#WomensEvolution: Mickie James’ Legacy Over Two Decades

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Photo: WWE

WWE is actively promoting #WomensEvolution, celebrating the five-year anniversary of the Women’s Evolution (that came out of the #GiveDivasAChance hashtag earlier in the year) and the women who have helped pave the way for the current state of women’s wrestling in the WWE. One of WWE’s longest-tenured women has been an inspiration since her career began in 1999 and has managed to lend her experience not just to the WWE Universe but in Ring of Honor and TNA/IMPACT Wrestling, in 9x World Champion Mickie James (5x WWE Women’s Champion, WWE Divas Champion, and 3x TNA Knockouts Champion).

Photo: WWE

Raised in Montpelier, Virginia, Mickie James was a lifelong wrestling fan when she headed to Washington DC to train to enter the business in 1999. She first entered the industry as a valet under the name Alexis Laree, in KYDA Pro Wrestling in West Virginia, and she continued to attend wrestling camps to work on her in-ring skills, including Dory Funk Jr.‘s Funking Conservatory, the ECW Dojo, as well as NWA Legends Ricky Morton and Bobby Eaton. In 2001, she began working with Maryland Championship Wrestling (now MCW Pro), as she began to become a more confident wrestler.

In February of 2002, she joined a new upstart promotion in New York City, Women’s Extreme Wrestling (WEW), and that June appeared in one of the first weekly PPVs for another new promotion, Total Nonstop Action (TNA), although it was just a one-time appearance in a Lingerie Battle Royal. That fall, she made her debut in CHIKARA, facing another future legend of women’s wrestling, Mercedes Martinez.

In October of 2002, she joined another new promotion, Ring of Honor, adding to their growing women’s division, debuting in an intergender match at ROH Glory By Honor where she teamed up with Christian York & Joey Matthews (aka Joey Mercury) against The Christopher Street Connection‘s Allison Danger, Mace & Buff-E. She would go onto have big matches against Danger, Sumie Sakai, Simply Lucious, Persephone, and Hijinx during her run in ROH through 2003.

In March of 2003, she returned to TNA, initially aiding Amazing Red, before joining Raven‘s stable The Gathering that also featured a young CM Punk and Julio Dinero. The run was short-lived and she departed TNA in late July after being offered a developmental contract from WWE. That August, she headed to Ohio Valley Wrestling (OVW), WWE’s top developmental territory.  While WWE was finding new stars for their men’s division through the demise of WCW and ECW, women were proving harder to get – after all, neither WCW nor ECW had an active women’s division at the time of their collapse. So Alexis Laree’s signing with WWE in 2003 marked one of the first times that WWE went to the US indies to find new stars.

As Alexis Laree, she spent a full year in OVW working under the WWE developmental system, feuding with the likes of Jillian Hall, Gail Kim, Trinity, and another recent indie signing in Beth Phoenix. She also took part in intergender matches in OVW, entering the tournament for the OVW Television Championship. She defeated Mike Mondo (later Mikey in the Spirit Squad) in the opening round before losing out to Bobby Lashley in the second round.

In the fall of 2005, Laree finally got her call-up to the main roster for WWE, where she was renamed Mickie James. She began as a fan in the stands, who became obsessed with WWE Superstar Trish Stratus. While initially becoming Trish’s ally in the early months, her obsession crossed the line and soon they became fast enemies and rivals. At WrestleMania 22 in April of 2006, just seven months into her WWE run, she defeated Trish Stratus on the Grandest Stage of Them All to win her first WWE Women’s Championship.

Over the next few years, Mickie James would become one of the most dominant competitors in the WWE Women’s Division. She would win her second WWE Women’s title at Survivor Series 2006, defeating another legend in Lita. Her third title win came at a WWE Live Event in France, defeating Melina in early 2007, and a fourth title came in early 2008 when she pinned Beth Phoenix on an episode of Monday Night Raw. In only three years on the WWE roster, James was now a 4x WWE Women’s Champion.

