She was a pioneer in a choreographed world, a woman who empowered female athletes in a predominantly male industry. So what led to the demise of Joanie Laurer, better known as Chyna, and why was she whitewashed from the professional wrestling history books by the industry’s head honchos?
She stood alone at ringside, a looming figure of square jawed, jacked up peril. It was clear that Chyna wasn’t the usual spectator during her inaugural appearance on WWF(WWE) television.
So it proved, as the 26-year old titan aligned herself with real life beau, Paul ‘Triple H’ Levesque at the 1997 In Your House 13 Pay-Per-View, when choking out the rather daintier figure of Marlena, a diminutive female valet with pendulous, surgically enhanced bosoms; Chyna stood prominent as the antithesis to the titillation embodied by her victim and the women’s division in general, flying in the face of pillow fights and gravy bowl contests.
Initially mute, Chyna was officially installed as a bodyguard shortly after the PPV, and later attached herself to the federation’s counter culture collective, D Generation X, a fraternity style faction spawned in response to rival wrestling conglomerate WCW’s hugely successful New World Order.
Over the next four years Chyna’s influence grew; she was the first female to enter the prestigious Royal Rumble event in 1999, the only woman ever to win the fed’s secondary strap, the Intercontinental title, and was allegedly offered the World Title if she turned down a Playboy shoot in late 2000.
Ultimately, the now heavily ‘beautified’ grappler, who despite her previous claims of beauty coming from within had resorted to extensive procedures in order to soften her jaw, augment her breasts and straighten her nose, chose to bare all.
Despite her integral role within DX and trailblazing run, Chyna never fully recovered from her real-life break-up with Levesque, who from late 1999 was dating company owner Vince McMahon’s daughter Stephanie, and whose influence within WWE was ever-increasing.
With her star dimming, Chyna was released from her contract in 2001, and effectively blackballed from company events, spiralling into drug and alcohol dependence, and starring in half a dozen adult movies from 2004-2013.
She did, briefly, return to the squared circle with Total Non-stop Action wrestling (TNA) in the Spring of 2011, cutting a bloated caricature of the once imposing figure as she entered and exited the company to little fanfare.
Her absence from the WWE’s Hall of Fame remains one of wrestling’s most damning indictments. A glorified popularity contest, unlike other high profile hall of fames, induction often has less to do with in-ring merit, and more with nuzzling the bosom of the company’s upper echelon.
Why else would Triple H have stated that Chyna’s absence is due to her pornography career and yet induct Tammy ‘Sunny’ Sytch, an individual with an extensive blue movie back catalogue, who fingers herself on Skype for a small fee and who put her Hall of Fame ring up for auction on eBay?
Transparently, although WWE can never admit it, the reason why they refuse to induct the woman they once labelled ‘the ninth wonder of the world‘, is purely personal.
Tragically, it may have taken her death and the expected subsequent swell of fan reaction to force Vince McMahon and co’s hands. Chyna is surely destined for a 2017 induction in the wake of this tragedy.
A demise by suspected overdose does highlight the question of why a company that repeatedly assisted struggling ex-pro’s such as Scott Hall, Jake Roberts and Sytch could not find the compassion to do the same for a woman clearly struggling with her identity and craving validation for her endeavours.
Like so much in wrestling, the truth may be far less palatable than any of the scripts that unfolded during Chyna’s career.
Her final desperate pleas for a reconciliation ignored, it appears that the helplessness she felt was the final cause of the once proud warrior’s death.
In truth, and tragically, this is a fate that has been on the cards for 15 years, and could probably have been avoided with a simple extension of an olive branch, an offer of hope for the hopeless.