Jackie Gayda was mostly a manager for the remainder of her career after this. Come see why!
ANATOMY OF A DISASTER: THE GAYDA INCIDENT:
* So pretty much the most infamously embarrassing botch-filled match in the history of wrestling is known as “The Gayda Incident” for a botch-fest between Jackie Gayda, a Tough Enough rookie, and Trish Stratus. This was immediately famous across the whole IWC and was talked about for ages afterwards, and is still maybe the most well-known disaster of a match ever. It’s usually revolving around Trish & Jackie, as that’s when it broke down, but it was actually a mixed tag team match.
THE STAGE: WWE RAW on July 8th, 2002. The Brand Split has sundered the roster, and resulted in a lot of call-ups and new acts. In particular, the Tough Enough wrestlers hit WWE.
Trish Stratus: The top woman in WWE at the time, considered the most attractive by the majority of the fans (unlike those who correctly preferred Molly Holly), and one who was adding new moves to her offense every week, rapidly improving and becoming way more than just a generic heel bimbo manager.
Jackie Gayda: A graduate of Tough Enough 2, which controversially had two WOMEN as the winners. She was rapidly put on TV. And… we’ll see.
Bradshaw: One of the most well-protected wrestlers in the WWF, Bradshaw typically scored pins in APA matches while Faarooq ate them if they lost, and his Clothesline From Hell was a top-tier finisher in terms of credibility. He didn’t get a top push at this point (solo, he was just a midcarder) but there was a noticeable aura of “this guy’s a legit bad-ass” and “this guy doesn’t job out a lot” to his push. This is well before he had the “JBL Push” that ruined SmackDown! and led to some of the worst main events in history, but with the Brand Split, a ton of guys got upgraded in push, and he was doing a big run as a midcard tough guy. He’s the veteran here- seven years into his WWF run.
Chris Nowinski: A Harvard graduate who impressed the company enough on the first season of Tough Enough. He was a pretty decent “lower-card HHH” arrogant well-educated heel but would rapidly get concussed out of the business and make a name for himself doing research into it as a public face of the CTE investigative movement.
BRADSHAW & TRISH STRATUS vs. CHRISTOPHER NOWINSKI & JACKIE GAYDA:
(WWE RAW, July 8th 2002)
* I forget the issue here, but the Women’s division was so small that Trish usually had a mini-feud with every person in it at some point. Nowinski, as an upper crust, well-educated braggart, would be a natural foe for the “good old boy” hard-drinking brawler Bradshaw, too. Bradshaw’s in black trunks (a huge change in his look, which had been all black tights since the Attitude Era- he’s also added a cowboy hat and bullrope to look EXTRA like Stan Hansen), Trish has a black shirt & silver flared pants, Nowinski’s in red shorts with an “H” on his ass (because he went to Harvard, you see) & Jackie’s in a red top/black pants combo (most women in WWE seemed to be wearing the same gear at this time). Jim Ross says “Easy, Pootie Tang!” to Lawler’s lusting, letting us know what era this is. JR does note that new hires Nowinski and Gayda are “Green, as they say”- “they’re gonna make a lot of mistakes”. HE WARNED US AND WE DIDN’T LISTEN.
Jackie immediately doesn’t look TV ready, as she’s technically the heel here but is just walking to the ring with a big smile on her face and is twisting her head around at random to look at Nowinski and the fans, as if knowing she should be moving around but not sure HOW. Nowinski, the captain of the Harvard football team, takes a 3-point stance against Bradshaw, then goes “PSYCHE!” and bails, leading us… to Gayda/Trish. Jackie kinda wheels around in the “Diva Shuffle” but charges forward into Trish’s overhead hiptoss and takes some forearms, whip reversal and a clothesline without looking bad. One elbow is sold too late but it’s fine.
