It is a very rare thing to be able to tangibly witness the genesis of any major shift in a culture. More often than not, it is only well after the change has become well established does the population, or Universe as it may be, realize what has actually transpired.
However, thanks to a collective group of fearless females who are determined to protect their house, the culture of WWE’s Divas division has not only completely transformed, but the WWE Universe has been able to witness and be part of this revolution as it has grown and evolved. So, here now are the 10 greatest matches in the history of the Divas division as according to WWE.com.
Oh, and possibly the purest piece of positive proof that this metamorphosis has happened before our eyes — only one match on this list occurred before 2013. Now that’s boss.
From the moment Paige and Emma walked through the curtain on the evening of NXT ArRival it was clear the audience’s desire for cat fights and pudding fights were firmly a thing of the past. In their place now was yearning for the hard-hitting style of NXT’s Anti-Diva queen-pin and Emma’s unique blend of quirky offense and pure wrestling. No pyro or ballyhoo was needed, just fists.
The contest delivered, with the two warrior-women absolutely pummeling one another into literal submission, drawing “This is awesome” chants from the Full Sail faithful and stealing the show on the first ever live WWE Network special. After a hellacious back-and-forth, Paige was able to finally lock Emma into the PTO, forcing the Australian-born Diva to surrender.
The battle was brutal, beautiful and first blossoming of the revolution that would soon begin.
A textbook execution of an Indian Deathlock is all well and good (in fact, it’s great), but there will always be a place for a women’s match built on little more than some good old fashioned hatred and an out-of-nowhere cliffhanger. Brie Bella’s battle with Stephanie McMahon at SummerSlam was no technical masterpiece, but it was a dramatic clash of Amazonian proportions; two warrior queens fighting for bragging rights in a city that’s no stranger to climactic conclusions.
And what a conclusion it was! Nikki Bella’s about-face where she clobbered her steamrolling sister into an oncoming Pedigree felt like a “Total Divas” twist in the best possible way; contrived, unexpected and tantalizing enough that we wanted to know what happened next almost immediately after it concluded. #OMG, right?
Immediately noticeable when the bell rang on AJ Lee and Kaitlyn’s Divas Championship Match at Payback 2013 was how intensely personal it was. Unlike most other Diva matches of the time period, their conflict was rooted well beyond an exchanging of wins and losses on Raw and SmackDown — there were real stakes here.
The big fight feel that Lee carried with her throughout her WWE career was coursing throughout the air in Chicago’s Allstate Arena as the two former best friends collided. That kinetic energy could be tangibly felt as the Divas amazed with a hard-hitting contest.
AJ made the powerhouse Kaitlyn tap out to her dreaded Black Widow submission hold, winning the championship and going on to hold it for an astounding 295 days, challenging every other Diva on the roster to become better than their perceived best in the process.
Every revolution needs its new monarch when the dust has settled and the pinfalls have been counted, so it can be construed by cynical minds that the whole Divas Revolution was put into motion just to put the title on an NXT veteran in Charlotte. But that would be knee-jerk and wrong, because it discounts the beautiful work and fight that Nikki Bella put into her defense against Charlotte at Night of Champions.
Having broken AJ Lee’s record for the longest title reign just days before, Nikki showed why, attacking the Flair heiress’ leg in a sound, strategy-based effort to neutralize Charlotte’s fearsome Figure-Eight. That Charlotte ultimately gritted out the win was great, but the best thing about this deliberate, carefully-crafted match was that it was, honestly, the sort of thing you’d have expected to see more in NXT than a main-roster special only a few months previously. Welcome to the new world, folks.
What Charlotte and Sasha Banks created at NXT TakeOver: R Evolution represents, in many ways, a connecting bridge on the roadmap of the Divas Revolution. Placed smack-dab in the middle of the uprising’s first swell, the two former teammates made a clear statement — Diva matches continually winning the night wasn’t some fluke, but an actualized and ever-present reality.
The contest — rife with athleticism, tenacity and in-ring skill — was filled with dynamic moments and artful counters that were still, even then, somewhat foreign for audiences to consistently see within the Divas division. Charlotte prevailed over Banks, but only after the two Horsewomen, in many ways as a unit, firmly planted their flag as the future of not only the Divas division, but WWE at large.
