Welcome back to Diva Debate.
In today's edition, the focus is on the history of the women of WWE and their involvement in the Royal Rumble pay-per-view. From the Jumping Bomb Angels and Rockin' Robin of the 1980s to Sable and Sunny of the 1990s, to Trish Stratus, The Kat and Beth Phoenix in the 2000s, the Rumble show has been kind to the female performers of Vince McMahon's wrestling empire.
AJ Lee's heel turn has undeniably stalled in recent weeks. Can she and her on-screen beau, Dolph Ziggler, get back on track as Wrestlemania approaches? Find out inside.
The Greatest Diva Ever Tournament is down to four. Which Divas advanced and which ones were left on the outside looking in?
All of that, plus your weekly recap of Divas and Knockouts action await you as Diva Debate kicks off its 10th week.
As 2012 came to a close, it appeared as though AJ Lee and Dolph Ziggler were poised to become the latest in a long line of very successful WWE power couples. AJ was coming off of the most successful year a female on-air character had enjoyed since the days of Stephanie McMahon in the early 2000s, Dolph Ziggler had the Money in the Bank briefcase, essentially guaranteeing him a World Heavyweight Championship reign, and they were embroiled in a rivalry with the top star in the industry.
That program with John Cena single-handedly killed any momentum the hot angle that closed the TLC pay-per-view may have bought them. Now, with Royal Rumble upon us and Wrestlemania right around the corner, AJ finds herself, as well as her on-screen beau, on the outside of the main event scene.
Luckily for them, Ziggler's Money in the Bank briefcase win last July may save them and help propel the couple into the world title mix just in time for the biggest show of the year.
AJ is the most overt female character the company has had in years, and her pairing with the extremely talented Ziggler should lead them both to levels they have yet to have experienced. Allowing that potential to go to waste in the mid-card would do a great disservice to both performers.
Thankfully, the likelihood of Ziggler becoming World Heavyweight Champion and AJ leading him into a high-profile championship clash at Wrestlemania is improving, as are the chances of salvaging a pairing once ripe with potential.
At the very first Royal Rumble event, The Glamour Girls (Judy Martin and Leilani Kai) were slated to defend their then-WWF Women's Tag Team Championship against the dynamic duo of Noriyo Tateno and Itsuki Yamazaki, better known to fans as The Jumping Bomb Angels. The match would be competed under "Best Two-of-Three Falls" rules and would serve as the culmination of a program that had begun months earlier at the inaugural Survivor Series.
Yamazaki and Tateno had revolutionized women's wrestling in the United States. In their appearances on World Wrestling Federation television, they showed an unsuspecting fanbase what women were capable of when trained properly and given enough time to showcase their skill set.
The match nearly stole the show, combining classic tag team psychology from the champions with the exciting and enthralling offense of the challengers. In the end, The Jumping Bomb Angels seized their opportunity and captured the titles after 15 minutes of action.
Martin and Kai would recapture the straps five months later in a match held in Omiya, Japan, before the titles were vacated for good, never to return to Vince McMahon's promotion.
The match from Royal Rumble 1988, however, remains one of the greatest women's matches in company history and a shining example of what can be accomplished when females are allowed the same amount of time to construct their matches as their male counterparts.
In 1989, Women's champion Rockin' Robin was enjoying her greatest success in the World Wrestling Federation. The sister of the legendary Jake "The Snake" Roberts, she had defeated Hall of Fame inductee Sensational Sherri to capture the Women's title and rolled into the Royal Rumble with momentum on her side.
Her opponent was Judy Martin, who was no stranger to the Royal Rumble event. One year earlier, she had teamed with Leilani Kai in a losing effort against The Jumping Bomb Angels. Now she would have the opportunity to capture singles gold, proving she was capable of success at different levels of competition.
The match was far from the quality of the tag match from 1988, but it further solidified Robin's spot at the top of the women's division. At the time, however, it was becoming clear that women's wrestling was on its last legs in North America and just one year later, the World Wrestling Federation Women's Championship would be deactivated.
It would return in 1993 with the arrival of Alundra Blayze before once again being deactivated when she jumped ship to World Championship Wrestling in 1995.
In late 1995, a blond bombshell entered the World Wrestling Federation and forever changed what a woman in the sport could be.
Sunny was a sexy, vivacious young woman who managed to overshadow the very men she was put in charge of managing. By early 1996, it was clear she was the star of the Bodydonnas and well on her way to breaking out as a legitimate star in the company.
At the Royal Rumble, she managed Skip and Zip as they attempted to wrest the Tag Team Championship from Billy and Bart, the Smoking Gunns. The champions were hot early but, as was the case most of the time, a well-timed distraction from Sunny turned the tide in the challenger's favor.
