In Defense Of… Chyna Winning the Intercontinental Championship
A version of this article originally appeared on 411mania.com and was updated for the book IN DEFENSE OF… EXONERATING PROFESSIONAL WRESTLING’S MOST HATED. Learn more at https://www.jpprag.com
Certain people, events, organizations, and storylines in wrestling history have gotten a bum rap. Some writers have presented overtly critical comments and outright lies as fact, and others have followed suit. Well no more! “In Defense of…” has one reason: to bring the truth to the wrestling fan!
Some dame walked into my office and said…
Our first dame happens to be Rick Wiltsie who was inspired by the 411mania forums:
There was some discussion about titles being devalued, more particularly the IC title during the Jericho/Chyna dual title reign. One person argued that it was in fact a good thing for the IC title based on the fact that Chyna was a mainstream entity. I however disagreed for various reasons.
Perhaps I’m just stubborn in my thoughts, but I would like to try to be swayed the other way. That and I don’t see how anyone can defend it appropriately.
And then there was… well, that was it. But a case is taken by quality, not quantity!
After having defended the World Heavyweight Championship and the European Championship, it should be obvious that I have great reverence for titles. Their prestige and lineage is something I take seriously in the world of professional wrestling. I do not appreciate anything that scars the legitimacy of the title or hurts its overall placement in history. That is why I do not condone David Arquette or Vince McMahon winning their respective championships, even for storyline purposes. Luckily, both the WCW World Heavyweight Championship and the WWF/E Championship have enough history and greats that have held them that one or two blemishes would not tarnish them forever.
That brings us to the WWE Intercontinental Championship. From that previous statement, you might believe that this case is about the IC title being able to overcome the scar of Chyna. This could not be further from the truth. This case is about proving Chyna was a worthy IC contender and champion, and her reign was actually a benefit to the title, both in the short-term and the long-term. Because of Chyna’s personal problems, she has been degraded in our eyes. Losing a bout to a nobody on Celebrity Boxing did not help matters. But we must wrap our mindset around the timeframe and the kayfabe, and what Chyna winning the Intercontinental Championship really meant.
Dynasties in Chyna
The woman who would later be called Chyna was born Joanie Laurer on December 27, 1969. She showed much promise in early life and actually went to Spain to finish High School on a UN Scholarship. This parlayed into studying at the University of Tampa and graduating with a double major. From there she joined the Peace Corps and taught literacy in Costa Rica.
Meanwhile during all of this, Joanie got involved in fitness competitions. It was through these connections that she ended up in Killer Kowalski’s wrestling school, a school that has produced other wresters such as Perry Saturn, John Kronus, Big John Studd, Chris Nowinski, Frankie Kazarian, and (of course) Triple H. She trained under Kowalski and began to wrestle for the independents in 1995. Her skills were recognized then, as she had two major achievement. From Obsessed with Wrestling:
• September 28, 1996: Joanie Lee defeated Violet Flame for the IWF (International Wrestling Federation) Women’s title.
• 1996: Joanie Laurer was named the PGWA (Pro Girls Wrestling Association) rookie of the year.
This was a great steppingstone, and people were starting to notice Joanie. From Wikipedia:
Her career reached new heights when she met World Wrestling Federation employees Hunter Hearst Helmsley (Triple H) and Shawn Michaels in a bar in 1997. Struck by her appearance, they helped her get into the WWF. Her original role was as Chyna, the laconic bodyguard of D-Generation X, often getting physically involved in Triple H’s matches.
As we also know, this striking appearance also led Triple H and Chyna to becoming an off-air couple, a relationship that came to an end when Triple H had an affair with Stephanie McMahon, who is now his wife and mother of his children. But that is neither here nor there, for it has nothing to do with anything related to Chyna winning the IC title.
You see, this is a part of the problem when it comes to Chyna. Any one event in history is overwritten with the trouble she had later in life. We’ll get back to this forthwith, but for now we must remember where Chyna was.
