In an appearance on Oral Sessions with Renee Paquette, WWE Hall of Fame Trish Stratus went in depth of her wrestling career. Stratus documented how she set out to be the best at women’s wrestling, and was inspired by something she was told by WWE’s top star at the time, The Rock.
“I guess I knew I wanted to be the best at what I was doing,” Stratus said. “But also you have to remember this was a time where there wasn’t really women doing it. So you wouldn’t be like ‘that’s what I want to do.’ I maybe could look to The Rock and say ‘that’s what I want to do. And is that realistic? I’m not sure, because it’s seems like it’s never really been done so far.’ Then I remember The Rock said to me one day ‘you know, you can be the female Rock.’ And I was like ‘oh my god. Okay, I’m going to do that. Yes.’ So I just knew that it was my job then to be the best that I could be. And that would entail training and performing at my peak every time and outdoing my last performance.”
Early in her career Stratus notably took part in several angles, including being in a group T&A and her romantic angle with Vince McMahon, that she now calls crappy. Still she sees those angles as necessary to ultimately get her to where she wanted to go, similar to how she made certain decisions during her career as a fitness model.
“It’s like this,” Stratus said. “I always felt like, and it’s funny because I had a clip way back in the day when I said this. With my fitness stuff, I was doing a lot of these sexy modeling shoots. But what it did was it gave me a platform, it gave me a voice. Because I was on the cover of this fitness magazine, I’m a notable personality. So therefore I’m able to do this myself. So I did this myself, I booked myself on Off The Record with Michael Landsberg. He was the integral part of my beginnings as well, because he kind of gave me my exposure. And there was that crossover wrestling appeal.
“So I knew, because I was on this cover, how could I maximize that? How could I make my voice be heard? Once I get on there, that got me in the door, but now I have the floor. And I was able to then showcase a different side, and explore what I wanted to explore at this point. So I felt like wrestling was the same sort of thing. Using these opportunities to go ‘what’s the bigger picture then? Where can we go? How can we do that and what’s the next step to not do that again?'”
Stratus ultimately considers her rise through WWE as a slow one. She believes she got some traction due to a house show program with Jazz, which received such praise from fans that it eventually got back to WWE Chairman Vince McMahon.
“I think it was a slow rise,” Stratus said. “Because everything was sort of, everything was happening under the radar. I’ll never forget, we were doing these live events and Jazz and I were absolutely killing it. Like having these matches and people were like, they were there for it. And so they used to do these things where they went around the first couple of rows and they would poll them. They’d tell them to tell them their top five or whatever it was, ‘list your favorite matches.’ And they were using that feedback to bring that back to Vince and therefore it would reflect on TV all that sort of thing. I remember Vince pulled me aside and said ‘so its you and Jazz. We’ve been hearing you and Jazz. People are like that’s the constant and all these reports.’ And I was like ‘wow.’ I just couldn’t believe it.
“But it was all these little things, like ‘okay, you know what? We’re making a difference, people are going to sit up and notice.’ It took awhile, of course. We had to almost, I want to say re-educate the fans, because they were used to just being cheering for us and being for us and chanting for our puppies. So they didn’t expect it. They expected us to go out, and when the girls went out they’d be like ‘oh the girls are going to hair pull and they’re going to throw each other around and slap and that’s what they’re going to do.’ And I remember Fit (Finlay) and I made the conscious decision. Every time we got the opportunity to say ‘okay let’s just give them a little something different, but we’ll slip it in there.’ So they’re not like ‘who, what is happening?!’ And it wasn’t just the fans. It was like, we couldn’t let the office go ‘that’s what the boys do.’ A lot of times it was like ‘why are you doing that chop? That’s what Ric Flair does.’ I’m like ‘he wasn’t even in the company at the time. And guess what? I can do it too!'”
Stratus had not but praise for Fit Finlay and his role in helping to shape the women’s division at the time. She also revealed he was given the job of agenting women’s matches around the time Stratus won her first Women’s Championship, and that he initially saw it as WWE ribbing him.
“So incredible,” Stratus said of Finlay. “I remember there was a point where like, we were, I remember there was a good year of work that we were doing where it was him and I kind of leading the cavalry. I was put in there and there was just a rotation of feuds. And we were like ‘okay, what can we do now?’ There wasn’t a lot of us at the time that were working at the time. Lita was busy doing, I think she actually had her neck injury at the very beginning. I think she was off doing that. So in the very beginning Jazz was brought in, Victoria was brought in and Mickie James was brought in. So we would sit and be like ‘we’ve got to present different characters.’ And we created storylines and that was the chance to finally be the same of the guys in that respect, where before it was just a girls segment.
“Then we started doing storylines, and then we’d slip in these moves and be a little more solid match wise. And jus really presenting something completely different. When I was given the title in 2001 maybe, six pack challenge, I know we brought in Jazz, there was Molly, there was Ivory, there was Jacqueline, there was Lita. It was the six of us. And I won for the first time ever and I was the underdog. I knew at that point ‘oh look at this ball Ihave. I better run. Bye!’ I had to. There was no looking back. It was my huge chance because there was no women’s division prior to that. As you recall, at the time, Chyna was the last champion. And it wasn’t really a division thing for her, she was this entity and it was part of her character. Almost a Money in the Bank thing. So she left the company and took the title with her. So there was no title, no division. So at that point you’re fighting for good performances and character establishing. And that’s all we could do at the time. They finally brought back the championship and they were like ‘okay, we’re going to do this. Fit, we’re going to have you lead this.’ They told him, he thought it was a rib because it felt like ‘ha, go work with the girls now.’ So we did it and I knew this was an opportunity to change the perception of what a female could do in this business. And we went out to try and do that, and I think we did pretty good.”
One thing Stratus didn’t like from WWE was calling the women’s division the Divas Division. While she doesn’t hold or dismiss the accomplishments of the women from that era, Stratus never loved the term and admitted she never got why the term was used.
“I don’t think I ever uttered the word Diva,” Stratus said. “Maybe I did, but in interviews I never called myself Diva. I refused. I just didn’t get it, I didn’t get, because I enjoyed, in the beginning that we were called superstars. We were all called superstars. And when they started this Diva thing I was like ‘ugh.’ Because as a tomboy the word Diva I was like ‘oh my god. I’m a Diva? No, I’m not. I don’t qualify.’ Even what they were calling a Diva, I’m not even that. I don’t think I’m that. So I was never behind that term at all. Even when they did the Diva Championship it was like ‘oh, okay.’
“But when they finally got rid of it, it was like that point where the put the six pack challenge together and decided to start the division. It was like a restart, it was like a reboot. A chance to turn over a new leaf. And I feel like that was their moment to go ‘alright, let’s get back to business here.’ And also I want to say, not to say anything about the girls who competed for the Divas Championship or were Divas Champions. Because again, the title is what it is. They’re still doing the work and still paving the path and doing the work for females everywhere. So not to diminish that as well. And I know, they’ll say that too. There’s just that connotation I guess with it.”
If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit Oral Sessions with Renee Paquette and provide a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription