There is a lot of discussion about the current state of today’s WWE Divas and their abilities between the ropes. Some are quick to criticize the fact that a majority of today’s roster started as models, discovered in catalogs by former President of Talent Relations John Laurinaitis and were awarded a contract based solely on their looks. There are others that will defend today’s Divas, citing constant improvement in their work, despite a lack of attention by those in power behind the scenes.
Regardless, today’s WWE Divas have come a long way from the days when they were simply sex symbols who competed in gimmick matches to satisfy the male-dominated audience. Today’s women have become faces of the company, valuable pieces in media relations and the spokespeople for a number of charitable causes and promotional initiatives.
Here is how they did it.
The mid-'90s saw the arrival of two of the most influential women of the modern day. Sunny and Sable were trailblazers for what is, today, considered a WWE Diva. They transcended the role of a female in the sport and became far bigger stars than either of the men with which they debuted. Soon, Sunny and Sable merchandise was as readily available as any of the top male stars of their era.
Sunny and Sable, and later Terri Runnels and Debra McMichael, injected World Wrestling Federation television with sex appeal and helped drive in the valuable teen and young adult demographic. Somewhere along the line; however, the company came to an understanding that sex symbols helped capture the audience’s attention, but, if they wanted to revive their women’s division and the WWF Women’s Championship, they would need to introduce talented in-ring competitors.
With Jacqueline and Luna Vachon already on the roster, the company debuted Tori and Ivory in early 1999. Throughout the year, they re-introduced women’s wrestling to a new audience, most notably in the Tori-Ivory feud that ran throughout the summer and early fall.
Unfortunately, the company still had a problem on its hands. Fan reaction to the Tori versus Ivory matches was solid, but neither woman was receiving the reactions that Debra was for simply walking to the ring and flashing her so-called “puppies.” They had yet to find the type of female performer that could be depended on to provide sex appeal while also being a solid in-ring hand.
That problem would be solved in early 2000, with the debut of Lita and Trish Stratus.
For six years, Lita and Trish would champion a Divas division that included a number of women who personified both beauty and athleticism. Along with Victoria, Molly Holly, and Gail Kim, they proved to fans, critics, and peers that they could rip each others clothing off in a Bra and Panties match, as well as, bash each other in the face with a trash can lid in a hardcore match.
The crop of women that made up the Divas division from 2002 until 2006 changed the perception of many as to what a female in the sport could be. Sure, there would always be some sort of expectation that they be beautiful, that they could fill a bikini, and cover magazines, but those so-called Divas proved that they could look good and kick ass at the same time.
In the years that followed, the rise of Trish Stratus and Lita, young women such as Mickie James, Melina, Beth Phoenix, and Natalya would arrive on the scene, and continue to carry the mantle for the talented and gorgeous women that came before them. They would be joined by a group of women that has, over time, endured the wrath of the smart fan. These women would be the product of a poorly conceived “reality” competition that would see World Wrestling Entertainment infiltrated by the inexperienced.
The Evolution of the WWE Diva continues on the next page...