In the spring of 2000, a beautiful blonde fitness model would make her World Wrestling Entertainment debut. She was very green, having had no prior experience in front of a live wrestling crowd, but there was something about the way she carried herself that indicated that she was a star in the making.
By the time her career was over nearly seven years later, she had amassed seven WWE Women's Championships and had become one of the most recognizable stars in professional wrestling.
Her name is Trish Stratus, and she forever revolutionized what it meant to be a WWE Diva.
In the Beginning
Trish made her television debut on an early 2000 episode of WWE Heat, scouting both Test and Albert for a tag team that would later become cleverly known as T&A.
She would lead the big, powerful duo into battle at WrestleMania 2000 as they squared off with the makeshift duo of Al Snow and Steve Blackman. T&A would win the match, as most expected, while Trish played a very small role at ringside.
Her television time and impact on storylines would increase significantly in the weeks after the Showcase of the Immortals, leading to her first major angle in the sport.
In the weeks leading to Backlash on April 30, Bubba Ray Dudley had seemingly become infatuated with the idea of putting Trish through a table. Other women, such as Terri Runnels, Lita and even Mae Young, had suffered top rope powerbombs from Dudley, through tables, leaving the Superstar with an almost orgasmic look on his face.
Every time he grabbed the golden mane of the beautiful Trish, however, she managed to escape his grasp thanks, in large part, to Test and Albert.
Realizing the effect she had on Bubba that she did, she would appear in vignettes clad in lacy lingerie and fondling tables in an attempt to play mind games with him. It worked, as the former tag team champion allowed her to be a distraction on more than one occasion.
The culmination of the angle came at the aforementioned Backlash pay-per-view, when the Dudley Boyz met T&A in a fairly high-profile tag bout.
Test and Albert would win the match, boosting their profile in the tag team division, but what happened afterward would not only payoff the month-long angle, it would also prove Trish's toughness and determination to entertain the audience.
After the bell, despite Trish's best attempts to once again escape unharmed, Bubba Ray powerbombed her from the top rope and through the table.
The spot was the first major one of her WWE career and earned her the respect of her co-workers, many of whom understood just how painful table spots were.
Trish's next rivalry involve a woman that she would be forever linked with and a match that would indicate just how much potential she had as an in-ring storyteller.
Trish vs. Lita: Origins
The spring of 2000 saw Lita leave Essa Rios and align herself with Matt and Jeff Hardy. When the Hardy Boyz became embroiled in a rivalry with T&A, it was only natural that Lita would mix it up with their manager Trish.
They did, on several occasions throughout the feud.
On the July 17 episode of Raw, Trish and Lita fought atop a ladder. Seconds later, Trish shoved Lita through a table in a moment that really ignited their conflict.
Six days later at Fully Loaded, Trish partook in her first pay-per-view match, teaming with T&A to take on the Hardy Boyz and Lita. It was the opening match of the show and an outstanding way to kick off the night's festivities.
Late in the match, the action between Matt, Jeff, Test and Albert spilled to the arena floor, leaving the Divas to square off inside the squared circle.
Trish would deliver a picture-perfect bulldog but it was a superplex from Lita and a moonsault that spoiled her chances of leaving Reunion Arena in Dallas with a victory.
Over the weeks that followed, they would continue to interact.
Trish would get a measure of revenge the night after Fully Loaded when she defeated Lita in a Strap Match, thanks to help from Women's Champion Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley.
McMahon Family Drama
In late-2000, Trish began a sordid affair with Vince McMahon that would ignite a rivalry with Stephanie McMahon, producing some incredibly entertaining television, an outstanding match and the genesis for Trish's first babyface run.
On the December 7 episode of SmackDown, McMahon told wife Linda that he wanted a divorce. The announcement shocked the WWE fans and sent Linda into a catatonic state. During this time, Vince had begun having an affair with Trish, who would show up on television with fancy gifts.
Eventually, the relationship became public and oftentimes consisted of the two lovebirds rubbing their affair in the faces of Linda, Vince's daughter Stephanie and the WWE fans.
Stephanie did not take kindly to Trish's involvement with her father, referring to her as a home-wrecker.
