Five years ago this week, the landscape of women’s wrestling changed forever as the Women’s Evolution kicked off with the Raw debut of Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair. Female grapplers launched into Superstardom. Raw, SmackDown, pay-per-views and even WrestleMania have all been headlined by the women of WWE. Women’s Tag Team Titles were reintroduced, as were Royal Rumble and Money in the Bank Ladder Matches, among countless other achievements. But as we look back on the past five years, WWE.com’s editors got together and debated who had the most influence on the Women’s Evolution. Here are our choices. What do you think?
The Bella Twins
You wouldn’t have a Women’s Evolution in WWE without a healthy dose of Twin Magic.
Long before women were competing in their own pay-per-events and main-eventing WrestleMania, Nikki & Brie Bella served as inspirational standard-bearers of the Divas division, combining in-ring athleticism with keen-eyed entrepreneurship (Belle Radici, anyone?) and reality TV savvy, starring not only in the long-running Total Divas series on E!, but their spinoff Total Bellas – which they executive produced, by the way.
Although The Bella Twins could have easily rested on their laurels when the likes of Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch began making their presence felt on Raw and SmackDown in the summer of 2015 – Nikki was already the longest-reigning Divas Champion of all time at that point – The Bellas instead stood their ground against the intrepid newcomers for the next several years, including Brie’s memorable Divas Title battle against Charlotte Flair at WWE Fastlane 2016 and Nikki’s clash with Ronda Rousey at WWE Evolution. Through their success both in and out of the ring, when it comes to challenging Nikki & Brie’s legacy in WWE, “you can look, but you can’t touch.” – JAMES WORTMAN
Try to compare Asuka to another WWE Superstar, past or present. You can’t.
Everything about The Empress of Tomorrow is 100 percent original and 100 percent authentic. She’s as lethal as Brock Lesnar, but she often acts as silly as R-Truth, and her opponents never have any clue what to expect.
Will Asuka be sporting her traditional noh mask or her mesmerizing green makeup? Will she be all business, or will she sing and dance her way around the squared circle to the tunes of Kairi Sane’s recorder? Will she tear you to pieces with some stinging insults in Japanese, or will she remain eerily silent?
At the end of the day, however, athletes truly inspire and influence generations by delivering in crunch time. And that’s what Asuka does. Undefeated for 914 days. Grand Slam Champion. Royal Rumble Winner. Money in the Bank Winner. Sole Survivor. Heck, even Mixed Match Challenge Winner alongside The Miz. And one last fun fact: She has submitted all four of WWE’s horsewomen.
Asuka’s latest masterpiece occurred in this year’s Money in the Bank Ladder Match, which saw The Empress win an anything-goes race to the top of WWE Headquarters with her unparalleled combination of toughness, creativity and quick thinking.
To this very day – and even after everything we’ve seen — no one is ready for Asuka. — JON CHIK
Heavy is the head that wears the crown, and that couldn’t be truer for The Queen. Not only is Charlotte Flair the most influential figure in the Women’s Evolution – a transformation she helped usher in – she has also been the most reliable and consistent performer in WWE since first appearing on Raw five years ago. And still, the haters line up, but that’s just the way it is when you’re at the top.
Charlotte has all the accolades, with 12 title reigns between the Divas, NXT, Raw and SmackDown Women’s Championships, in addition to being one of three Women’s Royal Rumble Match winners. And who else can claim a better catalog of classic matches? She has brought the best out of Ronda Rousey, Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks and Asuka, among others.
Plus, let’s not forget that in the face of indescribable pressure that comes with sharing the last name of wrestling royalty, Charlotte has delivered time and time again while carving out her own unique legacy. Now that’s influence. WOOOOO! — JORDAN GARRETSON
Your level of influence is dictated by the effectiveness of your actions, which is why Sasha Banks is far and away the most influential figure in the five-year history of the Women’s Evolution.
There’s the obvious reasons why – her virtually endless list of history-making moments in the ring coupled with her undeniable presence in pop culture – but, when talking about influence, there’s actually a level even beyond being the first woman to ever headline pay-per-views and walking every red carpet in existence.
Because while The Boss keeps making that history and turning those heads, she has also created a fanbase genuinely unlike any other in history. The Krew, as they (we) are known, has become so dedicated and passionate because of the body of work The Blueprint has put together over these last five years and beyond. She’s not just the best wrestler on planet Earth and the ultimate role model, but in the process of changing the game, she has also literally changed millions of lives.
And the standard for influence gets no higher than that. — RYAN PAPPOLLA
When trying to settle the toughest debates in sports-entertainment, I always turn to my role models for guidance. Since the start of the Women’s Evolution, the ascent of the Women’s division has followed the trajectory of Bayley’s own career. Bayley owns the distinction of becoming the first-ever Women’s Grand Slam Champion, having won the Raw, SmackDown, NXT and WWE Women’s Tag Team Championships.
