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Diva is a term used by the professional wrestling promotion World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) to refer to its female talent. The term is applied to women who appear as wrestlers, managers or valets, backstage interviewers, or ring announcers.
The first modern day Diva in the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) was Sunny, who debuted as the manager for the bodybuilder-themed duo The Bodydonnas and went on to manage several other tag teams and singles wrestlers. Although the notion of a female manager had been popular throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, Sunny's character was significantly sexualized, whereas prior female managers were depicted as being involved in either platonic or romantic storylines.
Between 1996 and 1997, Marlena, Sable and Chyna, joined Sunny as prominent female on-air talent in the promotion. Marlena and Sable were as equally sexualized as Sunny, with Marlena suggestively smoking cigars at ringside during matches and Sable coming to the ring in form fitting leather catsuits. Chyna was offered as an antithesis to the rest of the Divas, a masculine bodybuilder whose sexual identity was the subject of early storylines. Sunny, Sable, and Marlena were further marketed as sex symbols through WWF's Raw Magazine, which featured monthly spreads of the women in suggestive poses while either wearing provocative clothing or seminude. In 1998, Debra debuted and shortly thereafter was featured in a Raw Magazine spread in which she shed a series of business suits to reveal lingerie.
Marlena was the manager of Goldust, her then real-life husband, and Sable was manager for her then real-life husband, wrestler Marc Mero. Sable quickly eclipsed her husband in popularity. Her popularity lead to the reinstatement of the WWF Women's Championship, as well as the hiring of more female wrestlers by the promotion. Sable became the first WWF female to proclaim herself as a 'Diva' during the April 19 edition of Raw in 1999; the term proved popular and shortly thereafter became the official title for WWF's female performers, be they managers or wrestlers. In February 1999, the WWF also debuted another veteran female wrestler Ivory.
Sable's popularity led to a shift in the role of women in the WWF, as the promotion began to rely less on its female performers as simply eye candy and placed a greater emphasis on female athletes who actually competed in matches. Having being one of the first female wrestlers to compete in such specialty matches as evening gown matches, intergender tag team matches as well as a strap match and the first ever bikini contest in which she competed against Jacqueline, she was also the first female wrestler to be a Playboy cover girl. Unlike Jacqueline, Ivory and Luna, the more physical Divas and experienced wrestlers at the time, Sable later admitted that it was written in her contract that she was not allowed to take bumps.
Her success also indirectly led to a [push in popularity for Chyna. Her masculine features were de-emphasized and her clothing became more provocative. She was put into competition against male opponents, going on to win the WWF Intercontinental Championship twice. Chyna's popularity quickly grew to match that of Sable's, culminating in Chyna being featured as the centerfold in an issue of Playboy magazine.
February 2000 saw the debut of Lita, who performed higher risk moves than the Divas before her, such as moonsaults and diving hurricanranas. Her popularity encouraged a higher standard of athletic competition within the WWF Women's Division, while still retaining the sexual element. The August 21 edition of Raw featured the first Divas match in WWF history to be the main event, a WWF Women's Championship match between defending champion Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley and Lita.
Shortly after Lita's arrival, Trish Stratus made her debut. Stratus started off as a valet, who brought pure sexuality to the ring. Also later that year, Molly Holly made her debut. She was a contrast to most of the other Divas because she was given a more wholesome gimmick and more modest ring attire.
In the Autumn 2001, Stratus was trained by Fit Finlay, who was the road agent responsible for the women's matches, and improved her in-ring ability. She worked her way up to the top of the division and eventually won the Women's Championship at Survivor Series. Also in 2001, Chyna left the WWF due to real-life issues between herself, Triple H, and Stephanie McMahon.
