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WWE Ruthless Aggression Review: The First Evolution

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The second season of WWE’s Ruthless Aggression features an episode called “The First Evolution” looking at the role of the women superstars in that era.

Here’s the synopsis of this episode on WWE Network:

S2 | E3: The First Evolution

“Female Superstars of WWE’s Ruthless Aggression Era prove what they are truly capable of and carve out a substantial role for themselves in WWE.”

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The Ruthless Aggression series intro video aired. The narrator for season two is WWE Smackdown announcer Pat McAfee.

It started out talking about how WWE had a surge of popularity, but not everybody on the roster was able to enjoy the spoils of the extraordinary time. They showed a promo from Royal Rumble 2000 with Jeff Hardy telling Terri he wouldn’t let her go out there.

(The context matters there because it was a Tables Match against The Dudley Boyz, yet they showed that to show that the guys didn’t want the girls out there.)

Brian Gewirtz, Head Writer of Raw from 2002 to 2012, talked about how the women were in a challenging position of wanting to compete with the boys, but not really getting the opportunity to do so.

Trish Stratus spoke about how there wasn’t much of a women’s division at the time. Trish joked there were six of them and that they sort of scraped them out there together. Trish said it was more like catfighting more than wrestling and only lasted a few moments.

They showed March 2001 when Vince McMahon bought WCW. (That’s the same month where Vince also made Trish Stratus strip in a ring and bark like a dog, but that wasn’t shown. Just saying.) Gewirtz said that certain talents thought that it was going to be tougher to get on TV due to so many wrestlers being brought into the company. Michael Cole spoke about how there was limited TV time, which meant some talents would be hurt by it. Cole said that the women were the most likely to suffer. Gewirtz talked about how if something else went long on the show, they would cut time out of the women’s matches because they were just there for entertainment.

Torrie Wilson talked about how they always pushed for more time. Torrie said they would work on a match all day long, then as soon as they got out there, they would be told “go home” (meaning finish the match) as soon as they got out there. Torrie said it made them feel like they were not as important.

It was mentioned by Gewirtz that the women’s wrestlers were capable, but were told that’s not what the audience wanted to see. Ivory spoke about how they had a hard time with the “puppies” chants during their six and eight-minute matches. Ivory said that she had a heavy weight on her shoulders while saying she wanted to be as good as the guys out there. Molly Holly said she didn’t have resentment, but she wanted an opportunity to show what she can do in the ring. Torrie said she didn’t want to be on the side anymore – she wanted to be that woman in the ring being a badass.

They spoke about how in late 2001, a well-respected veteran named Fit Finlay was given the task of overseeing the women’s division. Finlay talked about how he was brought in to WWE as an agent/producer and then given the task of working with women.

Victoria said that it was given to Finlay as a joke, so he accepted it. Finlay said he gets that it was sports entertainment and also thought that the women could do the same as the guys.

They showed some footage of Finlay instructing the women in the ring before a show. Finlay said that he could see they had talent and they were athletic. Stratus said she expressed her frustration with Fit, so she would do stuff under the radar. Finlay said that they would slow add more wrestling moves in. Gewirtz talked about how hard the women worked while adding even women like Stacy Keibler and Torrie Wilson, who weren’t traditional wrestlers, would work their asses off. Torrie said that Fit really pushed that they were athletes.

Victoria said that Fit made them so tough. Victoria said that you were told to bump whether you liked it or not. Trish said that Fit knew that Trish had it figured out in the ring. Finlay said that at times he’d get his wrist slapped or a phone call telling him the girls can’t be wrestling like the guys. Fit said that they would back off for a week and then right back to it. Victoria said that Fit was like their best friend so they would ask him what he thought of the match.

They showed July 2002 when Stephanie McMahon was announced as the new General Manager of Smackdown. Gewirtz said it was good to see Stephanie in that role since women were being used more prominently. Finlay said that Stephanie being there helped their cause while Stephanie was a great character, so having Stephanie behind them was a good thing for the women’s division.

