In 2016, WWE gradually started to phase the term “diva” out of the company vocabulary, at long last accepting female superstars as equal to the men, at least in name. Little of value was lost in the rebranding effort, although there was one sacrifice, that being the WWE Divas Championship. Created in 2008 during the initial brand split, the Divas Championship was equal to the Women’s Championship for two years, at which point it absorbed the older belt to become the only prize females in the company could do battle over.
Over the eight years the WWE Divas Championship existed, 17 different women would hold claim to the prize. Despite widespread criticisms over the flashy pink design, which some felt trivialized women’s wrestling, the desire to hold the belt nonetheless inspired many women to wrestle some of the best matches of their lives. Of course, as is often the case in sports entertainment, other less coordinated superstars also found their way to championship glory, and their reigns with the belt are thus looked upon unfavorably in retrospect.
Ultimately, there’s no denying it’s a good thing WWE is treating women with more respect and no longer uses a pejorative term to describe them. That said, it would be a disservice to the 17 women who were Divas Champion to entirely ignore the belt. Regardless of how one feels about the name of the honor, for nearly a decade, it was what most women in wrestling aspired to be, and their hard work shouldn’t be forgotten simply due to the era in which it happened. Keep reading to see our rankings of the 17 WWE Divas Champions from worst to best.
17. Jillian Hall
Holding the belt for all of two minutes, there’s no question Jillian Hall was the worst Divas Champion in history. She won the belt on the October 12, 2009 episode of Raw by defeating Mickie James and attempted to celebrate by poorly singing the song “Paparazzi” by Lady Gaga. Guest host Nancy O’Dell interrupted Hall’s victory dance to introduce her first challenger, freshly traded from SmackDown, Melina. One powerbomb later and the Lovely Latina was the new champ. The two minutes of glory were Jillian Hall’s only moments in the sun during her some five-year stint in the WWE Universe. Fairly or not, Hall will always be better remembered for her intentionally horrible singing than anything she did in the ring, so it’s just as well her lone title reign didn’t last that long. In addition to how short and insignificant it was, Hall’s reign felt unexpected and undeserved to begin with, making it more of a confusing footnote than anything else.
16. Kelly Kelly
Length of a title reign alone doesn’t equate to a great superstar, which is why Kelly Kelly’s 104 days as Divas Champion places lower on our list than four of the five women who failed to break the 100-day barrier. Popularity is important, so it wasn’t for nothing that Kelly’s reign began when she won a fan vote over Beth Phoenix and Eve Torres for the right to challenge Brie Bella for the title on Raw in June 2011. In all fairness, Kelly had significantly improved in the ring over her few years in WWE, but she was still far from talented enough to lead a faltering division. Worse than that, she could never overcome the embarrassing circumstance of her debut, regularly appearing on ECW and promising to get naked for no particular reason. That she somehow became a success in the PG era was a strange twist, but it meant dropping the only distinguishing quality her character had, outside of her marketable looks and repetitive name, making her an abysmal and forgettable champion that sunk women’s wrestling for months.
15. Alicia Fox
Not nearly as bad a wrestler as Kelly Kelly but without a significant enough reign to allow her to place any higher on our list, Alicia Fox held the WWE Divas Championship for a brisk 56 days. Simply being better than Kelly Kelly doesn’t mean much, either, as Fox had a mere four years of experience in the wrestling ring when she won, a fact that was repeatedly clear during her brief reign. She defeated former champion Eve Torres, Gail Kim, and Maryse in a fatal four-way match at the appropriately named Fatal 4-Way Pay-Per-View and lost the title to Melina at SummerSlam. In her favor, Fox did at least manage to make history as the first African American to hold the belt, and she has since become one of the longest tenured women of color in the company, which isn’t anything to ignore. However, it didn’t exactly make her time as champion any better, and the fact other African American women would soon go on to hold the title and perform far better as champion than she did almost makes the accolade irrelevant.
