The Most Dramatic Divas in WWE's Attitude Era

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistAugust 4, 2014

The Most Dramatic Divas in WWE's Attitude Era

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    World Wrestling Entertainment's Attitude Era was a magical time for fans who were lucky enough to experience it.

    The characters were fresh and original, the storylines were exciting, and Monday Night Raw featured a breakneck pace that persuaded viewers to sit the remote down, kick back and enjoy the show. Superstars such "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, The Rock, The Undertaker, Kane and Mankind made Vince McMahon's flagship show destination programming and lifted the company to its greatest heights, both financially and creatively.

    The edginess, profanity, boundary-pushing comedy and unprecedented violence were integral parts of programming during that critically acclaimed period in WWE history. Equally as important was the sex appeal of the company's female talent.

    With an audience full of testosterone-fueled 18- to 35-year-old men, it was only natural for the company to highlight the incredibly sexy women it had under its employment. Some were treated simply as eye candy, while others developed into valuable parts in the WWE machine.

    Now, some 15 years after the height of the greatest period in wrestling history, relive the most important, infamous, notorious and dramatic Divas of the Attitude Era.


    *For the purposes of this list, the Attitude Era is recognized as starting at the 1997 Survivor Series and ending at WrestleMania X-Seven.

10. Debra

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    In fall 1998, Jeff Jarrett was badly in need of something, or someone, to help him get heat. He had undergone a character change that was not quite clicking with audiences. For him to achieve the success necessary to make that next step, he needed to give the people a reason to care.

    Enter Debra McMichael, former wife of Jarrett's WCW rival Steve.

    Her arrival in October gave Jarrett's character a breath of fresh air. Now, even if booking and character development were not up to par, he was guaranteed a reaction courtesy of the beautiful piece of arm candy that accompanied him.

    A match with "Road Dogg" Jesse James innocently resulted in the coronation of Debra's breasts as "puppies," something that stuck for years to come, becoming a trademark of Jerry "the King" Lawler's commentary for more than a decade.

    In December, Debra became the centerpiece of a rivalry between Jarrett and the bizarre Goldust. After entering the ring and blasting the golden Superstar with one of her charge's trademark guitars, Debra found herself forced to strip as part of a pre-match stipulation. This act seemed to help get her over in ways Jarrett only wished he could have.

    By the summer of 1999, the issues between her and the then-intercontinental champion began rearing their ugly heads. After weeks of teasing a split, she finally dropped Jarrett during his rivalry with Chyna, no longer able to stand by and watch him so openly criticize and disrespect her fellow Divas.

    The end of the Attitude Era saw Debra filling different roles on WWE television. At one point, she was second in command to Commissioner Mick Foley. Together, they would make decisions and book matches in the best interest of the WWE fans.

    Leading into WrestleMania X-Seven, she was assigned to manage The Rock, leading to a great deal of tension between the Great One and Debra's real-life husband Steve Austin.

    Debra never quite broke out of the mold of the traditional valet. She was much more effective playing second fiddle to a male competitor than she was on her own. A mediocre talker at best, she was still one of the most visible women of the Attitude Era and therefore deserves of a spot on this list.

9. The Kat

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    The Kat was debuted as Miss Kitty, another valet for Jeff Jarrett. His departure from the company, however, left her with nothing else to do, so she suddenly found herself paired with new intercontinental champion Chyna. The true nature of their on-screen relationship was never really explored, but the fact that they wore tank tops that labeled them as "master" and "slave" was an interesting element that the oversexed Jerry Lawler was quick to point out.

    In December 1999, The Kat experienced her first success alone, capturing the Women's Championship from Ivory in a huge four-Diva Evening Gown match that was conducted in a swimming pool. Moments after the victory, she made good on a promise she made to fans, exposing her bare breasts for the world to see. It was the first time that nudity of that sort had been seen on a WWE show airing in the United States.

    Her title reign would be short-lived and limited to gimmick matches that hid her complete lack of skill between the ropes.

    The Kat would spend all of 2000 feuding with Terri Runnels, who was known affectionately as the "Horny Little She Devil." Together, they would compete in some horrifyingly bad yet highly entertaining matches. What should have ranked as one of the worst feuds in WWE history instead served as a nice little break from the more serious nature of WWE programming at the time.

