UPDATE 3/15/2017: Thanks to fan outcry ,and pressure from Wrestlemania sponsor Snickers and their parent company Mars Wrigley Confectionery US, WWE has decided to drop Fabulous Moolah’s name from the match, keeping it simply the “WrestleMania Women’s Battle Royal.”
Questions of booking aside, it has been a fantastic year for women’s wrestling in the WWE. In 2018 alone they’ve had the first ever Women’s Royal Rumble and the first ever Women’s Elimination Chamber. Not only that, but from the Samoan former plus-sized model Nia Jax to the currently undefeated joshi superstar Asuka, to their first out lesbian performer, Sonya Deville; the women’s division has never been more diverse. And the WWE has not been subtle in touting their #WomensRevolution:
— WWE (@WWE) July 13, 2016
The @WWEUniverse starting chanting “ThisIsHope” during the first ever women’s match in Abu Dhabi and all the UAE. Thank you @SashaBanksWWE and @AlexaBliss_WWE and all of the people who helped make history last night! There are no words…#WomensEvolution https://t.co/kxud3kOypm
— Stephanie McMahon (@StephMcMahon) December 8, 2017
Going in to the start of Wrestlemania season, it all seemed rosy. Just on Sunday, we had confirmation that a damn barnburner of a match would go down at ‘Mania between Smackdown! Women’s Champ Charlotte Flair and Asuka. Matches involving Sasha Banks and Bayley, Alexa and Nia, and the newly hired Ronda Rousey all pointed to the biggest WrestleMania ever for WWE’s women. But on Monday, during Monday Night Raw, WWE announced the first ever Fabulous Moolah Memorial Battle Royale, a counterpart to the men’s Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royale. And the #Women’sRevolution suddenly seemed to come crashing down.
Immediately, Twitter erupted in protest over the decision.
— Scott Fishman (@smFISHMAN) March 13, 2018
Please change this. Mae Young. Sherri. Miss Elizabeth. Bertha Faye even. Not Moolah https://t.co/IdBbNZntVP
— Sean Ross Sapp of Fightful.com (@SeanRossSapp) March 13, 2018
this is been a really fun #RAW aside from the lionizing of a horrible bigot and whatever you want to call Moolah
— David Bixenspan (@davidbix) March 13, 2018
How can the simple naming of a Battle Royale (and a fairly low card one if we’re being honest) cause controversy across the net?
One Of The Most Controversial Figures in Wrestling
Mary Lillian Ellison aka The Fabulous Moolah, was a fixture of American wrestling for over 40 years. She won the NWA Women’s Title for the first time in 1956, at a time when that belt was still the most prestigious in wrestling for women. She would hold the belt 5 times over the next 28 years, and would at one point keep it for a mind-boggling 3,651 days.
In the 80’s, she made appearances for the then-WWF, feuding with Cyndi Lauper and Wendi Richter on MTV and appearing on the cartoon Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n Wrestling.
In the 90’s, she participated in the raunchy Attitude Era with friend and fellow ex-wrestler Mae Young. The two would take comedy bumps, gross men out in bikini contests, and embarrass the younger women in highly gimmicked comedy matches. She last wrestled in a 2006 “Bra-and-Panties Gauntlet Match,” and her final appearance was in August 2007. She would be dead less than three months later.
Since her death, the WWE have lauded her as a pioneer for equality and women’s wrestling, a true superstar, and a hero and mentor to wrestlers like Natalya Neidhart and Beth Phoenix. She was even the first woman to be put in the WWE Hall of Fame in 1995. But outside of the Fed, her name is not so well regarded. Indeed, Fabulous Moolah is sometimes put in the same class of scumbag as Ultimate Warrior, and Jimmy Snuka, and even Chris Benoit.
Training Camp From Hell
There’s no doubt that Fabulous Moolah played a large part in WWE’s history, but outside of the ring, her activities are much shadier.
