A lot can change in a five-year time span. Just take a look at the state of women’s wrestling on WWE television.
Back in 2012, the company was just beginning to try and reboot their Divas division. Unfortunately, however, they still employed a number of models who had no business inside of the squared circle and, more importantly, they were still using the horrendous butterfly belt to represent the division.
Fast forward five years later, and things couldn’t be any more different.
It's now 2017, and Vince McMahon and company have finally realized that women are much more than eye candy. With the appeal of superstar athletes like Ronda Rousey and Serena Williams, the WWE dropped the “Divas” label and now consider their women as superstars. While the female talents are still drop dead gorgeous, it is their in-ring ability that has them shining. And with NXT bringing in more quality wrestlers, that narrative will only continue.
Some of the current crop of women’s wrestlers were in the WWE, while others were still cutting their teeth in the business. On top of that, there were some females who weren’t even in the business five years ago.
What were current WWE women’s wrestlers doing back in 2012? Let’s take a look.
15 Alicia Fox
To the surprise of many Alicia Fox isn’t only a veteran of the women’s division — she’s the second-longest tenured female talent on the main roster, as she debuted in the company back in 2008. Five years ago, Fox was coming off of an impressive run where she became the first and only African-American to capture the Divas Championship. As the calendar transitioned to 2012, Fox was a part of a program as the tag team partner of Tamina, competing against AJ Lee and Kaitlyn on the SmackDown brand.
Despite not being able to be a fixture in prominent feuds, Fox has been able to stick on the roster due to her efforts both in the ring and outside of it. Nowadays, she’s the only female talent to work on 205 Live, working as a love interest in the Cedric Alexander/Noam Dar feud.
14 Dana Brooke
Many were surprised when Dana Brooke received the call-up from NXT in 2016, and rightfully so. After all, she had only been in the wrestling industry for three years and was still inexperienced when performing inside of the squared circle. While she hasn’t found much success in the WWE, that wasn’t the case five years ago. Back in 2012, Brooke was one of the top female bodybuilders and fitness models in the world. Not only did she win a number of awards with the National Physique Committee but she was also recognized by the esteemed International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness.
Fast forward to today, and ever since her friendship with Charlotte has ended, she’s been MIA. Fortunately, however, she’s young enough to find her potential.
There’s no denying that Paige was born to be a wrestler. In her native town of Norwich, England, her family is one of the bigger wrestling promoters in the area and her father, mother, and brothers have all competed in the squared circle. Paige, however, had the brightest potential, as evidenced by the fact that she signed a developmental contract with the WWE in 2011 when she was just 19 years old.
At this time five years ago, Paige was gaining a ton of popularity in FCW, and by year’s end, was the top female competitor in the early days of NXT. Unfortunately, things haven’t gone according to plan for the young talent. After Paige debuted with a ton of fanfare, she took a backseat to talent such as Charlotte, Sasha Banks, and Becky Lynch, and was mostly featured in secondary feuds. Two Wellness Policy violations and a neck surgery later, and it remains to be seen if she will ever compete in the WWE again.
Like Alicia Fox, Natalya has been a mainstay on the WWE roster for over 10 years. In fact, she’s the longest tenured female wrestler on today’s roster. After debuting in 2008, Nattie was a fixture on the SmackDown brand where she worked with veterans like Victoria and Mickie James, amongst others. After managing her husband and cousin in The Hart Dynasty, Natalya went on to have a banner year five years ago. After capturing the Divas Championship at the tail end of 2011, she entered the new year as the face of the division. While she dropped the belt at the Royal Rumble in January, she continued to be one of the more prominent faces of the Divas Division.
Today, Nattie is both a star on SmackDown Live and also has a big role on the show Total Divas. While she may not win the Women’s Championship anytime soon, she’s a valuable veteran that has a secured place on the roster.
11 Mickie James
Another veteran of the squared circle, who can forget when Mickie James debuted as the creepy fan of Trish Stratus? From the day she stepped foot on WWE television, it was clear that she had the sure-fire talent to keep up with the likes of Stratus and Lita. In her initial five-year run with the company, James was one of the top talents in the Divas division as she took home the Womens and Divas Championship an impressive six times. Five years ago, however, she wasn’t with the WWE. Instead, she made her way to TNA and, once again, was atop the division.
