For decades, professional wrestling has leaned into the practice of hiring beautiful women. The plan makes sense, particularly for traditionally, predominantly male audience. Add eye candy as a male wrestler’s valet, and he may grow more popular by association. Alternatively, make him a jerk to his valet, and he can come across all the more villainous, because it’s not just his opponent who garners sympathy in the ring, but the doe-eyed victim of his verbal abuse at ringside.
And then there are female wrestlers. Women’s wrestling is nothing new, but for quite some time, female wrestlers didn’t so much sell sex appeal, as prove themselves as rough, tough athletes akin to their male counterparts.
Around the 1980s, things started to shift before the 1990s and 2000s when major wrestling companies became more overtly invested in making female wrestlers into sex symbols. Whether it was gravy bowl matches or lingerie pillow fights on PPV, WWE and its contemporaries dropped the veneer that the sensual side of women’s wrestling was incidental, in favor of putting model-level beauties front and center in salacious situations.
Things have taken a turn, between TNA emphasizing talents like Awesome Kong and ODB who are far more wrestlers than models, and WWE more recently embracing women’s wrestling as a serious athletic endeavor. While many of today’s top female stars are, no doubt, objectively attractive women, it’s increasingly the case that they need to earn their keep as skilled in ring practitioners too (and it’s arguably that the best of the women increasingly rival the best of their male counterparts today).
This article takes a look at eight WWE bombshells who were or are terrific wrestling talents to boot, and eight who were more purely eye candy.
16 Great Wrestler: Lita
With her punk style, including tattoos and hair dyed an unnaturally bright red, Lita captured the imagination of teenage boys across the country during WWE’s Attitude Era. Better yet, she backed her non-traditional sex appeal with a non-traditional, but truly fantastic approach to actually wrestling.
In her WWE Hall of Fame induction speech, Lita explained her career journey. She traveled down to Mexico to learn to wrestle, and hence picked up the lucha libre-oriented flying headscissors and moonsaults that would come to define her offensive move set. By the time she made it WWE, Lita was not only a skilled professional wrestler, but unique one, particularly by the standards of female performers of her day. It’s little surprise, then, that she would remain one of WWE’s top female talents for nearly a decade, thriving both as a face and, toward the end of her career, as a heel.
15 Couldn’t Wrestle: Sunny
Sunny is quite arguably WWE’s original sex symbol—not only a beautiful woman, but one whom WWE dressed in spandex aerobic ware at ringside to manage Skip as The Bodydonnas, before WWE more overtly cashed in on cheesecake photo shoots that saw her pose in swimwear and become one of the company’s biggest money makers in the mid-1990s. She quickly went from drawing attention to guys she managed, though, to critics claiming she overshadowed them.
Subsequent shoot interviews have demonstrated that Sunny is very knowledgeable and thoughtful about the wrestling business, but she was never really a trained professional wrestler. Though she did have some matches, she never did anything to impress in that context, and was usually heavily protected to not over-expose her lack of preparation or skill.
14 Great Wrestler: Paige
Long before her leaked sex videos made Paige the center of unwanted attention, she was grabbing the attention of the wrestling world for her in-ring work. First in NXT, and then on the main roster, Paige stood at a sort of nexus. On one hand, she was a throwback performer with family roots in the business who worked a style that was tough, polished, and fundamentally unlike many of her contemporaries. On the other hand, and as it turned out, she was a harbinger of the excellent women’s wrestling to follow in WWE.
Perhaps best of all, sex appeal always seemed like a secondary consideration in the marketing of Paige as a wrestler. Hopefully the video scandal won’t derail that, and whether she sticks with WWE or heads elsewhere soon, she’ll still have the chance to shine first and foremost as an athlete.
13 Couldn’t Wrestle: Miss Elizabeth
For a particular generation of wrestling fans who grew up on Hulkamania, Miss Elizabeth was the definitive wrestling beauty. She would accompany The Macho Man Randy Savage to the ring, and whether it was the gowns she wore at ringside, or her soft-spoken demeanor, there was always a sense that she was a little too good for the chaos of the professional wrestling world.
Elizabeth peaked playing a damsel in distress who was only moved to occasional action out of loyalty to and a desire to defend Savage. Her big moments included stripping off her skirt to distract heels Andre the Giant and Ted DiBiase in a SummerSlam main event, and years later tearing Sensational Sherri off Savage when she kicked at him. Nonetheless, WWE seemed to understand what it had in Liz, and generally kept her out of the fray. WCW, on the flip side, cashed in on the intrigue of her wrestling for the first time in after all of those years in the business. They offered just enough to expose Miss Elizabeth as no athlete, though little enough that she mercifully didn’t get hurt in the ring.
