1. Mae Young
The stigma associated with being a woman in pro wrestling was rife when Mae Young made her debut in 1939, but her combination of intestinal fortitude and beauty helped bring in new fans during the 1940s. In 1954, Young was one of the first women to tour post-war Japan.
Even in the late '90s, Mae entertained an entirely new generation of fans when she began making appearances on Monday Night RAW with fellow female pioneer The Fabulous Moolah. Although Mae passed away in 2014, her legacy lives on. Just last year the WWE started an all-female tournament on the WWE Network, aptly named "The Mae Young Classic".
2. Linda McMahon
Whilst Vince McMahon was the creative force behind the explosion of WWE in the 1980s, his wife, Linda, provided the business know-how to help create the perfect team.
"My mom was the CEO of WWE while I was growing up, and I never saw gender as a barrier," Stephanie McMahon says. "I saw her as the leader of our company. I think it's very important in our society to be able to see women in these roles, because then there is no question about whether or not little girls can aspire to be just that."
WWE owes much of its success to Linda McMahon, who was perhaps the wrestling group’s first female pioneer.
3. Miss Elizabeth
While critics might consider her unworthy of this list because she rarely wrestled, the truth is that Miss Elizabeth brought class to the pro wrestling business.
First introduced to fans as the valet of Randy "Macho Man" Savage, Elizabeth captured our hearts when she tied the knot with Savage at SummerSlam 1991.. (In reality, they were already married several years before.) Elizabeth gained screen time during an era in which few women could be seen in WWE.
4. Sensational Sherri
Sensational Sherri made her WWE debut in 1987, and quickly became the woman that everyone loved to hate. A talented performer and wrestler, Sherri was able to rile up fans with her cheating ways. As a cunning manager, Sherri often often removed one of her high-heeled shoes to blast her client's opponent between the eyes while the referee was distracted. In the '80s and '90s, Sherri worked with some of the greatest wrestlers of all time, including Randy "Macho Man" Savage, "The Million Dollar Man" Ted Dibiase, and "The Heart Break Kid" Shawn Michaels.
Sherri was so respected as a performer that the men would clamor for her managerial services, knowing that the "Queen" would provide any audience with incredible entertainment.
5. Alundra Blaze
Alundra Blaze, also known as Madusa, was signed by WWE in 1993 to revive its previously defunct Women's Championship. For the first time in many years, fans were then treated to female wrestling on WWE television.
Searching for suitable opponents for Blaze, WWE officials brought in some of Japan's finest female wrestlers, including the hard-hitting Bull Nakano. Blaze's title defense against Nakano during SummerSlam 1994 turned out to be one of the best matches of the night, further proving that the girls had just as much to offer as the guys.
Fans will also know Madusa for her career behind the wheel of a monster truck. Blaze's journey with the title, and the WWE, became rocky in the late '90s when she went on a rival wrestling show and threw her Women's Championship belt in the trash, but she was later inducted into the Hall of Fame and regularly gives valuable advice to aspiring female wrestlers. Blaze provided WWE with the blueprint for just how great women's wrestling could be.
6. Stephanie McMahon
Growing up as part of the McMahon dynasty, Stephanie McMahon has played many roles within the business of WWE. As a young girl, she modeled wrestling T-shirts for the mail order merchandise catalogue. Nowadays, McMahon is an essential part of WWE, overseeing the entire brand and pitching its superstars to the media, retailers, and licensees. All this and she appears as an onscreen character, too.
"Our women are an integral part of our business and our storylines, and I tell (prospective business partners) their stories as often as I possibly can," she says.
And while she stays plenty busy behind the scenes, she’s never afraid to roll up her sleeves and get in on the action. Whether she's mixing it up with Ronda Rousey or traveling the globe, she is forever championing WWE.
At the height of the "Attitude Era," one woman broke the mold in WWE. Fans had become accustomed to seeing scantily clad women who were more likely to break a nail than a sweat—but along came Chyna.
Dubbed "The 9th Wonder of the World," Chyna was a female bodybuilder from New York who made her presence felt by going to toe-to-toe with the guys. She forever changed perceptions of women in wrestling.
Chyna was the first female Intercontinental Champion, and the first woman to compete in a Royal Rumble match.
8. Trish Stratus
It’s fair to say that wrestling critics had low expectations for Trish Stratus when she signed with WWE in 2000.
Boy, did they get that call wrong.
The Canadian model quickly grabbed audiences’ attention, and not just because of her beauty. Stratus worked hard to defy stereotypes, and quickly became one of the most exciting women on the roster. She held the Women's Championship on seven occasions, and even lifted the WWE Hardcore Championship. Stratus has been a regular guest trainer over the years including appearing on WWE's Tough Enough show, thus helping to build future stars in the women's division.
There's no doubt that Lita is a stunner, but it’s important to note that she didn't exactly conform to the Barbie-girl look that swept WWE in the late '90s. With her red hair and rocker image, Lita did things her way. Ever the risk-taker, she had some brutal battles with Trish Stratus, not least when they both became the first women to ever headline WWE Monday Night RAW.
Winning the WWE Women's Championship on four occasions, Lita thrilled fans with her passion and fire. Inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2014, Lita is now a commentator and analyst on a number of WWE Network shows, and is able to pass on her priceless wisdom to those clever enough to take note.
10. Nia Jax
"I'm not like most girls" is the opening line to Nia Jax's entrance music. Indeed, the former model is proving to be a massive hit both on Monday Night RAW and social media in general.
As the WWE women's division grows, so too does a need for the representation of all different body shapes. Jax often posts images of herself in evening wear, or in a bikini, posing next to her smaller WWE counterparts. With more than 850,000 social media followers, this future Women's Champion is showing the world that beauty comes in all different shapes and sizes.
11. Alexa Bliss
When you look at reigning RAW Women's Champion Alexa Bliss, it's easy to forget that insecurities led to an eating disorder at an early age.
"I would look at food and just cry," Bliss said in her recent Muscle & Fitness Hers cover story. "I was in and out of the hospital until I came to terms with who I was. Now I know there are more important things than the scale.”
Her love of lifting and wrestling made a positive impact on her life and helped her regain control of her self-image. These days, Bliss is eager to spread the word that life is all about balance.
Bliss is living proof that you can stop your insecurities from defining you, as she continues to wow millions each week on TV. Thanks to her positive outlook and intense work ethic, the career of "Little Miss Bliss" has gone from strength to strength. She's the first-ever woman to win both the Raw and Smackdown Women's Championship and, in a very short time, has gained herself legendary status in WWE.
12. Charlotte Flair
When news broke that Ric Flair's daughter, Charlotte, was considering making her debut in the world of WWE, few would have given her much of a chance. How could the daughter of one of wrestling's all-time greats make it? How would she handle the pressure of being in her dad's shadow?
In reality, Charlotte has blossomed into perhaps the greatest female wrestler of all time. Her agility, technical ability, and charisma really are the total package—so much so that wrestling legend Paul Heyman believes she could main-event a future WrestleMania.