Going into this match, you’d say the name “Becky Lynch” and even the most hardened yellow-ropes fan would go “Hmmm.” A world-traveled competitor who’d gone come into NXT under the guise of an Irish jigger, she’d been remade (thankfully) into a frantic brawler, the so-called “Lass Kicker” had yet to cement herself as a true player going into her title bout against Sasha Banks, though her performance in that Fatal 4-Way surely raised a few eyebrows.
Call this match Becky Lynch’s coming-out party, then. Debuting her trademark steampunk duster and goggles for the first time, “Maiden Ireland’s” maiden voyage into the big time showed the Universe exactly what kind of first-class competitor they’d been missing. She lost, ultimately, to The Boss, but even in defeat, Becky was showered with praise by the NXT fans who sang her theme song, ensuring that nobody’d ever overlook her for the rest of her days. Slàinte.
Who says the sequel can never measure up to the original? Bayley and Sasha Banks needed something big to seal the book on their rivalry and meet the mark set by their NXT Women’s Title clash at TakeOver: Brooklyn (which we’re getting to, don’t worry). The first-ever women’s Iron Man Match in WWE history gave them just the opportunity to do so.
Competing under the shadow of history and shouldering the burden of making it all over again, NXT’s “iron women” delivered in every sense of the word. The contest was much more deliberate than their whirling-dervish battle in Brooklyn, but the big moments shone all the brighter. None more so than the post-match celebration, in which Sasha and the victorious Bayley received twin bouquets of flowers in a fete that was part sendoff for The Boss (thank you Sasha, indeed) and part coronation for the new queen. Long may she reign.
There is nothing more sought after in sports that the perfect ending. It is a moment that many of the greatest of greats have been unable to attain. So what does it look like when an athlete not only pulls it off, but does it on her home turf, against her greatest rival to boot? The answer there is Trish Stratus vs. Lita from WWE Unforgiven 2006.
When Stratus announced she would retire at Unforgiven in her native Toronto, it seemed only fitting that she close the book against her greatest foil, fellow Divas division cornerstone and then-Women’s Champion, Lita. The result was the greatest WWE Women’s Championship match of all-time.
After an emotionally gripping contest, Stratus tapped the Xtreme Diva to her as-Canadian-as-Canadian-can-be Sharpshooter. The Toronto crowd arose to their feet for their favorite daughter as tears of joy freely flowed. The Queen of Queens took one last bow with the title she personified, completing the perfect ending in the most picture perfect of fashions.
Not that anybody expected a clunker from the daughter of a Flair and the niece of a Hart, but in yonder days of May 2014, it was something of a shock that Charlotte and Natalya’s clash for the vacant NXT Women’s Title went and stole the whole damn show right out from under advertised main-eventers Neville and Tyson Kidd’s feet at the very first NXT TakeOver.
If you’re looking for the genesis of the Divas Revolution, look no further: This was the match that inspired all the double-takes, all the hosannas and all the rumblings that something special was brewing down in Full Sail’s ladies locker room. That Ric Flair and Bret Hart were there at ringside wasn’t just a show of familial support, it was a passing of the torch — not necessarily to the next generation, but of the spotlight from Superstars to Divas, superstars now in their own right.
Too often in this social media age do viewers become prisoners of the moment. Audiences see something they find enjoyable, immediately get swept up, declare it as the “greatest ever,” and then, with the passage of time, realize they may have been somewhat knee-jerk. It happens all the time — but it won’t with Sasha Banks and Bayley’s Women’s Championship Match from NXT: TakeOver: Brooklyn. No years of reflection are needed with this one; it really was that good.
Yes, Bayley won the contest and the championship in an absolute thriller, but to strictly classify the contest as an underdog triumph would be a disservice to the greater significance of the evening.
In an amazing post-match scene , Charlotte and Becky Lynch rushed to the ring to embrace with Bayley and Banks. The NXT Universe remained steadfast on their feet to heap ample praise to both the match and the Four Horsewomen themselves. In that precise moment, it all became definitive — the revolution was here, it was real and it had, indeed, been televised.