OWW Wrestler of the Week: Mae Young

HeadLocker — Jay Shannon

OWW’s Wrestler of the Week — (Johnnie) Mae Young

Our resident philosopher, Jay Shannon, celebrates the WWE Hall of Famer. Mae made history on Monday Night Raw’s 800th Episode Celebration, She became the oldest person to ever actively compete in a wrestling match.

The WWE has three women in their Hall of Fame. Sherri Martel, The Fabulous Moolah and Mae Young. They are actually connected in a rather unique way. Moolah was one of the women who trained Martel. Mae was the woman who trained Moolah. Mae, sadly, is the only living female member of the WWE Hall of Fame. She also is the oldest person to ever actively compete inside a wrestling ring. On Monday, November 3, 2008, an 85 year old Mae actually battled the WWE Women’s champion (Beth Phoenix). Mae lost by way of a Schoolgirl Roll-up by Beth. For setting a new record as the oldest active competitor, “The Great” Mae Young earned this week’s OWW Wrestler of the Week award.

Breaking into the business

Johnnie Mae Young was born near Tulsa, Oklahoma on March 12, 1923. Mae was trained for amateur wrestling by her older brother. By the age of 15, she was one of the top amateur wrestlers in Oklahoma and the Southwest. The unusual thing about her amateur career was that there were no girls wrestling teams in the 1930s, so she wrestled on the boy’s team. Mae was also a member of Tulsa’s championship softball team. Mae enjoyed the limelight and decided that she wanted more, when a wrestling show came to town in the late 1930s.

Mildred Burke was the Women’s champion at the time. She was a headliner on the show that came to Tulsa. Mae actually challenged Mildred Burke to a battle. The promoter refused to allow the “Nobody” to face the champion. Mae, instead, battled Gladys Gillem, the woman who was to face Burke. Mae destroyed Gillem in a shoot fight in a matter of mere seconds. Promoter Billy Wolfe was quite impressed with Mae’s abilities in the ring. Wolfe offered her a position with his wrestling organization, but Mae chose to finish her high school education. Two years later, she left Oklahoma to begin her wrestling career.

The Great Mae Young

Mae wrestled under her given name, Johnnie Mae Young, as well as Mae Young. She and Mildred Burke helped to establish women’s wrestling in Canada, through an alliance with Stu Hart. Mae was also one of the first American wrestlers to work Japan after World War II. Speaking of WWII, Mae was actually working a show in Memphis, TN on December 7, 1941, the day Pearl Harbor was bombed. Mae helped to train other women wrestlers during the 40s and 50s, while touring the country as one of the top female wrestlers.

Mae worked mainly for the National Wrestling Alliance during her career. In 1951, she became the very first NWA Florida Women’s Champion. In 1968, she was crowned the first United States Women’s Champion by the NWA. Mae was actually seen by many as the female version of Gorgeous George. Mae even had her own valet for a time. As Mae reached middle age, she began to slow down in the ring. She never quite stopped, however. Her focus switched from in ring battles to training new stars.

The Queen and the Fabulous One

In the early 1950s, Mae was introduced to a young up-and-coming wrestler by the name of (Mary) Lillian Ellison. Ellison was trained by Mae. Rumor has it that Mae actually gave Ellison her trademark Moolah surname. The story goes something to the effect that Mae said Ellison had the looks and skills to earn a lot of Moolah (a slang term for money). The name stuck and Ellison worked as both Slave Girl Moolah and later as The Fabulous Moolah. The two would become lifelong friends. The would eventually open a wrestling training school in Moolah’s home state of South Carolina. There has been much speculation as to the relationship between the two women but all reports seem to indicate that they were merely close friends.

A second chance at greatness

The Fabulous Moolah was inducted to the WWE hall of Fame in 1995. Over the next few years, Moolah would make occasional appearances. Most of the appearances would happen when the WWE toured South Carolina. In early 1999, Moolah brought Mae Young with her to the Smackdown show on 9/9/99. Moolah took a guitar shot to the head from Jeff Jarrett. Jarrett then slapped the Figure Four Leglock on Mae. The crowd reaction really impressed the WWE brass to the point where both women were offered long-term contracts with the company.

Between 1999 and 2002, the duo of Mae and Moolah showed up on a regular basis on various WWE programs. The two women would battle the top women stars in the company, many of whom were a third of Mae’s age. Mae and Moolah. Mae served as Moolah’s manager during The Fabulous One’s 1999 Women’s title run.

Mae was also involved in racy angles during her run in the WWE. At the tender age of 76, Mae competed in a bikini contest. Mae appeared to expose herself to the raucous crowd. (She was actually wearing a prosthesis). Mae also became involved, storywise, in an inter-racial intimate relationship with Mark Henry. The story was pushed to the ridiculous when the 77 year old claimed to be pregnant. A “birth” was filmed where a rubber hand was brought forth. It is still viewed as one of the tackiest segments ever broadcast.

As Moolah’s health began to decline, the two women cut back their touring with the WWE. They made an occasional appearance at special events. One of the most memorable events was a Wrestlemania appearance where Moolah, Mae, Gene Okerlund and Bobby Heenan were being passionate in a side room in the bowels of the arena.

Hall of Fame and Immortality

Mae was approached by filmmakers that wanted to do a biographical film about women’s wrestling. Mae was a key performer in the film Lipstick and Dynamite, P*ss and Vinegar: The First Ladies of Wrestling. Her stories of the road were the highlight of the film. Mae, Moolah and others toured the talk show circuit to promote the film. The WWE contacted Mae and Moolah about doing more frequent visits to the company.

Moolah began to talk to Vince McMahon and others within WWE about having Mae inducted into the Hall of Fame. Moolah suggested that Mae had trained her and dozens of others, plus Mae was a key player in the early days of women’s wrestling. Sadly, Moolah wouldn’t get the chance to see her dear friend inducted into the Hall of Fame. Moolah died on November 2, 2007. At the time of her death, Moolah had already been lined up as the one to induct Mae into the Hall of Fame. Pat Patterson stepped in to introduce Mae to the crowd and bring her into the Class of 2008.

After many years of working in the ring, Mae retired back to the home in South Carolina that she shared with Moolah. She was brought in for the 800th episode celebration of Raw. The crowd was shocked when Mae strolled out as the 16th member of the Diva Battle Royal. While Kelly Kelly started the match, Mae tagged herself in and hit Knife Edge Chops on several of the heel Divas. One of the Knife Edges sent Mae reeling backwards in a pretty nasty fall. Beth Phoenix rolled up Mae to quickly end the match, so Mae wouldn’t get injured. Even though she lost, Mae had the most ring time for the match. While many men fought in the ring while in their 70s, no 80+ year old man or woman had fought inside the squared circle. Mae has sworn that she would be at Wrestlemania 39 (where she would celebrate her 100th birthday).

In Conclusion:

Johnnie Mae Young is an institution in professional wrestling. She has been seen as a comic character in recent years, a lustful octogenarian that would do anything to grope, fondle or smooch the hot young studs of wrestling. many fans seem to forget that Mae was a Trailblazer during the formative years of wrestling. It is with extreme pride that I bestow this week’s OWW Wrestler of the Week on the Legend, her Highness, Queen/The Great Mae Young. May she have many more battles over the years.

–Jay Shannon
[email protected]
(11/10/2008)