When Joan Laurer, better known as her pro wrestling moniker Chyna, passed away at 45-years-old, she left behind a remarkable (although admittedly controversial) career. While it wouldn’t be fair to discuss the life and career of Chyna without mentioning those controversies at all, we are choosing to temporarily ignore them for now. Instead we are going to focus on her successes, of which she had many, and how she changed the landscape of professional wrestling for good. Specifically, how she bucked the trend and changed what it meant to be a female wrestling character in an era where almost all of her peers were nothing more than bikini models and eye candy.
5. She Revolutionized Being the “Tough Girl”
Although women’s wrestling had existed long before Chyna become a regular part of WWE programming, Chyna brought something new to the role. Her muscular frame and physical aggression gave the women’s division a touch of reality that was hard to ignore. Although she did win the WWE Women’s Championship at one point (before it was renamed/unified as the Diva’s Championship), her real legacy will be that she was the first female wrestler to compete on an equal level with the males. She competed in both the Royal Rumble and King of the Ring tournament and was the first female to ever win the Intercontinental Championship. In fact, she’s still the only female to ever hold that belt.
4. D-Generation X
One of the greatest stables from the Attitude Era, D-Generation X wouldn’t have been the same without Chyna’s presence. While many wrestling fans will remember D-X as Shawn Michaels, Triple H, and the New Age Outlaws (Road Dogg and Billy Gunn), it’s an almost forgotten footnote that Chyna and Rick Rude were actual founding members of the group. Before she became a regular wrestler, Chyna played the role of heel manager perfectly. She was both body guard and ringside tactician for Michaels and Triple H, helping D-X maintain its hold as the most prominent stable in the company.
3. Real Women’s Wrestling
If you’re a recent WWE fan, you may not realize just how blessed you are by the current women’s division. Superstars like Sasha Banks, Charlotte, Asuka, Paige, Becky Lynch, and Bayley regularly put on amazing matches. The women have even headlined a major event, with a 30-minute Ironman match taking place between Banks and Bayley at NXT Takeover: Respect. That’s a far cry from when the highlights of women’s wrestling included things like Mud Wrestling Matches, Bra and Panties Matches, and Lingerie Matches. Chyna may not have been around for the “Divas Revolution,” but her time in the WWE definitely laid the groundwork for it. She was professionally trained by a real old school pro, Killer Kowalski. With the likes of Trish Stratus and Lita, Chyna changed the definition of “female wrestler.”
2. The McMahon-Hemsley Era
This is a bit of a touchy subject, but we have to mention it. When Chyna first entered the WWE, she began to date Triple H in real life. They originally kept their relationship a secret, but it eventually became common knowledge. The drama happened when Triple H left Chyna to begin dating (and eventually marrying) Stephanie McMahon, who happens to be the daughter of the guy who owns the company. Keep in mind that none of this is an elaborate pro wrestling story line — this is all real life stuff. Chyna claimed that Triple H and Stephanie’s relationship began as an affair, although they have both denied that. The point is this: Triple H and Stephanie have since positioned themselves to be the power couple who will legitimately be running the company whenever Vince McMahon decides he can’t (or passes away, whichever comes first). In a strange way, Chyna played a part in the entire future direction of the WWE.
1. Actual Equality
While we love that women’s wrestling is getting a fair shake these days, there still exists a gap between the men and the women. And maybe that’s fine, for now. The men have always been the main attraction, with the women thrown in filler. Nice, athletic, competent filler, but still filler. But Chyna managed to surpass that. Her character was the first female portrayed as being actually equal to the men. Although there are reports that at least a few wrestlers were hesitant to sell for her at first, fearing they would look weak, she quickly became a legitimate in-ring threat to both the male and female wrestlers. There hasn’t been a female wrestler since who can make the same claim.