The Smoking Gunns retained their titles, but it was apparent that Sunny was the true star of the match. By year's end, she would have managed three different tag teams (Bodydonnas, Godwinns, Gunns) to championship glory and, more importantly, would be the internet's most downloaded woman.
The opening contest of the 1998 Royal Rumble featured Vader taking on The Artist Formerly Known as Goldust. Seconding Goldust was a second-generation Diva who was as tough, if not more so, than any Superstar. Luna Vachon became the top female villain in the company and made a huge impact on the showdown between her charge and "The Mastadon."
Luna had interfered, as any good heel manager would do, but it was her physical interjection into the match that created a very underrated moment in Rumble history.
Vader climbed to the middle rope to deliver the his patented Vader Bomb finisher, but before he could execute the move, Luna jumped on his back and shoulders. With the 140-pound woman on his back, Vader exploded off the middle rope, crashing down on Goldust's sternum with all of his, and Luna's, weight.
At the same time, Luna's face crashed into the mat. Not once did she allow it to affect her on-camera. Proving her toughness, she simply collected herself and helped the defeated Goldust to the locker room.
It was one of the most spectacular visuals in Royal Rumble history.
At the 1999 Royal Rumble, a classic Divas rivalry was revisited when Sable defended her Women's Championship against Luna in a Strap Match.
The story of the bout centered around Shane McMahon's disgust with Sable after she had thwarted his advances on an episode of Raw in late 1998. From there on out, he made it his personal goal to make sure she lost her championship. Who better to select as Sable's opposition than the woman who had tormented her so badly just a year prior?
Before the Royal Rumble event, Luna had attacked Sable and injured her back, creating doubt that the champion would be able to compete in the scheduled bout. Shane McMahon made his way to the ring and introduced Luna before demanding that Sable come to the ring and forfeit the match, and title, to her longtime rival. Showing great toughness and resolve, Sable refused and the match was underway.
Luna dominated and appeared to have the match won until a female fan, who had been very focused on Sable in weeks leading up to the event, hopped the guardrail and laid out the second-generation wrestler. This allowed Sable to slap her fourth consecutive turnbuckle and pick up the win.
The match was far from great but it laid the groundwork for the Women's Championship bout at Wrestlemania XV. That fan that interfered would be introduced to the audience as Tori, and her obsession with Sable, followed by a blunt dismissal from the future Playboy cover girl, would lead to the two locking up for the Women's title at the biggest event of the year.
Also at the 1999 Royal Rumble, Chyna became the first woman to ever enter the Rumble match. She entered at No. 30, eliminated her rival "Sexual Chocolate" Mark Henry, but was dumped shortly thereafter by Stone Cold Steve Austin. It was a landmark moment for women, the first of many Chyna would have in her short yet productive wrestling career.
At Armageddon in December of 1999, Miss Kitty stunned the world by winning the Women's Championship. Not an experienced in-ring competitor by any stretch of the imagination, the World Wrestling Federation often looked for ways to showcase their champion without subjecting her to matches that would expose her lack of wrestling ability.
At the Royal Rumble, the Divas would compete in the first, and only, Miss Royal Rumble bikini contest. Ivory, Terri Runnels, Jacqueline, B.B., Luna and Kitty (now known as The Kat) would be the competitors, and a number of WWE Hall Of Fame inductees, as well as Conan O'Brien's co-host, Andy Richter, would serve as judges.
Ivory (pictured above) voiced her displeasure with the competition but participated, as did Terri, Jacqueline and B.B. Luna, on the other hand, refused to partake in the festivities, absolutely disgusted by what was going on around her. Finally, The Kat ripped off her robe and revealed a bubble wrap bikini that received the biggest pop of the contest but was highly overrated, at least in this writer's opinion.
A reasonably happy-go-lucky segment of beautiful women prancing around the ring in very small bikinis was interrupted, and forever tarnished, when the music of future Hall of Famer Mae Young made her way to the ring and proceeded to flash what would later be revealed to be prosthetic breasts. Then, just to prove that the judges were absolute morons, they awarded the competition to Young in another poor attempt at creating comedy at the expense of the genuinely tough Young.
For the second consecutive year, Chyna would enter the Royal Rumble. She would last only a handful of minutes before being eliminated by Chris Jericho.
At the 2001 Royal Rumble, Triple H challenged Kurt Angle for the WWE Championship. More important than the matchup between the top two villains in the World Wrestling Federation, however, was the interaction between the two beautiful women who escorted them to the ring.
