Smart, sexy, and powerful. That’s used to be the slogan for the “Divas” of World Wrestling Entertainment. But it wasn’t until the last few years that the in-ring time and match quality of the women’s division in the WWE lived up to that slogan, redefining them as “Superstars,” same as their male counterparts. They’ve come a long way from side attraction to main event, as women in the company enjoy huge merchandise sales thanks to their young fanbase.
And while Mattel has been making strides in filling out the rosters of both the timeless classics of the 80s as well as the unmatched popularity of the 90’s “Attitude Era,” the female superstars that proceeded the main eventers of today have been few and far between. We’ve gotten Hall of Famers like Trish Stratus, Lita, Miss Elizabeth, and Sensational Sherri, along with some plans for Wendi Richter and Chyna. Still, with 90s-everything blooming into full nostalgia mode, there are many females that Mattel can easily put into they “Basic” or “Elite” lineups. So lace up your boots, because today we are counting down the top ten female superstars requested be launched into the action figure “Stratus”phere.
10. CANDICE MICHELLE
In an effort to replicate the success of covergirl-turned-wrestler Trish Stratus, an annual WWE Diva Search was created, where models and actresses auditioned to become the next big female superstar. Although Candice didn’t make the top ten, WWE hired her anyway. Over time, despite the company prioritizing beauty over in-ring acumen, she drastically improved as a wrestler to the point that she became the first Diva Search contestant to earn the WWE Women’s Championship. Although she hasn’t been seen in WWE regularly since her departure in 2009, she returned in 2019 to become the second female to win the company’s new 24/7 Championship.
WWE Hall of Famer, Lita, wasn’t the only female talent to come from Extreme Championship Wrestling. Jazz, a powerful and talented wrestler, who, like Chyna, regularly wrestled men, was hired to add to the growing women’s division in WWE during Trish Stratus’s first title reign. Her hard-hitting style and visually intimidating look worked in stark contrast to the comparatively inexperienced Stratus. Jazz had an amazing way of making any opponent look like the underdog. And when she lost, it felt like a fluke. Sadly, even in the height of her popularity and either of her two title reigns, she never got an action figure. Now would be a good time for Mattel to rectify that little misstep.
8. STACY KEIBLER
WCW was very late to the game when it came to prioritizing and utilizing female talent. They had the Nitro Girls, a team of dancer/cheerleaders that didn’t really interact with the male superstars. One of them, Stacy Keibler, eventually became a popular “manager“ named Miss Handcock – a note-taking, micro mini-skirt-wearing secretary that would begin to table dance highlighting her beautiful legs to distract male superstars.
When WWE purchased WCW, she debuted using her real name, and with the WWE promotional machine behind her, she became an incredibly popular, longtime favorite, feuding with on-again/off-again frenemy & fellow WCW star, Torrie Wilson. Stacy successfully used the platform of pro-wrestling to build a successful career as a model and actress, in her own right outside of the WWE. Despite her being gone for a long time, I’d still love an updated figure of her commemorating the old WCW and the Invasion angle.
7. TERRI RUNNELS (Marlena)
Long before WWE coined the term “diva” Terri Runnels worked as a makeup artist for CNN, and later worked at smaller wrestling tv shows before debuting in 1996 as Marlena, the diminutive, cigar-smoking manager for her then real-life husband, Goldust. After a memorable feud with a debuting Chyna, and later dropping her Marlena moniker for her real name, she later formed PMS (Pretty Mean Sisters) with former Women’s Champion, Jacqueline, before managing the popular Hardy Boyz, and Edge & Christian.
Never a full-time wrestler, she did have short feuds with the Kat, Molly Holly, and Trish Stratus, always remaining a fan-favorite, due to her natural charisma, and flirtatious “Horny little She-Devil” character. And though Jakks did give us a Marlena figure 20 years ago (with a sculpted cigar!), I always wanted an actual Terri Runnels figure as well.
6. MOLLY HOLLY
In an era of risqué and violent content, Molly Holly stood out not just because of her excellent wrestling skills, but also because her consistently wholesome gimmick provided a perfect counterpoint to both faces (good guys) and heels (bad guys). Molly brought credibility to a growing women’s wrestling division, making less-experienced competitors look great in the ring.
She was even willing to sacrifice her hair to defend the Women’s Title at WrestleMania! Molly would be great for multiple releases, whether in her original Holly cousin, As Hurricane sidekick “Mighty Molly,” or her villainous gimmick with removable hair. At any rate, this future Hall of Famer is overdue.
Having just announced her retirement this year, the timing couldn’t be better for Victoria to get the action figure treatment. Beginning in a brutally physical feud with Trish Stratus, Victoria’s psycho gimmick quickly became a fan-favorite despite being a villain. When WWE started the Raw Diva Search, a modeling contest where many women were hired replacing established wrestlers, fans went wild when the two-time Women’s Champion very quickly decimated one after the other. Using arguably the most devastating finishing maneuver in the Women’s division, the Widow’s Peak, Victoria’s popularity and longevity in the WWE will hopefully someday lead to a Hall of Fame induction, and an action figure or two to boot.
