As some of you may know, Joanie Laurer (better known as Chyna), passed away on April 20, 2016. Details of her death as of this writing are not confirmed, but what is known are the feelings of so many wrestling fans who knew of Chyna’s work in WWE:
All of those sentiments, to a large extent, are a representation of Chyna’s post WWE career. Fans who follow “dirtsheets” or are classified as the prototypical “smart fan,” know that Chyna’s relationship with the company whom she competed in the late 1990s and early 2000s was tumultuous at best.
Chyna was founding member of the stable D-Generation X. She held the WWF Intercontinental Championship (the only female performer to do so) twice and the WWF Women's Championship once.
Her accomplishments also extend to her doing things that women do not normally do in the WWF. She was also the first woman to participate in the Royal Rumble and King of the Ring events, as well as to become number one contender to the WWF Championship.With singles victories over several prominent male wrestlers – including multiple-time world champions Triple H, Kurt Angle, Chris Jericho and Jeff Jarrett – Chyna has left a lasting legacy as the most dominant female competitor of all time.
I can't speak as someone who has followed Chyna's career as it happened. For starters, I watched WCW around that time and did really know of Chyna until I got back into wrestling some time in 2009.
That puts me in a weird position as a wrestling fan who is writing this. But it is easy for me to understand why she is so beloved by wrestlers and fans alike.
I was on trip from Lawrenceville, New Jersey to National Harbor, Maryland in February 2014. I asked a friend of mine what wrestling to watch on my IPad on the four hour bus ride. He suggested the first-ever Elimination Chamber match, which was fantastic. He suggested Shawn Michaels vs Bret Hart in the Iron Man Match at WrestleMania12, an all-time classic. He also suggested Chyna vs Chris Jericho vs Hardcore Holly for the Intercontinental Championship at the Royal Rumble in 2000.
Huh? That was my initial reaction.
But when I got to watching it, all I could remember was this powerful and confident woman standing tall against some of the big names of the company.
I was awestruck. Was I late to the Chyna party? Yeah, but I'm glad I watched and enjoyed seeing Chyna 's past matches.
I'm not saying that Chyna was a great technical wrestler. Far from it. There's no point in her career where you can pinpoint a match and say, "that's a 5-star wrestling clinic."
But you know what? The same can be said about Hulk Hogan and he is arguably the biggest star to ever come out of the wrestling industry (pre-racist rant and sex tape leaks that is).
In the wrestling business, there is a large gap in respect given to the men compared to the women. The same could be said in pretty much all sports.
Having Chyna compete alongside top male stars in WWE during the biggest era in its history can been as earth shattering in breaking the gender barrier between men and women. It is safe to assume that Chyna is to wrestling as Billie Jean King, who defeated former #1 tennis player Bobby Riggs in a male vs female match dubbed "The Battle of the Sexes" in 1973, is to sports fans.
In an era where women in WWE were considered models, managers, valets and wrestlers (typically in that order), Chyna came in and broke the status quo. She had an impressive figure, akin to bodybuilders. While we have seen that from virtually every MALE wrestler that has competed for WWE beforehand, Chyna was one of the first women to be stand alongside the men inside the wrestling business and appear just as, and sometimes more, intimidating as her male counterparts.
What amplified her impact was that she not only stood alongside the men in WWE, she competed against some of those men.
And beat them.
She inspired a new generation of women’s wrestlers that we are now seeing take the wrestling world by storm with extremely talented women in WWE, who recently dropped its slur-esque term “Diva” to describe its female division and reinstate a women’s division, NXT, TNA and Lucha Underground.
Not to mention all the women in all-female promotions such as Shimmer and Shine Wrestling have provided many talented women wrestlers.
Top to bottom, the industry has not had this much depth in terms of great women’s wrestlers in the entire history of the sport. A lot of that is owed to Chyna.
In a world where WWE was able to mend and fix its incredibly unfortunate history with the Hart family, it’s kind of hard to believe that WWE didn’t make an honest push to do the same with Chyna, who has been on a sort of pseudo-exile to Japan.
Triple H said on Stone Cold Steve Austin's podcast that Chyna deserves to be in the WWE Hall of Fame, but was worried about children googling her and finding her old pornographic films from the early 2000s. Which seems hypocritical to an extent, considering people like Hulk Hogan and Sunny, who have their own issues with not just the law in the past but have been involved in adult films or sex tape scandals.
I'm not advocating for their removal but I think Chyna not being in the Hall of Fame is a damn shame and a perfect example of why fans hold the Hall of Fame and its induction ceremonies, done the day before WrestleMania, in an apathetic attitude.
As one friend of mine, who is the biggest Chyna fan I know, said that this is a bit of a gut-punch for fans and people who follow wrestlers. She had a huge downward spiral, and never really rose above it before this. She was a victim of one of the wrestling business's hidden, ugly side that is far different than the kayfabe programming that we're exposed to week in and week out.
So in this time of remembrance, let us not forget Chyna’s good moments in her career. Watch her feud with Chris Jericho and Jeff Jarrett, go back to her days in Degeneration-X and recognize the importance of Chyna in that time. Were it not for her, we may not have the Women's Division back in WWE.
Wrestling author David Shoemaker perfectly captured some of my sentiments towards WWE in just three tweets.
Chyna, alongside other Attitude Era pioneers in women's wrestling such as Lita and Trish Stratus, are instrumental for at least making wrestling fans aware that women can be seen as athletes while being entertainers at the same time. Whenever someone asks me what do I think of Chyna, I will say:
Hall of Famer.
(Hopefully some day).