WWE deserves to be commended for their work with the women’s division in the past year. The company finally presented the female performers as credible athletes rather than just exploiting them for their looks. NXT’s success of making new stars of women’s wrestling allowed the company to bring that style of wrestling to the main roster. It finally connected in 2016, with the women having spectacular performances in the spotlight. The women are being treated with the same respect as the male wrestlers and it’s a great sight. WWE’s Women Championship belts are both highly credible right now.
The former belts of the Divas Championship and older version of the Women’s Championship both typically lacked in gaining respect from the fans. A few names broke out through the years to represent the women’s division well but others diminished the value in hurting the women’s division. All of the women title belts have been a part of WWE in various eras. We’ll compare the distant past, recent past and the current cultures of pro wrestling. Both sides of the legacies in women’s wrestling will be examined with the top eight and the seven worst WWE Women’s Champions of all time.
15 Best: Lita
Lita captured the hearts of wrestling fans by being one of the first female daredevils in WWE. The high flying moves and edgy style saw her connect with the WWE fan base as one of the most popular women of all time. Lita pairing with Matt Hardy and Jeff Hardy formed the memorable group of Team Xtreme. It was only fitting that Lita would defeat the hated Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley to win her first WWE Women’s Champion.
The years went by with Lita having 4 WWE Women’s Championship reigns during her seven years as an in-ring competitor. Lita would get celebrated by the wrestling world when inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame back in 2014. Many remember Lita’s in-ring work a little more fondly than it would be today. Still, her character and groundbreaking rise to stardom in WWE made her a great champion for the women’s division.
14 Worst: Stephanie McMahon
The heel character of Stephanie McMahon is among the greatest villains in WWE history. Stephanie just knows how to cut a promo that gets every fan in the venue against her. WWE saw her heel potential and made her the WWE Women’s Champion in her first match against Jacqueline in the main event of Smackdown. The match was basically the members of D-Generation X doing all of the work to allow McMahon to get the pin and the title.
Stephanie held the title for a few months as a prop to add heel heat to her. It was effective in making her one of the most hated figures in the company but damaged any prestige still attached to the title. McMahon very rarely defended it but it did set up the great moment of Lita defeating her to a huge pop. The title reign of Stephanie had a few moments of positive things happening. However, it was a mess in the grand scheme of things.
13 Best: Nikki Bella
Nikki Bella is a polarizing figure in wrestling. The Bella Twins have a strong community of diehard fans that absolutely adore them. There are also many detractors that especially consider Nikki one of the more overrated female wrestlers in the world. Everyone should be able to voice their opinion but there has to be a strong bias if you don’t notice the massive improvement of Nikki in the past couple of years.
The WWE Women’s Championship reign of Bella lasted a record-breaking 301 days. Nikki had noteworthy matches against just about everyone in the division before losing it to Charlotte Flair. Rumors circulated that Nikki used her boyfriend John Cena’s power to ensure she broke the record of AJ Lee. The in-ring work and character development of Bella saw her rise in WWE as a great champion. Nikki may add to her title history if she has another strong run as the Smackdown Women’s Champion.
12 Worst: Hervina
Harvey Wippleman is a long tenured employee in WWE that did just about everything asked of him in various roles. WWE decided to reward him by making him dress up as a woman and win the WWE Women’s Championship in a lumberjill snow bunny match. Under the name of Hervina, the mysterious lady captured the title. The angle was meant to be a humorous one with everyone being painfully aware it was him.
Hervina only held the Women’s Championship belt for one day but it hurt the title in a way that lasted many years. This was the perfect example of WWE not caring at all about the women’s division and not doing anything of note with the title. The Attitude Era was not kind to the majority of female wrestlers. Viewers of all genders suffered watching Hervina win the title and exist in WWE at all. Wippleman would likely want to wash the memory away like the rest of us.
11 Best: Michelle McCool
Michelle McCool is one of the rare women in WWE to win both the Diva’s Championship and Women’s Championship. The two titles were respectively on Raw and Smackdown during the prior brand split, which required separate belts for each show. McCool held both of the titles and delivered a memorable reign with each of them. Many were critical of McCool due to her budding relationship with The Undertaker correlating with her push, but she improved dramatically.
