Many people have passed through the world of professional wrestling znd sports entertainment. Some of these wrestlers or entertainers fail to achieve success where as others manage to transcend the limitations that are placed on them from the get go.
When speaking about the women of WWE, there is only one woman in my mind who managed to break the glass ceiling that is placed on female talent, especially during her era where women were mostly just used as sex symbols. There’s nobody else that has been within that company who has took gender barriers and completely erased them in regards to not only herself but also those who followed her, something that should really be discussed more often.
Chyna’s career in wrestling is a subject I find very easy to discuss but upsetting at the same time. I could talk about the impact she had and her various accomplishments until my jaw fell off, yet it still wouldn’t fully summarize everything that she achieved.
Before her years in the ring, Chyna was a fighter and had to overcome an unbelievably troubled childhood. After reading about it myself and listening to her talk about it, I find the amount of issues she faced from such a young age heartbreaking. Dealing with an eating disorder, sexual abuse in her teenage years, her father’s alcoholism which resulted in him stabbing her mother on one occasion, and that’s just to name a few of the problems she had to deal with.
She did however strike up a dream whilst all of this was happening around her, it was to become an actress. The performance life grabbed her attention early on, she would dance around her house as a child and had a keen interest in music.
Another way in which she found solace from the dysfunction of her family life was in exercise. Chyna first joined an aerobics class then transitioned into weightlifting. She started to spend all her time at the gym just to escape everything that was going on, molding her body into what was deemed a “peculiar” shape back then for women, an idea she would end up erasing years later.
Her path into wrestling is something I find rather interesting. She was never a wrestling fan, but had overheard her brother discussing it whilst they were younger, however she was completely oblivious at the time to the various names he would rant and rave about, such as Sgt. Slaughter or Hulk Hogan.
She finally watched wrestling for the first time one evening. Immediately, despite a complete lack of knowledge on the sport, Chyna felt like this was the career path she was destined to take. The performance aspect of it all reminded her of the dream she had as a child to be an actress.
Due to the mysterious way in which the wrestling business worked back in those days, to be able to find a wrestling school or trainer must have been somewhat difficult, it was either you know someone who knows someone who could train you, or you seen an advertisement for somewhere you could go and learn to wrestle.
Chyna took a rather different route and seeked a wrestling school by going to various boxing gyms and being told by pretty much all of them that they had no clue where to find someone or someplace like that. Finally, her luck ended up changing as someone informed her of a man named Kowalski who lived somewhere in Massachusetts.
Thinking that there can’t be many people with the surname Kowalski, she found a phone book and called the one number in it under that name. It was late and he was incredibly grouchy but told her if she could bring $2000 to him, he would train her.
When the pair met for the first time, Kowalski had to look twice due to her stature. She began training with him but injuries would occur pretty quickly, including a broken nose from a drop toe hold.
Chyna found training with Kowalski tough. They weren’t shown how to do anything, but instead he watched over them as they figured it out for themselves. Although she never felt discouraged during her training, she also recognized that she lacked the psychology of wrestling, something she only picked on once she was hired by WWE. She became a student of wrestling and would pay close attention to the production, creating her own videos in the same kind of style they used on TV.
Independent bookings started to come her way under the ring name Joanie Lee, some of which were set up by Fabulous Moolah. Her very first match has for years been said to have been against a man dressed as a woman, although no one knows who the man was. Chyna felt her early days were quite seedy as she was beat up a lot, but it did also help her improve.
Now, if jumping into wrestling head first despite knowing nothing about it sounds like the craziest part of this journey, you’re wrong. Chyna got her first opportunity with WWE through a wrestling groupie who put her in contact with a booker. They agreed to meet at a show in Connecticut. Thinking this would be her chance to show off what she could do, Chyna brought her videos she had created and a book full of pictures with her, so he would be able to see that she had trained and worked matches.
However the booker ended up leaving the show before they could discuss her potentially being signed and she refused to leave the arena until Dave Hebner told her which hotel the booker would be at so she went there to find him. Once there, she called his hotel room and went off on the phone with him about the fact he didn’t even give her the time of day, thus she had ruined her own chance of being hired, or so she thought.
Fate had other plans despite this small setback, she may not have met the booker, but she did manage to bump into Shawn Michaels and Triple H, the latter of which ended up interested in her through their mutual connection to Kowalski who he had also been trained by.
Shawn instantly felt she was a gold mine and would be perfect for DX. He came up with the bodyguard idea and mentioned she could wrestle the men. He took her videos and picture book and she exchanged numbers with Triple H to discuss their ideas further.
Chyna wasn’t aware that women wrestled for the company. She thought they were simply on TV to be eye candy, which by the time she eventually did come into WWE, it would be somewhat true–although again she would have a hand in somewhat changing this idea. However, the road to getting her foot in the door was not so smooth sailing.
Despite the clear interest from both Triple H and Shawn Michaels, people backstage including Vince McMahon and Pat Patterson were not so keen. They thought a woman wrestling a man wasn’t believable, even though she looked more menacing and physically dominating than some of the roster.
