Bianca Belair recently became only the sixth black WWE Women’s Champion in history at Wrestlemania 37. The WWE Women’s Championship has a complicated history. It’s common to hear WWE state that the inaugural Women’s Champion was The Fabulous Moolah in 1956 and her reign with the title was uninterrupted until 1984, but that’s not really true.
When she held the title, it was known as the NWA World Women’s Championship (a belt and promotion that still exists today separate from the WWE). In reality, after winning the title for the first time, The Fabulous Moolah would lose the belt and regain it from other wrestlers of the day like Bette Boucher and Yukiko Tomoe over the next 22 years until 1978. She would have a total of 4 reigns with the Championship and was the biggest name in women’s wrestling for decades.
Her popularity brought her to the then WWF in the early 1980s where she would bring the NWA title with her and actually sell WWF the rights to it. In 1984, Moolah defended the title in a major television event on MTV dubbed “The Brawl to End it All” against Wendi Richter, who would win the belt that night and with the title now around the waist of a WWF talent, it was rebranded the WWF Women’s Championship.
To this day, the WWE does not recognize the titles rich history with the NWA, which actually dates back to the 1890s when it was just promoters putting on shows at carnivals.
There haven’t been that many black female wrestlers in the WWE, and there are only six currently active. If you count Raw, Smackdown, and NXT (WWE’s developmental brand), there are around fifty total female wrestlers spread throughout the roster. Let’s take a look at Bianca Belair’s historic win at Wrestlemania 37, and those who paved the way.
In 1995, one of the first and most infamous moments of the Monday Night Wars between WCW and the then WWF occurred when the WWF Women’s Champion, Alundra Blayze, jumped ship to work for WCW and took the title with her, throwing it in a trash can on live TV.
Following this, the Women’s Title was deactivated and wouldn’t be reestablished on WWF TV until September 15, 1998 where Jacqueline DeLois Moore became the first ever African American Women’s Champion by defeating Sable.
Jacqueline would have only two short reigns with the title (her second coming in the year 2000) thanks to horrible booking decisions, but she would also make history twice more by becoming the first ever African American Cruiserweight Champion as well as being the first and only woman to hold that title.
Carlene Denise Moore-Begnaud got her start in Extreme Championship Wrestling in 1999, but made her big stage impact when she debuted for the then WWF in the 2001 Survivor Series PPV. She was immediately inserted into a program with then Champion Trish Stratus, playing the strong brutish heel.
Her first shot at the title came quickly at the 2002 Royal Rumble PPV, and although she would be unsuccessful in that attempt, she would get another shot a few weeks later on the February 4th episode of Raw, where she’d defeat Trish to grab her first Women’s Championship.
She defeated all comers in dominating fashion, until Stratus ultimately won the title back a few months later on May 13th. Jazz would continue playing the dominant heel for the next year before getting another shot at the title, becoming a two-time champion at the Backlash PPV on April 27, 2003.
Although Jazz’s time with the WWE would only last four years, her short time would be highlighted by spectacularly brutal and fast paced multi-woman matches that set the stage and opened the doors for the Women’s Revolution almost ten years later.
Alicia Fox holds the honorable yet unfortunate distinction of being the only black WWE Divas Champion in the company’s history. The Divas Championship was established in 2008 during a regrettable time when the WWE was more interested in hiring models than actual wrestlers.
There were a few exceptions like Gail Kim and Paige, but the atmosphere and perception of the women’s division at the time was at best insulting to their talent and at worst detrimental to their careers.
While a former model herself, Alicia had something extra that separated her from the pack. She debuted on Smackdown in 2008 and remained relatively quiet for her first two years on the roster, but was developing each and every week. On June 20, 2010 Alicia competed in a fatal four-way match for the Divas Championship, pinning then champion Maryse to become the first and only African American Diva to win the title.
Debuting for the WWE in 2012, Naomi was one of the wrestlers who bridged the gap between the Divas era and the Women’s Revolution that changed the division for the better in 2015. A former background dancer for Flo Rida, Naomi displayed a strength and athleticism that was rare in the model-centric Divas division at the time. However, fans knew that the talent and potential of Naomi and other wrestlers such as Emma and Paige were there if only the WWE would book their them into real storylines and give them adequate TV time.
