Image is everything in the WWE Universe, and a potential superstar’s first impression can occasionally define their entire career. Being a scripted medium, the greatest names in sports entertainment are measured in bombastic moments rather than technical accomplishments, and the way an athlete first asserts him or herself is their first chance at winding up in the record books. While the idea of a fan's favorite or least favorite debut has been debated for as long as Internet fans have been using the Internet, one strange detail often gets left out of the mix.
For whatever reason, female competitors have had a significantly lower chance at making a memorable debut than the men. Especially prior to WWE hyping a Women’s Revolution, the female side of the industry has pretty much been an afterthought, at least so far as Vince McMahon has been concerned. That said, plenty of female wrestlers have managed to overcome their lackluster debuts and turned into massive stars in their own right, or even WWE Hall of Famers.
By hook or by crook, there have also been a couple lucky ladies who somehow debuted in a manner that actually made an impact. This means there’s still a pretty impressive highlight reel of women making great first impressions if one knows where to look. Keep reading to find out the 7 best and 8 worst female pro wrestling debuts in sports entertainment history.
15 WORST: The Funkadactyls
A large part of the reason fans have trouble accepting Naomi as the WWE SmackDown Women’s Champion dates back to her inauspicious debut. In early 2012, Naomi first made her first appearance dancing down the aisle alongside Cameron as The Funkadactyls in support of Brodus Clay. It would be almost an entire year before either of them wrestled in an actual match, preferring to strut their stuff next to the funkiest superstar in the company. There was nothing particularly wrong with their characters, yet fans nonetheless were left with the impression neither of these ladies were wrestlers. Dancers, sure, and entertainers, hopefully, but definitely not athletes on the track to winning gold. Plenty of wrestlers have gone down similar paths and eventually proven themselves worthy of greatness, yet the lukewarm response to Naomi thus far means she may not be so lucky.
14 BEST: Stephanie McMahon
Looking at the woman Stephanie McMahon has become, it’s almost impossible to believe she made her debut as a sweet, innocent, borderline helpless ingénue who could barely do anything without her billionaire father’s help. To be honest, there’s nothing worth mentioning about Stephanie’s literal first appearances in WWE, and we’re completely ignoring that she technically debuted as a model for superstar apparel. However, the angle that introduced Stephanie to the world was so iconic, and her involvement so key to it’s success, that she still deserves mention for making an impact from day one. Stephanie’s first role in the company was getting kidnapped by The Undertaker to send her father a lesson, an act The Dead Man nearly pulled off until “Stone Cold” Steve Austin made the save. All one needs to do to understand how big a deal this was is look at those wrestlers’ names.
13 WORST: Almost Every Diva Search Competitor
To prevent this list from getting redundant, let’s continue by combining a whole bunch of awful debuts all into one. From 2004 to 2007, WWE held an annual televised Diva Search, looking to find the newest female pro wrestling sensation. While a handful of the competitors overcame the odds and became bona fide WWE superstars, their first few moments (slash months) in the industry mostly involved playing silly parlor games like musical chairs. It’s pretty hard for a wrestling audience to take a worker seriously after seeing her get a job through a low-level talent show, and yet this is exactly how Christy Hemme, Maria Kanellis, Michelle McCool, Candice Michelle, Ashley Massaro, Layla El, and Maryse Ouellet (just to name a few) all made their wrestling debut.
12 BEST: Lita
The mere fact WWE buried a moment on a little watched C-Show doesn’t necessarily preclude it from being a part of history. Take for example the debut of Lita, a woman who would one day become a WWE Hall of Famer, and that’s after being one of the first females to main event Monday Night Raw. In the beginning, however, Lita was merely the valet of Essa Rios, first appearing on a random episode of Sunday Night Heat. On that episode, Rios defeated Gillberg to become the WWE Lightheavyweight Champion, yet the real story was his lady friend jumping in the ring to mimic his winning moonsault after the match. Lita would continue this trend of one upping Rios over the next few months, and before long, people forgot about the luchadore entirely, far more interested in the red-haired woman by his side.
