RondaRousey.com’s Wrestler of the Week series profiles significant wrestlers from the past and present.
From the late 1990s and early 2000s, in both WCW and WWE, Molly Holly stood out as a wrestler with technical skills beyond those required for female performers at the time. Though her in-ring ability was often overshadowed by other aspects of wrestling angles, she was beloved by many and is now more widely-recognized for her athletic abilities.
The performer born Nora Greenwald originally started training in pro wrestling in 1997 out of curiosity rather than a childhood dream. She had been an active athlete as a teenager, practicing powerlifting and gymnastics, which inadvertently provided her with a strong physical foundation for her work in the squared circle.
After a year on the independent circuit, she made appearances as supplemental talent for both the WWF and WCW under the name “Starla Saxton,” which led to her being signed by the latter company in 1999. As “Miss Madness,” she was a valet for Randy Savage’s short-lived stable “Team Madness” along with Madusa and Savage’s real-life girlfriend, Gorgeous George. Madness and Madusa trained George to wrestle male referee Charles Robinson and interfered in matches on Savage’s behalf before some cheating-gone-wrong caused the faction to disband.
WCW didn’t have a women’s division at this time, but Miss Madness got to have some matches—in the same beauty pageant queen costume she wore as a valet, minus shoes—after Team Madness broke up. With the more approachable (and normal person) name “Mona,” she wrestled Madusa and some independent wrestlers but was ultimately such a low-profile part of the WCW shows that she was released from the company due to budget cuts in August 2000.
However, with her talent and likable image, she wasn’t unemployed for long. She signed a WWF contract later that year and spent some time wrestling in a developmental territory, as well as wrestling dark matches and working as a valet (known as “Lady Ophelia”) for William Regal before gaining a much more memorable role and ring name. “Molly Holly” was one of the Holly Cousins, an on-screen relative of Bob and Crash Holly and the counterpart to Trish Stratus in the T&A vs. Holly Cousins feud. Molly’s first on-screen WWF win was over Stratus—with whom she would feud several more times in the future—in an intergender six-person tag match at Survivor Series 2000.
In 2001, a rivalry between the Hollys and The Dudley Boyz gave Molly what she called in 2016 her favorite storyline in the company, her Romeo and Juliet forbidden romance with Spike Dudley. When she started to accompany Spike to the ring for his matches, it led to the break-up of the Holly Cousins, as well as an intergender singles match between Molly and Crash. But it would still be a while before the former really got a chance to shine as a solo performer, though she had by this time debuted her “Molly-Go-Round” finisher, a move that she had innovated herself.
In order for her to shine in that solo competitor role, first, Molly dumped Spike and became “Mighty Molly,” the sidekick of The Hurricane, sharing a number of backstage segments of the superhero Superstar. Her participation in the crazy battle for the Hardcore Championship throughout WrestleMania X8 in 2002 signaled that she was about to break out on her own: She won the title from The Hurricane after hitting him with a frying pan, though she lost it to Christian just an hour later.
After this split from The Hurricane, Molly Holly returned, trading her long blonde hair for a brunette “mom haircut” and her girl-next-door persona for a new, abrasive attitude. Molly frequently slut-shamed the other Divas on the microphone, while claiming to be “pure and wholesome” herself… and hypocritically undermining her moral grandstanding by cheating and fighting dirty during wrestling matches.
But while this new villainous version of Molly was a reprehensible character, some of the reasons the audience was meant to boo her and some of the ways she got her comeuppance were clearly degrading to women. There were incidents like her wearing a covered swimsuit during a swimsuit competition to obviously get booed, Trish Stratus and Jerry Lawler mocking the size of her butt, and Stratus even pantsing Molly and exposing her as a wearer of “granny panties,” which would be brought up by commentary during her matches for years afterward.
The presentation of women on WWE programming during this period was epitomized by Molly’s last major pay-per-view appearance, a “Fulfill Your Fantasy Battle Royal” for the Women’s Championship at Taboo Tuesday in October 2004. The WWE Universe had voted for the Divas to wear schoolgirl uniforms—over French maid or nurse outfits—for the match, and most went with versions of uniforms that definitely wouldn’t pass as school dress code. In contrast, Holly wore a less revealing, 1980s-style schoolgirl outfit… to boos. Still, each woman’s outfit showed their underwear multiple times during the match, which was almost certainly intended to be as much or more important an element of the match than Stratus defending her title by eliminating her long-time rival Molly Holly last.
Despite WWE clearly prioritizing women’s looks over their wrestling ability at this time, Molly was one of several performers of this era who had significant in-ring accomplishments. She won the Women’s Championship twice—first from Stratus, then from Gail Kim. She and Kim then teamed up to feud with rivals-turned-friends (for now) Lita and Stratus, leading to a match between Molly and Lita at Survivor Series.
After Molly lost her championship to Victoria in a four-way elimination match in February 2004, she put her hair on the line for a Hair vs. Title rematch at WrestleMania XX. Molly (the performer) later revealed this wasn’t just how her character got the match but how she was able to have a title match at WrestleMania at all, rather than “a pillow fight match with the other girls.” Though the audience didn’t react as strongly to this bout as they did to others on the card, it was a quality match and the extreme visual of Molly getting her head shaved afterward was unforgettable.
In late 2004 through 2005, Holly infrequently appeared on WWE TV and eventually left the company. She continued to wrestle on the independent circuit in the U.S. and Germany, in addition to working as a referee and commentator. In August 2018, she brought back her Mighty Molly character to compete alongside Solo Darling and Aja Perera as the “Sisters of the Mighty” superhero team for Chikara’s King of Trios tournament.
Though she has yet to return to the company for any significant length of time, this wouldn’t be Molly’s only reference to her past WWE work. She returned for a backstage segment on RAW’s 15th anniversary, was unceremoniously a part of the Miss WrestleMania Battle Royal at WrestleMania XXV in 2009, and recorded two episodes of Table for 3 for the WWE Network in 2016. In 2018, Molly was part of both the first-ever Women’s Royal Rumble match as a surprise entrant and the 20-woman battle royal at WWE Evolution and inducted Ivory into that year’s Hall of Fame class.
Though Molly Holly’s value as a wrestler was often downplayed or overshadowed by a very sexualized gimmick, she has now been publicly recognized for her skill by WWE and more wrestling fans. Other wrestlers have paid tribute to her as well. In her 2017 Hall of Fame speech, Beth Phoenix even revealed that Molly had been partially responsible for her wrestling career, having quietly paid her tuition for wrestling school. Phoenix called her mentor a woman who helped build others up, something Molly continues to do with wrestlers of all genders as a coach at Ken Anderson’s The Academy: School of Professional Wrestling today.