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Going Over: Zoey Stark ready to make the most of her golden opportunity

Zoey Stark is taking a give it everything you’ve got approach to her sudden and fairly aggressive push on Monday Night Raw. One shot, one opportunity. Better not blow it because a second chance is far from a guarantee.

Forgoing an obvious 8 Mile reference here (2002 movie starring Eminem for our younger Gen Z readers, hashtag Mom’s spaghetti), Stark has found herself in a well-earned and enviable position just a few weeks after her introduction to the main roster audience.

The 11 year-vet was taken by the Red Brand in the supplemental round of the WWE Draft back on April 28. Not long after, she defeated Nikki Cross in her debut match and has remained undefeated ever since.

It was at Night of Champions though, that Stark shocked the WWE Universe when she slid out from underneath the ring and delivered a Z-360 to Becky Lynch — handing a victory to Trish Stratus on a silver plater and leaving The Man a bloodied mess in defeat.

Almost a month to the day she was drafted to Raw, Zoey Stark found herself in the unbelievable situation of being dropped right into the thick of the top women’s feud on Monday nights.

“If you were to tell me while I was still in NXT, ‘Hey, in one month you’re gonna be working with Trish Stratus and Becky Lynch.’ I would say you are absolutely out of your mind, crazy. There’s no way that would ever happen. And you know, Hunter put me in this position because he knows I can handle it and hang with those two girls. And I think I’m proving myself right now.”

We had a chance to catch up with Zoey Stark this week for our new “Going Over” interview series. The perfect person for a debut like this, because winding up smack dab in the middle of a story involving a current WWE Hall of Famer and a guaranteed future Hall of Famer is the kind of main roster introduction an NXT talent dreams about.

Stark found herself in possession of the winning Wonka Bar. Ahead of her big reveal in Saudi Arabia, she was fully intent on not wasting her golden ticket.

“While I was underneath that ring, that was my moment. You learn a lot right then and there of like, all right, it’s time to go and time to hang with these ladies. You know, I can’t fall short. This is it. This is my one opportunity. I get one shot to prove to the world that I belong in that ring with those two. With a Hall of Famer and a future Hall of Famer. I couldn’t ask for a better position.”

The pairing of Zoey Stark and Trish Stratus is a bit an odd one. And so far, the only real explanation the fans have received for their alignment is that Stark wants to “kick ass” and there’s no one better to kick said ass with, than the seven-time Women’s Champion.

Going outside the storyboards, Stark gave us some more insight into what the real life motivations would be for Zoey to help Trish. It all started nearly two decades ago when 10 year-old Theresa Serrano tuned into Monday Night Raw and witnessed history.

The last match of the night on December 6, 2004, was Trish Stratus defending the WWE Women’s Championship against Lita. The first time ever that two women closed the show. That one match could very well be why little Theresa grew up to become the sharp-kneed face breaker we know today as Zoey Stark.

A true “Thank you Trish” moment.

“Very big influence,” Stark said when asked about the impact Trish’s career had on her own. “The Raw that she main evented with Lita, I think, at least for me, and I’m gonna speak for all the girls out there. I feel like that was the moment in time where we all realized, hey, we could do this and we can be taken seriously and we can main event shows. You know, since that happened, Charlotte [Flair], Becky, Ronda [Rousey], they were all able to main event WrestleMania. Now Bianca [Belair]’s been able to do it. It’s just like, all of us girls are able to do so much more because that one match happened.”

Fast-forward to May 27, 2023, as the Night of Champions match between Trish and Becky moved into its later stages, Stark couldn’t help but take in what was happening in the ring above her and admire the talent she would soon be working alongside.

“I was fangirling a little bit. I almost forgot that I was under a ring for a second until Trish came under and she was like, alright kid, it’s your time. Here we go. And next thing I know, I’m out there.”

When the moment came, sink or swim as Stark described it, she definitely didn’t sink. Her impact was felt and not just the impact of her knee ramming into Becky Lynch’s face.

The process of getting a talent over is a very layered one. There are many pieces that need to fit just right for it to work, and as Shawn Michaels told us ahead of NXT Battleground, all it takes is for one little thing to go wrong for the entire house of cards to come crumbling down.

What Triple H did for Zoey by booking her to intervene on Trish Stratus’ behalf against Becky Lynch is give her a very strong foundation to build upon. Everyone who saw Stark walk up the ramp at Night of Champions smiling ear-to-ear, standing next to a victorious Trish Status, knew that very second that WWE had to see something special in her. Thus giving the audience a reason to take notice.

It would be hard for the talent scouts of WWE not to find something in Zoey Stark, given how long they were taking a look at her.

After she returned from an ACL tear last summer, Stark nearly had her first main roster match on SmackDown. Originally the team of Zoey Stark and Nikkita Lyons were supposed to compete in the Women’s Tag Team Title Tournament back in August. Unfortunately, due to injuries to both ladies, they were replaced by Toxic Attraction.

A lost opportunity at the time, but one that potentially could have thrown Stark off course from where she ultimately ended up.

In the months that followed, Zoey would get several chances to compete on Main Event, which is filmed on the road every Monday night before Raw. She also had a lengthy performance inside the Women’s Royal Rumble match in San Antonio in January.

