Former professional wrestler Joanie Laurer passed away yesterday at the age of 45. She was a star in the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) during the hottest period in the company’s history, the Attitude Era.
Much has been said about her time after leaving wrestling. Like many, she had her share of difficulties. There will be more than enough talk and speculation about that during the coming days. I, however, don’t want to concentrate on that portion of her life. Instead, I’d prefer to focus on her short but memorable career.
Chyna made her WWF debut in February of 1997 at In Your House 13: Final Four. She was posing as a fan in the audience when she jumped the barrier and choked Marlena during Triple H‘s match with Goldust. She became Trip’s bodyguard. She was a key member of the D-Generation X faction.
She really hit her stride by 1999.
January: First woman in the Royal Rumble.
June: First woman in the King of the Ring tournament.
That summer she became the first woman to become the #1 contender for the WWF Championship.
But it was in October that she achieved the greatest accomplishment of her career.
Billy Gunn, a friend of Chyna, was upset that she took the opportunity because he felt he deserved it more. The two had a televised match in September to determine who actually got the title shot at Unforgiven.
While this is going on, Jarrett begins cutting promos degrading women.
The Unforgiven match was wild. Chyna held her own but finally succumbed to a guitar shot to the head by Jarrett, allowing him to retain the championship.
Jarrett turned up the heat big time. He began making misogynistic comments about women in the workplace and the ring. He stated that women were weak and that men were dominant. He said they belonged barefoot and pregnant, not contributing in the world. Over the next few weeks, he physically attacked Lilian Garcia, Fabulous Moolah, and Mae Young.
This sets the stage for the rematch.
The Good Housekeeping Match
October 17, 1999. The Gund Arena. Cleveland, Ohio.
Being from nearby Akron, I was in attendance for the show that evening.
Earlier in the night, the Fabulous Moolah defeated Ivory to become the oldest champion in the history of the WWF, if not wrestling as a whole. She was 76. This was by no means a technical classic, but my buddies and I popped huge when Moolah’s hand was raised in victory. She was a legend, so it was an honor just to see her perform. The title win was just icing on the cake.
Later in the night, The New Brood (Matt & Jeff Hardy) faced Edge & Christian in the finals of the “Terri Invitational Tournament.” It was the first-ever tag team ladder match. It is now the stuff of legends, but at the time, I wasn’t expecting much from the two lower mid-card tag teams. By the end of the bout, every fan in the building was on their feet. All four men were made that night. It was something special.
(For reference: a “Good Housekeeping Match” is basically a hardcore match, but the weapons allowed are restricted to common household items. This comes into play later.)
The Intercontinental Champion is out first. He is accompanied by Miss Kitty, who is wearing a gold lame bikini top and matching miniskirt.
He is carrying a kitchen sink.
Next out is Chyna. She has a trash can and a broom.
The ring and surrounding area are filled with an assortment of items.
It is clear the fans are in for a wild ride.
The match starts outside the ring. Chyna fires off some forearms. She bounces Jeff Jarrett’s head off the ring barrier.
The two roll in the ring.
She hits JJ with an inverted Atomic Drop. She immediately follows with a standing suplex.
Chyna then wallops him with an unprotected shot to the head with a trash can.
Back outside the ring.
The challenger clobbers Jarrett with a…salami. A stiff shot with a broom comes next.
The 9th Wonder of the World begins to beat on her opponent with a frying pan.
Jarrett is shaky.
Chyna crowns the Intercontinental Champion with a toilet seat/lid.
More unprotected trash can shots to the head.
Chyna smiles as she stuffs an unpeeled banana in Jeff Jarrett’s mouth.
She whips him into an outside post.
Jarrett is then cracked with a brutal unprotected blow from a trash can lid.
Broom to the abdomen.
The champ is stunned.
Chyna sets him up on a table. She goes for an elbow off the apron but misses.
Double J immediately goes for a pin on the ringside floor, but the challenger kicks out.
Jarrett hits her with a trash can.
He belts her with a filleted fish??
Back in the ring.
The champ runs the challenger into an ironing board. He follows with an Irish Whip so stiff that Chyna is carried over the top rope.
Outside, Jarrett puts milk, eggs, and flour in a mixing bowl, but Chyna hits him with it before he can use it on her. She then dumps the nasty concoction on Miss Kitty.
Back in the ring.
Double J goes for a Figure Four. Chyna struggles. This is the most peril that she has been in so far. After a good 40-seconds of effort, she reaches the rope causing a break.
Jarrett finds a pair of tongs and brandishes them as he leaps off the top rope. Chyna counters with a stiff low blow.
She makes JJ regret putting the tongs in play by applying them to his groin.
She pelts him with trash can shots to the head and back.
Cooking pot to the head.
Two pies to the face.
Kitchen sink shot to the head.
She goes for the pin and…
Jarrett kicks out.
Chyna attempts a Pedigree, but it is blocked.
Double J launches his opponent into the referee. Teddy Long goes down.
Miss Kitty gives Jarrett the belt. He cracks Chyna and pins her to retain the title.
He begins to make his way back to the locker room, the victor.
Referee Long runs out to Jarrett and points at the belt.
“That’s not a household item!”
Howard Finkle announces that the match has been restarted.
In the ring, as Double J attempts to put the referee in a Figure Four, Chyna pops him with his own guitar.
One. Two. Three.
The winner and NEW Intercontinental Champion: Chyna.
At the time, I remember thinking how poorly Jeff Jarrett was treated. He was one of the better workers in the business during that period, and he was essentially steamrolled and embarrassed by the far less-experienced Chyna.
But, as is wont to happen, the real story came out. Jarrett’s contract had expired on October 16, 24 hours prior to the match. He was planning to jump to World Championship Wrestling (WCW), so was under no legal obligation to defend his title in Cleveland that night.
Jarrett, feeling he had promoter Vince McMahon in a precarious position, demanded a reported $300,000 to $500,000 to work the match and drop the strap cleanly to Chyna. He was paid the money, but with it came the ire of McMahon.
In 2001, when McMahon bought the dying WCW, it was made clear that Double J was not welcome back to the World Wrestling Federation.
The current independent wrestling scene is a much different animal than it was back then. It is healthy and striving. Ring of Honor, Chikara, Evolve, PWG, and AIW but are a few options for hungry, talented workers. Back then, there was nothing. This lead Jeff and his father, Jerry, to do the only thing feasible if he was to continue in the business. They started their own company. Total Nonstop Action. The rest is history.
But back to Chyna.
That night really was the high point of her wrestling career. She had broken down the last barrier in a notoriously male-dominated field. At one time, just being in their with the boys was a mind blowing achievement. Now she could say that she was among the elite.
While performers like Sable, Sunny, and Trish Stratus are given their fair credit when it comes to their efforts in advancing the position of women in professional wrestling, Chyna legitimately brought the heat. Chyna did the seemingly impossible and became one of the boys.
Though life held many ups and downs for her after leaving the industry, Joanie Laurer was a pioneer and contributor to professional wrestling during an intensely competitive and historically significant period in the history of the business.
These women clearly have something to say in professional wrestling.
Chyna was the first to say it.
-Zep the Bear