On May 5, 2002, the WWF officially changed its name to WWE and brought in a host of new female talent. Over the next few years, WWE hired more Divas than ever before, including female winners of the reality TV show WWE Tough Enough featuring contestants aspiring to be professional wrestlers. Numerous Divas competed in contests from "Pillow Fights" and "Bra and Panties" match-ups to "Bikini Contests", which were based more on the sexual appeal of the women involved. Meanwhile, Trish Stratus, Lita, Jazz, Gail Kim, Molly Holly, Jacqueline, Ivory and Victoria competed for the WWE Women's Title featuring match-ups only previously participated in by men, such as Street Fights, Hardcore, Table matches and the first ever Women's steel cage match. Holly (competing as Mighty Molly), Stratus, and Runnels also held the Hardcore Championship briefly.
Beginning in 2002, WWE began hiring new Divas assigned to their development territories to train and wait to be called up to the main roster. These new Divas were recruited from model agencies, the independent circuit, and the Diva Search. In 2003, Gail Kim became the first woman with a Korean background to win the Women's Championship. Also, Jacqueline held the male title, the WWE Cruiserweight Championship briefly in 2004.
Also during this period, new Divas such as Beth Phoenix, Mickie James, Melina Perez and Candice Michelle made their debuts in the company, and more and more of the previous generation of Divas slowly departed from the company.
In 2006, Stacy Keibler left WWE to pursue an acting career, Trish Stratus retired at Unforgiven, and Lita retired at Survivor Series. Torrie Wilson retired in mid-2008 due to having back problems and Victoria retired in January 2009 after a nine-year career with WWE. Lilian Garcia retired in September 2009 when she made her final WWE appearance on the September 21st edition of WWE Raw. In November 2008, however, Gail Kim returned to WWE after working for rival Total Nonstop Action Wrestling as a Knockout which leaving Gail Kim as the final Diva left from the previous generation of WWE Divas along with a vast majority of newer arrivals.
The division continued to grow as the Divas began to compete in different types of matches. On the March 5, 2007 edition of Raw, Mickie James and Melina competed in the first falls count anywhere match to be contested between two Divas. It was also the first time that the Women's Championship was contested in this type of match. At Vengeance 2007, Candice Michelle became the first woman from the WWE Diva Search to become the WWE Women's Champion. At One Night Stand 2008, Beth Phoenix and Melina competed in the first "I Quit" match to be contested between Divas.
In December 2007, Trish Stratus, Lita, and Sunny returned to WWE for a one night special appearance on an episode of RAW due to the show's 15 year anniversary. On the June 6, 2008 edition of SmackDown, the then SmackDown General Manager Vickie Guerrero announced the creation of WWE Divas Championship, a SmackDown Diva exclusive title. Natalya and Michelle McCool became the first two contenders for the new championship, and, at the The Great American Bash, McCool defeated Neidhart to become the inaugural champion. At Wrestlemania 25, former Divas Sunny, Victoria, Molly Holly, Torrie Wilson, Jackie Gayda, and Joy Giovanni returned to WWE for a one night special appearance in the 25 Divas Battle Royal match to crown Miss Wrestlemania. During the 2009 WWE Draft, then-current Women's Champion Melina was drafted to the SmackDown brand, thus making the Women's title exclusive to SmackDown. Later that same night, then-current Divas Champion Maryse was drafted to the Raw brand, thus making the Divas title exclusive to Raw, effectively switching both female champions and championships between brands for the first time in history. At The Bash in 2009, McCool defeated Melina to capture the Women's title, and became the first Diva to have ever held both the Women's Championship and the Diva's Championship.
In mid-2006, Stacy Keibler left WWE to pursue an acting career, Trish Stratus retired at Unforgiven, and Lita retired atSurvivor Series. Jazz returned to WWE due to the relaunch of the ECW brand, though her second run was short lived. Torrie Wilson retired in mid-2008 due to back problems and Victoria left in January 2009 after a nine-year career with WWE; she subsequently signed a contract with rival Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA) in April 2009 as aKnockout under the ring name Tara. In November 2008, however, Gail Kim returned to WWE after working for TNA as a Knockout. Lilian Garcia, the promotion's long-time ring announcer, retired in September 2009 when she made her final WWE appearance on the September 21 edition of WWE Raw.
