It can be said that women’s wrestling is currently enjoying unprecedented popularity. Thanks to the immense success of her current “The Man” gimmick, Becky Lynch has become arguably WWE’s most popular performer, male or female. While Lynch has been removed in storyline from the WrestleMania 35 main event, which now features Ronda Rousey defending her Raw Women’s Championship against Charlotte Flair, the fact that WWE is featuring a women’s match as the WrestleMania main event is a first in company history.
None of this may have been possible if it wasn’t for the arrival of Chyna, who, as reported on Monday by ESPN, is set to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame’s Class of 2019 on April 6, together with the rest of the D-Generation X stable. When Chyna, aka Joan Marie Laurer in real life, joined WWE in 1997, the company hadn’t had a women’s division for about two years. But she made an immediate impression by breaking the stereotype of big, burly male wrestlers getting booked as designated enforcers.
As a bodybuilder prior to her WWE run, Chyna was indeed larger than the average female wrestler. But as explained by fellow DX founding member Paul “Triple H” Levesque, WWE wanted to try something new by having her serve as the otherwise all-male faction’s hired muscle.
“It was completely different,” Triple H recalled. “No one had ever had a female [enforcer] before, especially one like that. It just worked out. The timing was right.”
During her time in D-Generation X, Chyna hardly ever spoke, instead making her presence felt by attacking the men (and occasionally women) who were involved in the faction’s feuds. According to a 2016 article from Bleacher Report, she was a “one-of-a-kind” performer for the company at that time, blending brute strength and sexuality in a very unique way.
“Chyna’s contributions to D-Generation X made it clear that women can be major players in the WWE machine, and not just by means of their looks,” Bleacher Report added.
While Chyna’s success and popularity with DX were among the driving factors behind WWE’s decision to reinstate its women’s division in 1998, she was not a key player in the division at first. Instead, she fought most of her in-ring battles against men, while achieving multiple firsts in WWE history.
In a span of just a few years, Chyna became the first woman in the King of the Ring tournament, the first female Royal Rumble match entrant, and the first — and only so far — female Intercontinental Champion. She did, however, win one Women’s Championship for the company, defeating Ivory in less than three minutes at WrestleMania X-Seven in 2001, per TJR Wrestling.
— Diva Dirt (@divadirt) February 18, 2019
Although WWE had a few other skilled female wrestlers in its revived women’s division, Bleacher Report pointed out that many of Chyna’s contemporaries, as well as several women who followed in the years thereafter, were mostly seen as “sex objects and arm candy.” However, there was no denying that because of her ability to at least work a decent match and her willingness to do what the men had long been doing in the ring, Chyna was among the women in the late ’90s landscape who slowly, but surely paved the way for women’s wrestling becoming more than bathroom break fodder for most fans.
Women’s wrestling, in general, has come a long way from the bra-and-panties matches and lingerie pillow fights WWE used to book on a regular basis. Nowadays, WWE’s “women’s evolution” is in full swing, and as mentioned above, the company’s female wrestlers have more than proven that they could be as big a draw as their male counterparts, if not bigger. And that’s not counting how rival companies such as Impact Wrestling, Ring of Honor, and many others have thriving women’s divisions of their own.
As documented by Vice Sports, Chyna battled her share of personal demons after leaving WWE in 2001, and Triple H had controversially said in 2015 that her forays into adult entertainment made her a doubtful candidate for the company’s Hall of Fame. However, he himself had backtracked on those comments after Chyna’s untimely death in 2016, as quoted in ESPN’s report.
“[Chyna] absolutely, definitely deserves to be in there. It’d be tough to pick a female that was more impactful on the business.”
It’s been a long time coming, and while she may no longer be around to see herself get recognized, Chyna’s upcoming WWE Hall of Fame induction as a part of D-Generation X is truly well-deserved.