As part of a collaboration with several other outstanding writers, Bleacher Report is dedicated to bringing you a look at the women of wrestling and paying tribute to their hard work, dedication, and passion for the industry we all love.
When I was first approached with this opportunity and after briefly skimming numerous topics online I immediately said out loud to myself: "I am shocked how little I know about the history of women in wrestling."
It's a sad but true fact that many of us seemingly overlook these hard working pioneers of the industry that, as of lately, have been relegated to being called divas instead of women...
Side note: In all honesty the term "Divas" is a slap in the face to all of the women who gave their lives to an industry that has always had little to no appreciation for them. All their blood, sweat, and tears to make the women's division relevant and noticed is not necessarily washed away, but certainly deterred by the label of "Divas" to go along with a sparkly, purple butterfly belt. It's both ridiculous and insulting. I understand the need to market to younger females, but as Keyshawn Johnson would say "C'mon Man!"
My GF (While watching Vengeance): Is that seriously the "women's" championship belt? It looks like an accessory I used to put on my Barbie dolls... How come they don't get a real looking championship? I get offended if someone says I'm being a Diva! But seriously, that's a joke right?
My Friend: If it's one thing TNA has going for it, it's their "Knockouts" division. Better wrestling, better division name, and better look and feel to it. The wrestling is more pure and gritty. And I'd much rather be called a knockout rather then a diva. Why can't the WWE make this simple change that will make their overall product better? It doesn't make any sense! You know what else doesn't make sense? The fact that you got invited to do women's appreciation week... Didn't you write at one point "I will use the Diva's championship match as a bathroom break?"
These comments are a sad, but true commentary on the state of the women's (sorry, Divas) division in the WWE. I could talk about this for forever, but we have to move on... or at least I do; which means you're coming with me! And yes, I did write that at one point, but in my defense the product has been quite terrible. Karma was a much needed and exciting infusion that was abruptly put on hold because "life happens."
The match between Eve and Beth Phoenix at Vengeance was a tremendous step forward though, and exciting to say the least..
As I continued my search for a topic I could really sink my teeth into, I stumbled upon something that absolutely blew my mind due to the simple fact I had never heard about this before...
What's the first thing you think about when I say the word "Screwjob"?
While I'm sure some of you Internet degenerates went immediately to the mind gutter I would venture a guess that many of you will instantly think of Montreal, Quebec.
It was nearly 14 years ago when the "Montreal Screwjob" took place on November 9, 1997 at Survivor Series in Montreal. When Vince McMahon infamously "screwed" Bret Hart out of his WWE championship match with Shawn Michaels due to ongoing contract and personal disputes between the two. If you want more information about this "screwjob" you can click here... Because we're not talking about that "screwjob", we're talking about the original screwjob!
The event in question took place on November 25th, 1985 between Wendi Richter and the Fabulous Moolah over the WWE's women's championship at Madison Square Garden.
In honor of women's appreciation week lets take a look at one of the long forgotten, monumental, landscape altering, and most controversial moments in the history of women's ( I officially refuse to call them Divas) history.
Let's take a look at how two Hall of Fame women, very different from one another, would collide to bring mass popularity and eventually controversy to the industry.
The Fabulous Moolah: The First Goddess of the Squared Circle
The Fabulous Moolah, birth name Mary Lillian Ellison, was born in 1923. Moolah was a true pioneer for women's wrestling throughout her illustrious career. Ellison began her wrestling career with Mildred Burke’s husband Billy Wolfe (As told in Mr. Cobcorn's work), the dominant women's promoter of the time.
Wolfe was notorious for advising his wrestlers to enter into sexual relationships with either himself or competing promoters to ensure additional bookings, a practice with which Ellison refused to go along with (source: Wikipedia). Moolah would hop from promotion to promotion throughout the early 1950's once valeting for the original "Nature Boy" Buddy Rodgers. She eventually went to work for Vince McMahon Sr. in 1955 where she would be given the name "The Fabulous Moolah."
Moolah became the first woman to wrestle in Madison Square Garden in 1972, leading to her fight and win in a battle against the state of New York to overturn their longstanding ban on women's wrestling. She won numerous Women's Championships that saw reigns of ten, six, and eight years in length during a tremendous run as the top women's wrestler in the country.
When Vince McMahon Jr. began expanding the WWE into the national spotlight during the early 1980's Moolah became known as, in the WWE record books, as it's first women's champion and holding the title for 25 straight years.
The pinnacle of Moolah's popularity would be showcased along side a much younger, rising star in Wendi Richter during the unprecedented boom the WWE saw in the mid 1980's.
Wendi Richter: the 150 Pounds of Twisted Steel & Sex Appeal
Wendi Richter, who's modern incarnation can only be compared to that of Kelly Kelly in terms of popularity, was a huge part of the WWE's massive boom in popularity during the mid 1980's.
While her career in the WWE was cut rather short (in the literary world we call that foreshadowing) her impact on the industry was right on par with Hulkamania as well as the inception of Wrestlemania.
Born in 1961, Wendi Richter was trained at The Fabulous Moolah's Lillian Ellison School of Professional Wrestling (we call that irony) and had brief success in both the AWA and NWA wrestling promotions. As a fast rising star in the wrestling industry she made her WWE debut in late 1983 where she became an instant celebrity due to her impressive wrestling skills, look, and character whom she referred to as "150 pounds of twisted steel and sex appeal".
