Wrestling is a funny business. So often, folks that seem to have it all set with looks and skills and charisma can’t become stars no matter how much they try. Other times, workers can start off looking amazingly rough but then become the biggest stars around. That counts for female stars as well. It’s notable how celebrities can start off as young and not attractive before turning into knockouts. The same thing can happen in wrestling as one needs only look at NXT to see how these women have shifted a lot. Women can look rough but a little time and training can make them major stars and it’s a bit up in the air how some ladies can make it when others can’t. WWE still emphasizes hot looks overall as do other companies but a good talent rises nonetheless.
It’s not just WWE as TNA has its share of ladies who look rough at first but turn into stars as well as the Beautiful People took off nicely as wicked heel performers among others. It is amazing how many ladies hired just for “eye candy” ended up becoming major stars in their own rights, bigger than most would have dreamed for them. Here are 15 female wrestlers who didn’t look like stars when they first debuted but became major deals and thus show how some women can rise much better than you’d first assume.
15 Sasha Banks
Look up photos of Mercedes KV and she looks nothing like the star she would become. In many ways, she looks like a cookie-cutter worker, some talent but nothing too spectacular, even in ring gear. She had promise in the indies but just seemed to lack that key ingredient needed to make her truly stand out as something special. Even in NXT, she just had the dark hair and okay wardrobe and while good in the ring, not clicking. It took her dying her hair multiple colors and adding her “bling” for Banks to truly take off nicely as a star. She added with her charisma and heat, great on the mic and soon taking off as NXT champion. That led to her success on the main roster with her and Charlotte having an amazing feud that elevated Banks up big time. Today, “The Boss” stands tall amid the Divas and shows she has risen highly as a champ and a star.
14 Stephanie McMahon
Love her or hate her, there’s no denying the power of the Billion Dollar Princess. It’s funny how Stephanie just looked young and lost in her initial outings in WWE in 1999, Vince’s daughter who was kidnapped by the Undertaker and a victim. She then had an on-screen relationship with Test leading to her “wedding” to Triple H. This in turn led to her joining him with a heel turn and fans shocked at how well she got into it. Stephanie blossomed into a great heel, showing off in hot outfits, she and Hunter the perfect couple fans loved to hate and Stephanie a wonder on the mic.
She had a run as Women’s champion but much better just playing off herself as an arrogant diva who wanted to make people miserable. She had time away to raise a family but is back and as hot as ever to maintain her power as a wicked CEO type and prove herself worthy of stardom in the McMahon way.
It’s forgotten just how much Rena Mero shook up how women were perceived in the 1990s. When she debuted in 1996, she was the wife of Marc Mero and just going around following him in some hot black dresses. However, something about her caught the attention of fans more and got her more cheers and heat than Mero did. Soon, Sable was getting a bigger push in WWE, flaunting her hot body and fans responding well. This led to her winning the reactivated Women’s title and setting a bar for sex appeal that would influence numerous women afterward.
True, Mero let her ego get the best of her and led to a bad exit but that just enhanced how huge a deal she was with her lawsuit against WWE getting major press. Her return in 2003 showed how big a star she was with her attitude and looks and while she’s retired, Sable set the standard for Divas that continues today to make herself a groundbreaker.
While imposing, the idea of Joanie Laurer as a huge star seemed unlikely. She was making her way as a bodybuilder when she ran into Triple H and Shawn Michaels at a hotel and wanted to break into the business. Hunter brought Vince the idea of a female bodyguard, with Vince unsure but agreed to it eventually. Soon, Chyna was giving Hunter heat and impressing by how she could beat up guys on her own. This led to more of a push going on and Chyna winning over fans more and more on her own. She got some surgery to look hotter and a “Playboy” spread and was soon among the hottest acts in the company, even a run as IC champion. Chyna was on just as many covers and posters as any of the guys in the company and showcasing how easily a woman could get over pretty well on her skills and looks. While her end was sad, it doesn’t take away from how big a deal she became.