(Let’s be realistic here. Stephanie being the GM in 2002 was not a stretch since she was all over every show as a heel authority figure in 2000 and 2001. She was off for a few months in 2002 after WrestleMania, then brought back in this spot as a babyface GM. It wasn’t like Stephanie being on TV was a new thing.)

Stephanie McMahon said that to have any small part in their success is the coolest thing in the world. Stephanie thought it was the greatest thrill possible. Lita said it was another rung on letting the women’s division being focused more. Trish wanted to see where they could go.

The focus was on Trish Stratus becoming the face of WWE’s women’s division. Michelle McCool said that Trish Stratus had the total package. Trish talked about starting in the fitness world with Victoria, so then they used that history for their storyline. Trish said that they didn’t have a program before, so they had TV time leading to pay-per-view matches.

They showed Survivor Series 2002 with Trish Stratus and Victoria getting a Hardcore Match at that show in MSG. Victoria said that they had a rule that you can say sorry later, but they would kick ass in the ring. Finlay was amazed that they were able to have a match like that. Victoria got the win and left with the Women’s Title that night.

(The match wasn’t that epic or anything like that. What made it significant was having the Hardcore Match stipulation. However, it was only a seven-minute match that I rated **1/2 so it’s not like it was that memorable.)

They showed the November 24, 2003 episode of Raw with Lita facing Victoria in a Steel Cage Match. They showed Trish Stratus and Lita in action throughout their careers.

It was onto WrestleMania 20 in 2004. Molly Holly was told that there wasn’t going to be a women’s match on the card and that WWE was going to have a pillow fight with some of the models. (It ended up being an Evening Gown Match.) Molly commented on how she suggested shaving her head and wondered if that would get her on the show. That led to Victoria as the babyface champion against Molly as the heel challenger. Victoria got the win with a backside pin. The match time, which was not mentioned? 4:52. Not long at all. At least it was a bit longer than the Evening Gown Match. Johnny Gargano talked about how it was a great match (once again it was less than five minutes long) and a humiliating moment with the haircut, so people wanted to see women with stories.

They talked about the Trish Stratus/Chris Jericho story from late 2003 into 2004. Trish talked about how people wanted to see them together because it was a story that a lot of people could relate to. Kevin Owens talked about Jericho having a great match with Christian, but what people remember is Trish. They showed when Trish elbowed Jericho by accident (or so we thought) and then Christian got the ROLLUP OF DEATH~! with tights on Jericho to win the match. Post match, Trish slapped Jericho twice and Christian hit the Unprettier on Jericho. Trish turned heel, laughed at Jericho in the ring and kissed Christian on the stage. Owens said that she had just stolen the show. Gewirtz said he thought what people remember most from it is Molly Holly getting her head shaved, as well as Trish turning on Jericho and Brian didn’t remember the Evening Gown Match.

(I agree with Bryan that the head-shaving was memorable and so was Trish’s turn. I think some fans remember the Evening Gown Match well because they were beautiful women. The point is that the stories in the hair match and the Trish angle are what made them stand out. From the entire WM20 PPV, I wouldn’t say those women’s matches top the best parts of the night, but they were memorable storylines.)

They spoke about the Diva Search with the winner getting $250,000. The fans voted every week to see who the winner would be. Gewirtz talked about how the Diva Search contestants were getting airtime quickly. Torrie talked about how she felt like she needed to be a wrestler and to understand. Torrie was frustrated a bit by the women coming in from the Diva Search and not necessarily showing they were an athlete.

Melina spoke about how if there was a Diva Search when she was trying to get into WWE then she would have done it because it was all about getting a foot in the door.

They showed Diva Dodgeball from SummerSlam 2004 with the current divas against the Diva Search contestants in a dodgeball game. Molly Holly talked about how Michelle McCool (as a Diva Search contestant) kicked their asses. Michelle said that she was super competitive, so she wondered if it would put a target on her back. The Diva Search contestants won.

