres would fire them.

On September 28, Kelly Kelly was released and just over a month later, Phoenix left the company, too. Torres would also leave the company in early 2013. As a result, she lost the belt to Kaitlyn prior to her exit.

The Total Diva’s television show would debut in July.

Renee Young would make her debut on commentary for NXT in September of 2013 after being signed in October of 2012.

Kaitlyn would go on to leave the company on January 8, 2014.

Lee would beat the prior 216-day championship reign, which ultimately ended at 295 days.

On March 12, Lee and Natalya participated in a 14-minute match, the longest women’s match since 1987.

On April 7, Paige would make her main roster debut, defeating Lee, becoming the youngest Diva’s Champion at 21 years old. She held both the Diva’s Championship and NXT Women’s Championship.

In mid-June of that year, Vickie Guerrero left the company after losing in a Pudding Match to Stephanie McMahon.

The start of the women’s revolution came on February 23, 2015 when the Bella Twins and Paige and Emma faced off in a 30 second match. This caused an uproar on Twitter, with an eventual hashtag reading “GiveDivasAChance”.

On May 13, Nikki Bella cut a promo saying there were no challengers for her belt. McMahon would come out and announce a new wave of women’s superstars, including Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair and Sasha Banks.

Charlotte would win the first-ever women’s Beat the Clock Challenge match to earn a match with Bella. On September 20, Charlotte would defeat Bella for the championship.

Later, Nikki Bella would go on a brief hiatus with a neck injury.

On the pre-show of WrestleMania 32, Lita and the women superstars came to the ring to unveil a new Women’s Championship, making the Diva’s Championship defunct after eight years.

There was another draft, and Charlotte, who won the new championship, was drafted to Raw, leaving Smackdown without a women’s championship until August 23 where a six-pack challenge between Alexa Bliss, Lynch, Carmella, Naomi, Natalya and Nikki Bella (who returned at SummerSlam) competed for the championship. Lynch would win the title.

Earlier in August, Garcia would leave the company.

Charlotte and Banks would compete in the first ever women’s Hell In a Cell match at the Hell In a Cell pay-per-view event.

Bliss would beat Lynch at TLC in a table’s match to become the new champion in December.

Switching gears to 2017, James would return to help Bliss retain the title against Lynch in a Steel Cage Match.

At Payback, Bliss would become the first woman to win both women’s branded championships. The year also signified the first ever Women’s Money in the Bank Ladder Match, in which Carmella won.

However, it didn’t come without controversy. James Ellsworth, Carmella’s manager retrieved the briefcase and handed it to her. The wrestling community erupted as a woman didn’t successfully retrieve the briefcase.

As a result, there would be a rematch and Carmella would win again.

At the same Money in the Bank pay-per-view, Maria Kanellis returned, but this time with her husband Mike Kanellis.

On September 11, it was announced Asuka had signed with Raw and she made her debut on October 22 at TLC against Emma. They would have a rematch on October 23.

That would be Emma’s last appearance with WWE as her contract expired.

On November 20, Paige would return following injuries, but came with Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville from NXT.

The very next night, the Riott Squad, consisting of Ruby Riott, Liv Morgan and Sarah Logan would debut on Smackdown.

Just over a month before the 2018 Royal Rumble, on December 18, McMahon announced that 2018 would mark the first-ever Women’s Royal Rumble.

Asuka would go on to win the match, before losing to Charlotte at Wrestlemania 34—her first loss since coming to WWE.

After the Women’s Royal Rumble, Ronda Rousey made her WWE debut, bringing the WWE back into the mainstream.

February would mark the first-ever Women’s Elimination Chamber match and Bliss defended her title.

On April 9, Paige would retire from in-ring action following an injury inflicted by Sasha Banks at a house show. However, she reappeared the next night becoming the next Smackdown general manager.

Bliss would win the second Women’s Money in the Bank and cash in during Nia Jax and Rousey’s match at the Money in the Bank pay-per-view.

All of this eventually led us to where we are now, with Evolution being announced.

Also, for SummerSlam, matches such as Rousey vs. Bliss and Carmella vs. Charlotte vs. Becky Lynch for the Raw and Smackdown Women’s Championships, respectively, have been announced.

The WWE has had a long, winding history with its women and it will be exciting to see how it continues to unfold following Evolution.

About Richard Janvrin

Richard Janvrin extensively covers WWE. While he may have issues with wrestling today, he's been a fan of professional wrestling since he was toddling around, breaking tables and searching for glimmers of the Attitude Era, as a 4-year old.

About Richard Janvrin

Richard Janvrin extensively covers WWE. While he may have issues with wrestling today, he's been a fan of professional wrestling since he was toddling around, breaking tables and searching for glimmers of the Attitude Era, as a 4-year old.

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