WWE’s “Attitude Era” was about pushing the envelope on what was allowed and accepted on television to win ratings against competitor World Championship Wrestling.
Through the violence, raw storylines and scantily clad women, two professional wrestlers kicked off a rivalry that set the stage for what women’s wrestling would become on one of the biggest stages of the industry.
Trish Stratus and Lita joined WWE, then known as the World Wrestling Federation, around the same time, and their rivalry had a long-lasting impact on what women’s wrestling became.
Their feud will be chronicled on an episode of “WWE Rivals” on A&E Sunday at 10 p.m. ET/PT. Stratus and Lita joined the company within a couple of months of one another.
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Stratus, whose real name is Patricia Stratigeas, came from the world of female bodybuilding and made her debut in 2000 as the valet for the tag team Test and Albert. Lita, whose real name is Amy Dumas, had more of a wrestling background working for Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre in Mexico and later Extreme Championship Wrestling before joining WWE.
Lita started with WWE in 1999 as a valet for Essa Rios before teaming up with Matt and Jeff Hardy, the tag-team duo known as the Hardy Boyz.
“She debuted first, and I was there after. But immediately they 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 what the rivalry was. And really, our careers have paralleled. All along, right until we both ended our careers in 2006, we were either on the good side or the bad side. Very few times we teamed together but most times we were against each other. And it was probably the longest rivalry around.
“People knew when Trish and Lita got in the ring it was just natural. You didn’t know what was going to happen. Kind of like a Rock-(Stone Cold) Steve Austin-esque feeling where we both offered different fan bases. We had a different look. We had a different vibe about us. It was kind of like a unique yin and yang in the ring. And it was this special thing we had right from the start, right up to the end of our career.”
The timing of the feud was just right. Lita and Stratus had an edge to push boundaries in the ring to interest a rabid fan base in the thick of the “Monday Night Wars” with World Championship Wrestling.
And they delivered.
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“I do think that with the inception of our feud happening firmly planted in the ‘Attitude Era’ had so much to do with it because there were no boundaries on what could or couldn’t happen,” Lita told Fox News Digital. “It was all about pushing the envelope. I want you to say, ‘Did they actually go there? Did they actually do that?’ That’s what I want you to say at home.”
Lita said she hoped to change the mindset of a predominantly male fan base from seeing female wrestlers as valets to seeing them as legitimate competitors.
“We wanted you to question what it looks like as female roles in the industry,” Lita recalled.
Stratus and Lita’s feud led them to a coveted spot among those performing in WWE — the main event for “Monday Night Raw.” The two got their showcase Dec. 6, 2004.
Lita told Fox News Digital she was a bit skeptical after she saw her and Stratus being pegged for the main event because she knew lineups could change at the drop of a hat.
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“I’m definitely like a prepare for the worst, hope for the best kind of person and because the show — you don’t have to even be an insider to know — the show changes all of the time until you’re going out through the curtain,” she said. “I specifically remember walking into the building that day and the production meeting coming out and everyone at the production meeting just kind of giving like a sly smile. And then finding out that we were in the main event, and I almost I would say my first instinct was to go, ‘It’ll probably change. … It was on there at some point and that’s good enough.’”
But once they realized the card wasn’t going to change and they were going to be last match on the show, the superstars agreed they had to nail it.
“I do think that with the inception of our feud happening firmly planted in the ‘Attitude Era’ had so much to do with it because there were no boundaries on what could or couldn’t happen.”
“We had to stop for a minute and go, ‘Wow, this is such a huge opportunity. We need to nail this because we have to prove ourselves tonight.’ This is basically them giving us the ball, let’s see if they can run with it,” Stratus added. “We had to get over the nervousness of it.
“And the magnitude of it certainly was not lost on us, but we really just had to really, ‘You know, what, we can do this.’ We’ve had amazing matches. We had talked about moments for many years in our career, and we just had to tell ourselves we got this.”
Lita and Stratus eventually walked away from full-time wrestling around the same time. Stratus and Lita had one more match for the women’s championship with Stratus coming out as the winner.
Both performers retired but made occasional appearances over the next 15 years. But their impact was indelible. Several professional female wrestlers have mentioned Stratus and Lita as inspirations, and women’s wrestling has never been as popular as it is today.
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“It’s everything we could ask for,” Stratus told Fox News Digital. “When you go out and you try to make a change, make a difference … and again, we did not realize what sort of impact we were going to be making or what we could have made because there was no ruling stick. You couldn’t look at women’s wrestling and think you could revolutionize the whole industry or how it’s perceived by others.”
She said it felt great to inspire younger women and girls to pursue their dreams in life, not just in wrestling but other fields.
Lita told Fox News Digital she remembered being “stoked” in the thick of the rivalry but didn’t immediately realize the impact she had on those watching at home or in the arenas.
“Not only did they see the moment, think that was cool, but they did it,” Lita said. “I like getting the opportunity to play with the kids who saw us doing our thing when we were growing up and be able to come on the other side of it and have that opportunity to play with your byproducts of the things you did on the front end of that.
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“It’s poetry to me. It’s so poetic to be able to forge that path on the front end and then get to play in your beautiful garden that’s flourished.”