In 2012, James was a frequent opponent against the reigning Knockouts Champion and was feuding with the likes of Velvet Sky, Tara, and Gail Kim. After years on the independent circuit, James made a one-off appearance in NXT and faced Asuka for the NXT Women’s Championship at NXT TakeOver: Toronto. Impressing officials, the WWE offered her a multi-year contract, and word has it that she’s going to debut on the SmackDown roster in the coming months.
10 Brie Bella
Brie Bella may now be retired, but we can cheat a little here. After all, she still has one of the biggest roles on Total Divas, a show that eventually earned the spinoff Total Bellas — and by the name, you obviously know who the stars of that show are. Five years ago, Brie was still very raw when it came to in-ring work. But that didn’t stop her from having a pretty big role on television, as Nikki captured the Divas Championship and the duo defended it together. Unfortunately, however, their reign only last one week as Brie dropped the title at Extreme Rules, and their run in the WWE ended just one month later. Fast forward to today and Brie seems to be doing extremely well.
After retiring from the ring at WrestleMania 32, the former Diva is now pregnant, with her and her husband Daniel Bryan ready to start their life after wrestling.
When Carmella was drafted by SmackDown Live in the WWE draft back in July, many were shocked. For a majority of her time spent in NXT, she worked as a manager for Enzo and Cass, and she just started to work on weekly NXT shows as a wrestler. That doesn’t mean she didn’t have the athletic ability to do so. After all, Carmella did work as a cheerleader for three years with the New England Patriots followed by a stint as a dancer for the Los Angeles Lakers for the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons. Despite her inexperience, Carmella has shined on the main roster. After going nowhere as a babyface, her heel turn and eventual feud with Nikki Bella gave the SmackDown Women’s division great depth.
8 Nia Jax
Like Carmella, Nia Jax was another surprise selection in July’s WWE Draft. Debuting on NXT television back in October of 2015, she was immediately pushed to the top as she competed with Bayley for her NXT Women’s Championship just two months after her debut at NXT TakeOver: London. Five years ago, however, was an important one; it was in 2012 where she made a career-altering decision. After watching her cousin, The Rock, perform at WrestleMania XXVIII, Jax decided it was time to join the family business and began training later that year.
Now a part of the RAW brand, she spent a majority of her early months competing in squash matches. Today, however, it looks like she’s heading into her first real feud as she’s been attacking Sasha Banks over the last number of weeks. Jax has taken real strides in the squared circle and is primed to be a dominant force in the Women’s Division.
7 Alexa Bliss
We’re going down the similar path of the last two entries. Alexa Bliss, too, was a surprise in the WWE Draft, and it wasn’t for a lack of talent. After all, she impressed as an in-ring competitor after working as the manager for Blake and Murphy. The thing was, she was primed for an NXT Women’s Championship run, and many believed that bringing her up to the main roster would only hurt her stock. But before she made her way to NXT, Bliss was a premier athlete as she was a cheerleader for a Division I program. In 2012, she continued her athletic success as she worked as a competitive bodybuilder, even competing in the Arnold Classic like the aforementioned Dana Brooke.
Fast forward five years later and the doubters couldn’t be any more wrong about Bliss. Catapulted to the championship program on Smackdown Live, she went on to capture the Smackdown Women’s Championship back in December. Now working as the leader of the division, Bliss is primed for a lengthy spot at the top.
Sure, outside of her WrestleMania 32 match and some sporadic appearances at NXT house shows, Lana has yet to do much of anything inside of the ring. But that doesn’t change the fact that she’s one of the most recognizable and prominently featured women that’s currently on the main roster. She hasn’t been in the wrestling industry for long as she signed with the company back in 2013. Before that, however, she was a singer and dancer. In 2012, she was spending time as a backup dancer to hot acts like Nelly, Pink, and Usher, and also had a role in the movie, “Pitch Perfect.” As stated above, Lana isn’t much of a wrestler but she does one helluva job as the manager of Rusev. In addition to her WWE role, she’s also found success as one of the newest members of Total Divas as well.
