RondaRousey.com’s Wrestler of the Week series profiles significant wrestlers from the past and present.
Though she only wrestled for the WWE (then WWF) for about four years, Chyna was undoubtedly one of the company’s most trailblazing Superstars. She was WWF’s first female enforcer, an Intercontinental Champion, a Royal Rumble entrant—and she did it all in her own unique way. In WWE’s words, “Chyna broke as many gender barriers as she did bodies,” and her influence is still felt in the wrestling world today.
As she recounted in her autobiography, If They Only Knew, Chyna’s road to pro wrestling was a difficult one. Her family life when she was a child involved alcoholism and violence, and her teen years included sexual harassment and an eating disorder. She started working out while she was in high school, and after college, she entered into fitness competitions, now with the physique that would earn her the nickname of “ninth wonder of the world” (to Andre the Giant’s eighth).
Around this time she started training at Killer Kowalski’s wrestling school, and in 1995, she began working for independent promotions. It was after one of these shows that she met Triple H and Shawn Michaels, who then watched tape of her matches and decided to bring her into WWF as a bodyguard character.
Chyna was introduced to the WWF audience when she emerged from the audience at In Your House 13: Final Four (in February 1997) to assist Triple H in his feud with Goldust, choking out the shiny Superstar’s manager, Marlena. Chyna performed mostly at Triple H’s side for the next few years, and when D-Generation X started, she was one of its founding members alongside him and Michaels. As part of DX, she’d often help the guys win matches with her signature, illegal low blow.
When Chyna won a Corporation vs. DX “Corporate Rumble” match for the #30 spot in the 1999 Royal Rumble, she also won a place in history. Although she was eliminated relatively quickly by “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Chyna became the first woman (of four, as of 2019) to enter a men’s Royal Rumble match. That was the official beginning of her slow breakout as a singles performer. She switched alignments between the Corporation and DX few times over the following months and became the first woman to enter the King of the Ring tournament along the way.
A lengthy feud with sexist Intercontinental Champion Jeff Jarrett saw Chyna become a heroic character for good and start to accomplish things that paid off in gold. She lost her first title bout against Jarrett but became the first and only female Intercontinental Champion after winning the infamous “Good Housekeeping” match at No Mercy in October 1999. She also gained the help of Jarrett’s valet Miss Kitty (later WWF Women’s Champion The Kat), who started dressing like Chyna and calling herself “Chynette.” A double by her side made the champ’s entrances just that much more impressive.
Chyna’s next feud against Chris Jericho, whose popularity probably contributed to the audience cheering for the chauvinist behavior against Chyna this time around, ended with Jericho gaining the belt. Y2J and Chyna were declared co-champions for a while when they pinned each other at the same time on an episode of SmackDown, but Jericho won a triple threat match at the 2000 Royal Rumble to unify the championship, and what was at the time considered Chyna’s second Intercontinental Championship reign is now just counted as part of Jericho’s first.
Her true second IC title win came when Chyna was paired with Eddie Guerrero. The statuesque woman and cruiserweight man started their onscreen odd couple relationship as villains but soon became fan favorites. They were clearly the good guys by the time they faced Val Venis and Trish Stratus in an intergender tag team match at SummerSlam with Venis’s Intercontinental Championship on the line.
Chyna won the match but lost the title two weeks later to Guerrero in a triple threat with Kurt Angle. Drama soon rose between the couple over both the Intercontinental Champion and Chyna posing for Playboy, and the relationship finally fell apart for good when Chyna caught Guerrero cheating. It was fun while it lasted, and it resulted in some entertaining in-ring fallout.
Chyna posing for Playboy—far from the only female WWF performer to do so over the decades—also contributed to her main women’s division storyline. The Right to Censor, a conservative group of wrestlers who hated raunchy Attitude Era segments but had no problem cheating to win wrestling matches, took issue with Chyna’s actions. Their sole female member, Ivory, feuded with her over it.
This storyline included a drawn-out neck injury angle, where, after months “rehabbing,” Chyna returned to absolutely wreck Ivory for the WWF Women’s Championship at WrestleMania X-Seven, getting her revenge on her rival in under three minutes.
After a successful title defense against Lita at Judgement Day 2001, Chyna vacated the WWF Women’s Championship and left the company for good. She wrestled sporadically after this, with a run in NJPW in 2002—where she mixed it up with high-profile male wrestlers—and a brief feud against Jeff and Karen Jarrett in TNA in 2011. Outside of wrestling, she appeared on reality shows like VH1’s The Surreal Life in 2005 and Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew in 2008.
By the time Chyna passed away in 2016, she’d been away from the wrestling world for a significant amount of time. But her legacy continues to live on, with recent WWE hires like NXT’s Mia Yim citing her as an inspiration and the 2019 Royal Rumble bringing Chyna to mind when it brought full-contact intergender wrestling back to WWE with the fourth woman to enter a men’s Rumble, Nia Jax.