11 WORST: Sunny
Generally hyped as the first true WWE diva, it makes sense that Sunny’s debut would be unlike any other in company history. That said, unique doesn’t always mean great, and introducing the bombshell manager as the host of a little watched recap segment hardly predicted her greatness. Technically speaking, Sunny debuted months later with Skip by her side, and the moment we’re talking about introduced Tamara Murphy, but anyone watching at the time was bound to realize the two were one and the same. Even if one does consider her reintroduction with Skip as Sunny’s real debut, it’s not like anything particularly special happened, as she simply talked up herself and her boyfriend as possessing great bodies. Considering Skip was far from Sunny’s greatest client, at least insofar as kayfabe is concerned, it’s safe to say the moment had almost no effect on her career.
10 BEST: Bertha Faye
Considering how terrible things would go for Bertha Faye as her career in WWE progressed, it’s pretty amazing that her debut actually made her look like a force to be reckoned with. Back in the mid-‘90s, Alundra Blayze was doing her best to start a one-woman revolution, getting a little help by Bull Nakano and wrestling some of the best female matches America had ever seen. Nakano was eventually ready to return to Japan, though, meaning a new challenger was needed, and Faye answered. Dressed in all black and with face paint making her look like a warrior, the unnamed Faye looked more like her Japanese persona the Monster Ripper as she destroyed Blayze in short order, breaking her nose in the process. Unfortunately, Faye wouldn’t make follow up appearance for a few weeks, and when she returned she was dressed in polka dots and mocked for her weight.
9 WORST: Beth Phoenix
Truth be told, there was little wrong about the debut of Beth Phoenix in and of itself. If nothing else, she at least was able to assert herself as a wrestler from the very beginning, attacking Mickie James and stopping an attempted beatdown on Trish Stratus. The problem is that it didn’t make a whole lot of sense why Phoenix was getting involved, and the subsequent terrible acting by James nearly turned the moment into pure Wrestlecrap. James and Stratus were having one of the greatest and most creative feuds in women’s wrestling, so when Phoenix inserted herself into things, fans hoped she had a pretty good reason. They never quite got one, aside from James angrily shrieking that Phoenix “ruined it” while pulling out her hair. That Phoenix was an afterthought in her own debut didn’t exactly help things, either.
8 BEST: Chyna
Given the number of “firsts” Chyna is responsible for in WWE, it should go without saying the company had never seen a woman anything like her until she arrived. Starting the day Chyna debuted, she redefined what a woman could be in and out of the ring, popping out of the crowd to choke out Marlena when she dared try and help Goldust attack Triple H. By the next week, Chyna was also attacking the men Triple H faced, making it clear she was a level above a mere valet. Before long, Chyna and HHH established themselves as the most powerful couple in wrestling, more so through her brute strength than anything the future Game was bringing to the table. Chyna would repeatedly break the glass ceiling from there, always doing things no woman in wrestling had ever even attempted before her.
7 WORST: Kelly Kelly
Many of the debuts on this list are here because they pigeonholed future wrestlers in roles that basically limited them to being eye candy. Kelly Kelly took it a step further by stepping out of obscurity onto an episode of ECW on Sci-Fi and declaring herself an extreme exhibitionist who would soon get naked, outright offending all other females in the business. Being a valet may not prepare women for a career inside the ring, but at least it makes sense that they would accompany their male counterparts to their matches. Kelly’s decision to walk out and simply take (most of) her clothes off for no reason trivialized the many legitimate roles women were playing. Sure, they could work hard, wrestle great matches, and win the fans over the old fashioned way, or they could get air time by promising to show their breasts. Luckily, Kelly never actually got naked, but the suggestion was bad enough to forever make her irrelevant.
6 BEST: Paige
Reigning as the first and for a time longest NXT Women’s Champion, Paige had already etched her way into the record books before she made her official WWE debut the night after WrestleMania XXX. Doubling down her impact on history, Paige’s first official action on the main WWE roster was challenging the then-longest reigning WWE Divas Champion AJ Lee for her title and surprisingly picking up the win. Bombastic debuts of this nature are slightly cliché amongst male wrestlers, yet females in WWE making this sort of impact remains incredibly rare to this day. Over time, Paige gradually fell out of favor with the McMahon family thanks to her tumultuous personal life, which is unfortunate, as it may mean the company may one day try and undersell one of the best debuts they ever allowed a female to have.
