Thursday, April 21, 2016

Chyna - RIP

It was sadly announced very late last night that pro wrestling trailblazer Chyna, aka Joannie Laurer, has died from an unknown cause. She was 45 years old.

Chyna got her start in the wrestling business in 1995, being trained by legend Killer Kowalski. Her love for bodybuilding, combined with her intimidating Amazonian appearance, quickly made her stand out on the independent scene and made her top pick for the WWF and WCW. With some help from Kowalski, and some arm-wringing by supporters who wanted her in the land of the male giants, she was hired by Vince McMahon.

In February 1997, she debuted as an intruding attacker in the audience, beating up Goldust's valet Marlena at ringside. Given the moniker of "Chyna" for unknown reasons, she was the new and improved bodyguard for mid-card wrestler Hunter Hearst Helmsley. Stuck in wrestling purgatory since his debut despite having the athletic abilities and brains for the business, Helmsley's stock quickly rose thanks to the new addition. Chyna would constantly interfere in matches in order for the future HHH to win, even going so far as to assault his male opponents, which was unheard of in the land of sports entertainment. The two's summer feud with Mankind (Mick Foley) cause them to further up the ladder, especially after Chyna memorably slammed a steel cage door right on Foley's head at Summerslam 1997.

Late 1997 saw the introduction of D-Generation X, a new stable led by Shawn Michaels and supported by Helmsley and Chyna. While the two boys made asses of themselves with their profane humor and sneering antics, Chyna was the straight man and the true muscle of the group. If the chips were ever down, she was there to even the odds. Michaels would go into hibernation in 1998 after Wrestlemania XIV, leaving Helmsley and Chyna to carry the name. They immediately allowed "Road Dogg" Jesse James, "Bad Ass" Billy Gunn and Sean "X-Pac" Waltman into the ranks. Initially going around as heels, the group suddenly turned face due to a series of popular skits where they "went to war" with WCW and mocked fellow heel stable, the Nation of Domination. Chyna's ringside antics however, specifically her penchant to viciously give a low blow, got her incredibly over with the rabid crowd. A storyline was evenutally formed where she was being sweet-talked by Mark Henry, dubbing himself "Sexual Chocolate", allowing Chyna to lower her some of barriers and make her more lovable with fans. She of course got back at him in the end with a swift whack to the family jewels.

1999 will go down as the greatest year of her career and one of the most progressive endeavors the "sport" has ever saw. Chyna shocked the world when she won a special battle royale on an episode of Raw, allowing her to enter that year's Royal Rumble at #30. No female wrestler has ever done so previously. Walking out to a huge pop, she threw out Henry, only to then be unceremoniously clotheslined out by Stone Cold Steve Austin. She only lasted 35 secs but everything she was able to do in the small time frame made her a pioneer.

Chyna continued shocking everyone when she turned heel on DX and HHH, joining up with Mr. McMahon's Corporation. Plans revealed themselves, however, when Wrestlemania XV saw her run back into the arms of HHH again, after betraying "just a friend" Kane in a match, only for them both to turn heel later in the night after giving the Pedigree to X-Pac. After a short feud with the remnants of DX, continuing her groundbreaking ways by being the first woman to compete in the King of the Ring event, she and Trips entered into the realm of the main event. Yes, in 1999, a female wrestler was willing and able to fight for the WWF Heavyweight Championship, the biggest prize in the entire federation, instead of just going strictly for the Women's Championship. Chyna won a #1 Contender's Match, giving her the chance to face Austin for the belt at Summerslam; the top trophy at the promotion's 2nd most important show of the year. Though it was later washed away and reconfigured by the booking committee, the people in the back were in fact going to originally go with a Triple Threat Championship Match, with Chyna being one of the contenders.

