“Don’t go. We’re interested in you.”
These five simple words stopped Joanie Laurer, AKA Chyna, from embarking on a pro boxing career and plying her trade as the female heavy for the WCW.
“I knew the WWF was interested in me, but I started to lose hope about getting hired. I was called by the WCW and I was going to attend their television show and come out as a tough girl.
“I was driving to Alabama and I stopped by the WWF pay-per-view to say hi to Hunter Hearst Helmsley and somebody stopped me and said, ‘Don’t go. We’re interested in you.’
“I was about to have my first professional boxing fight. It was scheduled for a month after the WWF hired me,” explained the raven-haired Chyna about how the door to her superstar status in the WWF swung open.
Hard work, determination and belief in herself paved the way to her role as the menacing, glowering Chyna, who patrols the squared circle in front of sell-out audiences everywhere. And don’t think she’s just a ringside ornament with bulging biceps. This 5-10, 196-pound athletic entertainer routinely steps into the ring to mix it up with the behemoths of pro wrestling, sometimes even scooping up her male adversaries and sending them crashing to the canvas with thundering body-slams that show no respect for their gender.
From Fitness to Pro Wrestling
Before her present status as arguably one of the most recognizable female athletes on the planet, Chyna made her mark in the fitness world. At 170 pounds, she dwarfed her fellow competitors.
“The things you saw me do, the fitness shows and even the boxing – I really enjoyed the boxing – were more stepping stones or attention getters. I never really wanted to do them or excel in them, but I knew I could do them and I also knew while doing them that I was out of my element, but I knew people were going to notice me, which in turn would help me get here.”
Chyna’s transition from the fitness stage to the wrestling ring began at Walter Kowalski’s school where she learned the techniques of the pro wrestling business. She felt there was a market for her look and that pro wrestling was the vehicle to introduce that look to the public.
Less than two years after starting school – Valentine’s Day February 14, 1997 – Chyna debuted in the WWF.
Chyna in the WWF
“I knew the WWF was number one. The WCW had always seemed kind of like a fad to me. They were doing very well in the ratings, however, I felt that from what I saw on TV they weren’t using the women the way that I wanted to be used. I saw them being used and spit out very quickly in matches.”
Chyna felt women in pro wrestling could be portrayed as something other than bimbos. She wanted to play a character that could make an impact and the WWF seemed to be on the same wavelength in terms of how they wanted to present her. The strategy obviously works, because in the past year-and-a-half, she’s been the only woman that’s been on every road date in the WWF, an achievement that speaks volumes about the popularity of her brooding character with the massive biceps that would be the envy of most any bodybuilder.
Chyna The Road Warrior
Of course, her superstar status does not come cheap. Life consists of endless travel, impossibly long days extended by the demands of personal appearances and autograph sessions, and trying to find restaurants that serve up a healthy fare. Fortunately, she enjoys the life of a road warrior.
“One day mixes into the next and you go to the hotel room you were in the night before because you’ve forgotten you’re in a new hotel. It’s pretty wild.
“I think it’s very difficult for me being the only woman. There’s a couple of other women, but they’re not really full-time. I do okay because the guys respect me and I get along very well with everybody.
“I’m very straight-laced. I stay out of the way of everything. When most people go down to the bar at night, I go to my room. That way I never get myself into trouble and I can show up to work and be friends with everybody and it never puts me in an awkward situation. And it’s worked.”
To keep her sanity intact, Chyna gets into the gym as much as possible while on the road. On the nutritional side of things, MET-Rx is a constant travel companion.
And of course, the million dollar question: When will we see Chyna in the ring battling one of the WWF femme-fatales in a wrestling match?
“I really don’t want to do that. I don’t think women’s wrestling works. There’s not an availability of women that are good workers. I think that most men, if they watch women in the ring, it’s because they want to see a nice body, not wrestling.
“I didn’t enjoy wrestling and I don’t want to do it, because that would take me from the main event to working with maybe a couple of girls – if we could find them – that are half my size and it would put me on opening card matches. Why would I do that? I don’t think people would want to see me do that, unless I just went out and squashed somebody, which doesn’t help me.”
But again, this is the WWF, where entertainment reigns supreme and where all manner of wild and wonderful antics takes place. Is it so much of a stretch to imagine that the head honchos of the WWF might one day decide that it’s time for this hulking grapplerette to step into the ring and crush someone?
Chyna’s loyal minions eagerly await this display of feminine pulchritude.
Click to see Chyna slideshow photos on YouTube.
Note: I interviewed Chyna for Fighting Females magazine. Original article appeared in the Spring 1999 issue.