Analyzing the History of Women's Wrestling at WrestleMania

Ryan Dilbert@@ryandilbertWWE Lead WriterFebruary 25, 2015

Trish Stratus
Trish StratusCredit: WWE.com

Recounting the women's wrestling portion of WrestleMania won't take long.

The Showcase of the Immortals has certainly not been the showcase of WWE's female athletes. Instead, it acts as a microcosm for the issues with how WWE undervalues its women. 

When fans reflect on the greatest matches to ever unfold at the marquee event, they won't do much thinking about the women's matches on the card.

A part of that is thanks to the company's allotting such little time to the women's division. Be sure to also blame the fact that there have so many editions of WrestleMania that simply didn't offer the females a spot in the ring at all.

WrestleMania history doesn't follow the trajectory of society either.

Things have not become more equal for women at the event over time. WrestleMania I embraced women's wrestling, making it a key component. That has rarely been true since.

Hulkamania

WrestleMania I: Wendi Richter vs. Leilani Kai (Women's Championship)

The first WrestleMania was largely built around the connection between pop culture and pro wrestling. Cyndi Lauper's involvement was central to that bridge. She was a red-hot pop star at the time.

WWE had her manage, Richter, the challenger looking to get her belt back. Kai had The Fabulous Moolah in her corner, a legend adding her name power to this clash. 

This bout served as the climax to a three-part series that included matches at The Brawl to End it All and The War to Settle the Score, specials that aired on MTV.

Richter's win launched a new star to head the division. Moolah, and her massive shadow, loomed.

WrestleMania II: The Fabulous Moolah vs. Velvet McIntyre (Women's Championship)

Moolah won the title from Richter in November 1985, with WWE clearly unwilling to keep the aging star out of the title picture.

The champ was 63 years old when she faced McIntyre. The match lasted just over a minute. Not surprisingly, it was a dud.

It would be the last women's title match at The Show of Shows for eight years.

WrestleMania III: No match

WrestleMania IV: No match

WrestleMania V: No match

WrestleMania VI: Dusty Rhodes and Sapphire vs. Randy Savage and Sensational Sherri

Sapphire emerged out of the crowd to be Rhodes' fighting and dancing partner. The story was that she was just a fan looking to help The American Dream, who eventually took her under his polka-dotted wing.

The women were essentially add-ons to the feud between Savage and Rhodes, and the match itself was largely a palate cleanser between more serious contests.

It was Elizabeth, once Savage's right-hand woman, who played the key role here. She did plenty of distracting and pushed Sherri at the end to allow the babyfaces to win.

While this was no celebration of the women on the roster's ability, it sure beat missing out on the event as the women had done the years before this.

WrestleMania VII: No match

WrestleMania VIII: No match

The New Generation Era

WrestleMania IX: No match

WrestleMania X: Alundra Blayze vs. Leilani Kai (Women's Championship)

Nearly a decade after helping to elevate Richter by taking the loss at WrestleMania, Kai was doing the same for Blayze. Like Richter, Blayze was a rising star, someone WWE built the division around.

The battle for the title at Madison Square Garden this night was a decent story of an athletic babyface overcoming a monster heel.

Blayze and Kai had minimal time to tell that story, though. The contest wrapped up just after three minutes. 

The women would have killed to have those three minutes in the next few years. WrestleMania's next few years were light on female presence.

WrestleMania XI: No match

WrestleMania XII: No match

WrestleMania 13: No match 

The Attitude Era

WrestleMania XIV: Luna and Goldust vs. Marc Mero and Sable

Unlike many other mixed tags, the women were the stars here.

The crowd was most into the action when Luna and Sable were at each other's throats. Sable powerbombed Luna who in turn choked her in the corner.

It was a fun, well-paced contest that outdid much of the card that night.

WrestleMania XV: Sable vs. Tori (Women's Championship)

In a story WWE would repeat years later, an adoring fan morphed into an enemy. Tori debuted as a fan obsessed with Sable.

The two would later stink it up at WrestleMania.

After years of not having women wrestle at the marquee event, WWE opted to have two buxom women with minimal in-ring ability go at it. This was a staple of the Attitude Era.

Jerry Lawler pined for "puppies" during bouts. The women teased and seduced more than they grappled.

Teenage boys likely enjoyed this title match, but it was a belly flop in terms of actual wrestling.

