The women of the WWE have come a long way from the days of pudding matches, bikini contests and Playboy cover shoots. Yet what many people don't think about is how far they've come in terms of their character and overall look. Thanks to the WWE's unparalleled developmental system in NXT, its wrestlers - including its women - have been able to take time to test out multiple gimmicks, hairstyles and ring attires to find out what works best for them.
These changes are often most drastic from a Superstar's rookie year (or their time on the indies scene) to now. Do you remember seeing Sasha Banks with brown hair? Could you imagine The Bella Twins dressing up the same? It's very clear that Sasha, The Bella Twins and the rest of the WWE Women's Division look nothing like they did when they first made their way into the business. Not only have their looks evolved, but they have made much progress in identifying their characters.
A wrestler may have multiple rookie years. It may be their first year (or two, or three) on the independent circuit, depending on how frequently they wrestled. It may also refer to their first year in the WWE developmental system. As many can say in wrestling, one year is not an equal amount of time for everybody to make progress.
Nonetheless, immerse yourself with these 15 photos of the WWE women's division during their "rookie years." You may be surprised at the changes you see.
15 Charlotte Flair
Let's start this one off big, shall we? The genetically superior one most certainly had a superior physique compared to the other Divas at the time. However, this is most definitely not the Charlotte Flair that we know and love today. Charlotte didn't have experience when WWE hired her, but she sure picked things up quickly.
For starters, Charlotte doesn't have nearly as much confidence as she does today. After all, this is from her first-ever WWE photoshoot. She even admitted this on the company's YouTube channel. She was rocking the then-in ombre hair do as well. But Charlotte looks like she is trying to be extremely nice here. These days, Charlotte may be the most cutthroat woman of them all. But we aren't complaining.
Before she was feeling the glow, she was known to fans as Naomi Knight in WWE's then-developmental system, Florida Championship Wrestling. During her rookie year, she was selected to compete in the third season of the WWE's NXT television show alongside other women, such as AJ Lee and Kaitlyn.
As we can see, Naomi is no stranger to adding a bit of color into her hair. Perhaps this was the true precursor to the Feel The Glow gimmick that she tried to pick to creative for years. However, we didn't see many signs of the WWE's rave queen embracing her Glow character aside from her hair. Yet during her NXT season, she did have the best wrestling match that season against AJ. Luckily, Naomi has been able to not just find her character, but to become one of the most over women in the entire company - an accolade much deserved.
13 Alicia Fox (And Kelly Kelly)
Take a look at this photo, and you'll recognize not just one, but TWO women featured in this photo. Alicia Fox recently reposted this photo on Instagram with her and Kelly Kelly during their training days at Ohio Valley Wrestling. As a matter of fact, Alicia said this was taken during one of their first days of wrestling school.
While Alicia Fox isn't afraid to show off her bubbly side, she usually spends less time smiling and more time screaming these days. She doesn't look that much older these days (if at all). Seeing as this was taken back when OVW was still a training ground for WWE at the time, it just gives you an idea of how long Alicia Fox has managed to stay in WWE.
The WWE Universe's most Ravishing Superstar since Rick Rude bears only slight resemblances to her look today. When she made her WWE NXT debut, she sported a news reporter-like bob that she wouldn't be caught with today. You'll likely see her rock her ravishing locks down her back instead. Lana's been in the WWE a lot longer than we may have thought of now. This was back when she was first getting her feet wet in the business so we'll see if her wrestling catches on.
Also, while Lana rocked plenty of suits during her time with Rusev, she's seen in a very traditional business professional outfit here. That's overwhelmingly modest compared to her ring gear these days. But if Lana wants to show off her body, we most certainly will not stop her (or condone anyone stopping her).
11 Nia Jax
Nia Jax's rookie year was met with a major setback. After returning from a live event, Nia Jax was in a car that was struck by a drunk driver. The injuries she sustained kept her out of the ring for months, effectively bringing her rookie career to an end.
We don't get to see Nia looking as stripped down as she does here. She rocks her beautiful hair in a bun here, wearing casual clothes. We usually only see Nia in her ring gear or dressing up for a special occasion. Yet Nia has always been one of the WWE's most genuine and sincere Superstars on social media. Perhaps we will get to see more of that side of her when she debuts on season 7 of WWE's Total Divas.
So, Lita may not be an active wrestler in the WWE's women's division anymore. Yet she is providing commentary for the company's Mae Young Classic, so we'll allow her to be included here. Besides, she helped paved the way for the Women's Revolution that allowed this tournament to be possible.
Something that slips the minds of many is Lita's time in ECW. As a matter of fact, she spent a good chunk of her time as a rookie in the legendary promotion. Competing and managing as Angelica (and later Miss Congeniality), she wouldn't become the firey redhead that we know her to be until she joined WWE as Essa Rios' valet. The rest, as they say, is history. What a career this young fiery redhead would end up having.
9 Sasha Banks
The Boss was nothing close to what she is today during her time on the indies. Competing as Mercedes KV, she wrestled in many promotions throughout the New England region, quickly becoming a standout.