On the January 15, 2001 episode of Raw, she tried to take out some of her frustrations with Trish by booking her in a humiliating Spanking Match against Jacqueline. When that did not work, she handled things on her own.
At the Royal Rumble event on January 21, Trish and Stephanie engaged in a major catfight that interrupted the WWE Championship match between Triple H, whom Stephanie had accompanied to the ring, and Kurt Angle, who was seconded by Trish.
The brawl was so bad that Vince had to come to ringside and forcefully tear them off of one another. It worked, momentarily, but the two fierce females found themselves right back at each other's throats.
Eventually, a match between the two was announced for February's No Way Out, a show that would go down in history as one of the best secondary pay-per-views in company history.
At the show, Trish demonstrated improved wrestling skills and the match she and Stephanie had exceeded even the loftiest of expectations. It was an outstanding bout that told their story perfectly and the interference by William Regal late in the match, interference that ultimately cost Trish, set up the following night's events perfectly.
On the February 26 episode of Raw, Trish felt the wrath of the McMahon family when she was publicly humiliated and dumped in front of a national audience.
Vince watched as Stephanie dumped what can best be described as slop all over the buxom blonde, then took to the mic to reveal his true feelings for Trish. He referred to her as his little toy, then announced that playtime was over.
The next week, Trish would once again humiliated as she was ordered by the chairman of the board to crawl around the ring and bark like a dog, then strip her clothing off in front of a live crowd in Washington. She complied in an attempt to earn his forgiveness.
It was all part of a masterful plan by Trish, however, as she absorbed abuse at the hands of the Vince and Stephanie for over a month before turning on the owner of WWE during a street fight with his son Shane at WrestleMania X-7.
She slapped Vince and brawled around ringside and to the backstage area with Stephanie, ensuring that she would not become a factor in the match.
It was the perfect revenge for being treated so poorly by her bosses for as long as she was and established Trish as an independent woman capable of solving her own problems. It was a major step in developing the character that would launch her into stardom a few months later.
Diva of the Decade
After an ankle injury sidelined her throughout the summer of 2001, Trish returned to the company at the tail end of the Alliance angle that saw ECW and WCW stars invading World Wrestling Entertainment.
At the Survivor Series, Divas from both the Alliance and WWE would battle it out in a Six-Pack Challenge Match for the Women's Championship, which had been vacated when former champion Chyna left the company.
In a shocking upset, Trish defeated Jazz, Ivory, Lita, Jacqueline and Mighty Molly to earn the first title of her career and launch the so-called "golden era of women's wrestling" in WWE.
From winter 2001 until spring of 2004, Trish was the centerpiece of a Divas division that touted highly-talented individuals such as the aforementioned Ivory, Jazz, Lita, Jacqueline and Molly; former developmental performer (and Godfather ho) Victoria and fellow Canadian Gail Kim.
Her matches with Victoria, in particular the Survivor Series 2002 Hardcore Match for the Women's Championship, were hard-hitting affairs that brought an intensity and violence to women's wrestling in North America that had not been seen.
As each month passed, Trish became a more confident worker and it showed in her performance. The early title defenses in late '01 and early '02 still saw her get lost at points.
The matches late in '02 and beyond saw a performer who had learned from her mistakes and was constantly evolving her style and technique to become a better wrestler. At the same time, she was changing the fans' expectations of what a Diva could be.
For the first time in history, WWE had a female performer who could get down and dirty in a Bra and Panties Match against Stacy Keibler but could also trade the lingerie in for a pair of wrestling boots and kick butt too.
She earned the respect of the fans for her versatility and became, arguably, the most popular Diva in company history as a result.
As WrestleMania XX approached, however, it was becoming clear that Trish's babyface character had become a bit stale and it was time for her to return to the dark side.
Evil Trish...sorta rules!
In 2003, Trish began a romantic angle with Chris Jericho. The friendly relationship between the two had blossomed into a bit more and by the time 2004 rolled around, everything was puppy dogs, chocolates and roses.
The feelings they had developed for one another alienated Jericho's friend and tag partner Christian. Captain Charisma became jealous of the time Trish and Jericho were spending with one another and a fracture in his relationship with Y2J began to appear.