WrestleMania 2000: Terri Runnels vs. The Cat (Cat Fight) 

Again women played the part of sexy sideshow. 

The Fabulous Moolah and Mae Young had become comedy relief characters by this point. Moolah, in Terri's corner, and Young, by The Cat's side, added gags to a goofy bit of action. Young tried to flash her breasts; Moolah was later on the wrong end of a Bronco Buster. 

Val Venis refereed the nonsense.

WrestleMania X-Seven: Chyna vs. Ivory (Women's Championship)

Chyna was a beast, a powerful warrior with plenty of presence. After battling men like Chris Jericho, WWE gave her an opponent who wasn't at her level.

Chyna rolled over Ivory in a short, unmemorable match. A story involving Ivory and her Right to Censor posse's injuring Chyna climaxed in a bout that lasted two-and-a-half minutes.

Chyna
ChynaCredit: WWE.com

Ruthless Aggression Era

WrestleMania X8: Jazz vs. Trish Stratus vs. Lita (Women's Championship)

In the '00s, WWE women's wrestling peaked. Trish's emergence, Lita's arrival and a roster full of other talented women led to that.

WWE also gave its females more room to work with.

Unfortunately at WrestleMania X8, the company also asked them to follow the match that should have been the main event—The Rock vs. Hulk Hogan. Chris Jericho and Triple H soon found out just how drained the crowd was after that dream match.

Trish, Lita and Jazz performed well, though. 

Trish and Lita, while not as good as she would become, gave women's wrestling fans reason to get excited about the future. Trish soon became the centerpiece of the division.

WrestleMania XIX: Trish Stratus vs. Victoria vs. Jazz (Women's Championship)

The women outdid their WrestleMania X8 effort. It helped, of course, that they weren't following one of the biggest matches in WrestleMania history.

Being able to perform for over seven minutes (a lifetime compared to most Divas matches) aided them as well.

Jazz outmuscled and outwrestled her foes for much of the action, but the highlights were distributed relatively equally. Trish hit a hurricanrana that wowed the crowd. Victoria followed a nasty superkick with a moonsault that missed.

A well-paced match ended with Trish's overcoming the opposition, the crowd buzzing. 

WrestleMania XX: Torrie Wilson and Sable vs. Stacy Keibler and Miss Jackie (Evening Gown match), Victoria vs. Molly Holly (Hair vs. Title, Women's Championship)

WrestleMania XX boasted two women's matches, although one was essentially a teenage boy's fantasy come to life. 

The Evening Gown match was the kind of thing one saw often during the Attitude Era. The story revolved around Jackie and Keibler's jealousy that Sable and Torrie had appeared in Playboy. It's the kind of trite narrative more often reserved for the women on the roster.

Stacie Keibler and Miss Jackie
Stacie Keibler and Miss JackieCredit: WWE.com

Torrie pulling off Jackie's underwear is the lone "highlight."

The women did get another chance to step in the ring that night, but Victoria and Molly Holly was more about the stipulation than the match. It felt rushed and lacked drama. Having just five minutes to work with couldn't have helped.

WrestleMania 21: Trish Stratus vs. Christy Hemme (Women's Championship)

Christy wasn't ready for this moment. She floundered, looking overwhelmed by the scale of the stage.

She had Trish's archrival, Lita, in her corner. That didn't add enough juice to make up for the ineffective in-ring action.

For the second straight year, a feud revolved around jealousy over someone being on the cover of Playboy. Someone backstage really liked that idea the first time around apparently.

WrestleMania 22: Torrie Wilson vs. Candice Michelle (Pillow Fight), Mickie James vs. Trish Stratus (Women's Championship)

The story of Mickie obsessing over Trish was one WWE had done before, but never as well as this. In one of the best built-up women's matches ever, Mickie went from fan to friend to foe. 

The attention WWE paid to this title bout beforehand and the talent involved led to one of the best women's matches in WrestleMania history. It's no coincidence that it's also one of the longest.

The pillow fight was pure filler. WWE had to offer something in between two intense, dramatic title matches. That's when it called on the women for a second time that night.

WrestleMania 23: Melina vs. Ashley (Lumberjill match for Women's Championship)

From this point on, WWE would look to highlight more women. The matches got crowded. Females appeared en masse as "lumberjills" or as part of overloaded bouts.