    By 2001, Kat was developing enemies backstage, whether she knew it or not. After being booked in an angle in which she was forced into joining the Right to Censor, she was suddenly and unexpectedly fired. Real-life husband Lawler, in protest of the decision, walked out with her.

    The Kat's run during the Attitude Era was a limited one. She was never as important as Lita and Trish or as relevant as Sable, but she knew why she was there and how to entertain fans, succeeding in doing so during her short time with WWE.

8. Terri Runnels

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    Terri Runnels was the equivalent of a black widow spider throughout the Attitude Era, creating a tangled web of male Superstars who were left much worse off than they had been prior to their association with the Horny Little She Devil.

    Val Venis, Goldust and Shawn Stasiak were all unfortunate targets of her vengeful spite. They were physically, mentally and emotionally assaulted by Terri, who formed Pretty Mean Sisters (or PMS, for short) with Jacqueline and Ryan Shamrock. No Superstar got it worse than D'Lo Brown, who effectively became their personal servant after Terri had a fake miscarriage to go along with a fake pregnancy.

    Throughout October 1999, Terri watched as the Hardy Boyz and Edge and Christian competed in a series of matches for the right to have her as their manager. After the Hardys won a Match of the Year candidate, she guided them to moderate success before dumping them the following February and going it alone.

    Terri's rivalry with The Kat in 2000 kept both on television while utilizing their sex appeal to entertaining fans. They met at WrestleMania 2000 and again at SummerSlam in a match dubbed a Thong Stink Face match. The outcome was not in Terri's favor. She was humiliated and lost the feud with Kat all the same time. Luckily for her, an association with Perry Saturn kept her on screen.

    By the end of the Attitude Era, Terri was still active as a manager, accompanying Saturn to the ring for more than a year before betraying WWE and joining the Alliance, where she would align herself with Raven.

    Ultimate, Terri transitioned to backstage interviewer, a role she thrived in before leaving WWE in 2004.

7. Jacqueline

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    Jacqueline debuted in 1998 as the girlfriend of Marc Mero, just weeks after the former intercontinental champion had ended his on-air relationship with Sable. A sassy, attitudinal villainess who had no problem showing off her two, large...assets, she was the perfect opposition for the beautiful blonde. 

    At July 1998's Fully Loaded pay-per-view, Jacqueline gained her greatest exposure (literally and figuratively) when she competed in a much-hyped bikini contest against Sable. Despite crowd applause declaring Sable the victor, Jacqueline was awarded the winner's trophy the following night on Raw after it was revealed that the evil Mr. McMahon had disqualified Sable for improper bikini attire.

    On September 15, 1998, Jacqueline defeated her rival to become the first Women's champion in three years. She would carry the gold for two months before dropping it to Sable at the Survivor Series.

    Upon splitting from the departing Mero, Jacqueline formed a team with Terri Runnels known as Pretty Mean Sisters. Together, they tormented any and all men whom they perceived to have wronged them and did so with great glee.

    In 1999, aspirations to wear gold once again far outweighed any desire to torment the WWE Superstars, and she set her sights on Women's champion Ivory. They wrestled matches across the country, but Jacqueline proved unable to regain the title.

    The new millennium, however, presented her with the opportunity she was waiting for. After defeating Harvey Wippleman to win the title (don't ask), she would hold onto it for about two months before losing to Stephanie McMahon. Despite the loss, it was one of Jacqueline's highest-profile matches to date.

    An association with Bradshaw and Faarooq of the APA kept her busy as the Attitude Era wound down, but she was hardly where she wanted to be at that point in her career.

6. Ivory

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    Ivory is a Diva who has never gotten the respect she deserves for her performances throughout the Attitude Era.

    A loud, overbearing woman who was unafraid of letting her opinions be known, she was the perfect heel centerpiece for a Divas division transitioning from Evening Gown matches to actual wrestling bouts. That she had considerable experience between the ropes only helped her become the standout star of the Divas roster in 1999.

    Despite debuting as a valet for D'Lo Brown and Mark Henry, she had broken out and proved herself as a performer who could stand on her own and elicit reactions from audiences without the assistance of a male counterpart. 

    After Ivory captured the Women's Championship from the overmatched Debra in May, there were few instances throughout the rest of the year where the purple-clad Diva did not hold the gold. She successfully defended against a weak roster of competitors including Tori, Luna and Jacqueline before feuding with the elderly Fabulous Moolah and Mae Young.

