Part 4 of an in depth look at the growth of women’s wrestling, from noted ring historian The Phantom of the Ring.
The Phantom of the Ring
Lipstick, Dynamite and Glowworms Part 4
Whatever happened to the NWA Women’s Title? Plus, GLOWworms and Vince Jr. try to take women’s wrestling back to the carny days.
After June Byers had been injured in an automobile accident to the extent that she had to give up the NWA Women’s Championship, she left a huge vacuum in the title picture, one that Moolah was only too happy to fill. But Moolah was never really the NWA Women’s Champion. Many recorded “histories” testify to that fact, but in reality the belt died when Byers retired.
However, no one put up enough of a fuss to declare a new NWA champion. That is, until McMahon began his war against the other promoters. Suddenly, on April 10, 1987, Debbie Combs defeats Penny Mitchell and is named the new NWA Women’s Champion. The facts are more than a little vague here. Some claim that Combs won the title a day earlier in a tournament held in Honolulu. I can’t find any such record and have to chalk it up as fictitious. (I always thought these tournaments were held in Rio de Janeiro.) But there was anything except solidity in the NWA. Crockett Promotions (WCW) recognized Misty Blue Simms (Diane Syms) as its titleholder. Misty Blue defeated Liz Chase in 1989 to become NWA United States Women’s Champion, recognized by the Crocketts because the Kansas City promotion left the NWA in 1987. Simms defended the title from 1987 through most of 1989, when she got into a contract dispute and left the promotion. The title was then abandoned. In 1990, the promotion again recognized a champion. This time it was Susan Sexton, Ladies Professional Wrestling Association Champion. At Clash of the Champions XII “Fall Brawl: Mountain Madness,” Sexton defended the title against Bambi.
But in 1991, WCW suddenly switched gears and attempted to create its own women’s division in league with the Japanese promotions. Testing the waters at Wrestle War, a women’s tag match featured Itsuki Yamazaki and Mami Kitimura versus Miki Handa and Miss A (Later known as Dynamite Kansai, real name Chieko Suzuki.). Later that year, former U. S. Women’s Champion Misty Blue Simmes returned and faced the likes of Linda Dallas and Kat LeRoux. Also featured in matches were Madusa, Bambi, and Judy Martin. But by the end of the year, all of the women were let go by WCW except Madusa, who was kept on in as a manager.
Despite this setback WCW continued to push for a Women’s Champion and one was crowned in an eight-woman tournament. The tournament, in true WCW style, actually featured seven women: Akira Hokuto (Hisako Uno Sasaki), Chigusa Nagayo, KAORU, Meiko Satomura, Sonoko Kato from Japan’s GAEA promotion, and Madusa and Malia Hosaka from the United States. The tournament debuted on the November 4, 1996 edition of Monday Night Nitro, with the conclusion held at Starrcade (December 29, 1996) with Hokuto pinning Madusa. To add a further touch of the surreal, Akira Hokuto competed twice in the first round of the tournament: first losing to Madusa under her masked Reina Jabuki gimmick and later defeating Satomura, competing as Hokuto.
Hokuto and Madusa would battle it out for the belt over the next six months with the pinnacle being a title versus career match at The Great American Bash on June 15, 1997 Hokuto defeated Madusa, who then retired. Hokuto, disillusioned with WCW, returned to Japan and the title – and Hokuto – were forgotten.
A little known, largely forgotten piece of trivia was the WCW Women’s Cruiserweight Championship. It was a very short-lived championship created in 1997 as a joint venture between WCW and Japan’s GAEA., with the weight limit set at 130 lbs. A four woman tournament began on the March 31, 1997, edition of Monday Night Nitro and concluded on April 7, 1997, with Toshie Uematsu defeating Malia Hosaka (seemingly always the bridesmaid, never the bride – a shame given her immense talent). Oddly, the tournament final was only shown as a bonus match on WCW Main Event, and was never mentioned on WCW again. The belt was defended for a couple of months in Japan before being abandoned to the winds.
Combs, however, continued to defend her belt. She dropped it to Malia Hosaka on May 5, 1996, only to win it back the next day. In October of that year she was stripped of the belt and it remained dormant until Strawberry Fields (Jackie Baucom) was recognized for her victory over Leilani Kai on October 14, 2000 in Nashville, Tennessee. Fields then relinquishes the belt due to injury and it is then won by Madison when she defeats Bam Bam Bambi in Surrey, British Colombia on August 23, 2002. After playing swapsies with Char Starr, Madison then relinquishes the belt to Leilani Kai in Nashville on March 12, 2003. Kai is then stripped by NWA president Bill Behrens on June 19, 2004, for no-showing several matches. Kiley McLean is then recognized as new champ for her victory over Kameo that night in Richmond, Virginia. Lexie Fyfe defeats McLean in Richmond on April 23, 2005, in Richmond. She holds the belt until October 8, 2005, in Nashville, when she drops it to Christie Ricci in a three-way dance also involving Tasha Simone. Ricci holds it until January 27, 2007, before MsChif beats her in Lebanon, Tennessee. MsChif, in turn, is then defeated by AWA Champion Amazing Kong (Kia Stevens) in a NWA/AWA Unification match held in Streamwood, Illinois on May 5, 2007. As of this writing Kong still is the titleholder, but in truth the NWA title is a long, long was from when Byers held it. Now, instead of being contested in major cities on major cards, the belt is up for grabs in what is now a federation of small independent promoters. A sad, sad road for a belt that once was considered the height of athletics and glamour when Byers was defending it.