Most wrestlers spend nearly a decade on the indies before they are signed by the WWE. Sasha spent around two years before being signed to the biggest wrestling company in the world - a true rarity in the industry. It's clear the company saw potential in the Legit Boss. But her apperance and relative shyness in the ring heavily contrasts to the cocky, fierce Sasha Banks that graces our screen every Monday night on Raw. She seemed just like a run of the mill wrestler, but she has proven everyone wrong.
8 Alexa Bliss (And Sasha Banks. And Charlotte)
Here's a fun fact for you: Alexa Bliss, Sasha Banks and Charlotte technically made their main roster debuts at WrestleMania XXX. The three then-NXT Divas were used as props for Triple H's entrance that evening. Because, you know Triple H's entrances always have to be special.
Their cameos were relatively obscure, and we wouldn't see Sasha Banks and Charlotte on a main roster show for almost a year, when they had special showings on Raw and Superstars. For Alexa Bliss, it would be nearly two more years before she received similar opportunities by being drafted to SmackDown Live. This was when Alexa Bliss was known as NXT's resident fairy, complete with the blue hair. With her character giving nods to Harley Quinn, could we see that look making a comeback in the future?
7 Stephanie McMahon
The Billion Dollar Princess became known as that before her rookie year was over. However, since 99 percent of fans are aware of her relationship with Triple H, we decided to showcase a different photo with her previous boo, Test.
When Stephanie McMahon was a rookie on WWE programming, she was seen as the girl next door. How could a girl like her ever do anything wrong? When she betrayed her daddy and joined Triple H's side, it went down as one of the most heartbreaking moments of the Attitude Era. However it led to one of the greatest heel characters on WWE television.
While Stephanie looks great here, she has certainly aged very well. We'd even say that she's even in better shape than she ever has been!
While there are plenty of things we'd like to forget about the Diva Search, Maria Kanellis is most certainly not one of them.
The First Lady of SmackDown Live has more than come a long way. Written off by many as another Diva Search reject who couldn't wrestle, Maria became one of the few Diva Search contestants to go to the indies, improve their craft and find themselves. She would eventually join up with her real-life boyfriend (and how husband), Mike Kanellis, in Ring of Honor. It's a shame that she never got to be a heel during her first WWE run, because she's clearly killing it now. She certainly proved a lot of people wrong as she's still in the business over 13 years later.
5 Becky Lynch
This photo was taken during Becky's first years in wrestling, before she sustained an injury to a cranial nerve. Known then as Rebecca Knox, she was trained in the ring by none other than Finn Balor. During this time, she was regarded as one of the best female wrestlers in the world.
The future Becky Lynch was never afraid to show off her muscles, including here. She's continued to work on her physique, as chronicled by her Instagram posts. But where is that Straight Fire hair that has become synonymous with her gimmick today? That wouldn't come for nearly a decade later. While it maybe took Lynch longer than many women to make it to the big leagues, we are extremely glad that she returned to wrestling. Without her, Smackdown Live would be nowhere near as lit as it is.
4 The Bella Twins
Nearly a decade ago, no one could tell Brie and Nikki apart. The twins wore similar ring attires, one twin didn't showcase her tattoos visibly enough, and the other twin had yet to get breast implants. The twins did nearly everything in sync.
These days, that is most certainly not the case. The twins are treated more than just a commodity act. They've formed their own identities that appeal to their different personalities. Instead of just another set of twins. As fans have seen on Total Divas, Brie is much more of the frugal, nature-loving type who loves getting into Brie Mode, while Nikki Bella is the name-brand loving kind of girl who overcomes adversity as The Fearless One. Their wrestling days have winded down and both will soon be concentrating on married life.
Before she was the Fabulous Ms. Money In The Bank, Carmella was one of the many NXT Divas that was used in random capacities on live events. In this photo here, she's shown as a guest ring announcer.
A lot has changed for Carmella since her days in NXT. She's no longer partnered with Enzo and Big Cass, she's improved leaps and bounds in the ring and a Women's Championship reign seems ever so close in her favor. In fact it looks like she may be more successful in the business than Enzo and Cass will.
Yet the woman obviously loved her leopard print then just as much as she does now. And of course, she still looks F-A-B-U-L-O-U-S. We just think she'd look a little better with a bit of gold around her waist.
Like Maria, Maryse was also a Diva Search finalist that failed to win the competition. Shortly after being booted from the competition, Maryse was signed by the company and placed on the main roster almost immediately. She would be featured in a variety of backstage segments welcoming viewers to the show in both English and French.
Maryse is an incredible human being, and her facial expressions are some of the best in the company alongside Alexa Bliss. Yet she still seemed a bit reserved on camera during this time. She would spend more in developmental following these segments, where the Sexiest of Sexy would truly find her inner star. Her character (and in-ring skills) would continue to evolve during her time on the main roster as she captured the WWE Divas Title not just once, but twice.
Before there was Paige, there was Britani Knight, a member of one of the UK's most respected wrestling families. While earlier pictures of her are harder to find, this picture is from her indie days, back when she was still a teenager.
Long gone is the hook lip ring, the blonde streak and the late 2000s Hayley Williams-inspired hair cut. While Paige has always been more or less an alternative girl, her look was much more out there than it was today. What's interesting about Paige here is how much color she has in our outfit. Paige is notorious for having most of her ring gear be black. While she has definitely glammed up her appearance these days, it's clear from this picture that she still sticks to her roots.