For years, WWE struggled to find a place for women’s wrestling. Vince never really saw women’s wrestling as a huge draw in America, and there was certainly a time when that was the case. Despite a brief effort to legitimize the concept in the mid-90s, the company eventually fell back on turning women’s matches into a glorified strip show. While the dawn of the new millennium was not exactly the dawn of a new day for women wrestlers in WWE, the year 2000 marked a point when the lineage of the WWE Women’s/Divas Championship began to include the names of some of the best female wrestlers in the world.
Of course, it also featured some of the worst. That’s the fascinating thing about the history of championship women wrestlers in WWE. The discrepancy between the very best to ever hold the title and the absolute worst is simply stunning. The idea that the people on the opposite ends of this talent spectrum could have held the same belt is almost beyond belief. From the clearly bad to the all-time great, this is the ranking of every Women’s/Divas Champion from 2000 to the present day and from worst to best.
Hervina was the first women’s champion of the new millennium and certainly the worst. For those who don’t remember this character, Hervina was just long-time manager Harvey Wippleman dressed in drag. He defeated The Kat in a Lumberjill Snow Bunny match (don’t ask) and became the first male to ever win the women’s championship. To be entirely honest, a man winning the women’s championship could have actually been an interesting play on the storyline which saw Chyna win the Intercontinental Championship.
Instead, it proved to be a poorly booked title reign that didn’t get anybody over and lasted less than a day. If nothing else, Hervina will always have the honor of being the absolute worst women’s champion ever and the worst male to ever hold the title.
34 The Kat
Speaking of The Kat, let’s talk about The Kat. Much like how Brian Christopher got a job in WWE by virtue of being Jerry Lawler’s son, The Kat got her start in the company by virtue of being Jerry Lawler’s girlfriend/wife. The difference was that Brian Christopher actually proved to be talented from time to time and The Kat...well...how to put this? If you want to be generous, you could say that The Kat was the perfect Women’s Champion for the Attitude Era. That’s less of a compliment, though, and more of a condemnation of how WWE booked their women’s division during this time.
The Kat pranced around in as little clothing as the censors would allow - sometimes much less - and put her competitors’ health at risk with her own brand of incompetent wrestling.
33 Candice Michelle
WWE briefly flirted with the idea of treating their women’s division somewhat seriously - more on that later - they eventually fell back to the Attitude Era-style booking that worked so well for them in the past. As sad as that was, it’s somehow even worse that Candice Michelle won the championship during this time while wrestlers like Torrie Wilson and Stacy Keibler who deserved the title much more never even got the chance to enjoy a brief champion run.
While it’s true that Candice Michelle drew a decent amount of heat during her prime, she never threatened to be even a decent wrestler and also struggled mightily with cutting promos. If WWE was going to give the belt to a Candice Michelle-type, there were far better options.
32 Kelly Kelly
Kelly Kelly’s WWE career history is a rather interesting example of the company’s creative team - or just Vince McMahon - refusing to give up on a wrestler that they have determined will be a star. Kelly Kelly joined WWE when she was just 19, and WWE did all they could to get her over as their next blond bombshell sensation. For years, WWE did everything they could to portray Kelly Kelly as a star. They even put the championship on her. None of it really worked for the simple reason that Kelly Kelly wasn’t a great wrestler, was largely devoid of personality, and couldn’t cut a promo. She wasn’t exactly unwatchable, but she failed to find her identity as either a heel or face.
31 Jillian Hall
When Jillian Hall debuted on the main roster in 2005, she was saddled with a strange gimmick that revolved around a grotesque mole on her face that was eventually eaten by The Boogeyman. It’s one of the worst stories that WWE has ever run, and that is no small feat. As bad as that angle was, however, it would turn out to be the last time that Jillian Hall was really all that interesting. WWE tried a few different things with Hall - including her brief stint as an awful singer and the title run that got her on this list - but Hall was mediocre to bad across the board. Her matches were forgettable, her promos were sometimes acceptable, and she never really improved much even as her opportunities grew greater.
In recent years, everyone that has ever worked with Melina in WWE have come out of the dark in order to share a few words regarding what a pain it was to supposedly work with the former Diva who certainly embodied that word. Was Melina ever really that bad of a performer, though? Well, yes and no. Melina wasn’t the best in-ring worker when she debuted in the company and she was green as grass on the microphone. Over time, she did eventually become comfortable working her Hollywood star character and served as a fairly respectable women’s heel at a time when the division was certainly lacking.
Having said all that, Melina doesn’t compare to the top-end entrants on this list and her noted attitude problems put her a few notches below performers that are arguably at least her equals.
