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by Michael Lee

Chyna – a true hall of famer

The familiar irritating noise of my alarm clock wakes me up from my deep slumber on cue. I lay in bed for a few moments relishing in the warmth of my bed sheets, which I know in a few minutes I will have to leave. I start my day as the morning light hits my eyes beaming from my rooftop window. It’s just like any other day on that Wednesday morning as I go through the automatic process of checking what’s happening in the social media world. As my barely awake eyes catch the sight of my Facebook news-feed, my once sleep deprived eyes now stare wide eyed and astonished into my phone screen, now tightly and anxiously gripped in my hands.

Stunned, dazed, upset, shaken, taken aback, knocked for six. These were not the emotions I expected to wake up to that morning. Chyna, the ground breaking female wrestler had died. In a modern landscape that celebrates strong, athletic and powerful women, from UFC fighter Ronda Rousey to professional tennis player Serena Williams, Chyna was without question the first and created a path and paved the way for women, who longed to follow in the footsteps of ‘The ninth wonder of the world’. To say she was an important figure was truly an understatement, and this sudden announcement hit me hard.

Chyna was a wrestler with the WWE debuting in early 1997 before her release from the company in 2001 and was a pioneer in a male dominated industry. Chyna blazed a trail where no other woman had gone before, wrestling 6 foot and 300 pound men who were her equal in the ring. Chyna was able to bench-press up to 325 lbs and throughout her career made a name for herself as a woman who could go toe to toe with the men, and beat them at their own game. She was never considered as just one of the women, she was a wrestler and had earned the admiration and respect from her male colleagues and peers, and as a result was viewed as a legitimate competitor.

I’ve always admired strong and powerful women, but none were as dominating as Chyna, she truly was a force to be reckoned with. She had main event matches on WWE flagship shows ‘Raw’ and ‘SmackDown’ and was often found engrossed in main event story lines and promos alongside the likes of Steve Austin, The Rock, The Undertaker and her long-term associate and partner, Triple H. She was the first woman to enter the all-male dominated ‘Royal Rumble’, not once but twice. She completed in the prestigious ‘King Of The Ring’ tournament as well at one point finding herself the number one contender for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. She became a cemented fan favourite as the noise of cheering and adulation from fans all across the world became a familiar sound when Chyna made her entrance to the ring.

In October 1999 Chyna made history when she became the first – and still the only – woman to win the WWE Intercontinental Championship. A title she would go on to win a record breaking second time later on in her career. A year and a half later she also picked up the WWE Women’s Championship in front of 67,000 fans at Wrestlemania 17 in April 2001, making her the only undefeated Women’s Champion in WWE history.

Chyna’s success and huge leap of popularity also transcended outside of the ring, she had many guest-starring roles on TV series including ‘Sabrina, the Teenage Witch’ and ‘3rd Rock from the Sun’, featured on hundreds of magazine covers from “Newsweek” to “TV Guide” and “People” and showed that women can combine strength and beauty in two top-selling issues of “Playboy” magazine. She also released a New York Times’ bestseller autobiography “If Only They Knew”. Chyna had made the jump from ring to mainstream and had become a household name in the process.

The aftermath and reaction upon hearing the news of her sudden passing was overwhelming and really showed how loved and admired she was. The outpouring from her peers in the wrestling business, former opponents and partners, fans, friends and mainstream attention really captured how important and ground breaking Chyna was to her industry.

Her trials, tribulations and personal battles are very well documented. Even though I continued to follow her life and career until well after she hung up her wrestling boots, I wish to remember Chyna as the pioneer she was. Chyna was revolutionary for women in wrestling. She shattered glass ceilings, kicked down doors and broke gender barriers. She told little girls you can be both beautiful and tough. She broke the mould and redesigned what a female wrestler should look like.

Those little girls have now grown up to lead the current influx of female athletes leading the women’s revolution in major sports and wrestling. Her legacy is the women in NXT (WWE’s developmental system) as they learn, train and hone their craft in becoming like their hero before them. Her legacy is the current batch of women wrestlers Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch and the rest of the female superstars stealing the show at Wrestlemaina and creating history of their own. Finally, her legacy is the fans, the fans that truly never forgot the smiles she put on their faces and the memories she captured in their minds.

Without corporate approval, without backstage politics, without the approval of the powers that be, Chyna will always be a hall of famer and that truly is her lasting legacy.