By the time it was announced that select NXT Superstars would be eligible for April’s Draft, Stark had a sense that her time on the Black and Gold Brand was winding down. It may have taken a little longer than she would have liked, but in the end, her gut was right. Her name came off the board during the post SmackDown rounds streamed live on Peacock.

Zoey Stark’s years of hard work had paid off. She was now a member of the Raw roster.

“It was very emotional for me. I definitely did have a feeling that that was going to be my night. I definitely feel like I belong on the main roster with those girls. I feel like I’m one of the top performers that could really be in WWE, so I felt amazing and it was a very tearful, enjoyable night.”

It turned out to be a rollercoaster of emotions for Stark. Prior to her main roster call-up, she had been featured prominently on NXT television. Constantly in pursuit of the top prize in the Women’s Division on Tuesday nights.

Zoey fell short in her final attempt to win the gold, losing to newly crowned champ Indi Hartwell on the April 4 edition of NXT. Leaving unfinished business behind as she moved up to Monday Night Raw.

“One of my big goals was to become the NXT Women’s Champion. And sadly that didn’t happen. But Shawn [Michaels] pulled me aside and said I had bigger fish to fry and boy was he right. You know, everything happens for a reason. I’m definitely getting my time now. I didn’t get that time on NXT, being the champion, but I’m climbing my way up right now. Money in the Bank, you know, I have a big opportunity ahead of me.”

Big opportunity is putting it mildly. Look, by now, everyone is well aware of the Money in the Bank concept. After qualifying for this year’s match last week, Stark climbing the ladder and grabbing the briefcase would be like finding a second golden Wonka ticket a month removed from unwrapping the first. She would be one step away from capturing her first World Championship, a near certainty for whomever wins the that briefcase.

Thus far, the women’s winners have a 100% successful cash-in rate. Most of them coming within 48 hours of the talent securing the guaranteed contract that sits inside the case.

The way Stark has been thrust into the spotlight these last several weeks, she has to be considered a real threat to win the Women’s MITB Ladder Match on July 1 in London. Win, lose or draw however, Zoey sees the match as not only an opportunity to get her hands on a Championship, but to really let loose on the main roster for the first time and show her new audience exactly what she’s about in the ring.

“My agility, my aggressiveness. I don’t take any crap from anyone. You know, what you see is what you get with me. So, I’m really excited to really showcase myself in the ladder match because, I’ve had a couple of matches now, but I don’t feel like I’ve been able to put everything out there yet. I’m really hoping to do that for Money in the Bank.”

Stark is no stranger to ladder matches, last competing in one just a couple of months ago at NXT: Stand and Deliver.

If fans can expect anything out of Zoey at Money in the Bank, it’s for her to do what she always does. Seize the moment and leave a lasting impression. That’s how she wound up in WWE in the first place.

Every pro wrestler’s journey to the big time is different, but this writer firmly believes that every Superstar in WWE can pinpoint a moment in their career where something happened or someone came along that put them on the correct course to signing the biggest contract of their life, at least that particular moment in time.

For Stark, she entered a wrestling ring for the first time back in 2012, but it wasn’t until eight years later that she finally got her big break. A spot on the card at SHIMMER Volume 118 - At The Collective, where the right people would get their eyes on Zoey Stark for the first time.

Or to be accurate, the right people got to see Lacey Ryan perform, for the first time.

“If I didn’t do the SHIMMER show that I did, that Allison Danger set up for me, I definitely would not be where I’m at right now. That’s where Gabe Sapolsky found me and he gave me the opportunity to do a WWE tryout. And then from there, you know, everything was done. I did my tryout, coaches loved me, they hired me and everything’s been going since then. So if I didn’t do that SHIMMER show, I don’t know where I would be right now.”

Ryan received her tryout in the weeks that followed her SHIMMER showcase match and in January of 2021, WWE announced that she had been signed to NXT along with Priscilla Kelly, and Elanya Black. You most likely know them better as Gigi Dolin and Cora Jade.

Some NXT signees may take issue with having to start from scratch with a new name and gimmick than the one they spent years crafting and building a fanbase around. Lacey Ryan couldn’t have been more happy to shed her old persona and step through the curtain as Zoey Stark.

“Oh my goodness, I hated that name. That was just the worst name ever. I’m not a Lacey Ryan in the slightest, but I would have to say Lacey would be very proud of where Zoey Stark is at right now. And I’ve done more than what I ever thought I could ever do. And it’s just the beginning.”

Stark told Cageside Seats that she truly feels like now is her time. All the work she’s put in, the injuries she’s overcome, everything set back or failure, and obviously her successes as well, have all led her to be where she is right now.

A process that she needed to go through to fully prepare herself to stand toe-to-toe with Trish Stratus and Becky Lynch when the opportunity was presented to her and prove that she that belongs in that very same ring with two of the all-time greats in women’s wrestling.

Make sure to check our full interview with the Zoey Stark in the video at the top of this article. You can follow Rick Ucchino on Twitter and subscribe to the Bleav in Pro Wrestling Podcast Channel for more of his work.

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