The division continued to grow as the Divas began to compete in different types of matches. On the March 5, 2007 edition of Raw, Mickie James and Melina competed in the first falls count anywhere match to be contested between Divas. It was also the first time that the Women's Championship was contested in this type of match. At Vengeance: Night of Champions in 2007, Candice Michelle became the first woman from the WWE Diva Search contest to become the WWE Women's Champion. In December 2007, Trish Stratus, Lita, Molly Holly, and Sunny returned to WWE for a one night special appearance on an episode of Raw due to the show's 15-year anniversary. At One Night Stand 2008, Beth Phoenix and Melina competed in the first "I Quit" Match to be contested between Divas. On the June 6, 2008 edition of SmackDown, the then SmackDown General Manager Vickie Guerrero announced the creation of WWE Divas Championship, a SmackDown Diva exclusive title. Natalya and Michelle McCool became the first two contenders for the new championship, and, at The Great American Bash, McCool defeated Natalya to become the inaugural champion. At Wrestlemania 25, former WWE Divas Sunny, Victoria, Molly Holly, Torrie Wilson, Miss Jackie, and Joy Giovanni returned to WWE for a one night special appearance in the 25 Divas Battle Royal match to crown Miss Wrestlemania. During the 2009 WWE Draft, then Women's Champion Melina was drafted to the SmackDownbrand, making the Women's title exclusive to SmackDown. Later that same night, then Divas Champion Maryse was drafted to the Raw brand, making the championship exclusive to Raw, effectively switching both female champions and championships between brands for the first time in history. At The Bash in 2009, Michelle McCool defeated Melina to capture the Women's Championship and became the first Diva to have ever held both the Women's Championship and the Divas Championship
At the 2010 Royal Rumble event, Beth Phoenix competed in the Royal Rumble match, making her the second of only three women to have competed in that particular match, the others being Chyna and Kharma. On February 22, 2010 episode of Raw, Maryse won again the Divas Championship, becoming the first Diva to hold the title twice. On the April 12, episode of Raw, Eve Torres won the WWE Divas Championship by defeating Maryse thus becoming the first WWE Diva Search winner to win the Divas Championship. Mickie James was released from WWE on April 22, causing a lot of controversy. Her final match was a tag team bout, teaming with Beth Phoenix against LayCool on SmackDown. She was later signed to rival promotion Total Nonstop Action Wrestling on September 22. At Extreme Rules Michelle McCool and Beth Phoenix competed in an Extreme Makeovermatch for the Women's Championship. On the May 14, episode of SmackDown, Layla won the WWE Women's Championship by defeating Beth Phoenix in a two on one Handicap match with Michelle McCool thus become the only British Women's Champion. At WWE Fatal 4 Way, Alicia Foxbecame the first African-American and the youngest Divas Champion.
Melina as the Divas Champion in 2010
At Night of Champions 2010, the WWE Divas Championship was unified with the WWE Women's Championship as then-WWE Divas Champion Melina faced then-self professed co-WWE Women's Champion Michelle McCool in a Lumberjill Match. McCool won the match to unify the two titles due to interference from Layla, thus creating the WWE Unified Divas Championship following the lineage and history of the Divas Championship. This also made the WWE Women's Championship defunct after 54 years, which made Layla the final title holder. At TLC: Tables, Ladders & Chairs, Natalya and Beth Phoenix defeated Team LayCool (Michelle McCool and Layla) in the first Divas tag team Table match. Trish Stratus returned to WWE as one of the trainers for the newly relaunched Tough Enough season.
Despite not being what WWE typically viewed as a WWE Diva; on August 31, WWE signed 6'9" female wrestler Isis the Amazon who was set to compete under the ring name Aloisia. She appeared on the 3rd season of NXT but would then be released 2 weeks later, due to the company allegedly finding adult photos, and was replaced by Kaitlyn on the show. On the November 30 season finale episode of NXT, Kaitlyn was later announced as the winner of season three, defeating Naomi in the final to become WWE's first "breakout diva".
