Women’s Wrestling has been through decades of tough moments. We could say the lack thereof during The Fabulous Moolah era, but I’m not here to talk about her controversies. However, it is important to recognize that her name value and contacts took women to the first WrestleMania.
Without her influence, it’s impossible to know when women’s wrestling would have gained steam in America. Up to 1987, it was banned altogether in the United Kingdom. Only Japan regularly featured them under the title of “Joshi Puro” in the 70s and 80s. Despite the allegations of exploitation, Moolah helping to get the ball rolling is undisputed.
Death Of Women’s Wrestling
With Moolah’s firm grip on the booking, it isn’t surprising that the WWF women’s division disappeared from programming altogether in 1990. The only women seen at WrestleMania VI were Sapphire and Sherri Martel in a mixed tag with Dusty Rhodes & Randy Savage. This demise coincides with her retirement and the company vacating Rockin’ Robin’s Women’s Championship; which she held since 1988.
For more details on Moolah and her falling out with the WWF, you can read my two-part review on the Dark Side of the Ring episodes which looked in to her life & career:
In the early 90s, the only relevant champion in America was NWA Women’s Champion Debbie Combs, a former WWF wrestler under Moolah’s watch. She had taken over from Moolah after she left the NWA to work closer with Vince McMahon. Women’s wrestling was effectively dead in the United States. Meanwhile, Joshi Puroresu was reaching another level, as the 90s introduced real women’s actions with talent like: Manami Toyota, Bull Nakano, Akira Hokuto, Cutie Suzuki, Aja Kong, Megumi Kudo, Shinobu Kandori, Kyoko Inoue, Takako Inoue, Dynamite Kansai, and Mayumi Ozaki.
These hard-hitting women followed in the footsteps of “The Crush Gals”, an 80s tag team who were so popular they had some of the highest-rated broadcasts in the history of Japanese television; on top of selling out arenas to capacity. The appeal never crossed over to America though, as audiences enjoyed Hulkamania, Ultimate Warrior, Randy Savage, the debuting Undertaker, Ric Flair & The Four Horseman, Sting, along with many other colourful characters. Wrestling in the US was booming, but women would only feature in managerial roles. Miss Elizabeth & Sensational Sherri became household names, but were ancillary characters who were never pushed to the forefront.
From The Embers
After Moolah put out the fire a few years before, Madusa emerged from the embers. The WWF noticed her getting over in WCW with Paul Heyman’s Dangerous Alliance and wanted to bring her charisma to New York. They made a tournament to crown her the new Women’s Champion. Officials heard about Joshi Puro and how popular it was overseas, so Bull Nakano contributed to a division which no longer suffered under Moolah’s power mongering.
Despite Madusa’s (going by Alundra Blayze) charisma and athletic prowess, the division struggled because Vince McMahon didn’t do enough to make it seem important. Blayze held the title three times for a combined 539 days, but in her whole WWF career she only wrestled for three minutes and twenty seconds at WrestleMania X. Do you know how long the Women’s title was defended at WrestleMania from 1985 to 2001? 1,126 seconds. That’s a little under 19 minutes in sixteen years! Becky Lynch vs. Ronda Rousey vs. Charlotte Flair at WrestleMania 35 lasted 21 minutes, 30 seconds. Let that sink in for a moment.
What is disappointing about this era in women’s wrestling is that it matches up with today’s product. Watch the match below and try telling me it doesn’t crap over the ring work in the Attitude Era. It was intense, athletic, and well ahead of its time. But no matter how good something is, if management isn’t doing everything they can to get behind it, why should anybody else? Oh yeah, and I almost forgot about how they transformed Monster Ripper in to Bertha Faye. That was a missed opportunity.