Figuring out Jazz’s exact placement on this list is fairly difficult. WWE pushed Jazz as a serious wrestler during a time when the WWE women’s division still featured bra and panties matches and the like. Jazz was fit for the gimmick in the sense that she didn’t look like the typical diva and was a fairly decent wrestler but the truth of the matter is that Jazz wasn’t nearly good enough to kickstart some kind of revolution in the division. Jazz was also quite boring. Say what you will about some divas only pushed because of their looks, but a fair few of those wrestlers actually found ways to capture your attention. Jazz’s in-ring skills weren’t good enough for her to blow your mind with her matches, and she was devoid of personality.
Kaitlyn debuted in WWE during a particularly bad time for the division. It was an era that was somewhere between the raunchy diva days and the women’s revolution. WWE didn’t want to overly sexualize their female performers, but they also weren’t quite ready to trust them to regularly have great matches. In many ways, Kaitlyn is the embodiment of that era. Were her matches unwatchable? Not exactly. Could she cut a promo? Eh. Did she look great? Absolutely. Ultimately, though, Kaitlyn is one of those wrestlers that you forget even held the Divas Championship until you actually look up a list of winners. Kaitlyn didn’t make the division any worse, but she was never nearly as good as WWE would have you believe that she was.
27 Stephanie McMahon
It’s tempting to rank Stephanie lower on this list, and it’s equally tempting to place her higher on this list. The argument for a lower ranking is relatively simple. Stephanie was not a full-time wrestler when she won the women’s championship, and she wasn’t nearly as good of an overall performer as she would eventually become. The whole “Boss’s Daughter” thing is also certainly a knock against her championship reign. Still, for as hated as Stephanie winning the belt was at the time, you do have to remember that she was supposed to be hated. In fact, we’d go so far as to say that Stephanie’s championship reign was one of the few times during that era that the Women’s Championship was treated with even a measure of respectability. Still, there are others who deserve more credit.
When WWE announced that Jacqueline was going to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, some fans raised a concerned eyebrow. Their argument was that Jacqueline was an okay wrestler in her day, but is far from Hall of Fame worthy. While that might be the case, you do have to remember that Jacqueline came into WWE at a time when the company had no idea how to book the women’s division. Despite this, she is still remembered as a pretty respectable performer. Sure, she participated in evening gown matches, bikini matches, and similar bouts, but the same can be said of other performers who are very high on this list. At a time when WWE was desperate for respectable women’s wrestlers, Jacqueline helped create a template for the future.
It’s tempting to give Layla the love that she never really received during her WWE run by placing her higher on this list. Layla was someone that WWE would call on whenever they needed to fill an empty spot on the roster. Extra participant in a battle royal? Call Layla. Someone needs a tag team partner? Layla. Despite this, Layla made the most of her opportunities and eventually became champion. As fantastic as Layla could be, though, she was never really able to make that jump from “Sexy Diva” to “Fighting Champion.” She was a very good overall performer, but her in-ring skills were a step below the division’s best, and her heel work didn’t mature much over the years. Still, she would fit in well with the current division.
Your initial reaction might be that we’ve lost our minds and have clearly placed Maryse several places below her actual ranking. That’s a perfectly understandable reaction. Over the last several months, Maryse has really shined as Miz’s valet. Her husband’s natural charisma has seemingly inspired Maryse to really find herself and become a fantastic heel. However, the Maryse we see on television now is not the Maryse that once held the WWE Divas Championship. That Maryse was a fairly generic - though obviously attractive - performer who couldn’t work a babyface role to save her life. Maryse’s heel work was always okay, but a combination of bad booking and learning the ropes prevented her from reaching her full potential at that time. As for her ring work...did we mention she’s currently a valet?
23 Eve Torres
Eve Torres is one of those wrestlers that you really wish would have gotten the chance to perform in the modern women’s division so we could have a better idea of what she is really capable of. As it stands, Eve’s legacy in terms of how she compares to other women’s wrestlers is a bit of a question mark. Eve was clearly not as bad as some of her contemporaries during the division’s least notable era. There were times, in fact, when it looked like Eve might actually become a truly great wrestler. Even if Eve had gotten the chance to work with a greater array of capable performers, she never really developed a compelling character and her promo skills were below those of Layla and some other wrestlers.
