Women who deserved a #DivasRevolution: Victoria
As the rookie you’re fighting to earn a spot, but as the veteran, if you miss a beat it’s all on you. As the veteran you’re expected to be able to carry the match and if you mess up people start to question if you are losing it...
This could be Daniel Bryan talking about Roman Reigns. It could be Bret Hart about, well, most people he faced. But there are fewer wrestlers who, in the same interview, could say from experience:
“…as for a girl, well God forbid you age! We can’t get wrinkles, we can’t put on weight, so there is so much pressure.”
To an extent, these two sources of pressure – the need to be a veteran professional and the perfect, ageless, archetypal female –dominated Lisa Marie Varon’s time in WWE. From being a talented newcomer in a top-level, long-running feud with Trish Stratus, she eventually became the gatekeeper turning models into stars.
Varon’s career started relatively late, but she picked the business up quickly. After starting a career in fitness modelling and a brief foray into bodybuilding, she met perennial How2Wrestling favourite Chyna. The Ninth Wonder of the World encouraged Varon to train as a wrestler, and she started at a school in Southern California in June 2000. Once she’d spent time in WWE developmental territories like OVW, she made her main roster debut as Victoria almost exactly two years after her training began. Four months later, she won her first Women’s Championship.
It’s clear the company had high hopes for her: she was plunged immediately into a title feud against Trish Stratus, whom she knew from their days as fitness models. But the chances are it won’t shock you to learn that WWE couldn’t resist lazy female stereotypes. Guess what? Victoria is unstable and jealous, presumably because bitches be craycray.
God forbid that Vince should have looked on the talented, attractive woman under his nose and imagined that a tall, fairly muscular brunette could be the focus of the division. No. This clearly sounded like a better proposition to him.
To be fair, making Victoria into a pantomime villain fuelled by psychopathic hatred and fierce jealousy is more characterisation than most WWE women got. Varon also happens to be a great actress who pulls it off brilliantly. And the quality of the wrestling here is clear – hardcore rules can be used to hide a wrestler’s limitations, but this is fast, aggressive, physical and heated. It feels like a fight.
But for years, WWE’s women’s storylines have relied heavily on the same basic premise that you’ll even hear a lot on commentary: all women hate each other. Victoria’s villainy was compounded by one of society’s other ancient lies: women who don’t conform must be insane. Listen to the commentary: Trish is “beautiful”, while Victoria is “psychotic”. One is the right type of woman and the other is not.
Although eventually she would have a face run, whenever WWE wanted Victoria to be hated, they went back to making her the crazy jealous bitch type. She would enter the arena holding her head as she stood at the top of the ramp, like she was some kind of episode which didn’t actually need explaining because mental health wasn’t a thing. Even worse, when Russian faux-lesbians Tatu had a worldwide hit with ‘All the Things She Said’ in 2004, it became her entrance music. In itself this wouldn’t necessarily be enough to assume WWE made a link between queerness and insanity, but it didn’t exactly help that she eventually entered into a lesbian tag team with Candice Michelle.
Her in-ring ability kept her in a job at WWE for years after some of her contemporaries had retired or gone elsewhere. As the tide turned and the company kept searching desperately for another Trish Stratus, a veteran was needed to make the largely untrained models who were filling out the division look like stars. Enter Varon, who spent the last few years of her career guiding people who couldn’t work through two-star matches.
Notice how Candice doesn’t do too many moves, and those she does are achingly simple. Meanwhile, there are lots of spots that keep the two women’s heads quite close together, because that’s how Victoria is talking her through every bit of this match.
Through all of this, there was always a good portion of the crowd behind her – because when they weren’t chanting for puppies, they knew she had become a fantastic wrestler. Eventually, when she went to TNA in 2009, she got the chance to show audiences how good she had always been.
Like always, she delivered. In a Knockouts division that was light years ahead of WWE’s Divas in terms of booking and talent, she made a name for herself feuding with the likes of Awesome Kong and Gail Kim. As Tara, she was in the main event of TNA Impact when the Bellas were getting away with ‘twin magic’.
Some of the best feuds in TNA history have been between women who went there after WWE – Kong, Kim, James, Varon, even Maria Kanellis. It’s become fashionable to laugh at a company that’s been dying practically from birth, but if it dies this year, I hope we’ll all take some time to appreciate the way that it flew the flag for women’s wrestling on TV at a time when nobody else did.
Under her real name, Lisa Marie Varon still wrestles around the world. That might be all that’s keeping her out of WWE’s Hall of Fame- in which case, she deserves the call the day after she retires. But then, WWE never knew what it had with her while it was chasing the next Trish Stratus, so maybe that ship has sailed.
Either way, it seems that the ‘Divas Revolution’ has forced WWE to reconsider who can be the top woman. Hopefully the next Victoria will get her due.