    It was against Moolah that she dropped the title for the first time, only to win it back a night later. From there, she would drop it again, this time to The Kat in an Evening Gown in a Pool match at Armageddon in December.

    That loss would be the beginning of a downward spiral that saw Ivory become lost in the shuffle. It was not until October when she joined forces with Steven Richards and the Right to Censor that she returned to relevancy. She captured the Women's Championship from Lita, successfully retained it in subsequent rematches and ignited a personal rivalry with Chyna that would culminate in a crushing defeat at WrestleMania X-Seven.

    As Trish Stratus and Lita began dominating women's wrestling and newcomers like Victoria and Molly Holly proved themselves as the best workers in the sport, Ivory took a backseat. She would occasionally receive a slight push, but she excelled in front of the camera as an on-air personality when not competing.

5. Trish Stratus

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    Trish Stratus' arrival in February 2000 may have been late in the Attitude Era, but what she accomplished in the final year of the influential period not only helped set the stage for her Hall of Fame career but introduced fans to a woman who would be an integral part of WWE programming for the better part of a decade.

    As manager to Test and Albert, Trish took two talented big men with nothing else better to do and helped focus them on achieving greatness as a tag team. While they never quite got to the level of the other extraordinary teams that starred for the company at the time, such as the Hardy Boyz, Dudley Boyz and Edge and Christian, they were certainly a suitable tandem.

    It was Trish, though, that stood apart from her charges. Despite having limited experience and looking like a deer in headlights during her first few appearances on Raw, she had a star quality about her. She had something far beyond her stunning looks or her perfectly molded fitness model physique that made fans sit up and take notice.

    She carried herself like a star and the fans, in turn, treated her like one.

    In April 2000, Trish began seducing Bubba Ray Dudley, playing a mind game with the impressionable tag team competitor in an attempt to give Test and Albert an advantage against the former tag team champion Dudley Boyz. She seduced him in a series of vignettes, wearing lingerie while seductively massaging tables. Of course, the payoff was the moment at Backlash when she was finally put through a table, but her performance in the angle really hinted at the quality of the performer she would become.

    Her rivalry with Lita throughout the summer and fall was the ignition of a feud that would stretch six years and dozens of matches, including a Raw main event for the Women's Championship. They would spend their brief time as stars in the Attitude Era, laying the groundwork for what would become the defining feud of women's wrestling in World Wrestling Entertainment.

4. Lita

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    There is no more influential woman in WWE history than Lita. That statement packs a tremendous punch, but it is accurate if one takes into account that she brought wrestling back to the forefront of the Divas division.

    With a move set she learned during her days in Mexico and while training with Matt and Jeff Hardy in North Carolina, Lita captivated audiences by taking down much larger men in displays of extraordinary athleticism. As the valet for light heavyweight champion Essa Rios, she would get involved in his matches, mimicking the maneuvers he executed to near perfection. 

    Her ability to deliver the same moves that competitors such as Rey Mysterio, Psychosis and Juventud Guerrera popularized in America years earlier endeared her to the fans and made her one of the most must-see female performers in WWE history.

    When she split with Rios and aligned herself with the Hardy Boyz, her popularity skyrocketed. Rocking tank tops, cargo pants and a thong that peaked out of those same pants, she fit right in with the brothers. Together, they were known as Team Extreme.

    Cool and incredibly popular, the trio became major stars for WWE. Lita, the breakout star of the bunch, starred in Six-Person Tag Team matches involving fellow Divas Trish Stratus and Molly Holly. It was in Trish that Lita found her greatest rival.

    At Fully Loaded in July 2000, Lita and the Hardys defeated Trish, Test and Albert in a molten hot pay-per-view opener. Months later, in October, she defeated the buxom blonde in the first-ever Bra and Panties match. As heated as that rivalry with Trish became, it was an August victory over Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley for the Women's Championship that served as the biggest win of her young career.

    While 2000 may have been a banner year for Lita, it was just the beginning. What she accomplished in the final days and months of the Attitude Era was but the start of a legendary career that culminated with a Hall of Fame induction in April 2014.

3. Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley

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    The Billion Dollar Princess debuted on WWE as the sweet, innocent daughter of Vince McMahon. A pawn in his never-ending war with Steve Austin, the wrestling world corrupted her and turned her into a villain as hated as her father had ever been.

