Chances are, when you see the women of the WWE today, you immediately think of their skill, gifted athleticism and the world class matches they’ve been able to perform over the last three years. Who can look at Sasha Banks without thinking about her glass-ceiling-shattering tour de force match with Bayley at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn, or her epic Hell in the Cell match with Charlotte Flair? When you think of the Four Horsewomen, chances are their show stealing match at WrestleMania 32 comes to mind. However, for a long time, that wasn’t the case. The women of the WWE weren’t treated as wrestlers, respected for their skill. They were Divas, and those divas were more often than not, naked.
Long before the women’s revolution, in the days of the Attitude and Ruthless Aggression eras, women were little more than eye candy, with bikini contests, bra and panties matches and lingerie pillow fights, taking the place of real athletic competition. And while several women rose above this box they’d been placed in to become celebrated in-ring performers, just as many were perfectly content filling the sexy valet and playful vixen roles until the end of their WWE days. It’s an issue that becomes perfectly clear when you look at the women hired during this time. If you were a WWE Diva between 1995 and 2015, chances are, you were a model with little to no prior wrestling experience.
This list will look at the women of the WWE who were hired primarily for their looks. Some have gone on to work hard and carve out careers for themselves as serious wrestlers, others are just as skilled at wrestling now as they were the day they debuted. Either way, these women all have one thing in common, they were not hired for their abilities in the ring.
15 Nikki Bella
Nikki Bella is perhaps the last true WWE Diva. One of the few women who actively combines her sexuality with her athleticism and is just as comfortable in a bikini photoshoot as she is battling for the women’s championship. The California-native came into the company at a time when the WWE was moving away from hiring serious wrestlers like Trish Stratus, Lita and Victoria and were instead focusing their attention on potential Playboy models. Bella thrived in this environment, rising to the top of the company, becoming the face of the E! reality show, Total Divas alongside her sister and eventually the longest reigning Divas Champion. Her relationship with John Cena, which is often chronicled on her reality show as well as its spin-off, Total Bellas, has caused many to discredit her achievements, passing them off as nepotism, but Bella has worked hard to improve her wrestling skills and often talks about her desire to be taken seriously as a wrestler. Still, her talents don’t quite compare to that of her more decorated post-revolution peers and Bella will have to work even harder if she ever wants her hands on the Smackdown Women’s Championship again.
When Lana made her WWE debut in January of 2014, few could have predicted that she’d become one of the most popular managers to ever step foot in the squared circle. Her beauty, charisma and cutthroat character making the Ravishing Russian a fan favourite amongst wrestling fans. However, even she admits that when she was initially approached with the idea of auditioning for the world famous wrestling promotion, she didn’t think she had what it took. Having moved to Los Angeles to make it as an actress, Lana (real name: C.J. Perry), booked jobs as a backup dancer, working for the likes of Nelly, Pink and Usher. She also landed a small role in Pitch Perfect before being offered the opportunity to audition for an untelevised WWE Diva Search in 2013.
In an interview with the men’s lifestyle website, Crave, Lana admitted that her lack of wrestling experience made her weary of auditioning but says she immediately took to the combination of athletics, acting and performing. She’s since accomplished a lot in her four short years with the company, proving she’s more than just a pretty face.
13 Eva Marie
Eva Marie’s stunning good looks are both what made her one of the most recognizable women in professional wrestling and also one of the most polarizing. Having made a name for herself as a fitness model, Marie auditioned for the 2013 Diva Search and ended up winning the competition, getting pushed into a main roster debut almost immediately with little training. While her fiery red hair and sultry looks made an immediate impact on wrestling fans, Marie was incredibly green in the ring and her lack of skill was evident any time she competed in wrestling competition. Her inadequacies as a wrestler combined with her vacant speech cadence made it hard for her to connect with fans and she soon became one of the most controversial figures in pro wrestling, met with a deafening chorus of boos whenever she’d step into the ring.
Marie has since departed from the WWE to focus on her acting career and it’s a shame, because with the reaction she elicited from fans, she could have become one of the greatest heels in the business.
12 Mandy Rose
While Mandy Rose’s career in the WWE has been a short one, it’s already been steeped in controversy. The former fitness model and 2014 World Beauty Fitness and Fashion Bikini Champion, got her foot in the door in the company when she competed on the sixth season of Tough Enough in 2015. While the New York-native found herself on the brink of elimination during an episode of the contest, she was eventually saved by judge, The Miz. In an interview on the Stone Cold Steve Austin Podcast, fellow judge Paige admitted that it’s a decision, she felt was a mistake, saying, “The whole thing about Amanda getting saved, I don’t have anything against Amanda, I just don’t think she should have been saved because she was hot.”
