Hello! Today, I bring to you the 6th edition of a series looking at the TV show Dark Side of the Ring. This time, I shall review the sixth and last episode of the first season, which is labelled the eighth episode on Vice in the UK. If you have yet to watch “The Fabulous Moolah”, you can see it in the 44-minute video below.
**Because of the volume of this topic, I’m going to need to share it across two posts to cover everything without it blowing up. This is the first time I have had to do so, as all previous editions were standalones.** Previous entries in the series are listed below:
- “The Killing Of Bruiser Brody”
- “The Match Made In Heaven”
- “The Montreal Screwjob”
- “The Mysterious Death of Gorgeous Gino”
- “The Last of the Von Erichs”
“The Fabulous Moolah”
Oh boy, this is a complicated subject. On one hand, I could straight up believe all the accusations floating around the worldwide web and label The Fabulous Moolah a monster. On the other, I could defend her legacy and potentially come across as uncaring to the girls who may have suffered from physical and mental abuse. The core issue here is that there’s no concrete evidence to the allegations. Also, the fact it has been brought up by several parties, means that Moolah can’t be a saint in all this.
She must have done something untoward, whether it be unintentional, undeserving, or otherwise. Whether she did anything illegal may never be possible to surmise. Moolah was shrewd in business, but so is Vince McMahon and Donald Trump. No matter what, you’re bound to upset someone eventually. Especially with an old school, dog eat dog mentality.
Unlike previous editions, I will not be dissecting this segment by segment. Instead, I will delve deeper to see if we can expand on what we saw from Dark Side Of The Ring. This means you should watch the episode before continuing, or it’s likely you will lose out on some context. With that said, shall we begin with the elephant in the room?
What in the hell happened between Wendi Richter and the infamous “Spider Lady” in 1985? Did Wendi have any clue it was The Fabulous Moolah under the mask? And did she know about the finish? I have watched the match back and made some notes. There’s also some comments from Wendi and others I would like to share. To say the “Original Screwjob” is strange… is a bit of an understatement.
Wendi Richter vs. Spider Lady
The oddest part about this episode is when Wendi Richter claims she didn’t know who was under the Spider Lady mask. But that makes little sense considering:
- The crowd were chanting Moolah at Spider Lady.
- Wendi’s body language before the match.
- Her aggressive style during the match.
- She saw The Fabulous Moolah backstage despite not being scheduled.
- She’s shaped and wrestles like Moolah, and she trained Wendi.
- Moolah’s eyes and hands are not covered, so she could figure it out that way too.
Not only that, but Wendi claimed the Spider Lady took her own mask off. This isn’t the case, as it was in fact Wendi who took off the mask shortly after the bell rang. Is she still playing the angle? Or is she not remembering right and hasn’t looked back on it? Why would she keep to kayfabe when she left the WWF immediately after, and it has been so long since The Fabulous Moolah passed away? I don’t understand what she would have to gain by suggesting she didn’t know. She can be quoted as saying the following, which contradicts what she claims in the documentary:
“All I knew was, with [Moolah], I’ve got to look out for myself,” Richter said in the interview. “Everything. She’ll try to hurt you. She’ll try to pin you. And I knew she couldn’t pin me. She couldn’t. But what I didn’t count on was the referee getting paid off.”
Maybe she wanted to make the screwjob sound worse than it was? I’m not sure. Either way, let’s look at the match itself.
Wendi Richter seems fired up in a good way, til she gets in the ring. She immediately knows it isn’t (a wrestler named Glendine?) the original Spider Lady, asking the referee what is going on here. He goes over to talk to her, but it’s clear her demeanor has changed. Wendi is pissed and shouts at her rival before the bell. Despite some animosity, Moolah sells her offense well, but Richter is aggressive considering she apparently doesn’t know who is under the mask.
Commentary notes how fired up she is, as Moolah hides behind the referee; who ends up sandwiched between her and Richter. This spot gets a loud reaction, but I can’t be sure if they intended it. Was Moolah trying to protect herself from stiff shots by using the ref? I can’t imagine they would have planned any spots beforehand, considering the circumstances. The crowd openly chant “Moolah”. It gets sloppy here, as they fail to do the basics.
After a run around the ring, Moolah falls over trying to kick her. Wendi applies a leg lock, and it looks to be calming down. While holding on to the ropes, Moolah tries kicking out… but it makes the drop worse. She does not fall on her head, but holds on to it like she landed hard. It’s at this point we can see Moolah attempt some kind of roll up, but Wendi isn’t having it. While Moolah messes with Wendi on the ropes, commentary wonder who it could be under the mask. Monsoon says it wouldn’t surprise him if it were Moolah.
This tells me they had made a plan to unmask Moolah at the end (maybe the ref told Wendi at the start?), so they were telegraphing the finish to make it less surprising. This would make the moment less of a big deal, so fans could move on from it easier. Richter tries to make something of the match with her athleticism, but Moolah isn’t good enough to reciprocate. The ref is slow to count rope breaks and commentary mention it. The first pinfall of the match is on Wendi, and she quickly kicks out at 1. She is not giving Moolah a chance to shoot and force a pin. Richter hits a clothesline, but it sucks because of Moolah.
I do not think Wendi was expecting a small package roll up here, but she takes it anyway and kicks out at 1. It is clear she never had both shoulders down at any point, even with the only camera angle we have. Considering only her right shoulder was on the mat, the ref shouldn’t have counted. Instead, he quickly counts to three and there is a delay before someone rings the bell. Moolah sticks her arms up in the air, rubbing salt in the already opened wound. Gorilla Monsoon is confused, but Ventura doesn’t speak up. My opinion is that Gorilla knew Moolah was under the mask, but was told a different finish. This would tie in to what happens next. The referee doesn’t acknowledge Wendi, he just lazily walks across the ring so he can talk to Howard Finkel.
