The year 2000 saw the arrival of Trish Stratus and Lita, two women who would go on to spark a renaissance for women's wrestling in WWE. They would become the standard-bearers for a new generation of female stars. They were so influential that both were inducted into the Hall of Fame, a fitting reward for everything they did to introduce the golden age of WWE Divas.
While those two women carried the flag for the Divas division, there was another female performer who put the focus on her performance between the ropes. A classically trained wrestler with technical ability far superior to any other woman on the roster, she proved herself capable of playing the sweet and innocent babyface or the ruthless, vindictive villain.
Despite not having the star power that Lita or Stratus did, she was key in both of their developments. A pro's pro who did what was asked of her and rarely disappointed between the ropes, she was one of the most underappreciated performers of her era.
In celebration of her great career and all of her accomplishments, here is a look back at the phenomenal Molly Holly.
Molly made her in-ring debut in 1997. A student of the great Dean Malenko, she learned to appreciate the technical aspect of professional wrestling very early on. Malenko, a star for World Championship Wrestling at the time, was widely considered one of the best in the sport. Having him teach her the ropes did a lot to ensure that she would never be lost while inside of a ring.
As Starla Saxton, Molly plied her craft across in the independent circuit and even received some tryout matches with both WCW and WWE, the bouts for the latter coming against Women's champion Jacqueline on Sunday Night Heat.
She also competed against Japanese star Malia Hosaka, both on the indys and for WCW, including a match on the company's syndicated WorldWide program.
By 1999, she had developed to the point that those in power at WCW were willing to take a chance on her, signing the Minnesotan to a contract.
It would be the start of an incredible journey.
When "Macho Man" Randy Savage made his return to WCW in 1999, he did so surrounded by a bevy of beautiful women. One was real-life girlfriend Gorgeous George, the other former WWE Women's champion Madusa. The third was a mysterious blonde who wore a blue gown and was recognized as "Miss Madness."
It was Molly's first big break in the promotion, and working alongside Savage on a nightly basis was an incredible honor. That she was thrust into the main event spotlight thanks to her association with the all-time great performer only helped fan awareness of the young starlet.
With women's wrestling nearly nonexistent at the time, Molly regularly interfered on behalf of the Macho Man but rarely had the chance to prove her own skills. Behind the scenes, she and Madusa trained women such as a young Stacy Keibler, Torrie Wilson, Major Gunns and Paisley (later known under her real name, Sharmell), but it was not as rewarding as being able to showcase her talents in front of an international audience.
Sure, she had the occasional match on the B- and C-level syndicated shows, but unless one was really looking for them, no one knew when they were on or very much cared.
When the opportunity to jump ship and join trainer Malenko in the more successful WWE arose, she took it, waving goodbye to a dying WCW.
On November 6, 2000, Molly Holly made her debut as the cousin of Crash and Hardcore Holly. The double-tough family had been embroiled in a feud with T&A (Test and Albert) and were in need of someone to counteract the persistent interference of Trish Stratus. Molly did just that.
The brief feud with Trish put the spotlight on the talented young Molly, who was thrust into the wrestling ring almost immediately. She completely outclassed the former fitness model in their matches, leading to comments from announcers Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler about her ring skills.
Together with Hardcore and Crash, the Hollys became a solid midcard act. It was not uncommon to see Molly partner with one of her on-screen cousins to take on Matt Hardy and Lita or Test and Trish in mixed tag bouts.
While Molly's win-loss record may not have always been impressive, the more television exposure she got, the more she would be able to prove herself as the best women's wrestler in either of the two big companies.
Spike and Molly Sitting in a Tree...
The first major angle that Molly participated in featured a relationship between her and Spike Dudley. With Molly's status as a Holly and Spike being a Dudley, the love caused a war between the two families.
Hardcore and Crash spent weeks trying to convince their lovely cousin to dump the scrawny Dudley brother, and Bubba Ray and D'Von simply wanted to put Molly through a table. It made for some interesting television and really helped give depth to the Molly and Spike characters.
The biggest thing to come out of the relationship was a mini-feud between Spike and Stone Cold Steve Austin that started when Austin made disparaging remarks about Molly during a backstage segment.
This led to more interactions between the three, including an in-ring promo to kick off an episode of Raw. In it, Austin laid Molly out with the Stone Cold Stunner.
The program was abruptly dropped, however, as Austin split off to feud with Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho, and Spike turned his attention to Bubba Ray and D'Von, feuding with his on-screen family.
The Invasion angle introduced the WWE Universe to a roster full of young, up-and-coming stars who had once called WCW home. Among them was former WCW Cruiserweight champion Gregory Helms. Working under his real name was never going to get him over with the WWE fans, most of whom had no idea who he was and saw him as just another faceless guy from down south.
When he became The Hurricane, a delusional performer who actually believed he was a superhero straight out of a comic book, he got over unlike anyone could have imagined. But something was missing. He needed one last element to really put the gimmick over.