22 Alicia Fox
Alicia Fox is sometimes saddled with the reputation of being the “other wrestler” of the modern era. As you can see from these rankings, she is clearly a few steps below her fellow performers. However, Alicia catches way too much heat for being a “bad wrestler.” Actually, she is an incredibly capable performer whose ring work is only a few steps below some of the better wrestlers in the women’s division. Fox’s problem seems to be that she came up during a time when WWE didn’t want their women’s wrestlers to do much more than smile and wave. As such, Fox never really had the chance to find her character or develop the intangibles that make good wrestlers great. Still, she’s much better than you might think she is.
21 Brie Bella
When the Bella Twins arrived in WWE, they were little more than an excuse for WWE’s creative team to write more jokes and scenarios involving twins switching places in the ring. For the longest time, it seemed that Brie and Nikki were destined to be nothing more than a largely identical tag team. Then, something amazing happened. Brie and Nikki were given more to do and responded by actually upping their game. As you can tell by the rankings thus far, Brie never quite established herself as a singles competitor the same way that Nikki has. She might technically be a better in-ring wrestler than Nikki - that’s debatable - but Brie’s has relied too much on the success of Daniel Bryan and Nikki Bella over the years.
20 Molly Holly
There are a lot of reasons to love Molly Holly. She played several great characters, was a respectable wrestler at a time when WWE desperately needed respectable women wrestlers, and she had an overall great attitude towards the nature of the business and what wins and losses really mean. Molly Holly the overall performer was great, but Molly Holly the champion? That’s a slightly different story. Holly’s championship run came at a time when WWE were just using her as a piece in a Trish Stratus storyline. She never really got to have many championship moments and always felt like a transitional champion. That’s a shame, but looking back, Molly was one of those performers who always worked best as a supporting character.
This is certainly where the rankings get a lot more tricky. Much like Molly Holly, Ivory was a breath of fresh air for WWE’s women’s division. She was sexualized just like most of the Attitude Era women wrestlers were, but Ivory has always championed for a more respectable take on women’s wrestling that allowed the division’s performers to be more than models. She was always a pretty good worker even though her skills were bolstered by the fact that many women wrestlers in WWE back then just couldn’t wrestle at all. Despite Ivory’s best efforts, she wasn’t really able to convince WWE to get serious about professional wrestling, at least not during her time with the company. Still, Ivory is one of the most division’s trailblazers.
18 Michelle McCool
Not to start this entry off on a bad note, but much like Kelly Kelly, Michelle McCool was never quite as good or quite as popular as WWE would have you believe that she was. Michelle McCool was the inaugural Divas Champion and helped kick off the division’s dreaded butterfly belt era. Along with her eventual running mate Layla, McCool was one of the few women on the roster during this time who was at least clearly capable of working an honest-to-god wrestling match. When she finally turned heel and formed LayCool, Michelle McCool found the right mix of character and skill that helped her to finally do more than just put on a few good wrestling matches. McCool was one of the best performers of her era, for whatever that is worth to you.
17 Nikki Bella
A couple years ago, many wrestling fans would have told you that Brie is clearly the more talented wrestler of the Bella twins. Nikki was always seen as more of the glamor model whose career success could be traced back to the fact that she is married to John Cena. While Nikki’s early years were pretty rough, she has turned things around in recent years and actually become an incredible heel and fairly respectable in-ring worker. Nikki isn’t quite on the same level as the four horsewomen, but you do have to give her credit for realizing that times were changing in the women’s division and she had to step up her game in order to keep up. Nikki is able to keep up with some supremely gifted modern wrestlers.
Naomi is another wrestler whose true talent has only emerged in recent years. Well, technically, recent months. Prior to joining the SmackDown roster, Naomi was thought of as a mostly untalented background performer who was good enough to keep her job, but not really good enough to hold your attention. That all changed when Naomi really established her “glow” gimmick. This seemingly simple change of character gave Naomi a new purpose and gave people a reason to recognize that Naomi has always been a fairly decent wrestler who finally found the perfect character. People were surprised when Naomi won the championship, but watch any Naomi match, and you’re sure to spot several awesome moves, some great selling, and a whole lot of personality. She’s a very good wrestler who is only going to get better.
15 Gail Kim
This is tough. If we’re talking about overall talent level and influence on the future of women’s wrestling, Gail Kim probably deserves to be higher on this list. The problem is that Kim’s best years came while she was a member of the TNA roster. There, Kim put on matches with Awesome Kong and other performers that were years ahead of their time in terms of women’s wrestling in America. As a member of the WWE roster, Kim’s career was largely forgettable. Kim tried her best to turn women’s wrestling around in WWE during her two brief runs with the company, but problems with WWE’s management and creative direction meant that she never really got the chance to make an impact. So, we’ll give her points for her talent and influence and take away a few for her actual time in WWE.
