Sherri Martel: Secret History of a True Sensation

"Sensational" Sherri Martel was just that- utterly sensational. One of the greatest female wrestlers, managers/valets, and personalities ever to step foot in the ring. She was beloved in the industry, and her tragic death in 2007 at only 49 years old was among our most painful losses. But what was her life truly like outside the ring? At 4 am one fateful evening, she poured her guts out about her harsh life on the road.

The late-great
The late-great "Sensational" Sherri Martel over the years.

Sherri Martel Gives an Unusually Open Interview About Her Life of Wrestling on the Road

Between 1991 and 2006, I was an Arts Producer on 50,000-Watt WBAI-FM 99.5 NYC (Pacifica Radio), where on the late Fred Geobold’s Light Show, along with fellow producer Eddie Goldman, we interviewed some of the greatest names in not only the entertainment world but pro wrestling, as well.

Many have passed on, and a 4 AM interview we did in 1995 via phone with a sleepy Sherri Martel, where she poured her guts out about not only her wrestling career but the harsh life she led on the road, was one of my most memorable and poignant interviews to date.

The interview was later published in my newsletter, Wrestling- Then & Now.

Sherri Martel was unusually open about the business’s exhausting nature and how being on the road kept her from normal family life.

On Life on the Road:

"It kind of starts out with you getting up, usually around 5:00. You catch the 6:30 flight. You always stay in the hotel close to the airport. That way, you can sleep later. But anyway, you check out of the hotel, go to the airport, check your bags, and hope they don’t lose your baggage. You go down to the gate, get your seat, get on the plane, and go to sleep.

You land, get your bags, take them to the hotel and go to sleep a little while longer. Some of the guys go to the gym to work out.

It’s just a crazy life, and most of the time, you don’t have time to eat or whatever.

You come back to the hotel and take it easy for a couple of hours and then go to work and come back and go to bed, and then it starts over again the next day for like 12, 13 days. It pretty much takes a toll on everything.

For 13 years, it was suitcases, my toothbrush, my hot curlers, my blow-dryer, airplane tickets, my briefcase, and that’s about it. It’s just crazy.

You get out there. You know you don’t want to leave home. You get on the plane. You get sick of packing that suitcase, and you walk out of that door, and you’re leaving everything there.

You wonder if your fish are going to be okay or if any of them are going to croak while you’re gone.

You worry about your mom and animals and everything while you’re gone, and then you got to get psyched for yourself.

Everybody gives something up. Everybody that comes into this business knows what they are giving up.

You really don’t appreciate what you have until it’s not there all the time.

Besides, you get tired of worrying about the airplanes or the automobiles when you’re driving long hours in-between the shows.

I’m tired of the road.

A hotel becomes like a prison cell after a while with room service and a TV and bathroom.

It pretty much takes its toll on everything.

After leaving the WWF, I just went home and recuperated, putting my life back together and actually finding out there is life after the WWF.

I had been living out of a suitcase for 13 years with the WWF, and the schedule was so crazy that I didn’t get to spend as much time at home as I would have liked.

I didn’t see my son grow up."

Sherri Martel On Japan:

"I’ve been there twice. I went there first in the early ’80s’80s for eight weeks, and then I went there again in 1986, right before I went to work for Vince, and I had my fill of the Orient.

I like it over there. It gets cool. It’s such a nice place and everything, but so far as doing work over there, there’s no place like home for me. I really never realized how much I appreciate being in the States until I got out. Like in Japan or over in Europe or somewhere.

You’re just crazy to find something that you take for granted, like just a regular cheeseburger or something like that. A McDonald’s or something. It just doesn’t taste right because what they use is different, I guess.

You really don’t appreciate what you got; I just would like to stay here and appreciate everything here.

The girls in Japan are very young. They’re like 14, 15, 16, or 17 years old. They go to school during the daytime, and they also train. So, this is a 24-hour thing for them.

This is what they do for a certain time in their life, and after that, they retire; they keep fresh girls over there that can break into the business and are interested in getting into the entertainment business as well.

They mix the two because some of the girls in there are singers and movie stars."

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Sherri Martel on Her Start in Wrestling

On Training:

"I started in Memphis. Probably in late 1979. I was there with a small group. There was a small school there, and then I went to Moolah’s school to get polished up.

I was there for about a year, and then I got hurt. I got my knee dislocated, and I quit for about three years.

Then I went through Memphis touring, and I started again. Jim Cornette was my first manager and – let me see- I was probably there one and a half to two years, and then I went up to the AWA for 1987, and then I went to work for Vince."

Sherri clearly loved her time in the ring and worked the major promotions and with the biggest stars of her time.

Sensational Sherri out and about with Ted DiBiase while on tour in Ireland in a short skirted white suit
Sensational Sherri out and about with Ted DiBiase while on tour in Ireland

Sherri Martel On Working with the Legends:

"It was really nice being one of the few women in the WWF because I got an opportunity to meet a lot of really cool people. I’ve been among the best guys in the business, but I consider all the guys in the business to be the best.

