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Chyna
Chyna was once assigned to the Peace Corps in Guatemala, has a degree in Spanish Literature and can converse fluently in four different languages

The groundbreaking wrestler punished for her porn past

Joanie ‘Chyna’ Laurer has died aged just 45 – here we celebrate the life of a person who was shunned by the arena she dominated on account of her personal decisions

This morning, the world awoke to the devastating news that wrestling legend Joanie ‘Chyna’ Laurer had passed away aged just 45 years old. Already media headlines have emerged depicting her as a drug addict that slurred her words in her final YouTube video, and there are sure to be demeaning articles published about her pornographic past.

What these articles probably won’t mention is that she was once assigned to the Peace Corps in Guatemala, has a degree in Spanish Literature and can converse fluently in four different languages. Statistically, she is the most successful female wrestler in history – she is the first (and, to this day, the only) to win the WWF Intercontinental championship, the King of the Ring tournament and be named the #1 contender for the WWF championship. Despite these various achievements she is yet to be inducted into the company’s Hall of Fame, and is unlikely to be inducted posthumously due to her pornographic past.

Laurer’s role as a trailblazer cannot be underestimated in a wrestling industry that has always been and is still biased towards men. Competitors are often divided into gendered matches due to companies believing it inappropriate to show men and women fighting each other. The implication is that a male wrestler will always have a strength advantage – an implication Laurer battled against throughout her career.

‘She shattered glass ceilings, kicked down doors, broke gender barriers – she was an anomaly and untouchable’ – Trish Stratus

In her autobiography If They Only Knew, she revealed that she only won the Intercontinental title because her opponent was offered $300,000 to lose cleanly to a woman – unsurprisingly, many ‘tough’ men were embarrassed by the idea of being beaten up by a woman, despite Laurer being a bodybuilder and powerhouse in her own right. Half of Fame inductee Jacqueline later became the first woman to win the Cruiserweight title when she challenged then-champion Chavo Guerrero, but her reign was short-lived and he later won the belt back in a degrading match which saw him beat her with one arm tied behind his back. The embarrassing treatment of Jacqueline’s character only served to highlight what a rarity Laurer truly was – in an industry where women were often dismissed as mere jokes unworthy to fight men, Laurer stood tall and defended herself against some of the best in the business.

As for Laurer’s porn career, it’s worth acknowledging that the WWF was and is a company famous for its sexualisation of female athletes. Many were reduced to mere ringside props, including seven-time Women’s Champion and Hall of Fame inductee Trish Stratus, who began her career as the glamourous manager of a tag-team entitled T&A (which, in America, stands for ‘Tits & Ass’). There were also matches designed especially for women, like the ‘bra and panties’ matches that pitted two women against each other with the goal to strip each other down to their lingerie.

The WWF ‘Divas’ also had a long history of appearing naked in Playboy magazine, as you can see in this bizarrely detailed article ‘top ten’ ranking of WWF pictorials. The likes of Sable, Christy Hemme and Torrie Wilson all had their Playboy shoots written into storylines, and even Laurer saw her nude modelling become the catalyst for a feud with the conservative wrestling group Right to Censor. In essence, the wrestling industry is happy to sexualize women on its own terms.

Yet, in an interview back in 2015, wrestler Triple H loosely implied that Laurer would never be inducted due to her controversial career choices.

He gave the example of an eight-year-old Googling her name and being confronted with her various porn videos, acknowledging that she deserved to be inducted but would probably never be. Laurer then seemed to confirm the allegations on Twitter, stating that she had reached out to the company several times but had never received a response.

It isn’t the first time the company has refused to induct a worthy honoree due to their controversial past – unsurprisingly, Laurer’s sex tape partner Sean Waltman has never been inducted and Hulk Hogan had his name removed back in 2015. Interestingly, Hogan wasn’t removed for his involvement in a sex tape which surfaced back in 2012, but instead for a series of racist comments. Furthermore, fellow inductee Tammy ‘Sunny’ Sytch has signed a porn contract yet not been eliminated from the list, whereas Donald Trump is currently a celebrity inductee despite various bigoted statements and, weirder still, even Snoop Dogg is in there.

Still, induction or no induction, Twitter has been flooded with heartfelt tributes to the star and recognition of her unparalleled achievements. Fellow female wrestler Trish Stratus posted a heartfelt tribute on Twitter, which stated she had ‘shattered glass ceilings, kicked down doors, broke gender barriers – she was an anomaly and untouchable’. Other tributes have flooded in from legends and colleagues like Mick Foley, Amy Dumas and Stephanie McMahon have praised her status as a trailblazer, yet there’s something unsettling about Laurer’s revelation that the company ignored her requests for contact yet published a brief condolence tweet after her death.

The company is willing to sexualize its female talent and maintain its links with controversial politicians, yet it seemingly refuses to acknowledge its most accomplished female talent due to her links with the porn industry. Clearly a string of bad decisions are enough to justify a lack of formal recognition of a glimmering career, which is truly a shame. Since she probably won’t be inducted, it’s best that we all look back on the career of Joanie Laurer as one true example of female progression in a male-dominated field.