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As it was broken earlier this week, the wrestling world lost a huge star when Joanie “Chyna” Laurer passed away at age 46. For many women’s wrestling fans, this was the first big loss of our childhood idols. Chyna meant a lot of things to a lot of people, and in the course of this article, I will fight back many tears to chronicle just how important this woman was, and what she meant to this amazing industry.
Before becoming an icon, Joan Marie Laurer was born on December 27, 1969 in Rochester, New York. She had a difficult childhood with moving several different times and being witness to domestic violence, alcoholism, divorce, and other events that young children should not have to go through. She did have some outlets, she played the violin and cello, as well as beginning to work out.
In 1992, Laurer would graduate from the University of Tampa with a major in Spanish Literature. She was also fluent in both French and German, she was a member of the ROTC, and worked in Guatemala for the Peace Corps.
She entered the world of professional wrestling, attending Killer Kolwalski‘s school in Massachusetts. As a student she worked in many independent promotions under the name Joanie Lee. In 1996, she met then WWF’s biggest stars, Triple H and Shawn Michaels after a show and proposed the idea of bringing her in as their bodyguard after seeing her work. After a bit of convincing to Vince McMahon, she would get the job. (Fun Fact: At the time of awaiting for a decision from the WWF, WCW made a offer to her to be the only female member of the New World Order)
Her debut was one of the most iconic debuts of all time, at In Your House 13: Final Four, Chyna attacked Marlena (Terri Runnels) during a Goldust match with Triple H. The way she was so physical with her was something fans have never seen before. Her physique and her strength was unique and were things that drew people in. As the bodyguard of D-Generation X, she would constantly get involved in matches especially using her physicality to take down any threat to the faction.
1999 would be the year that Chyna would break down the glass ceiling, take the ball and run with, break down barriers and make damn history.
In January, Chyna would become the first woman ever to enter the Royal Rumble. The crowd erupted in awe of her actually being involved in the match. When she eliminated Mark Henry, the place became unglued. That moment would lay the groundwork for women entering the Rumble years later.
Later on in June, Chyna would make even more history by becoming the first woman to participate in the King of the Ring tournament. And in one of her most unknown accomplishments, she became the only female to become the Number One Contender for the WWF Championship but backstage politics would prevent the match from actually taking place.
As the year went on, Chyna was involved in a heated feud with Jeff Jarrett. He would portray a rather sexist character. This involved him degrading women, attacking female employees, and attacking Chyna with household items. This got the fans even more behind Chyna and it lead to a Good Housekeeping Match at No Mercy, when Chyna defeated Jeff Jarrett to become the first and only female to win the Intercontinental Championship.
Things would heat up and get more interesting as Chyna’s next feud would be even more entertaining than the last. Her foe was the brash Chris Jericho. Chyna would win the first of the series at Survivor Series, but would lose the title at Armageddon. In the rubber match on a December episode of SmackDown!, the two would wind up pinning each other and as a result, the two were declared co-champions (The company would not count this reign for Chyna).
After losing the title, Chyna would find herself to be involved in one of the greatest tandem pairings ever with “Latino Heat” Eddie Guerrero. The chemistry was off the charts, with Eddie naming her his “Mamacita”, the flowers before matches and the overall spectacle the two would get themselves in. 2000’s SummerSlam would have the pair face off with a brand new Trish Stratus and Val Venis in an intergender tag match with the Intercontinental Championship on the line. Chyna would win the match and her second Intercontinental title. After losing the title shortly thereafter, the two would end their engagement after Eddie “cheated” with other women in a shower.
The pairing would allow Chyna to show her more feminine and vulnerable side. And with that came a new dimension of how popular she became. That same year, Chyna would grace the cover of Playboy and would have one of the best-selling issues of all time. Chyna proved she can play both roles and play it well.
Speaking of Playboy, it started another iconic feud for her. The group Right to Censor (whose gimmick was to make the world as censored or morally correct as possible) took offence of her latest venture. Things heated up with Ivory of Right to Censor and the feud became about more than an issue of an adult magazine, it would become Chyna’s first feud for the Women’s Championship. At the Royal Rumble, Chyna would appear to have injured her neck in a match with Ivory. Chyna would return from injury at WrestleMania X-Seven to quickly dispose of Ivory and win her first Women’s Championship. Chyna would be the only woman to achieve this feat.