Melina and Ashley battled for a little under four minutes in a matchup that saw a lot of chokes and not a lot of highlights. 

The stipulation only came into play at the end when the entire Divas division became part of the fray.

Recent History

WrestleMania XXIV: Beth Phoenix and Melina vs. Maria and Ashley (Lumberjill match)

WWE went with the lumberjill gimmick for a second consecutive year. It was a touch better than the previous year's edition.

Beth Phoenix was the division's best talent, but WWE didn't have an ideal foe for her. She instead found herself in a filler bout, meant to add a bit of fun to the event.

She would have no great rivalry to dive into, no top-notch worker to push her. Phoenix instead played a part in a silly work of wrestling theater that involved Snoop Dogg, Santino Marella and the lights going off. 

Snoop Dogg kisses Maria at WrestleMania.
Snoop Dogg kisses Maria at WrestleMania.Credit: WWE.com

WrestleMania XXV: 25-Diva Battle Royal

Rather than highlight some of the division's best workers, WWE opted to cram the entirety of it in one bout. 

The winner would be dubbed "Miss WrestleMania." Taken seriously, the match could be more like the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal is today. Instead, a mix of female stars from the past and current roster members got lost in a mess of a match.

The focus was largely on a man. Santino posed as Santina and won the bout and received a sash and crown for his efforts. 

WrestleMania XXVI: Mickie James, Eve Torres, Beth Phoenix, Kelly Kelly and Gail Kim vs. Vickie Guerrero vs. Alicia Fox vs. Layla vs. Maryse vs. Michelle McCool

10 women got a total of 3:26 to work with. 

Vickie's suffering punishment at the hands of the babyfaces was the centerpiece here. It was more segment than match, more comedy than action.

WrestleMania XXVII: John Morrison, Trish Stratus and Snooki vs. LayCool and Dolph Ziggler

Trish's return to action could have been handled in any number of ways. WWE stuck her in a filler match meant to showcase Snooki and provide a breather between Undertaker vs. Triple H and the main event.

Women's wrestling fans had as much to complain about at this WrestleMania as Ziggler fans did. There had to be a better way to utilize the females on the roster. 

The brief bout ended with Snooki performing a handspring elbow, the sole highlight of the action.

It's telling that Jerry Lawler vs. Michael Cole went 13:45 and the entire division had a little over three minutes on the biggest show of the year.

WrestleMania XXVIII: Kelly Kelly vs. Maria Menounos vs. Beth Phoenix and Eve Torres

Celebrities invaded the Divas division again. 

The TV host teamed with an actual member of the roster whose wrestling ability didn't surpass hers by much. It was a fine match for what it was, but nothing worth rewatching. 

Expectations were low, though. The story that inserted Menounos into the WWE landscape was threadbare. Beth and Eve would also have been served wrestling actual wrestlers, with Menounos acting as someone's manager.

WrestleMania 29: No match

 

WrestleMania XXX: Divas Invitational (Divas Championship)

Despite being around since 2008, this was the first time that someone defended the Divas title at WrestleMania. WWE again went with the "shove the whole division into one match" route.

The result was just as bad as one would expect.

AJ Lee had knocked off all of her competition. She was a step above the rest of the roster and didn't have a proper rival to push her. Had Natalya been booked better, she could have filled that role.

Instead, 13 women met in a messy, uninteresting affair. 

Total Numbers, Final Thoughts

  • Times Women's Championship or Divas Championship defended at WrestleMania: 12
  • WrestleMania women's matches that went more than 5 minutes: 9 
  • WrestleMania women's matches that went more than 10 minutes: 0
  • WrestleManias with no women's matches: 10

WrestleMania has improved in a litany of ways over the years. It's a tauter event that has found ways to increase suspense and spectacle.

The women have not received the benefits of that growth. Things have gotten worse for them. Richter vs. Kai in 1985 had the benefit of feeling like a big match. That hasn't happened much at all since.

The Divas have to be frustrated to work so hard all year and have it end with just a few minutes in the ring, a crowded, filler match or not even making it onto the show.

Tracing WrestleMania's history is an easy to see how much further WWE has to go in terms of maximizing the talent in its women's division, to properly fill a niche many fans are hungry for.

All match information courtesy of CageMatch.net.

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