2016 will forever go down as a landmark year in women’s wrestling. Independent promotions like CHIKARA, Lucha Underground, and Ring of Honor started treating women as serious contenders, while over in the WWE Universe, the term “Diva” was finally retired, allowing female wrestlers to shine as Superstars wherever they went. Of course, the fact women’s wrestling is in general more accepted today than it was just a few years ago doesn’t mean every single female wrestler is inherently talented or capable of becoming a star.
Just as is the case with male wrestlers, there are good female wrestlers, there are bad female wrestlers, and there are plenty of ladies who fall somewhere in-between those two dichotomous categories. The indie promotions are doing a pretty good job of pushing the most talented women to the top of their respective divisions and yet for whatever reason, WWE has been missing the mark of late with some of their incoming female superstars.
Plenty of women in the WWE Universe are truly changing women’s wrestling forever and for the better, while others have made so many missteps recently that they might inadvertently be ruining their chances of surviving in an ever changing wrestling landscape. Keep reading to find out which 10 female wrestlers revolutionized the WWE Universe in 2016, and 5 who may have destroyed their careers.
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15 REVOLUTIONIZING WRESTLING: Alexa Bliss
Far more than just a beautifully expressive face, Alexa Bliss has been proving she’s also a talented wrestler since she was called up to SmackDown Live in July. Bliss has only been in the wrestling industry for three years, getting her start at the WWE Performance Center and making her NXT debut in September 2013. While she needed some time to hone her skills in the ring, Bliss started to show her star potential as the manager of NXT Tag Team Champions Wesley Blake and Buddy Murphy. Her wrestling ability rapidly improved during feuds with Blue Pants and Bayley and now that she’s on the main roster, Alexa has been more than capable in her role as the breakout female star of SmackDown. Bliss finished 2016 in her first reign as the SmackDown Women’s Champion and given her performance thus far, she may continue to hold on to that title for some time.
14 DESTROYED HER CAREER: Carmella
Debuting on the same episode of SmackDown Live as Alexa Bliss only to head down the exact opposite path, Carmella’s main problem is that she was called up to the main roster far too soon. Just like Bliss, Carmella has been in the wrestling industry three years, trained at the WWE Performance Center, found success in NXT as a manager, and even feuded Blue Pants. The difference is Carmella hasn't shown the rapid in-ring improvements that Bliss has. Even worse, while Alexa excelled when she went solo, Carmella’s character has been almost unable to recover from the loss of Enzo and Cass by her side. All she has to show for herself is a weak feud against Nikki Bella that ended with her being forgotten when bigger stars took her place. Carmella might be able to rehab herself with a return to NXT or a lesson in self-discovery, or she might become one of the brand’s first female bombs.
13 REVOLUTIONIZING WRESTLING: Lana
While she’s been managing her now husband Rusev since her wrestling debut in 2013, Lana actually only recently wrestled her first match at WrestleMania 32. She’s yet to grapple on television again, but she isn’t revolutionizing wrestling through her in-ring work to begin with. Lana’s true accomplishment has been becoming the most high profile female manager WWE has seen in somewhere around a decade. Not since Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley has a woman been so integral to her partner’s success, with both Lana and Rusev far surpassing their Rocky IV parody origins with each passing week of strong matches from Rusev and even stronger promos delivered by Lana. She’s also continued her wrestling training on house shows for WWE and NXT, so it may not be long before she takes her already trailblazing character to success as a wrestler.
12 REVOLUTIONIZING WRESTLING: Ember Moon
Ignoring the inherent silliness of the mysticism in her pre-debut vignettes, it took Ember Moon all of five minutes in the WWE Universe to show fans she would be a force to be reckoned with in the near future. Moon has been training at the WWE Performance Center since 2015, making her NXT debut at TakeOver: Brooklyn II on August 20th. She defeated Billie Kay in a move that has since become known as The Eclipse, enthralling the wrestling community like no one move has managed to do in quite a long time. Moon has remained undefeated on NXT television and while she needs a solid angle or defining promo to truly take her to the next level, her flashy moves and unique look have already made her shine as a potential superstar. Her success is hardly unheralded, as she has already spent years as a top star around the world in like Shimmer Women’s Athletes and Women Superstars Uncensored.
