Q&A: Zoey Stark Talks Survivor Series 2023, WarGames, Trish Stratus, More — Exclusive

Survivor Series 2023, one of WWE's venerated Big Four premium live events, is nearly upon us and on that grand stage, Zoey Stark is set to have the biggest match of her career when she faces Women's World Champion Rhea Ripley for the title. Stark took on some pretty stiff competition to land the title shot, winning a No. 1 Contender's battle royal on November 6's episode of "WWE Raw." 


Not bad for someone who only made her main roster debut a little over six months ago after coming to "Raw" as part of the 2023 WWE Draft. Of course, it helps when you have a mentor in WWE Hall of Famer Trish Stratus guiding you along the way. Of course, all good things must come to an end and Stark eventually turned on Stratus, having taken enough abuse, though opinions vary as to whether or not that was a true babyface turn. 

Ahead of her showdown with Ripley, Zoey Stark sat down with Wrestling Inc. to talk about her title match, her time with Trish, intergender wrestling in WWE, and WarGames, including who Stark would have on her team in such a match.

Finding out about Survivor Series 2023

Miles Schneiderman: So just to start things off, you're challenging Rhea Ripley at Survivor Series, and I think it's probably fair to say this is one of the biggest, if not the biggest match in your career.


Zoey Stark: Definitely the biggest, for sure.

What are you looking forward to in facing an opponent like Rhea Ripley?

I think Rhea and I, we're going to push each other to our limits. It's going to be a hard-hitting match and it's going to be an exciting one.

When and how did you find out you were wrestling Rhea at Survivor Series? Because it's a big spot on a really major show, and I think some fans were surprised that you were the one getting that spot.

Yeah, I really didn't know until this last Monday actually, nobody really told me that... Was it last Monday? Within the last two weeks.

The Monday before?

Yeah, the Monday before. Sorry. It all gets a little blurry at this point, but right before the Battle Royal is when I kind of found out where they were saying, 'Hey, just so you know, this is for Survivor Series.' I just thought it was going to be for the following week or something. I had no idea that this is what it was going to lead up to.


Oh, wow, interesting. Is that normal? You just kind of learn whatever you're doing at the last minute?

Yeah, pretty much. I mean, I still have the two weeks to get mentally prepared for it, but yeah, pretty much I didn't know until we were very close to going out there for the Battle Royal.

Rhea Runs Raw

That's amazing. One of the reasons that this Survivor Series match is such a big spot is because Rhea has become such an all-encompassing star. She's the main character of Raw right now. Forget about gender divisions. She's up there with Seth and Cody and sort of one of the people the show is built around. And that also means she's involved in a lot of different things, not just her feud with you. Is there any part of you that wishes you could kind of have her to yourself, or is this just a thing where she's really high profile and that's good for you?


She's really high profile and that's good for me. I'm not going to be selfish in any way saying that she needs to be fully focused on me. She has a lot going on and that's fine, and I could take advantage of that.

Excellent. One thing I did want to know, so when you were on the independent scene, you did a reasonable amount, I think, of intergender wrestling. You're working with Rhea now who has been sort of the gateway for a little more of that coming into WWE. Would you call yourself an advocate for more intergender? Is that something you'd like to see more of in WWE? And could you see yourself sort of joining Rhea in that space where you might also wrestle Akira Tozawa sometimes?

Yeah, for sure. I would love to see more intergender wrestling. I understand why WWE doesn't really do it, and if they do it, it's far and few between, but I would love to absolutely work with one of the guys in WWE. This is where some of the best performers are at, so if I could be in the ring with them, I'd be happy.


Working With Trish Stratus & Not Quite Turning Face

Okay. I feel like you've been asked a lot about working with Trish and it sounds like it was an amazing experience. I won't harp on it, but it has been a few months now since we've seen her on TV. What is your relationship with her now that you're not working together on a regular basis?


So if you take the storyline out of it, we are actually still very close where we still check in with each other and if I have any questions about what I'm doing on Monday night Raw, she's a phone call away. She helps me out.

So she's very supportive in that way?

Very supportive. Yeah, she's a very busy woman, so if I could get five minutes from her, I mean I'm happy.

And you actually, you turned babyface again by turning on her in her more recent match.

Did I turn babyface though?

