There are icons of women’s wrestling. The Fabulous Moolah enjoyed her (exaggerated and fudged) twenty eight year reign as champion. Mae Young has since replaced her as WWE’s representative women’s icon of choice, according to some sources because of allegations Moolah pimped out the women she managed. Miss Elizabeth is a legendary character, if primarily for her affiliation with The Macho Man Randy Savage. Sunny and Sable have a place in history as WWE’s first full on sex symbols. Chyna broke down barriers, actively competing in the men’s division, including working the Royal Rumble match and vying for the Intercontinental Championship during her tenure. Stacy Keibler would legitimately crossover from her work with WCW and WWE to become a mainstream celebrity. Meanwhile, Trish Stratus and Lita carved out a place for themselves as important figures coming out of the Attitude Era. Then there’s the contemporary period, when women are legitimately featured, and stars like Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks, Bayley, Alexa Bliss, and Asuka have a legitimate claim to be on similar footing with their male counterparts.
The summary of women in wrestling above is far from complete, but is emblematic of a divide between women who remembered by fans, and women WWE chooses to recognize the legacies of, as opposed to the arguably greater number of women who were important at one time, but have become largely forgotten. This article looks at 15 such female stars, their legacies, and what they have gone on to do since they stepped out of the pro wrestling spotlight.
Melina debuted for the WWE audience in 2005 and immediately turned heads as the ravishing manager for the MNM tag team of Johnny Nitro and Joey Mercury. Before too long, she’d be mixing it up in the ring herself, and would even go on to capture Divas Championship gold. Her unconventional offense, centered around aggression and uncanny physical flexibility helped her stand out, and even earned her unusually high praise from Bret Hart, who commented in an interview that she was one of the top in ring workers of the day.
After six years on the WWE main roster, Melina headed off to the independent circuit, where she remained a skilled performer and a big enough name to find regular work. After a two to three year stint away from the ring, she resurfaced on the indies again, and had one of her most high profile bookings showing up for Lucha Underground at the original Ultima Lucha season finale, where she helped old ally and former real life beau Johnny Mundo beat Alberto El Patron.
14 AJ Lee
AJ Lee was nothing if not an unlikely WWE star. In her book, Crazy is My Super Power, she highlighted how difficult her road to a WWE contract was after growing up in a tumultuous household and with very little in the way of financial resources. Even when she did get a developmental contract, she didn’t have the look WWE privileged in female performers at the time and was left to fester in developmental far longer than she rightly should have. She made it to the main roster and was promptly underutilized there, before her character caught fire for a brief period, leading her to a stint as Raw GM, high profile manager, and long reigning Divas Champion.
Lee opted to leave WWE and retire in her prime. It was widely speculated that she wasn’t happy. In particular, given she was romantically linked to CM Punk, who left WWE after his own ugly clash of personalities and values, the prevailing wisdom was that Lee, too, was disgruntled or, at minimum, leaving out of solidarity with the Straight Edge Superstar. Her book paints a less bitter picture, as someone who felt she’d accomplished all she set out to in wrestling, and knew when to move on.
Lee has since married Punk. They live together in Chicago where Lee is currently enjoying the success of her New York Times best selling book, and advocating for animal welfare.
13 Kelly Kelly
Kelly Kelly functions as a symbol of WWE’s approach to women’s wrestling before the so called Women’s Revolution and the effort toward taking women as equally serious athletes to their male counterparts. Kelly was young and beautiful, but not a properly trained wrestler when she started out, and never an in ring virtuoso, despite ultimately moving into a spot as the division’s top champion, and the de facto face of women’s wrestling in WWE. To be fair to Kelly, she was athletic and did demonstrate improvement over the years’ that she never evolved pasta certain point is probably at least equally a sign of the times as it is anything to blame the performer for.
Kelly signed with WWE when she was 19, and left in her mid-20s. Since moving on, she married NHL hockey player Sheldon Souray, and her biggest claim to fame has been appearing regularly on the E! reality TV series WAGS—an acronym standing for Wifes And Girlfriends of Sportsmen. She did resurface for WWE recently as part of the women's Royal Rumble.
Ask WWE fans about female stars of the early to mid 2000s and they’ll readily name Trish Stratus and Lita. Dig a little deeper and they might recall Victoria. Jazz’s legacy, however, tends to be lost to the sands of time. She was a bruising heel, though, and a particularly compelling heel opponent for Trish Stratus for a period of time, including a match at WrestleMania X8.