When Christian clotheslined Trish and locked her in the Walls of Jericho the split between the longtime friends became official and a heated grudge match between the two was set up for WrestleMania XX in New York's historic Madison Square Garden.
Most expected Trish to be involved in the match but to what extent was the question.
The answer came when she "inadvertently" elbowed Jericho, allowing Christian to score a rollup win. After the match, she showed her true colors when she slapped Jericho, stunning him and allowing Christian to deliver the Unprettier.
The fellow Torontonians engaged in a rather passionate kiss at the top of the entrance ramp as a recovering Jericho watched on.
Unfortunately, the on-air pairing of Trish and Christian would reach a premature end when the latter suffered a back injury that sidelined him throughout the summer.
Trish would thrive as a villain, however, becoming one of the more entertaining parts of Monday Night Raw all the way into 2005.
As a heel, she was quick, intelligent and had a wit and sarcasm that set her head and shoulders above the rest of the Divas on the roster.
That sarcasm would earn her the scorn of a familiar foe midway through 2004.
Trish vs. Lita, Part Deux
At SummerSlam in August, Matt Hardy lost a match to Kane, guaranteeing Lita's hand in marriage to the Big Red Monster. This came on the heels of Lita announcing that she was carrying Kane's child.
Of course, this gave Trish plenty of ammunition and on the August 23 episode of Raw, she interrupted the wedding between her rival and Kane, making back-handed comments and cracking jokes at Lita's expense.
A catfight between the two broke out and it appeared as though they may be gearing up for a feud over Trish's Women's Championship. That was not the case.
The Trish-Lita conflict did not resume until November, when Lita earned a shot at Trish's title at the 2004 Survivor Series event.
The match was short-lived as Trish found herself on the end of an emotion-fueled assault. Lita would use a steel chair on the champion, breaking her nose and forcing her to wear a face mask for the next two months.
The next time they did battle in a singles match with the title in the line, it would make history.
For only the second time in WWE history, the Women's Championship was defended in the main event on Monday Night Raw.
The first time saw Lita defeat Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley for the title. That match, however, was largely centered on the conflict between The Rock, Triple H and Kurt Angle over the WWE Championship and featured the final build to the SummerSlam 2000 main event.
In the December 6, 2004 match, Trish and Lita delivered a phenomenal wrestling match that put the spotlight squarely on the Divas and the title for which they were competing. Trish would lose her title on that night but would regain it a month later, defeating her foe at January's New Year's Revolution show.
Trish would continue to be one of the brightest spots of WWE programming into the new year but a back injury would sideline her from April until September.
During her absence, a new crop of Divas rose to prominence.
The Diva Search
Let's backtrack a bit.
The Diva Search was a supposedly reality-based competition that sought to find the newest WWE Diva. Models from across the country competed for the $250,000 prize and a contract with World Wrestling Entertainment.
After weeks of competition, Christy Hemme was named the winner of the contest and found herself put on the fast track to success.
She posed for Playboy magazine in early-2005 and challenged Trish for the Women's Championship at WrestleMania 21. The match would expose Christy as the inexperienced performer she was but that did not stop the company from bringing more and more of the Diva Search participants into the company and throwing them on television.
Maria Kanellis, Candice Michelle and Michelle McCool all earned contracts from that first pool of contestants and, to their credit, they all achieved success and enjoyed lengthy stays in the company. At the time, however, it was difficult to grasp the logic that went into releasing Divas such as Molly Holly, Gail Kim, Jazz and Jacqueline and replacing them with women who were clearly not ready to perform in the ring.
In hindsight, one has to wonder how much the success Trish had as a model-turned-wrestler influenced the company to take the route they did in signing new Divas.
Oh Mickie, You're so...Crazy
Shortly after Trish returned from injury, the talented Mickie James made her WWE debut.
An obsessive fan of the Women's Champion, Mickie did everything in her power to get as close to Trish as possible. At first, her loyalty to Trish was cute. Then it became annoying. At its height, it was disturbing.
