Looking At The Extraordinary Career Of Mae Young
By Matt Boone (Facebook.com/MattBooneWZR)
Johnnie Mae Young, better known to professional wrestling fans as Mae Young, is without a doubt one of the biggest and most well-respected legends in the history of women’s wrestling.
Born on March 12, 1923, Young was a super-athlete early in life. At age 15, with help from her brothers, Young made the men’s amateur wrestling team in high school. She was also a standout in softball, playing on the Tulsa National Championship Team in her teen years.
While still in high school, Johnnie Mae went to a pro wrestling event where she ended up challenging the Women’s Champion at the time, Mildred Burke, to a match. The promoters informed Young that she couldn’t immediately compete against the champion, so they offered her a match against Gladys Gillem.
As the story goes, the Young vs. Gillem match was actually a shoot, with Young winning the bout within seconds. After winning with such ease, promoter Billy Wolfe offered her a job.
There are conflicting reports as to when Mae Young actually made her official debut as a professional wrestler. The documented date is August 20, 1939. If true, because she has competed in a match as recently as 2010, this would make Young the only woman, or man for that matter, to ever wrestle a match in nine consecutive decades.
Johnnie Mae was actually wrestling a match in Memphis, Tennessee on December 7, 1941, the day that the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, which is considered the date in which the United States officially entered World War II.
Young is actually credited as one of the key figures in the sport to keep pro wrestling alive during the second World War, as it was during this time, and for nearly two decades that followed, that women’s wrestling truly thrived more so than any other period in history. The 1950s specifically are considered the “heyday” of women’s wrestling, and Mae Young was a big part of the women’s wrestling scene.
In 1954, after the war was over, Young, along with Mildred Burke, another famous women’s wrestler of the era, were among the first female wrestlers to tour Japan.
Three years prior, in 1951, Young made history by becoming the first ever NWA Florida Women’s Champion.
In 1956, when the NWA World Women’s Champion June Byers was stripped of her title, Young competed in a Battle Royal that was held to determine the new champion. Fellow women’s wrestling legend The Fabulous Moolah would go on to win the Battle Royal and become the new NWA World Women’s Champion.
It should be noted, by the way, that Young is credited as being one of the key people who helped train Moolah to become a professional wrestler early in her career.
In 1968, Young made NWA history again as she became the first ever NWA United States Women’s Champion.
After a long and successful career that spanned several decades, Mae Young finally made her WWE debut on the September 9, 1999 edition of WWE SmackDown.
During the show, Young and Moolah were seated at ringside, and WWE Superstar Jeff Jarrett invited Moolah into the ring. Jarrett would go on to blast Moolah over the head with his guitar, a trademark spot that “Double J” would perform throughout his career. As Moolah was laid out in the ring, Young entered the ring to help her friend, only to end up in a figure-four leg lock by Jarrett for her efforts.
Following the SmackDown cameo, both Young and Moolah became a regular off-and-on duo on WWE programming for many years.
Young’s first actual pay-per-view match with WWE came at the Survivor Series show in 1999. The match featured Young, Moolah, Tori (not Torrie Wilson) and Debra competing in an eight-Diva tag-team match against Ivory, Luna Vachon, Jacqueline and Terri Runnels. Young’s team would go on to win the match, which lasted all of one minute and 50 seconds.
At the WWE Royal Rumble pay-per-view in 2000, Young won a bikini contest which resulted in her being crowned “Miss Royal Rumble 2000.” During the contest, WWE performed a spot where they had Young take her top off, however she was wearing a prosthesis, so she didn’t technically expose herself as it appeared during the show.
Also in 2000, Mae Young proved that in her late-70s, she was still one of the toughest women in the game. Hell, for that matter, one of the toughest individuals, regardless of sex, in the sport. Young was in the midst of a story line with Mark Henry that concluded with her giving birth to a hand. Many remember this angle as one of the weirdest in WWE history.
It was during this run in 2000 that Young became a target of the Dudley Boyz. Bubba Ray Dudley would go on to power bomb Young through tables on multiple occasions. Young took the bumps like a pro, never once complaining about the physicality involved, and actually encouraging WWE to continue booking her in such situations.