Jazz has worked the independent wrestling circuit on and off since her time with WWE was up. She married fellow WWE alum Rodney Mack and they have two kids together. According to an interview with PW Mania, she also owns and operated a gym in Louisiana with the mission of keeping kids off the streets and out of trouble.
11 Wendi Richter
Wendi Richter was one of the biggest breakout stars of WWE’s Rock N Wrestling Era. She unseated the Fabulous Moolah—billed to have held the Women’s Championship for twenty eight years leading up to that point. While the statistic was pretty murky, the changing of the guard was real. Richter was chosen as the hip new face of women’s wrestling, heavily featured in the War to Settle the Score MTV special, and the original WrestleMania.
Richter had a falling out with Vince McMahon over money. Namely, for all her popularity and notoriety, Richter felt she deserved more, and McMahon forcefully had Moolah take the title off of her in what has retroactively been billed the Original Screwjob. It was a bitter divorce and Richter was mostly written out of the WWE narrative from there. While the company did bring her back for a Hall of Fame induction 30 years after it all went down, that’s the extent to which they’ve buried the hatchet, leaving Richter mostly forgotten to anything but the most hardcore fans.
While Richter would continue wrestling abroad and on the indies for years, she’s enjoyed success in other walks of life, too, reportedly working as a real estate agent, physical therapist, and dog show competitor.
10 Alundra Blayze
Call her Alundra Blayze. Call her Madusa Miceli. Whatever the name, she was quite arguably the defining star of women’s wrestling in the US in the early to mid 1990s. Unfortunately, that also just happened to be the down period in between the peak of Hulkamania running wild and the Horsemen at their peak, and when the Monday Night War really took off.
For all of her strong in ring performances in WWE and character work in WCW, Blayze is far and away best remembered for signing with WCW after WWE dissolved its women’s division, bringing her WWE Women’s Championship with her, and dumping into a waste basket on national TV. While she was just following orders, the incident nonetheless saw her largely blacklisted after WWE absorbed WCW.
Blayze would go on to a successful career driving monster trucks, and she married an army man who was able to return from deployment for her WWE Hall of Fame induction.
9 Michelle McCool
Michelle McCool transitioned from the world of teaching middle school to WWE’s Diva Search, en route to working full time for the company for the better part of a decade. After a stint as a heel manager, she became the top face of SmackDown’s women’s division and the first Divas Champion. McCool would really hit her stride as a heel, however, particularly paired with Layla El for a mean girls duo known as LayCool. At that stage, McCool’s natural athleticism, accumulated experience in the ring, and charisma gelled to make her an underrated figure in the annals of WWE women’s wrestling.
Away from the ring, McCool married The Undertaker and that may be her biggest claim to fame among fans these days. The two are raising a child together, and McCool sadly got into the news in 2016 for a skin cancer diagnosis. More recently, she returned to WWE for the Raw 25th anniversary celebration and as a largely dominant force in the women's Royal Rumble--eliminating five other competitors.
8 Missy Hyatt
Missy Hyatt is among the most undeniably iconic women in wrestling history whom WWE will probably never honor with a Hall of Fame induction or any similar accolades. Part of that has to do with her lack of a WWE legacy—she was briefly contracted and WWE filmed her hosting the Missy’s Manor interview show, but the segments never really clicked and the two sides reportedly agreed to part ways. The bigger issue is her personal reputation.
While WWE suggests that Sunny was the original wrestling sex symbol, Hyatt had her beat by several years as she played up her sexuality in a variety of promotions, including WCW. She was notoriously rumored to have slept around with a variety of wrestling stars along the way. As if to capitalize on this reputation, Hyatt would go on to be featured in the Wrestle Vixxxens project, and a number of other videos and websites that were, or at least bordered on rated X.
7 Jillian Hall
Jillian Hal had a solid five year run with WWE from 2005 to 2010. She’s best remembered for her gimmick as a bad singer (which, depending on whom you ask, may or may not have been poking fun at Brooke Hogan), or as JBL’s manager with a giant mole on her face. Despite these more cartoonish pieces of character work, Hall was a deceptively fine wrestler, and in particular a skilled mechanic in the ring who went largely under-appreciated throughout her run.