When talking about her first meeting with Vince, Chyna felt let down by the encounter as he just shrugged her off as nothing, whereas other people had built her up to be this wonderful thing who would be good for the company.
Due to the clear decision that they didn’t want her in WWE, Triple H put her in contact with Kevin Nash who was in WCW by this point, something that was kept quiet at the time in case it hurt Hunter’s career, even though Vince had made it obvious he didn’t want her in WWE.
Nash shared the same interest in her as Shawn and Hunter and wanted Chyna to be the first female NWO member. He set up for her to come to WCW, the day she was due to get on a flight and go Shane McMahon called her to persuade her out of going, telling her that she wasn’t meant for that company and would be a star in WWE if he could get his father on his side.
So, she severed her ties with WCW and Kevin Nash on only the promise that Shane would get in touch with her about when she would be signed. It’s kind of crazy to think about this now, I can’t picture Chyna in the NWO or ever becoming a big star in WCW due to their lack of knowledge on how to use women. The only female talent they had who were big names came from other companies such as Madusa or Bull Nakano and apart from the title in the trashcan moment, I can’t think of a single thing either of them did in that company, or the women who weren’t really known would become bigger stars once going elsewhere such as Stacy Keibler and Torrie Wilson. The latter of the two being involved in some great storylines in the 2000’s for WWE, neither are memorable as part of WCW.
Chyna still wasn’t signed, but it was probably best she didn’t get on that flight and head to WCW.
Now, obviously I don’t know how much of this is believable but whilst doing my research for this article, a rather interesting story was told by Chyna about how her being signed ended up happening.
She states that she waited months to hear back from Shane and he just kept telling her to wait, in reality they still weren’t keen on her at all. WWE were back in town for a show and Triple H told her to go to the arena as she was going to be signed. When she showed up people were confused as to why she was there. Shawn and Hunter took her into a room with office personnel, Shawn slammed the title down on the table and demanded she be hired or he wouldn’t drop the belt, they hired her on the spot.
Basically, if this story is to be believed, Shawn Michaels played a huge part in creating this woman’s legacy as without it, she probably wouldn’t have been picked up by the company.
When Chyna first started out in WWE, things weren’t easy. A lot of the men didn’t want to sell for her, something she didn’t understand as she felt it was possible for her to physically beat them up. She also looked like she could beat them up, so it was believable from a fans point of view and wouldn’t necessarily look fake if she did. Masculinity must have been very fragile at the time.
This is when she believes her relationship with Triple H started to become a romantic one, however neither of them really discussed it. It just naturally happened. They decided to hide it from people behind the scenes as it would have probably been viewed negatively at that time. Ironic when you know what happens in the future of this story, something I won’t be going into due to it already being a well documented portion of her life and something she doesn’t deserve to be solely remembered for.
There were a lot of issues backstage with guys making certain comments towards her including homophobic slurs, or pulling pranks which she didn’t enjoy, despite looking like she could destroy a house with her fist. On the inside she was still incredibly sensitive about all of the things they would say about her. It must have been difficult to go into what is supposed to be a professional environment and be disrespected not only as a woman, but as a human being every single day.
Chyna’s first appearance on TV was during In Your House 13: Final Four. She choked out Marlena while commentary were wondering who this random woman was in the crowd was that was attacking her, aligning herself with Triple H while Goldust was in the ring with him. The bodyguard/enforcer persona was born.
Working with Goldust ended up being a turning point in her career. He was one of the first men to agree to work with her, something she was incredibly grateful for. After that, more of the men became okay with getting beat up by her.
D-Generation X is today remembered as one of the most iconic stables in wrestling, as part of easily the most infamous era in WWE, the group were a direct answer to the also popular at the time NWO. They broke the rules and rebelled against the system. They were provocative, crude, insulted everyone and everything, but were what the people at the time wanted to see.
The use of profanity and sexual innuendos made the group an instant hit especially amongst male fans. Ironically Chyna became a key member of the stable. She would become involved in a number of high profile feuds alongside her fellow degenerates, including the infamous Montreal Screwjob.
Chyna herself recalled this feud between Michaels and Hart as confusing. She knew something was more real about it as everyone was nervous and having secret discussions, she was told she would not be allowed to go down to the ring with Shawn or go out there after the match. She later realized why and felt sorry for Bret. Despite not being involved in the incident, she was attacked by a female fan after the show. That’s how serious people took it.
There are countless memorable moments from the stable, like going to war with WCW, Mike Tyson being a short lived member, Triple H taking control of the group and recruiting the New Age Outlaws and X-Pac, their feud with the Nation of Domination including the parodies of the group, joining Vince’s Corporation and with the various moments of members turning on each other, they solidified themselves as a huge part of this era.
Even though DX is where she got her start and created all of those memorable moments, Chyna didn’t enjoy a lot of the stuff they were doing on TV, but when the idea of her going solo came up, she was nervous and scared that she wouldn’t be able to do it without them. I think it’s pretty safe to say she had no reason to worry when you look back at her career now.