Stephanie McMahon had taken exception to an affair her father had been involved in with Trish Stratus in the weeks leading to the Rumble and the effect it had on her mother, Linda. She despised Trish and believed her to be nothing more than a gold digger. Fans could feel the tension between the two and could tell it was only a matter of time before what had been a war of words escalated to physicality.
When Stratus attempted to interfere on behalf of Angle, Stephanie snapped and attacked the former fitness model. They fought around ringside, the arrival of Vince McMahon not even enough to pull them apart. Trish, Vince and Stephanie eventually took their sideshow to the locker room, leaving the WWE Championship match to resume without distraction.
The brief but intense catfight would lead to a match at No Way Out in 2001 that shocked the wrestling world with its quality. Stephanie and Trish proved themselves to be tremendous sports entertainers, their performances in the match overshadowing the fact that neither woman was particularly skilled between the ropes. Stephanie would win the match and, in many ways, the feud, but the most important development was the evolution of Stratus from naive model to improving wrestler. By the time the 2002 Royal Rumble rolled around, she would be sporting gold around her waist.
The Women's Championship bout at the 2001 Royal Rumble featured The Right To Censor's Ivory defending against "Ninth Wonder of the World," Chyna, who had recently recovered from a storyline neck injury suffered at the hands of Val Venis. Ivory had spent weeks poking fun at the injury, as well as claiming that Chyna had no chance of taking the title away from her.
The Rumble match featured Chyna beating and battering Ivory until a cartwheel back elbow into the corner resulted in a whiplash effect that left the challenger unconscious. Medics, referees and even Jerry "The King" Lawler would rush to the ring to check on her.
The latest injury angle, and the drama surrounding it, would eventually lead to a Wrestlemania X-7 match for the title in which Chyna would finally get her revenge, soundly defeating Ivory and adding another championship to her already impressive resume.
Heading into the 2002 Royal Rumble show, Trish Stratus was rapidly gaining the reputation as the sport's most improved performer. She had won the previously vacant Women's Championship at Survivor Series and had evolved as a performer to the point that she was trusted to lead women's wrestling into the future.
Her first major challenge came in the form of Jazz. A former ECW competitor who often mixed it up with the company's male stars, Jazz was a tough, strong, no-nonsense worker who was more experienced and, frankly, more talented than the champion.
Just prior to the Rumble, Trish had suffered a hand injury. In order to use that injury in the program, a backstage segment was shot featuring Jazz repeatedly slamming Trish's hand in an anvil case. It gave the champion a handicap and also created another obstacle for her to overcome.
With Jacqueline as the referee for the match, Trish Stratus and Jazz did battle in the third match of the 2002 Royal Rumble pay-per-view. Jazz dominated the action, wasting little time in targeting the injured hand. Trish was resilient, refusing to submit to her opponent. The conclusion of the match featured a disagreement between Jazz and Jacqueline that gave Trish just the opening she needed to make her comeback. A running bulldog would finish Jazz off, giving the Women's champion the first signature win over her title reign.
Trish and Jazz would go on to trade the title back and forth over the next two years, making their rivalry one of the best of the golden age of Divas competition.
Torrie Wilson and Dawn Marie (pictured) are two gorgeous women who had a very entertaining, if nothing else, rivalry on Smackdown in late 2002 and early 2003. For weeks, Dawn played mind games with Torrie, going as far as to begin a torrid affair with her father, Al.
In January, Dawn and Al were married on a particularly memorable episode of Smackdown. One week later, video shot during their honeymoon aired on the show. It was the last time fans would see Al Wilson.
It was revealed that Al had passed away (in storyline only, of course) and that a public viewing would be held on the final Smackdown before the Royal Rumble. Torrie would show up to say goodbye to her father but would encounter her rival, and stepmother. The exchange would end with Dawn breaking a vase over Torrie's head just days before their match.
A solid, layered storyline does not necessarily make for a good match, as was evident at the Rumble when a grieving Torrie took on her manipulative opponent. Dawn took control of the match and retained it most of the way, but Torrie mounted a comeback and picked up the win.
It was a major pay-per-view win for Torrie and an appearance on one of the "big five" shows for the underrated Dawn Marie, but the match was less than spectacular and the rivalry essentially ended on that January night in Boston.
In the middle of one of the company's best women's storylines ever, Mickie James rose to prominence as a psycho stalker of then-Women's Champion Trish Stratus. She had introduced herself as an overenthusiastic fan of Trish in the fall of 2005 but, over time, her obsession became more and more dangerous, especially when Trish turned down her advances.
At the Royal Rumble, Mickie squared off with Ashley Massaro, the 2005 Diva Search who had become friends with Trish upon her return from injury. Trish was the referee of the match, a match that was far more storyline-heavy than it was wrestling heavy.