11 DESTROYED HER CAREER: Nikki Bella
Thanks to her starring role on Total Divas and the unique nature of being a wrestling twin, Nikki Bella has been treated as one of the top female wrestlers in WWE since she made her debut via twin magic in 2008. Nikki has even generally been positioned above her sister Brie, twice holding the WWE Divas Champion for a record length and getting nicknamed “The Fearless One.” She spent the first half of 2016 on the injured list, so we can’t blame her for that. Nikki’s time since returning at SummerSlam hasn’t exactly set the world on fire, though, if anything merely proving Carmella wasn’t prepared for the spotlight. If not that, maybe Nikki wasn’t ready to come back from her injury. Either way, it’s a downward spiral from her days as the top wrestler in the division and now that so many actually talented female superstars are around to replace her, being an attractive twin may not be enough for Nikki Bella to stay relevant into the future.
10 REVOLUTIONIZING WRESTLING: Nikki Cross
After dominating the UK female wrestling scene since making her debut in 2008, Nikki Cross finally made the leap across the pond to start a career with the WWE Universe in April of 2016. She won her debut match under her real name Nikki Glencross, shortening it to her more common moniker when she reintroduced herself as the lone female member of SAnitY, alongside Eric Young, Alexander Wolfe, and Sawyer Fulton. Cross and SAnitY in general haven’t been given much time to explain themselves and thus run dangerously close to falling on the other half of this list. However, given the past performances of Cross in particular, we have high hopes that both she and the group could shine with the unique characters they’ve been given. Even if not, being the one female member of NXT’s first major stable is a significant achievement in and of itself.
9 REVOLUTIONIZING WRESTLING: Mickie James
In many ways, Mickie James has been revolutionizing wrestling at least since 2005, when she made her first WWE debut and engaged in a landmark feud against Trish Stratus. In part channeling the film Single White Female with a hint of Goldust’s sexual mind games, James and Stratus fought over matters of love and glory, in one of the most nuanced and creative feuds between two women the WWE Universe had seen up to that point. She left WWE in April of 2010 for unclear reasons, spending the next several years in TNA and various independents. Fans were somewhat skeptical when James announced she would be returning to the WWE Universe at NXT TakeOver: Toronto, but critics were silenced when she wrestled a strong match against Asuka. The match was so strong, in fact, James signed a long-term deal with WWE and will continue to bridge the gap between WWE’s women’s division of yesteryear and the current revolution.
8 DESTROYED HER CAREER: Brie Bella
In all fairness to Brie Bella, “destroyed” probably isn’t the right word for her. It would probably be more accurate to say Brie bowed out of the WWE Universe gracefully, at least for now, deciding to focus on her marriage to SmackDown General Manager Daniel Bryan. The couple wed in April of 2014, days after Bryan won the WWE Championship at WrestleMania XXX. Brie had been enjoying a decent level of success in wrestling herself, in the high profile role as her twin sister Nikki’s constant partner in crime. Bryan suffered a number of injuries that forced him to retire last February and, in his farewell speech, he announced he and Brie intended to put their careers on hold altogether and start a family. Bryan has stayed on TV, but he might not do so for long, because Brie announced she was pregnant in October. Female wrestlers have had children and kept wrestling before, but pregnancy definitely causes their careers to take pause. Luckily for Brie, in her case, it seems like that’s been the plan for some time.
7 REVOLUTIONIZING WRESTLING: Asuka
The second she appeared in the crowd during NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn in 2015, there were journalists hailing Asuka as the best wrestler male or female to exist within the WWE Universe. She debuted the next month, slowly rising through the ranks of the brand and eventually becoming the NXT Women’s Champion the next April. Asuka has held on to the title ever since, easily overcoming whatever competition stands in front of her and always doing so in impressive and highly entertaining fashion. The only thing holding Asuka back is that she’s so dominant it’s hard to imagine anyone in NXT ever taking the title away from her, meaning she probably won’t show up on the main roster any time soon. This hasn’t stopped her from changing women’s wrestling, though, and it’s likely she’ll continue redefining the game no matter where she’s forced to do so.