11 AJ Lee
Her autobiography shares how Lee was a rather troubled kid with poverty, mental illness and substance problems. Thus, she seemed to be rough in the ring, a geek gal but not as notable a star. She was attractive but not the total knockout of other ladies when she joined NXT (still a reality show at the time). That led to stuff like her as the lady between Daniel Bryan and Sheamus and made RAW General Manager but fans just rolled their eyes at the idea of her pushed as a real star. But then she started wrestling and suddenly Lee transformed into a terrific worker. She was winning over with her style but really took off with her famous “pipe bomb” trashing the various Divas on their looks while she was a real worker.
It got her huge attention and added to her heat with her long title reign. While she retired in 2013, Lee was made a star by her actions and proved the quiet gals can roar the loudest.
It’s been noted that a major challenge for NXT stars when they go to the main roster is taking what worked before a few hundred Florida fans and making it successful for millions. Emma hit that big time. The attractive worker won over fans with her whacky dancing moves that made her a big success and won huge favor over. But when she went to the RAW roster, Emma seemed out of it, clashing with Summer Rae but not really that good in the ring and her dancing not clicking with fans.
She was sent back to NXT for more training and it seemed to work as she showed better stuff in the ring, including an acclaimed match with Akusa. She now has returned with her “Emmalina” makeover that’s getting buzz and looks to be paying off on more of her promise in the ring. Ready to face Akusa, Emma looks to be more a worker than a dancer and show she can be a star on her own.
9 The Bella Twins
It’s obvious how Nikki and Brie Bella were signed simply for the idea of hot twins. They used it for the idea of one switching places with the other in a match but clearly it was their looks that got them pushes. So when they tried really working as wrestlers, it didn’t really take. However, Nikki would end up being surprising with how much she improved in the ring. Both were able to use their charisma well with “Total Divas” aiding them in how they took off as big faces and doing great with their style.
While Brie was mocked for her hard-partying ways, Nikki looked to be taking the wrestling a bit more seriously. She would win the Divas title and hold it nearly a solid year and silence critics with better bouts than expected. She can still impress today and fame with “Dancing With the Stars” to be a good starlet on her own rather than just a twin act.
A lifelong wrestling fan, Bayley made no secret she wanted to be in the business badly. But she seemed a bit offbeat at first, enthusiastic but not really backing it up with style. She had promise to be sure yet looked to be lost among the other stars of NXT. Yet she kept at it and even while Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks and Charlotte rose up, Bayley kept plugging away, improving in the ring and coming back from injuries to show herself off. She also built up her “hugging” bit that made her a hit with crowds and soon the major backing of fans. Before long, Bayley was a winner, especially with the battles against Sasha that were hailed as some of the best matches of 2015 and her title reign a huge winner with fans. While her time on the main roster has been marred by some bad booking, she still has won the RAW Women’s title and highly popular. It’s always fun when a wrestler achieves their dream of stardom and Bayley pulled that off nicely.
7 Taryn Terrell
It’s easy to dismiss her as just another hot blonde. She sure looks that way and has shown herself in modeling and even TV roles (such as going nude on the HBO series “Treme.”) In WWE, Taryn was Tiffany, having a stint in the Diva Search and FCW but nothing notable. Traveling to TNA, she managed to show a much better talent off, soon rising up the ranks in the Knockouts. Indeed, at 279 days, Taryn holds the record for the longest reigning Knockouts champion, facing off against numerous great stars at a high point for the Division. She also was a ref for a time and improved in the ring well. After an absence, Taryn is back in TNA, now with an arrogant attitude rising her up nicely and showing that a hot face and body can sometimes overwhelm a truly talented woman but that talent shows up in the end.
WCW tried over and over to make David Flair a star wrestler. It never worked, the man have pretty much no ring ability and terrible charisma. At first, Charlotte didn’t seem much better, a good worker but rather flat on the mic. Her win for the NXT title was good but still seemed off somehow, not connecting as a babyface. So she turned heel and thus transformed into a stunning performer, terrific as a heel doing promos and selling her arrogance.
