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Trish Stratus was revolutionary before it was cool to be revolutionary.
The phrase “women’s revolution” is thrown around with a sort of recklessness on WWE television today, a buzz term used to describe the time and effort put into women’s wrestling in this era of Vince McMahon’s sports-entertainment empire.
Stratus ignited a fire for women’s wrestling in WWE and led a revolution that brought the sport back to the forefront of a product most recognizable for its exploitation of female talent. While it was never a smooth ride on the road to legitimacy as a worker, she altered the perceptions of fans as to what, exactly, women in the industry were capable of.
By the time she retired in 2006, she left behind a legacy full of championships and accomplishments, as well as a number of best, worst and most outrageous moments.
Those moments tell her story.
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From the moment they arrived in WWE, just weeks apart, Trish Stratus and Lita’s careers were intertwined.
The first major rivalries they had in the company came with each other. Stratus, the manager of T&A (Test and Albert) led her monstrous team into battle against The Hardy Boyz and Lita, a trio of extreme high-flyers gaining popularity by the week.
The conniving villainess wrestled her first televised match against the fiery redhead in a Six-Person Mixed Tag Team match, defeating Lita on a memorable episode of Sunday Night Heat. Little could anyone have known that their rivalry would span the majority of six years, feature countless “first time ever” matches and solidify their significance in the history of women’s wrestling in North America.
The two most prolific female Superstars of their era, their contributions through their many wars (one of which we will touch on shortly) are endless, and their effect on fans’ acceptance of strong female characters was the foundation for the women’s revolution that is ongoing within WWE.
It was fitting that the all-time-great rivalry concluded at Unforgiven 2006, where Stratus retired in front of her hometown fans in Toronto after defeating Lita for women’s title No. 7.
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The No Way Out 2001 contest pitting Trish Stratus against against Stephanie McMahon in a heated grudge match had no right to be as good as it was.
Neither woman was a gifted or even experienced wrestler by the time that February rolled around. They were managers. Seconds. On-screen characters.
The likelihood they would deliver a quality wrestling match was extremely low.
Then the unimaginable happened. The former fitness model and Daddy’s Little Girl delivered a fantastically intense brawl of a match that captivated fans in Las Vegas’ Thomas & Mack Center. The high spots never ceased, the crowd popped and those who had followed the rivalry between the two were satisfied by the payoff.
Stephanie won the match, but Stratus, in her most important contest to date, gave fans a taste of the dynamic and charismatic in-ring performer she would evolve into.
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Vince McMahon has a salacious, sordid on-screen history with the women of his company. Perhaps none of those were as memorable, or infamous, as the relationship he had with Trish Stratus, which began in late 2000 and carried over into the new year.
After months of explicit interactions, Stratus was humiliated and dumped on live television, just 24 hours following her loss to Stephanie McMahon at No Way Out.
Contrite, Stratus apologized to the chairman on the March 5 episode of Raw.
McMahon, never one to pass up the opportunity to make someone beg and grovel, forced Stratus to crawl around the ring and bark like a dog. From there, he ordered her to disrobe, pushing the level of bad taste even further.
The discomfort of the segment permeated through the fanbase.
While it would be paid off later, and Stratus admitted in her 2003 WWE Home Video release Trish Stratus: 100% Stratusfaction Guaranteed that she was fine with the segment as long as the payoff was strong, it was and still is uncomfortable to watch.
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After months of degradation and embarrassing predicaments perpetrated by Vince McMahon, Stratus earned her measure of revenge at WrestleMania X-Seven.
In front of 68,000 fans in Houston, she wheeled Linda McMahon to the squared circle and proceeded to slap the boss in the face during his Street Fight with Shane McMahon. From there, she eliminated Stephanie McMahon from the equation, fighting the Billion Dollar Princess to the locker room.
The grand babyface turn may have been seen coming from a mile away, but it was a satisfying conclusion to their story.
After months of belittling, Stratus avenged her humiliation and stuck it to her superior in an act that cost him the much-anticipated match against his son.
Most importantly, it propelled her, allowing Stratus to embark on a career as an in-ring performer.
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A former fitness model who was hired to WWE almost exclusively for her look, Stratus could have easily gotten by just on that. Instead, she put in the effort to develop herself as an in-ring worker, respecting the industry enough to be the best performer she could be.
In 2001, her efforts paid off.