6 REVOLUTIONIZING WRESTLING: Becky Lynch
Back in 2006, it looked like Rebecca Quin was going to be remembered by the wrestling industry as a woman who tried her best only to get cut off by injury, that is, if people remembered her at all. Thankfully, after several years of recovery, she decided to give the industry a second chance in 2013, signing with WWE and restarting her career in NXT. Lynch was one of the first standout performers in NXT’s female division, forming an off-screen alliance with a number of other wrestlers we’re about to mention who call themselves The Four Horsewomen. The Horsewomen’s only goal is to increase the prevalence of women’s wrestling in WWE, which they’ve definitely been doing together and separately. For Lynch’s part, she’s been spearheading the SmackDown women’s division from the moment after the roster was announced. Although she lost the SmackDown Women’s Championship to Alexa Bliss in December of 2016, her dominance of the roster for the majority of the year makes her a lock as one of the women revolutionizing wrestling.
5 DESTROYED HER CAREER: Paige
Born to a family of wrestlers who never quite reached the heights she would, Paige probably felt destined to sports entertainment greatness since her debut for her father’s company when she was only 13. She mostly confined herself to the British wrestling scene until 2011, when a WWE talent count discovered her and offered her a number of tryouts with the company. She passed her second one and fast became the standout female wrestler of NXT. Paige was the first NXT Women’s Championship and never lost the belt, getting stripped of it when she won the WWE Divas Championship, as well. She remained one of the top female superstars in WWE for some time, but has recently been falling out of favor with management, and fast. She failed two drug tests in the summer of 2016 and has apparently been choosing her flawed personal life over wrestling ever since.
4 REVOLUTIONIZING WRESTLING: Bayley
The last of The Four Horsewomen to make her leap to the main WWE roster, Bayley was only stuck in NXT for as long as she was because there was no one to replace her. She had already proved herself as a top talent before she signed with the brand, wrestling on the independent scene as Davina Rose since 2008. There’s no denying she’s rapidly improved since signing with WWE in 2013, though. On top of her strong in-ring work, Bayley’s uniquely friendly and emotional character has made her one of the most popular new superstars to make their way into the WWE Universe in a long time. Bayley has struggled somewhat since finally making her way to Raw in August of 2016, but the innate talent and desire to succeed is definitely still within her. Bayley slowly ascended the women’s division on the main roster as the year wrapped up, so she’ll probably only do even better in 2017 into the future.
3 REVOLUTIONIZING WRESTLING: Charlotte Flair
The short career of her stepbrother David notwithstanding, it should be no surprise to wrestling fans that Charlotte Flair has shown an incredible level of athleticism and versatility for a performer who has had less than half a decade in the industry. The daughter of “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair, Charlotte has been aware of wrestling her entire life, participating in a number of sports as a teen before deciding to follow in her father’s footsteps in 2012. It didn’t take her long to stand out as one of The Four Horsewomen of NXT and she kept that reputation alive when called up to the main roster in July 2015. Charlotte won the WWE Divas Championship some two months later, making her the first Raw Women’s Championship when WWE decided to finally retire the Divas division circa WrestleMania 32. Charlotte has remained the top heel of the division ever since.
2 DESTROYED HER (ON-SCREEN) CAREER: Stephanie McMahon
All right, let’s face it—barring some unforeseen incident like a snap decision wrestling is immoral or something, there’s no derailing the WWE career of Stephanie McMahon. She’s been handed the reigns to the empire by her father Vince McMahon, gradually growing in power and prominence since she started working for the company as a merchandise model when she was still a child. Nowadays, she’s one of the top executives in the wrestling industry, likely poised to inherit WWE with her husband Triple H when and if Vince should ever decide to step away. We’re not talking about her corporation qualifications, though, we’re referring to the strongly diminishing returns of Stephanie’s on-screen character. She adds almost nothing as the General Manager of Raw and it’s unlikely a new role will be found for her she actually fits in, so maybe it would be better she simply went away for good.
1 REVOLUTIONIZING WRESTLING: Sasha Banks
More than living up to her name as The Boss, Sasha Banks has been arguably the best female wrestler on the main WWE roster since her debut in July of 2015. Inspired by a lifetime of idolizing the wrestling of Eddie Guerrero and the style of hip hop icons like Beyoncé, Banks has combined her interests to create a uniquely charismatic persona that she can more than back up in the ring. Banks has been a constant figure in the expanding prominence of women’s wrestling, becoming the first women to wrestle in both NXT and WWE special events, with Bayley and Charlotte as her opponents, respectively. Despite some deserved criticism about the number of times she’s already won and lost the Raw Women’s Championship, Sasha proved she deserved each reign with her performances in the matches she won them. Given her status as The Boss, we can only assume Banks will keep revolutionizing women’s wrestling for years to come.
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