Thank goodness for the changing times. There was a time when hiring female wrestlers for the WWE was just as easy as John Laurinaitis combing through the pages of fashion magazines, seeing someone he liked, and making calls to the women or their agents in that distinctively hoarse speaking voice of his. There's certainly a premium these days on in-ring talent, as having great looks is no longer the only prerequisite for a WWE contract. WWE no longer calls its female talent Divas, Total Divas notwithstanding, and women can now main event pay-per-views and take part in meaningful storylines. Sure, there's still a lot that can be done to improve things for WWE's female talents, but the company's "women's revolution" has arguably done more good than harm since it was launched a couple of years ago.
Due to these changes, we're now seeing women from a far more diverse set of pre-WWE backgrounds sign with the company, and in many cases, get called up to the main roster after some time in developmental. And with that in mind, we're going to look at 15 female wrestlers who are currently on the Raw or SmackDown Live rosters, and look back at what they were doing before they got their big break.
Unlike many of the women in this list, Carmella didn't cut her teeth in the indies before signing with WWE/NXT. The wrestler who would eventually adopt Staten Island as a kayfabe hometown was a cheerleader for her real-life home team, the New England Patriots, spending three years watching Tom Brady dominate NFL defenses before working as a Laker Girl in the NBA for a year. As she reached her mid-20s, however, she decided to follow in her former WWE jobber father's footsteps, as she signed her WWE deal in 2013.
Originally introduced as Enzo and Cass' hairdresser/valet, Carmella made steady improvements as a wrestler, and despite being the last pick in the 2016 brand draft, she's since exceeded those ostensibly low expectations, as "Ms. Irrelevant" is now the first-ever Ms. Money in the Bank. And also the reason in storyline why James Ellsworth is gone from the WWE.
14 Alicia Fox
From Edge and Vickie Guerrero's wedding planner, to forgotten lower-carder DJ Gabriel's dance partner, to first African-American Divas Champion in WWE history, to second-rate copy of AJ Lee's "crazy chick" gimmick, to actual hat-wearing captain of Raw's women's team at Survivor Series 2017. Alicia Fox has seemingly done it all in her nine years with the WWE, and while your mileage may vary when it comes to her in-ring work, you can't deny she's come a long way from the time she was one of a dime-a-dozen gorgeous young women John Laurinaitis recruited solely on the basis of their looks. Yes, kids, that was truly a bad time to be a fan of women's wrestling.
Given what we told you about how she was hired by the WWE, it shouldn't surprise you that Fox worked in the modeling industry before getting into professional wrestling. But she did spend some time in WWE's pre-FCW/NXT developmental scene, winning OVW's Women's Championship in 2006, back when she was only 20-years-old.
13 Becky Lynch
It seems like ages ago when Becky Lynch became the first-ever SmackDown Women's Champion, establishing herself as the top woman on the blue brand. Unfortunately, the returns have been diminishing a bit since then, which is a pity – despite being only 30-years-old, she's a true veteran in the world of pro wrestling, as she began her in-ring training when she was just 15. That helped her get away from what she called a "bad path" of teenage alcohol and marijuana use, and she hasn't looked back since.
Save for a three-year hiatus from 2008 to 2011, Lynch has wrestled all around the world, starting out in her native Ireland, but also working in Japan and in North America. And while she hasn't been in the SmackDown Live championship picture for quite some time, she can at least take solace in the fact that she isn't working a similar gimmick to the stereotypical Riverdance-inspired character she made her NXT debut with.
Let's get the elephant out of the room – Bayley's main roster run has been an unmitigated disaster, save for her brief Raw Women's Championship reign. The Hugger has been the unfortunate recipient of some bad "X-Pac heat" in recent months, and it's through little to no fault of hers. But there was a time when she was looking like the ultimate success story – a lifelong wrestling fan who made her way up the indies, dominated at NXT, and got over with a wholesome character far removed from that of your usual female wrestler.
Prior to signing with NXT in 2013, Bayley wrestled in the independent scene under the name Davina Rose, competing in both Shimmer and her hometown promotion, Northern California-based Big Time Wrestling. She was also an accomplished athlete in high school, suiting up as team captain of her school's girls' basketball team and playing several other sports that undoubtedly helped keep her in shape ahead of her pro wrestling career.
11 Ruby Riott
She may be new to the main roster, but why not include one of the more promising female prospects out of NXT to debut in the current year? It's been a fast track indeed for Ruby Riott, having signed a WWE contract, debuted on NXT, debuted on the main roster, and gotten an extra "t" added to her in-ring surname, all in the span of a year. We probably shouldn't be surprised, as she joined the WWE with years of experience working the indie scene, always standing out for her punk rock-inspired look and gimmick. (And WWE ring name too, as it's partially inspired by Rancid's 1996 hit, "Ruby Soho.")