He needed a sidekick.
In the fall of 2001, Molly Holly dumped Spike and joined Hurricane, becoming Mighty Molly. As a heel in WWE for the first time, she channeled her experience of managing Randy Savage to help her in her new role. She interfered on behalf of Hurricane and was not afraid to get physically involved when the situation called for it.
At WrestleMania X-8 in March of 2002, Mighty Molly achieved her greatest feat when she outsmarted Hurricane and captured the WWE Hardcore Championship during a backstage interview. She would lose it later in the night to the dastardly Christian.
At the same time, she became part of WWE's flourishing women's division. Alongside a vastly improved Trish Stratus, Lita, Jazz, Ivory and Jacqueline, Molly helped introduce wrestling fans to a new kind of WWE Diva.
Sure, they were hot and beautiful, but they could also put on great matches and use their skills to get over. They didn't have to rely on only their bodies for their popularity.
With the "Brand Extension" and the WWE Draft splitting her and Hurricane up in the spring of 2002, the Mighty Molly character died, and in its place would be a much stronger, more independent Molly Holly than WWE fans had seen before.
In April 2002, Molly Holly returned to prominence as a top contender to the Women's Championship.
Her blonde hair now brown and her colorful gear replaced by a more wholesome black and white, Molly became a somewhat prudish character. She denounced the sexuality of the other Divas and referred to herself as the best wrestler on the Divas roster.
The feud between Holly and Stratus really helped establish the new wrestling-minded Divas division and, more importantly, was key to the development of the Canadian as a worker.
It began when Molly interrupted a Bikini Paddle on a Pole match between Stratus and Terri Runnels and broke said paddle over her new rival's head. From there, she would attack the Women's champion on several occasions and even score a big non-title victory over her on Raw.
At King of the Ring in June 2002, Molly would achieve her dreams of becoming Women's champion when she defeated Stratus in what was a very good match.
Everything was not bright and full of sunshine, though. It was at this time that management began poking fun at Molly, implying that she had a rather large backside. The jokes, mostly from Jerry Lawler, were mean-spirited and really overshadowed the champion's skills.
To even imply that she had a weight problem was ridiculous. Did she look like the other women on the roster? No. But she most certainly did not have a weight problem. As has been the case before, it was another attempt by those in power to send a message to a woman that they did not believe fit their image of what a Diva should be, even if they were the ones responsible for putting the Women's title on her.
Molly's championship reign would come to an end in September 2002 when she dropped the championship back to Trish at Unforgiven.
Off With the Hair
On July 28, 2003, Molly won the Women's title for a second time, defeating newcomer Gail Kim.
This time, she would hold the gold much longer and enjoy one of the more impressive Women's title reigns of that era. She would regularly turn in great matches with Stratus, Ivory, Jacqueline and the returning Lita, who she defeated to retain the title at Survivor Series in November.
As 2004 approached, she engaged Victoria in a program that would lead to the defining moment of her career.
After losing the title to the raven-haired Diva, Molly became obsessed with winning it back. Feeling the pressure mounting, Molly challenged the new titleholder to a match at WrestleMania. If she did not regain the title, she would have her head shaved.
It was under that stipulation that the Divas took to the squared circle inside the historic Madison Square Garden for their WrestleMania 20 encounter.
The match was a competitive one sandwiched between some of the night's top bouts. Though Molly dominated, it was Victoria who retained following a backslide.
Having done everything possible to get out of what was sure to be a humiliating ordeal, Molly found herself strapped to a barber's chair with no place to go. Victoria fired up the clippers and proceeded to shave the virtuous young woman bald to the delight of the fans in attendance.
In the weeks that followed, Molly would sport a wig while competing. The high spot of any match was for the babyface to rip the wig off and expose Molly's bald head to the world. It worked and helped the Diva remain over despite no longer having the gold around her waist.
By 2005, however, Molly's heat had dissipated and she was lost in the shuffle. With the Diva Search underway and a new crop of non-wrestlers infiltrating the roster, she made the decision to leave WWE.
Her run with the company came to an end that April.
She returned for one night only at WrestleMania XXV, competing in the awful Miss WrestleMania Battle Royal.
Like so many great women's wrestlers who helped establish the golden era of the WWE Divas, Molly Holly was phased out by the introduction of models into the wrestling industry. Gone were the days when WWE picked talented workers from the indys and helped mold them and market them as WWE Divas.
The success of Trish Stratus had the company believing it could turn to the modeling agencies across the country and pick beautiful women to be part of the company. From there, they could teach them to work and develop into the level of performer Trish was.
Molly was a wrestler's wrestler, a worker who enjoyed having great matches. She was also an underrated entertainer who could be the butt of a joke as easily as she could kick butt between the ropes.
A consummate professional whose resume speaks for itself, she left the industry way too early but made a life for herself outside of it.
If only the sport had more happy endings like Molly's.