WWE Superstars Nikki and Brie Bella, better known as The Bella Twins, have their place in pro wrestling history, haters be damned.
They are currently winding down their careers: Nikki has a neck injury that will eventually force her into retirement, and Brie recently became a mother. They have their own clothing line, and neither woman works a full-time wrestling schedule. From a skill standpoint, the women's division moved past them years ago.
So what makes them deserving of legendary status? Because they excelled at what they were intended to do: market a revamped, PG-era WWE to the widest, largest audience possible. For two prior decades, WWE had largely pushed women as sexual objects, with bra and panties matches, adulterous storylines, Playboy covers, lingerie tussles, and segments specifically designed to demean them. Even Trish Stratus, prior to her run as a full-time wrestler, was made to strip in the ring and bark like a dog.
For years, WWE had marketed its product (to its detriment) exclusively towards teenage boys and young men. And the Bellas were part of a course correction that began in 2008 when WWE began courting women and families. That effort led to a more progressive, female-driven fan base—the same fanbase that, in 2015, advocated on social media to #GiveDivasAChance.
So, the Bellas may not have spearheaded the women's "evolution," but they paved the way and helped it thrive. They were the faces of the women's division at a time when WWE was regaining the public's trust. And they set the stage for other, technically polished women to move the needle even further.
Here is a timeline of the Bella Twins, celebrating the most significant moments of their decade-long WWE careers leading up to Nikki Bella’s highly anticipated match with Ronda Rousey for the Raw Women's Championship on the WWE Evolution pay-per-view Sunday.
Divas Search and Developmental
WWE rejected many of their most successful Superstars at first. Former WWE Champion The Miz was a losing contestant on Tough Enough, but he ended up with a more decorated career than Tough Enough winner Daniel Puder. And similarly, the Bella Twins tried out for the Diva Search in 2006, but did not make the final cut. Still, they piqued enough interest that in 2007 they signed a deal with FCW, WWE's developmental promotion prior to NXT.
The Monday Night Raw Debut
Brie debuted on Raw in 2008 and immediately engaged in a feud with Victoria and Natalya. Nikki debuted two months later. The sisters were caught switching places under the ring, in the oddly adorable segment seen above.
From then on, the Bellas competed together, either as a tag team or as singles competitors, with the other twin cheating and causing mayhem at ringside.
Multiple Valet Gigs
From 2009-2011, the Bellas were shuttled from one valet/backstage role to another, sometimes accompanying the Colons, sometimes accompanying John Morrison and The Miz, sometimes accompanying Daniel Bryan. These storylines were typical fare: male wrestlers fighting for their affection, and the Bellas fighting with each other for romantic attention. They were "drafted" multiple times—from Smackdown to Raw. Then from Raw to ECW. And then from ECW back to Raw again. And though they never stripped or spanked each other in the ring like many Divas before them, their storylines were of small consequence—side acts to the Divas Championship title picture. Still, the Bellas were able to recite scripted lines. They could wrestle without botching, at least for the length of a ten-minute match. So WWE kept putting them on TV.
Had the twins' career ended here, they would have been like countless other WWE prospects who stick around for a year or two and dabble on the indie circuit before quietly retiring. But in 2012, WWE took a risk, and decided to give the sisters a shot.
The First Diva Title Reigns
In April 2011, Brie won the Divas Championship from Eve Torres, and it was first title reign for either Bella. One year later, Nikki won the Divas Championship from Beth Phoenix (though she lost it a week later to Layla). These two breakout years were marked by sustained feuds with top stars, including Phoenix, Torres, Layla, Kelly Kelly, and Gail Kim.
But in April 2012, Eve Torres, in an exclusive "backstage segment," fired the Bellas. They disappeared from television for close to a year.
It came out later that the Bellas decided not to sign a new contract, because they were burned out from being on the road five days a week and wanted a break.
The Twins Are Total Divas
In March 2013, the Bellas returned to WWE competition. And in May 2013, WWE and the E! Network announced the reality show Total Divas, which would star Nikki and Brie as themselves, along with a rotating cast of WWE women. The show focused on women's personal lives, their careers, and their romantic relationships—in Nikki and Brie's case, with John Cena and Daniel Bryan.