Although Riott never got to win the NXT Women's Championship, mostly on account of Asuka's dominance, she's won her share of titles in the indies, where she worked from 2012 to 2016 under the ring name Heidi Lovelace. Nonetheless, her main roster prospects look good at the moment – let's just hope she doesn't get dragged down by the notoriously poor mic skills of her Riott Squad stablemates Liv Morgan and Sarah Logan.
Thankfully, Paige is healthy AND relevant once again, and now that she's finally ended her tumultuous relationship with Alberto Del Rio, she can now focus on kicking butt as the leader of Raw's all-new female stable, Absolution. It was quite a rough stretch indeed for Paige, as many feared her WWE days were numbered due to injuries and off-camera shenanigans mostly involving Del Rio, but as she so memorably said a few episodes of Raw ago, she's ba-aaaack.
Before Paige became a household name in the U.S. as NXT Women's Champion and later on as WWE Divas Champion, she was a standout wrestler in her home country of England and a member of the prominent Knight wrestling family that also includes father Ricky Knight and mother Sweet Saraya. She was only 13-years-old when she made her wrestling debut as Britani Knight, and would mostly use that name as she competed all over the European scene, before making her North American debut in 2011 with Shimmer.
It's amazing, no pun intended, to think that Naomi got her first exposure on WWE's main roster as one of the Funkadactyls, whose job description essentially entailed dancing alongside a self-proclaimed "Funkasaurus." Thanks to her athleticism and her rapidly-improving work rate, it was Naomi who blossomed into a star once her association with Brodus Clay ended, while fellow Funkadactyl Cameron, on the other hand...is still best-known these days for telling "Stone Cold" Steve Austin on Tough Enough, with a straight face, that her favorite match of all-time was Melina vs. Alicia Fox. Girl, bye!
Prior to her developmental debut with FCW in 2009, future two-time SmackDown Women's Champion Naomi worked as a cheerleader for her hometown Orlando Magic. She also spent time as a backup dancer for rapper Flo Rida. While neither equated to a stint in the indies to help prepare her for a WWE career, these pre-wrestling jobs nonetheless showcased her athleticism, which is still by far her strongest suit as one of the top women on the blue brand.
8 Nia Jax
She's not like most girls, but she has yet to truly capitalize on the monster heel push she got last year after being drafted to the main roster. Yes, it's sad that we have to read about Nia Jax briefly walking out of the WWE after weeks of irrelevance on Monday Night Raw, and having her enter a storyline relationship with Enzo Amore is a total waste of her talent. But we can't see WWE wasting her talents for much longer; despite being a late bloomer in the squared circle, she definitely has wrestling in her blood as a longtime fan, while also being one of The Rock's many relatives in the business.
Before she signed a deal with the WWE and debuted in NXT in 2014, Jax competed in college basketball, and also worked as a plus-size model – no surprises, as she's one of the better-looking women on both brands. Recently, she ventured into reality TV alongside real-life best friend Alexa Bliss, as both women are now part of the cast of Total Divas.
7 Nikki And Brie Bella
How about a two-fer for our next entry? Of course, we're referring to The Bella Twins here, even if Nikki remains on hiatus as she recovers from injuries, even if Brie is enjoying retirement as she cares for her first child with husband Daniel Bryan. Whether you like them or not, and whether you're a fan of Total Divas/Bellas or not, both Bellas achieved great success and steadily improved in the ring in the decade since they signed with the WWE. That's definitely not bad for two women who both failed to make the finals in the 2006 Diva Search.
Before Nikki and Brie made it big as The Bella Twins, they both did their share of modeling, oftentimes in gigs that capitalized on the fact that they're twins. Sharp-eyed fans of both metalcore and wrestling will also recognize the Bellas for their brief cameo in the video of Atreyu's 2004 single, "Right Side of the Bed." Which, for the uninitiated, is MUCH heavier than "You Can't Look (But You Can't Touch)." Or that God-awful "Brie Mode" ring theme.
6 Sasha Banks
You have to feel even a little bit for Sasha Banks, who seemingly has it all at this point – great in-ring skills, great looks, youth (she turns 26 in January), a huge following in the WWE Universe, and four Raw Women's Championships. But Banks has also developed a reputation as someone who can't hold on to her title belt, and there have been more than a few whispers behind the scenes that suggest Vince McMahon is not a fan of the Legit Boss. Certainly, this woman deserves to be booked better in 2018.
