On November 25th, 1985, at the coveted Madison Square Garden in New York City, a controversy occurred in the ring between then-champion, Wendi Richter and The Spider (a.k.a. Fabulous Moolah) that has since gone down in folklore as the Original Screwjob of professional wrestling.* The incident was brought about by Vince McMahon’s need to take the title away from Richter after she tried to renegotiate her contract with the company.
In 1985, Richter was on top of the world. A two-time women’s champion, she had become the face of the women’s division. But following WrestleMania, she felt she was underpaid. According to some sources, the main male stars of the show received huge paydays: Paul Orndorff reportedly received $20,000, Mr. T received $100,000, Roddy Piper received $75,000, and Hulk Hogan got between $75,000 and $100,000. Wendi Richter was paid $5,000. Despite being a household name who had helped a lot with the first MTV shows that led to WrestleMania, her weekly average was about $2,500, before travel expenses. At the “Brawl to End It All” match against Moolah the year before, she had reportedly received $1,500.
Richter felt she was getting screwed by the company and asked for a better contract. Also, since she was showcased in the cartoon show, she wanted royalties for that, at a time when royalties weren’t given to everyone. She also refused to sign a merchandise contract. However, it wasn’t that she didn’t want to sign a new contract, as some have reported in subsequent years. She had a five-year deal in place, but she wanted to renegotiate it, or at the very least get some compensation for what she had brought to the company over the previous 16 months. “[McMahon] didn’t want to pay me,” Richter said in an interview. “I was being paid what the people in opening matches were being paid.” Richter also said Vince was telling her she had a legitimate complaint over this, but he would never do anything about it. Putting things into context, even if Richter felt underpaid, she was paid more than all the other female wrestlers, except for Moolah.
“When I dropped the belt at WrestleMania to Wendi Richter, a woman I had trained, she was paid twice as much as the challenger as I was as the defending champion,” said Leilani Kai.
While 1985 started out great for Richter, on November 25th, she would get screwed by the company and a woman 38 years her senior.
The Original Screwjob in professional wrestling and how Vince McMahon and Fabulous Moolah screwed Wendi Richter out of the Women’s Championship Belt
It was supposed to be a match just like any other in the middle of the card. Wendi Richter was set to wrestle The Spider, normally performed by wrestler Glen Deane. Earlier in the evening, however, something felt a bit off for Richter. She had bumped into The Fabulous Moolah, which was strange as Moolah normally only showed up on cards she was booked to work on. Moolah wasn’t booked to work this evening. Richter also saw Glen Deane backstage, too, so began to think nothing of it. That was until she stepped into the ring and noticed that The Spider had taken on a different form altogether, the form of an older, smaller woman. A woman in the shape of The Fabulous Moolah.
Before the bell rang, many thoughts came racing through Richter’s head. Maybe Deane got ill and had to be replaced last minute? After all, things like this happened all the time. But once the bell went and stiff shots starting coming her way, it became apparent who she was facing.
“The real Spider Lady’s name was Glen Deane,” Richter recalled in an interview with women-wrestling.org. “When I got to MSG that day, Glen Deane was there but so was Moolah–which was strange because Moolah was never at the arena on a day she wasn’t scheduled to wrestle. When I went out to the ring for the match, it didn’t look like Glen Deane, who was about 175-180 lbs. Before the match that night, I had a conversation with Vince about payoffs. I told him that I wasn’t making enough money to justify being on the road like I was. I just wasn’t taking home enough money for the amount of work that I had been doing.”
Richter continued, “Almost immediately after the match started, I knew it was Moolah because of the style–the low blows and cheapshots. I knew at that time that I had to protect myself in the ring. Moolah would try to hurt you so I knew I had to look out for my safety in there. What I hadn’t counted on was the referee being in on it as well.”
Despite being 38 years her senior (Richter was 24 and Moolah 62 at the time), Moolah was known to put self-interest first and work roughly in the ring. Richter knew that she had to protect herself, so she amped up her performance and threw Moolah out of the ring in the early goings. As the match progressed, even announcers Jesse Ventura and Gorilla Monsoon began to take notice of Richter’s unusually aggressive style in the ring.
Ventura: “I’ve never seen her this aggressive and this flagrant about breaking rules, Gorilla.”
Monsoon: “Well, the title’s on the line, you do whatever you can to hold on to it, I guess.”
Throughout the bout, Richter worked hard to remove the mask from The Spider to expose to the audience who she really was. Even Ventura and Monsoon were questioning who was under the mask, “Perhaps it’s Moolah?”
Ultimately, The Spider got in a small package pin to which Richter kicked out after a one-and-a-half count, but the referee quickly slammed his hand to the mat three times for a quick three count. The bell rang awkwardly thereafter.
“What was that? Referee made a three count? Appears that the referee has made a three count!” Monsoon announced, seemingly confused.
In the aftermath of the pin, Richter went after The Spider to pull off her mask, finally revealing it to be Moolah all along. Richter then lifted her into a backbreaker (with no help from Moolah) and pinned her, suggesting to the viewers that Richter thought the match was still ongoing and that it was all part of an angle. Richter continued to throw forearms at Moolah until the ref, who had lost control by this point, was relieved by announcer Howard Finkel.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the winner of this bout and new World Wrestling Federation Ladies Champion: The Spider? The Fabulous Moolah?”
“I’m an honest and trusting person and I thought the referee was as well,” Richter explains. “After maybe 7 minutes [Moolah] did a small package or something that you usually can easily kick out of. The ref counted ‘one!’ and I lifted my shoulder up. The ref then counted ‘Two-Three’ very fast and that was the end of the match. I was so angry that I just walked right out of the building in my wrestling gear, wrestling boots, grabbed my wrestling bag and went outside and hailed a cab. I went straight to the airport in my wrestling gear, got my ticket and changed my clothes in the airport restroom.
“If they had wanted me to drop the belt, I wouldn’t have had a problem with it IF I had been compensated properly (she received $500 for the match). Some people from the office called me several days later but I didn’t pick up the phone. Vince or Moolah never called me directly and I never spoke to them again. I don’t hate Moolah’s guts and I don’t wish her evil. I just don’t like her and don’t trust her, and I’m not going to act like I do.”
Wendi Richter on the aftermath of the Original Screwjob: “Vince or Moolah never called me and I never spoke to them again.”
The match that night in Madison Square Garden became known as the “Original Screwjob” and was the last match fan-favorite Richter ever worked in the WWF. Wendi wouldn’t appear in anything WWF/E related for the next 25 years, until she was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2010. After this screwjob finish, Richter wrestled in the Caribbean for the World Wrestling Council (winning the Women’s title twice and having a vicious feud with Monster Ripper) and later the AWA (winning the title there and holding it for nearly a year). She later obtained her Masters Degree and became an occupational therapist and dog breeder, breeding several champions at the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club dog show in NYC.
Watch the ‘Original Screwjob’ match between Fabulous Moolah and Wendi Richter below:
Read everything there is to know about the other well-planned manipulation by Vince McMahon that occurred 12 years later: The Montreal Screwjob!
*While this incident frequently gets referred to as the “original screwjob” in wrestling, there have been plenty of screwjobs in wrestling going back to the 1800s.
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