I knew as soon as I heard the topic of this Creature versus Creature who I wanted to get my hands on, and I was lucky enough to do so.
Chyna—the ninth wonder of the world.
Okay, perhaps that title is a little cheesy, but the magnitude of its implications is not too distant from the truth from a female wrestling standpoint.
Chyna was something never witnessed before, something unique.
There may have been powerful women in the wrestling spotlight before her, but the scale of the audience that Chyna was being exposed to during her time in the WWF was unprecedented for such a physically imposing woman.
She truly was a sight to behold—a spectacle.
Joanie Laurer (her real name) began her career as a professional wrestler under the instruction of Killer Kowalski, using the ring name Joanie Lee.
Killer was known for his large size, but also his ability to be quick in the ring. I believe these are attributes he imparted onto Chyna, who was the perfect candidate to receive them.
She soon learned all the basic moves necessary to perform in the ring, as well as some more technical ones like the power bomb.
It was clear that her strength and size was no hindrance to her athleticism and dexterity, as she could make moves like the hurricanrana and handspring back elbow look like they were being performed by a much more petite person.
Even in this early stage of her career she pushed the boundaries of inter-gender wrestling, a facet that would become predominant throughout her career, by debuting against a man dressed as a woman.
Laurer was always naturally large, and from an early age sought release from her turbulent home in the gym; either lifting weights, or doing aerobics.
This provided her with a physique that would make facing men believable, albeit at the expense of her femininity, and her opponents’ masculinity.
Her appearance was something that had always made Chyna stand out. She was not what you would call eye-candy, but for that reason she had a peculiar lure to her.
I can only liken her to a circus side-show, or a gross cut your friend has on his arm; you don’t really want to look, but you are mesmerized and compelled to watch.
After a few years of performing well on the independent circuit, and winning the PGWA Rookie of the Year award, Laurer made connections with the WWF through Triple H and Shawn Michaels.
Vince McMahon was hesitant at first about bringing Chyna aboard, especially in respect to letting her compete with men.
Vince initially thought that having a woman competing again men would not be believable, a view Joanie was all too happy to change, and eventually he saw sense and signed her to the promotion.
On her debut, Chyna became Triple H’s enforcer, another student of Kowalski’s training, and would interfere in his matches to aid him to victory. This pairing would subsequently lead her to join D-Generation X.
Through various story lines and angles, Chyna was finding her feet in the WWF.
She continued to wrestle men, and was treading a path rarely, if ever, walked by a woman.
What impressed me most about Chyna’s early tenure in the WWF was her ability to seem so comfortable in the limelight, regardless of her relative inexperience, and the fact she was setting a precedent for many to follow.
If I were her, though, I don’t think there would be a lot that scared me.
Among her many firsts as a woman in professional wrestling, Chyna became the first woman to compete in the Royal Rumble and the King Of The Ring (both 1999). She received success in neither, but they were landmarks nonetheless.
Chyna had developed the tools essential to being a great champion, and required only a modest push in the right direction from the powers that be to cement that goal.
It seemed as if she would surpass all expectations, when in August of 1999 she became the No. 1 contender for the WWF Championship by beating Triple H and The Undertaker.
Yes, you read that right, the WWF Championship.
She would soon lose that position to Mankind, but it is still a great achievement.
Where she fell short in the WWF Championship, she would find success in the Intercontinental Championship. Chyna beat Jeff Jarrett to become the first ever woman to hold the title, a title she would go on to hold three times.
The scale of this accomplishment is huge, and was a milestone in professional wrestling history.
Women’s wrestling had taken various forms over the years, and had often been scrutinized for various reasons; either the women were bad wrestlers because there were there to look good (a disease we are far too familiar with in WWE’s current product), or they could wrestle but lacked charisma or appearance.
I am not pigeon-holing all female wrestlers, as there were women who had it all, but it seemed like this was more so the case with the ladies than the men. Probably because wrestling is a career considered more frequently more males than females, hence, there is a lot more talent to choose from.
Rarely did you come across someone like Chyna, who had strength, skill, wrestling acumen, the looks (well, she had a look, she was in Playboy), and who worked the mic well. The full package.
In Chyna, we had truly found a woman who could hang with the boys.
After achieving all this, Chyna set her sights on achieving gold in what should have been her own division all along, the women’s division.
After a feud with Ivory and Right to Censor, Chyna eventually took her first and only Women’s Championship at WrestleMania X-Seven.
She would hold the title for 214 days, before leaving the WWF for debatable reasons.
Some claim she left due to her then-partner Triple H cheating with Stephanie McMahon, others claim it was for personal reasons. Either way, she left.
Her career as a professional wrestler would continue in Japan, where she joined New Japan Pro Wrestling, and continued her trend of facing off against the promotion's best male athletes.
This is particularly impressive when you consider that at the time of her arrival, women were seen in some degree as second-class citizens in Japan. She truly helped break the glass ceiling, and regardless of how much, she altered the view of women in an area that was in dire need of change.
Back to the subject matter at hand—why is Chyna the greatest female champion?
Well, if the criteria for being the greatest women’s champion were number of women’s titles held, she wouldn’t stand a chance; she has only won one.
This, I believe, is the only thing that doesn’t work in Chyna’s favor in that respect.
Chyna may have only won the WWF Women’s Championship once, but she is one of the only, if not the only, women to hold such a prestigious male title (such as the Intercontinental Championship).
There may be women who have held male titles other than Chyna, but there is no arguing that it doesn’t compare to winning the Intercontinental title.
Chyna also has another achievement in the WWE, which she alone holds.
In her one Women’s Championship reign, one of the longest in modern professional wrestling, Chyna never actually dropped the belt.
Only by leaving the WWF did she have to relinquish her title, and we can only speculate at the length of her reign had she not left.
This doesn’t happen very often, and maybe the uncertainty of what would have followed adds to the magnitude and gravity of her reign.
Chyna was very charismatic in the ring, a trait she would later utilize in the film industry. Many women lack basic acting skills, but Chyna shone.
I think that without her mic skills, Chyna would not have stayed at the forefront of WWF programming, hence, would not have had the success she did.
It truly was an integral weapon in her repertoire.
As she was so used to facing men, I think it is fair to say that competing with women came quite easily to Joanie.
We may not have seen her achieve her full potential in attaining championships, but if you were to look at other ladies’ careers, very few would have looked as promising as early on in theirs as Chyna did.
Had she not left the WWE, I don’t think I would need to bother writing as much as I have. She truly could have dominated one of the best women’s divisions around had circumstances fallen her way, and would have left little room to argue she wasn’t the best.
I would basically have been bringing a gun to the knife fight that is this Creature versus Creature.
I think the best reason for giving Chyna the title of the greatest female champion in history is this:
If you were to imagine Chyna in a match, in any given promotion, with any of the world’s greatest female wrestlers, at any time, how often could you see her losing?
I don’t think it would be very often, if at all.
Perhaps it’s because she beat on men, perhaps it’s because of her size, the impressive arsenal of moves she was able to execute, the trail she blazed for women in male wrestling, or the dominance she asserted in whichever promotion she was in, whatever.
There is little room to argue that that Chyna, Joanie Laurer, was one of, if not the, greatest female champions in wrestling history.
Sources: Wikipedia, IMDB, rock13.com, owow.com, Youtube.