In late December 2010, WWE signed world renowned wrestler, Kharma, formerly known as Amazing/Awesome Kong. The company proceeded to air disturbing video packages of her flicking off heads of female dolls and laughing maniacally building towards her tentative arrival. Kharma made her debut at Extreme Rules attacking Michelle McCooland making a huge impact through the course of a couple weeks on Raw and SmackDown. She was later granted a maternity leave due to her real life pregnancy. Michelle McCool retired from WWE on May 1, after losing to Layla in a Loser Leaves WWE match.Melina was also released in early August. Gail Kim resigned from the WWE on August 5, 2011 due to frustration with WWE's lack of focus on the women's division. She would officially be released, for the 2nd time, on September 30, 2011.
In late Summer 2011, the controversial issue of what makes a "true" WWE Diva was largely disputed, stemming from an article posted on WWE.com and the high-profile feud between Kelly Kelly and Eve against The Divas of Doom; Beth Phoenix and Natalya. Maryse was released from her WWE contract on October 28. After retiring in September 2009, Lilian Garcia returned to WWE on December 5, making her the last remnant of the previous generation of Divas, alongside the new generation, Lita made a cameo appearance for a second time at the 2011 Slammy Awards show as an award presenter; the first occurred a year earlier in a backstage segment involving Pee Wee Herman.
At the 2012 Royal Rumble event, Kharma competed in the Royal Rumble match making her the third woman to compete in the match. Eve Torres would then be involved in a storyline with John Cena and Zack Ryder which on the February 20 episode of Raw, Eve turned heel after admitting in a backstage segment to the Bella Twinsthat she had used Ryder and had planned to use Cena also. She would then later on be involved in other storylines and angles. On the April 23 episode of Raw, Nikki defeated Beth Phoenix in a lumberjill match for theWWE Divas Championship, ending Phoenix's reign as champion at 204 days. Brie lost Nikki's championship to the returning Layla at Extreme Rules, after attempting Twin Magic, ending her Divas Championship reign after only a week. The following night on Raw, they competed in their last match with the WWE, after their contracts would expire that night. Later that night, WWE announced on their website that the twins were kayfabed fired by Eve Torres.
Wendi Richter would make a cameo appearance on the June 18, 2012 edition of Raw in a in-ring segment along with Cyndi Lauper, Layla, Roddy Piper, and Heath Slater due to continuation of Slater's storyline of displeasure towards former talent. In July, Kharma's profile was moved to the alumni. After weeks of rumors, she confirmed her release on Twitter. On July 9, 2012, Eve Torres and AJ Lee became the only two Divas to main event Raw since Trish Stratus and Lita in 2004, in a tag team match featuring CM Punk and Daniel Bryan. Two weeks later, on the 1000th episode of Raw, Trish Stratus and Lita would make cameo appearances on the show as Stratus appeared in a backstage segment with Triple H while Lita faced Heath Slater in a no-disqualification no count-out match. Lita would win the match with help from the APA and a large number of WWE Legends. During the summer, AJ would then be involved in various relationship storylines and angles with male talent such as CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Kane, John Cena, and Dolph Ziggler including as part of the storylines in a stint as General Manager of Raw.
At September 16 on the Night of Champions pay-per-view, Eve Torres defeated Layla to win the Divas Championship and became the first Diva in history to hold the title on three occasions. On September 28, Kelly Kelly was released from her WWE contract due to her absence from the company. On October 29, Beth Phoenix left WWE after her contract would expire. Her final match was on Raw defeating AJ Lee after Vickie Guerrero would restart the match. A month after Beth Phoenix's departure, WWE published an article on their website stating that there was a new era for the Divas division. On December 16, at TLC, AJ turned heel after interfering in John Cena's ladder match against Dolph Ziggler on behalf of Ziggler pushing Cena off the ladder.