And what of the AWA, one might ask at this juncture? The history of the AWA Women’s Championship is something that could have only taken place in the murky world of professional wrestling.
In 1961, the AWA decided to hold a tournament for a Woman’s Championship. Penny Banner won that tournament in Angola, Indiana on August 26, 1961, to become the first AWA Women’s Champion. Because her husband, Johnny Weaver relocated to the Mid-Atlantic area, Penny followed and gave the belt back sometime in 1963. Kay Noble defeated Kathy Starr in St. Paul, Minnesota on April 13, 1963 to claim the AWA Title. History goes dark at this point. In 1971, we find Vivian Vachon holding the belt and defeating Betty Nicoli in Winnipeg, Manitoba on November 4, 1971. Nicoli would regain the belt on August 16, 1973. Where, we do not know. This is one of the problems with attempting to piece together a coherent history of the game.
At any rate, the belt seemingly disappears until November, 1984, when Candi Devine (Candace Russell) wins the title in a battle royal in Minneapolis, Minnesota. After a short period of inactivity Devine drops the strap to Sherri Martel on September 28, 1985, in Chicago. Devine is awarded the belt one month later (Reasons unknown, but because it was given back to Devine so soon suggests either an improper call during the match or a dispute between Martel and the AWA front office). Martel wins the belt back on October 17, 1985, in Winnipeg, drops it to Devine in the same locale on January 16, 1986, and regains it in Oakland, California on June 28, 1986. Martel then jumps ship for the WWF and the belt is vacated.
On December 27, 1987, Candi Devine suddenly reappears in Las Vagas with the belt as if nothing happened. She loses it that night on television (ESPN) to Wendi Richter. Richter leaves without defending the belt, so Devine is champ again in 1989 by defeating Judy Martin in Toronto (December 6, 1989). Martel is awarded the belt in May, 1999, by new promoter Dale Gagne (Dale Gagner, who supposedly purchased the right to the AWA name), but in an angle, she refuses his conditions and instead defeats Gagner’s chosen challenger, Ms. Manners (Adrain Lync) to win the belt.
In 2006 Nanae Takahashi is announced as the AWA Champion after defeating Africa 55. Takahashi drops it to Amazing Kong in Tokyo on January 14, 2007, but regains it on May 13 in Los Angeles. Some sort of controversy causes a three-way rematch to be hold in Tokyo on May 27, and Takahashi defeats both Amazing Kong and Wesna Busic. Gagner now comes forward and declares that the belt was retired when Sherri passed away. The belt Takahashi has should now be referred to as the AWA Japan Women’s Title. However, Japanese promoters still bill her as the AWA World’s Champion. Jamie D. wins the belt in Tokyo from Takahashi on August 8, 2007 and drops it to Saki Maemura on October 10 in Osaka. The AWA belt finally disappears when Hikaru defeats Maemura in Honolulu for the newly created Hawaiian Championship Wrestling (HCW) belt, awarded when HCW ended its working agreement with Gagner’s AWA. Is the AWA belt still active? Your guess is as good as mine.
Meanwhile, a promotion began whose idea had come, but was still way ahead of its time. That promotion was called the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, better known as G.L.O.W.
The promotion was the brainchild of David McLane. McLane began his wrestling career as a teenager, as head of the Dick the Bruiser fan club. The Bruiser was impressed with the young man and brought him into his WWA promotion, where he taught him the ropes of promoting and marketing. McLane eventually became the ring announcer and play-by-play man for the WWA syndicated television shows. (Many people in wrestling, not related to a wrestler began in this manner: Jeff Walton, Dave Meltzer and Paul Heyman to name a few.) McLane partnered with Jackie Stallone and Matt Cimber in this venture, providing the financial backing and training space. GLOW started as a television show designed to pave the way for later live cards (which did not happen). The television show itself was taped at the Riveria Hotel in Las Vegas, was syndicated, and lasted from 1986 to 1990, before the money for syndication ran out.
Unlike other wrestling promotions, GLOW’s talent did not come from the wrestling world. Rather the talent was chosen from among dancers, actresses, stuntwomen, and models. Those that passed the audition were then sent to Barbarella’s, Jackie Stallone’s women’s fitness gym, where they were trained by Mando Guerrero, among others.
