EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- When Trish Stratus is inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame Saturday night inside New York’s famed Madison Square Garden, she’ll be joining a 2013 class that’s arguably the best to ever be welcomed into professional wrestling’s most honored tradition.
Mick Foley, Booker T., Bob Backlund, Donald Trump (celebrity wing) and Bruno Sammartino will join the former Diva’s champ on stage, making Stratus only the sixth woman ever voted into WWE’s Hall.
“I’m just completely honored,” Stratus said as she prepared for her moment to once again seize the spotlight. “It seems like I was just wrestling yesterday, so it doesn’t seem like I’ve been away from the business for seven years like I have been. And, of course, when I heard the class I’d be inducted with, wow, you can’t help to be a fan and be starstruck as well.”
Then again, when it comes to being starstruck, it’s the current crop of WWE Divas who find themselves in awe of Stratus.
“A.J. [Lee] and I always dreamed of being the next variation of Trish versus Lita,” WWE Divas champion Kaitlyn said when asked about Stratus. “I don’t know one Diva right now who doesn’t look toward Trish for inspiration or doesn’t want to accomplish the things she’s accomplished. She’s just so incredible. I want to follow in her footsteps while forging my own path. I would love to have the success and the drive that Trish has.”
ESPN Playbook: How did you initially find out that you were being inducted into this year’s Hall of Fame?
Trish Stratus: I got the news from one of the executive producers of the show, Kevin Dunn. Kevin Dunn is like when you go behind the curtain at the Wizard of Oz -- he’s that guy. He’s been a great friend of mine throughout my whole career, and he gave me the great news Dec. 23, so I knew I had a pretty big 2013 to look forward to. It was a great early Christmas present.
Did you anticipate you’d be inducted so early, or did you think the process might take longer?
I didn’t really think about it, to be honest. You go into your career, and of course, you strive to be the best in your industry. You go out there, and to me, winning the championship meant that I was going to perceived one day as doing something special in this industry. Of course, you think that one day it would be an honor to be in the Hall of Fame, that’s the whole point of what we do, but like I said, it seems early. Then again, I look back and I’ve been retired for seven years, and it’s been a while. So it’s a surprise for sure, but I’m so looking forward to the show.
When you look back on your career, do you have a favorite WWE match or moment that you were involved in?
I have so many. I’ve been blessed to have quite a few moments that stand out. There’s my retirement match, which was a bittersweet moment for me, and the match itself was pretty epic between Lita and I, but it was everything surrounding the match, it being my last match, being crowned champion on my way out, and it taking place in my home town of Toronto. Everything just added up to that storybook ending for me. So that match definitely stands out as a great moment. I also always point out my WrestleMania 22 match against Mickie James as the match that epitomized all the hard work and what women’s wrestling was all about at that point in time and how we went about redefining how women’s wrestling was perceived. It had a strong storyline, six months of storyline, two strong characters, and a story that took you on all kinds of twists and turns leading up to that moment when we finally walked into that ring, and you could just feel all of the tension with every single move. As a performer, that’s what you aim for. So to me, that’s the most memorable match I’ve ever had. Mickie James is such an incredible performer, so to share that moment with her was truly something special.
I loved the whole stalker angle, not to mention how rare it is for a WWE storyline to last six months.
Yeah, it’s rare, not only in women’s wrestling, but in wrestling in general to have a story that actually stays consistent and features twists and turns. Six months of a story is a lot, right? And, as you know, for the wrestling fan, it was a fun journey. You didn’t know where it was going to go. It’s funny, because if you remember that match, the crowd was booing me, and to me, that was the awesome part of it because they were so invested in it. They wanted me to turn the other way, [laughs] which is cool, and it was part of the storyline, part of those twists and turns, and watching it back as a fan, I’ve watched it recently like, “That was a really good match!”
Do you think that since you guys got more time to develop storylines that you were able to better connect with the audience than the Divas today?
It’s more than just the time to develop storyline. Back then, the girls really had a chance. A lot of us started as valets, and I think a lot of that is missing where now they have a woman wrestler, and they’re like, “Go fight for the championship. Before, you were a valet who transitioned into full-time wrestler, and that transition is an important one. You know who did it best was Melina. She got a chance to develop as a valet, and you would watch her character and get to know her, so when she did get into the ring, it translated, and you knew what to expect. And when you’re a valet, that’s where you do your best learning. You’re watching the males work, and every movement they make, you’re learning what invokes emotion from the crowd. It’s a really good learning ground and something you can draw on once you get in there and work full time. So I think there’s a bit of that transition missing now, but I think we’re just a few steps away from it because right now they have a roster with some really athletic women who can really go in the ring, and it’s rare to see that. Obviously, me and Victoria could have had a match all day long, but would you have cared unless she was a crazy psycho? So you need that storyline development, and, right now, with Kaitlyn as the champion and A.J. really getting the chance to develop her character outside of the ring, you’re starting to get that back. If they can just bring a little more of Kaitlyn’s character out -- because she’s quirky and she’s a cool chick -- and if people see more of that side of her, fans will fall in love with her as the champion. With her as the champion and the type of personality she has, it could be a great time for women’s wrestling coming up.
Growing up, did you have a favorite WrestleMania moment?
I remember seeing Wendi Richter and Cyndi Lauper and thinking how cool it was to see women in that role. But to me, the match that stands out is Ricky Steamboat versus The Macho Man. I was always a huge Macho Man fan growing up and I would cut his promos and stuff like that, so that to me, when I started wrestling, that’s the match I looked to to see what made that match special. The ups and the downs that that match brought -- it will always be one of my favorites.
It’s crazy, because now you’re making the Hall of Fame before The Macho Man.
That is really crazy, I agree. Get him in there.
When you first got started in wrestling, what was the best advice anybody ever gave you about the business?
I had a conversation with Carl DeMarco, who was the former president of WWE Canada, and he was really great about telling me how much sacrifice it takes to be in this industry. You’re going to miss a lot of birthday parties, you’re going to miss your family, and it’s not easy. Him telling me that from the very beginning helped me go in with a certain awareness and knowing what to expect. No bones about it, to make it in this business, you have to be super passionate about it, and you have to love it because you will miss a lot of life. But as long as you’re prepared to let everything else drop and let this be your life, you’ll be fine.
Now that you’ve gone through your career, do you have any other advice for women who hope to one day make it in WWE?
Two things: It’s really solid to get a really solid training background because it’s such a physical job, and there’s nothing that compares to it. I used to play field hockey, and I used to play soccer and I was known as the goon on the team, but nothing prepares you for what you do when you’re on the road, and you’re working four nights a week or you’re traveling ten days in a row. So I would just say get that solid foundation of training before you even call us. Then, I think you need to understand the world you’re getting into. If you’re a fan of wrestling and you understand the industry, that makes such a difference. I understood the psychology when I was in there. You can learn to wrestle, but if you understand the psychology end of the business, I think that separates the true performers from just a woman who is out there wrestling. Understand the industry, be passionate about it, and be prepared to make this your life.