Trish Stratus on Lita WWE rivalry, A&E doc, women’s wrestling

Trish Stratus and Lita had a WWE rivalry from 2002-06 that defined their era and proved to be a spark of inspiration for the company’s current women’s evolution.

Stratus and Lita were the first women to main event “Monday Night Raw” and were a driving force behind WWE starting to see women’s wrestling in a different light during the Attitude Era.

Now, they are set to team up at this year’s WrestleMania with Becky Lynch.

All of that, including their real-life friendship that has Lita as godmother to Stratus’ son Maximus, is covered in an episode of A&E’s “WWE Rivals” series (Sunday, 10 p.m.).

Stratus, 47, took some time for some Q&A with The Post’s Joseph Staszewski about it all.  

(Edited for clarity and length)

Q: Even before you were in the ring together, did the two of you see the possibilities for a rivalry considering the different paths you took to WWE and how very different your looks and stories were?

There was just something between us because of the differences of where we came from, who we were representing in the ring – kind of a yin and yang. We always said that’s what we are. We knew right away there was this intangible between us, there was something special where fans were like, ‘Oh, when those two get in the ring it’s going to be something special.’

Trish Stratus on SmackDown in 2000

Q: Lita was in your first match with the Hardy Boyz against you, Test and Albert in 2000. What was your mindset going into that where she had already been in the ring and this was your chance to show, ‘Hey, I should be doing this too with her.’

I wouldn’t say I was that confident. ‘I think I can do this. I did a few months of it.’ She came up the more traditional way, there the independents and Mexico. My way was I trained in Toronto for a few months and got a good foundation. My comeuppance was learning live on television. Yay, for me right.

I did have a little bit of, ‘I don’t want to suck so badly that I’ll make her segment poor.’ That gave me the motivation, the drive and the motivation to really deliver. I had to sort of make sure my bar was raised so that I could match her … maybe not her ability because I didn’t have that. I had to bring it in a different way, whether it was my character work or doing my best and trying to maximize that moment or that opportunity. 

Lita and Trish Stratus

I knew when she did have that neck injury (in 2002) that’s when the stuff really started rolling for the women. That’s when we had Molly (Holly) and the feud with me and Molly, me and Jazz, me and Victoria, me and Mickie James. I knew because me and Lita still had that thing, the Rock-Austin-esque quality dare I say, I knew when she came back now that I can match her ability in the ring now. That’s going to be fun. Now we had the opportunity as these two developed characters, but also capable wrestlers and now we could go out and tell our story in the ring physically the way the guys did.  

Q: She missed two large portions of time with injuries. I’m sure there were some what-ifs of what you could have done as rivals, but it always felt like it gave you some time to catch and plant your feet.

Even with her second injury with the knee (in 2005) we were on our road to WrestleMania, and then she had the injury and it’s like, ‘Oh man, that’s what we’ve been working towards.’ The Trish and Lita rivalry was finally gonna kind of culminate.

Now (this year), it’s different. We are on the same side and at this point in our lives I think we’re happy sharing this moment together. So now to be able to share a WrestleMania moment with my bestie it’s everything I could ask for at this point.

Q: At what point did you and Lita’s friendship start to take hold? Often in wrestling rivals don’t form the level of bond you guys have.

Because there became this known rivalry between us, we knew we were doing it together but we were also fighting the same fight. Rock and Austin, I don’t know if they were besties like Lita and I because they were vying for that top spot. Who’s better? We were like, ‘On behalf of women, we need to be represented. We need to be heard.’ So we were sort of fighting the same fight, knowing that the work we did together could possibly change the dynamic, change the trajectory of women’s wrestling.

It was a journey we did together, which I think made us bond and knowing it wasn’t about me becoming the most popular wrestler or her the most popular. It was about what we were doing for women’s wrestling, normalizing women’s wrestling in a way and making it part of the show. Not just, this is the women’s segment. This is the segment at the end of the show that happens to be presented by women, but it’s not the women’s match. It’s the main event match. Now we see this. Women main-eventing happens all the time, even at WrestleMania.

Lita hitting a moonsault on Trish Stratus during their Raw main event in 2004.

Q: Has time and what’s gone on with the women’s division continued to change the way you look at your rivalry with Lita? I’m sure when you left the first time (in 2006) it meant one thing and now that you have this whole other generation that was a spark for them, I’m sure adds a deeper meaning.

When you’re in the moment and you’re doing what you’re doing … for example, getting the main event spot it was let’s just not suck tonight, they’re giving us such a big chance here. We didn’t realize this is a very important rung on the ladder of escalation of women’s wrestling in general. It was almost retrospective to go back and see the impact. But it took us being in the current landscape to see what we did.

What blew me away was hearing someone like Nattie Neidhart – this woman lived in it. So for her to say. ‘I didn’t even know I wanted to become a wrestler, it didn’t even seem like something I could do or want to do until I saw you. And then I’m like, Oh yea, that’s super cool I want to do that.’ To have someone like Nattie say that and then you realize you did this. It took us to go come back into the world and see what we did and that’s why I think this match at WrestleMania is so unique. We have a chance to come back and work with Becky Lynch or with an Iyo Sky.

We both debuted 23 years ago, it’s pretty insane, right? To come back and share that moment with her (Lita). As friends, we’re traveling together. We’re enjoying the moment. We’re enjoying the road together and having fun while we’re doing it.  We feel privileged and honored to be doing this at this point in our career.

Q: Do you see this as a one-off at WrestleMania or something that might need more chapters?

I’m hoping to conclude this at WrestleMania. I think the mission is to shut up and stop Damage CTL and if I can accomplish that at WrestleMania, we’re good. As long as I can close the chapter. So we will have to see what happens at WrestleMania.

Q: The match that everyone points to with you and Lita is the Raw main event. Is that the one you show your kids when they want to know and see what mom did or are there some other ones that hold a special place in your heart?

That one for sure is one because of the meaning and what it was and because it set a precedent. It was history-making. But also the Mickie James-Trish Stratus storyline. The rivalry went so deep. The character development, there were ebbs and flows. It really showed storytelling. The match at WrestleMania 22 between Mickie and I, for me. is like a really … because you can really hear the crowd. They’re into it, they’re invested, they’re down with the story. They get what to do. They understand their role in the thing and it’s really fun to watch it play out.

That and the retirement match with Lita. There is a real emotion behind that for me. It was bittersweet to leave the business that I love but doing it because I had family stuff that I had to take care of, but doing it in front of my hometown and my friends and my family. It was emotional and you could see that emotion in me and in her.

Q: You talked in the show about your first retirement and your mom having Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the time and where the division was. How emotional was that to have all that going on at one time and having to make that decision?

It was a lot and you see the emotion in me during that [retirement] match. You see the ending. It felt like this was the last time I’ll be doing this that I’ll be in this ring that I love, doing what I love to do. It was a bigger picture and there was a bigger reason and so I am grateful that I was able to have that moment and conclude that chapter in my life and then move on, start my family, start my business, have a life away from wrestling. It wasn’t just wrestling for years and years and years.

Trish Stratus and Lita battle at Unforgiven in 2006.
Craig Melvin/WWE

The Charlotte [Flair match in 2019) one was just an opportunity that we took advantage of. Vince [McMahon] thought this would be a really epic moment, let’s do this. This one now too just feels like, at this point in my career coming back with my bestie was my number one drive.  

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