14. Brie Bella
In a world without reality shows, or even one where the Bellas weren’t twins, neither of them would have had any shot at becoming stars in the wrestling industry, certainly not to the extent they have. Neither Nikki nor Brie have ever been particularly noteworthy for their technical wrestling ability, with Brie especially showing a lack of grace in the ring. She’s also not a particularly good actress, with a serious lack of range at doing anything other than cheer her sister on or make angry faces at women she’s supposed to be feuding. Her reign as Divas Champion started on the April 11, 2011 episode of Raw when she defeated Eve Torres, ending when Kelly Kelly took the belt away from her a mere 70 days later. Brie’s only high profile title defense was also against Kelly, won by the Bella trademark Twin Magic. It’s telling that Nikki got better in the ring the further away from it Brie got, and their respective places on this ranking speak for themselves about which twin is a better wrestler.
Ranking Natalya Neidhart’s tenure as WWE Divas Champion is harder than it looks. The most prominent female wrestler in the extended Hart dynasty, Nattie was arguably one of the most talented women to hold the belt, but with a mere 70 days as champion she’s also one of the shortest tenured champions in its existence. On the plus side, the way Neidhart won the title was particularly impressive, defeating both previous champion Michelle McCool and her tag team partner Layla El in a handicap match at Survivor Series 2010. Natalya’s time as champion was mostly spent continuing her feud with LayCool, and thus didn’t include many title defenses until she lost the belt to Eve Torres at the next Royal Rumble. Borderline contradictorily, Nattie was raising the profile of women’s wrestling with her work while also deemphasizing the Divas Championship, making her a better wrestler than she was a champion and leaving her fairly low on this particular list.
12. Mickie James
Similarly to Natalya, Mickie James is and was a much better wrestler than her tepid placement on this list would imply, and she’s wound up this low for much the same reasons. With 78 days on top of the division, James only beats Natalya’s reign by a week and a day. She defeated Maryse for the belt at Night of Champions 2009, losing it to Kelly Kelly in short order. As if the brevity of her reign wasn’t embarrassing enough, losing the belt to Kelly in an uninteresting match seriously hurts Mickie’s place in history, and she didn’t have any noteworthy title defenses before then to save her. Regardless of her blasé reign as Divas Champion, Mickie nonetheless earned her spot in the WWE record book through her far more impressive five reigns with the Women’s Championship, which most fans always considered the far more prestigious of the two. We might even go so far as to say Mickie was more noteworthy in her three reigns with the TNA Knockouts Championship, as well.
The Hybrid/Powerhouse Diva Kaitlyn had a unique enough look to remain memorable after her retirement, but a unique look is just the same as a pretty face in not necessarily being all it takes for a WWE Divas Champion to have been a great one. Although her bodybuilder physique helped her stand out in the era of cookie cutter models, Kaitlyn’s problem was a lack of microphone skills and defining characteristics. She wasn’t that great in the ring, either, though she at least tried to improve over her short time in the WWE Universe and at least wasn’t nearly as dire and uncoordinated as Kelly Kelly. Kaitlyn won the title on an episode of Raw airing January 13, 2013, holding it just under five months, at which point she lost it to AJ Lee at Payback. Such was the state of Kaitlyn’s career and WWE at the time that she would regularly defend the belt on NXT, slumming in a sense and making the entire women’s division feel secondary and unformed.
While she’s the first woman on our list to win the WWE Divas Championship more than once, Melina’s two reigns with the belt were unfortunately both fairly short, the second barely lasting over a month. The first came in October 2009 when she defeated Jillian Hall for the belt on Raw, and could have lasted much longer than the 84 days it did had Melina not been forced to vacate, sidelined with an injury. She returned to prominence at SummerSlam 2010, where she defeated Alicia Fox to regain the gold. As was the case with most women on this list, worse than how short either of Melina’s reigns were was the fact they were also unmemorable, the only truly noteworthy moment coming at the very end. Melina’s second Divas Championship was lost to Michelle McCool, resulting in the Women’s and Divas Championships getting unified. Because Melina was on the losing end of her one significant moment of her championship reign, it’s hard to rank her any higher than we have.
