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Chyna – Trailblazer, Icon, Legend

Chyna

Chyna wasn’t dubbed “The Ninth Wonder of The World” for no reason at all. The trailblazer truly was one of a kind, and a wonder to behold whenever gracing the squared circle.

One of the best things about wrestling, by far, is larger-than-life characters – and there weren’t many women, or men, who could grab the attention of an audience like Chyna. From appearing in the Men’s Royal Rumble Match when that first word was missing from the title, and there simply was no alternative, to holding the WWF Intercontinental Championship, The Ninth Wonder of The World broke down barriers and paved the way for much of the progression we’ve seen in the wrestling industry. Women do still seem to have a ceiling in what is still a male-dominated industry, but there’s no doubt it’s rising every day, and Chyna most certainly added a few storeys to it.

However, before even stepping foot in the ring, Joanie Laurer had already proven herself to be an extraordinary individual who had to overcome many, many battles on her road to greatness…

Becoming Chyna…

Born Joan Marie Laurer in Rochester, New York, on December 27th, 1969, Chyna had a tumultuous upbringing to say the least. Never really settling in one place, Laurer had three different stepfathers and one stepmother after her parents divorced when she was only four years old. As detailed in her book, If They Only Knew, Laurer’s biological father had a problem with alcoholism and accidentally stabbed her mother with a bread knife, while her first stepfather threatened to commit suicide on at least one occasion. Life at school wasn’t much easier, with Laurer detailing how she was kissed by a much older teacher while in the seventh grade, and struggling with bulimia at the age of only 13 before leaving home at the age of 16.

Despite what you could very minimally describe as “challenges” and what might be enough to traumatise anyone for a lifetime, Laurer excelled and proved she was destined for greatness long before ever stepping foot inside the squared circle – learning to play both the violin and cello. However, it wasn’t only the creative muscles a young Chyna was developing, as she began developing her physique at only 16 – which shockingly meant the teenager felt no pain when she developed an ovarian tumour.

Having finished her final year of school in Spain, Laurer graduated from the University of Tampa with a major in Spanish Literature, having also studied French and German – with the ability to converse fluently in both languages. Laurer reportedly wanted to use those skills to work for the FBI or the Drug Enforcement Administration to help people who had been going through similarly problematic upbringings as she did. Chyna’s time at university wasn’t without tragedy either, though, as she recalled being sexually assaulted by two men.

Following a stint in the Peace Corps, Laurer went on to be a cocktail waitress, a singer, and a chat line worker, before aspirations to become a flight attendant were halted before they could even get off the ground, quite literally, with a car accident hospitalising Laurer on the way to her first flight. While that was very tragic, had Laurer made it to work that day, Chyna may never have been born. In 1996, Laurer’s love of fitness saw her compete in many fitness competitions – which she detailed she usually finished last in due to her size.

However, those may have prepared the future Ninth Wonder of The World for her true calling in life – professional wrestling.

Smashing Stereotypes…

After training at the school of the legendary Killer Kowalski, Chyna’s first match came in 1995 – against a male wrestler dressed as a woman. Wrestling as Joanie Lee, many of Laurer’s earliest matches were set up by The Fabulous Moolah, before a chance meeting with Triple H and Shawn Michaels after a show in 1996. That meeting resulted in a pitch for Chyna to arrive in WWF as a bodyguard – something which was then, and even now, would be regarded as incredibly unconventional at least. That barrier, of course, was a hurdle that was initially tough for The Ninth Wonder of The World to smash.

Chyna’s WWF arrival eventually came in February 1997, at In Your House 13: Final Four, when Laurer was sat in the crowd, but made her presence felt by choking Marlena to help Triple H in his bout with Goldust, before enacting the aforementioned role of bodyguard for D-Generation X and being named “Chyna” – which Laurer recalled was intentionally ironic due to the delicacy of “fine china” in comparison to her own stoic exterior. In fact, not only was Laurer not “delicate” in the ring, she would actually spend the next seven months bodyslamming many of the male WWF Superstars who dared to step up to The Game. Something which hadn’t been witnessed prior, nor has it ever been seen since.

Of course, much like with most women at that time, Chyna soon found herself in a romantic storyline. Being paired with Mark Henry saw Chyna thrust into WWF’s unique take on Romeo and Juliet as the D-Generation X bodyguard aligned with a member of rival faction The Nation of Domination. While the storyline was questionable. and borderline uncomfortable. to watch at times – the payoff was exceptional. Following Chyna’s revelation that the entire relationship had all been a ruse, a Royal Rumble appearance beckoned as The Ninth Wonder of The World shocked everyone by becoming the 30th entrant – and the first woman to ever enter a Royal Rumble Match.

