The Passing of Chyna
On April 20th, 2016, the world of professional wrestling lost one of it’s biggest stars, Joan Laurer, known better to fans as Chyna. Once standing strong against men twice her size, she was a true hero in an era when women were mostly objectified as T&A. The ‘Ninth Wonder of the World’ broke down the barrier of many stereotypes, and we look back on her time in Attitude Era WWE fondly.
With the passing of Chyna, we got to thinking about what stories we could share. Being the only woman ever to hold the prestigious Intercontinental Championship belt, we use this as a starting point.
Chyna’s Rise to Fame
Transitioning from Triple H’s sidekick and bodyguard, Chyna’s star began to rise in 1999. She became the first woman to enter the Royal Rumble, entering at number 30 and later being eliminated by ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin. That summer, she too would be the first and only woman ever to enter the King of the Ring tournament, beating Val Venis in the qualifiers but losing to Road Dogg on the pay-per-view itself.
Greater things would come. In October, she entered a feud with the then Intercontinental Champion, Jeff Jarrett. This is where our stories begin.
Jeff Jarrett Holds The Intercontinental Belt Hostage from Vince McMahon
To give a bit of background on the circumstances surrounding the culmination of Chyna’s feud with Jeff Jarrett, we look no further than to WWE’s notorious tough guy, Bob Holly.
In 2013, Holly released what we consider one of the top 5 wrestling autobiographies ever written, Tthe Hardcore Truth: The Bob Holly Story. This must-have autobiography is a hold-nothing-back tell-all about Holly’s time in the company. Being thrust into a three-way feud for the belt after Chyna won it off Jarrett, Holly witnessed many of the backstage controversies going on at the time.
Jarrett’s Return to WWF
“Triple H’s former bodyguard and girlfriend-at-the-time Chyna had been working with my old friend Jeff Jarrett. Jeff had returned to the WWF after having a poor run in WCW and Vince let him come back in order to humiliate him on TV. Vince is a businessman and signs people because he wants to make money with them, but I think he also likes to set them up to humiliate them if they’ve wronged him. This time, Jeff ended up with the upper hand.
“Jeff’s contract was coming to an end, and Jim Ross was told to sign him to an extension. For whatever reason, it slipped through the cracks, and Jeff kept quiet about his contractual status.
Jeff and Chyna’s PPV Match
“They had been building a match between Jeff and Chyna for weeks. It was one of the featured matches at the No Mercy pay-per-view, and Chyna was going to make history by becoming the first female IC champion.
Jarrett Holds Up Vince
“The PPV was on Sunday, and it turned out that Jeff’s contract had expired the day before. He walked into the arena for the PPV without his gear and went straight to Vince. Backstage, we all could hear the yelling in Vince’s office.
“Jeff was demanding that Vince pay him all the money he was owed from previous events and the money for the match he was going to do that night, or he wasn’t going to go to the ring. Shane, Vince’s son, was really vocal — he was cussing Jeff out and was ready to beat the **** out of him. Jeff is a mild-mannered guy who wouldn’t fight anybody, so he just sat there and held his ground.
“Vince said he’d make sure Jarrett was paid, but Jeff said he wanted the money wired into his account immediately before he brought his bag and the IC belt in. Otherwise, he was getting on a plane and going home. I thought it was wrong to do that. I sort of understand where he was coming from because it sometimes took up to six months to get our checks from a PPV. He was owed a lot of money, and I guess he was worried that Vince wouldn’t pay him. Even so, you don’t hold somebody up like that.
Jeff Gets Paid, and the Match Goes On
“Management had spent so much money building up that match as one of the main events that they couldn’t turn it around. They had to deliver Jarrett vs. Chyna, and since Jarrett was the IC champ going in, he had Vince over a barrel. When Jarrett confirmed with his wife that the money — over $300,000 — had arrived in his account, he brought his bag in, got dressed, and stayed away from everybody. Road Dogg, being the loyal friend he is, stayed by Jeff’s side.
“Before his match, Jeff took his bag, set it by the door of the arena, and went to the ring. He did his job and put Chyna over in a match that involved lots of household objects, including a big bag of flour. He came back, covered in that flour, walked past everybody, didn’t say a word, grabbed his bag, and was gone. He went straight to the airport looking the way he looked. He got on a plane, flew home, and was back on WCW Nitro the next night.
“Even though we had been beating WCW in the rating wars for a long time, they were still trying to come back and sign people from under Vince’s nose. J.R. was told to secure us all. He almost lost his job over the Jarrett oversight. He got reamed out huge for that.”