Hall would continue her wrestling career with TNA and on the indies for another four years after leaving WWE and marry fellow wrestler John Toland. Not so great news followed her in her most recent headlines. This included a pregnancy that she announced on social media ended in a miscarriage, a battery charge that reportedly led her to separate from her husband, and most recently a DUI.
6 Katie Lea Burchill
Katie Lea Burchill had some success in WWE, and tends to be best remembered for a gimmick in which she played Paul Burchill’s sister and manager. The pair teased elements of an incestuous relationship, which Vince McMahon purportedly wanted to push much further before cooler heads prevailed. While she had a cult following and was reasonably respected, she never crossed over to achieve much in the way of sustained success in WWE.
Burchill would do better billed as Winter in TNA where she was featured prominently as a vaguely mystical character and captured the Knockouts Championship early in her tenure. She has since remained an on and off presence on the independent wrestling scene, in addition to delving in to the world of acting, landing a variety of small parts in television, film, and on stage.
Kharma was primed to become the focal point of women’s wrestling in WWE, when she debuted with the company and was immediately pushed as a monster who crushed every other woman she came across. Before she ever had a match in a WWE ring, however, she revealed that she was pregnant. She would be out of action from there. Word is that WWE wanted her to return to action before she felt ready, and she’d only work one more WWE match—an oddball Royal Rumble appearance before the two sides agreed to go their separate ways.
Kharma would return to her old stomping grounds in TNA where she had been a dominant force before. She’s continued to work the indies since, but also saw her acting career get some traction. Most notably, she had a star turn playing “Welfare Queen” on Netflix’s GLOW series.
4 Eve Torres
Eve Torres had a good run with WWE, first as a face with above average in ring talent who took the Divas Championship off of Maryse. Later, she’d have a career reboot as a heel character, and thrive all the more in that capacity working as a heel authority figure and as a heel wrestler, who also captured championship gold.
Since finishing up with WWE, Torres married into the Gracie jiu-jitsu family. She’s a practitioner of the form herself and has become a spokes person for it, particularly through the lens of women’s self defense. Torres has also transitioned to a non insignificant acting career, appearing in films and on television. She’s also the mother to a now two-year-old son.
Torres most recently appeared to WWE fans on an episode of Table for Three on the WWE Network, with fellow female alumni from her era, Kelly Kelly and Maryse.
Blink and you might have missed Wendy Barlow’s time in professional wrestling, but in 1993 she was a part of WCW programming, playing Fifi, Ric Flair’s maid during his Flair for the Gold interview segments and, for a short bit, his valet when he returned to the ring. As Flair’s run got more serious and he transitioned to the WCW Championship picture challenging Vader, Fifi disappeared. A half year later, Flair would turn heel, and replace her altogether with Sherri Martel.
Fifi didn’t disappear from Flair’s life, however. Wrestling fans who tuned into a 2013 episode of Celebrity Wife Swap featuring Ric Flair and Roddy Piper were surprised to find her appear as The Nature Boy’s partner. She made headlines the same year when Jackie Beems—whom Flair was still legally married to—purportedly threatened his new hubby.
2 Momma Benjamin
In the effort to get Shelton Benjamin over as a singles wrestler and as a heel, WWE booked actress and comedian Thea Vidale to play his stern mother and de facto manager. She hung around for about three months in 2006, and while she had her moments of comedic success, the character was largely panned by serious fans. Some went so far as to suggest having Benjamin’s kayfabe mother boss him around actually lessened his credibility and cut off what might have been building toward a main event, or at least upper mid card run.
Vidale has remained active in TV and film, and most particularly comedy. It turns out wrestling was more of a blip on her career radar than a defining piece of it. She’s largely forgotten from WWE lore at this point, as less a knock on the performer than the ill-conceived character she was brought in to play.
1 Molly Holly
Molly Holly was one of the most deceptively versatile, and downright talented performers WWE’s women’s division has ever seen. She was introduced as a third Holly cousin, clustered with Hardcore and Crash Holly in their largely comedic act. She’d go on to team up with The Hurricane in a deluded super hero act. In the final act of her WWE tenure, she’d get more serious as a hard-nosed heel, and work a featured match at WrestleMania 20 that saw her get her head shaved on account of a pre-match stipulation after she lost to Victoria.
Holly is a mother now, whose primary vocation is working as a trainer for up and coming wrestlers. She made a surprise one-off return to WWE programming to partake in the very first women’s Royal Rumble.