While that moment will forever be noted as one of the most shocking in the history of the Royal Rumble, the less-remembered storyline which followed was almost as surprising on reflection, as Chyna betrayed Triple H to partner up with Vince McMahon and Kane, teaming with the Big Red Machine at St Valentine’s Day Massacre against Triple H and X-Pac. Betrayals became a recurring theme as Chyna turned on Kane at WrestleMania XV, then she and Triple H betrayed the rest of D-Generation X to help Shane McMahon defeat X-Pac.

Making History…

As one of the few women in WWE history to be integrated into storylines and matches with men as equal, at least aesthetically, almost everything Chyna did was groundbreaking. Whether it was entering a Royal Rumble match, or taking punches from Kurt Angle – much to the ire of Vince McMahon – The Ninth Wonder of The World was presented as an equal. While the war for equal pay in terms of gender rages on, Chyna bridged that gap as an individual, as Jim Ross recalls that the former Women’s Champion was probably the first woman in professional wrestling to earn one million dollars in a year.

“She accomplished a lot of things. They were significant. She was a big part of the Attitude Era, without a doubt. She made a lot of money, and I’m not sure of this, but I’d be willing to bet a case of barbecue sauce that she was probably the first woman wrestler to make seven figures. In other words, to make a million dollars or more. And I know that to be fact because I was in charge of doing that and in charge of payroll. So, she got paid real well for being booked with Triple H, who was paid real well for being a main event guy and still evolving his game. She did accomplish so much, but she never accomplished finding true happiness. That’s the sad part of this whole story.”

However, the accomplishments of Laurer in 1999-2000 might never be equalled. Chyna made history by becoming the first woman to qualify for the King of the Ring tournament, and the first woman to become number one contender to the WWF Championship – although the opportunity never came to fruition. According to Laurer’s former manager, Anthony Anzaldo, a WWF World Championship run was on offer less than one year later, but was rescinded due to Laurer posing for Playboy.

“They offered her the WWE Championship belt, but Vince said, ‘But you can’t do Playboy’ because she got offered to do Playboy. She chose Playboy over the belt. She went and got her boobs done one week and didn’t tell Vince, and when she came back, he was f***ing pissed.”

Perhaps Chyna’s crowning achievement came at No Mercy in 1999 in a Good Housekeeping Match against WWE Hall of Famer Jeff Jarrett. With Chyna’s victory, she became the only woman to ever hold the Intercontinental Championship – a monumental achievement that hasn’t been replicated in over two decades since. Chyna’s reign was short, dropping the championship to Chris Jericho at Armageddon following a successful Survivor Series defence. However, more history was made as Chyna and the former AEW Champion became co-champions – although that history has seemingly been erased as it’s no longer recognised by WWE. Despite holding the championship for less than two months, the significance of Chyna’s initial reign with one of wrestling’s most prestigious titles in history remains monumental.

Following her championship loss, Chyna became Eddie Guerrero’s “Mamacita” in a short, but memorable, storyline as the former foes developed an on-screen relationship – which saw a second, but even shorter, Intercontinental Championship reign as The Ninth Wonder of The World won the belt in an Intergender Tag Team Match against Val Venis and Trish Stratus. While that partnership was fleeting, the legendary Jim Ross recently noted how he believes Eddie Guerrero was Chyna’s “best benching partner” in WWE.

“Him and [Chyna] liked each other, they enjoyed working together. As far as all the stuff that Chyna did, Eddie was her best benching partner for me.”

One of the great taboos in professional wrestling in the PG Era is undoubtedly nudity and, while the argument over objectification or empowerment probably isn’t one to delve into here, Chyna can’t be mentioned – even strictly looking at her in-ring career – without mentioning Playboy. Laurer embraced the body which she’d drawn much critique and garnered abuse over – particularly with comments stating her muscular physique was “masculine” – to pose nude for the magazine in November 2000. The real-life scenario became part of a WWE storyline, drawing on-screen ire from the Right To Censor and prompted a rivalry with Ivory for the Women’s Championship. Chyna seemingly suffered a “neck injury” – largely believed to have been in storyline to enforce Ivory’s status as a threat – and went on a hiatus, before returning to win the Women’s Championship at WrestleMania X-Seven in convincing fashion. Chyna was never defeated for the Women’s Championship, with the gold being made vacant following her final WWF encounter – a colossal clash with Lita at Judgment Day in 2001.

Chyna officially left WWF on November 30th, with Laurer refuting claims that her departure was due to ex-partner Triple H – with whom her relationship was largely hidden in her time with the company – beginning a relationship with Stephanie McMahon, instead telling The Baltimore Sun that she wanted to pursue an acting career. Following Chyna’s passing, her sister recalled how The Ninth Wonder of The World was offered a new contract with a minimum salary of $400,000, but said Chyna wanted $1 million per year and the two couldn’t agree on a contract. Following her WWF departure, Chyna – known as Chynna Doll – wrestled in NJPW and TNA almost ten years apart, competing in her final match at Sacrifice in 2011. One major surprise to many was that WCW never pursued Laurer but, as noted by Bischoff, that was a credit to her legitimacy.