In 2002, WWE briefly flirted with the idea of giving their female performers more to do than just take their clothes off. It didn’t really last long, but it did lead to some truly great women wrestlers getting the chance to show that they were, in fact, all-around great wrestlers. Victoria was one of the leaders of this new era. Her villainous persona allowed her to serve as the perfect foil for babyfaces like Lita, Trish Stratus, Molly Holly, and Gail Kim. This collection of wrestlers put on some of the best women’s wrestling matching that WWE fans had ever seen up until that point, and Victoria was a big part of the reason those matches achieved that status. Unfortunately, Victoria faded into the background as the division was watered down in subsequent years, but she’s always been a great wrestler.
13 Beth Phoenix
Beth Phoenix’s legacy remains the source of much debate amongst WWE fans. There are some who say that the Glamazon was nothing more than a low-rent Chyna who never really established herself as a truly great worker. That’s a little harsh. It’s true that Phoenix was booked similarly to Chyna, but Phoenix was a much, much better overall wrestler than Chyna ever threatened to be. You also have to consider that Phoenix joined the main roster at a time when she was asked to go out and have great matches with the likes of Christy Hemme, Maria, and Candice Michelle. The fact that she was able to put on even semi-memorable matches with those wrestlers speaks to her Hall of Fame credentials and legacy as a truly great performer.
So we come to Chyna. As with most things Chyna-related, this discussion is sure to be controversial. First off, if this list was based on quality of the championship reigns themselves, Chyna would be near the bottom of this list. Chyna didn’t actually win the championship until 2001 - she was previously competed for the Intercontinental Championship - and her lasted about a month. She vacated the title and left the company shortly thereafter.
Everything bad you can say about Chyna’s time in WWE is countered by the fact that Chyna was genuinely a huge star whose popularity transcended wrestling. When Chyna stepped into the ring, she felt larger than life. Her career became what it became, but at her peak, Chyna was a rare kind of star.
11 Mickie James
Some argue that Mickie James’s debut storyline is one of the greatest debut angles in wrestling history and a contender for best storyline of all-time. Mickie James arrived in WWE as an on-screen Trish Stratus superfan who slowly started to display a sexual attraction to Stratus. Eventually, it was revealed that James was simply playing mind games with Stratus in order to throw her off her game right before their WrestleMania title match. This year-long angle established James as a true future star. While James never quite enjoyed another storyline as great as that one, even her worst years with the company saw her participate in a number of quality matches that established her as a truly versatile worker who was capable of turning the worst WWE had to offer into something watchable.
In terms of skill, Natalya is one of the best women wrestlers that has ever worked for WWE. In fact, Natalya was one of the first WWE wrestlers to alert the average fan to the fact that women’s wrestling can actually be just as entertaining as any other kind of wrestling. That might sound slightly patronizing, but that’s just how dark things were when Natalya joined the roster. As WWE’s female roster gradually improved, Natalya was shifted to the sidelines slightly in favor of a new breed of stars. Even then, Natalya was someone WWE could rely on to always have the kind of great match that helped turn the Hart name into a household name. Natalya's star power may have dimmed over the years, but she’s as great as she’s ever been.
Yes, Bayley’s position on this list does mean that we are suggesting she is the worst of the Four Horsewomen. Truth be told, Bayley has never really been the best in-ring worker of the group and her promo skills are also a notch or two below Banks, Flair, and Lynch. That doesn’t really change the fact that Bayley is by far one of the greatest women champions in WWE history. Bayley won over the NXT fanbase with her unique superfan character and never say die attitude. Her mastery of that character eventually led to Bayley participating in a series of matches with Sasha Banks that still stand as some of the greatest examples of the power of wrestling storytelling. Bayley is a one-of-a-kind performer who is only getting better.
While the four horsewomen are regularly credited with triggering the women’s wrestling revolution in WWE, before Sasha, Bayley, Charlotte, and Becky began tearing up the division, Paige stood as one of the few signs that a new day was truly upon us. Paige established herself as a highly capable worker before she ever even signed her first WWE contract and seemed especially determined to not let WWE tradition prevent her from showing everyone that she deserved to be considered one of the best wrestlers in the world. Her NXT matches helped put that brand on the map, and her initial bouts with AJ Lee showed that main roster women’s wrestling can be great if the right performers are given the right opportunity and enough time to show the world what they can do.