From this, the #GiveDivasAChance movement was born and ushered the WWE into the modern era of women’s wrestling that had already been occupied by most other promotions at the time. To complete the transition into promoting a more serious women’s division, the Divas title was retired and new Women’s Championship belts were introduced for both Raw and SmackDown in 2016.
The next year, Naomi was booked to compete against Alexa Bliss at the Elimination Chamber PPV for the SmackDown Women’s title, where she was victorious, becoming a champion for the first time in her career as well as the first African American woman to capture the belt. Her reign lasted 140 days.
Sasha Banks has a lot of accolades to her name. She was one of the competitors in the first iron woman match in WWE history, which was also voted Match of the Year by Pro Wrestling Illustrated (PWI) in 2015. That same year, Sasha Banks debuted on Raw and within twelve months, she was booked into a championship bout against Charlotte Flair where she won and became the Raw Women’s Champion for the first time in July 2016.
Banks went on to hold the title four times within the next twelve months, trading it back and forth with Flair. Together, Banks and Flair became the first women to headline a WWE PPV event, the first women to compete in a Hell in a Cell match, and the first women to win the PWI award for feud of the year.
Banks was also the inaugural WWE SmackDown Women’s Tag Team champion with her partner Bayley in 2019. This partnership would not last long as tensions between the two mounted after losing the tag titles the next year. Bayley was the SmackDown Women’s Champion at the time, which lead to an intense feud over the title throughout 2020, and eventually culminated in a Hell in a Cell match at the eponymous PPV where Banks won to become the SmackDown Women’s Champion for the first time. She made history again in April 2021, when her and the next woman on our list became the first African American women to headline Wrestlemania.
I had the privilege of seeing Bianca Belair perform live at a house show in Birmingham, AL back in 2018. She was brand new to the company and was wrestling the then NXT Women’s Champion in a non-title bout. This was nothing more than a squash match meant to showcase the dominant champion, but still presented an opportunity for Bianca to impress, which she very much did. Her most distinguishing feature is a very long single braid which she brandishes like a whip. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the crack I heard when Bianca whipped her opponent across the stomach sounded like it broke the sound barrier. It was spine-tingling.
Bianca Belair made her main roster debut in the 2020 women’s Royal Rumble match, entering at number two out of thirty. She was instantly a fan favorite and had an impressive showing, eliminating eight other women before being eliminated herself by Charlotte Flair. It was a great introduction to the fans and garnered her a lot of hype. Although she stayed relatively quiet in her first year, the next year’s Royal Rumble was her time to show what she could really do. She entered at number three and outlasted every other woman, winning the match (becoming the first African-American woman to win the Royal Rumble) and earning her a title shot against then SmackDown Women’s Champion, Sasha Banks.
Their battle headlined night one of Wrestlemania 37, the first time such an honor was achieved by two black women. As Sasha and Bianca stood across from each other in the ring before the bell, the crowd was electric. Bianca could barely hold back her tears as they both acknowledged the significance of the moment. The match was incredible. The energy, drama, and passion were palpable. This is what Wrestlemania is all about.
The story of the bout was Bianca’s strength vs Sasha’s technical ability. Sasha tried as much as she could to keep Belair grounded with submissions, but could only keep her down for so long. A dive attack through the ropes to the outside by Banks was caught in midair by Belair, who showcased her amazing strength by military pressing Banks over her head and walking with her up the steps and throwing her back into the ring. Desperate to work around her strength, Banks attempted to use Bianca’s braid to control her movement, which worked until Belair was able to yank the braid out of Bank’s grip and give her a savage whip across the stomach.
The bleeding was immediate, and with Sasha doubled over in pain, Bianca hit her finisher, the KOD, to get the 1-2-3, beginning her first WWE Women’s Championship reign. This was my favorite match of the entire PPV, and seeing Bianca celebrate with her family was the highlight of Wrestlemania 37.