As most wrestling fans can tell you, the ladies of the business weren’t always known as “Divas.” The moniker was bestowed upon the company’s female talent upon the introduction of the Diva Search, the talent scouting contest that’s soon to return to WWE as a part of its scheduled network programming. Before there were WWE Divas, there were valets, women’s wrestlers, and most importantly, women’s champions. The Attitude Era was arguably the changing point in women’s wrestling, as sexuality was the unabashed main focus of the era’s top female names and would remain that way until trailblazers like Molly Holly and Victoria ushered the WWE’s women’s division out of the Attitude Era.
In fact, it could be said that post-Attitude Era gimmicks such as Molly Holly’s chastity as opposed to Trish Stratus’s amped-up sexuality or former Women’s Champion Ivory’s character as a frustrated defender of propriety in Right to Censor were the catalysts for change at the turn of the 21st century. There was a time during the Attitude Era where the convergence of sex, blood, and rock and roll became too much for advertisers and Vince McMahon, on the verge of seeing his company go public on the New York Stock Exchange, knew a change had to be made. Over a period of years there were less bra-and-panties gimmick matches, less hyper-sexualized onscreen activity on WWE programming, and outfits became much less revealing. By 2007, nearly all vestiges of over-the-top impropriety were wiped away from the company’s now very PG slate, the last display of outrageousness being the advertised “live sex celebration” on a 2006 RAW featuring Edge and Lita. By Attitude Era standards, even that moment was tamed down considerably. Although the WWE’s female performers now go by a different branding and a different standard, it would be bad form to forget the contributions of women such as Sunny, Sable, and Chyna who arrived on the scene before today’s Total Divas. There are likely some names you may have forgotten from that unforgettable era in wrestling.
15 Cynthia “Bobcat” Lynch
After breaking into the business with help from her friend and former WWE Diva, Dawn Marie, Lynch made her in-ring wrestling debut in late 1996 and trained with well-known former WWE superstar and road agent Tom Prichard. Most notable during the Attitude Era as one of the Godfather’s “hoes,” Bobcat was by far the most physically involved of the controversial entourage of attractive women, even getting attacked on camera by Viscera as a part of the Ministry of Darkness storyline. Bobcat was also the first of four women to win the now-defunct Hardcore Championship after she won the gold briefly from Crash Holly.
14 Barbara “BB” Bush
Better known as Cathy Dingman, the former EMT character was hired by then-employee Terry Taylor to work for the WWE after sending photos and videos of herself to the company’s production department. Dingman began appearing on camera as an emergency medical technician, helping out in such crazy situations as getting a bear trap off Road Dogg’s leg. Dingman also was featured in skin-revealing feuds with fellow talent Ivory and Stacy “Miss Kitty” Carter and even was a contestant in the “Miss Royal Rumble 2000 Swimsuit Competition.” BB’s last appearance for the company was dramatic as she was put through a table by the Dudley Boyz after a setup from Bubba Ray Dudley, who pretended to be injured in order to attack the emergency “crew.”
13 Mrs. Yamaguchi-San
Fans would have to stretch their memories all the way back to the late 1990s to remember the only female accompaniment to WWE's stable of famed Japanese wrestlers, known as Kaientai. Japanese model Shian-Li Tsang, better known to fans as “Mrs. Yamaguchi-San,” worked briefly with the company in a storyline feud between the Japanese stable (Taka Michinoku, Funaki, Dick Togo, Men's Teioh, and their manager Yamaguchi-San) and Val Venis. Venis, who was caught in bed with Mrs. Yamaguchi-San, was subject to one of the more memorable moments of the Attitude Era after Kaientai and Yamaguchi attempted to retaliate by attacking the wrestler and attempting to “choppy” his “pee pee” with a sword.