12 Great Wrestler: Madusa
After Wendi Richter left WWE in a huff due to disputes over her payment, WWE downplayed women’s wrestling before rendering it obsolete in the early 1990s. In 1993, the company tried again, this time building its women’s division around Alundra Blayze, also known as Madusa.
Blayze may have been the perfect pick for WWE to center on. Yes, she was an attractive woman, but she was also a hellacious worker who blended technical wrestling, striking, and throws for a harder hitting style than mainstream American wrestling fans had ever really seen out of female performers before. She delivered outstanding matches—particularly against Bull Nakano—and the only real knock on her run is that it was centered so completely on her that it grew a bit repetitive and predictable.
11 Couldn’t Wrestle: Stacy Keibler
WCW landed one of wrestling’s all time most beautiful stars in Stacy Keibler. It was no surprise that she would crossover to acting, not to mention a high profile relationship with George Clooney after her career in wrestling was done. Surely, it was the pretty face and the long legs that convinced WWE to sign her when they bought out WCW.
Unfortunately in an era when Trish Stratus, Lita, Molly Holly, Victoria, and others were tearing it up in WWE rings, Keibler’s absence of skill or progress as an in ring performer became increasingly apparent. While her looks, and arguably a dose of charisma, would keep her employed with WWE for longer than most, she’d never cross over to become a true in ring talent. As such, she never won any championship gold, and all of her best storylines focusing on her work as a manager, rather than as a wrestler.
10 Great Wrestler: Sasha Banks
While Sasha Banks was a hard worker at the start of her NXT run, there may be no wrestler, male or female, who demonstrated more steady improvement as an in ring worker, talker, and all around wrestling persona than her. By the time she finished with NXT, there was no shortage of pundits arguing not whether Banks had participated in the match of the year, but which of her matches with Bayley or Becky Lynch most deserved the honor.
While Banks’s main roster run hasn’t been as consistently great, she’s been a solid face with an edge and delivered great matches opposite Charlotte. A heel turn looks imminent and may mark Banks’s chance to rise even higher. Yes, she’s a pretty face, with purple hair that helps her stand out in a crowd, but there’s much, much more to her as a performer.
9 Couldn’t Wrestle: Sable
While Sunny was the WWE sex symbol who didn’t really even try to sell as a wrestler, Sable got over first as a victim of Marc Mero, Goldust, and Luna’s bullying, then as an empowered woman when she threw down and went after them all.
Sable was fit and could deliver a few key moves like the TKO and a mean powerbomb, but shoot interviews suggest that veterans like Luna Vachon and Jacqueline carried this beautiful woman to passable matches, while largely staying in her shadow. The smoke and mirror routine was fine enough until Sable purportedly developed an ego to boot.
All’s well that ends well, though, as Sable wound up marrying arguably the most legit wrestling badass of all time in wrestling history, Brock Lesnar.
8 Great Wrestler: Natalya
Natalya spent most of her WWE tenure amidst much less talented colleagues, during an era when WWE skewed toward hiring models for its women’s roster and hoping for the best. Interestingly, she was a bit of a forerunner to today’s roster. Natalya’s an attractive woman, but also has a more athletic, powerful build than the skinnier, frailer women that at first surrounded her.
All that said, Natalya is one of the great female technicians of her day, which should, perhaps, come as little surprise given her lineage as part of the celebrated Hart family that includes her uncles Bret and Owen, not to mention her dad, Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart. It’s unfortunate she’s spent so much of her career lost in the shuffle, playing second fiddle to the aforementioned models, and to Beth Phoenix as the more dominant powerhouse of their day. Now, she’s a veteran hand, holding down the fort amidst a new generation of stars who legitimately can hang with her in the ring.
7 Couldn’t Wrestle: Candice Michelle
Candice Michelle rose to fame as the Go Daddy Girl—a model who advertised for a popular web hosting service. WWE signed her as another pretty face, and she was quickly cast as a heel character, most famously teaming up with Torrie Wilson and Victoria in a heel trio.
As an example of Michelle’s poor wrestling work, she had a match largely staged on a bed with Torrie Wilson at WrestleMania 22. After taking back drop onto the bed she tried to sell her back one of the most preposterous faux injuries seen in a WrestleMania ring.
To her credit, Michelle did get better in the ring, and was an OK face champion for a short spell, but remains far better remembered as wrestling eye candy than as a wrestler.