Mickie would defeat Ashley, all the while setting up an eventual match between she and Trish Stratus for the Women's Championship at Wrestlemania 22. That match would go on to become one of the most beloved women's matches in company history, as would the psychotic stalker character that Mickie portrayed with near flawlessness.
2006 would also be Trish Stratus' final Rumble appearance. As one of the greatest women in the history of the event, the fact that he last go-round at the show was as a referee was a bit disappointing.
At the Royal Rumble in 2009, two of the most talented women in wrestling clashed with the Women's Championship on the line.
Melina and Beth Phoenix had a history of having very good matches, dating back to an "I Quit" match at the previous year's Extreme Rules pay-per-view. Expectations were high for their match at the Rumble, the first major event back for Melina following an injury.
The two engaged in a hard-hitting, high-intensity match that was rare for that time. Neither woman held anything back. Melina was the plucky underdog who used her speed and technique to combat Beth's immeasurable strength. Each utilized submission holds at different points in the bout, Melina grabbing an armbar out of a head scissors and Beth bending Melina backwards and using her own foot as a weapon, crashing it into the back of her head.
The finish saw Melina fake a cradle attempt, only to surprise Beth with the sunset flip for the win.
The match was an action-packed affair that more resembled a bout from the early 2000s than it did the post-Diva Search era. Both women would go on to capture additional Women's and Divas Championships before departing the company. Melina would be released from her contract in 2011 while Beth Phoenix would depart in 2012.
Mickie James is one of the most decorated Divas in WWE history, so it should have been expected that fans would respond negatively to a storyline that saw her on the receiving end of fat jokes and both verbal and physical humiliation at the hands of Michelle McCool and Layla. The storyline was so mean-spirited it turned many fans off.
At the Royal Rumble, the creative team attempted to make amends for their less-than-popular story by awarding Mickie James the Women's title. Mickie took the gold in record time, pouncing on Layla prior to the bell and taking only seconds to pin Michelle McCool following the Mickie DT.
After the match, Mickie gained a measure of revenge on her tormentors when she and the other babyface Divas on the roster slammed an extra-large sheet cake into Michelle and Layla. They celebrated Mickie's win and the humiliation of LayCool to give the program somewhat of a happy conclusion.
Also at the 2010 show, Beth Phoenix became the second woman to enter the Royal Rumble match. She eliminated the Great Khali, luring him over the top rope with a kiss, before delivering a crowd-pleasing clothesline to CM Punk. Ultimately, she would fall prey to the GTS before being dumped over the top rope, but it was a memorable moment in a string of them during that year's battle royal.
Natalya Neidhart is a third-generation Diva who, by most accounts, is the most talented in-ring competitor on the Divas roster. When she captured the Divas Champion at the end of 2010, fans applauded the WWE's decision and hoped the title change would result in a new wrestling-oriented division.
At the Royal Rumble, she would defend her title against Michelle McCool, Layla and Eve Torres in a Fatal 4-Way match. Unfortunately for her, the title reign fans found themselves so excited for would end before it ever truly got started.
Eve would leave the event with her second Divas Championship. It was a questionable booking decision to say the least, especially since Eve had not been prominently featured on WWE programming and there were no big plans for her come Wrestlemania.
In the two years since, Eve would capture the title for a third time while Natalya would never again experience championship glory. Instead, she would become one of the most criminally misused talents on the roster, wasting away in the role of Great Khali's girlfriend as the 2013 edition of the show approaches.
The 2012 Royal Rumble featured an eight-Diva tag match that saw the Bella Twins team with Natalya and Divas Champion Beth Phoenix to defeat Kelly Kelly, Alicia Fox, Tamina and Eve Torres. It was a bout that was thrown onto the card at the last minute but impressed fans with its high-risk spots, including Kelly diving onto a group of Divas from the top rope, as well as the time given to it.
The match had little impact on the future of the Divas division, but it did feature Tamina and Beth, who would go on to the Elimination Chamber pay-per-view and compete for the Divas title.
Later in the evening, Eve could only watch as Kane demolished her on-air boyfriend Zack Ryder. The angle ended the night on a cliffhanger, but by its end Eve would have turned heel and set off on the greatest single year of her career.
Divas Champion Kaitlyn's non-title match against Alicia Fox on Monday's Raw may not have produced much in the way of quality wrestling, but it did provide two distinct positives.
The first is that it appears as though Tamina will be the first Diva to challenge Kaitlyn for her title, despite a tease on last week's Smackdown that Layla would be that woman. It is good news for Tamina, who had faded into the background after making a big splash (pun intended) in her return at November's Survivor Series. Arguably one of the three best in-ring talents still on the Divas roster, the upcoming program should produce a few quality matches, if nothing else.