    After marrying Triple H during a ceremony in which she was actually unconscious—drugged by a bartender at her bachelorette party—she revealed that she had conspired with Triple H to take control of her father's company. Together, she and her new husband ruled over WWE, tormenting headliners such as The Rock, Steve Austin and Mankind on a regular basis.

    A spoiled brat, she always got what she wanted, and if not, she unleashed furious vengeance on any and all who stood in her path.

    Chris Jericho was a main rival of Stephanie's. He was incredibly fast and witty in his insults of the boss' daughter but oftentimes found himself on the receiving end of a beatdown at the hands of Triple H, D-Generation X or anyone else she saw fit to sick on him.

    A love triangle involving Stephanie, Triple H and Kurt Angle raged in the summer of 2000, creating soap opera-like television that captivated male and female viewers alike. It was must-see television that forced fans to choose either Triple H or Angle to cheer for. They did, and in the end, Triple H won the affection of his wife.

    The end of the Attitude Era saw Stephanie engaged in a heated rivalry with Trish Stratus, a rivalry that began when Stratus engaged in an illicit affair with Vince. The blonde bombshell incurred the wrath of Daddy's Little Girl, and at No Way Out in February 2001, the two vixens competed in a hellish match.

    Today, some 13 years after the end of the Attitude Era, Stephanie remains one of the most hated heels in the industry, proving that her heeldom is unmatched by any woman in WWE history.

2. Chyna

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    Chyna was not only one of the top female stars of the Attitude Era, but she was one of the top stars, period.

    The future Playboy covergirl made her debut in WWE in February 1997 and immediately enhanced the Hunter Hearst Helmsley character. She regularly got involved in his matches, assaulting his opponents and assisting him in victory, much to the dismay of fans.

    By 1999, it became clear that she had more to offer than just standing at ringside and occasionally getting involved in matches. In fact, she could become a regular participant in matches and do so with great success.

    She became the first woman to enter the Royal Rumble, the first to compete in the King of the Ring tournament and, for a brief moment, was even the No. 1 contender to the WWE Championship that summer. Her greatest claim to fame, to that point, came in October when she defeated Jeff Jarrett to capture the Intercontinental Championship in a Good Housekeeping match.

    The contest centered on Jarrett's insistence that women belonged far away from the ring. They were good only for cooking and cleaning, he argued. Chyna proved him wrong, sending him packing from WWE following the biggest and most historical victory of her career.

    That win catapulted Chyna to the forefront of fans' consciousness. Suddenly, her image was all over marketing materials and merchandise, and she became known to those not familiar with pro wrestling thanks to appearances on popular television programs and in print magazines. Chyna was everywhere as the new millennium dawned.

    A relationship with Eddie Guerrero would entertain fans everywhere, while a second intercontinental title win would remind the world of her considerable skill between the ropes. A WWE Women's Championship reign capped off her extraordinary career in WWE and what should be a Hall of Fame career. She proved that yes, a female competitor really could be every bit as good as a male one.

1. Sable

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    No Diva is more responsible for the increase in sex appeal during the Attitude Era than Sable.

    With her image plastered on magazines, video tapes, posters and other marketing and merchandising materials, she became a star as immediately recognizable as Steve Austin or The Rock.

    Never before had fans seen someone as overtly sexy and as stunning as the Jacksonville, Florida, native. She wore skin-tight leather and had tremendous camera presence but also such sympathy about her. Any man or woman who did her harm or tormented her became an immediate enemy of the WWE faithful.

    To say that sympathy was indicative of her inability to stand up and fight for herself would be inaccurate. On the contrary, Sable was very much a hellcat when the time called for it, unafraid to deck a male Superstar or deliver a powerbomb when necessary.

    At WrestleMania XIV, her feud with Luna Vachon reached its climax as the Divas competed in a Mixed Tag Team match. Sable teamed with real-life husband and narcissistic and egotistical villain Marc Mero to take on Luna and her associate Goldust.

    Sable caught the face-painted freak with a forearm to the face and finished Luna off with the TKO, proving to the entire world that she was as ferocious as she was beautiful. The feud would culminate a month later when Luna won an Evening Gown match following interference from Mero. 

    The blonde bombshell's rapid rise would be accompanied by a swift descent.

    Ego and a highly publicized lawsuit led to her departure from the company and a great deal of ill will between her and Vince McMahon, one of the major forces in her rise to stardom.

    Of course, that relationship would be healed some four years later when Sable returned to WWE, but that conversation is for another time.