“I’m not really sure other than there weren’t a lot of women in the industry at that time that could work. There was a lot of women, but they were generally valets, eye candy type of roles. They weren’t physical in the ring, especially as physical as someone like Chyna.”

Laurer’s accomplishments weren’t confined to the squared circle, with autobiography If They Only Knew reaching the New York Times’ bestsellers list. The former Intercontinental Champion’s television career also saw her appear in 3rd Rock From The Sun, a music video for a single from band Sevendust, host Robot Wars, guest on Hollywood Squares and present at the MTV VMAs, as well as becoming a finalist on on Fear Factor and even voicing a plasticine version of herself in Celebrity Deathmatch.

Paving The Way…

Despite being a WWE Hall of Famer as part of D-Generation X, Chyna has never been inducted individually – despite having racked up many history-making moments. One argument always leveled at Chyna not yet being inducted is that the trailblazer’s professional wrestling legacy is hindered by her adult film career. While it’s almost impossible to correlate the two, it’s even more poignant when Chyna’s comments on the matter are taken into account. In one of her final appearances, Joanie Laurer candidly spoke about making adult movies in a video viewed more than one million times on YouTube, saying she was “making lemonade out of lemons” after a private video was leaked without her permission.

Another barrier broken down by Laurer was with regards to breast implants. After suffering a ruptured impant during a wrestling match, Chyna paid for custom implants. Those implants became the model for an implant named the Chyna 2000, which is an implant marketed towards female bodybuilders and has undoubtedly prevented many other women from going through the same trauma and danger Chyna did.

Much like many professional wrestlers, and most human beings, Chyna had her misgivings and her flaws – the main difference is that those are always amplified ten-fold when there are cameras around to capture your every move. However, before even stepping into the spotlight, Joanie Laurer arguably had more challenges to overcome than most. Later on in life, The Ninth Wonder of the World swapped the squared circle and the Hollywood spotlight for teaching, and tutored in Japan, teaching English.

Chyna’s Legacy…

Tragically, Chyna passed away at the age of 46 years old in April 2016. The Ninth Wonder of The World became a WWE Hall of Famer in 2019, being inducted as a member of D-Generation X. A solo induction is one which is often clamoured for, but has not yet been forthcoming. However, there’s no question of the impact The Ninth Wonder of The World left on the wrestling industry, breaking down barriers and helping to pave the way for the progression of women’s wrestling. Had it not been for Chyna, we may have not seen the current generation – many of whom were influenced by Chyna – be able to continue that progression today, or it would have definitely at least been slower. Former WWF commentator Jim Ross is one of the names who has noted that the “trailblazer” should be in the Hall of Fame individually.

“I think she deserves it, I hope so. If I had a vote, I’d say yes. […] She should’ve been in the Hall of Fame yesterday, last year, whenever. Look at the list of Hall of Famers and what they’ve accomplished. A lot of them were really good, some of them not so much… She certainly should be in the Hall of Fame by herself without question. If nothing else, for being the trailblazer for women who she preceded. All I’m saying is, you can’t use the ‘Go back and Google someone’s name,’ and they had some negative verbiage on their Wikipedia page. How did she do in the wrestling business?”

Not only did Chyna precede many fellow trailblazers, she actually introduced some to the business directly – as Victoria noted how The Ninth Wonder of The World urged her to give professional wrestling a go following a chance meeting at a gym. Victoria, who went on to wrestle for two decades herself, said she never considered a career in professional wrestling – due to being “bigger” than the friends she had in the business – but told the story of how Chyna complimented her “great look” for the business being the kickstart she needed to follow that path.

Another who followed very directly in the footsteps of Chyna, entering a Men’s Royal Rumble, is WWE Hall of Famer Beth Phoenix. The Glamazon recently shared her thoughts on Chyna, stating that she would have loved to have shared the ring with the woman who “defined the role and image of a woman” for her.

“Joanie redefined the role and image of a woman for me. I can’t tell you how much I wanted the chance to make this moment happen. Chyna’s influence on me and the evolution of the female role model cannot be forgotten or understated.”

Chyna was more than a match for most of her opponents inside the ring, but it should never be forgotten just how many battles she faced outside of the squared circle while still becoming one of the most unique performers of all time.

In a list of the Greatest Women Wrestlers released by WWE & Peacock last month, Chyna was named at number four. Joanie Laurer’s legacy lives on as one of the most important women, and individuals, to ever step foot in the ring and be herself, undeniably different, and embracing everything that made her stand out from the crowd, rather than trying to fit in.