(Do we have to pretend like Diva Dodgeball was a good thing? They didn’t even book a women’s match on the SummerSlam show that year, yet we’re trying to do this documentary about how the women were being used better in this era. It’s not like they were being used that well if they are all left off of SummerSlam other than a dodgeball game.)

The focus was on Lita and Trish again while talking about that rivalry heating up. Trish was the heel champion while Lita was a babyface challenger. Trish said that it was like a Rock-Austin thing where they were different characters. Trish was wearing a facemask due to a broken nose. Lita said that she’s going to take all of her pain and suffering out on Trish.

They showed the December 6, 2004 Raw when Trish and Lita broke new ground for women in sports entertainment. It’s what WWE considers the first women’s main event on Raw. Trish said that they walked into the building that day and they saw that they were listed as the main event. Gewirtz thought that they were two women characters that could be a ratings drawing main event because the audience cared. Molly was so happy about it. Lita said it meant a lot to them, they were excited and it made sense to get to that point. Natalya talked about how for women it didn’t get bigger than that to be in the main event. Finlay said that it wasn’t just Trish and Lita, it was the whole division of girls. Lita thought that match was so big for both of them. Charlotte Flair was shown sitting ringside as a senior in high school and not realizing what she wanted to do in the future. Lita beat Trish to win the title.

(It was great that Trish and Lita main evented Raw, but it’s wrong to say it was the first women’s main event on Raw. As I pointed out in my Raw Review this week, it’s not really the first-ever because Lita and Stephanie McMahon main evented Raw on August 21, 2000, yet WWE chooses to ignore it. Also, Alundra Blayze beat Bertha Faye on the October 23, 1995 Raw. It was followed by a sitdown interview with Shawn Michaels that ran for about three minutes, but most people would consider that Blayze/Faye match to be the main event because the interview was a pre-tape that was brief.)

They showed New Year’s Resolution 2005 when Lita tore her ACL in a title defense against Trish, so then Trish got the title back. Lita was out of action for most of the year.

They skipped most of the boring 2005 year for the women’s division where Trish feuded with Christy Hemme (not good) and then Trish was out for about four months due to a back injury, yet she still remained the champion. It was onto a new, great feud with Trish interacting with Mickie James for the first time in October 2005.

Trish talked about how she was told about this idea where Mickie James would come in as a Trish superfan. Gewirtz talked about how they had a single white female-esque storyline. Mickie talked about how their personalities bounced off eachother so well. They showed the clip of when Mickie forced a kiss on Trish under the mistletoe. Mickie laughed about the good times like the shower scene. Mickie noted it was rare that a women’s feud lasted six months. They showed Mickie turning on Trish with a kick to the head. Trish said it was different and then they built up to the WrestleMania match.

It was WrestleMania 22 in Chicago with a long video package to set up the match. Gewirtz talked about how the angle was so compelling and new, they were up to the task and they knocked it out of the park. JR famously called Mickie a psychopath and the fan cheered so much for Mickie in the match. Mickie said that people felt one way or the other with Mickie laughed about how the fans should have booed her, but they were cheering her. Trish said it was a huge moment for them. Mickie hit a kick to the head to win the title (the initial finish didn’t work out) with Mickie saying it was a dream come true winning the Women’s Title at a WrestleMania. Trish said it was a high point for the women’s division. The match time was 8:48. That’s longer than most women’s matches, but still not that long compared to the guys.

(It was my favorite women’s feud ever. It’s 15 years later and I know for a fact that Trish and Mickie each get asked about that storyline in nearly every interview they do. It’s legendary with good reason.)

It was onto Unforgiven 2006 with Trish Stratus beating Lita in Trish’s farewell match. Trish won the Women’s Title in her hometown of Toronto in what was her last match.

Two months later at Survivor Series 2006, Lita retired after losing the Women’s Title (she had won it back) to Mickie James.

