March 30, 2013
Trish reflects on a Stratusfactory WWE HOF career
By JAN MURPHY - Kingston Whig-Standard
Trish Stratus built a career out of defying the odds and breaking new ground. So it should come as little surprise that the Canadian-born WWE legend will again be breaking new ground when she is immortalized in the WWE Hall of Fame next weekend in New York City.
Stratus, born Patricia Anne Stratigias in Toronto in December 1975, will become the youngest person, at 37, to be inducted into the prestigious hall during WrestleMania weekend, another first for the likable legend.
Stratus's destiny with wrestling immortality began at a very early age.
"Gosh, I just grew up watching it," Stratus said over the phone. "It was always around. I have a couple of boy cousins, and I grew up as a tomboy, playing with the boys, and we used to go to Maple Leaf Gardens (to watch it live). It was on the TV, we'd watch on Saturdays, we played with the wrestling dolls ... it was just always around me.
"Of course, then growing up we got back into it when, I guess, probably the NWO time ... and then wrestling just became hot again and it's been in my life ever since."
Ask Stratus who her favourite wrestler growing up was and she doesn't hesitate one bit.
"Macho Man (Randy Savage) was the man to me," she said. "I mean don't get me wrong, I definitely was a Hulkamaniac because I think we all were, but Macho Man, I just thought he was great, just so charismatic and I really loved his ring work. I loved how athletic he was. I was actually ... just watching a string of his promos the other day, and it's just, 'Wow, he's just untouchable,' " she said, adding that she thinks he was so good, he wouldn't even look out of place today.
Sadly, however, Stratus never had the opportunity in her career to meet her idol, who died tragically in May 2011.
Despite her love for all things wrestling, Stratus never aspired to enter the business for of a couple of reasons, mainly because jobs for women in pro wrestling were few and far between.
"There wasn't really a role for the women to look at and go, 'I want to do that when I grow up.' "
"There was a time when Wendi Richter and Cindy Lauper were doing their thing," she said, "and I remember thinking, 'Gosh, that's so cool,' but I guess it was such a once-in-a-while thing that you didn't really look at it as a feasible career option, I guess you could say."
There was that and the fact that Stratus had her eyes set on another career pretty much from childhood.
"Growing up, I was quite a sensible child, thinking I actually was going to become a doctor. I actually grew up my whole life thinking I was going to be a doctor ... everything from my high school to university -- I went to pre-med -- and everything I did was gearing up for me to go to med school. Wrestling was just a hobby on the side."
Looking back, Stratus says not much had changed in wrestling even up to the point when she entered the business.
"I'd even say that when I started wrestling, there was no real defined role for the women," she said. "We knew there were some women in wrestling, but there was no real, 'This is what women can do in wrestling.' So I decided to set out and change that once I got in there."
Did she ever.
But before she even embarked on a career that would see her become a record seven-time WWE Women's Champion, the Diva of the Decade, and even win the WWE Hardcore Championship, Stratus was taking care of business.
A successful fitness model, she had already made a name for herself in that industry before diving into a new one.
"WWE had called and asked for my press kit and I sent it to them and waited for a few months with no answer and thought, 'Oh, there's nobody calling.' I actually thought, 'If they call, I want to prepare the best possible package. My motto is preparedness meets opportunity, so I thought, 'You know, let me go and find a gym."
It was during her search for a gym to train when she met the man who would mentor her, preparing her for the career that would lie ahead, and becoming a lifelong friend along the way. That man was Ron Hutchison, who, along with Sweet Daddy Siki, trained wrestlers out of gym in Toronto.
"I found the gym and so I found the gym that Edge trained out of, which was Sully's, which was (where) Ron Hutchison (was)."
Stratus explained her situation to Hutchison.
"I kinda told him the story. I didn't go in saying, 'Hey WWE is going to call me soon.' I went in saying, 'OK, hi I want to become a wrestler.' "
It was the beginning of an incredible journey.
"He had me write an essay and there was a whole admittance process," Stratus recalled. "He told me straight up, 'You know, there's just guys here.' I said, 'That's cool.' I was used to that. Like I said, I grew up a tomboy. He's like, 'It gets pretty rough in here.' I grew up playing soccer and I was playing varsity field hockey for York University and I was kind of the goon on the team so I was like, 'I'm ready for that.'
That was all Hutchison needed to hear.
"He accepted me," Stratus said. "He saw something in me and said, 'OK, well, let's give this girl a shot,' and I'll always thank him for that. I got in there and just started tussling it up with the boys. It was great."
Stratus fondly recalls those early days at Sully's, working with Hutchison and the other guys with whom she trained.
"They got to sort of be there for that journey with me," she said, her smile evident even over the phone. "They were like, 'Did they call?' I was like 'No, they haven't called.' And then of course one day the call came and it was really cool that we got to all share in the moment. It was like, 'One of us got a call from the big company.' They all watched the journey. They watched me get accepted, sign the contract and they watched me and waved me off into the sunset."
Hutchison, who also trained and played a role in the careers of Hall of Famer Adam (Edge) Copeland, Christian, Gail Kim and Beth Phoenix, to name some, will be on hand to watch another of his students receive wrestling's highest honour.
"Ron and I have remained really close," Stratus said. "I'm bringing him up to New York. I got him tickets to come out to see the Hall of Fame (ceremony)."
Hutchison was among the first to congratulate Stratus on the honour.
