With WrestleMania season slowly descending upon us (and go ahead and pencil in a column about that the week of the event, smart marks…), the roll out for the WWE’s Hall of Fame began this week with the news that Degeneration X would be the first of the class of 2019. Entering the hall for the stable will be Triple H, Shawn Michaels (his second Hall of Fame ring), “Bad Ass” Billy Gunn, “The Road Dogg” Jessie James… and Chyna. The news was mostly accepted with some fanfare. DX was the WWE’s answer to WCW’s NWO stable — and was instrumental in eventually helping McMahon’s company to topple the competition at the end of the Monday Night Wars.
In short: the smart marks have their panties in a bunch over the accolade specifically because Chyna herself hasn’t been inducted alone, as the singles star she was for the company. Many feel that this is a backhanded compliment to the late Joanie Laurer (Chyna’s real name) to let her in to the hall without truly recognizing her contributions to the WWE at large. Further to that point, Paul Levesque (WWE VP of Talent Relations and semi-retired professional wrestler Triple H) when asked year after year why Chyna has fallen to the wayside with a Hall of Fame induction, often cited Laurer’s complicated personal issues as muddying the waters to grant her with the tribute.
And with the fanfare of the announcement of induction-by-way-of-stable comes the controversy. And who would I be if I didn’t have an opinion to share on the matter?
Simply put, Chyna should have been inducted into the Hall of Fame this year alone rather than with DX as a stablemate. This is clearly a corporate compromise that allows McMahon’s publicly traded empire to have its cake and eat it too.
Now, let’s be clear… The “Hall of Fame” is a bloated self-congratulatory entitlement that the WWE created to pat itself on the back for decimating the landscape of pro-wrestling; being the solo superpower left in a field once populated by a thriving regional-based business. So, for Chyna to be overlooked is merely corporate optics at play. There is no academy of wrestlers to vote on nominations (and for the really smart marks, yes, I know about Cauliflower Alley). The controversy here exists solely as means to a larger point. That of art versus the artist.
I won’t waste column inches here on a Wikipedia entry. Feel free to peruse Chyna’s bio to better understand the finer points. Joanie Laurer’s life was complicated to say the least. That her exit from the WWE in 2002 seemed mutually amicable was clearly discovered later to be far from the case. Lest you believe that one delves into adult film-making less than 2 years after choosing to pursue a career in acting. From porn to middling reality star, Chyna’s career was a freefall from the moment her sex tape debuted straight through to her overdose in 2016. Her documented recoveries and relapses of substance abuse only fanned the flames every time the Hall of Fame would announce yet another female wrestler or entertainer leaving Laurer in the cold.
Chyna was by no means the WWE’s first female wrestling star. But during the Attitude Era, there was no bigger female star in all of wrestling. Scoff if you will, but upon her debut as the heavy for Triple H and Shawn Michaels circumvented expectation. Here was this muscle-bound Amazonian bodyguard, there to interfere and draw heat for male superstars. And with her frame and stature, she was a believable menace. Once she outgrew the silent-monolith archetype, Chyna further defied expectation being a worthy combatant in famous matches like the Royal Rumble and King of the Ring. She remains the one and only woman to hold the Intercontinental Title. And beyond that, her storyline revolving around the late Eddie Guerrero not only cemented her legacy in the WWE, but it help create the foundation of Eddie’s solo career in the company. Chyna’s “hard to get” mamacita schtick was the gateway drug for Eddie’s initial success. Without his Latino Heat persona over with the crowd, it is fair to say Guerrero would never have become a WWE World Heavyweight Champion.
On those merits alone, Chyna outranks dubiously dweeby Hall of Fame inductees like Koko B. Ware or Rikishi (fight me). She also stands above previously inducted women like Jacqueline, Beth Phoenix, and Ivory — who are all deserving of their awards, but all would not have seen merit to their career had it not been for the doors Chyna busted down prior. The fact is Chyna was likely pushed out of the company as Triple H fell in love with Stephanie McMahon (and no, not just in storylines…). Without an anchor and steady paycheck (one we can safely assume was never on-par with equally booked male superstars), she made bad choice after bad choice. In repayment for these sins, the art has been shunned so the company can shame the artist. And this isn’t a MeToo moment; it’s salt rubbed into a wound at the cost of looking clean for would-be advertisers.
The good news, of course, is that the WWE Universe at large knows that it controls the narrative better than the corporately clean WWE boardroom. News of Chyna’s induction was met with glee from fans, wrestlers, and Laurer’s family alike. That the honor must be ensconced within a stable-nomination, the accolade will shine brighter on her than anyone else in attendance to accept the award. Especially true given Billy Gunn’s recent accepting of a producer role in competing promotion AEW likely barring his ability to share the stage with his stablemates. How great the optics will be then with Triple H, Shawn Michaels, and Road Dogg accepting an award together, while the crowd inevitably drowns their fake smiles and nice words with (hopefully) deafening ‘Chyna’ chants.
Perhaps WWE will close the loop on the hypocrisy and let Mohammed Bin Salman and Hulk Hogan induct DX for good measure. And if Vince McMahon doesn’t like that? I have two words for him.