Walk The Plank
Due to financial problems, the WWF decided not to keep Blayze on in late-95 during her third reign. Therefore, Eric Bischoff encouraged her to go to WCW and dump the Women’s title in the trash on TV. Many consider it monumental in the escalation of the WWF & WCW’s rivalry leading in to the Attitude Era. Some say it was what started it. Madusa was blacklisted from WWE for over twenty years, and she didn’t win the new WCW Women’s title either, as she lost a tournament final to Akira Hokuto. The championship didn’t last long, but at least WCW trained its Nitro Girls to wrestle and made use of its division.
Meanwhile, women’s wrestling in the WWF died again. With the Attitude Era around the corner, the company pumped everything in to making new male stars to rival WCW’s popularity. They needed every minute to push Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart, Diesel, Razor Ramon, Steve Austin, The Rock and more. Not only had women’s wrestling jumped ship, it had been lost in the ocean’s tide. Now it was all about being edgy and catering to an audience thirsty for blood, beer, skin and swerves.
Sunny, Marlena, Sable and Debra were untrained wrestlers, but they served a purpose of attracting eyes to those they managed. In Sable’s case, her popularity skyrocketed to the point they had to bring back the Women’s title in 1998. Looks and sexual content revived women’s wrestling in the WWF. WCW made use of their Nitro Girls, including Torrie Wilson and Stacy Keibler. On the NWA side, they vacated the title in 1996 and it remained so til 2000.
As a teenager watching these shows, I was all for it. We didn’t know any better, and I assumed they compensated nicely for acting like strippers. But looking back, it’s a shame they had to over sexualize everything to get the world to notice. What’s worse is that any girls who loved the art form of wrestling had to play along with these depraving segments and gimmick matches to get airtime. Wrestling became a platform to sell sex, and for anyone like Madusa, she’d had enough of the ugly scene.
It wasn’t long til Jerry Lawler’s catchphrase “Puppies!” became synonymous with the Attitude Era. Some girls embraced it though, they knew exactly how to sell themselves and reaped the rewards. It empowered them in their own way, but they were still a long way from being treated as equals. We have to give them kudos for getting women back on track. They added fuel to the furnace after the train had rusted away on a siding. It was anything but classy, but at least it was a start. You can find the famous Sable “hand print bikini” scene at the following link: Fully Loaded 1998
Attitude Era Moments
For anyone who wasn’t old enough to know what it was like, here are more moments from the Attitude Era. As we headed toward the millennium, WWF’s Champions were Jacqueline, Ivory, Sable, Debra, The Kat, and (76-year-old) Fabulous Moolah. Only two had good wrestling skills though, and I don’t need to tell you who.
Exposing Sable, Jacqueline and The Kat’s breasts got a lot of eyes on the women for the wrong reasons. There’s also an interview with Ivory where she buries “The Kat” Stacy Carter for having no wrestling skills and being a nymphomaniac.
9th Wonder Of The World
Through all the smut and degradation of the 90s, there was one light of hope for women’s wrestling. The 9th Wonder Of The World Chyna. After debuting, there were many gender jokes had at her expense because of the way she looked. But over time, Chyna became arguably the most popular woman on the product; especially after Sable left the company. While the “divas” stripped and wrestled around in mud, Chyna was wrestling for the Intercontinental Championship. Also, she made history as the first woman to enter the Royal Rumble.
Chyna played an integral part of the D-Generation X stable. While she rarely wrestled in the women’s division, she did more for equality than anyone had before. She more than deserved a solo Hall of Fame induction, but the history of pornography and fractious relationship between her, Triple H, and Stephanie McMahon made it difficult. We know it will never happen, but everyone who saw her contributions knows what she did. Chyna made it acceptable to have intergender situations. Without her, I can’t imagine how women’s wrestling would have grown in the 2000s. To this day, they could still be seen as a sideshow. Chyna wasn’t a great wrestler, but she connected with fans like no other has.
Next time, if you would like to read more (please let me know in the comments), we’ll be looking at Trish Stratus, Lita, Torrie Wilson, Stacy Keibler, and the evolution of the term “Diva”. This concludes our first look in to the history of women’s wrestling. Thank you for reading!