The passing of Joanie “Chyna” Laurer has caused an outpouring of grief amongst wrestling fans – and those inside the business – who fondly remember her in-ring career and the massive strides she took in women being “more than just valets”, more than 15 years before the WWE’s “Diva Revolution”.
It’s rare that I feel compelled to immediately write about the passing of anyone in wrestling – particularly someone whose career in and out of the ring left them something of a divisive figure.
Initially brought into the WWE in 1997 as Triple H’s valet, it wasn’t long before she was thrust into the spotlight as a part of D-Generation X, back when the stable was just Triple H and Shawn Michaels. Chyna’s role was to be that of “hired muscle” (and given that she was a female bodybuilder before entering wrestling, that phrase had more than one meaning!), but it wasn’t until 1999 when Chyna became a focal point of the company.
Becoming the first female to ever enter the Royal Rumble, Chyna would slowly start featuring inside the ring, participating in feuds with DX stablemates X-Pac and Triple H – both of whom would play prominent roles in her life, as well as her career. After making it into the first round of the 1999 King of the Ring – again, the first woman to participate in that tournament – Chyna entered a feud with Jeff Jarrett over the Intercontinental championship.
In a case of “right place, right time”, Chyna ended up winning the title at No Mercy 1999, beating Jarrett in a “Good Housekeeping” match – in a match that played a part in Jarrett becoming persona non grata with WWE, after holding the company up for money to wrestle one more time following the expiry of his contract.
After successfully defending the title against Chris Jericho at the following month’s Survivor Series, she would drop the belt to Jericho at Armageddon in December, before ending the year with the belt again… sort of. A draw against Jericho on the final SmackDown of 1999 led the pair to be declared co-champions, in an entertaining storyline that would last about a month until Jericho won the belt outright at the Royal Rumble.
Another entry into the King of the Ring tournament followed, this time exiting in the first round against Eddie Guerrero, and it was with “Latino Heat” that Chyna would experience another resurgence, winning the Intercontinental title again at SummerSlam, before dropping the belt to Eddie weeks later. As the year 2000 came to an end, Chyna ended up being slowly moved away from intergender action, and focussed on the women’s division. In spite of a storyline injury, which WWE purposely evoked memories of Owen Hart by having Jerry Lawler go to the ring and check on her after “landing badly” doing a handspring elbow, Chyna would go on to squash pretty much everyone in her way – including a sub-three minute win over Ivory at WrestleMania X7, where Chyna became the Women’s champion.
Sadly, that run came to an end in May 2001, where her successful defence against Lita would prove to be her last, as she was taken from TV and her title quietly vacated when she was let go from the company in November. In the years after her departure, it was claimed that the ending of her relationship with Triple H, and his subsequent relationship with Stephanie McMahon, played a huge part in that, particularly with the Triple H/McMahon relationship becoming a major storyline on TV whilst Chyna remained in the company.
Post-WWE, Chyna would wrestle for a tour in New Japan in September 2002, but it would be her next move that would seal her position as truly persona non grata within WWE: the world of adult movies.
Whilst a home-made video with then-boyfriend Sean “X-Pac” Waltman in 2004 achieved some notoriety, along with a follow-up tape that came out five years later, her later excursions in adult entertainment – including four releases for Vivid Entertainment between 2011 and 2013 – would prove the law of diminishing returns. Add in the repeated stories of “personal demons”, missed convention dates and Chyna entering rehab on several occasions, and you’ve got all the ingredients for a classic tragedy of someone who rose to fame and crashed back down far too soon.
A little over a year ago, speaking on the Steve Austin Podcast, Triple H said that Chyna would not be considered for the WWE’s Hall of Fame because of her post-wrestling career (and not her brief run in TNA, either!). In light of her passing, many will reconsider just how ridiculous that statement is, particularly after Sunny/Tammy Sytch’s recent adult movie. At time of writing, WWE has yet to remove anyone from their Hall of Fame, which currently includes Sunny, Jimmy Snuka (who has been charged and currently awaiting a decision to go to trial on a case of third-degree murder), Hulk Hogan (who also had a sex-tape, unknowingly…) and Mike Tyson (convicted rapist), so it’s not like the that’s a squeaky clean institution – as if wrestling was ever squeaky clean!
With everything that has happened, from broken relationships, the war of words during and after her WWE run, and THOSE tapes, it would be a tragedy for her contributions to the business to remain ignored by WWE.
In an era where WWE has been quick to tell us how women are being given more focus, what with last year’s failed Diva’s Revolution, and the recent rebranding of the Womens’ title, it’d be only fitting to honour someone who really went all the way with it. Even if she had more than a little helping hand.