9. Eve Torres
Not only did Eve Torres hold the WWE Divas Championship longer than anyone else on this list so far, she also ties for the record of woman to hold the belt the most times, having earned three separate reigns. Each reign was longer than the last, starting with a victory over Maryse on Raw in 2010 that earned her 69 days as champion. Slightly less than a year later she regained the title from Natalya and held it 71 days, regaining it from Layla some 17 months later to hold it for her longest reign yet, 120 days. The sheer amount of time Eve held the belt coupled with how far apart her reigns were make it obvious she was one of the standout female wrestlers in WWE for a long time, but the fact remains her time coincided with an era the company didn’t care much about women’s wrestling. Eve was fine in the ring, but not exceptional, and her success with the Divas Championship is more a testament to how complacent the entire division was whenever she found her way back on top.
8. Layla El
The next two rankings on our list highlight a unique problem with the WWE Divas Championship, in that there were briefly unofficial co-champions in Layla El and Michelle McCool, collectively known as LayCool. The ordeal only gets more confusing when you learn Layla was technically the Women’s Champion when Michelle defeated Divas Champion Melina at Night of Champions 2010 to unify the belts on LayCool’s behalf, giving both women a significant claim at being champion during that particular title reign. Layla’s second reign started at Extreme Rules 2012 when she defeated Nikki Bella in her first match in over a year, and she went on to hold the belt for 120 days. The downside of this second reign was that Layla was nowhere near as interesting on her own as with McCool, making it obvious who the star of that team was. The longer she held the belt alone the less interesting women’s wrestling was becoming, causing WWE to resort to their default stopgap and have Layla drop the belt to Eve Torres for the third time.
7. Michelle McCool
After earning the right to compete for the title by winning a Golden Dreams match, Michelle McCool became the inaugural WWE Divas Champion when she defeated Natalya at the 2008 Great American Bash. She went on to hold the belt for 155 days, and yet the lengthy trailblazing reign was arguably less interesting than her second reign, co-championed by Layla El as previously mentioned. The historic implications of being the first champion and then unifying the belt with an even more prestigious belt notwithstanding, McCool still had some pitfalls as champion. First, her inaugural reign was marred with a lack of serious contenders, seeing her mostly defend against Maryse until the French Phenom finally wrangled it away from her. Worse, McCool’s characterization during the LayCool days was particularly vicious, painting her as a literal bully who rarely bothered to back it up in the ring. This sort of character only works with a strong or unique personality, and McCool only marginally held either quality, making her would-be legendary reigns perfunctory at best.
In many respects, the second wrestler to win a championship is as important as the first, ideally proving the matches contested for the prize will remain at a high quality beyond the inaugural winner. That Maryse held the WWE Divas Championship 216 days, a length that would remain an unbeaten record for nearly five years, already goes to show she was willing to do the work required to make the championship important for a long time to come. On the negative side, Maryse was injured during part of her reign, making the belt seem disposable until she was ready to return. Much worse, like most of the other women to hold the belt, Maryse didn’t have much experience when she won, only making her debut two years before she defeated Michelle McCool on a December 2008 episode of SmackDown to become the champion. She held the belt until July of 2009, when she was defeated by Mickie James at Night of Champions. She would regain the belt by winning a tournament in February of 2010, the second time holding it for a much shorter 49 days, not much helping her ranking.
In a feat that would literally be impossible today, Paige became the only woman to concurrently hold the WWE Divas Championship and NXT Women’s Championship when she made her main roster debut in April of 2014 to defeat AJ Lee to win the former title. She held the title for 84 days until she lost it back to AJ, trading it back and forth in a manner that earned Paige one more reign of 35 days as champion. Though a bit shorter than some of the other reigns on the upper echelon of our list, Paige’s tenure as Divas Championship was still noteworthy for taking the NXT women’s wrestling revolution to the mainstream, and in emphatic fashion. AJ Lee was finally given a regular foil of equal talent, and Paige’s personal history was proof that the new NXT method of making stars was paying off big time in the women’s division already. There was the minor issue of her increasingly derivative characterization, but at least things were headed in the right direction, which is likely why it wasn’t long after Paige showed up that the Divas Championship started getting phased out altogether.