Most of Moolah’s allegations stem from Girl Wrestling Enterprises (GWE), specializing in training and promoting women’s wrestlers. Wrestlers like Leilani Kai, Judy Martin, Winona Littleheart, Wendi Richter, and Luna Vachon all passed through Moolah’s school. The girls had to follow a code of conduct set by Moolah, including keeping their hair and makeup done at all times, “acting like a lady,” and not dating male wrestlers. While a tad strict, it’s not any more ridiculous than what other wrestling schools back then or even today. But the women who went through Moolah’s school tell a different story.
According to Richter, Moolah didn’t just make the women follow a code. She also made them sign a contract forcing them to be their booker and pay her 25% of all their pay( other trainees have said it was as high as 30%). Trainees also were allegedly required to buy duplexes on Moolah’s property and pay her rent and utilities on top of their school fees. Another wrestler, Debbie Johnson, alleged that Moolah deducted travel expenses from her pay, as well as limit girls’ booking when angered and not allow them out of the training camp without a male escort. All of this on top of the fact that, allegedly, the more experienced trainees would handle, unpaid, all of the actual training at the camp. But that’s not the end to the allegations against Moolah.
The most controversial allegation came from black wrestler Sweet Georgia Brown (Susie Mae McCoy) and family, who alleged that she had been raped, abused, and given drugs in order to control her. Ida Martinez alleged that they were pimped out to the male promoters they wrestled for and Luna Vachon claimed she was made to take adult pictures with older men while still underage. She even allegedly would drink and pursue relationships with her trainees whom she controlled, all while forcing lesbian wrestlers like Sandy Parker to date men.
Shady Dealings In the Squared Circle
Moolah’s dominance in women’s wrestling continued past what most would consider to be her prime, and some allege that this is due to her iron grip on the women who made up the 70’s and 80’s wrestling scene. Not only did
Most famously, Moolah took part in what is known as “The Original Screwjob,” where Moolah, as the masked “Spider,” deviated from the pre-scripted finish to a championship match with Wendi Richter to get the title off of her. Despite a kick out at one by Richter, the referee counted to three nonetheless and lifted the Spider’s hand. A furious Richter quickly unmasked Moolah and continued to beat her down until the two were separated. Some sources claim that the monkey business was a plan by Vince McMahon, the once and future Chairman of WWE, to punish Richter over a contract dispute. Underpaid and still locked into a 5-year contract, Richter walked out of Madison Square Garden and got on a plane home all while still in her wrestling tights.
Other stories of control by Moolah include replacing her protege Mad Maxine on Hulk Hogan’s Rock n’ Wrestling, driving multiple women from the WWF due to her stranglehold on their paychecks, and lying to the Jumping Bomb Angels and the Glamour Girls (Martin and Kai) about a title change, an act that cost both tag teams a Wrestlemania IV payday and lead to the death of the WWF Women’s Tag Team Titles.
The WWE’s False Revolution
Despite all of the allegations, shoot interviews, and even documented evidence, some of which I haven’t even touched on, the WWE still pushes the Myth of Moolah. She gets mentioned at Hall of Fame speeches, referenced whenever “history is made,” and now has gotten her name attached to the first ever Women’s Wrestlemania Battle Royale. Now, in a climate where women are finally standing up against abuse and harassment in the workplace, the women of WWE are sending out tweets that support a woman who represents the complete opposite of women’s empowerment. In fact, if Moolah were around today one could argue that most of the women in WWE would not have any of their current success.
The WWE is developing a reputation for talking a big talk when it comes to feminism but not really committing to change. There are so many women more worthy of recognition than Moolah. Why not recognize one of the best managers of all time like Sensational Sherri Martel, or integral part of the Attitude Era Chyna. Hell, man-in-drag Hervina Wippleman hurt fewer women than Moolah ever did. Continuing to push a revisionist history about Fabulous Moolah does their roster of talented women an extreme disservice, and will make every use of #WomensRevolution as fake as WWE Hall of Famer Donald Trump’s tan.