5 Becky Lynch
The first of the Four Horsewomen on the countdown, Becky Lynch has become a crowd favorite due to her quirky personality and impressive in-ring skills that back it up. But before she joined NXT in 2013, she was honing her craft across the world. Five years ago, Lynch was cutting her teeth all across North America, as she was wrestling in various promotions such as Extreme Canadian Championship Wrestling, New England Championship Wrestling, All Pro Wrestling, and Shimmer, among others.
She signed with the WWE just a month later and debuted in NXT, making her one of the first recognizable female independent stars to get their chance in WWE’s developmental territory. Two years later, Lynch became the first female talent drafted by SmackDown Live and has become one of the faces of the brand. Her feud with Alexa Bliss over the SmackDown Women’s Championship continues to be one of the highlights of the show and she’s primed to be one of the top women’s talents in the entire company.
Before Bayley made her main roster debut, she became one of the most popular and beloved stars in NXT. Firmly positioned as one of the most recognizable faces in the brand’s history, her connection with the fans and impressive wrestling ability made the perfect combination of a fan favorite. And it was just five years ago that her journey in the company began. At the start of the year, Bayley was wrestling in various independent promotions like Shimmer and NWA Hollywood; and by December of 2012, she was offered a developmental deal with the WWE. After making her highly anticipated debut on the main roster, Bayley was hindered by inconsistent booking and a lack of spotlight. That looks to change as we head into 2017, however, as she’s currently featured in a championship feud with Charlotte. It’s only a matter of time before she represents the Raw brand as their champion.
3 Sasha Banks
Like her on-screen and real life friend Bayley, Sasha Banks has always been showcased as someone who was born to wrestle. From her time in NXT to her promotion, she’s always been someone who has fought for wrestling and not looks. Despite it being her television role, it’s a part of her real life story. Back in 2012, Banks was scratching and clawing on the northeast independent scene, working for Chaotic Wrestling, New England Championship Wrestling, and the NWA. Her hard work and determination paid off, as Banks earned an opportunity as a developmental talent in the middle of that year. Fast forward five years later and there may be not be a more fierce competitor than Banks. Now a three-time Raw Women’s Champion, she’s put on stellar matches and has found a certain connection with the crowd that’s unmatched by many.
A “boss” in every sense of the word, Banks – who’s just 24 years old — is positioned to be one of the faces of the entire company over the next decade.
2 Nikki Bella
Like her twin sister Brie, Nikki’s path to stardom went down the same path. After joining the company after being a part of the Divas Search, Nikki and Brie worked their “twin magic” in matches, something that helped them capture the Divas Championship in 2012. As stated above, the duo lost the belt just one week later and left the company the following month. After returning to the WWE in 2013, Nikki looked like a renewed worker as she was better than ever when competing in the ring. This led to her massive push that positioned her as the longest reigning Divas Champion in WWE history, a feat that was captured between 2014 and 2015. Despite seriously injuring her neck, she returned from a 10-month absence and joined the SmackDown Live brand where she has feuded with Carmella and Natalya.
While she’s not in the championship picture, she’s easily the most recognizable women's talent when it comes to a mainstream standpoint, thanks to her roles on Total Divas and Total Bellas. She’s come a long way in five years and, even if you don’t like her, it’s hard to ignore her serious improvements.
Does it help to have one of the greatest wrestlers of all time as your father? Sure. But it’s hard to deny that, in such a short amount of time, Charlotte has become the star of the entire Women’s division, Raw, SmackDown Live, and NXT included. And to think, just five years ago, she got her first crack in the wrestling business as she signed a developmental deal with the WWE in mid-2012. Yes, there were growing pains, but those were expected. But in a short amount of time, Charlotte saw her natural athleticism translate to in-ring success, as she feuded with Sasha Banks, Natalya, Bayley, and Becky Lynch, and is considered one of the greatest champions in NXT history.
After being called up in 2015, Charlotte has continued her dominance as she’s yet to lose on pay-per-view. A four-time Women’s Champion, she’s not only well on her way to beating her dad’s record of 16 World Championships, but at 30 years of age, she’s going to be atop the mountain for many years to come.
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