Rose also had a brief stint on Total Divas and currently wrestles in the WWE’s developmental brand NXT, but she’s learned quickly that it takes a lot more than good looks alone to be successful in the WWE.
11 Stacy Keibler
She’s got legs and she knows how to use them. It’s hard to hear the phrase WWE Diva, without thinking of Stacy Keibler. The Baltimore bombshell, embodied the title in a way few performers ever have, becoming one of the most popular women in the company’s history despite never actually achieving much in the ring. Having joined the WWE in 2001 following their acquisition of WCW, Keibler quickly became a fixture in WWE programming. Playing the calculating manager to many a WWE star, Keibler wasn’t afraid to use her good looks and trademark 41.5 inch legs to squeak out a win or book a big match for her associates.
While she rarely competed as a major singles star, Keibler managed to bring a sense of gravitas to her role, met with raucous cheers whenever she made her way to the ring regardless of whether it was to host a bikini contest, compete in a match or just to cheer her latest protege on from the sidelines. It’s safe to say, Keibler has left an indelible mark on the WWE Diva legacy.
10 Eve Torres
While the WWE has almost always prioritized looks over abilities when it comes to their portrayal of women, the early 2010s were a particularly dark time for the promotion, boasting a roster almost completely made up of models who couldn’t wrestle their way out of a paper bag. One woman who certainly stood out was Eve Torres. Another recruit of the Diva Search, Torres came into the WWE with little experience but quickly became a competent in-ring performer. This was likely due to her background in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, in which she holds a purple belt, having been trained by one of the best, her husband Rener Gracie of the legendary Gracie family.
Torres left the company in 2013 to focus on her Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu inspired women’s self-defense program and while she’ll likely never be remembered on the level of Trish Stratus and Charlotte Flair, for a while, she was one of the most dependable women in the division.
9 Maryse Ouellet
Maryse is the perfect example of a woman who was largely hired for her looks, taking that opportunity and running with it, to become one of the most exciting characters in professional wrestling today. Brought into the WWE through (where else?) the WWE Diva Search, Maryse struggled to connect with audiences early on thanks to her thick French-Canadian accent and minimal understanding of the English language.
She had some singles success, winning the Divas Championship on two separate occasions but it wasn’t until she partnered with real-life husband, The Miz, that Maryse has really been able to make the most of her potential. Billed as “The A-List Couple,” Maryse and The Miz are regularly two of the most entertaining figures on Raw or SmackDown, whether they’re holding The Mizzies, cutting pipebomb-worthy promos on John Cena and Nikki Bella or just scheming their way to championship-gold. Maryse is living proof that just because an advantage gets you through the door, doesn’t mean you’re not exactly where you belong.
It says a lot that Cameron’s lasting legacy in the WWE has been an event that happened before she was even signed by them. Fans first got to know the Los Angeles-native when she briefly competed in the reality competition, Tough Enough. When asked by Stone Cold Steve Austin to name her favorite match of all time, the erstwhile-Funkadactyl cited “Melina vs. Alicia Fox,” to be her favorite match, a match that had only recently aired and was seen as largely forgettable. Cameron was then eliminated from the competition faster than you could say, “girl, bye,” but for reasons unknown to many, was still given a WWE contract.
Throughout her career, Cameron made more waves on the reality docu-drama, Total Divas than she did in athletic singles competition and in 2016, the WWE announced that they had released her from her contract.
7 Summer Rae
If the birth of NXT has highlighted one thing, it’s how badly poor creative booking can derail even the most gifted performer’s momentum and that is certainly true when it comes to Summer Rae. A former cornerback for the Lingerie Football League, Rae wasn’t exactly a veteran to the ring when she debuted in NXT in 2012. However, her big personality and great character work quickly got her over with fans. Rae eventually teamed up with Sasha Banks and later, Charlotte, forming the B.F.F.s, one of the most entertaining female factions in NXT history.
However, when the blonde bombshell was called up to the main roster, she was largely wasted in gimmicky valet roles and hasn’t been featured on WWE television in more than a year. While Summer Rae was never able to make good on her potential to become the modern-day Stacy Keibler, she has certainly left on her mark on the WWE landscape.
6 Candice Michelle
There was a time when Candice Michelle was one of the most popular Divas in the WWE. Much in the way The Bella Twins ascended to the top as competition in their division waned, Michelle thrived in the post-Trish and Lita era of the WWE in which focus shifted from genuine physical bouts to catfights and contests meant to titillate male viewers more than showcase real athleticism. Never above using her looks to her advantage, Michelle emerged victorious in many a lingerie pillow fight or wet and wild competition and eventually became the spokesperson for Go Daddy and a Playboy covergirl. However, it was her charisma and likability that won over WWE audiences and by the time she was released in 2009, fans were sorry to see her go.