Her lengthy list of achievements began in 1999. Chyna was the first woman to enter the Royal Rumble and now the only woman to do it twice, the first woman to qualify for the King of the Ring tournament defeating Val Venis in the first round (but was pinned in the second by Road Dogg), the first woman to be number one contender for the WWF Championship although she later lost this opportunity to Mick Foley but at one point the main event of SummerSlam could have been Chyna vs. Stone Cold, and the first woman to win the Intercontinental Championship defeating Jeff Jarrett in a “Good Housekeeping” match.
She truly deserved all of these historic moments, I personally wish they were discussed more often either by WWE or wrestling fans.
As Intercontinental Champion, she was paired with Miss Kitty, the then wife of Jerry Lawler and one of the worst Women’s Champions we ever had to endure. I’ll save that story for another day. Chris Jericho would end up being her only feud whilst she was holding the belt, and the pair were even co-champions at one point, something that is no longer recognized by WWE for some reason.
Although the feud was brief, it helped put across the point that Chyna was capable of absolutely anything, she wrestled more men than women, took their championships and broke the gender barriers placed on women in wrestling despite the amount of sexism and misogyny that was around at the time.
Her stature and physique made it acceptable for the women to look however their body is meant to look. One could argue that the reason why WWE are today okay with hiring women who aren’t just known for having slim athletic body types, which was the norm for a while, originally started with the hiring of Chyna. A lot of people looked up to her for being different to everyone else on TV. It’s proof that all forms of representation is important.
From a female fan point of view, watching Chyna wrestle men and achieve things that were predominantly only done by the male wrestlers, was and still is inspiring. It is a huge part of why she was successful and is today considered legendary in not just women’s wrestling but the sport in general.
She was truly a trailblazer yet it’s rather funny that her time in the women’s division came towards the end of her career with the company since she was too busy beating up men to focus on the women.
After her run as Intercontinental Champion, a somewhat comedic yet wonderful pairing with Eddie Guerrero started. Referring to her as his “mamacita” and giving her flowers before all of their matches, the duo became a favourite amongst fans with signs about the pair appearing in the crowd very early into the alliance, they worked well together, bouncing off each other very easily.
They competed in intergender tag team matches and accompanied each other to the ring, but eventually split when Chyna found Eddie in the shower with two women. It was short lived but entertaining. Chyna stated that Eddie was very focused on helping her rather than himself during this storyline, which only adds to how much I personally loved it.
Towards the end of her WWE career, Chyna began a feud with Right to Censor member Ivory who was Women’s Champion at the time, due to her posing nude for Playboy which annoyed the group since they were a parody of the Parents Television Council who hated pretty much everything WWE did.
The pair would face off at WrestleMania 17 where Chyna won the Women’s Championship for the first and only time. Lita then entered the title picture, the pair were shown to be friends with a lot of respect between them, but they faced off at Judgement Day in 2001 for the title, with Chyna retaining the championship.
This storyline between the two was supposed to continue with Chyna eventually dropping the title to Lita, however she was taken off TV for months, released from the company by fax, something she previously stated was a mutual decision so she could pursue other career paths. The championship was instead vacated.
Her wrestling story does not end quite there as she began making an appearances in 2002 for New Japan Pro Wrestling, facing off with the likes of Masahiro Chono, Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kenzo Suzuki. There were also some appearances for TNA in 2011, with her last match ever being a mixed tag team match teaming with Kurt Angle against Jeff Jarrett and Karen Jarrett at their Sacrifice PPV.
There are various other projects in which Chyna became a part of over the years, but I would rather not focus on those, similar to the Triple H situation, she deserves to be remembered for something other than these things.
The personal struggles that Chyna witnessed as a child ended up seeping into her adult life, stating that all of her relationships were filled with physical abuse, how alcohol ended up becoming a real vice, or her attempt at suicide. They all add to the tragic tale of the aftermath of this legendary career.
It gets even more sad when you realise that just a few short weeks before her untimely death, she was campaigning to get herself into the Hall of Fame and back to being accepted by WWE, the former is something which may end up happening in the future, but it all just feels way too late and shady.
I would love to see Chyna get the recognition, respect and praise that she deserves for her historic career. I just hope that it is dealt with the correct way, instead of WWE continuing this rather bizarre denial of how incredibly influential she was, as they only finally recognized her brilliance when she was no longer here to witness it herself.
Mental health and addiction are touchy subjects that are still somewhat brushed under the table in society, but this story alone is enough to make you realise how very real those problems are and how rapidly they can break a person.
There are life lessons to learn from this woman both positive and negative and I hope someone takes some of them away from this article. Whether it be to believe in yourself and that you’re capable of whatever you put your mind to, or taking into consideration that you don’t know what is happening behind closed doors, someone could seem okay but may be carrying around a pain inside that is destroying them.
Chyna failed at nothing, nevertheless this is a sad story. There are moments of utter triumph yet heartbreak at the exact same time. It’s the epitome of greatness but also the downside to life that so many are affected by.
A feminist icon who didn’t stick to the gender norms that society places on people whilst still being a sex symbol.
Someone who broke down barriers for women in wrestling with her never ending list of achievements.
More importantly, an influence to a whole generation of fans.
May she rest in peace.