As we celebrate the five years of the historic Women’s Evolution, the division is as loaded as ever, and there is one clear-cut standard-bearer: Bayley Dos Straps. Along with her good friend Sasha Banks, Bayley has put a giant target on her back and has turned away challenger after challenger. Charlotte Flair – Dethroned. Lacey Evans – Dispatched. Alexa Bliss – Defeated. The Bayley Buddies – Deflated.
NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley once famously proclaimed, “I am not a role model.”
Thankfully, the WWE Universe doesn’t have to worry about searching for one; we have the role model we need. — BRAD ZAK
Natalya walks a walk that is trailed by milestones, accolades, and, most of all, history. When it comes to the Women’s Evolution, the Calgary-bred Queen of Harts certainly owns a coveted spot in its Mount Rushmore. Tasked with living up to an unfathomable legacy that preceded her WWE debut, the decorated Superstar has not only carried that very torch but swung it through the glass ceiling to help redefine, reinvigorate and revolutionize women’s wrestling in WWE. Championships aside, the Canadian Wrestling Hall of Famer has made a penchant of turning the focus from his to her, thanks to her Swiss army knife-life technical in-ring prowess.
Over the course of a decade, The Queen of Harts has echoed excitement across WWE’s triple crown brands (NXT, Raw, SmackDown) and added a new dimension to once male-dominated staples like the Submission Match, Last Man Standing and the Gauntlet Match (once lasting more than 30 minutes in a 2018 battle to secure a Raw Women’s Title opportunity). In 2019, Natalya changed the game when she competed in the first-ever women’s match in Saudi Arabia — a night she claims as her own “decade-defining moment.” What’s left for the former champion to do from here is up in the air, but one thing is for certain: Natalya’s spot is untouchable. – RALPH BRISTOUT
Who won the first-ever women’s WrestleMania main event and simultaneously distorted gender conventions? “The Man” Becky Lynch, that’s who.
Although she is the only Superstar in WWE’s Four Horsewomen to not win the NXT Women’s Title, Becky used her grit, charisma and straight fire to make a name for herself on Raw and SmackDown. As the first SmackDown Women’s Champion, The Irish Lass Kicker punned her way into the hearts of the WWE Universe, but it wasn’t enough for the ever-determined dynamo.
Fast forward to the aftermath of SummerSlam 2018, and all anyone could talk about was how Lynch attacked her former best friend Charlotte Flair. Hellbent on rage and retribution, Becky traded her steampunk goggles for black leather and took WWE by storm. Call out Ronda Rousey? Check. Stand back up after getting knocked out by Nia Jax to create one of the most iconic (and grisly) images in modern sports-entertainment history? Check. Become the longest-reigning Raw Women’s Champion? You get it.
And while she is currently pursuing the toughest and most rewarding job of all — becoming a mother — we can only wait in anticipation for The Man to once again come around! —DEBORAH WECKSELL
Of all the Superstars that have been instrumental in making the Women’s Evolution what it is today, Nia Jax is not like most. From the moment she burst on the scene in 2015, it was evident that she just hits different.
Just think about her first two WrestleMania appearances. She competed for the Raw Women’s Championship in her very first match on the grand stage in 2017, and a year later, she WON that very same title at The Show of Shows. And if that wasn’t impressive enough, dare I say Becky Lynch would not even be “The Man” today if not for one swing of Nia’s fist on that fateful night in November 2018? Game-changer.
Simply put: Nia Jax is the measuring stick. One match with her is all it takes to determine the difference between a plastic little princess and a force of greatness. And the scariest part of it all? She’s just getting started. – STEVEN BARILE
Yes, the Women’s Evolution started well before Ronda Rousey’s arrival in WWE, but The Baddest Woman on The Planet kicked it into high gear. Rousey debuted in impressive fashion at WrestleMania 34, winning a Mixed Tag Team Match with Kurt Angle against Triple H & Stephanie McMahon. Over the next year, Rousey put together one of the most dominant rookie campaigns in WWE history.
Rousey proved why she is The Baddest Woman on The Planet, dismantling Alexa Bliss to become Raw Women’s Champion at SummerSlam 2018, then going on a tear through some of the Women’s Evolution’s most revered figures: Nikki Bella, Bayley, Sasha Banks and Natalya, among others. She capped off her rookie campaign in historic fashion, walking into the first-ever women’s main event of WrestleMania as Raw Women’s Champion. While she did not leave with the title and has not been seen in the squared circle since, there’s no doubt that Ronda Rousey left a major mark on WWE. – BOBBY MELOK
Although Alexa Bliss might not have the towering stature of a Nia Jax or the pedigree of a Charlotte Flair or Natalya, Little Miss Bliss has carved out a place for herself as one of the most dominant competitors of the Women’s Evolution.
Her Five Feet of Fury catapulted her to the Raw and SmackDown Women’s Championships, as well as two turns with the WWE Women’s Tag Team Titles with her best friend Nikki Cross. Those weren’t cups of coffee with the titles either, as Bliss has been a champion for more than 600 days since her arrival from NXT. Although she’s not one of the vaunted Four Horsewomen, Alexa Bliss more than deserves to be recognized alongside them as one of the most influential women in WWE. – BOBBY MELOK