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Posted in: LOP Hall Of Fame
2014 LOP Hall of Fame Inductee: The Fabulous Moolah
By LWO4Life
Mar 30, 2014 - 10:00:00 AM


Image by Snowman


There are few, if any, women more important to the sport of professional wrestling than the Fabulous Moolah. In a male dominated world, it seems almost unbelievable the level of success Moolah had in the wrestling world. From being a valet to Nature Boy Buddy Rogers, to being NWA Women’s champion, to owning the NWA Women’s championship, to selling the belt to the WWF and finally training most of the women wrestlers who were on TV across the nation from the 1960’s to the 1990’s. What we saw in the Attitude Era was just a very little flash in the great career of the Fabulous Moolah. To understand just how important Moolah was, and how far her career covers, all you have to do is look at the beginning. From beginning to end, Moolah’s career runs parallel with the story of professional wrestling itself.

In 1949, a 25 year old Mary Lillian Ellison entered the ring for the first time against someone who’d be become a real life rival, June Byers. As the nation entered the 1950’s, times were changing. Mary Ellison was trained by her idol; long time Women’s champion Mildred Burke, and future best friend Mae Young. For promotion, Moolah was handled by Burke’s husband Billy Wolfe. Wolfe handled the career of almost every woman wrestler in the business, and he encouraged his women to sleep with the promoters so that his stable of women would continue to have bookings. In 1949, it would become easier for Wolfe to make connections and get his girls out there, as a year earlier many territory promoters came together to start the NWA. For her part, Ellison refused to go along with this, but still managed to gain bookings in the New York territory headed by Jesse McMahon and later Vince McMahon Sr. While wrestling in New York, Ellison met promoter Jack Pfefer. It was Pfefer who gave her the name Slave Girl Moolah and partnered her with Buddy Rogers in the early 1950’s. When the relationship between Rogers and Moolah grew tense, Moolah left and began working with other wrestlers. The main wrestler Moolah managed was Elephant Boy, as they traveled the country doing an interracial act in the early 1950’s. Needless to say, in one known case a simple kiss on the cheek almost caused a riot in Oklahoma. But managing was would not be Moolah’s calling. In 1955 Moolah would get the break that every woman in that era wanted.

In 1953, the Burke/Wolfe era in women’s wrestling was crumbling. Burke and Wolfe were going through a divorce and their business of promoting women wrestling was now divided. In 1954, Burke would battle June Byers, daughter in law of Billy Wolfe, in a match which saw Burke leave in the ring and belt to Byers. Many felt that the Byers/Burke match was a shoot, as the now older Burke could not compete with the younger Byers. Byers would hold the title until she retired in 1956. Later that year on September 18, 1956, in the New York territory, Slave Girl Moolah would win a 13 woman battle royal and become the new NWA Women’s Champion in Baltimore. After the battle royal, Vince McMahon Sr. would rename her “The Fabulous Moolah.” The Fabulous Moolah would start her long reign on the top of Women’s wrestling. One problem remained; Billy Wolfe still booked the majority of the women who competed in the NWA Women’s division. Wolfe was able to get June Byers to come out of retirement and challenge Moolah. This led to a match in 1957 between Byers and Moolah. It is not known what the planned outcome was, but in one of the most important matches in her career Moolah would shoot on Byers and defeat the challenger in very little time. With Byers reputation of being one of the toughest women, it was clear Wolfe did not have a woman who he can send to shoot on Moolah and get his title back, but he did manage the women that Moolah would need to fight. Moolah countered by training her own stable of women so she can wrestler. In her first 10 year reign as Women’s champion, it was clear Moolah would be facing many uphill battles. Even Jack Pfefer didn’t want Moolah training her own women and had her temporally blackballed from the NWA. But she was determined to make it; this determination would allow her to break many barriers put on women in her time.

Though past her prime in the 60’s, Moolah would continue to work to break the barriers placed on women and she became the face of women wrestling. In the late 60’s, she would tour Japan and defend the NWA Women’s championship against the many great women wrestlers there. But maybe the greatest barrier Moolah broke was becoming the first woman to wrestle in the state of New York. Though Moolah’s home territory was the now World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF) in New York, she would always wrestle outside the state in the surrounding cities. So while Moolah wrestled in Boston, Baltimore, Philadelphia, she never wrestled in the WWWF’s home arena of Madison Square Garden. Appearing on TV in protest of not being able to wrestle in New York, she took down NFL player Rosey Grier (no relation to Pam Grier) to prove she could handle herself against any man. In 1972, Moolah would see the fruits of her labor, as she finally got her match at Madison Square Garden. Moolah was truly setting new heights for women wrestlers everywhere, as now we take for granted when the WWE comes to Madison Square Garden and we see our favorite Divas. But it was Moolah who paved that way. Finally, Moolah would buy the rights to the NWA Women’s championship in the late 1970’s. Considering Moolah promoted all the women she wrestled against, she already had a lot of control over who was champion. Now it was official, the belt was Moolah’s.

The final chapter of Moolah came in 1983. As Vince McMahon Jr. took over the WWWF, he withdrew the company from the NWA and renamed it the World Wrestling Federation (WWF). As part of Vince Jr.’s plan, he bought the NWA Women’s title from Moolah, which got the NWA members furious. (The NWA officially banned Moolah from the territories; something I am not sure Moolah was even aware of or cared about.) But as Moolah approach the age of 60, she was looking to take a reduced role is the business and focus more on her school in South Carolina. This is when the WWF looked at the women Moolah trained and tried to find the next star of the generation. From the stable of women that Moolah trained, Wendi Ritcher emerged as a bright young star that was ready to grab the brass ring for the women. Of course Moolah by now was 60 years old and to say she was a good worker would be laughable. But none the less, Ritcher had to beat the champion; after all she was talented, young at the age of 23, and very attractive. So on the MTV special, “Brawl to End it All,” Wendi Ritcher ended Moolah’s 5th reign as the now WWF Women’s title. It was the highest rated show in MTV’s history at the time. I want to put that in prospective, a Woman’s match, or Diva’s match if you will, got a 9.0 rating on MTV. The whole televised card was just one match, and it got a higher rating than anything else on MTV outside of Hulk Hogan vs. Roddy Piper. Yes you can say Cyndi Lauper helped, but what people wanted to see was Wendi Ritcher beat the Fabulous Moolah.

Moolah had carried Women’s wrestling for almost 30 years at the time, and as her career was winding down, the list of women she had trained was more than willing to take over. Names like Leilani Kai, Judy Martin, eventually Sherri Martel and most importantly Wendi Richter. In the 1990’s, Moolah would disappear from the spotlight and more women were entering the business. In 1995 Moolah would become the first woman to be inducted to the WWF Hall of Fame. In the late 1990’s, newer fans would get to know Moolah as a comedy act who got put through tables. But that was just a small sliver of a career that spanned over 50 years. In 2012, the NWA Hall of Fame officially inducted Moolah, as I am sure their ban of Moolah has ended by now. Moolah was tough, determined and driven to be the best in the business. She did not let any gender bias get in the way of her goals, and she made sure that the women who wrestled under her promotion would represent her well. Using old school morals, Moolah had a rule that her women could not sleep with promoters or other wrestlers. To Moolah, a woman should succeed in this business by using her talent and determination, not sex. So well many only remember Moolah for her role in the Attitude Era, I think her spot in the Lords of Pain Hall of Fame is a great chance to see her for more than a comedy relief act. This is a chance to see the most important woman in the history of wrestler, and see how far a woman can go. Right now in the clouds, I can bet you Moolah and Mae Young are trading moves in front of an eternal sold out crowd.

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