From Ronda Rousey to the Williams sisters, the 21st century has marked major milestones for women’s athletics. The U.S. women’s soccer team, which became the No.1 women’s side in international soccer, has captured the world’s imagination. Overall, interest in female sporting achievement has arguably never been greater than it is right now. 

In WWE, women have been blazing a trail at a rapid pace too.

“[From the time I was] a little girl growing up and watching, I’ve loved WWE my whole life,” WWE’s Chief Brand Officer Stephanie McMahon tells Muscle & Fitness. “I always thought that the women would have a bigger presence and a bigger role. There was never a doubt in my mind.”

It’s true that it hasn’t always been easy for women to grab the spotlight but things are changing. Traditionally seen as a male-dominated form of entertainment, WWE broke new ground in 2018 by introducing the first all-female WWE Royal Rumble match. This follows the recent introductions of the Women’s Championship and the female “Money in the Bank” and “Hell in a Cell” contests.

“I think about…The Fabulous Moolah and the great Mae Young and what they had to go through to make a name for themselves,” McMahon says.

And while the women of WWE are given every opportunity to shine like the men these days, such breakthroughs could’ve never occurred without the struggles and convictions of wrestling’s early female performers. 

As for an all-female WrestleMania main event? “I think we’re not that far way at all,” McMahon says.

The truth is, in compiling a list of 12 groundbreaking women it’s inevitable that some worthy names will go missing. Honorable mentions are due to dozens of female WWE superstars, including The Bella Twins, who have helped make sports entertainment a mainstream commodity, Natalya, Ivory, Victoria, Mickie James, Naomi, Paige…the list goes on. In this feature, Muscle & Fitness salutes 12 of the many groundbreaking women in WWE’s rich history.

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