Recalling Stephanie McMahon's History as an In-Ring Competitor

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Recalling Stephanie McMahon's History as an In-Ring Competitor
Credit: WWE.com

Stephanie McMahon, like her father, tells a fine story in the ring in spite of limited athletic ability.

Body language and facial expressions are her signature moves. One won't find quality wrestling holds when looking back at her in-ring career, only the tools of an actor.

Set to face Brie Bella at SummerSlam, the first time she's wrestled in over a decade, McMahon will once again have to lean on her strengths. 

That bout is just the 22nd time McMahon will step between the ropes as a competitor. Her "match" in June against Vickie Guerrero, which featured a sludge-filled pool, doesn't count.

The actual action she's seen in those bouts has been limited. She's been a special attraction, a means to drum up drama and often a performer standing on the periphery. That's led to seven of her matches being mixed-gender tag clashes, three of her bouts being of the Handicap variety and eight of them lasting under four minutes, per CageMatch.net.

Early on, McMahon's clashes saw others carry nearly the entire load. 

On the Sept. 9, 1999 Raw, she teamed with Test vs. Debra and Jeff Jarrett. Test and Jarrett built the foundation of this match; the two angry women were the final flourishes. McMahon stood on the apron for the most part. When she finally entered the fray, the intercontinental champion was out cold on the mat. McMahon picked up the pinfall, the first of many for her.

She has long been a scavenger, waiting for someone else to fell the prey before lunging at it.

That was the story of her Women's Championship win as well. Jacqueline had been champ for less than two months when she faced McMahon, a challenger who seemingly had no chance, on the March 30, 2000 SmackDownMcMahon wore a white T-shirt, a pair of gym shorts and a doe-like expression. She looked like a wrestling trainee awaiting instruction.

X-Pac and Tori transformed the odds, though. They both interfered, leaving the champion on her back, vulnerable. McMahon slid in for the pinfall to win the same title that the Fabulous Moolah and Alundra Blayze had won before her.

She didn't hit a single move to do so. The match only required her to skitter around the ring with fear pulsing through her. She did that well, but it wasn't until later that she mastered the theatrical elements of the business.

McMahon spent much of her title reign standing alongside Tripe H during his matches. It wasn't until June that Lita starting pursuing her.

On June 6, 2000, McMahon retained thanks to Tori attacking the challenger. The next week Lita lost after Kurt Angle attacked her. McMahon took just a few bumps in that one, including a fall from the apron to the floor that she made look like the same level of pain as that of Nancy Kerrigan when the infamous blow to the knee brought her to tears.

Battling Lita once more on Aug. 21, 2000 saw the end of McMahon's time as champ. Here, she hit a few more moves, the match stretching out to a full five minutes. In the midst of Angle and Triple H tangling with the special guest referee, The Rock, Lita won with a moonsault.

The following year, her contributions to her matches picked up.

She teamed with her husband Triple H against Angle and Trish Stratus on Jan. 22, 2001. The men did most of the colliding, but the bout also showcased McMahon's vile side. She seemed to take great pleasure in stinging Angle's face with slaps.

She was only briefly officially in the match, when she and Stratus clawed at each other. Triple H hit a Pedigree on the Hall of Fame Diva, and McMahon pinned for the win.

It was against Stratus No Way Out 2001 that McMahon had her best match, a contest that showed off both her flaws and strong points. When required to perform a hip toss or flying forearm smash, the result was clunky. Her non-wrestler status was clear then. However, when she needed to wear a snarl or exude viciousness, she thrived.

She smugly pulled Stratus' hair from between her fingers after tossing her opponent to the mat. McMahon was convincingly merciless throughout when attacking her or gloating afterward.

In her No Count-Out Catfight against Sable at Vengeance 2003, McMahon had similar success in terms of showmanship. She seethed with realistic anger when she barked at Sable or chased her down. When Sable was on offense, McMahon flopped around the ring. She looked dazed from Sable's blows at times.

This ability to suck fans in, to have them believe that she is actually hurt, is one aspiring wrestlers should study. The athletic part of her game is not something to emulate, though. Her forearm shots, for example, were overly measured and unnatural.

Like with the majority of her matches, it's hard to pinpoint a moment McMahon wowed the crowd with a big move or an athletic feat. She did all her entertaining with melodrama. That's why she has yet to have a great bout despite the positives of her performances.

Her battle against Sable was not meant to be a marquee matchup. It was a tantalizing appetizer before Angle, Lesnar, John Cena and Undertaker took the stage. 

McMahon's final match happened just three months later.

No Mercy 2003 featured her taking on her own father in an I Quit match. It was an unsettling, bizarre bout that was a way to explain McMahon leaving her position as general manager of SmackDown and for Vince McMahon to add to his resume of heartlessness.

Watching him pummel his daughter was equal parts moving and uncomfortable.

The performances by both father and daughter were tremendous. Mr. McMahon played his usual cartoonish villain, complete with sadistic grin. His heir writhed on the mat and tried desperately to escape.

At one point, Vince clamped on a Half Boston Crab, and Stephanie made it seem as if it was as painful as a bone cutter.

Even with all that drama, a lead pipe and Linda McMahon getting involved, this match could only affect fans so much. It wasn't a wrestling match as much as a violent scene in a play. Both McMahons' lack of athletic ability made it a novelty, not something worth treasuring.

Mr. McMahon passed down the ability to portray a villain. WWE has more recently figured out that this is a skill better suited for the microphone than the ring.

McMahon's recent heel accomplishments have come by way of her berating and slapping wrestlers.

Her latest foray into in-ring competition will have her look to maximize her dramatic acumen. Now over 10 years older with no wrestling experience in between, she will be at an even bigger physical disadvantage performing at SummerSlam than she was during her "active" days.

McMahon's history says that her match with Brie will be highlighted by moments of suffering and aggression. It also reminds fans that she's a non-wrestler and that her deficiencies will surely hold her back.

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