Nowinski pulls Trish off the pin to establish his jerk cred further, and then… oh god. Trish literally runs PAST Jackie, who stands there like she has no idea what was coming, resulting in Trish leaping onto the bottom rope and holding the top one, looking at Jackie like “WTF?” (I’m pretty sure this was supposed to be Trish’s occasional slingshot Bulldog, but once Trish realized she was going in solo she rapidly hit the breaks and noped out), then does the most dreaded thing in wrestling- Emergency Improv. Here, she falls back on her butt, “toeholding” Jackie’s ankle and “bringing her down”, which in this case is awkwardly rolling Jackie over herself at the exact angle you’d use to establish “this was an accident”, and fans IMMEDIATELY begin booing, as they know this was a botch. Jackie thankfully manages immediate offense to bring it back, choking Trish. She even chokes her on the ropes, Trish desperately hiding her face with her hand in obvious manner to give instructions, straight-up having to crook her hand like the “noblewoman’s laugh” because the camera’s right in her face.
The instruction must be “tag Chris” because Jackie throws a couple stomps and does just that. Nowinski just does some HUGE elbowdrops in Trish’s direction, and she barely rolls out of the way each time, tagging Bradshaw for a tackle. Bradshaw hits a big boot then catches him for the fallaway slam in some decent stuff, then Nowinski tags out again, and Jackie… charges onto Bradshaw’s back, him looking noticeably annoyed as she fails to get onto him right and he has to hook her leg as a “base”- he rolls her off and tags out as well, leading to Trish forcefully headlocking Jackie to the mat (lol, someone’s trying to rein the match in), then up again, Bradshaw chasing Nowinski over the barricade and into the crowd to leave the poor ladies alone. Trish snapmares Jackie (looks fine), but Jackie then does this very weird, non-pro wrestling get-up, as she is leaning backwards as she rises, pushing herself off with one hand (most wrestlers, you might notice, roll off their ass to the side and do NOT stick an arm way back where someone could step on it). It looks really unathletic, and leads to her lifting her arm up funny as Trish has to turn her around for a chop.
Trish “talks shit” (ie. more calling spots but covers it well) and throws more chops, but Jackie reverses a corner whip and clotheslines her, adding a stomp and foot-choking. And then they do a SUPERPLEX SPOT oh my god, with Jackie lifting Trish up and throwing some awkward shots, then climbing up and getting pushed off, landing oddly with her legs straight, stumbling backwards when she was probably supposed to fall on her ass- instead, she has to walk like a cartoon zombie, spin around and eat a boot, then get up while wobbling around and trying to sell, at which point Trish tries a FLYING BULLDOG of all things, famously pretty much tapping Jackie on the back of the head, Jackie selling it like she was swatted lightly, then flipping her head up and falling onto her side. This gets the pin at (3:15) as the fans shit all over the match.
“Mercifully, it’s over!” Jim Ross says in that “Holy shit this was bad, lol” voice only he could use. Yes, this was really only 3 minutes. Trish looks like she mutters “fuck…” to the ref as her hand is raised, and storms out of the ring while Lillian Garcia announces “Here is your winner… Trish Stratus!”, forgetting this was a tag team match. “I’ve seen better catfights, JR!” “That match had a little bowling shoe tendency- a little ugly”.
What’s funny is my memory of the finish is 10 times worse than this- I have this distinct memory of Jackie pausing after the move hits, then flailing up going “BLEH!” and then faceplanting- this wasn’t nearly as bad and I think it get worse in my head with time.
Rating: DUD (Okay it looked cromulent for much of it, but two all-timer bad botches on RAW? Yikes)
Oh yeah, this was a mess, rightly infamous for two huge botches- the funny thing was this was much, MUCH better than the Britt/Anna Jay match I featured last week, as it only had two botches versus 15+, but of course that one was a non-televised show when RAW was at this point watched by 2 million a week or so. So this one stuck to Jackie Gayda far worse than that other bout will ever stick to either wrestler.