The in-ring work of McCool progressed as seen in her noteworthy match against Melina at Night of Champions 2009. Her character work also shined when pairing with Layla El to form the great heel duo known as Laycool. Layla and Michelle became a relevant part of the show with fans hating them as much as any of the male wrestlers on the show. McCool’s successful title reigns all led her to being one of the best female wrestlers in recent WWE history.
10 Worst: Layla El
Unlike her partner, Layla El failed to have a credible Women’s Championship reign during her stints with the title. The biggest win of Layla’s career came at Extreme Rules 2012 when she defeated Nikki Bella (and Brie Bella pulling off Twin Magic) to win the Divas Championship. No one took Layla seriously as a champion and the reign instantly sunk. The gorgeous looks of Layla and her athleticism allowed her to remain employed in WWE for many years, but she never reached the top star status like others.
Layla couldn’t gain momentum and lost the title after a few months. The idea of a Layla face title run was doomed from the start. Aside from her time as the glorified lackey of Michelle McCool in Laycool, Layla never had much of a presence on the show. The title reigns proved it, as most fans struggle to even name her when trying to figure out the recent champions.
9 Best: Victoria
The brand split era beginning in 2002 started to open up the opportunity for talented female wrestlers to at least have a chance at getting over based off their wrestling skills. Trish Stratus was the face of Raw and needed new challengers. Victoria was called up to play a jealous and psychotic former fitness model peer of Trish looking for revenge after Trish passed her for success in WWE.
Stratus and Victoria had a handful of great matches that helped make the women’s division relevant in WWE for arguably the first time ever. Their best match came at Survivor Series 2002 when Victoria defeated Trish in a Hardcore Match to win the WWE Women’s Championship. Victoria had a great run during the time frame that helped push women’s wrestling forward. The short run of credible booking for the female performers took place thanks to many like Victoria showing they could get over.
8 Worst: Candice Michelle
Candice Michelle gets credit for her improvement at a wrestler but it was a product of the time when we were used to the female talents being horrible in the ring. If you watch back the majority of Candice’s matches on the WWE Network, they leave a lot to be desired. Michelle was one of Vince McMahon’s favorite women in the company and it led to her receiving opportunities as the WWE Women’s Champion.
A low point of the past decade saw Candice defend the title against Melina in a Pudding Match. You can’t fault Michelle for WWE’s booking but it was done to position her reign in a way that presented her well. The title reign of Candice was rather underwhelming and definitely goes down on the worst side of history. WWE had to work extra hard to wash away the memories of the Michelle era to get the women’s revolution going today.
7 Best: Mickie James
The wrestling career of Mickie James is hugely underrated when looking at the women to ever work in WWE. James was introduced as a stalker of Trish Stratus that set up one of the best women’s wrestling feuds in WWE history. Mickie winning the WWE Women’s Championship at WrestleMania 22 was one of the most memorable title changes to happen in the women’s division. The credibility of James as an in-ring performer added a new dimension.
Many of the women could wrestle well for girls at the time, but Mickie was better than many of the male wrestlers on the roster. James held the WWE Women’s Championship on four occasions and the WWE Divas Championship once. There’s no arguing she’s one of the most accomplished female champions in wrestling history. Mickie’s recent match in NXT against Asuka and rumors about her return to the main roster could lead to great success in adding another title reign to her legacy.
6 Worst: The Kat
WWE hired Stacy “The Kat” Carter as a favor to her then husband Jerry “The King” Lawler. Carter had no background in wrestling aside from dating a wrestler and it showed every time she appeared in a WWE ring. The Attitude Era led to the women having matches that required them stripping, catfighting and other things that didn’t resemble wrestling. The Kat shined with the lack of wrestling working to her advantage. Any time she did have to pretend to perform in an athletic competition, it came off as embarrassing.
Kat won the WWE Women’s Championship in an Evening Gown Pool Match (yes that was a real thing) and expose her bare breasts flashing the crowd in the process. The actual wrestlers like Ivory and Jacqueline were ashamed of the division being represented by her. Carter had a short reign but the fact that she held it was one of the most damning things to damage the title. How can you take a belt seriously if it was held by Lawler’s wife?