(Trish and Lita both started in 2000 and ended within two months of eachother. They each had about six years as full-timers. Two of my favorite women ever, for sure.)

They showed some Diva Search highlights while mentioning Diva Search competitors that did well. They showed Layla (a Diva Search winner), Maryse, Maria, The Bella Twins, Christy Hemme (a Diva Search winner), Eve Torres (a Diva Search winner) and Michelle McCool.

The Laycool team of McCool and Layla were shown with Rhea Ripley laughing about it saying she would try to copy it with her friends. Michelle said she hopes people thought they were pretty good and entertaining.

Lita spoke about how that Ruthless Aggression Era felt like there was a place for everyone. Mickie said she was grateful for what that era taught her. Torrie Wilson said they traveled the world together. Ivory said it was a really fun time. Trish was forever grateful to have gone through it. Stephanie talked about what it meant to see women tell a story in the ring instead of being eye candy. Stephanie said that was a positive outcome of the Ruthless Aggression Era. Michelle talked about how if they weren’t ruthless in what they wanted, she doesn’t think the women would be where they are today.

They went ahead to talk about Royal Rumble 2018 showing the moments where women like Trish, Lita and Torrie got to be a part of the first Women’s Royal Rumble match. Torrie said that the women were grateful to the women that paved the road for them.

They showed clips of Evolution 2018 (an all-women’s PPV), then the women’s main event of WrestleMania 35 in 2019 and this year’s WrestleMania 37 in 2021 with Bianca Belair and Sasha Banks headlining the first night of WrestleMania.

Bianca Belair said they are getting the opportunities now because of the women that paved the way and opened the door for them. Trish said that the glass ceiling that they shattered is a spark that started a wildfire. Trish was shown thanking the fans. Trish said being a wrestler wasn’t an option, so they created a vocation back then and that’s pretty cool. That was the end.

This episode has a runtime of 34:22.

 

Final Thoughts

I liked it and it was a good topic to cover. Trish Stratus and Lita were the centerpieces of the division for many years, then Mickie James had the epic feud with Trish and I’m glad that was covered in telling the story of the women’s division because they’re right that it was a long term story for the women, which was rare. The problem is that they omit a lot of things, which are two of my main gripes.

They completely omitted a few issues that hurt the women’s division at the time. While the women on Raw were having competitive matches in late 2002 for example, Smackdown was having weekly bikini and lingerie contests between women like Torrie Wilson and Dawn Marie while Dawn got “married” to Torrie’s dad while Dawn was in her lingerie. As a male viewer I didn’t mind it, but I mean let’s not act like WWE was using their talent in a manner that showed off their athleticism all the time. I’m not criticizing the women at all. I’m saying it was WWE’s decision makers that didn’t want to feature the women as athletes more, but it’s not like WWE is going to criticize itself in their own documentary.

Another issue with the divas division at the time was the matches were short. They were short on TV, they were short on PPV and you’d be hard-pressed to find many women’s matches that went over ten minutes in that era. That was an issue WWE had until around 2015 when the “Women’s Evolution” (or revolution) really began. To act like everything was solved during this era because Trish, Lita, Victoria and others had serious matches is missing a larger point. There was still not enough focus on the women’s division. It really wasn’t until the summer of 2015 when the women’s division got to have longer matches like the guys were having.

They talked to the right people from the era and I liked hearing how Fit Finlay enjoyed the job he had. I just think they could try to at least say there were still a lot of things holding the women’s divion back.

 

In case you missed any of my previous reviews in the Ruthless Aggression series, the links are below.

Season 1

Episode 1 – It’s Time to Shake Things Up

Episode 2 – Enter John Cena

Episode 3 – Evolution

Episode 4 – Brock Lesnar

Episode 5 – Raw vs. Smackdown

Season 2

Episode 1 – Hollywood Rock

Episode 2 – Innovations

Episode 3 – The First Evolution

Episode 5 – Securing The Future

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Email: mrjohncanton@gmail.com

Twitter: @johnreport