While Wendi enjoyed success and popularity within the early stages of her WWE career she would soon explode through the boundaries of professional wrestling and into pop culture lore along with The Fabulous Moolah with one incredibly smart business move by Vince McMahon.
Rock N' Wrestling Connection
In a moment that truly defines "right place, right time" Vince McMahon created what would be known as the "Rock N' Wrestling Connection," a period during the mid 1980's when the WWE would cross-promote and cooperate with the rising popularity of a new cable station called MTV.
The idea came to fruition after former WWE employee Lou Albano randomly met pop sensation Cyndi Lauper ( The Britney Spears of the mid 1980's) on an airline flight. The two immediately hit it off. After Lauper asked Albano to appear in her 1983 video for the single "Girls Just Want to Have fun," McMahon, who never passes on an opportunity to capitalize on media attention, booked Lauper and Albano on a segment of Piper's Pit.
Albano and Lauper entered into a feud when Albano referred to Lauper as a "broad." Lauper immediately responded by whacking Albano with her purse.
Side Note: Never, and I mean never call a woman a "broad," it's the 1920's version of the "B-word" and will instantly strike a nerve with modern women even today in 2011. This also applies to the phrases: toots, woman as in "get me this woman", baby (if it's not your significant other), and floozy. I experimented with these sayings on my girlfriend and her roommates... The results are not good. Albano's lucky all he got hit with was a purse; let's put it that way.
The resulting feud between the two saw a match scheduled as the main event at the inaugural "Brawl to End it All" on July 23, 1984 in which both Lauper and Albano would each choose a female wrestler to compete against each other. Albano chose the reigning WWE women's champion in The Fabulous Moolah while Lauper chose Wendi Richter. The match was the only one on the card that aired live on MTV, and recorded (at that point) the largest television ratings MTV had ever seen. Richter would go onto defeat The Fabulous Moolah, with the help of Lauper, ending Moolah's 28-year reign as women's champion.
This match would directly result in a continuing collaboration between MTV, Lauper, and the WWE with many WWE superstars appearing in Lauper's music videos. The WWE also created a very popular cartoon in Hulk Hogan's Rock N' Wrestling Connection, which aired frequently on CBS only vaulting the popularity of both Hogan and the WWE as a whole. The cartoon also featured animated versions of both Wendi Richter and The Fabulous Moolah.
Both Richter and The Fabulous Moolah would continue to feud over the WWE women's championship throughout the mid 1980's. The feud would reach it's crescendo on November 25th, 1985 which would see Richter's reign as WWE women's champion and career unceremoniously cut short.
The Original Screwjob
As Wendi Richter's popularity became increasingly lucrative for the WWE; Richter, in an attempt to be justly compensated for her drawing power as a premier women's wrestler, using her likeness as a cartoon character, and her direct involvement in the very successful Rock N' Wrestling Connection constantly demanded more pay from Vince McMahon. Her relationship with the company and McMahon quickly soured to the point where Richter supposedly refused to sign a contract extension until she felt adequately compensated for her services to the company.
Richter, who was already booked in a match against a mysterious masked opponent known simply as "The Spider Lady", would soon find out what happens when you're holding a WWE championship and refuse to sign a contract extension.
The story goes that Vince McMahon brought back Moolah as the Spider lady and, along with help from the referee, purposely stripped Richter of the women's title without her knowing.
Richter, who clearly kicked out of a small package from the spider lady, is still counted down for the three count giving the title back to Moolah. I suggest watching the video (included in this article) to get a better description of the shenanigans and chaos that took place shortly after Richter figured out what had just took place. It's said that she left the arena still wearing her gear, booked a flight home, and never spoke to McMahon or Moolah ever again.
Moolah went on to reign as WWE Women's champion for two more years...
Richter would quickly leave the WWE and perform overseas for a short period of time as well as a couple of smaller promotions in the US. In 2005, Richter, still harboring ill feelings towards the WWE, blasted the company in a shoot interview for their use of women in the WWE and the way she was treated during and after her tenure with the company.
In an effort to fix the relationship the WWE, in 2009, offered Richter a spot in the WWE Hall of Fame.
Richter, of course, accepted the invitation and was inducted into the Hall by Roddy Piper. In her acceptance speech Richter gave an acknowledgment to the movement that made her a colossal pop culture icon during the mid 1980's. She ended her speech by simply stating "Girls just want to have fun!"
I want to personally thank all of the efforts that have been given to Women's Appreciation Week by the writers here on Bleacher Report. This is honestly one of the greatest places to read, debate, and become informed on all things professional wrestling related. I hope that as readers and participants we have all learned something about the women who continually give their lives to an industry that has always been predominately male oriented.
I truly feel as though we have captured some history, importance, and acknowledgment for these proud women who deserve our undying respect each and everyday through this movement. We can only hope that the industry re-invents their philosophy and view of their respected women's divisions to truley give not only the performers, but the audience what they clearly deserve.
Check out some of the other contributions If you haven't already:
The most Influential Women's Wrestler of All Time by John Cobbcorn
Top 10 Women's Tag Teams of All Time by Kevin Berge
Why Fans Need To Cut The Models In WWE Some Slack by Sharon Glencross
How Trish and Lita Revitalized The Women's Division by John Fisher
Neglecting of Divas: Who's Fault Is It by Real Deal