Inducted by Prime Time and Samuel ‘Plan
Think about this for a minute – Mae Young is the only notable figure of the Attitude Era to begin her wrestling career before America entered the Second World War. Even by itself, that would be remarkable. When you factor in some of the bumps she took at more than 70 years old, her story enters the realms of being truly astonishing.
As a high school girl, the fearless Johnnie Mae Young challenged the famous women’s champion, Mildred Burke, to a match. Naturally she wasn’t allowed to wrestle her but was instead put into a shoot contest with another performer. A talented amateur, Mae won, and was immediately seen as a potential professional. Women’s wrestling was historically a particularly brutal business, as the lives of Burke and Moolah no doubt attest, but Mae Young was very much a star in that world, wrestling not only in the US but being one of the pioneers that would open up Canada when she worked for Stampede and travelling to Japan.
Mae had a long career, working in as many unique decades as the legendary Lou Thesz. She first retired from wrestling in 1991, to begin a short-lived stint as an Evangelist, though she soon left California and renewed old acquaintances with Moolah.
It was in 1999 that she was introduced to a new generation of fans as part of Jeff Jarrett’s misogynist angle. After trying to help Moolah, Jarrett then turned on Mae, an act that generated a huge amount of sympathy but which saw her become a fixture in the WWE for about six months. This last stint is about as far removed from her time as an NWA wrestling champion as can be imagined, as she was connected to some of the most notorious moments of the Attitude Era. Her angle with Mark Henry, in which the septuagenarian was said to be pregnant and eventually birthed a hand, has gone down in the annals of wrestlecrap. Around the same time she was also given a pair of fake breasts which she flashed at the end of the Miss Rumble bikini contest in 2000. But she was not just a simple comedy character – at the same time, Bubba Ray Dudley gave her what is called the most notorious powerbomb in WWE history.
She was less of a fixture in the WWE after the Attitude Era but could still return every so often and would take the occasional beating, including from Eric Bischoff’s Three Minute Warning and Stone Cold Steve Austin. The business seemed to have moved on a little and there was less of a place for Mae in that, but her known toughness and willingness to put herself in these positions never seemed to waver until the very end.
In 2004 Mae was inducted into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame, and followed that up with induction into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2008. She’d continue appearing on WWE until she was almost 90 years old, with a segment celebrating her birthday taking place just a few weeks before that date – rudely interrupted by CM Punk. Mae, then, was putting people over until the very last.
She died in 2014. Following her death tributes poured in from around the wrestling world, including from the WWE, TNA Wrestling, and SHINE.
And since her death, Mae’s spirit has only glowed all the brighter.
It is worth remembering that, when Mae asked for that contest against Mildred Burke, by her own attestation Burke was the biggest name in women’s wrestling; one of very few names, overall. It’s worth remembering that when Mae travelled to post-war Japan, she was one of the first women wrestlers to do so. It’s worth remembering that names venerated today, in certain circles, as wrestling royalty, as idols of the impossibly distant years of modern Western wrestling’s origins, like the Fabulous Moolah, were in fact students of Mae. So it’s worth remembering Mae was always breaking ground, from her first days to beyond her last.
We live in an age defined, in part, by the ascent of women’s wrestling back to the forefront of the industry. It has been an ascent that the most talented generation of female performers this industry has ever known can claim responsibility for, thanks to their barrier-breaking determination. The result has been a levelling defined by one simple notion: give the women the same opportunities as the men. Now, they’ve performed in Royal Rumbles, Ladder Matches, Hell in a Cell Matches, Elimination Chambers and, shortly, even WrestleMania main events. All of this, deemed necessary because of where women’s wrestling had been in the not so distant past – the territory of objectification, of bikini contests and mud fights.
And somehow, thanks to those angles with Jarrett and Bubba, Bischoff and Austin, and thanks to those bizarre bikini contest cameos and inexplicable segments, Mae Young was busy embodying the spirit of the Women’s Revolution over a decade before it ever happened, in between embodying the spirit of the culture that revolution tore down, all at the same exact time, and at an age way beyond any of the other female performers now capable of putting their name to this remarkable wave of cultural change! In other words, years before Charlotte Flair and Sasha Banks went plummeting off the side of a cage, Mae found the time between the Era’s lurid fun and games to still go get powerbombed through tables, and at more than twice the Horsewomen’s age.
Perhaps this remarkable timelessness is why Mae Young continues to loom large over the world’s foremost professional wrestling promotion in the form of the annual Mae Young Classic tournament, that has lent a fresh spotlight on women’s wrestling in an Era when it has never been more prominent or more important, platforming the next generation of women’s wrestlers to superstardom – names like Shayna Baszler, Rhea Ripley, Toni Storm, Kairi Sane and Io Shirai have already become central pillars to the future of WWE’s women’s divisions courtesy of the infamy they garnered while performing in Mae Young’s name.
And in just a few days, for the first time in history WrestleMania will be headlined by three of the biggest names to ever pass through professional wrestling, regardless of gender. Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair and Ronda Rousey are not so far removed from completing an evolution that has fulfilled the promise of a revolution that embodied the legacies of the foremost female athletes in the world of professional wrestling – a small, venerated collection of names, among which Mae Young’s has shined the longest, the brightest and the most brilliantly.
So whether it’s for her pioneering efforts in an age few, if any of us were alive to witness, whether it’s for impossibly predicting the spirit of a revolution at a time of great limitations wrought by gender, whether it’s for the legacy of a name in which the most talented generation of women’s wrestlers ever fight under or whether it’s because, in 2019, even the biggest female names in the industry today are still catching up with what Mae was doing eighty years before them, there are few who deserve recognition more than the great Mae Young.
For Prime Time and myself, it is an honour to induct Mae Young into the 2019 Class of the LOP Hall of Fame.
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