Chyna continued to be involved in Triple H’s stories, but also began to get more involved in the ring. She got stunned by Steve Austin in 1998, and later had her own love triangle story with Mark Henry. After turning on Triple H for the Corporation, she and Kane defeated Triple H and X-pac in a tag match, her first official match in the WWF/E. Although the two would later rejoin, the stage had been set. From the Official Women of Wrestling website:
Taking time off towards the end of 1998 Chyna returned to the WWF after having gone to a plastic surgeon and having her jawline reconfigured. A few weeks later a much “bustier” Chyna appeared with Triple H who was returning from an injury. Chyna and the WWF were obviously on the right track for propelling her towards Diva status. Male hormones began to stir when the new and improved “Ninth Wonder” entered the ring to kick some guys ass.
After publicly stating that she had no desire to go after the WWF Women’s Championship Title since she didn’t feel that there was much of a challenge facing other women, Chyna began blossoming into a well-liked (by fans anyway) and respected woman in a man’s world. Obviously reveling in the excitement of testing herself in the ring against the men while enjoying her new found status as an up and coming Diva, she did quite well for herself while seizing several firsts in the wrestling world. In January 1999 Chyna became the first woman to compete in a Royal Rumble PPV as she continued her assault on the WWF men’s division. Not content in just confronting her one time mentor Triple H (who was now in real life her significant other) she decided to battle the two Superstars of the WWF — Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock — and held her own against either in several matches.
Chyna had done everything right. She was taken as a threat and contender, especially after her Royal Rumble appearance (not to mention the battle royal that she won to get into the match). She was over with the fans because of her look, style, and her stand; and the audience believed she could hang with the top dogs. There were questions of whether she could beat the top men in the company, but there was no question that she could beat some of the upper-mid-card.
She was poised to take the next step up the ladder.
Where is Intercontinental?
As the WWF was growing in 1998 and early 1999, the smashmouth style took over. Everything was quick, swerving, and shocking. And with each new surprise, the next one had to be bigger in order to have the same impact. But because of this, title reigns were often short or happened to further a storyline, not reward a wrestler. This was the case for the Intercontinental Championship especially. From Colm Kearns’ History of the Intercontinental Championship (Part 3):
1999 would not be a good year for the Intercontinental title; frequent title changes and [substandard] champions would diminish the belt’s prestige over the next 12 months. Venis looked to be a competent champ but he lost the title a mere month after winning it to Road Dogg[,] a popular and fairly talented wrestler but primarily a tag team star. Road Dogg managed to retain his title in a 4 way at WrestleMania XV but he didn’t go much further than that as he lost it to Goldust on the following night’s episode of RAW.
Goldust wasn’t champion any longer than Road Dogg, he was defeated by The Godfather on April 12th and again in a rematch at Backlash (he left the WWF shortly [thereafter]). The Godfather was popular but he wasn’t popular enough to excuse the fact that he was [substandard] in the ring. Despite [this] he held the belt longer than most had in 1999, his eventual loss came at the hands of Jeff Jarrett on May 25th in under 4 minutes.
What Colm misses here is what happened before Jarrett won the title. As covered in previous cases, at Over the Edge 1999 Owen Hart (as the Blue Blazer) was to face the Godfather for the title before falling to his untimely death in the ring. Although Jarrett was more than a competent and capable wrestler to take the title in his stead, that does not mean that people were not aware that his win came at the expense of Owen’s life. What did not help is that the then WWF did not get behind Jarrett and instead continued to be wishy washy with the title. Back to the history:
Fans who despaired at the IC title’s recent loss of value saw a glimmer of hope in Jarrett’s victory. He was a more than competent in ring performer and an established WWF [mid-carder]. But Jarrett’s title reigns in 1999 would be marred by pointless losses. The first of these occurred at a Toronto house show on July 24th 1999. Jarrett was to face Ken Shamrock but instead WWF decided to have Jarrett drop the belt to Edge to capitalize on the shock factor. The next night at the Fully Loaded PPV Jarrett recaptured the title. This may have served a purpose if it helped elevate Edge to singles stardom but it didn’t [as] after his title loss Edge went back to teaming with Christian and would not become a successful singles wrestler for another two years.