"He contacted me right away and of course said he was so proud of me. You're right, he's like a proud papa," she said, quoting the reporter. "I'm really lucky to have had someone like that in my life, especially in the beginning, to really let me hone my craft, but also just to sort of let me know straight up what to expect once I entered the WWE and what the world was going to be about."
When she enters the Hall, joining the likes of fellow Canadians Edge and Bret "The Hitman" Hart, it will be in part, she says, because of the great support she received from fans in her home country.
"There's just this different thing (in Canada)," she said, referring to the fans. "I think in America, (wrestlers return their home towns) and they definitely have their hometown love, but we have a hometown love that goes right across the country. So we can get the same hometown love in Vancouver, British Columbia, that we do in Toronto. They're proud of us," she added, tipping her cap to how even the Canadian media views its athletes in such a positive light.
It has been while doing media in the lead-up to her induction that Stratus has had a chance to reflect on her successful and trailblazing career. She was an integral player in the rise of women's wrestling, which became a legitimate part of the WWE during her tenure.
"This week has been interesting, because we've been doing some media here and there and it's interesting to look back and see what we created," Stratus said. "And it certainly wasn't just me. It was the era at the time. We had a group of girls who were really all fighting to just kind of redefine what women's wrestling was. We definitely had to fight for it."
It is at this point that Stratus pays homage to another influential person in her career.
"I worked very closely with one of my mentors -- Fit Finlay -- and it's something that we literally looked at each other and said, 'Let's change this, let's do something different here,' and I just said 'Because I really don't want to fight like a girl.' He said 'Well, there's no reason you can't go out there and kick butt in the ring just like a guy does, and present the same product that the guy does.' So we went out there. I think we were a little bit under the radar. I think we were kind of just doing our thing and then fans started to sit up and notice."
Inevitably, so did WWE brass.
"It got to the point where there was this really cool time where -- I was working with Jazz at the time, doing the live events, which were the non-televised events -- and the WWE crew would go around and ask the audience members, leave a survey with the first couple of rows and ask what were your top three or top five matches. Jazz and I kept making that list. Just like another proud papa of mine, (Finlay) would come to me and say 'Wow, you guys got the mention.' That's what made WWE kind of notice and say 'Oh, we might have something special here.' They kind of just let us do our thing and suddenly we found we were getting a couple more minutes of ring time, and then we'd get 10 more minutes and we'd get more TV time, pre-tapes and vignettes. It started to simmer and we just knew at this point we were creating something special. We saw a rise in the female demographic. We were kind of creating these positive role models for women. It was a really special time for us."
Stratus's full-time in-ring career culminated with a dream retirement match, which she fully credits WWE Chairman Vince McMahon with orchestrating.
Stratus retired at WWE Unforgiven in 2006. She did so by winning the Women's Championship one final time, in her hometown of Toronto, in a match against one of her best friends, Lita, and by employing Bret Hart's Sharpshooter to do so.
It was a perfect moment. And to think it almost didn't happen.
"Absolutely perfect moment," Stratus said. "First of all, of course, to have that moment in my home town," she said, pausing, before explaining how McMahon made it all happen.
"My contract was actually ending in August and Vince had come to me and said, 'You know, if you stick around for one more month, we have a really cool opportunity. We're going to be in Toronto and we could have your retirement match there,' " Stratus explained, adding that the idea of the match in Toronto alone was "perfect."
"To be able to take my final bow in front of my hometown crowd, in front of my friends, my family ... And then of course, I never expected that, but to be crowned champion, and go out as champion ..."
If all that weren't enough, Stratus did the most Canadian thing she could think of to conclude the match.
"The Sharpshooter, you only get that if you're Canadian and you're a Bret Hart fan," she said. "It was my shout-out to Bret Hart. People questioned it backstage. It was like, 'Why is she doing that move?' 'That's not even her move.' If you're Canadian, and you know Bret Hart, and you know the history, this is why we did it. I got a call from Bret afterwards actually and he saw the match and he saw that moment. That made everything just worth every moment for sure."
Some seven years after that picture-perfect conclusion to an equally great career, Stratus got the call every pro wrestling hopes to one day get. The call to the hall.
What was her reaction upon receiving the news?
"Actually, my reaction was ... already?" she said with a laugh.
"I guess I've remained very active with the company, and I still feel like I was wrestling yesterday, but you know it has been seven years since I retired," she said. "I'm just so honoured. I'm completely honoured. And hearing the class that I'm going in with, I just was like 'Wow.' It's a huge honour.
"As a wrestling fan first and foremost, growing up watching this, just going in with these guys is pretty amazing. I'm super excited about the evening and clearly, it's shaping up to be an epic evening. I mean, with Donald Trump added to the card, I think that's kind of a neat thing. And it being at Madison Square Garden. And the recent announcement of Arnold (Schwarzenegger) inducting Bruno (Sammartino) is, gosh, it's amazing. I'm honoured to be in this class this year for sure."
It has been widely rumoured that Stratus's close friend Lita would be inducting her. That's not the case, Stratus said.
"I have someone and you'll just have to wait," she said with a laugh, before turning serious.
"That's obviously been swirling around," she said of the Lita speculation. "It was a difficult choice. There's a number of people that have really, really impacted my career. In my speech, you'll know the choice I made is very clear. But you'll know soon enough."
When Trish Stratus delivers that speech next weekend, in front of her friends, family, her trainer and others, she'll do so as an innovator, a role model and a great Canadian.
Take a bow, Trish.
Jan Murphy is the news editor at the Kingston Whig-Standard and has written about wrestling for 15 years. You can follow him on Twitter at Twitter: @Jan_Murphy.