Well, you turned something. You turned to no longer... Well, I mean, I actually wanted to ask you about that. From the perspective of the character, what's changed from you embodying the Zoey Stark character? How has she evolved since her feud with Trish? What's different?


I think it's more of, excuse my language, but not giving a f*** attitude. I don't really care. If I can take out Trish Stratus, I can take out anyone and who I want. I took out my own mentor, so it's more of me just doing whatever I need to do to get to where I want to get.

So it's less a baby face thing, more of a confidence, no longer being a differential type thing?


Playing Games Of War

That makes sense. Because you've been doing this thing with Shayna and she's also sort of in that space character wise.

Yeah, she is. We always kind of joke about it because it's like we're being teased out as a team, but we're not really a team, so we have no idea where anything's going, but we're just happy to be able to work with each other. We're very similar in a lot of ways.


You guys are being set up as dubious friends or tenant friends.


Of course, her last friend she kind of choked out of the company. It seems like she might have done that. When you're working with Shayna, do you ever think, is this not Ronda's spot? This is a weird place to be.

Yeah, sometimes just because she was working such a high profile match with Ronda Rousey... it's actually a lot of fun and we make fun of each other all the time. It's a blast being around her.

That's cool. Survivor Series, you also have WarGames coming up. We haven't had the official women's WarGames match announcement yet, but I'm pretty sure that's coming. It seems like that's happening every year now. You don't do a ton of hardcore, or at least you haven't in your career. I think, correct me if I'm wrong, you're more of a technical side of things, sort of style, but I would imagine that if this becomes a yearly event, you will eventually find yourself in a War Games match. [Editor's note: this interview was conducted on Friday, November 17, prior to the women's WarGames announcement]


I would love to be in a War Games match.

I was going to ask. That's exciting for you then?

Yeah. I would absolutely love to be a part of something like that. I've always... Let's see, in NXT when it was an NXT, I think I was supposed to be in it, but then I got injured and then the following year it got moved to main rosters. So I was a part of the Iron Survivor Challenge match and now this year I'm with Rhea Ripley, so hopefully some point down the line I am in a WarGames match.

Who Makes The Team?

If you had to pick a team, if you needed a WarGames team, who would you pick?

Oh man, these questions are always so hard because there's so many women. I'm going to throw Ivy Nile in there right now because she's a very good friend of mine. I absolutely love Ivy. Let's see. I feel like Shayna would be very good to be on the same team. I want to say her name, but I really don't want to say her name. Rhea Ripley, I got to give her credit. She's dominant. She's a badass.


She'd be a good person to have on your side.

Yeah, exactly. And then Becky Lynch, she's always fun to be around. She's another badass in there.

Absolutely. We still have some time here. A lot of the interviews that I've seen with you have sort of glossed over your pre WWE years, and I know that you grew up a wrestling fan because I've heard you talk about that, but when did you actually decide that you wanted to make this your career?

There wasn't a defining moment of me watching a certain character and saying, 'This is what I want to do.' I just always know... Just growing up, I would get every single magazine that would come out, every single action figure, the titles, anytime that there was a pay-per-view, I would make a deal with my parents saying, 'Hey, I'll wash your car if I could get this pay-per-view,' make some type of deal with them. So I just always loved wrestling in general and I knew this is what I've always wanted to do. This was my first and only thing that I've wanted to do.


So you were one of those people who when you were a kid you wanted to do something and that just carried through into your adult life?


Just Getting Started

I do know those people and have always wanted to be one. So congratulations. When I was sort of preparing for this, I was looking at your Cagematch page, because that's sort of the best comprehensive record we have of a wrestler's career. So according to them, they have your debut match in June 2013 for Vendetta.



2012, okay. So you had actually debuted a year earlier?


That's really good to know because I always try to be wary of them because I know they're missing stuff. And on that note, they have you with a four and a half year gap in your wrestling resume from 2014 to 2018. Were you wrestling during that period or did you actually take a break?

I did take a little bit of a break, but I was still training. I just wasn't really doing shows. As an independent wrestler, it was very difficult to where I'm maybe getting 10, 20 bucks for every show. I wasn't able to really go to Japan or do Rise or Shine and I'd reached out to those companies. It just never really worked out to where I was a part of the roster. So I was trying to figure out, okay, I need a plan B. If this doesn't really work, what can I do? So I was doing some personal training on the side and just trying to figure it out, but I was still doing some training and then I missed it so much just being on shows and I said, I need to give this another go.


