The Best Female Wrestlers of the Attitude Era

WWE Chyna performs a headlock female wrestlers

By the late 1990s, the world of pro wrestling saw a sudden surge in popularity. With WWE (then WWF) going head to head with their rival company, WCW, in an embittered ratings war, Vince McMahon rolled out a complete overhaul of his promotion, ushering in the grittier, more adult-oriented Attitude Era from 1997 to 2002.

In addition to edgier language, abundant violence, and more realistic characters, the Attitude Era also brought a renewed focus on women in pro wrestling. Though often relegated to marginalized positions in the company, more than a few female wrestlers managed to break through the glass ceiling of WWF television, earning renown for their ability to entertain fans the world over.

Trish Stratus

Trish Stratus in WWE Evolution (2018)
Image Credit: WWE.

The breakout star of the Attitude Era’s female wrestling division, Trish Stratus transformed herself from an overly sexualized valet into one of the most accomplished athletes ever signed to WWE. A former fitness model who took the time to sharpen her wrestling abilities, Stratus became the female equivalent of Shawn Michaels in the ring–a larger-than-life personality characterized by her sheer charisma, stunning looks, and reliable chemistry with almost everyone she worked with.


WWE Wrestler Lita holds championship belt
Image Credit: World Wrestling Entertainment.

Alongside her Attitude Era allies, the Hardy Boyz, Lita broke new ground in WWF, perfecting the art of high-flying attacks with her audacious offensive style. Living up to the Team Xtreme name, Lita specialized in performing maneuvers that even the most formidable wrestlers (male or female) might blanch at. Whether soaring off the tops of ladders or getting powerbombed through a table, Lita hammered home the idea that female performers could take just as many bumps as WWF’s toughest male wrestlers.


WWE Wrestler Chyna (Joanie Lee Laurer)
Image Credit: World Wrestling Entertainment.

The main muscle for D-Generation X, Chyna broke all kinds of stereotypes when it came to female wrestlers in the late 1990s. Possessing an impressive muscular physique that contrasted from the other female members of WWF’s roster, Chyna proved herself a competitor able to go toe-to-toe with any one of her male counterparts in the company, from Chris Jericho and Jeff Jarrett to The Rock and Mick Foley.


WWE Wrestler Sable
Image Credit: World Wrestling Entertainment.

In many respects, Sable made for an ideal successor to Sunny, achieving the same level of popularity as her stylistic predecessor. Unlike Sunny, though, Sable demonstrated genuine wrestling ability, breaking off from her real-life partner Marc Mero and capturing the Women’s Championship by 1998. Best known for playing the vainglorious heel whose entire gimmick revolved around her looks, Sable helped reinvent women’s wrestling in the early Attitude Era, laying the groundwork for later talents like Trish Stratus and Stephanie McMahon in the years ahead.

Stephanie McMahon

WWE Stephanie McMahon
Image Credit: World Wrestling Entertainment.

A formidable enough wrestler in the ring, Stephanie McMahon set herself apart from the competition through her obvious gifts on the mic. Like her father Vince, Stephanie played the self-aggrandizing heel remarkably well, using her influential position in WWF to trounce the competition. Whether caught in a storyline with Triple H or competing against Lita for the Women’s Championship, the Billionaire Princess became one of the most loathsome figures on WWF television–a character fans couldn’t help but boo whenever she appeared.


Lisa Moretti as Ivory and Sarona Snuka in WWE Evolution (2018)
Image Credit: World Wrestling Entertainment.

One of the most underrated female wrestlers of all time, Ivory ranks among the most skillful wrestlers of WWE’s women’s division throughout the Attitude Era. Rather than relying on mere looks alone, Ivory’s intimate wrestling background made her an undeniable talent, securing her three title reigns as Women’s Champion and a well-earned induction into WWE’s Hall of Fame in 2018.


WWE Wrestler Jacqueline with champion belt
Image Credit: World Wrestling Entertainment.

A trend-setter in more ways than one, Jacqueline became one of the first female wrestlers of color to achieve success in WWF. While playing up her physical appearance, Jacqueline also utilized a more hard-hitting offensive style, garnering a respected reputation as a skilled in-ring competitor. Inspiring everyone from Jazz and Naomi to Sasha Banks and Bayley during her tenure in WWF, fans cannot overstate her influence in pro wrestling.


WWE Wrestler Sunny flanked by Zip and Skip of the Bodydonnas
Image Credit: World Wrestling Entertainment.

The original WWF Diva, Sunny and her problematic legacy continues to divide fans to this day. For better or for worse, though, she set the pre-conceived mold for all on-screen female personalities in WWE for the next decade. Inheriting the same larger-than-life managerial roles once held by Sensational Sherri and Miss Elizabeth, Sunny also earned a reputation a more than competent in-ring performer as well.

Stacy Kiebler

WWE Wrestler Stacy Kiebler in-ring in a white dress
Image Credit: World Wrestling Entertainment.

Debuting to WWF television as a member of the villainous Alliance, Stacy Kiebler managed to retain the same level of popularity she held in WCW. Though lost in the chaotic booking that characterized the Invasion, Kiebler soon found a welcome place on WWE’s roster as the short-lived manager of the Dudley Boyz. An icon of the Attitude Era and Ruthless Aggression Era, Kiebler’s eventual induction into the WWE Hall of Fame speaks volumes about her eventful tenure in the company.

Molly Holly

Nora Greenwald aka Molly Holly
Image Credit: World Wrestling Entertainment.

Having trained under the proficient technical wrestler Dean Malenko, Molly Holly used her unique offensive style to garner renown in WCW and WWF. Billed as the on-screen cousin to Crash and Bob Holly, Molly won fans over in almost any storyline she appeared in. From her short-lived partnership with The Hurricane to her stint as the self-righteous, blonde-haired Women’s Champion, Molly never failed to disappoint.