4. Beth Phoenix
In stark contrast to the magazine-picked models that populated most of the Divas Championship history, Beth Phoenix wanted to be a wrestler the majority of her life, and it showed in each of her 204 days with the gold. The Glamazon earned her title by defeating Kelly Kelly at Hell In A Cell 2011, keeping it until a lumberjill match against Nikki Bella in April of 2012. Similar to Mickie James, Beth had a number of reigns with the Women’s Championship before winning the flashier belt, but unlike Mickie, that Beth was able to hold on to it for a long time made the belts feel closer to equal. This was especially important considering Beth was a former Women’s Champion to chase the Divas belt after the two were unified, and her victory solidified the prize as important amongst serious female wrestlers as well as the aforementioned models WWE was so fond of during the era. That doesn’t mean her time on top was without flaw, though, as she also suffered a high profile loss to celebrity Maria Menounos while champion, making the entire division look beneath an untrained hostess.
3. Nikki Bella
Holding the title for an undeniably impressive 301 days, Nikki Bella would be number one on this list were longevity the most important quality of a title reign. Her first reign was less noteworthy, lasting only the six days between her victory over Beth Phoenix and loss to Layla El. The second, longer reign was far more important to WWE history, starting when she defeated AJ Lee at Survivor Series 2011 to regain the title. Unfortunately, Nikki’s time as WWE Divas Championship was heavily marred by the fact she was hardly the true best female superstar in WWE at the time. Despite only being marginally more talented than her sister, Nikki dominated the division at a point when more immensely talented female newcomers than ever were making their debuts on an almost weekly basis. And yet, the Nikki Bella reign dragged on, dragging the so-called women’s revolution to an absolute halt until she finally dropped it to a woman who actually understood what the word progress means in wrestling.
The last Divas Champion before WWE came to their senses and revived the Women’s Championship, killing the pretty pink belt once and for all, it was tempting to put Charlotte Flair at the top of this list for symbolic reasons alone. Face the facts, this list has made it clear the Divas Championship has a dubious history at best, and killing it off was probably the best decision in the long run. That said, Charlotte was doing a lot of good in turning that reputation around, which is probably why WWE decided to cut their losses and give her a new belt when they started realizing how good women’s wrestling could be if they could just do away with the damage done over the past eight years. Charlotte defeated Nikki Bella for the championship at Night of Champions 2015, and went on to hold it for 196 days. Coupled with her 113 days as the first revived Raw Women’s Champion, that made Charlotte the true longest reigning female titleholder in modern history, defeating Nikki by about a week and actually wrestling good matches while doing so.
1. AJ Lee
There was never a point in history when AJ Lee would have looked like the typical WWE superstar, and yet she cumulatively held the Divas Championship longer than any other wrestler. Standing 5’2” and barely 115 pounds while soaking wet, AJ was one of the smallest and least threatening wrestlers the WWE Universe had ever seen. She made up for her physical failings by being one of the most creative characters in the company, with more than enough of the required microphone skills needed to make her a true star. It was during AJ’s lengthy first reign in 2013 that the women’s revolution truly began, and she held the belt for 295 days when firing the initial shot wasn’t enough. Lee would regain the title two more times, once for 48 and then 63 days, losing it to Nikki Bella the second time. Because AJ faded away from wrestling and has little connection with the industry today, her contributions to the sport will likely go unnoticed. The true tragedy of this ignorance is that after looking through all 17 Divas Champions, more important than AJ being the best, she was one of very few women to even hold the belt without any embarrassments.