All the guys were always pushing me because they were the ones I had to follow and worked with- men like Randy Savage and Ted Dibiase and Shawn Michaels and Playboy Buddy Rose and Doug Sommers and Kevin Kelly.

You know people, if you don’t go out and give them everything that you got, they’re going to see it, and that’s not what they pay their hard-earned money for. They didn’t come to see a failure out there.

I was blessed to be working with wonderful guys. It’s hard to pick the best because every one of them are wonderful in their own way. I was friendly with them inside and outside the ring when I worked with them and every day when I traveled with them.

Randy was always very professional, and when I first went to work up there, all the guys were like great big stars in my eyes, and the newness hadn’t worn off yet even though I had some years prior to going to the WWF.

I wanted to do everything that I possibly could to make my character blend in with Randy’s and to compliment him, and I tried to do that with each and every one of them- Teddy Bear [DiBiase] and then Shawn.

But Randy, in his own way, he made me take off. He’d always tell me when we were going to the airport, and I wore a Walkman and sunglasses, that I looked through the world with pink sunglasses on, and I never knew what that meant until I went through a bad divorce and he helped pull me through it.

I found out what he meant by looking through the world through rose-colored glasses.

Ted was down to Earth- a very easy person to get along with. He demands professionalism when you go through the curtains and then to the ring; it’s time to go to work and to make those people happy out there.

I watched Shawn develop from a good guy with the Rockers in the AWA to a very classic heel. I never thought in a million years that I would be managing him years later. It shows you how crazy this business is and how many changes and turns that it can take.

He developed his character so well for his age, and he is one of the nicest people I have ever met in my life.

Everybody gets a little cocky when they’ve been on the road and the stress and the traveling and everything; it just makes you crazy sometimes, and people might think that just because they tell him "no" at the time that they want you to sign an autograph, then they’re trying to be mean.

They’re probably trying to get into bed to get a decent night’s sleep and keep up a little bit of sanity to make the next show."

Sensational Sherri battling it out with her teacher, the Fabulous Moolah
Sensational Sherri battling it out with her teacher, the Fabulous Moolah

Sherri Martel on Her Toughest Opponents:

"I had a couple of matches in Japan that went for an hour. One was a little bloody and everything, but it came out okay. That was for the AWA Championship.

Each and every time I stepped into the ring with The Fabulous Moolah was a challenge because you must remember one thing, the teachers never teach you everything. They never do.

So, each and every time I get in the ring with my opponent, they were all tough, talented, and competing in a male-dominated sport that they respect and care about and want to be a part of.

Each and every one of them is hard, and they work hard, and they really try to do their best and give their all."

Sherri loved and cared about her fans and saw things through their eyes.

Sherri Martel on the Business of Wrestling:

"You know, a lot of families are on fixed incomes and stuff like that. They can’t afford the price of most wrestling tickets, so maybe they should bring down the price.

It should be a little more reasonable because until our economy gets back up and is strong again, it’s not only hurting the wrestling business, it’s hurting fans, too.

The ticket prices in some places are so outrageous. But that’s just my opinion. That’s just from listening outside and being around people when they talk about it."

And Sherri powerfully ended on this note, angered when a caller asked, "Is wrestling fake?"…

Sherri Martel on Whether Wrestling is Fake or Real:

"Let me put it this way. The paycheck that I got at the end of every week was deposited in my account, and it is not fake. I got up there, and I had a job. That’s the way I look at it- as a job, okay?

I got up there, and I gave it everything that I had. After all those miles up and down the road, I wore my body out. That’s not fake.

My body got slammed on that damn canvas and on the outside of the ring. I got hit on the outside of the head with a chair. I got sent to the hospital. I got glass in my damn eyes. That’s not fake.

Marty Jannetty broke a mirror across my head, and there was a piece of glass that got into my eyes, and I had to have that taken care of. It was just an accident.

Accidents happen and stuff like that. I had to have surgery to take the glass out. I was out for a while. The way I look at it, before anyone can criticize any damn thing I do, they have to walk in my shoes.

You can’t expect someone to understand if they have never been there, right?

Sherri Martel remains my all-time favorite woman wrestler and wrestling personality. And everything you saw in that ring, the talent, heart, passion, and love for the business despite its grueling nature, was indeed expressed in one of our most memorable and heartfelt interviews.

Although I didn’t know the Sensational one personally, I am forever grateful to have gotten to know her in this late-night chat nearly a quarter-century ago.

Rest in Peace, Sherri. You’ve more than earned it.

Learn more about the life and career of “Sensational” Sherri Martel:

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Evan Ginzburg is the Senior Editor for Pro Wrestling Stories and a contributing writer since 2017. He's a published author and was an Associate Producer on the Oscar-nominated movie "The Wrestler" and acclaimed wrestling documentary "350 Days." He is a 30-plus-year film, radio, and TV veteran and a voice-over actor on the radio drama Kings of the Ring.