Nowinski looks like any other trained athlete in there, doing fine in his bits with Bradshaw, but Jackie & Trish went from “kind of okay” to “on a different planet from each other” and it was horrendous. First off, a slingshot move (if that’s what that was) on somebody as green as Jackie is complete insanity and everyone involved should have known that. Jackie clearly forgets the spot and doesn’t even turn around, and Trish completes the motions for the move without touching her because of it, which looks ridiculous. Then she awkwardly trips Jackie up to the point she rolls over Trish’s own body. They pull it back a bit and it’s okay, but the fans already know they utterly botched it and react accordingly. Then the men do another segment and leave the women alone. The rest is a little ungainly but mostly fine (Jackie seems to do clotheslines and boot-choking as well as anyone), but then they do three corner spots in a row, which is where things completely fall apart. Jackie clearly can’t even do things like “get up off the mat” in the typical way of wrestlers, and they book THREE of these reversal bits? Falling off from a superplex attempt, running into a boot, then eating a flying bulldog? WHO AGENTED THIS SHIT?
The flying bulldog is the infamous spot everyone talks about, and for good reason. It looks awful, and Jackie sells it horribly. Obviously, you’re supposed to go DOWN with your opponent or it looks like utter shit. The person doing the move obviously can’t grab you and haul you down for real without injury (a bulldog will legit mess up your neck if you do it for serious), nor can they be expected to improvise and grab you when it’s clear you’re whiffing, as there’s not enough time. So the person eating the move has to feel it coming, and needs to be aware of how to sell it. In this case, Jackie is green as grass, and so absolutely should not have been put in that position to eat a move that comes from behind. I’ve seen experienced wrestlers mess up bulldogs (one time, Jericho’s running facecrusher set-up whiffed completely on RAW and he looked ridiculous), much less ones like Jackie. Any move coming from BEHIND the person taking it needs to be very carefully managed, and certainly you shouldn’t have rookies doing it- they lack the experience or know-how to anticipate the timing, or improvise if it goes wrong.
Trish is of course not blameless here- the first botch was a lot on her, and she 100% was looking at Jackie on the landing of the finish so knew how the move looked, so instead of just jumping into the pin, hit a DDT or something, I dunno. Maybe they were short on time. But she does both that and the prior slingshot move and both looked horrible and suffered from a lack of improv (not that improv is at all a good idea with a 2-month veteran).
The Fallout: Uh, yeah. Lance Storm was the most active wrestler online at this point and said “both women were crying backstage and the agent (probably Fit Finlay, the women’s trainer at the time) thought he was going to get fired”. This was a COMPLETE disaster and utterly exposed Gayda’s lack of training- she ate the majority of blame for this, as it took the name “The Gayda Incident” and Trish went on to a superstar career and got none of it. Which if you watch this, isn’t really fair, though Trish improved and Gayda was turned into a manager and quickly disappeared from wrestling entirely. And by “quickly” I mean 2005 because I didn’t get SmackDown! at the time and missed 2-3 years of her career there, I guess. She has a few other matches here and there but was for the most part done- she married Charlie Haas (they divorced in 2020 and he looks mega cracked-out now) and only did spot shows after that.
There have definitely been worse matches, but very few of them have taken place on a stage as big as this, which is why the match is still famous more than twenty years (oh god I’m so old) later. Wrestlers have done way worse in matches, but usually it’s on house shows or taped cards or whatever. Not live TV with millions watching.
Trishs’s statement in one interview: “I think that maybe it was a little unprofessional to show my disappointment and I regret that. I think several factors made that particular match pretty bad – Jackie was obviously ill prepared and out of her depth at that point in her career although I think that the powers that be should have realized that.”
Mitigating Factors: JACKIE WAS GREEN. If Cagematch is to be believed, this is only her sixth match (and one of those matches was against Al Snow on Tough Enough), and it’s live on WWE RAW and she’s booked to take and give offense, then take two bulldog-like moves. She says she had only been training for two months at this point. At this stage she should have just been getting squashed, and take a lot of moves that involved the other person grabbing her and slamming her around, not trying complex segments memorized beforehand.
Trish, as much as people like her, benefits a lot from the “Grading Curve” women usually got in the US at the time, as she was barely above average but was considered a top-tier women’s wrestler- she was also exceptionally green and was not helping many of the spots that went downhill. So it’s unfair that Jackie took most of the blame. Ideally, Jackie should have been trained a LOT longer before being put in this position, though.