It's fitting that Nikki Bella's final televised WWE match occurred at WWE Evolution, the first all-women pay-per-view. That's because the Bella twin is one of the main reasons why WWE's women's evolution happened.
When wrestling fans look back on this era, they'll remember Charlotte, Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks, Bayley, Asuka and others who rose from NXT to become major WWE stars. And while WWE left the "Divas" period behind, it's important to acknowledge the contributions of those who, well, evolved.
Nikki Bella is at the top of the list.
Bella announced her retirement from WWE on the season finale of her reality show, "Total Bellas," Sunday. Her decision to step away from the ring ends a 12-year career with WWE.
When Nikki Bella was added to WWE's main roster, it was a different time for women wrestlers. They were lucky to get on television. When they did, matches lasted — at best — a few minutes. Paired with her twin sister, Brie, they tried to make the most of their limited opportunities.
Nikki Bella won the WWE Divas Championship for the first time in 2012, but her reign was short-lived. She lost the belt six days later.
During 2013 and 2014, AJ Lee and Paige dominated the women's division. AJ Lee and Paige were wrestlers. Their in-ring skills were clearly superior to other women in the division. And with the rise of NXT, it seemed the "Divas" like Nikki Bella wouldn't sniff a title with AJ and Paige around.
But that wasn't the case. Nikki showed tremendous improvement and developed into a great in-ring performer. It was obvious when you watched matches that she invested significant amounts of time into becoming a top-notch wrestler. It was one thing to just be on the roster, which requires talent and a strong work ethic. It's another to excel, which is exactly what she did.
In November 2014, Nikki Bella won the Divas Championship — the second-to-last woman to hold the title before it was phased out in favor of the WWE Women's Championship. (There's now women's titles on each brand, Raw and Smackdown.)
It was during Nikki's title reign that the #GiveDivasAChance hashtag trended on Twitter. She was involved in a match with Brie against Emma and Paige. The match was short, even though all the women involved were capable wrestlers. Fans weren't happy, and the rest is history. That moment four years ago led to WWE taking its women wrestlers more seriously and giving them the time they deserve.
Nikki Bella was at the center of that push.
For seven months after #GiveDivasAChance, Nikki Bella remained WWE Divas champion. She showcased her skills night in and night out. It was apparent, even as WWE had NXT talent being elevated to the main roster, that she belonged in the same ring with them.
Her title reign ended in September 2015. She held the belt for 301 days — the longest reign of any Divas champion in history.
Even though she didn't hold a title again, Nikki Bella continued to make a mark. She recovered from a neck injury to compete for the Smackdown women's championship and in 2018, she participated in the first-ever Women's Royal Rumble match.
The final match of her WWE career came at WWE Evolution against Ronda Rousey, a former UFC champion who joined WWE last year. Thanks to "Total Bellas," we know Rousey and Bella spent some time training together. They had a good match — it lasted over 14 minutes — in the main event at WWE's first-ever women's pay-per-view. Rousey won to retain her title.
For Nikki Bella, it was the culmination of a great career. She went from afterthought to one of WWE's marquee performers. She had a great title reign. And even when many had reason to believe it was over for her after she injured her neck, she returned to produce more great moments in the ring.
In WWE's storied history, Nikki Bella is one of its best women's wrestlers. There is no question a spot is reserved for her in the WWE Hall of Fame.