7 AJ Lee
Hey everyone, it’s AJ Lee. AJ’s introduction to the WWE universe was about as thrilling as our own. She came in during the dying days of the butterfly belt era and floundered with the rest of the division. Over time, however, AJ began finding ways to break the mold. She used the various storylines she was given to slowly build an unhinged character who regularly stole the scene. All the while, she took the time to improve her already respectable in-ring skills and become one of the best all-around wrestlers in the company. AJ Lee was really one of the first five-tool female wrestlers on the WWE roster. At a time when nobody seemed to care about the division, AJ Lee forced fans to follow women’s wrestling just to see what she would do next.
6 Alexa Bliss
Too soon? Perhaps. Before last year, Alexa Bliss was seen as one of the “other” women of the fabled NXT women’s division. She rose to fame as a manager and never really exhibited any kind of extraordinary in-ring skills during her NXT matches. However, she was always a great heel. Some went so far as to compare her to a young Trish Stratus in that respect. Once Bliss joined the SmackDown roster and was given the chance to finally compete for the championship in a serious program, it only took a few weeks for her to show the world that she just might be the best female heel in the business today. Alexa’s ability to get just about any crowd to truly hate her is so natural that you’d almost swear it’s easy. It’s not. She’s just that good.
5 Becky Lynch
There is, and has always been, a strong argument that Becky Lynch is the best of the Four Horsewomen from an in-ring perspective. Even before joining the NXT roster, Lynch made a name for herself as a genuinely great wrestler who seemed to get better every time she stepped into the ring. It took a little while for Lynch to find her footing in NXT - that dancing Irish gimmick certainly didn’t help - but once she did, she wowed fans with her incredible submission style that added a strange air of legitimacy to her matches. What’s truly remarkable, though, is that Lynch has somehow gotten even better since her NXT glory days. Her promos are better, her character is better, and her best match probably hasn’t even happened yet.
4 Sasha Banks
Ranking the remaining women on this list is no small feat. It’s tempting to say that they are all just as good as the rest and leave it at that, but there are degrees of differences between the performers. If there’s one thing that’s keeping Sasha from the top three, it’s the fact that WWE still aren’t sure what to do with her. If we’re talking about the Sasha Banks of NXT, however, then we’re talking about arguably one of the greatest women wrestlers that has ever lived.
Sasha wasn’t the most notable member of the Four Horsewomen at the start, but the moment she settled into her heel character is the moment she became a true star. Sasha is only 25, and she’s done things in the ring and on the microphone that have left greats like Mick Foley saying, “Why didn’t I think of that?”
Lita arrived in WWE with little fanfare. She hadn’t really established herself as a true star during her time in ECW and her initial pairing with Essa Rios is generously described as forgettable. Once Lita started managing The Hardy Boyz, though, everything changed. Lita’s pairing with the Hardys is one of the earliest examples of a female valet not feeling like a manager, but a vital component of the team. Lita’s extreme attitude and high-flying style complemented the Hardys perfectly and immediately established her as something different.
As soon as Lita got the chance to start working with a better breed of female competitors, she immediately established herself as one of the best that WWE had ever seen. Lita has been the star of several great storylines over the years, and has never lost her ability to simply thrill an audience.
2 Charlotte Flair
There are times when it feels like Charlotte Flair can’t get any love. When she was NXT Champion, fans could only seem to talk about how she was holding back Becky, Sasha, and Bayley. When she became the first of the horsewomen to capture the Women’s Championship, fans could only seem to talk about how she was holding back Becky, Sasha, and Bayley. Charlotte’s famous family has seemingly led some to believe that she isn’t worthy of the opportunities that she has received. The truth of the matter is that her name could be Charlotte Jones or Charlotte Smith and she would still occupy this spot on the list. Charlotte is a great in-ring worker who refuses to rely on a formula. She’s a fantastic promo artist who shines as a heel. She’s honed her character down to a fine point over the years, and she continues to show that those who dare doubt her only fuel her desire to continue to prove them wrong.
1 Trish Stratus
There are better in-ring workers than Trish Stratus. There are wrestlers who are better on the microphone than Trish Stratus. There are even wrestlers that have had more memorable championship runs than Trish Stratus. There is, however, only one Trish Stratus. Everyone seemingly wrote-off Trish Stratus as WWE’s latest blonde bombshell when she first debuted. Trish refused to be just any one thing. She started by maximizing her screen time in order to carefully construct a fantastic character. From there, Trish slowly began to improve her in-ring abilities until you were fairly certain that she was quite possibly the best wrestler in the ring at any given moment.
Someone like Trish Stratus could have fallen back on their looks and natural personality, collected a few paychecks, and walked out the door when better opportunities arrived. Trish didn’t do that. She took what was given to her and grew it into an almost unbeatable legacy.