12 Nicole Bass
The Attitude Era sure was strange for Val Venis as he went from almost being disfigured by Kaientai to having a massive lovelorn amazon pining for his affections. Bass, a bodybuilder who found fame for her notorious dominating size and strength, appeared on WWE programming at the peak of the Attitude Era serving as bodyguard for Women’s Champion Sable. Bass also feuded in storyline with Debra McMichael, leading to a mixed tag match involving Bass, Venis, Debra, and Jeff Jarrett at the now tragically infamous 1999 Over the Edge pay per view. Bass would eventually leave the company on bad terms, filing a lawsuit alleging sexual harassment from company employees such as long-time road agent Steve “Brooklyn Brawler” Lombardi.
11 Marianna Komlos
The late “Mrs. Beaver Cleavage” began her career as a bodybuilder and fitness model. Komlos appeared on WWE programming as the parody of a 1950s television mother figure to Charles “Chaz” Warrington (then known by the sexual pun Beaver Cleavage), both being involved in a memorable Attitude Era moment when Warrington, in a scripted fit of anger, loudly and publicly denounced the gimmick and stormed off screen, leaving a confused Komlos to call out “Chaz,” which would be the name he would use from that point. Until their respective releases from the company, Chaz and Marianna (at that point referred to by her real first name) would appear as an on-screen couple. Komlos passed away at age 35 in 2004 after a battle with breast cancer.
10 Beulah McGillicutty
Although not a contracted performer with WWE at the peak of her wrestling career, the Extreme Sweetheart and lovely bride of Tommy Dreamer, has proven over time to be one of the driving forces of the Attitude Era’s sexuality. Beulah appeared with Dreamer and other ECW Originals on their ‘invasion’ of RAW in 1997, a time at the end of the “New Generation” era where the majority of WWE fans were accustomed to Sable’s sexiness and Sunny’s sultry ways – but fans who didn’t know Beulah definitely became aware of ECW’s in-your-face, “too hot for TV” style of female after her brief RAW appearance. Sunny and Sable’s rampant sexual attractiveness and controversial television stunts were a direct answer to the popularity of ECW’s Beulah, a mix of sweet girl next door and suggestively hardcore vixen.
9 Ryan Shamrock
Not to be confused with Ken Shamrock’s MMA fighting son, Alicia Webb is best known for portraying the sister of the World’s Most Dangerous Man on WWE programming in early 1999. Webb became quickly involved in storyline feuds, at first flirting with Val Venis to the dismay of her kayfabe brother Ken Shamrock and getting mooned by “Ass Man” Billy Gunn. Ryan Shamrock was even one of the Undertaker’s “sacrifices” as the Ministry of Darkness kidnapped her on RAW in spring 1999, her character being found in a basement a week later by Mick Foley. Webb’s last appearance for the company as Ryan Shamrock was in an alliance with the Pretty Mean Sisters, Jacqueline and Terri Runnels.
8 Sara Calaway
Before there was Michelle McCool, there was Sara. The Undertaker’s former wife had such an effect on the Deadman that he’d had her name tattooed across his throat during the time they were married. Sara appeared on WWE programming under her real name and real-life association with The Undertaker as his wife during the Attitude Era, serving as part of the catalyst that transformed Undertaker to the American Badass stage of his career. Sara would demonstrate another side to his character when Taker feuded with Diamond Dallas Page, who was enamored with the Deadman’s bride. The Undertaker and Sara would eventually divorce in 2007.
7 Debra Marshall
Now best known as the former wife of Steve “Mongo” McMichael and Stone Cold Steve Austin, Debra would leave her mark on the Attitude Era with just one word describing two wonderful things – “PUPPIES!” Jerry Lawler would become an important part of Debra’s legacy as he drooled over her form-fitting business suits that just couldn’t button at the top at all. Current WWE Diva Lana has surely studied many important women in wrestling and it seems she’s taken a page out of Debra’s fashion book with her own well-tailored sexy business look, a style that was different and yet quite fetching at a point in wrestling when lady’s lacy lingerie ruled all. Debra could hold her own pretty well in a bra and panties match, with that said, as sexy gimmick matches were her specialty.
