The 90’s were a great time to be a kid, truly. We didn’t have YouTube, we didn’t Netflix, we damn sure didn’t chill, and social media meant we hung out with our friends in their media room. We had Pokémon! There was a group called The Spice Girls and you could watch them every hour on the hour on MTV, that played a music videos. If you wanted to see them, you had to really be on time to watch their newest music video, it was the ULTIMATE real time. One other thing we had…pro wrestling…at it’s biggest era ever.
We had so much pro wrestling, it was awesome, it was edgy, it was everywhere, and it mattered. We knew it was staged but that stopped none of us from running to our home room class to start to discuss what happened on Monday Night Raw (or the monthly Sunday PPV) with our friends. The people on the show weren’t athletes they were titans…clashing before our very eyes. These icons included names like The Undertaker, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, and The Rock! There was one more unlikely candidate, who achieved the pop culture heights of the names mentioned, she was hailed as the “9th Wonder of the World” and her name was Chyna.
There are many people who have managed to alter the perception of what pro-wrestling is and always take it to another level in the process. Chyna did it in a way that was unlike any other. Never before had a woman dominated the boys club of the WWE like she did. Debuting as an enforcer (wrestling term for bodyguard…yes the irony of a wrestler needing a bodyguard is the point) for the legendary Shawn Michaels and Triple H in D-Generation X. Michaels’ previous enforcer was 6’9 and over 300lbs. When Michaels and Triple H, two of the most popular stars of the (and all) time, brought out Chyna, the world of wrestling changed forever.
Her on screen persona and in ring capability were unlike any other woman before her. I was fortunate enough to say I saw her once, and she was magnetic. She had this way about her that, in an arena filled with tens of thousands, at any moment, she could command your attention. She got in the ring and posed an imminent, and believable, threat to her opponents, men or women. She never plateaued but always managed to take it to the next level. She became the first woman to enter the Royal Rumble match, coming in and eliminating a 400+ pound former Olympic weight lifter.
She continued to defy every challenge in her way and achieved things people didn’t even know were able to be achieved. She was a major star but no one her expected she’d shoot so far up that she would become the first (and only) woman to win the Intercontinental Championship. She did this in a “Good Housekeeping Match”. This match stipulation provided a pretty great metaphor for the 9th Wonder of the World: A woman that deified the norms expected of her and showed just how equal to men women really are.
Every time she showed up on screen, you were transfixed, cause she could take an instant and turn it in to a moment!
The last, major wrestling accomplishment, she achieved was become the Women’s Champion. This was a huge because no man or woman had held the Intercontinental Championship AND the Women’s Championship, let alone in that order. 15+ years later, this achievement has never been duplicated, but thanks to Chyna, we saw it was possible. Time moved on and so did she but her legacy in the ring remained in the ways she changed the industry and the fans who she touched.
When Chyna entered the arena, the lyrics to her music were blared through the arena, “Don’t treat me like a woman, don’t treat me like a man…treat me for just who I am”, which is a phenomenal summation of why she matters. She stomped with purpose across the border that had long separated the men’s world of wrestling and the women’s. She walked among the worlds as she saw fit. With every strut, slam, and pinfall she shook the two worlds closer and closer to being on equal planes. As a young (not out, but not hiding it well) gay boy, wrestling was my escape into a world where flamboyance was celebrated and over the top was just the beginning. Yes, it was a scripted program, and like all scripted shows, performance mattered. If you were on, you had the eyes of the world on you. When the spotlight was on her, she displayed the truth that made her who she was: you don’t have to look and act a certain way or meet expectations other have of you in order to be successful. People loved Chyna because she could inspire you to be strong enough to break down the walls around you, use the bricks to pave your own way, and be a wonder of the world while doing it.
…it is my sincere hope that Chyna knew how many wonders she inspired.