5 Kelly Kelly
It’s hard to hear the phrase, “hired for their looks,” without thinking of Kelly Kelly. The former WWE Divas Champion’s looks were almost her entire gimmick during her early run with the company. Debuting on the reinvented ECW in 2006, Kelly was introduced to fans as an exhibitionist who would perform weekly stripteases to WWE audiences, usually interrupted by her controlling boyfriend Mike Knox before she could bare all. However, she was eventually moved to the main roster where, despite never improving much as an in-ring performer, she became a fan favorite thanks to her bright smile and sunny personality.
Since leaving wrestling in 2012, Kelly has returned to modelling and currently stars on the E! reality show, WAGs, about the wives and girlfriends of professional athletes. While some may consider her the poster girl for one of women’s wrestling’s darkest periods in the WWE, it’s hard to deny that she will be remembered as one of the most over performers of her time.
4 Rosa Mendes
Are you sensing a pattern? Rosa Mendes is yet another member of the WWE talent pool recruited thanks to the Diva Search and while the glorified modelling competition has introduced fans to several fantastic performers like Maria Kanellis and Maryse Ouellet, just as many women have failed to capitalize on the opportunity they’ve been given, largely due to the fact they were hired with few qualifications other than their aesthetics.
Despite being a lightning rod for drama on Total Divas, Mendes’s in ring career never quite caught the same fire, amounting to a series of valet odd couple pairings and in 2017, the Canada-native announced her retirement from the promotion, a year after stepping away from the spotlight to give birth. Considering the results of the Diva Search-era, maybe it’s for the best that the contest has been put out of its misery.
3 Torrie Wilson
When you think of bonafide WWE sex symbols, Torrie Wilson is probably one of the first names that comes to mind. Alongside her partner-in-crime and real-life best friend, Stacy Keibler, Wilson redefined what it meant to be a WWE Diva, bringing some much needed relevancy to the role. Throughout her seven-year career, Wilson fully embraced her position with the company, ruling over any and all bikini contests, lingerie photoshoots and Playboy pictorials with a genuineness and likability that made her feel like a real character within the show rather than a body to be objectified. Likely to elicit deafening cheers from fans whenever her music hit.
Wilson was featured on the cover of Playboy twice, however, interestingly enough, the Boise, Idaho-native admitted in an interview on Lillian Garcia’s podcast that she actually considers herself a prude and struggles to think of herself as sexy. A feat that is much less challenging for the many male admirers who watched Wilson cement her place as one of the most beloved Divas in WWE history.
2 Brie Bella
One of the biggest criticisms levelled against the women of the WWE, is their lack of wrestling knowledge prior to being signed by the promotion. However, when it comes to Brie Bella, that’s actually not the case. During an appearance on Lillian Garcia’s Making Their Way to the Ring podcast, Bella revealed that she first was turned on to the sport while working as a waitress at Hooters. Bella said she’d often have to work while the pay-per-views were being screened and while she didn’t think much of it at first, she soon found herself just as invested as the rowdy patrons she was serving, crediting Mickie James as the woman who first captured her interest. It was this WWE fandom that inspired Bella to convince her sister to postpone her plans playing professional soccer in Italy, to audition for the 2006 Diva Search. While the twins failed to make the top eight, they managed to convince producers to sign them to a developmental deal and the rest is history. While they still face a steady stream of criticism from wrestling purists, The Bella Twins have managed to prove their doubters wrong, becoming two of the most powerful women in sports entertainment. Not bad for two women with no previous wrestling experience.
1 Alexa Bliss
This one is admittedly a controversial addition. While Alexa Bliss is known as one of the most popular women in wrestling today, it wasn’t long ago that the reigning Goddess of the WWE was facing her first major hurdle in achieving in-ring supremacy; actually learning how to wrestle. During her appearance on Talk is Jericho, Bliss admitted that she had no wrestling training when she was signed to the WWE, her background largely in cheerleading and fitness competitions. In fact, the words she was told when she was signed were, “I hope you’re as athletic as you look.” She also opened up about how hard those first few weeks were, saying that she was intimidated by how good the other women were, feeling like she’d never reach their level, recalling a particular low point when she called her mother crying that it was too hard and she wanted to quit.
However, she dug deep and persevered and in just one year on the main roster has already achieved more than most do in their entire careers. While her wrestling skills are still green, her supreme confidence and exceptional abilities on the mic have more than made up for it, making her not just the top heel in the company, but the first woman to win both the Raw and Smackdown Women’s Championships. Her looks may have gotten her through the door, but her hard work and talent has put Bliss on the map as one to watch.