All right, and then you got that... In 2020 you get that Shimmer match. I've heard you tell the story of, I think it was Gabe Sapolsky who offered you a tryout after that match.

Literally right after that match. I got back to the hotel and got a message from him.

The Shine Of Shimmer

Cora Jade's on that show, and she had worked a previous Shimmer taping. Gigi Dolin had been working in Shimmer around that time. January 2021, you all get signed. Was there any sense when you found out that you were doing that Shimmer show, this might be a big deal for your career? Because it does seem like historically WWE was keeping an eye on Shimmer over the years.


Yeah, there was a little bit of that gut feeling that I was getting. Like this could be a big one and I need to make sure that I crush it. And Allison Danger was the one that actually helped me get on that show because I was trying my hardest to get on one of these shows to get seen in some light. So Allison Danger and Cheerleader Melissa, they put in a good word for me. So Shimmer finally brought me on and then when they finally saw me, came over from there.

Absolutely. One of the reasons I was curious about that is because Shimmer is unfortunately effectively dead at this point. I mean, COVID kind of killed it after 16 years. Obviously we're now seeing more college athletes in NXT, I think fewer indie wrestlers in the women's division. Now, WWE brings in Jade Cargill who became a star in AEW. From your perspective, how has the rise of AEW and the shifting indie landscape after COVID changed WWE's process for finding new talent for the women's division, like both in NXT and on the main roster?


I mean, as far as them finding talent, I think there is a part where they have these people that go out there and keep an eye on certain talents. Gabe Sapolsky is one of them. He's one of the guys that is always out there looking and seeing who's next. So that's that side of their job. I don't really know how all of it works, but I do feel like it helped out.

And speaking of...

But I think it's one of the reasons why I probably got picked up, is at the point it felt like between AEW and WWE, they were trying to hire as many people as they possibly could.

Well, I know Cora Jade worked an AEW show I think at one point, so yeah. Have you gotten to work with Sara Amato? Speaking of Shimmer, is she still coaching down in NXT, because it feels like it's been a while since I've heard anything about her.

Yeah, she is still coaching. I was in her class for a little bit when I first got to WWE.

That's awesome. I imagine she's an amazing resource.

Yeah, she's great. She's always fun to kind of go to and chit-chat.

A WWE Rollercoaster

Sure, absolutely. Okay, so you get signed 2021, in your third WWE match they have you working with Io Shirai, who's basically already a legend at that point, and then a few months later you're winning the tag titles with her. What was it like working with her and what's the most important thing you learned from working with her?


I really had to figure out a way to keep up with Io as far as her character work and her in ring storytelling. So I'm a person that likes to sit back and watch and learn, so I had to do a lot of that with Io. So it was awesome being able to work with her and pick up as much knowledge as possible.

I'm trying to imagine what it's like for you starting your WWE career the way you did. You come in during COVID, you get pushed right away, you become a champion. NXT gets rebranded, the whole 2.0 thing happens, and then you tear your ACL. And then you come back and three days after you come back, Vince McMahon says he's retiring.

It was a big rollercoaster at that point.

What was your mindset like? Were you feeling unstable? 'I could get cut at any point,' or was it more stable to you than it felt like to us sort of looking from outside looking in?


Because I was in it, I felt fine. I felt stable. It didn't really feel like my world was ending at all. I knew I was in a good place. Shawn Michaels assured me that everything's good and that's all you could really hear and go after.

100%. Have you ever worked with Vince creatively?

No, I have not.

How do you feel about that? Is that a regret or are you kind of cool with it?

I mean, yeah, for sure. He is the man that created WWE. Because of Vince McMahon, there is WWE. So yeah, I would love to be able to work with him at some point, but I'm having such a great time working under Hunter. He's great and he's brilliant at what he does.

Then as someone who was called up to the main roster of post Endeavor sale, does the company feel any different for you since that happened? Or is this what it's always been like?

It feels like it's kind of what it's always been like. I mean, I know there's always a lot of news and stuff going on about what's going on behind the scenes, but everything's good. Business is as usual.

All right. Well, fair enough. Zoey, I think that's all I have. Really appreciate your time.

Thank you.

Stay tuned to Wrestling Inc. all weekend for all your WWE Survivor Series news, including live coverage of the event.