6 Great Wrestler: Charlotte Flair
Sure, Charlotte Flair is a beauty who fits the more traditional WWE mold of women with long blond hair and tanned skin. Once she takes her robe off, though, her body gives the first indicators that she is a serious athlete, well muscled and toned. From there, when she steps in the ring, she demonstrates an uncanny mix of power (watch her (wo)manhandle smaller athletes), athleticism (see her top rope moonsault and variations on it), and technical savvy (check out her finisher, the Figure Eight).
Sure, Charlotte had a leg up growing up as both a human being and wrestler under the tutelage of her famous father Ric. She is, however, that rare second generation wrestler for whom it’s abundantly clear she’s earned her own way, maybe getting fast tracked to the Women’s Championship because of her lineage, but more than able to represent the family name proudly with her work in the ring.
5 Couldn’t Wrestle: Ashley Massaro
A Diva Search winner, and an eventual Playboy model, there’s no question that Ashley Massaro is an attractive woman. Just the same, she’s also a prime example of the kind of female wrestler WWE privileged for years. She had sex appeal for sure, and was reasonably popular on account of it, and yet she never put forth a decent wrestling performance, despite trying for three years.
You can’t really blame Massaro for making the most of being offered a profitable situation that made her famous. Just the same it’s strange to think that she was the de facto face of the women’s roster for a year or so. Moreover, she got two separate WrestleMania matches—more than the vast majority of women on this list—not to mention that the first was a singles bout with the Women’s Championship on the line.
4 Great Wrestler: Becky Lynch
Becky Lynch’s road to the WWE was an unusual one. She’d been a wrestler and actually decided to retire before from actively wrestling before WWE started looking for talent to fill out its NXT roster. Little could she have known when she decided to hang up her boots that she’d soon find herself wrestling for the biggest wrestling promotion in the world.
The Irish Lass Kicker has a unique look. WWE has generally played down her sexuality, but she still has quite a few fans with crushes on her. A part of the appeal, of course, is that she can bring it in the ring, too, undeniably one of the most skilled women who has ever worked for WWE. Her matches in NXT, particularly opposite Sasha Banks, were downright excellent and she rode that momentum to the main roster, first as part of the Team PCB stable with Paige and Charlotte, then as one Charlotte’s top challengers. From there, she became the anchor of the women’s division on SmackDown, and the brand’s first Women’s Champion since the new brand split.
3 Couldn’t Wrestle: Torrie Wilson
Torrie Wilson debuted in WCW as the wildly attractive woman to seduce David Flair and lure him to join the nWo against his father. She was certainly fit for that part—a fresh face to the wrestling world, with top tier model looks.
Those looks got Wilson signed to WWE after the company bought out WCW. In the early 2000s, I read an interview with Torrie Wilson in which she discussed her desire to one day be a WWE Women’s Champion. At the time, I remembered thinking that she’d probably achieve that milestone given that just about every woman on the roster seemed to get a spin with the title, and yet it never happened.
The reason why? For as easy as Wilson was on the eyes, and as much as she even demonstrated a fair degree of athleticism, she never quite put the pieces together to succeed as an in ring worker. No move embodies that dynamic better than her springboard back elbow—a move that requires impressive strength, agility, and coordination, and that she used on the regular, but delivered in slow, awkward fashion to look completely unrealistic as meaningful offense.
2 Great Wrestler: Trish Stratus
The worst thing you can say about Trish Stratus? She got recruited as a fitness model, and became one of the greatest female stars in WWE history. While that was a great success for her, it became a template WWE tried to follow for years to follow with far less impressive results.
Just the same Stratus was successful enough to justify imitation. After her more humble beginnings as a manager, she grew into a passable wrestler, before arriving as a great worker, great talker, and all around terrific wrestling talent who could work as both a never say die face, and as a magnificent arrogant heel. She finished up her full time wrestling career as the kind of veteran fans are inclined to cheer regardless of her character, tying up a great, multi-year feud with Lita with one last great match at Unforgiven 2006.
1 Couldn’t Wrestle: Eva Marie
There’s a sense in which you have to feel bad for Eva Marie. Yes, she’s very attractive young woman, and got hired mostly based on that fact. The thing is that the hire happened at exactly the wrong time for her, as WWE transitioned right around that time to a new focus on women who could deliver in the ring. Her star quickly fizzled in comparison to up and comers like Sasha Banks, Charlotte Flair, and Bayley.
Eva Marie did show some improvement. She grew into her arrogant, entitled heel role as WWE played off of hardcore fans’ skepticism about her viability as a wrestler. Just the same, she still had her limitations as a performer. Her last angle went down in summer 2016, with her repeatedly no showing matches with claims of spurious injuries (in reality, she was under a Wellness Policy suspension). From there, she faded from WWE programming, and is heavily rumored to be on her way out of the company.