On the January 14, 2013 "20th Anniversary" special episode of Raw, Kaitlyn became the first NXT Diva to win the WWE Divas Championship. Eve Torres would then depart from the company later on that night after her contract expired. The Bella Twins returned to WWE on the March 11, 2013 episode of Raw, in a backstage segment with Cody Rhodes, Damien Sandow, and Kaitlyn. The first Divas contract signing would take part on the July 12, 2013 edition of Smackdown between AJ Lee and Kaitlyn as part of buildup for a rematch of the Divas Championship at Money In the Bank. AJ defeated Kaitlyn to retain the title at Money In the Bank. The next night on Raw, Dolph would break up with AJ leading to a mixed tag team match between Ziggler and Kaitlyn vs AJ and Big E Langston at SummerSlam, which Ziggler and Kaitlyn won.
Record tying three-time and current Divas Champion AJ Lee — who is also the longest reigning champion in the title's history..
On the August 26 episode of Raw, AJ Lee would come out to cut a worked shoot promo on the cast of Total Divas, stemming again but partially from the controversial issue of what makes a "true" WWE Diva and the theme of the show leading towards a feud between AJ and the cast. Eve Torres made a cameo appearance at the 2013 Slammy Awards show as an award presenter for the Diva of the Year award won by Brie and Nikki Bella.
On January 8, 2014, Kaitlyn decided to depart from WWE to pursue other endeavors.
On January 19, AJ Lee became the longest reigning Divas Champion in history, surpassing Maryse's reign of 216 days. On the March 12 episode of Main Event, AJ successfully defended the Divas Championship against Natalya, in a match that lasted fourteen minutes — reaching a milestone because it became the longest championship match since 1987. On the March 24 edition of Raw, it was announced by Vickie Guerrero that AJ would defend her Divas Championship against the entire Divas roster at Wrestlemania XXX, making it the first time the title would be defended at Wrestlemania. At the event, AJ successfully defended her title, after making Naomi submit.
On the post-WrestleMania episode of Raw on April 7, 2014, Paige made her debut on the main roster, congratulating AJ Lee on successfully defending her title at WrestleMania, which AJ would turn to an impromptu title match. Paige defeated AJ and won the Divas Championship, becoming the first NXT Diva to hold both theNXT Women's and Divas Championships sumiltunaeously as well as becoming the youngest Divas Champion in WWE history. In early May, due to Paige's win and move to the main roster, the NXT Women's Championship was vacated by John "Bradshaw" Layfield, and a tournament was announced in which the final match would be held at NXT Takeover. Charlotte defeated Natalya, alongside Ric Flair and Bret Hart, in the finals at the event to win the vacant championship in a match that went over sixteen minutes.
At Payback — as part of her husband Daniel Bryan's storyline with Stephanie McMahon — McMahon threatened to fire Brie Bella if, an injured, Bryan did not relinquish the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, which forced Brie to "quit" before slapping McMahon in the face. Vickie Guerrero left WWE in mid–June, after losing to McMahon in a pudding match. AJ Lee would return after a two–month hiatus, defeating Paige in an impromptu match to regain the Divas Championship. At SummerSlam, while Paige regained the Divas Championship from AJ Lee, Stephanie McMahon defeated Brie Bella in her first match from ten years, after Nikki Bella turned heel and attacked her sister, officially dissolving The Bella Twins. AJ Lee would win the Divas Championship for a record–tying third time at Night of Champions against Paige and Nikki Bella.
Diva Search (2003–2007, 2015-present)
The Diva Search was an annual competition that occurred every Summer. The purpose of the Diva Search was to find new women to be wrestlers, interviewers, and/or valets in WWE. The winner of the competition received a one year contract worth $100,000. Previously the contract was worth $250,000. The show returns this fall.
The popularity of women in WWE has resulted in various cross-promotions with other brands featuring WWE Divas. Various Divas have posed in Playboy, and others have appeared in commercials for WWE and non-WWE products as well as men's interest magazines.
The WWE Divas normally go on an annual photoshoot every year, usually to a different location each time. The photoshoot is followed by a magazine featuring photos from the shoot as well as a television special or video release of highlights from the shoot.
