Before the days of reality television shows being utilized to promote World Wrestling Entertainment performers, the term “Diva” was merely one that the company used to identify on-air female talent. There is a long history in North American professional wrestling of women’s wrestling being viewed by promoters and by fans as being second-tier to their male counterparts, but nobody should discount what the women featured in this piece contributed to the business. All ten helped shaped the modern-day WWE in one way or another, and all ten are worthy of being in the WWE Hall of Fame if they are not in already.
Three of the women listed here helped shape what became the Attitude Era, the time when the then-World Wrestling Federation got a jump on World Championship Wrestling during the so-called “Monday Night Wars.” While WCW tried to mimic the WWF in many ways, the former never put together a women’s division that equaled that belonging to the WWF during the 1990s. It is just one of a plethora of ways that WCW failed when it was the hottest promotion on the planet, yet another example of how that company could not build its own stars to compete with the hotter WWF.
The two women atop this list could do it all as it pertains to being a WWE performer. Both were great in their valet roles. Both trained and became excellent in-ring workers. Both could cut stellar promos on the mic. The truth of the matter is that you could flip No. 1 and No. 2 on this list of the greatest WWE Divas of all time and not be wrong. They go hand-in-hand regarding their WWE runs, and the feud involving the two has not been matched by any divas in the company since the two called time on their active wrestling careers.
10. Miss Elizabeth
Known as the “First Lady of Professional Wrestling” and arguably the most famous Diva in World Wrestling Entertainment history, Elizabeth broke onto the scene as a valet for “Macho Man” Randy Savage. While she was never a trained in-ring performer, Elizabeth played important roles in some memorable feuds. She was front and center during the implosion of the Mega Powers involving Savage and Hulk Hogan, and she played different versions of her character after she joined World Championship Wrestling. Her story had an unhappy ending, as Liz tragically died of a drug overdose in 2003. She was 42 years old at the time.
9. Stephanie McMahon
The daughter of Vince McMahon started out on screen as a storyline pawn for her father and The Undertaker, and she then went on to be a feature player in several factions. Stephanie McMahon was the co-head of the McMahon-Helmsley era, during which McMahon held the World Wrestling Federation Women’s Championship for a time. She was part of the failed WCW-ECW Alliance before being given the role of storyline Smackdown general manager. McMahon is now playing the role her father used to play, a heel boss as part of The Authority that includes real-life husband Triple H. Not bad for somebody who was never supposed to be an active wrestler in the first place.
Sable would have been higher on this list had her original run in the World Wrestling Federation lasted longer. She entered the WWF with HHH of all people, and she eventually joined up with real-life husband Marc Mero. The Diva eclipsed Mero, becoming one of the most popular performers in all of the WWF in the process. She quit the company in 1999, however, and she filed a $110 million lawsuit that claimed she had been sexually harassed. She returned to World Wrestling Entertainment in 2003, but left in the summer of 2004. The 47-year-old is currently married to Brock Lesnar.
Recognized by World Wrestling Entertainment as the first Diva, Sunny’s first run in the company was not all that it could have been. She served as manager for several teams and also as a model for the WWF, and Sunny was on the verge of possibly becoming a key player at the start of the Attitude Era when she was released by the company in 1998 amid allegations of drug use. She had stints in Extreme Championship Wrestling and other federations, and WWE brought her back in 2011 to be inducted into the company’s Hall of Fame. Sunny has unfortunately become known as much for her personal demons and for her arrests records as she was for her WWE career, and it is possible that she will never again appear at a company event.
6. Mickie James
The model and country music singer started out in World Wrestling Entertainment as the biggest fan of Diva and Women’s Champion Trish Stratus. James and Stratus were a tag-team for some time before an expected breakup occurred, and James went on to win the WWE Women’s Championship on multiple occasions. The talented Diva would remain with the company through 2010 before the two parted ways, but James returned in November 2013 as a guest trainer for NXT. She has also enjoyed two stints with Total Nonstop Action Wrestling: One that lasted from 2010 through 2013, and another that began in January of this year.
Victoria was a personal trainer and involved in fitness competitions in 2000 when, through the help of Chyna (more on her later), she linked up with the World Wrestling Federation and began her pro wrestling training. She improved to the point that she became one of the best overall workers of the Divas division, and her Widow’s Peak (Gory neckbreaker) finisher was one of the most impressive looking of any used in North America. Victoria would further prove her in-ring abilities during a successful run in the much-maligned promotion Total Nonstop Action Wrestling. She has held both the WWE and TNA women’s titles.
4. Sherri Martel
Martel was one of the top heel managers of her time in the pro wrestling business. She worked with the likes of Jake Roberts, Terry Funk, the Honky Tonk Man, Ted DiBiase, Shawn Michaels, Ric Flair and others. The Wrestling Observer named her Manager of the Year for 1991. Martel was also a trained in-ring worker, and she held multiple championships, most notably the World Wrestling Federation Women’s Championship, throughout her illustrious career. She was honored by World Wrestling Entertainment in 2006 when she was inducted into the company’s Hall of Fame in 2006. Martel sadly passed away, reportedly from an overdose, in 2007.
Say whatever you will of what has become of the “Ninth Wonder of the World.” Chyna helped shape what became D-Generation X and also the Attitude Era, and she was unlike any other Diva before or after her. Her bodybuilder physique and heel persona made her the ideal valet for the original DX group, but Chyna was able to leave her own legacy in matches that featured both male and female wrestlers as competitors. The real-life relationship involving Triple H, who Chyna had dated when the two were in the WWF, and Stephanie McMahon played a role in Chyna leaving the company in 2001, but the tale of what exactly happened changes depending on who is telling the story.
Lita showed signs of her future greatness when she was paired up with Essa Rios, but it was during her days in Team Xtreme alongside Matt and Jeff Hardy when the legendary Diva began to break out from her peers. She worked more like a cruiserweight than a standard Diva, performing aerial moves such as moonsaults with relative ease. Perhaps the best work of her career came when Lita and Edge played out a real-life feud that involved Matt Hardy on camera, during which time the Rated-R act became the best in the company. Lita may very well be the best heel Diva in WWE history.
1. Trish Stratus
Stratus started out as a valet for the short-lived tag team of Test and Albert. She was eventually written to go off on her own run, and her early days inside of the ring were downright painful to behold. Stratus, to her credit, put in the necessary wrestling and mic training, and she evolved into a talented worker who could flip the switch from heel to babyface and back to heel in a moment’s notice. She was also, for a time, the best overall wrestler of the Divas division. Every young woman training to become a professional wrestler would be wise to go back and watch the body of Stratus’s WWE work.