Lisa Marie Varon didn't grow up obsessed with wrestling like many of the Superstars and Divas she traveled the road with. Today, however, it's a different story. Though the former Women's Champion previously known as Victoria left WWE in 2009, her passion for the business stays with her to this day through her Chicago-based, sports-entertainment-themed eatery, The Squared Circle.
It was a long road from of fitness competitions to the canvas of WWE's rings and into the resturant business. Anyone who checked ESPN's "Fitness America Series" in the mid-1990s was sure to recognize Varon flexing amongst the chiseled beauties. It was in the fitness world where she would make friends with people who would influence her into getting into the wrestling industry.
"I started following it more closely when Torrie Wilson got into WCW," she explained.
Eventually, she went to an episode of WCW Monday Nitro with Wilson and ended up appearing on television. Wilson continued to pass Varon's information to WCW officials, but it was a chance meeting that ultimately led her to becoming a Diva.
"I ran into Chyna at a health club," she said. "I told her I was friends with Torrie and Trish Stratus. She said I had a good look and asked if I had ever thought about [getting into wrestling]."
That was all the assurance Varon needed. She put together a tape showing her fitness competitions and news segments about working out that she appeared in and mailed it off to WWE. She never expected the response she recieved.
"I got a phone call from Kevin Kelly, he said that [then-WWE Talent Relations head] Jim Ross had never seen a video as impressive as mine," Varon explained.
Althought WWE officials were impressed, there was still one tiny problem: Varon had no idea how to wrestle, and the company wanted to see her in the ring during their next stop in California before they signed her. A google search of pro wrestling schools led the future Victoria to UPW.
"I called them and said, 'I have 28 days to learn how to wrestle, can I come visit your facility?" Varon said with a laugh. "Of course, you can't learn how to wrestle in 28 days."
She went down to UPW's training facility and joined a class of hopefuls that included John Cena.
"I don't think there was a girl in the class," she replied.
After a day of grueling physical drills in the ring, her classmates didn't expect her to come back for more. That made it shocking when she walked through the door the next day.
"I said I couldn't turn my head to the right, but now I have 27 days to learn how to wrestle," Varon said. "I think I earned their respect by coming back and taking it a little bit more seriously."
Varon's dedication earned her a job with WWE in 2000. She immediately became part of the jovial Godfather's entourage. However, her time on the main roster quickly came to an end when The Godfather became The Goodfather and joined Right to Censor. After that, she entered WWE's former developmental system, Ohio Valley Wrestling, which was overflowing with talent who would soon take over WWE's main roster.
"John Cena, Batista, Brock Lesnar, Randy Orton, Shelton Benjamin, Jazz, Rob Conway, The Bashams, it was an elite class," she said.
Varon credited OVW's staff with teaching her a great deal about the business and truly getting her ready for WWE.
"They made you study the history of wrestling so we weren't going up clueless," she said. "We had assignments to watch VHS tapes and tell them what we learned. It was serious."
By summer of 2002, Varon was ready for prime time. She made her return to the main roster as Victoria, an unstable former friend of Trish Stratus' from their fitness modeling days. While the fitness aspects of the character may have been true, the craziness wasn't quite how Varon saw herself.
"I think my intensity was mistaken for being physco in the ring," she explained, crediting the intensity to Fit Finlay, who worked with the Divas. "He molded us into tough competitors."
The hard-hitting Diva quickly established herself as vicious in the ring. Her rivalry with Stratus culminated in a brutal Hardcore Match at Survivor Series 2002, the effects of which Victoria felt for a while after the final bell rang.
“I broke my nose and chipped my tooth,” she said with a bit of pride.
Varon got to explore Victoria’s crazy side a little more later in 2002 when she was paired with the equally unstable Stevie Richards.
“Oh my gosh, we had total chemistry,” she said of Richards. “I remember one time, I got so into it that I licked his face and bit his ear. People were like, ‘Whoa, what was that?’ I didn’t know. Once my music hits, Lisa doesn’t exist, I’m Victoria.”
As a two-time Women’s Champion, Victoria anchored the division from 2002 until her departure from WWE in 2009. Whether it was shaving Molly Holly’s head at WrestleMania XX or scheming with Torrie Wilson and Candice Michelle as a trio briefly called “Vince’s Devils,” Varon cemented herself as one of WWE’s premier competitors. She credited Finlay with teaching her how to be so tough.
“Fit taught us that the tough survive,” she said. “Even though there were bikini models [among the Divas], we still proved that we could kick some butt and take a beating.”
Outside of the ring, Varon has quite the entrepreneurial mind. She’s owned several restaurants and a custom car shop. But it’s her most recent venture that has brought her notoriety both in the wrestling world and in the Chicago restaurant scene. She’s the proprietor of The Squared Circle, a burger and pizza spot in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of the Windy City.
“We serve gourmet stuffed burgers,” she said. “Like the Fat Elvis, which has peanut butter, banana and bacon. And we have pizza, thin-crust, traditional New York-style and deep-dish Chicago-style, made with duck fat.”
That’s on top of a bar stocked with a variety of craft beers, a full selection of appetizers and sides like pizza wontons, cheddar pulled pork fries and white-truffle macaroni and cheese. Though you wouldn’t guess it by looking at her, the former Women’s Champion is ready to make recommendations at the drop of a hat.
“I love to eat food from my restaurant,” she told WWEClassics.com. “So I have to take my workouts more seriously.”
If you couldn’t tell from the name, The Squared Circle is a wrestling-themed restaurant. Diners can check out all kinds of memorabilia adorning the wall from Victoria’s career, along with some items donated by Superstars like The Undertaker. And the huge TVs throughout the restaurant are always playing classic and current in-ring action.
“Mondays, we show Raw, NXT on Tuesdays, Wednesdays we show WWE Main Event and independent wrestling, and SmackDown on Fridays,” she said.
You can also check out WWE pay-per-views every month at The Squared Circle. You never know who might pull up a chair next to you at the bar.
“Kevin Nash, DDP, Honky Tonk Man, Rikishi and Alicia Fox [have all stopped by],” Varon said proudly. “They’re very supportive and proud of what I’ve accomplished.”
But don’t think for a second that Varon is an absentee owner. Anyone who’s been to The Squared Circle can tell you that’s not the case.
“I’m there every night,” she said. “I’m not just there for 10 minutes to show my face and wave to the customers. I’ll sit down with a family and watch Raw.”
That’s the type of environment that keeps wrestling fans coming back to The Squared Circle while creating new fans out of diners who had never seen a match before. For Varon, her restaurant is much more than just a job.
“It’s like my den where I invite my friends to come and have pizza with me and watch wrestling,” Varon said. “I feel like I really am living the dream.”