In 2002, Young was back on the scene taking hellacious bumps once again. This time it would be at the hands of a new WWE tag-team on the scene known as “3-Minute Warning.”
Rosey and Jamal, their individual wrestling names, were a Samoan tag-team that were the latest to put a beating on poor Mae. Young was scoop-slammed by the two, and nailed with a splash off of the top-rope by the 300+ pound Superstars.
Young’s return in 2002, where she was beat up by 3-Minute Warning, was a return designed to help promote her friend The Fabulous Moolah’s book, “The Fabulous Moolah: First Goddess of the Squared Circle.”
Mae Young was not only known as one of the toughest women in the history of the sport, but was also considered to be one who had the best sense of humor. Fans of the current generation are aware of Young almost strictly from her sporadic comedic appearances on WWE programming.
A little known fact, Mae Young was once involved in a rib played on Eric Bischoff during a live WWE television taping. During the show, there was a spot set up in advance that would feature Young giving a “bronco buster” to Bischoff in the ring. The story was told by WWE legend Michael Hayes during a “Legends Of Wrestling” round table special on WWE On Demand. As the story goes, Michael Hayes went to knock on the dressing room door of Moolah and Young, only to hear Moolah say something to the effect of, “Hold on honey, Mae’s still stuffing the sardines in her crotch.”
That’s right boys and girls. Mae Young performed a “bronco buster” on poor Eric Bischoff with a pair of underwear loaded with smelly sardines.
A couple of years later, in 2004, Young was officially inducted into the Pro Wrestling Hall Of Fame in Amsterdam, New York.
In 2005, Young became one of only a handful of pro wrestlers to appear on the “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” show, as she was featured as a guest to promote a documentary she was a part of that covered the 1950s “heyday” of women’s wrestling.
In 2007, Young appeared for the final time alongside Moolah on WWE television, as the two appeared together during the SummerSlam pay-per-view that year. The appearance was part of a backstage segment that also included Vince McMahon and the at-the-time General Manager of WWE RAW, William Regal.
Two months after the 2007 SummerSlam appearance, Young’s friend, The Fabulous Moolah, had passed away at age 84. Moolah was reportedly buried in a grave plot at Greenlawn Memorial Park in Columbia, South Carolina. The plot appears to be a family plot designed for Moolah, Katie Glass (another famed women’s wrestler known as “Diamond Lil”) and Mae Young.
In 2008, Mae Young was inducted into the WWE Hall Of Fame. Inducted by the legendary Pat Patterson, Young was considered one of the inductees that year that “stole the show” during the ceremony, as her induction speech appeared to be one of the most well-received speeches of the evening.
Young’s most recent appearance on WWE television came during the “Old School RAW” show in 2013. Young was featured in a segment during the show where several of the WWE performers were celebrating her 90th birthday until WWE Superstar CM Punk crashed the party.
After the “Old School RAW” appearance, Vince McMahon and Triple H presented Young with a WWE Divas Championship, proclaiming her to be “Forever The Divas Champion.”
Most recently, on December 30, 2013, Young was hospitalized due to health complications. There have been a number of conflicting reports that claim Young was placed on, and later taken off of life support. Young is currently under hospice care at home.
Just three days ago, on January 9, 2014, Mike Mooneyham of The Post And Courier reported the news that Mae Young had passed away. Several WWE Superstars and executives were posting their “rest in peace” messages on Twitter that day, only to find out that the story was incorrect, and later retracted by Mooneyham.
According to one source, this past Thursday, when one of Young’s friends growing up in Oklahoma called her, she wasn’t strong enough to speak, however she did listen. When the friend told her, “you know thousands of people are pulling for you,” Young weakly replied, “I know.”
For many years it has been known within the industry that Mae Young has one final goal she hopes to achieve. Young has stated for years that it is her dream to have one final match, against Stephanie McMahon, when she turns 100.
As of Sunday, January 12, 2014, Mae Young was still alive and fighting. I’m sure I speak for everyone when I say I hope Young kicks out at two-and-a-half and gets the chance to see her dream become a reality. If anyone is tough enough to pull through her current situation, without a doubt, it’s Johnnie Mae Young.
We love you Mae!
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