Chyna – WWE Creates a Monster
With Jarrett gone from the company, Chyna moved into a program with Jericho. WWE later threw Bob Holly into the mix. Read on to see what Holly’s thoughts were on working this program with the ‘Ninth Wonder of the World’ and how she and Triple H were once the cameras weren’t on them.
“When Chyna first came to the company in 1997, she poured on the charm — introduced herself, talked to everybody. I thought, ‘Wow, what a nice person.’ She wanted the job really badly. She said she’d sweep floors, put up the ring, do whatever it took just to get a job with the WWF. She was an impressive specimen back then, too, close to 200 pounds and absolutely no fat. [Dang], why not hire her? What made her interesting was that you don’t usually see women who look like her. How many women do you see day to day who are almost 6 feet and 200 pounds of solid muscle?! Of course, she was going to draw interest.
“They brought her in as Hunter’s bodyguard, and he got over so much more with her in his corner. Nobody really cared about him before Chyna showed up. With her there, he looked like a coward because he was letting a woman — no matter how big she was — stick up for him. It worked, and the crowd hated them as a couple.
“She was very nice for the longest time — until she started dating Hunter and the WWF started building her and building her. They created a monster.”
Chyna Blew Hot and Cold
“By the end of ’98, the DX gimmick had taken off, and you couldn’t get close to her. The only people she would bother to talk to were the top guys. Anybody from the mid-card down, she wouldn’t have a thing to do with.
“She would still talk with me a little now and then because I’d been there since she started, but she blew hot and cold. For example, she knew I liked Twix candy bars, so she’d always bring me a Twix and even nicknamed me ‘Twixy.’
“Then, other times, she would completely ignore me. She could be either the sweetest person on earth or the biggest ***** on the planet. I didn’t like the way she treated other people, even though she was still decent to me. You don’t mistreat the people who make you what you are, in my opinion.
“By the time our program rolled around, she wouldn’t even talk to me anymore because I was just a glorified jobber to her. I didn’t want anything to do with her at that point. I wouldn’t even attempt to say ‘hi’ to her backstage because she’d be wearing the sunglasses all the time and acting like she didn’t even hear me.”
Chyna Pandered to the Cameras
“At airports, when the cameras were on, Chyna was the first one to sign an autograph. As soon as the cameras disappeared, it was a different story. We’d have group flights, and the fans would come over to us all, looking for autographs. She and Hunter would refuse to sign anything, while Steve Austin, the biggest wrestling star in the world, signed everything. That tells me that Steve’s grateful to have fans and is giving back.
“Hunter and Chyna would just sit there with their sunglasses on and ignore everybody. I saw a similar situation one time when we drove to Baltimore for a show. Hunter and Chyna pulled in right behind me when the valet was parking our cars. Some fans came running over for an autograph, and the first words out of Chyna’s mouth were, ‘Hey, you’re not supposed to be here, get out of here.'”
Hunter and Chyna Refused to Sign Autographs for Children
“The two of them refused to sign anything. They were right that the kids weren’t meant to be there but even so . . . these people are the reason you have a salary! They came over to me, and I signed and talked with them. This group of kids even said to me that Chyna and Hunter had a lot of fans, and it was pretty sad that they would act like that. I had to agree.
“If the fans had been rude to them, I could have understood, but the kids just wanted a moment of their time and an autograph. But that’s just who Hunter and Chyna were then — whenever the cameras were on, they’d act like the big babyfaces they were on TV, but as soon as the cameras stopped rolling, it was a different story.
“They were really the only two who were like that. All of the other boys were respectful and giving to their fans. We were told that we should always sign autographs because the fans are the ones who make it possible for us to get a check and pay our bills.
“I saw Chyna some years later when I was doing Tough Enough; she was doing something for MTV too, so we were both in the green room, and she was very friendly to me. I always wondered if her behavior when she became a big star was because somebody had ‘brainwashed’ her into thinking that she was superior to the other talent and didn’t need to talk to people ‘beneath her.’ I knew that wasn’t her deep down. The Chyna I knew was and is a very good person.”
Bob Holly on How It Was a Blessing and a Curse to Work With Chyna and Chris Jericho
“Working the program with Jericho and Chyna was a blessing and a curse. It got me plenty of TV time, it got me onto a PPV, and it got me working with Chris. It also meant I had to work with Chyna, so not only did I have to think about what I had to do, but I had to think for her as well. I figured I would be the one losing so that they could both stay strong. I was going to be the sacrificial lamb, so to speak.
“It wasn’t working with a woman that bothered me. It was having to work around her in the ring that was frustrating, having to make up for her lack of ability. I didn’t have to worry about her burying me because I had nothing to lose — I wasn’t in a spot where they could do much to hurt my standing.