One week after regaining the title Jarrett lost it once again, this time to European champion D’lo Brown. Over the next few weeks the two men had an interesting feud that teased that Jarrett’s [long-time] manager Debra would leave him. This continued until Summerslam in Minneapolis where Jarrett with the help of Debra and D’lo’s former partner Mark Henry defeated [D’lo and] won both titles. The next night on RAW Jarrett presented Henry with the European belt and thus began the D’lo/Henry feud. D’lo was popular and quite good in the ring so you couldn’t be blamed for thinking that WWF had big plans for him if they made him the first man to simultaneously hold the European and IC championships[;] sadly this was not the case [as] after a final European title reign following a win over Henry[,] D’lo did little of note for the rest of his WWF tenure. By the time Kurt Angle was billing himself as ‘Euro-continental’ champion six months later D’lo’s double belt winning feat was largely ignored. These pointless changes made the IC title look like a useless piece of metal that was traded between wrestlers with no meaning or value[,] not something that had once been a prestigious prize used to help create future main eventers.
Again, what Colm is missing is what else was happening by the sudden changes and new storylines. By doing this, the WWF was trying to move the Intercontinental title as far away from the Owen Hart disaster as possible. The wresters involved were weeded away from the title, but it was at such a pace that it was hurting the title in the short term.
Now it was time for a radical change of pace, something that would get people to notice the IC title and reward one of the growing stars in the company.
The Emperor’s New Groove
Jeff Jarrett had recaptured the Intercontinental Championship and had decided that he hated women. This led to him hitting several over the head with a guitar. The perfect foil for him in this story was Chyna, a woman strong enough to fight back. The two began a feud that started with a different victory. From Obsessed with Wrestling:
# September 2, 1999 — Smackdown!: Chyna defeated Billy Gunn to secure an Intercontinental Title shot.
# September 26, 1999 — Unforgiven: Jeff Jarrett w/Miss Kitty defeated Chyna by DQ to retain the IC title.
# October 11, 1999 — RAW: Steve Austin & Jim Ross vs Triple H & Chyna ended in a No Contest after a brawl!
# ~~~Jeff Jarrett & Miss Kitty attacked Chyna and put her in a laundry bin and pushed it off of a ledge with her inside!
You see, when Chyna defeated Jarrett for the title it was not just out of the blue. Not only had the two been fighting for nearly two months, but Chyna had won a shot at the title over Billy Gunn. She was not thrown in there to embarrass Jeff Jarrett on the way out, but part of the long-term plan. Perhaps the feud would have gone another month longer if Jarrett had not left the WWF then, but we will never know that. What we do know is that Jarrett did not refuse to drop the title unless he was paid $225,000, he refused to show up unless he was given the money he was owed. The payout had nothing to do with Chyna and everything to do with Jarrett wanting money he had already earned. Jarrett had no problem losing to Chyna, as evidenced by him still pulling out a full match and making Chyna look good on the way out, despite working without a contract.
From there, Chyna moved on to a feud with Chris Jericho. She lost the title to him in December 1999, but two weeks later they pinned each other in the same match. Because of that, they became co-champions, and Chyna found herself interfering in Jericho’s matches to make sure he retained the title. This came to an end a few weeks later when Jericho defeated Chyna and Bob Holly in a triple threat match, ending Chyna’s second reign as champion.
What people forget is that Chyna won the title one more time in August 2000 in a mixed tag match against Val Venis and Trish Stratus. Official Women of Wrestling fills in the details and tells the other story going on at the time:
In April 2000 during a European Title match between titleholder Y2J and Eddie Guerrero, Chyna turned on Chris. The referee had been inadvertently knocked out and Chyna entered the ring and administered an unofficial three count, and then raised Jericho’s hand as if he had won the match. Then she surprised everyone — including Guerrero himself — when she kicked Y2J in the midsection and delivered a DDT. She dragged Guerrero [on] top and threw the referee back in the ring, who made the three count and awarded the European Championship to Guerrero. From then on she partnered with Eddie who became “Latino Heat”, while she became known as “Mamacita”.