The second positive speaks to the long-term health of the Divas division. Oftentimes the women of World Wrestling Entertainment enter the arena to little or no reaction from the live audience. This can be largely attributed to a lack of television time and creative direction.
That was not the case on Monday as Kaitlyn received a noticeable pop from the San Jose fans. Perhaps it was due to her recent push, or maybe it was the result of a storyline the fans could get behind: producing a new breakout star and champion. Whatever the case may be, it was evidence that the company took a step in the right direction and that it has a positive it can build upon (and a star on whom they can build around) if they so please.
On Thursday's Impact Wrestling, Velvet Sky received the title match she earned by winning a gauntlet match at the Genesis pay-per-view: a title bout against Tara.
It did not end as she would have liked.
Velvet appeared to have control and was on her way to picking up her second Knockouts Championship. Then Tara's boy toy, Jesse, got involved and helped the champion retain her title.
Having blown off the anticipated title bout in quick and somewhat disappointing fashion, one can only imagine what direction the Knockouts division takes next. With no fresh matchups on the horizon and a roster full of women who have already fallen in defeat to Tara, it is difficult to get excited for anything going on related to the women's roster on Thursday nights.
In a continuation of the rivalry between Natalya and Rosa Mendes on Friday Night Smackdown, the two beautiful Divas finally did battle in singles competition.
Natalya completely outclassed Rosa early, as one would expect, but Rosa gained the upper hand by catching the third-generation Diva with a stiff kick to the face. Rosa proceeded to pull out some impressive submission wrestling before Natalya countered with the discus clothesline, but Rosa was quick to take her back down.
Rosa would display her dancing skills, but a distraction by Hornswoggle left her open to Natalya's Sharpshooter, which forced a submission from Rosa for the win.
There was not much to the match, but the recent rivalry between Natalya and Rosa gives each woman something to do on the company's B-show. Would it be better if we knew why they were actually feuding? Yes. Would Natalya be better off involved in something more productive? Absolutely. But for now, it is better than wasting both women by doing nothing with them.
Apparently readers like Paige. A lot.
Enjoy some gratuitous Paige, courtesy of your fellow "anti-Diva" fan.
Trish Stratus and Lita continued to roll in the Greatest Diva Ever tournament while Stacy Keibler versus Mickie James and Melina versus Victoria made for closer matches than most may have imagined.
With only two weeks of competition left and four ultra-talented women remaining in the tournament, it appears as though a single vote could wind up determining the winner. Before that can happen, though, we have to make it through the semifinal round. Without further ado, here are your second-to-last round matchups.
- Trish Stratus vs. Lita
The two most enduring and popular women in the history of World Wrestling Entertainment meet up in the semifinal round of the tournament, guaranteeing that one will not advance to the final round. Each woman has absolutely dominated competition thus far, and judging from the support both have garnered since Round 1, it literally is a toss-up as to which lives to see the finals.
- Mickie James vs. Melina
Mickie and Melina narrowly escaped with victories in their last matchups, each woman doing so by less than three votes. Now, with one round to go before the finals of the tournament, the woman that advances will be determined by their most faithful fans.
Remember, your favorite Diva can only advance if you let your voice be heard by voting in the comments section or by tweeting your votes to me @ErikBeaston. If the vote totals from the previous round were any indication, the tallies in the semifinal round will likely be extremely close. Do not let your favorite fall in defeat because you did not vote.
Yep, Aksana. Just because.
In next week's Diva Debate, I will cover any (and all) of the potential Divas fallout from the Royal Rumble pay-per-view, as well as the week that was in both WWE and TNA.
I will also do a little "fantasy booking" as I take a look at the matches that would be featured on an all-time DivaMania card. Which Divas would compete in the main event? What specialty matches would be featured? Who would leave such an event with the Divas and Women's Championships? Find out next week.
We will also find which two Divas advanced to the finals of the Greatest Diva Ever tournament. Who will escape the epic Trish Stratus-Lita showdown with their hand raised in victory? Will Mickie or Melina overcome the odds and advance to the championship round?
Until then, enjoy Sunday's Royal Rumble and, as always, cast your votes in the comment section or via Twitter.
If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions about this or future Diva Debate articles, feel free to leave a comment or Tweet me @ErikBeaston and I will respond accordingly. I look forward to connecting with readers and will do my best to answer your questions, respond to your comments, or take your suggestions under consideration. Thank you for your continued support of Diva Debate, right here on Bleacher Report.