Around Christmastime in 2005, Mickie strung mistletoe in the Divas locker room and kissed a surprised Trish.
When Trish became defensive and informed Mickie that she needed some space of her own, Mickie took it offensively. Her demeanor changed and, at Saturday Night's Main Event on March 18, 2006, felt the brunt of Mickie's anger and rage and disappointment.
A match between the two was signed for WrestleMania 22 and, at the biggest show of the year, the two skilled in-ring competitors completely overshadowed any and everything else any other Diva was doing at the time with a match that would go down in history as one of the best women's bouts in the long and illustrious history of the event.
Mickie targeted Trish's knee to the delight of a Chicago crowd that was totally into the fresh and exciting new psycho stalker character and bored by the consistent greatness of her opponent.
Trish fought off the determined challenger but Mickie was able to utilize mind games, including the grouping of her idol's privates, to throw her off her game and deliver a Mick Kick to pick up her first Women's Championship.
Retirement and Beyond
In September of 2006, Trish announced that her match at the Unforgiven pay-per-view in her hometown of Toronto would be her final match.
At the show, she and Lita would clash one last time with the most coveted prize in women's wrestling at stake.
In front of family and friends, Trish locked in the Sharpshooter, a move popularized by a fellow popular Canadian, and forced a submission from the champion.
Trish would raise the title in the air for the last time as a respectful and appreciative audience cheered her on.
The three-time WWE Babe of the Year (as voted by fans) has kept very busy in her post-WWE years. She began the Stratusphere yoga studio and has marketed her brand of yoga to audiences across the globe.
In 2006, she appeared on the short-lived CBS reality program Armed & Famous, which saw celebrities train to be police officers in Muncie, Indiana.
In 2011, she appeared in the film Bounty Hunters.
Return to WWE and the 2013 Hall of Fame
Since retiring, Trish has made spot appearances on WWE programming.
On the December 22, 2008, fans were treated to an early Christmas gift as she returned to the ring for the first time in two years, teaming with John Cena to defeat Santino Marella and Beth Phoenix. It was the first, and last, time they would share a ring together.
In 2011, she would return for a major angle leading into WrestleMania 27.
The trainer for WWE's revived Tough Enough series, Trish found herself back on WWE television and it was not long before she and the heel duo LayCool, Michelle McCool and Layla, found themselves engaged in a conflict.
When Jersey Shore's Snooki also found herself dealing with the obnoxious baddies, a six-person tag match was announced for the Showcase of the Immortals. Trish teamed with Snooki and John Morrison to defeat Dolph Ziggler, Layla and Michelle.
Unfortunately, the match was short and a major disappointment to Trish's fans, who were hoping to see the iconic Diva involved in something a bit longer and a lot more meaningful.
That disappointment was erased two years later when, the night before WrestleMania 29 in East Rutherford, Trish was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.
It was at that ceremony where she announced her first pregnancy.
On September 30 of this year, she and husband Ron welcomed their first son, Maximus.
There are very few professional wrestlers who can claim to be game changers.
Trish Stratus is one of them.
She entered the business with no experience whatsoever and, through hard work, dedication and determination became the most complete female competitor to ever step foot inside a WWE ring.
Her work, both as a character and worker, has influenced a generation of Divas. More importantly, she forever changed the way that WWE looks for female talent.
Former Divas Champions Kelly Kelly, Layla El, Brie and Nikki Bella and Eve Torres were all models that earned their jobs with the company either through the Diva Search competition or because the company discovered them in a catalog or magazine.
Like Trish, they all had some sort of athletic background and used that athleticism to help transition into and learn the in-ring portion of the job.
During her six years with WWE, she consistently adapted both her in-ring style and her character to better fit the times.
Most importantly, Trish's success proves that a female performer can become a star on the level of the more hyped, celebrated male talent.
The seven-time Women's Champion, in many ways, is a once in a lifetime talent who understood the bigger picture and developed herself into the complete package from a performance standpoint. She was smart, funny, tough and passionate and, like so many of the Superstars to grace the WWE Hall of Fame, left the business better than it was before she arrived.
That is the greatest honor that can be bestowed upon any professional wrestler and she is more than deserving of it.
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