The popularity of women in WWE has resulted in various cross-promotions with other brands featuring WWE Divas. Various Divas have posed in Playboy, and others have appeared in commercials for WWE and non-WWE products as well as men's interest magazines.
Since 1999, seven WWE Divas have appeared on the cover of Playboy:
- 1999: Sable
- 2000: Chyna
- 2002: Chyna
- 2003: Torrie Wilson
- 2004: Torrie Wilson and Sable
- 2005: Christy Hemme
- 2006: Candice Michelle
- 2006: Maryse Ouellet
- 2007: Ashley Massaro
- 2008: Maria Kanellis
It has become a WWE tradition for any Diva who appears on the front cover of Playboy to have a match at WrestleMania. Commonly, these matches would have the term 'Playboy' included in its name. For example, at WrestleMania XX in 2004, Torrie Wilson and Sable competed as a 'Playboy' tag team against Stacy Kiebler and Miss Jackie. At WrestleMania 22, Torrie Wilson and Candice Michelle competed in a Playboy Pillow Fight.
Actual Playboy playmates, such as Carmella DeCesare and Karen McDougal have also appeared in Diva Search in 2004. Some former and current Divas such as Trish Stratus, Lita, Debra, Sharmell, Stacy Keibler, and Melina have indicated that posing for Playboy magazine is out of the question for them. Stratus has appeared on Canadian sports talk show Off The Record and said that she didn't pose because she wanted to be known as "multiple time Women's Champion Trish Stratus" rather than "the girl who posed in Playboy." Stratus also claims that she refused the shoot because she says she can still be sexy without taking her clothes off. Keibler refused to pose as she believes it would be better if she "left something for the imagination."
Tammy Lynn Sytch (Sunny) claimed to have refused an offer by Playboy to pose for the magazine. Rena Mero (Sable) later claimed, however, that Playboy had actually never approached Sytch, and that Sytch had fabricated the whole story. However, Sytch was not the first to report that she had turned down an offer.
In 2007, Ashley Massaro, Torrie Wilson, Maryse Ouellet, Brooke Adams, Layla El, and Kelly Kelly shot a video for music producer and rapper Timbaland. In the same year, Torrie Wilson, Candice Michelle, Michelle McCool, Maria Kanelli, Layla, and Kristal Marshall appeared in an episode of the U.S. reality show Project Runway, in which designers were asked to design in-ring attire for their designated Diva. In 2008, Layla, Mickie James, Kelly Kelly, and Melina Perez appeared in the U.S. reality show Celebrity Fit Club: Boot Camp to get the celebrities in shape. Later the same year, Mickie James appeared on the USA Network show Psych, playing a roller derby girl.
Championships and accomplishments
|Championship||Current champion||Date won||Location|
|WWE Divas Championship||Nikki Bella||November 23, 2014||St. Louis, Missouri|
Babe of the Year (2001–2004)
The WWE Babe of the Year contest is a contest where fans voted on who is their favorite WWE Diva for that year. Trish Stratus won the inaugural Babe of the Year competition in 2001. Stratus had her own mini-site on WWE.com and her photoshoot of choice was a space-type theme. The corresponding mini-site was fittingly named "The Stratusphere." Stratus retained her title in 2002 and received another mini-site on WWE.com. The 2003 edition was again won by Stratus. She also won the 'Diva of the Decade' award for Raw's 10th anniversary special. Stacy Keibler ended Stratus's reign in 2004 and won the honor, receiving her own mini-site and a photoshoot for every month in the year, sometimes two. In 2008, WWE Magazine then declared Beth Phoenix as the 'Diva of the Year' which earned her a 2008 Slammy Award for that title.
Rookie Diva of the Year (2005)
The first and only Rookie Diva of the Year contest was held at No Way Out in 2005, where former WWE Diva Joy Giovanni defeated Michelle McCool, Lauren Jones, and Rochelle Loewen. Giovanni received more than half of the vote, followed by McCool who got just under 20%, Loewen got just over 10% and Jones received just 6%. The competition was hosted by then Divas Torrie Wilson and Dawn Marie.