5 WORST: Trish Stratus
As the godmother of the WWE Women’s Revolution, in many ways Trish Stratus is also a microcosm for the way females have been perceived in the company. Initially, Stratus had almost no purpose in wrestling except to serve titillating male fans, literally standing silently from the ramp and watching matches featuring an undistinguished tag team consisting of Test and Albert. Granted, Stratus soon explained herself and started speaking, revealing she was a competent manager in addition to possessing considerable T & A. It was almost two years into her career before Stratus actually took an active role in the ring, at which point fans found it extremely hard to take her seriously as an actual wrestler. Thankfully, Stratus would also prove to be an incredible athlete inside the ring, but perhaps the process could have began much sooner if she debuted as more than eye candy.
4 BEST: Beulah McGillicutty
For all the discussion about ECW being a bastion of ultra-violence and innovating hardcore, it often gets ignored that the promotion also consistently contained some of the best written stories in wrestling One of the greatest angles of all involved the long history of Raven and Tommy Dreamer, starting way back when the two were teenage friends in summer camp. Around that time, the boys also both dated a young woman named Beulah McGillicutty, with Raven taking pity on her after pretty boy Dreamer broke her heart. In 1995, Stevie Richards wanted to make Raven proud by reintroducing the couple, triggering Raven’s wrath that he would dare bring back “that fat piece of hell.” However, the moment Beulah walked through the door and revealed she had apparently lost quite a bit of weight, Raven’s jaw dropped to the floor, along with every other man in the ECW arena.
3 WORST: Ivory
The saddest part about Ivory’s debut in the WWE Universe is that unlike the other women introduced as valets, she actually had several years training as a wrestler that making her capable of much more. Not only that, in addition to merely serving as eye candy, it was actually implied Ivory was a prostitute hired by D’Lo Brown to cheer up his friend Mark Henry—it wasn’t much earlier she made an unofficial first appearance dancing with The Godfather. Somehow, it only makes matters worse that Ivory almost immediately proved she deserved a better position in the company through her promo work, transitioning away from Brown and Henry and into a solo role as an actual wrestler who would win multiple Women’s Championships. Stories like this explain why WWE had so much trouble starting the women’s revolution, as they barely recognized the difference between a wrestler and a hooker.
2 BEST: Miss Elizabeth
This list has been a little harsh on wrestlers making their debuts as pointless eye candy, so let’s step back for a second and acknowledge that the idea has in fact worked at least once. Granted, it only worked at a time there were almost no females in wrestling to speak of, and the mere presence of a beautiful woman admired for her grace was almost entirely foreign to the sport. The period in question was mid-1985, when “Macho Man” Randy Savage rejected the offers of managers like Bobby “The Brain” Heenan and Jimmy Hart in favor of his real life wife Miss Elizabeth. Immediately, pretty much everyone in the WWE Universe understood the decision. It took a while for Elizabeth to assert herself as anything more than the Macho Man’s long-suffering companion, yet that was all she needed to be for their combined characters to become some of the greatest in history.
1 WORST: Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, and Sasha Banks
When rumors started swirling that WWE was attempting to start a Women’s Revolution in pro wrestling, to put it bluntly, many fans were hesitant they might screw the idea up. On the July 13, 2015 episode of Monday Night Raw, Stephanie McMahon stood in the middle of the ring with a smile on her face and proved all such fears entirely valid. One by one, Stephanie introduced Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, and Sasha Banks, three women who were already slowly changing the way their gender was perceived in NXT. In doing so, Stephanie was depriving the three trailblazing superstars from spectacular debuts of their own, taking all the credit and attention they could have earned for herself. Gradually, Flair, Lynch, and Banks would all establish themselves as stars in their own right, yet this initial appearance did almost nothing to further any of their careers.