4. TORRIE WILSON
Torrie Wilson was a diamond in the rough in WCW. In the male-dominated promotion, she was arguably the most popular female superstar that wasn’t Miss Elizabeth. When WCW was purchased by Vince McMahon, her career flourished in WWE. Although she never won the Women’s Championship, her popularity exploded when she began to wrestle, particularly on the SmackDown brand, where, like Trish Stratus on Raw, Torrie dominated most of the female-driven storylines for many years.
Her star power was so consistent, rumors persist to this day that the WWE Diva’s Championship belt that debuted for the SmackDown’s women’s division was created specifically for Wilson. Unfortunately, Torrie retired two months before the debut of that championship. Belt or no belt, her hard work culminated in her entry into the WWE Hall of Fame this past year. Torrie deserves the Elite treatment with her dog, Chloe.
One of the most confusing things for me growing up a wrestling fan was seeing male wrestlers jump from WWE to WCW and vice versa while watching GLOW (the actual Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling show that inspired the Netflix one) was that I always wondered how GLOW had a whole cast of hot wrestling girls and none of them were scooped up by another wrestling show. As I returned to WWE in the late 90s, like many others, during the Attitude era, I was introduced to Ivory, who my brother recognized as Tina Ferrari from GLOW.
Easily the best talker in the WWE’s women’s division, she played up wanting to actually wrestle, and de-emphasize the more sexualized elements of female wrestling like “evening gown” and mud-wrestling matches, making her a natural villain to the testosterone-fueled, adolescent fanbase. Ivory, a hilariously committed heel, was a three-time Women’s Champion, facing off against every female in the company from valets to Hall of Famers, as she enraged fans with her eventual alliance with a conservative group called Right to Censor. She had done so much in her time there, that she needs figure in her classic purple wrestling duds and another in her Right to Censor suit. Heck, I’d take an RTC Steven Richards, too. “And it’ll be for your own good.”
Jacqueline wrestled for 10 years, oftentimes against men (and won), before signing with WWE in 1998 to both train (behind-the-scenes) and feud (on-camera) with Sable, the “Attitude” era’s top female babyface. Their rivalry culminated in the return of the WWE Women’s Championship Title Belt, which Jacqueline won to become the first African-American female champion.
She became a fixture in the women’s division’s “golden era” in the early 2000’s, bringing a lot of credibility due to her reputation for being a stiff striker (you gotta make it look real, right?). She’s gone on to many “firsts” in her career including being the first female to win the WWE Cruiserweight Championship as well as the first African-American female to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. Hopefully a figure of hers is around the corner. She’s overdue after that first Jakks figure 20 years ago.
Rena Lesnar came to the WWE as Sable, a demure valet for Hunter Hearst Helmsley and later her then-husband Marc Mero. When Mero got injured, Sable began to step out on her own, and with her looks and natural charisma, her popularity soon eclipsed his, as she became the main face of the WWE’s new women’s division as a new female archetype began to emerge.
She was a model/actress first, but willingly began to train to physically compete in the ring, improving little by little similar to what GLOW did in the 80s. A top crowd-favorite, feuds written for Sable led to the reinstatement of the Women’s Championship Title belt in 1998 as well as a growing women’s division made to set up adversaries for the popular superstar. Sable was a new standard for all female talent, where they had to look great, but also be willing to learn to compete in wrestling matches. Many credit Sable as WWE’s prototype for Trish Stratus, who also went from fitness model to becoming one of the greatest female wrestling champions of all time.
Since departing WWE, Sable married multiple-time WWE and UFC Champion Brock Lesnar, where they enjoy an extremely private life. Arguably the most popular female to come from the most popular wrestling era, rumors have circulated that so far we haven’t gotten a figure because Sable (read: Brock) won’t sign her rights for any merchandise and even so far as she has turned down an induction to the WWE Half of Fame, reportedly due to her wishing to respectfully distance herself from the sexualized nature of her TV character.
Unfortunately, that opinion limits Sable, as she wasn’t all eye-candy. What Sable lacked in years of wrestling training, she more than made up for in confidence and charisma, taking full advantage of an opportunity any woman would kill for, and made herself, and the WWE, a ratings juggernaut. Hopefully, she’ll accept an invitation someday to be in the Hall of Fame and maybe work something out so her fans could get a figure or two as a centerpiece to that Attitude-era display. Fingers crossed. She worked for it. She deserves it.
Mattel has been doing an amazing job doing figures of most, if not all, of the modern WWE rosters. Hopefully, more figures from yesteryear are just around the corner as well.