“For the lead-up to the match at the Royal Rumble 2000, they had me go over Chyna in a match on RAW so that people might think I had a chance to win the three-way match. I don’t think anybody really thought I might win that match, but it was nice to get a win on TV. I put Chyna over in another match — some people might think I would have had a problem losing to a woman, but I was fine with it.
“She was different from all the other women because they’d built her up as a monster. If they’d asked me to lose to Trish Stratus, for example, I might have had a problem with that. Chyna? That was fine.
Holly Pushes Things With His Promo
“I was happy that I got to do some interviews in the build-up, including what was probably my favorite-ever promo. I mentioned before that, back then, we had creative liberty with our promos, but if you were going to say something about someone else, you would usually go and run it by them first out of respect. You wanted to make sure they wouldn’t have a problem with what you were planning to say. I ran this one past Chyna, and she said she was fine with it.
“It was a sold-out arena, and the show would play on live TV. I went out there and said that women don’t belong in a wrestling ring. The crowd reacted, and I carried on: ‘I know what everybody’s going to say, that I probably think they should be barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen but no — let me tell you something, Chyna, women don’t belong in the ring — women belong in the bedroom, face down, *** up.'”
The Crowd Roars!
Bob Holly continued, “I got a reaction like I never had in my life. 20,000 people just roared. Chyna came to the ring, and I told her that she knew where I stood, and so she had two choices — she either got her *** out or she got her *** up. That place blew a gasket again. I was told later that all of the boys in the back popped but Linda McMahon, Vince’s wife, had this shocked look on her face, like ‘I can’t believe he said that,’ and walked off.
“After I’d flown home, I got a call from Bruce Prichard telling me that I couldn’t say things like that. Why? He said, ‘It’s just going a little too far . . . You offended a few people.’ I told him that worse stuff was said elsewhere on TV. I said that somebody must have been upset because I got over a little more than they did that night. Bruce told me to run anymore ‘questionable content’ past the office before I said it on live TV.”
Chyna Had a Tendency to Forget the Script
“The match we did at the Royal Rumble ended up being pretty good. Everything went well except for a spot where I was down. Chyna and Jericho were fighting, and their minds went blank. That was very rare for Chris. Chyna did listen when we’d go over matches, but she had a tendency to be forgetful. She wasn’t too worried about it since she knew that people would cover for her.”
“They were just standing there in the ring, trading punches, backed up against the rope, and trying to figure out what to do.”
“I crawled around on the mat and shouted, ‘Drop behind, nutshot.’ They got back into the groove, and we finished up the match with Chris pinning Chyna. I could have sworn I’d be the one to get beat, but they put Chris over Chyna clean. For a seven-minute match, it was all action and looked great. When we got to the back, Chris took me aside and told me he was glad I remembered what they had to do because that was fixing to get ugly!”
The Double Standard
“That was pretty much the end of any interaction I had with Chyna, although something from that program did come up again a while later. Hunter was out in the ring, cutting a promo on Vince and talking about him going to jail for whatever reason. He said that Vince was going to end up in jail ‘face down and *** up.’ All right, so Hunter can say that and I can’t? I guess being so far up Vince’s *** that he can see exactly what Vince had for dinner comes with certain privileges. I also guess that Hunter had heard the reaction I got for using that line and thought he’d take the pop for himself.
“‘Questionable content’ my ***, Hunter just didn’t want anybody else getting over. If he heard a good line, he’d put the kibosh on it and stop it from becoming a money-maker for anybody else. That [angered me]. But, as always, if I didn’t like how things were going, I could have left. That wasn’t going to happen. No matter what, my loyalty was with Vince. It always has been.
“He gave me my break in the big time, and he always looked after me financially. At one point, WCW got wind that my contract was expiring in April or May, so Eric Bischoff gave me a call.”
Contract Talks and Choosing Loyalty Over Money
“It was a quick conversation, and we didn’t even get as far as how they might use me. He told me that WCW would double whatever Vince’s best offer was to keep me. I told him what I was making and, sure enough, Eric offered to double it. I thanked him for the offer but told him I was going to stick with the WWF. He said he understood and respected my loyalty, and that was that.
“I sat down with Jim Ross to work out a new contract with the WWF, and he asked what sort of guarantee I wanted. I threw out a figure that I thought wasn’t unreasonable. J.R. said it ‘wasn’t exactly what they were thinking,’ but he’d see what he could do. They came back a few days later with the okay, and we got the new contract signed.
“It ended up being an extra 40 percent on what I was already making. I was fine with that. Sure, Eric had offered me double what I had been making but as far as I was concerned, loyalty means more than money. I’ve always felt that way. The thought of going to WCW never entered my mind. It wasn’t an option — I was staying with the WWF no matter what.”
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