6 Stacy Carter
At one point the love of Jerry “The King” Lawler’s life, Stacy Carter was almost destined to work with WWE even from her humble beginnings with her then-husband Lawler in Memphis’s USWA independent promotion. Carter’s claim to fame in WWE was being known as “Miss Kitty” and later “The Kat” when she reigned briefly as WWE Women’s Champion and worked alongside former champion Chyna. Her most memorable moment on WWE programming happened at the Armageddon pay per view in 1999 when she flashed her breasts in a moment of scripted impropriety, one of the company’s first instances of televised nudity.
Hired by WWE in 1998 to portray an unbalanced fan enamored with then-Women’s Champion Sable, Terri Poch was already a veteran of the wrestling ring when she was signed on to work with the company. Sable, by then was well underway on a heel turn, portrayed the snobby, selfish champion who demeaned and degraded her already unstable “fan.” Tori eventually went on her own and faced Sable at WrestleMania XV for the Women’s Championship. After minor feuds with Jaqueline and Ivory, Tori worked for a period as the onscreen love interest of Kane and ended her time with the company after serving as a trainer on Tough Enough.
Truly one of the hardest working women in wrestling of all time, Jacqueline has left a legacy of respect, toughness, and total foxiness. Her tenure with WWE as Sable’s rival is memorable for the numerous bikini showdowns between the two women where Jackie, forever fearless, was unafraid to show off her physical attributes in a swimsuit against the formidably stacked Sable. Many fans show disdain for WWE’s treatment of Jacqueline, a quality wrestler who was subjugated to evening gown matches and bikini competitions for the sake of furthering the sexuality of the Attitude Era, but time has shown that her willingness to work in any way for the company proves Jacqueline’s loyalty to the business.
3 Terri Runnels
The woman once known informally as Mrs. Goldust is definitely an Attitude Era pioneer. As Marlena, her barely-there golden dresses and phallic thick, long cigar only helped to enhance the bizarre gimmick that redefined her then-husband Dustin Runnels and cemented the former “Ms. Alexandra York” into a smoke-hazy vixen instead of the computer savvy business girl she portrayed in WCW. It would be the “Loose Cannon” Brian Pillman’s storyline involvement with Marlena that pushed the envelope of good taste even for WWE in its most brazen days, as Pillman was scripted to physically “own” Marlena after winning her in a match versus Goldust. Being the man he was, Pillman played the seedy role to the hilt. Being Marlena, Terri played the sexy “slave” wonderfully.
2 Lisa “Ivory” Moretti
Doubtlessly headed for the WWE Hall of Fame, former Women’s Champion Ivory had one foot firmly planted in the Attitude Era while the other foot was placed on the step of something new. It was Ivory who helped the company take a sledgehammer to its gaudy, smarmy image, even if in a tongue-in-cheek manner. Formerly GLOW’s champion as Tina Ferrari, Moretti was no stranger to sexy poses and suggestive photo shoots even during her WEF tenure. It was, however, the Right to Censor gimmick portrayed with Stevie Richards and Charles (now the “Good-father”) Wright that fans tend to remember most about Ivory. The likely reason is, although the Right to Censor was WWE’s insulting parody of television watchdog Standards & Practices, the premise behind the gimmick eventually won and the ensuing “PG era” was not far from starting.
1 Luna Vachon
It’s possible that the late, great Luna was one of very few women who can seamlessly fit in any generation of wrestling. As she debuted with the WWE at WrestleMania IX with Shawn Michaels at the end of the company’s “New Generation” era, very few could have guessed that Luna’s wild-child ways would become the standard during the Attitude Era. You’d think the company would have utilized Luna’s now legendary savage style a little better during such an “anything goes” period, but what she did give the fans was memorable. The Attitude Era was at its freakiest when Goldust eventually moved on from Marlena to Luna as his valet and the two became delightfully, sexually weird. Then came Luna’s turn as Princess of the group The Oddities, the Insane Clown Posse crossover team that solidified the fact that Vince McMahon was going all in when it came to craziness during that era in wrestling.