Today is a sad day for many, as we heard of the passing of Joanie Laurer on April 20.
Once billed as Chyna, the 9th Wonder of the World, the contributions she made to the world of wrestling, and specifically, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), are something that can never be forgotten or ignored. She made her mark first in the popular faction Degeneration X (DX), as the female bodyguard of Triple H, then went on to win the Intercontinental title – normally held by male wrestlers. She accomplished a lot of “first-evers” while at the WWE.
Though I didn’t know her personally, I know many people who did, and I can attest to the popularity and long lasting effect she had on the world of wrestling with my own venture into pro wrestling from bodybuilding. What fans showed was they wanted another Chyna, that’s how popular she was. If it wasnt her in the flesh in the ring, the fans wanted a similar character hence Aysia in the WCW, and so forth.
Before the Super Genie, there was Melissa “The Strongest Woman in the World” Coates, as Jim Cornette billed me on OVW television back in the early 2000s when I was at WWE developmental. And on the independent scene, I was known as Melissa “Ms. Olympia” Coates, having been a top ranked professional bodybuilder at one time. At developmental, though i was told not to try to be another “Chyna,” I was still told to dress similarly to her.
Here you can see me bodyguarding Jillian Hall in her match against Passion, which then tumbles into her attacking Mickey James, and then me, big and muscular and clad in black leather and work boots, comes to Jillian’s aid. Chyna had such success in her presentation and character, it was often imitated. I know I wasnt personally trying to imitate her, but so she was so popular with the fans there were many comparisons drawn. In the world of wrestling, that was undoubtedly a compliment.
I was at OVW from 2003 to 2005. I suppose at that time because of the negative parting of Chyna from the WWE. The powers that be did not want to emulate a “new” Chyna-esque character.
The fans were salivating for matches such as these, including with the muscular Hall of Famer Jacqueline, and teased it a bit with Beth “The Glamazon” Phoenix. Though these events were always anticipated and millions of fans tuned in to see them, the WWE has since forfeited doing such matches. OVW added a tad of this in 2005, when they had me as the only female security guard in The Bolin Services (which Dolph Ziggler, then Nic Nemeth, was a part of), but that was about the extent of female vs. male interaction.
This seems odd to me, not to feature matches the fans really want to see, but that is the direction the WWE has opted to go over the past decade. I can say for a fact my intergender matches get more views than my female matches. But the independent scene seems better able to feature these matches. At any rate, the WWE is dubbed “Sports Entertainment,” and Chyna showed the fans wanted to see women wrestling men, and especially a woman who looked like she could be a match against a man. Almost all my matches at NWA Anarchy involved me wrestling men, and even on the independent scene, if the fans saw me do a move on a man, they stopped and stared. It builds excitement to see a strong woman challenge a man and win, and this Chyna proved that on a monumental level. She was still popular when they switched her into the women’s division, but her real success and height of popularity was when she was mixing it up with the men.
Rest in peace, Chyna. You did so much for the WWE, and made so many contributions to their success. A woman who looked like a wrestler, someone strong and able to make defeating a man look believable, and wow the fans in the process. I’m sure she inspired women everywhere to be strong and stand up for themselves.
And give hours of happiness and beautiful memories to men and women alike.