It led to her major success on the main roster, shining well in various matches, selling her power and proving herself well. Charlotte really had the potential but it took a bit of time and effort for her to find her way nicely with the act. Indeed, her face turns show just how much better Charlotte is as a heel and thus proving herself worthy of her father’s legacy as one of the best stars in the company today.
5 Molly Holly
It took a while for Molly to find her own way in WWE. Her stuff in the indies wasn’t really groundbreaking and she looked rough a lot of the time in a run in WCW as Lady Ophelia. In WWE, was a “cousin” of the Hollys and worked with them as valet. She then turned heel to join with the Hurricane as Mighty Molly, complete with a caped costume but still nothing major. It took just being herself for Molly to finally click, dying her hair dark and just going as a normal gal. She presented herself as better than the other Divas, a real worker getting by on her ring stuff, not looking hot in a swimsuit.
This led to her winning the title and great feuds with Trish Stratus and others. Molly proved herself well, even having her hair shaved off by Victoria and rising up more. She finally left in 2005 but proved she had what it took to be a star without the trappings of a wild character, something WWE should pay attention to.
4 Alexa Bliss
The focus of the women of NXT was clearly on the big stars like Charlotte, Sasha Banks and others. Alexa Bliss was considered a secondary lady as Dana Brooke was believed to be a much bigger deal. Alexa did start off rough, mostly just a side aide to Buddy Murphy and Wesley Blake during their clashes with various teams. Her coming up short to Bayley in matches for the title and then pushed aside for Asuka seemed to indicate she wasn’t up for more.
But once called up to SmackDown, Alexa blossomed, suddenly transforming into a seriously top-notch worker wowing with both her ring skills and her terrific mic work. She was soon reigning as champion, moving to RAW to become even bigger and now among the top women in the company to prove herself on her own rather than in anyone’s shadow.
3 Candice Michelle
Quite obviously hired for her looks, Candice was famous already as the “Go-Daddy” girl and WWE capitalized on that. She showed off with some dance moves and tight outfits, a love for coats she could throw open to flaunt her body. It built up with her getting a “Playboy” spread and showing off nicely. But Candice soon showed some talent in the ring, becoming a better worker than expected as she used her flexibility to enhance her moves. She was soon holding the title and doing a good job, even voted Pro Wrestling Illustrated’s “Most Improved Wrestler,” a rare feat for a female worker. Candice would eventually leave but still looks great and shows how nicely she rose from just a hot body to a champion in her own right.
2 Brooke Tessmacher
Among the more laughable bits of TNA is when Lacey Von Erich was brought in and made out to be a big deal simply because of who her family was. This included her teaching Brooke Tessmacher the basics of wrestling. Lacey would end up infamous for bad moves, like jumping off the top, landing on her feet and then hitting a bad elbow. Meanwhile, Brooke was best known for her hot body that she would flaunt a lot in the ring. But she soon showed she was far better than that, emerging as a star of the Knockouts with a good run with the belt. True, she got attention for that nice chest and drive yet Brooke showed herself able to handle things in the ring quite well. She’s mostly retired today but Brooke proved she was far better a worker than Lacey could ever hope to be.
1 Trish Stratus
She is truly is remarkable in how much she grew. When Trish debuted in 2000, she was a massive knockout, a buxom blonde in tight outfits, an affinity for cowboy hats and coats and just eye candy. She got great response from fans on her looks and did show toughness taking a power bomb through a table. But she was more famous for bits like her “relationship” with Vince McMahon to just be another hot lady. But a bit of training by Fit Finlay unlocked Trish’s stunning potential and before anyone knew it, she was turning into one of the best female workers around. Between her great moves and fantastic athletic abilities, Trish was soon a multiple champion and one of the top stars of the company. Still hot, she backed it up with her ring work to be among the best around and still one of the best evolutions of a worker ever.