In August 2000 Chyna regained the Intercontinental Title after Commissioner Mick Foley set up an Intergender Tag Team Match for the Summer Slam PPV. The match pitted Val & Trish Stratus against Eddie & Chyna, but with the stipulation that whomever got the pin would be declared the Intercontinental Champion. After a lengthy and hard fought battle Chyna was able to pin Trish and become the Intercontinental Champion…
She would lose this championship to Eddie Guerrero in a three-way match that included Kurt Angle when Eddie was “crying” over a fallen Chyna and pinned her while hugging her.
Now here is the simple question for you:
Would the WWF have ever put the title around Chyna’s waist three times over two years if they did not believe in her and the fans had not accepted her as a credible contender? The answer is “no”, Chyna had proved herself a worthy contender and defender of the title, and had storylines outside of the title that led to her eventual reign.
Besides, do you know who else falls into the exclusive three-time IC champ club? From Wikipedia:
The most times the title has been won by one man is seven, by Chris Jericho. The next-highest number of reigns is six, held by Jeff Jarrett & Rob Van Dam, then Triple H & Edge with five, Chris Benoit & Razor Ramon with four, and Shawn Michaels, Chyna, Christian, Shelton Benjamin & Goldust with three.
Not a bad club to be in at all!
Of course the question is: what were the short-term and long-term effects on the title because of Chyna’s reigns. Well, let’s look at the championship for the year before Chyna. From Wrestling-Titles.com:
And then what happened in the year after?
Let’s compare. In the year before there were eight different holders while in the year after there were seven. Not much of a difference there. But of those eight, only one (Edge, thanks to readers Bryan Hayes and Dave Rozewski for pointing out that Edge was WWE Champion at the time of this writing) went on to be WWE/World Champions, while two went on to be NWA Champions (and one a WCW Champion). Of the seven in the later year four went on to be WWE/World Champions. Not judging too much on the skills of these wrestlers, but they do seem a higher caliber.
Chyna was the beginning of the upswing that began with her and continued to the unification of the title with the World Heavyweight Championship. She was instrumental in segueing the title away from the looseness of the past and the storylines it was involved in to bringing it back to a title for contenders and having the best wresters around fight over it.
And what of Chyna herself? Well, she was not so lucky. She did feud with Eddie Guerrero and Right to Censor, and eventually found her way pushed down the card and into the Women’s Division. She let her contract expire because she felt, as a former Intercontinental champion, she deserved a contract at least as good as Val Venis. But that is not how WWE brass saw it and wanted to keep her pay low and put her in her place. Thus she left the WWE with the Women’s Championship, never to be seen on WWE TV again (except in archive footage).
The rest of her life was not so great. Her music and acting careers went nowhere, she had an embarrassing loss on Celebrity Boxing, had emotional breakdowns on the Howard Stern Show, and released several sex tapes (starring with one with Sean Waltman). Although that particular video won a major porn industry award, one cannot consider that a highlight for a former champion. While she had brief runs in other organizations, in the end she died of what was ruled most likely an accidental overdose in April 2016.
The reasons, causes, and blames for all of these things is not what we are here to debate today. We must remember that THIS is not how Chyna was in the days as champion. At the time, she was completely credible. Her ex-post-facto actions have been retrofitted to make her appear as an unfit champion, but that is unfair. That is like saying Mohammad Ali should not be considered one of the greatest boxers of all time because he could barely speak in later life due to the debilitating effects of Parkinson’s Disease. One has nothing to do with the other. Chyna was no embarrassment to the title, and if anything helped bring it back to the level of interest and prestige it should have enjoyed in the first place.