Total Divas pushed the Bellas' brand and reach even further. The show de-emphasized the wrestling aspect of their lives—all in-ring action was restricted to rapidly edited montages—and instead focused on their interpersonal chemistry and self-doubts. The show is currently in its eighth season and has led to two spinoffs: Total Bellas, which focuses exclusively on Nikki and Brie's lives, and Miz and Mrs., which explores The Miz and Maryse's forays into parenthood.
After multiple teases, the twins finally turned on each other in 2014. And it happened at the worst possible time for Brie: she was fighting in a match against Stephanie McMahon at SummerSlam when Nikki belted her in the mouth.
Unfortunately, the feud peaked way too early and dragged on through series of gimmicky skits and matches. The nadir came during an improvised moment, when Nikki told a weeping Brie, "I wish you died in the womb!" It was delivered in a flat, monotone voice, and it went over as well as you might expect.
Nikki Becomes a Solo Success
Nikki won the Divas Championship from AJ Lee at Survivor Series (2014) and reunited with her sister. And thus began the Bellas' most sustained push. Nikki held the Divas title for a record 301 days, defeating all comers and building a mini-stable called Team Bella, comprised of herself, Brie, and Alicia Fox. They were a heel act that engaged in mean girl bullying tactics like making fun of Paige's pale skin and making the "loser sign" to defeated opponents.
But lots of fans still cheered them anyway, as they had reached that rare level of popularity, where the hardcore #BellaArmy would root for them no matter what they did. And the continued backstage reveals on Total Divas confirmed that their villainy was only an act. Outside of the ring, they were ideal ambassadors for the company.
Adjusting To the Women's Evolution
Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks, and Becky Lynch all debuted on Raw in July 2015, on the same night. All three were exceptional performers, with a higher level of intensity and skill than the generations of WWE women before them. And Nikki, rather than fading into complacency, stepped up to the plate. She expanded her moveset and leaned into her mean girl persona, establishing herself as a heel, upholding the Diva status quo.
The best match of Nikki's career came at Night of Champions (2015), where she finally lost the Divas Championship to Charlotte Flair in a thrilling back-and-forth contest. A few more matches like this would have earned Nikki the critical, belated respect she deserved. But unfortunately, it was not meant to be.
Injury and Motherhood
In July 2015, Nikki began experiencing pain in her neck. And in January 2016, she underwent surgery to repair the herniated disc between her C6 and C7 vertebrae—a surgery that would require bone fusion and potentially end her career. Fortunately, Nikki rehabilitated and made her return at that year's SummerSlam, where she teamed up with Natalya and Alexa Bliss to take down Becky Lynch, Naomi, and Carmella.
In October 2016, Brie announced that she was pregnant; she and husband Daniel Bryan were going to become first-time parents. She gave birth to a girl, Birdie Jo, in May 2017. John Cena proposed to Nikki Bella at WrestleMania 33 in April 2017. They broke off their engagement the following year, mere weeks before their destination wedding.
Evolution, Ronda Rousey, and Beyond
Nikki and Brie competed at the first women's Royal Rumble in January 2018, and they both finished in the top 3. Nikki eliminated Brie, and then Asuka eliminated Nikki to win the match. They next competed in September 2018 against the Riott Squad. They befriended and back-stabbed Ronda Rousey this month. And that brings us to the present day: Nikki Bella will take on Ronda Rousey for the Raw Women's Championship Sunday.
Most likely, Rousey will conquer Nikki, the icon of the past generation, and thus become the icon of the current generation. But we could be in for a shock.
Might WWE give Nikki one more run with the top title before her retirement? Of course. And since Brie will inevitably be by ringside, the Bellas could cheat to win, thus ensuring that Rousey is protected in her loss.
The Bella Twins era is coming to an end. But maybe, before the sisters pass the final torch to the new guard, they have one more championship run left in them.