Though she missed out at winning the Heavyweight Championship, Chyna quickly rebounded and made history when she won the WWF Intercontinental Championship off of Jeff Jarrett. Designed to get the utmost, cathartic response from the audience, Chyna beat the crap out of the woman-hating Jarrett in a hardcore match, using many stereotypically female appliances against him. Though old-timey fans and internet smarks mocked the new precedent, Chyna made an indelible image to live on forever and inspire future wrestling hopefuls.

From here into 2000, Chyna would hang out in the top mid-card, still competing against men and being placed in plots with the likes of Chris Jericho, Eddie Guerrero, Hardcore Holly, and Val Venis. She would even surprisingly have a second reign with the Intercontinental title, as part of a lengthy storyline where she was hooked up with Guerrero and attracted by his "latino heat".

Unfortunately, late 2000 began the unfortunate downfall for Chyna. The powers that be wanted her to be relegated to the women's division, as soon as possible. Due to her impressive physique and the sheer fact that every audience member expected her to trounce the female competition with complete ease, she was placed in a poorly thoughout storyline where her neck was "broken", but was somehow able to make it back in time for Wrestlemania X7. Sporting a gaudy pink bikini and frizzy hair, an attire that never matched her persona, she squashed Ivory and snatched the Women's Championship off of her in record time. She continued on as a pseudo-heel champion whose ego was a little too high until she was oddly removed from television, stripped of the belt, and the WWF let her contract run out, with no chance of ever being hired again.

The specific details surrounding her sudden departure remain hazy to this day but many observers have their inklings as to why. Though she helped alter the wrestling environment, became a celebrity thanks to a Playboy shoot and some acting gigs, and was a strong role model for women, she did have some issues backstage. Constant plastic surgeries, alleged drug problems and steroid use, and a severe attitude behavior that rubbed the boys and management badly caused her to be a carrier of nuclear heat. But the biggest matter came around when she was caught up in a bizarre love triangle with her former boyfriend HHH and the boss' daughter Stephanie McMahon. The ill will from all of this caused the WWF to virtually blackball Chyna from returning and scrub her from their history. Their stubborn refusal to enter her into their Hall of Fame, despite all of the skeletons in the closet other Hall of Famers have, remains a sore spot today.

Her career and personal life sadly weren't able to flourish to the fullest anymore. She went to Japan and briefly competed in New Japan Pro Wrestling in 2002, once again facing off against men. This attempt ultimately failed due to the different nature of fan mentality and the fact that she was tied to an awful gaijin (foreign) invasion storyline. Two years later saw the public release of 1 Night in China, a homemade sex tape between her and her on-off boyfriend Waltman. This led to her having a new career in the porn industry. Her most notable (and infamous) roles was as She-Hulk in Avengers XXX (and a spin-off for herself) and a truly gross, hard to stomach wrestling parody film called Chyna is Queen of the Ring.

Things continued to spiral out of control for her. She was arrested for domestic abuse, hospitalized multiple times after possible suicide attempts, and several public appearances saw her intoxicated or otherwise not with it. She once again tried to enter wrestling in 2011, competing this time in WWE's rival promotion TNA, but after a laughably bad PPV match, she was scuttled off the screen. Though she had said that she got her life back in order recently, working as an English teacher in Japan, several new instances proved otherwise: she failed in hijacking a live radio interview with Waltman and at a wrestling convention timed in conjunction with this year's Wrestlemania, she allegedly showed up in no condition and asked to leave by the promoters.

Chyna was a beacon of hope and change in the WWF Attitude Era. In a period where misogyny was running at an all-time high, she took no shit from anyone and made womanhood utter badass and beautiful. She may have been well-protected and given the spotlight due to some backstage politics, but it's not like many a male wrestler hasn't done that before. Additionally, if not for her involvement with them, stars and legends like HHH, Henry, Jericho, and Guerrero wouldn't have survived and prospered. Unfortunately, despite all of the joy she gave to the world, Chyna wasn't able to overcome all of the hardships that affected her throughout her entire life. She was a poor soul that let the world get her down.

She will be sorely missed.

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