Because of the inexperience of the talent, the matches were almost totally scripted to the point where it didn’t take much wrestling ability to execute the moves. Wrestling ability was a distant third to sexiness and character. The outfits the women wore emphasized their bodies and most of the women wore thongs for added suggestion. The characters the women played were somewhat outrageous: There was Matilda the Hun (Dee Booher), Dementia, who entered the ring with an axe and a zombie-like stare, Palestina (Janeen Jewett), an Islamic radical, Colonel Ninotchka (Lori Weathers), Dallas, a cowgirl who wore an outfit like that of a Dallas Cowboy cheerleader, California Doll, a ditzy blonde, and the Beverly Hills Girls – Ashley Cartier and Tina Ferrari (Lisa Moretti).
Jackie Stallone (Sylvester Stallone’s mother) doubled as the figurehead owner of GLOW and manager of the Good Girls, while Aunt Kitty (Kitty Burke) was the manager for the Bad Girls, nicknamed Kitty’s Killers.
The show itself ran from season to season, with some characters dropped and new ones added with each season. Rumor has it that Luna Vachon auditioned for the second season, but was turned down. No telling the damage a real wrestler would have caused among that lot.
As the show went on, the gimmicks became cheaper and cheaper, and what passed for wrestling became minimal almost to the point of nonexistence. More time was spent on interviews and skits than competing in the ring. The show eventually folded as the money for syndication ran dry. McLane left to form another T & A promotion, Powerful Women of Wrestling (PWOW). It featured the same type of characters and minimal wrestling as its predecessor, but also suffered from a lack of money and went under after a couple of years.
Some readers may find it difficult to believe that I would include a promotion such as this in a serious history of the women’s game. However, the theme of GLOW was a parody of sorts of the women’s wrestling Vince McMahon was staging in the WWF. As we see the further development of WWF women’s wrestling, we find that in many way, it has come to imitate GLOW’s parody. Further, there is a physical link between the two promotions that is too ironic to pass up.
Hard as it may be to believe, one star did emerge from GLOW’s cheesiness, and that was Tina Ferrari (Lisa Moretti). Moretti accompanied McLane to PWOW, where she held its championship under the name Tina Moretti. When PWOW folded, Moretti left the business, but later signed with the WWF, first appearing as one of the Godfather’s “Ho’s.” On a later episode of Raw,her role was expanded to that of a manager. Now christened “Ivory,” she managed Mark Henry and D-Lo Brown. The team’s feud with Owen Hart and Jeff Jarrett led to a confrontation between Ivory and Debra (Debra McMichael-Williams), the manager of Hart and Jarrett. This led to a bout on the March 1 edition of Raw, and Ivory defeated Debra via a disqualification when the Pretty Mean Sisters, or P.M.S.(Terri Runnels, Jacqueline Moore and Ryan Shamrock (Alicia Webb)) interfered. This began a feud with P.M.S., which lasted for a month. The heat for Ivory was such that she was placed in contention for the WWF Women’s title, which she won on June 14 by defeating Debra. She defended the title through the summer, but lost the belt to the Fabulous Moolah at No Mercy on October 17, 1999. She regained the belt a week later (October 25) on Raw, then lost it again to Miss Kitty (Stacy Carter) in a Four-Way Evening Gown Match at Armageddon.
Shortly before Armageddon, Moretti’s character became increasing conservative. She would take the microphone and yell at fans who enjoyed the risqué woman’s matches, labeling them as perverts. She also took part reluctantly in the “Miss Royal Rumble” swimsuit contest, won by Mae Young. After a short absence, Moretti returned in October, 2000 as a member of the “Right to Censor” group with Bull Buchanan, Steven Richards, Val Venis and The Goodfather (formerly The Godfather). She now wore strict ring attire and her hair was in a tight bun. She again won the Women’s title in a four-way match with Lita, Trish Stratus and Jacqueline at Armageddon (December 10, 2000). A short feud with Chyna (begun over Chyna’s posing for Playboy), culminated in Ivory dropping the belt to Chyna at Wrestlemania 17 on April 1, 2001, which ended the “Right to Censor” gimmick. She then took a hiatus before returning in August, wrestling and managing The Hurricane and Lance Storm.
2002 found her as a trainer on Tough Enough, broadcast on MTV, where she trained aspiring women wrestlers. The renaming of the WWF into “World Wrestling Entertainment” found her assigned to the Smackdown brand. She was later reassigned to Raw, where her big feud was with Trish Stratus. She continued to work occasionally in WWE rings, now as a babyface and stepping stone for new contenders. With the end of Tough Enough, Moretti moved to the developmental Ohio Valley Wrestling as a trainer and also worked as a broadcaster for the short-lived WWE Experience (a highlights show of Raw and Smackdown), but before the series was canceled, Moretti was terminated by the WWE and began to work independents from time to time under her real name of Lisa Moretti, as WWE had trademarked the “Ivory” name.
No one had more marked the GLOW-ification of WWF’s women wrestling than Lisa Moretti. We’re not saying that it was she and she alone that started McMahon down this road, but it sure is one hell of a coincidence. And like other wrestling pioneers, she was quickly discarded when she outlived her usefulness.
COMING SOON: More on the WWF, and women’s wrestling gets respect in Japan.
– The Phantom of the Ring
You can write to the Phantom care of Karen Belcher