Wrestling Declassified: Chyna Makes WWE History

"Wrestling Declassified" is a new series from WrestlingINC.com in which we draw together lesser-known details regarding some of the most noteworthy matches, angles, and stories in pro wrestling history. We'll also include commentary and new information from the men and women of pro wrestling who generously share their reflections for this series. This week, we're looking at perhaps the greatest accomplishment in WWE's admittedly limited history of intergender competition: Chyna's run at the Intercontinental Championship in 1999.


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For better or worse, Chyna has definitely earned her spot in the canon of pro wrestling history. And for the lion's share of her life since she stepped into the limelight, Chyna has also found controversy at almost every turn, from her hulking, quasi-masculine physique during the early days of her in-ring work to her eventual career move to the adult film industry. Arguably, the zenith of her popularity?both as a wrestler and in any of her other forays into celebrity life?came on October 17, 1999 when Chyna won WWF's Intercontinental Championship.

The Intercontinental strap was traditionally a men's title prior to Chyna's victory and heading into the contest, WWF writers built her feud with then-champion Jeff Jarrett as a new chapter in the age-old tale of the "battle of the sexes." Chyna's 2000 autobiography If they Only Knew is remarkably candid in its discussion of this topic, especially considering that the tome was authorized and published by WWF. In the book, she discusses her big victory in detail, providing insight into the strategies employed by writers Vince Russo and Ed Ferrara in developing her feud with Jeff Jarrett.


"Fans ate it up, the ongoing battle of the sexes," wrote Chyna. "There were homemade signs everywhere: CHYNA-MAKE THE SEXIST PIG SQUEAL! and MOP THE KITCHEN FLOOR WITH JARRETT'S ASS! and CHYNA SUCKS! GIVE HER A VACUUM CLEANER! Russo and his writing partner, Ed Ferrara, had a whole routine to their creative process. Russo lived in the Trumbull area, about a half-hour north of Stamford. The two writers spent mornings from nine to one watching The Jerry Springer Show, which was on four hours straight thanks to overlapping local TV markets. Springer's story lines were perfect for the WWF?conflict, drama, impulsive behavior, schmaltz, lots of hair-pulling, dissing?good old-fashioned dysfunction."

Indeed, all of those elements came into play as the team drew up plans for the final battle between Chyna and Jarrett. With copious quantities of creative energy and hype, the match was built into a unorthodox spectacle in which both real-life pathos and cartoon violence figured prominently.

"They billed it as the Good Housekeeping match, promoted the beans out of it, and scheduled it as a pay-per-view feature, No Mercy," she said. "Jarrett and Chyna in a title match that was really more of an extreme-type event, something New Jack would do over in the ECW league. All the holy relics of housewifery?pots, pans, vacuum cleaners, toilet seats, that kind of crap-would be laid out for us to use against each other. The kitchen sink."


Chyna ultimately won the contest and the title, despite some shenanigans from Jarrett's valet, Stacy "Miss Kitty" Carter, and a false finish that required referee Teddy Long to re-start the match. It was a dirty and gritty spectacle that took up less than 10 minutes of the evening's total card but with the exception of the night's main event?a bout in which Triple H defeated Stone Cold Steve Austin to retain the WWF title?Chyna's match with Jarrett was the most important attraction on the card. Nevertheless, a couple of important developments behind the scene almost prevented the historic match from ever taking place.

According to Chyna, the actual match was supposed to take place at the Rebellion pay-per-view event, which was held one month prior to No Mercy. Because her angle with Jarrett was so hot, WWF opted to draw it out one more month to get the maximum exposure for the rivalry. After the match was postponed, WWF's head writer Vince Russo abruptly departed WWF for the ostensibly greener pastures of WCW. Nevertheless, the mantle was picked up once again by WWF's creative staff and things moved ahead until a significant roadblock developed on the night of the show. Although Jeff Jarrett reported to the venue, he showed up without his gear, secure in the knowledge that he wouldn't have to compete that night?because his contract had actually lapsed the day before. While it was common knowledge among WWF that Jarrett was on his way out of the company, officials had miscalculated with regard to just how much time he had left and by the time they realized their error, it was Jarrett who sat happily in the proverbial catbird seat.


In her book, Chyna describes the wrangling that ensued in the hours prior to the event. She alleges that Jarrett hid out in the arena until he obtained a face-to-face meeting with Vince McMahon in which the two personally negotiated Jarrett's final, non-contract match for WWF.

"Rumor has it they paid Jarrett just a hair under a quarter of a million dollars to wrestle," Chyna recalled. "I won't bore you with the details, but by all accounts it was one of the most entertaining and fun matches in WWF history. We clobbered each other with ironing boards, brooms, toasters. We called each other sexist names, scowled, worked the crowd into a Molotov cocktail, shaken and stirred, and I got the title."

Over 15 years later, wrestling enthusiasts can appreciate Chyna's victory for what it truly was: a unique highlight from one of pro wrestling's most celebrated periods, The Attitude Era. Although it's debatable as to whether or not Chyna's run as IC champ actually made women's wrestling more palatable for the industry's fan base as a whole, her struggle and redemption was inspirational for a generation of aspiring lady grapplers.

Santana Garrett, who recently won the NWA women's championship, often competes in intergender matches for independent wrestling companies such as Florida-based I Believe in Wrestling. Garrett, who has also competed in TNA as Brittany, spoke exclusively to WrestlingINC.com for "Wrestling Declassified" regarding the impact that Chyna's Intercontinental title win had on her career as well as the careers of others in women's wrestling.


"Chyna definitely helped pave the way for women to go up against men in competitive matches," said Garrett. "While Chyna competed in the heavyweight division, her win helped others?from Beth Phoenix in WWE to others like Zoe Rowe who won the Florida Heavyweight Championship in 2009. It helped pave the way for me, too. There are a lot more girls wrestling now but sometimes, there are more guys. Without Chyna, I may have never been able to compete for and ultimately win the Florida Cruiserweight Championship, which was historically a men's title."

Not everyone approaches the subject with such enthusiasm, though. In December 2007, WWE Hall of Famer Jim Ross shared his thoughts on Chyna's historic win. Responding to a fan inquiry via his official blog, JR's his comments were less than charitable:

"For the record," wrote Ross, "I still think that Chyna winning the IC Title was not a great day in the annals of the biz. Just one man's opinion."

From time to time, the discussion as to Chyna's proper place in WWF/WWE history fires up once again, most recently returning to the forefront with Triple H's appearance on Steve Austin's podcast. But whether or not Chyna ends up in the WWE Hall of Fame, it's highly unlikely that WWE will have the final word with regard to how her contributions can be best remembered and appreciated. That determination will be made not by those who place value on backstage politics and slick marketing but by the hearts and minds of wrestling fans worldwide.