In July of 2008, WWE introduced a second women’s title, the WWE Divas Championship, to counter WWE having two top singles titles for men (WWE Championship & World Heavyweight title) due to the brand split. In July of 2009, James would win her first Divas title, beating Maryse on Raw. In the end of 2009 and into 2010, she would begin a feud with LayCool‘s Michelle McCool and Layla, and at Royal Rumble 2010, she would defeat McCool for her fifth WWE Women’s title. But in April of 2010, James was released from the WWE as the shift in the women’s focus went more on the Divas than the pure wrestlers they had experimented with the past few years. But James’ legacy in WWE history was cemented – in only five years with the main roster, she was a 6x Women’s Champion (5x WWE Women’s & 1x Divas Champion).

In September of 2010, Mickie James made her return to TNA, this time under the Mickie James name, initially appearing as the guest referee for the four-way for the TNA Knockouts Championship at Bound for Glory. She would make her in-ring return in October, facing Sarita (Sarah Stock), before becoming the #1 Contender to the Knockouts title that November. She would initially be unsuccessful in her attempts to dethrone Madison Rayne as KO Champion at TNA Genesis in January of 2011, but at TNA Lockdown that April, she would finally defeat Madison Rayne in a Title vs Hair Steel Cage Match for her first reign as TNA Knockouts Champion.

Mickie James remained a fixture in TNA’s strong Knockouts Division, which truly showed to the world the power of women’s wrestling at the time, and competed for TNA through to the fall of 2013. In her three years with TNA in her second run, she was a 3x Knockouts Champion, defeating Winter (former WWE Superstar Katie Lee Burchill) in 2011 and Velvet Sky in the spring of 2013. She departed TNA in the fall of 2013 after the two sides were unable to work on a new deal.

Mickie James had also found love during her second run in TNA, and for much of 2014, she was absent from the world of professional wrestling as she had a baby boy with her partner (and future husband) Nick Aldis (formerly Magnus in TNA). She returned in full force in 2015 though, returning to the indie scene, such as MCW Pro, Absolute Intense Wrestling (AIW), SHIMMER, CHIKARA, and others in the US, as well as heading to the UK indie scene with Scotland’s Insane Championship Wrestling (ICW) and England’s Preston City Wrestling (PCW) and International Pro Wrestling (IPW:UK), where she won the IPW Women’s Championship.

In the fall of 2016, she made a one-night return to the WWE Universe, as she competed at NXT TakeOver: Toronto to challenge NXT Women’s Champion Asuka in an effort to end the record-breaking undefeated streak of “The Empress of Tomorrow”, but despite her best efforts, James came up short. But her return to WWE after six years was met with great fanfare and a month later in December, WWE announced they had re-signed the former Women’s Champion.

She made her official WWE return in January of 2017, appearing on SmackDown to help Alexa Bliss retain her SmackDown Women’s Championship after it was revealed James was the woman beneath the Luchadora mask that had terrorized Becky Lynch for weeks prior. James would continue to align with Bliss off-and-on, and this time around took on more of a mentor role with the rising new class of young stars like Lynch, Bayley, Sasha Banks, Bliss, and others. During a WWE Live Event in the summer of 2019, she suffered a torn ACL and underwent surgery, taking her off the in-ring circuit while she recovered, but she still found a way to remain in the WWE Universe during her time off – she would work on commentary for WWE Main Event and work backstage as a road agent at times. She was cleared to return to the ring earlier in 2020, but then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and she opted to remain home with her family instead of returning to the ring.

Mickie James is now a 21-year veteran of the ring who has helped usher in new eras of women’s wrestling in the US indies of the early 2000s, the WWE during Ruthless Aggression, and in TNA/IMPACT Wrestling with the rise of the Knockouts. A legend and inspiration for future generations, James still has some gas left in the tank, and it’s only a matter of time before we see her continue to cement her legacy as one of the squared circle’s greatest women’s performers.

Stay tuned to the Last Word on Pro Wrestling for more on this and other stories from around the world of wrestling, as they develop. You can always count on LWOPW to be on top of the major news in the wrestling world, as well as to provide you with analysis, previews, videos, interviews, and editorials on the wrestling world. WWE fan? You can check out an almost unlimited array of WWE content on the WWE Network.

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