At the Survivor Series pay-per-view, she defeated five other competitors to win the vacant women’s title. It would be the moment that launched her to the top of the women’s division, establishing the fierce wrestler as the face of the division.
Over the next five years, Stratus dominated women’s wrestling in WWE, winning the title six more times. Matches with Jazz, Jacqueline, Ivory, Molly Holly and Gail Kim helped legitimize women’s wrestling at a time when exploitative gimmick matches were the norm.
Stratus’ championship resume is the most impressive of any woman in WWE history, and though it is a record likely to be broken in the coming years by Charlotte Flair or Sasha Banks, neither of those women would likely have found the acceptance in the company she has had it not been for the foundation Stratus laid a decade earlier.
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In late 2003, a segment aired in which Chris Jericho and Christian admitted the feelings they had expressed toward Trish Stratus and Lita, respectively, were just the product of a $1 (Canadian!) bet.
Furious over the revelation, Stratus and Lita took their frustrations out on their once-potential suitors. Then Eric Bischoff announced a Battle of the Sexes for the Armageddon pay-per-view in December.
The contest, pitting two women against two men, was the first of its type in WWE and had fans understandably wondering about what quality of match they could expect.
As it turned out, it was a wildly fun match that never overstayed its welcome.
The spots were fun, the match fit the context of the story and Jericho understandably expressed concern for Stratus, for whom he had developed real feelings.
The heels won, but the women looked strong and ferocious in their pursuit of victory.
And the storyline would culminated with a budding relationship between Jericho and Stratus, followed by a heel turn that saw Stratus embrace her inner baddie and reinvigorate her career.
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Riding a wave of momentum as one of the best villains on the Raw roster, Stratus entered the December 4, 2004, episode of Raw for a Women’s Championship defense against Lita. Delivering what were arguably the best performances of her career from a character standpoint, Stratus was the star of the division.
Her torment of Lita had built to the point, however, that it was time for the babyface to overcome the arrogant villainess and capture gold.
She did just that, overcoming a scary bump early in the match to win the title.
While the story may have been Lita’s victory, it was Stratus’ quiet consistency that fueled the match’s quality. The Canadian set the pace, dominated the action and, when the time came, endured the ass-kicking fans had waited months to see Lita dish out.
It was a satisfying end to months of torment by a heel Stratus who thrived in that role.
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Christy Hemme oftentimes finds herself on the receiving end of criticism for the Women’s Championship match at WrestleMania 21 and her uninspiring performance therein. Stratus, in the midst of the hottest run of her career, was robbed of a quality match on the grandest stage known to professional wrestling.
Considering how great Stratus was by April 2005, the fact she was not allowed to adequately demonstrate her skills remains a dark cloud over her career.
Neither Hemme nor Stratus is to blame, though.
Management put Hemme in a position she was unprepared for. It put unfair burden on Stratus and, unfortunately, created a scenario in which everyone involved was set up for failure.
It remains one of the bigger disappointments of Stratus’ career.
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An obsessive fan-turned-spurned love interest provided Stratus with one of the greatest challenges of her career at WrestleMania 22.
Mickie James, infuriated and mentally broken over what she considered a rejection by Stratus, struck out with furious vengeance on the woman she once considered an idol. Unhinged, she entered Chicago’s Allstate Arena for the most important match of her career.
Stratus, a consistent force in the division, was greeted by a hardcore fanbase that sought change. Despite a hostile environment that wold have thrown off a lesser performer, Stratus thrived as the veteran competitor repeatedly cut off and grounded by the furious James.
By the time her shoulders were pinned to the mat, Stratus had solidified her status as one of the better big-match performers in women’s wrestling history and a giving worker whose ability to make her opponents look good was unparalleled.
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In 2013, Stratus was enshrined in the WWE Hall of Fame.
Officially recognized as one of the finest performers in the long and illustrious history of sports entertainment, Stratus stood before her peers and delivered an induction speech that featured the same charisma and charm she captivated fans with for years.
It was emotional and even featured the announcement of Stratus’ pregnancy.
On a night meant to celebrate her and her accomplishments, Stratus took to thanking the many Superstars responsible for her success.
Never the biggest or most experienced dog in the fight, Stratus always managed to succeed despite her limitations, and just 24 hours before the biggest event in wrestling, a show she appeared on many times, she reminded fans that hard work and dedication can help overcome any obstacle.