5 Best: AJ Lee
One of the first major changes in the women’s division starting to see an improvement was AJ Lee’s push. Fans connected with Lee despite her not looking like the standard cookie cutter fitness models that became associated with WWE. That worked to her advantage in attracting the die-hard fans. Lee held the Divas Championship a record-breaking three times over the course of a total 406 days.
The popularity of AJ made her the first women to actually get merchandise in the WWE Shop in many years. Female fans connected to Lee through her quirky personality and many of the male fans viewed her as a dream woman due to her nerdy ways. It also helped that she was a pretty damn good wrestler in the ring. The falling out between WWE and her husband CM Punk led to her leaving the company. Many fans still hope for her return as part of the boom period for women’s wrestling, as seeing her wrestling against better talent would be awesome.
4 Worst: Debra
There are many reasons why Debra holding the WWE Women’s Championship was an absolute disgrace. First off, she wasn’t a wrestler. Debra entered WCW with her husband at the time Steve “Mongo” McMichael and jumped over to WWE with Jeff Jarrett. Both companies used her primarily as a manager due to the lack of wrestling experience. WWE randomly decided to make her the Women’s Championship by losing to Sable in an Evening Gown Match. You read that right.
Commissioner Shawn Michaels decided Debra deserved the title for looking better in her lack of clothing instead of awarding Sable the title for winning. It was very embarrassing and one of the major memories is WWE trying to block it out with their new portrayal of women. Debra lost the title a month later to the credible Ivory, but she will always go down as one of the worst WWE Women’s Champions in wrestling history.
3 Best: Trish Stratus
The name most synonymous with the WWE Women’s Championship is Trish Stratus. Originally signed as eye candy due to her stunning looks, Stratus refused to settle and worked extremely hard to become a good wrestler. The improvement of Trish led to WWE giving her the opportunity to lead a credible division and she did just that. Stratus had outstanding matches against the likes of Lita, Molly Holly, Victoria and Mickie James.
Fans cared about her as one of the most popular stars in the company. WWE was forced to present her as a legitimate athlete due to the success of her push. Stratus held the WWE Women’s Championship a record-breaking seven times. Wrestling fans will always remember the special moment of her defeating Lita in her home of Canada at Unforgiven 2006 to retire as the champion. Trish is an iconic women’s wrestler and Women’s Champion that will be remembered for many years to come.
2 Worst: Chyna
The late, great Chyna was a huge star for WWE during her time in the company. As the sole female wrestler that mixed it up with the men in intergender matches, fans believed in her beating anyone she stepped in the ring with. Chyna became the first and only woman to win the Intercontinental Championship. It made sense that she considered it a demotion when moving down into the women’s division.
The other women suffered for it, with Chyna not taking the matches seriously. Chyna typically threw her opponents around the ring and won in easy fashion. WWE hoped to make the Women’s Championship relevant by putting it on her in 2001. Chyna didn’t care about it at all and did little to help improve the women’s division. In fact, she left the company without ever putting over someone due to a contract dispute. Chyna was a huge star when wrestling guys, but a huge disappointment in the women’s division.
1 Best: Charlotte Flair
Charlotte Flair has only been on the WWE main roster for about a year and a half, but she is already the greatest female champion the company has seen. WWE called up Charlotte with Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch on the same night to get the women’s revolution going. As the daughter of Ric Flair, Charlotte had instant credibility with many of the die-hard fans. Her talent absolutely backed it up.
The big Divas Championship win for Charlotte came when she defeated Nikki Bella at Night of Champions 2015. Charlotte delivered epic performances, making history all year in 2016 as a legendary champion. WrestleMania 32 featured Charlotte defeating Banks and Lynch with WWE ending the era of the “diva.” They were now superstars competing for the Women’s Championship.
Charlotte continued to make history all year with the first ever women’s PPV main event in WWE that happened to be the first ever women’s Hell in a Cell match. The change in the women’s division now being legitimately equal to men on Raw came under Charlotte’s reign as the best female champion of all time.
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