November 1’s installment of Monday Night Raw saw reigning Raw women’s champion Becky Lynch retain her title in yet another challenge from Bianca Belair. The match was a lengthy and close one, and in the course of over 25 minutes in the ring both opponents came out looking strong, with Lynch’s craftiness and Belair’s prodigious strength equally on display. It’s no secret that the women of World Wrestling Entertainment had a long, uphill fight to be presented the way Belair, Lynch, and other current female WWE Superstars are: as serious fighters, and substantive competitors.
Survivor Series 2002 – Stratus vs Victoria Embraces Hardcore
Although the focus of the upcoming Survivor Series pay-per-view is traditionally brand-to-brand rivalry between the Raw and SmackDown rosters, Lynch looks poised to once again defend the Raw women’s title there. Punishing, brawling bouts are the norm for Lynch’s matches, but at 2002’s Survivor Series Trish Stratus and Victoria shocked the audience and pushed the envelope of what women’s wrestling in the WWE could be with their hardcore match for the women’s championship.
Although not initially trained as a pro wrestler upon entering the WWE (then WWF), Stratus grew into a credible performer whose rivalry with Lita defined the division during the “New Millenium”. However, during this era, women’s matches were still short, not as athletically robust as men’s matches, and featured exploitative gimmicks like lingerie and schoolgirl costumes. The storylines behind them were often sexist and reductive, such as the onscreen body-shaming endured by Molly Holly from WWE’s other “Divas”, often led by Stratus’s character.
Stratus’ feud with Victoria was built around a fictional backstory that in their formative years as glamour models, WWE had expressed interest in both women, but Stratus stole Victoria’s opportunity. With Victoria’s character more villainous and unhinged week after week, their rivalry grew until a hardcore rules match between the two was set for 2002’s Survivor Series.
As the match opened, Victoria used Trish’s trademark leather duster to wrap around Stratus’s neck and strangle her, manipulating and tossing her to the edge of the ring. Victoria reeled Trish back in and continued to keep her in a chokehold with her own duster. The reigning women’s champion Stratus’ blood was already staining the mat in the match’s early stages. Confident in her dominance, Victoria left off her strangulation tactic to introduce a broom into her attack. Stratus fought to her feet, and as Victoria swiped at her with the broom she managed to evade each potential strike and land a hard kick into Victoria’s midsection. Stratus was in control, using the momentum of Victoria’s assault and the leverage of the broom to flip Victoria overhead. Victoria propelled herself back forward, straddled Stratus and went for strangulation again, and continued to work her with the broom, pulling Stratus up to her feet, struggling all the way.
Victoria backed into a corner, pulling Stratus with her, and mounting the second rope for leverage she used the broom beneath Stratus’s neck to lift her off her feet. Stratus landed a kick, and used the broom to pull Victoria up and over, crashing into the mat. Stratus climbed the second rope and seized the lid of a garbage can, and went for Victoria, who dodged the attack, grabbed Stratus by the hair, and smashed her face into the lid. A dazed Stratus rolled under the ropes and outside the apron, but Victoria pursued and forced her into the garbage can itself. Trish Stratus lay sprawled and in obvious pain at the foot of the announce desk. Once again, Victoria seized her opponent by the hair, not done with her by a far cry.
Victoria rolled Trish roughly back into the ring, climbed and launched a leg drop on her, and covered. Stratus kicked out, but still wasn’t back on her feet, and as she gasped for breath Victoria set up another garbage can between the first and second ropes. Stratus recovered, and managed to launch Victoria into the garbage can. She covered Victoria, who kicked out. Then, Stratus launched her next tactic, grabbing an ironing board from under the apron.
Stratus sent Victoria crashing into the ironing board, then kicked her, knocking her bleeding opponent down and getting a cover. Victoria kicked out yet again, and Stratus thereupon retrieved a signature weapon of hardcore matches, an ECW staple, the kendo stick, and began a barrage of savage strikes to Victoria. Victoria fought back with the garbage can lid, hitting Stratus with a vicious headshot that would not be allowed in contemporary WWE. Stratus did a back handspring and locked her legs around Victoria’s neck and used her abdominal strength to pull herself up and pay Victoria receipt with a headshot via garbage can lid to the challenger.
The two continued to compete brutally, trading blows, kicks, and teasing each other with “hardcore” weapons like mirrors and fire hydrants. Both women were bloodied and fighting hard. Victoria got a cover on Stratus after a suplex, and became women’s champion.
Although the athleticism of the women’s division of this period largely lacked technical finesse, Victoria and Trish Stratus more than made up for their limitations with a creative, passionate bout that claimed WWE’s women’s stake in the company’s trend at the time for hardcore, ECW-inspired matches. Stratus and Victoria spared nothing in the ring, literally leaving their blood on the canvas. Their 2002 bout didn’t kick off a revolution for WWE’s women-that was still more than a decade away in 2016: but, they certainly helped to lay the foundation for what followed, and moments yet to be made by WWE’s current female Superstars.
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