She would later have a few matches as the Women’s Champion and at Judgment Day, she would have a match with Lita that would be poignant. It would be a passing of the torch moment and Chyna’s final match with the WWF (not to mention her iconic peacock attire that will live on forever as on the best attires of all time).
In 2002, Chyna began work with New Japan Pro Wrestling and wrestling several main events. Some of her notable opponents were Masahiro Chono, Jushin “Thunder” Liger, Hiroshi Tanahashi , and The Great Muta.
In 2011, made her return to wrestling in the United States when she wrestled one match for Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA) teaming with Kurt Angle defeating Jeff and Karen Jarrett, making the “Queen of the Knockouts” tap with an ankle lock.
Later in life, she would move to Japan to teach English and created a YouTube channel promoting healthy eating, fitness, showcasing her new life and connecting with the fans she loved dearly (and don’t forget about Horn!) She relocated back to the states in late 2015 in an attempt to rebuild her career and made a campaign for WWE to induct her into the Hall of Fame. Sadly, she never got to finish the goal. But she will live on in the hearts of fans around the world and in the history books as a true Icon.
Here’s what a few people have had to say about her trailblazing career:
Jennifer Fuqua: “Chyna defied gender roles. Chyna taught me, as a teenager, that women could anything a man could do and could do it even better. And even after her wrestling career ended, she lived life on her own terms. She’s one of my biggest inspirations as a feminist.”
Meagan Gearity: “As a kid, Chyna told me you can define the odds and over come them. As an adult, Chyna told me you can be happy with yourself regardless of how you lived your life. Like her theme song, Don’t treat me like you know me, and that’s the way she wanted it.”
Jessica Krzesowiak: “Chyna was the catalyst for my lifelong love of women’s wrestling. No one looked like her or could do what she did. Her passing is a true loss. Chyna was a legend, and her legacy will last forever.”
Johnny Andrews, HCW Ring Announcer: “From where I stand, I look at Joanie as an unlikely star that didn’t shine bright enough. Despite how the second half of her career turned out, the initial half was groundbreaking. She was a hardcore version of Miss Elizabeth. She didn’t care about being a pretty face, she wanted to be a powerhouse and a wrestler- not a swimsuit model. If anything, her contributions to the business should be honored today and never forgotten. Sometimes it’s not about how long you do something, it’s how much you do while you’re here. To me, that’s Chyna.”
Wrestling Icon. Pioneer. New York Times’ Best Selling author. Chyna’s career does not get enough credit for just how much she accomplished. The thing about Chyna is that she embodied feminism in wrestling. Her theme song said it best, don’t treat her like a woman or a man. She transcended gender and that’s one of the biggest things that women’s wrestling has tried to accomplish in its history. And she did just that in her career. In many ways, she was the real “Women’s Revolution”. For Pete’s sake, the woman held male championships and was the first ever to do so. She was the Beacon of Hope for many LGBT wrestling fans growing up as she was feminine enough for them to identify with but masculine enough for the wrestling promotion to take seriously as a contender for the men’s division.
I’m choosing not to discuss any of her personal issues out of respect to Chyna because all we have to go on is hearsay and none of us were truly there to have an actual opinion. But I will say it that her contributions and the impact she made is MORE than worthy of a Hall of Fame induction. The fact that here career was ignored for what has been nearly two decades is an absolute disgrace. At least now, there is acknowledgement and the young kids of today can learn about the woman who had a direct influence on how the women are featured today. What you watch today not just in WWE, TNA, Lucha Underground but ALL of wrestling has had a direct influence of how amazing Chyna’s run was. And as far as any bullshit concerns about Googling Chyna, when you Google her, you’ll see a woman that lived life on her terms and became a success being herself and never once wavering in her individuality.
I’ll conclude with this amazing tribute a YouTuber made in tribute to Chyna. Thank you, Chyna. We love you.