As far as Richter is concerned, the bell rung, but the referee hasn’t told her the match has ended. In wrestling, the wrestlers rely on the ref to guide and tell them when matches have ended, because if the bell rings too soon or for another reason, it provides confirmation. The referee was told to screw Wendi and didn’t have the guts to tell her, so it would have to come from Fink’s announcement. Wendi goes after Moolah, rips her mask off and chases her around the ring. The bell is ringing, but to Richter, she has yet to be told she has lost the title. Moolah is frantically running, but cannot leave the ring because she needs to be crowned the new champion.
Richter picks Moolah up against her will and drops her in to a backbreaker. She goes for the pin and is forcing Moolah to the mat (who is failing to escape), knowing that this is the scheduled finish and the referee should count to ensure her title defense. She shouts “Count it ref” twice, but he stands over ’em with the title. I do not understand what the ref is doing here, he hovers around like he’s officiating, but is not getting in Richter’s face to tell her what is going on. Wendi keeps up the offense, but Moolah isn’t selling anymore and keeps raising her arms up in victory. The way she celebrates is arrogant, considering what has just happened. At least Shawn Michaels had the decency to look somewhat guilty after screwing Bret Hart.
When Moolah picks up the title, Wendi isn’t having any of that and she drops the belt. It seems Wendi is clocking on to what is happening. The ref picks it up, but Wendi is irate and is fighting with him to get it out of his hands. She is desperate to get the championship back in her hands. Finkel has been in the ring for a while now, staying well out of the way. Wendi does eventually snatch the title out of the referee’s hands. Now she’s calmed down somewhat, Finkel announces the NEW champion. Moolah’s face here is well… it’s hard to describe. She seems so overly happy to be the champion again, but it’s almost like she is taunting. Like she’s some kind of movie villain who just took over the world. She has zero remorse for what happened to Wendi.
Howard Finkel tries selling the victory… “The Spider? The Fabulous Moolah?” – Like this was the plan all along. By doing so, it made fans forget about it quicker, because it was made to sound like one big fat work. What follows is Wendi going after Moolah with the title, swinging it at her. I think Richter did this because she didn’t want to let go of the belt, because she knew the referee or someone else would pick it up and hand it over. She wasn’t having any of that, so when Moolah tried forcing it from her grasp, she was too strong and kept hold. It looks like a work (& silly), but it was the only way Wendi could have one last go at humiliating Moolah without letting go of the title. Moolah didn’t have a choice but to stop trying and leave the ring.
As Moolah walks off, you can see her say something to security. If Richter hadn’t left Madison Square Garden under her own free will (Wendi has said she didn’t get changed in the back, she left the building in her ring gear and got changed later at the airport), they may have asked her to leave. Monsoon calls Moolah’s pin a “tremendous small package”, as Jesse Ventura finally says something.
He has nothing nice to say though, as he calls her a bad champion for not handing the title over after losing. It is obvious they are being fed lines by Vince McMahon to try and salvage this situation. In the closing moments, Wendi looks at the camera and says along the lines of “is this how we’re going to play it?”. This is a message to Vince McMahon, who had booked this screwjob.
Apparently, he did this because Wendi had refused to sign a new contract, but she claims to have still been under a 5-year deal. Richter had recently asked for a pay rise, because her increased exposure, merchandise sales, and unequal pay compared to the men, made her believe she deserved better. And rightly so, but the times were different, and Moolah had gotten away with booking women as a side attraction for decades. It’s impossible to say if Vince McMahon figured Richter had outlived her usefulness. The PWI magazine in April the following year, suggested she was becoming just as, if not more popular than Hulk Hogan.
I don’t believe in the theory that he would screw her on the basis that she could somehow surpass Hogan, because money is money to Vince. It doesn’t matter which way they go about it, Vince would not purposely sabotage a potential cash cow. However, it is strange that he would go to the lengths of screwing her to put the belt back on a 60+ year old. Did Moolah threaten to leave the WWF and take her stable with her? Was there more to Wendi’s demands that we are unaware of?
There had to be a big reason for Vince to go so far to screw someone who made as much money as some of his opening acts. Maybe he never intended women’s wrestling to blow up like it did? And the Cyndi Lauper thing was meant to be temporary? We know what Vince can be like when things don’t go according to plan.
In the following video, Roddy Piper talks about Wendi Richter, Fabulous Moolah, and the Original Screwjob. It was shocking even to him, labeling it as “brutal”. He says Wendi wasn’t smart enough at this point in her career, to fully comprehend what was going on with the backstage politics. All the while, he knows what Moolah’s like and what she is willing to do to stay on top. Even he didn’t want to mess with her, and Piper didn’t question the way she did things. Putting others over was not something she liked to do, as she grew up being the money maker and couldn’t put her ego to one side.
And with that said, we have come to the end of the first part of this edition. There is still so much to get through, so the second half will have a lot more going for it. We’ll be looking at the way she trained her wrestlers, Sweet Georgia Brown, the Glamour Girls/Jumping Bomb Angels ordeal, and so much more. I felt like the screwjob needed its own piece, because of history and how important it is to the overall story of The Fabulous Moolah. And I hope I have been able to provide some valuable insight, well enough for you to draw your own conclusions. Thanks for reading! See you next time.