That wonderful lisp
Chyna was a woman whose life after wrestling was not great, resulting in her eventual early death. She has had her troubles in life, so much so that we forget all she accomplished. Chyna winning the Intercontinental Championship was not an embarrassment at the time, but a logical evolution that needed to happen. She went on to become a three-time champion not because she failed, but because she succeeded in a man’s world, a feat that has never been repeated at such a grand stage. She should be lauded for accomplishment and forever remembered as a worthy champion, not torn down because the sands of time have not been kind. Chyna had the faith of the WWE management and the fans, and it would take a long time to erode that. But when she was champion it was good for all, and helped bring the Intercontinental Championship back to a former level of glory.
The defense rests.
After the Trial
IN THE CASE OF THE IWC VS. Chyna winning the intercontinental CHAMPIONSHIP, the win HAS BEEN ACCUSEd of being completely unrealistic and only further degraded the intercontinental championship, a stain that it can never erase.
But, with 74.6% of the vote, Chyna Winning the Intercontinental Championship was found:
Bwa hahaha! I got you! You know you thought you were getting a guilty this time, but no way! You are looking at the man who got the Fingerpoke of Doom to be less guilty than Jeff Jarrett. Even I think that’s crazy. A lot of people did pick up on the point that they were judging Chyna’s win harshly based on the mess her life turned out to be. Once again, her life later on and our perception of her as a contender eight years ago at the time of this writing are totally different. You have to think within the time period.
Let’s start off by again trying to reset our post-conceived notions:
Vince knew Jarrett was going to become a major player in the new WCW under Russo[,] so maybe the theory could be that he made Jarrett job to a woman of little ability to make [WCW] fans realise that one of their main stars was no better that the [WWE]’s top woman!!
I realise that sounds sexist but it just wasn’t believable at the time that a woman [would] beat the top [mid-card] guy in the industry and looking back on it, it still isn’t.
There’s a bit of an assumption that Jarrett was going to end up as a major player or not. We look back in hindsight, especially at WCW in 2000, and realize that is what happened. However, Jarrett could have flopped upon his re-introduction to WCW and been pushed down the card. Sure, Vince could have been trying to make him look bad in general, but this match was booked well before his contract expired. And I would disagree that it wasn’t believable that this particular woman could beat a top mid-card guy. Chyna’s character was never built as a “woman who was as strong as men”, but as “a very strong and dangerous person who happens to be a woman”. There’s a fine difference there, as shown here:
People seem to forget that When [C]hyna won the [I]ntercontinental [C]hampionship she had already gone toe to toe with “The Rock”[,] “Stone Cold Steve Austin”[,] “HHH”[,] and “[M]ankind”[.] [N]ot only that[,] but she had won a number one contender shot for the WWF title. So she proved she [c]ould hang with the big boys.
Of course, we cannot get through this case without talking about Jeff Jarrett even more!
Well argued, but did not Jeff Jarrett hold the “E” hostage for $250,000 on the eve of the event where he was to drop the title to Chyna? His contract had expired like a day or two before the event and he wanted a quarter million bucks to cleanly drop the title to Chyna.
We covered this in the Jeff Jarrett case itself, but I wanted to revisit it here for a few reasons. First, the figure for this money varies from $225,000 to $300,000, depending upon who is talking. Further, these rumors about Jarrett were exacerbated by Chyna herself in her 2001 autobiography (that was mostly written in 2000) “If They Only Knew”. At the time, she was thoroughly employed by the WWE and still giving their version of events, including where she accused Jeff Jarrett and Vince Russo of engaging in a conspiracy to make the match happen after Jarrett’s contract expired so that he could hold Vince McMahon up for money. This is the true origin of these accusations. In 2008, Jeff Jarrett addressed these accusations again in his TNA “King of the Mountain” DVD set where he not only covered the points we went over before, but that he also got WWE stock options right before they went public (which happened just two days later). Jarrett actually had nice things to say about the WWE and the negotiations for the match and money owed.
So no, he was not holding the WWE hostage so much as trying to make sure he had the money he was owed and made sure he was set up for the future. Now what became of the stock Jeff Jarrett received is a story for another day!