WWE’s «Attitude Era» was all about going beyond what was allowed and accepted on television to gain ratings against competitor World Championship Wrestling.
Through violence, crude storylines and scantily clad women, two professional wrestlers sparked a rivalry that laid the foundation for what would become women’s wrestling one of the biggest arenas in the industry.
Trish Stratus and Lita joined WWE, then known as the World Wrestling Federation, around the same time, and their rivalry had a lasting impact on what became women’s wrestling.
Their feud will be chronicled on an episode of «WWE Rivals» on A&E on Sunday at 10 pm ET/PT. Stratus and Lita joined the company within a couple of months of each other.
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Stratus, whose real name is Patricia Stratigeas, came from the world of women’s bodybuilding and made her debut in 2000 as a valet for the Test and Albert team. Lita, whose real name is Amy Dumas, had more wrestling experience working for Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre in Mexico and then Extreme Championship Wrestling before joining WWE.
Lita started in WWE in 1999 as a valet for Essa Rios before teaming with Matt and Jeff Hardy, the duo known as the Hardy Boyz.
«She debuted first and I was there after. But they immediately put us together,» Stratus told Fox News Digital in a recent interview. «She was with the Hardys, I was with T&A and that was the rivalry. And really, our careers have been parallel. The whole time, until we both ended our careers in 2006, we were either on the good side or on the bad side.» We rarely teamed up, but most of the time we were against each other. And it was probably the longest rivalry.
«People knew that when Trish and Lita stepped into the ring it was natural. You didn’t know what was going to happen. Kind of like a Steve Austin Rock (Stone Cold) feeling where we both offered different fan bases. We had a different look. We had a different vibe about us. It was like a unique yin and yang in the ring. And it was something special that we had from the beginning, until the end of our career.»
The timing of the dispute was correct. Lita and Stratus had the advantage of pushing the boundaries in the ring to interest a rabid fan base in the midst of the «Monday Night Wars» with World Championship Wrestling.
And they delivered it.
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«I think the start of our feud firmly planted in the ‘Attitude Era’ had a lot to do with it because there were no limits to what could or could not happen,» Lita told Fox News Digital. «It was about going above and beyond. I want you to say, ‘Did they really go there? Did they really do that?’ That’s what I want you to say at home.»
Lita said that she hoped to change the mindset of a predominantly male fanbase from seeing female wrestlers as valets to seeing them as legitimate competitors.
«We wanted you to wonder what female roles look like in the industry,» Lita recalled.
Stratus and Lita’s feud landed them a coveted spot among WWE performers: the main event of «Monday Night Raw.» The two got their showcase on December 6, 2004.
Lita told Fox News Digital that she was a little skeptical after seeing that she and Stratus were linked for the main event because she knew the lineups could change at the drop of a hat.
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«I definitely prepare for the worst, I expect the best kind of person and because the show, you don’t even have to be an expert to know, the show changes all the time until you come through the curtain,» he said. «I specifically remember walking into the building that day and the production meeting walking out and everyone in the production meeting just smirking. And then I found out we were in the main event, and I would almost say my first instinct was to say, ‘It’ll probably change. He was there at some point and that’s good enough.'»
But once they realized that the card was not going to change and that it was going to be the last match on the show, the superstars agreed that they had to hit the nail on the head.
«I think the start of our firmly planted feud in the ‘Attitude Era’ had a lot to do with it because there were no limits to what could or could not happen.»
«We had to stop for a minute and say, ‘Wow, this is a great opportunity. We’ve got to get this done because we’ve got to prove ourselves tonight.'» It’s basically them giving us the ball, let’s see if they can run with it,» Stratus added. «We had to get over the nervousness.
“And the magnitude of this certainly wasn’t lost on us, but we really had to really, ‘You know, what, we can do this.’ We have had amazing matches. We had talked about moments for many years in our career, and we just had to tell ourselves that we had it.»
Lita and Stratus eventually stepped away from wrestling full time at the same time. Stratus and Lita had one more match for the women’s championship and Stratus came out the winner.
Both artists retired but made occasional appearances for the next 15 years. But its impact was indelible. Several professional wrestlers have cited Stratus and Lita as inspirations, and women’s wrestling has never been as popular as it is today.
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«It’s all we could ask for,» Stratus told Fox News Digital. «When you go out there and try to make a change, make a difference…and again, we didn’t realize what kind of impact we were going to have or what we could have done because there wasn’t a rule. You couldn’t.» Don’t look at women’s wrestling and think you could revolutionize the entire industry or how others perceive it.»
She said that it felt great to inspire younger women and girls to pursue their dreams in life, not just in wrestling but in other fields.
Lita told Fox News Digital that she remembered being «excited» in the midst of the rivalry, but didn’t immediately realize the impact it had on those watching at home or in arenas.
«Not only did they see the moment, they thought it was cool, but they did it,» Lita said. «I like having the chance to play with the kids who watched us do our thing when we were little and being able to come over to the other side and have the chance to play with your byproducts of the stuff you did up front. End of it.
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«It’s poetry to me. It’s so poetic to be able to carve that path out front and then play in your beautiful garden that has blossomed.»