The California-born and Boston-raised Banks signed her WWE deal in 2012, at the tender age of 20, and had previously worked for promotions in the New England area, using the ring name Mercedes KV, a simple shortcut of her real name, Mercedes Kaestner-Varnado. Once again, we hope WWE doesn't drop the ball with Sasha's push – perhaps pulling the trigger on that long-rumored heel turn will get things moving in the right direction?
Yes, we know, she's now back to valet duties for Tamina, as WWE continues to keep her apart from her real-life husband, Rusev. But Lana, or CJ Perry as she's known in real life, has had one of the more interesting pre-WWE careers among the women on both main roster brands. Using her real name, Lana appeared in a number of films, including the first two Pitch Perfect films, where she played an unnamed member of the Barden Bellas singing group. (No, not those Bellas, mind you.) Speaking of singing, she was also part of an all-girl dance pop group called No Means Yes, which released one single in 2010 before disbanding.
It didn't take long for Lana to make her main roster debut, as she managed Rusev for a few months in NXT before getting called up with him in January of 2014. And just in case you're wondering, you can say what you want about her Russian accent, but she did spend a good chunk of her childhood in Latvia, which, at the very least, adds some legitimacy to her "Ravishing Russian" gimmick.
It does sound a bit hard to believe, but WWE’s “Empress of Tomorrow” and longest-reigning modern-day champion didn’t grow up a fan of professional wrestling. But the wrestler currently known as Asuka became a fan as a young adult, and began her journey to the top of the women’s wrestling world in 2004. At that time, she was working as a graphics designer, and in the years that followed, she would also work as a video game journalist, and get Xbox 360 sponsorship through her work with Microsoft.
From 2004 to 2015, Kana, as she was then known, used that ring name as she dominated the Japanese joshi (women’s wrestling) scene, and while WWE initially took the lazy route and added an extra “n” to her ring name, she would officially be called Asuka shortly after signing a contract with the company in August 2015. She's clearly headed for big things now that she's on WWE's main roster, and fresh off a successful Survivor Series outing, where she was Team Raw's sole survivor.
Despite her certified veteran status among WWE's women, Natalya is still a prominent part of SmackDown Live programming, and at 35, she isn't ready to take the Mickie James route just yet and focus on putting the younger women over. Despite being saddled with a farting gimmick and a storyline relationship with The Great Khali, and not getting the opportunities one would expect a skilled third-generation talent to get, Nattie has persevered, with her patience paying off as she won the SmackDown Women's Championship at this year's SummerSlam. She's since lost her title to Charlotte Flair, but there's always the "Welcoming Committee" to fall back on. (Then again, we're not quite sure if that's a good thing.)
The daughter of WWE great Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart, Natalya became the first woman to graduate from her grandfather Stu Hart's "Dungeon" in Calgary. She then suited up for her family's Stampede Wrestling promotion, where she competed until she signed a WWE contract in 2007. She probably should have accomplished more in the 10 years since then, but it's already something for a female wrestler to last at least a decade in the WWE.
2 Alexa Bliss
As she herself related in recent interviews, Alexa Bliss wasn't always the tough, feisty "Five Feet of Fury" and self-proclaimed "Goddess" of women's wrestling we currently see on TV as the reigning Raw Women's Champion. As a high school cheerleader, Bliss struggled with an eating disorder, and had even come close to death on one occasion after having dropped from 120 to 80 pounds. Fortunately, she survived not only one, but two bouts with anorexia, and has been in good health ever since taking up bodybuilding in college.
Bliss' success in the world of bodybuilding drew the interest of the WWE, who signed her in 2013 to a developmental contract. And while not much was expected of her when she was drafted to the main roster in 2016, she's far exceeded those expectations and then some, standing out for both her in-ring and mic work. Let's just not bring up that horrid "This is Your Life" segment with Bayley, okay?
1 Charlotte Flair
It's been said before – before WWE had an Empress and a Goddess, there was a Queen. But just like the aforementioned Empress (of Tomorrow), Charlotte Flair was not much of a wrestling fan as a kid. One can also say that's even more surprising, considering the fact that her father is none other than the legendary Nature Boy, Ric Flair. Still, she did eventually catch the wrestling bug, joining NXT in 2012 at the age of 26, and dedicating herself even more to her craft after the 2013 death of her younger brother, Reid.
Obviously, Charlotte was quite the fast learner, as she is now a great in-ring talent, to add to her six combined Women's/Divas Championship belts. And while it's well-documented that she worked as a fitness trainer before becoming a pro wrestler, Charlotte also made a few appearances on WCW TV as a young teenager (under her almost-real-name Ashley Flair), as her father and Reid (then only 11-years-old) feuded against her older half-brother, David.