Torrie Wilson

WWE Torrie Wilson wrestles Micky
Image Credit: World Wrestling Entertainment.

Like her good friend Stacy Kiebler, Torrie Wilson entered WWF amidst the Invasion angle of 2001. Unlike Kiebler, however, Wilson soon jumped ship to Vince McMahon’s promotion, abandoning her allies in the Alliance and turning face. For the remainder of the Attitude Era, Wilson enjoyed breakout success in her brief romantic partnership with Tajiri and, later, as a solo performer in her own right.


WWE Victoria in "Black Widow" gear
Image Credit: World Wrestling Entertainment.

Arriving in WWE at the tail end of the Attitude Era, Victoria became one of the mainstay attractions of the Ruthless Aggression Era in the years ahead. Training in WWE’s development company for the better part of 2001, Victoria made her official debut on WWE television in mid-2002, entering a feud with Trish Stratus with rapid ease. A gifted wrestler in any promotion she appeared in, fans can only wonder what Victoria might have accomplished in the Attitude Era’s heyday.


WWE Wrestler Jazz
Image Credit: World Wrestling Entertainment.

Fulfilling the larger-than-life presence left behind by Chyna in 2001, Jazz became an imposing force in WWE by the start of 2002. Winning the Women’s Championship mere months after her initial appearance in the company, Jazz’s meteoric rise reflected her imminent abilities in the ring. Decimating her competition through her raw offense, her feud against Trish Stratus remains one of the highlights of the Attitude Era’s final days.

Mae Young

WWE Wrestler Mae Young in the ring alongside The Fabulous Moolah
Image Credit: World Wrestling Entertainment.

Defying expectations when it comes to aging in the sports industry, the 76-year-old Mae Young returned to WWE alongside her best friend, The Fabulous Moolah, in 1999. In spite of her age, Young made a habit of taking some of the riskiest bumps in WWF at the time, including a massive powerbomb from the stage onto a wooden table below. The Betty White of women’s pro wrestling, fans couldn’t help but admire Mae for her willingness to take chances or engage in somewhat more risqué storylines (like her infamous romance with Mark Henry).

Terri Runnels

WWE Wrestler Terri Runnels
Image Credit: World Wrestling Entertainment.

One of the most versatile performers of her era, Terri Runnels could do anything Vince McMahon asked of her with total believability and dedication. Whether hamming it up as a Marlene Dietrich parody or managing the Hardy Boyz or Perry Saturn, Terri had a seamless ability to gauge audiences’ interest. Her skills in the ring might not measure up to Lita or Trish Stratus, but few wrestlers could work a crowd quite like this prolific wrestling manager.


WWE Tori wrestles Sable
Image Credit: World Wrestling Entertainment.

A better-than-average wrestler in the ring, Tori benefited from some clever booking upon her debut to WWF in 1999. Initially billed as the obsessive number-one fan of Sable, Tori became a recurring challenger for the Women’s Championship. Though most fans tend to remember her for her storyline romances with Kane and X-Pac, Tori managed to hold her own against some of the most well-known stars of women’s wrestling in 2000, competing against the likes of Luna Vachon, Ivory, and Jacqueline.

Luna Vachon

Luna Vachon
Image Credit: World Wrestling Entertainment.

Before Chyna or Lita, Luna Vachon broke the preconceived stereotypes surrounding female wrestlers in the 1980s and ‘90s. Opting for a more theatrical presentation, Vachon billed herself as a more eccentric performer, as seen through her signature Mohawk hairstyle and decorative facepaint. An ideal counterpart to her fellow female stars in the late ‘90s, her dedicated character work proved well ahead of its time.

Lillian Garcia

WWE Wrestler Lillian Garcia
Image Credit: World Wrestling Entertainment.

Yes, Lillian Garcia wrestled in WWF on very, very sporadic occasions, but she’s far more well-known for her tenure as an announcer. Even as a non-competitor, though, Garcia still found herself in the midst of several humorous storylines, including a brief feud with The Kat and a bizarre (yet hilarious) rivalry with fellow announcer, Howard Finkel. An entertaining personality on WWE television, who knows what Raw or SmackDown might’ve been like without Lillian’s voice guiding the way.

Miss Debra

WWE Miss Debra
Image Credit: World Wrestling Entertainment.

Eking out a name for herself in WCW from 1995 to 1997, Miss Debra proved a popular signing for WWE. Debuting for the company in 1998, Debra became a female manager on par with Sunny or Miss Elizabeth, valeting for Jeff Jarrett and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin for the majority of her run. In addition to her managerial services, Debra also captured some degree of popularity as an in-ring performer, winning the Women’s Championship in a surprise victory over Sable.

The Kat

WWE The Kat
Image Credit: World Wrestling Entertainment.

Though never trained as a full-time wrestler, The Kat did the best she could with what she had: a charismatic personality and a total commitment to any and every storyline she found herself in. Introduced as the ambitious young protege of Chyna, The Kat soon took to competing for the Women’s Championship on a regular basis, winning the title in late 1999 and holding it for just over a month. From there, The Kat enjoyed some entertaining angles with Terri Runnels and Right to Censor, even if her time in WWF abruptly ended following her dismissal in 2001.

Author: Richard Chachowski

Title: Journalist

Expertise: Classic Film, Contemporary Film and TV, Video Games, Comic Books


Richard Chachowski is an entertainment and travel writer who has written for such publications as Wealth of Geeks, Fangoria, Looper, Screen Rant, and MSN. He received a BA in Communication Studies and a BA in Journalism and Professional Writing from The College of New Jersey in 2021. He has been a professional writer since 2020. His geeky areas of interest include Star Wars, travel writing, horror, video games, comic books, literature, and animation.