The Fabulous Moolah:
28 fabulous years defining a generation
A year and a half in the making, and kept under wraps for a while since for may reasons including credible respect to the late female whilst certain timing in the wrestling world was not right to publish, now Wrestling Wonders exclusively honours one of the greatest female champions in history.
Born July 22nd, 1923, Mary Lillian Ellison would go on to become the most cemented female wrestler of the sport.
She began inspiring female grapplers most notably as part of the Rock ‘n’ Wrestling Connection tandem bearing witness to her battle against Wendi Richter and pop icon Cyndi Lauper. Defeating Richter in 1984, Ellison gained her very first WWF women's championship.
The four-time champion, every reign lasting in length, earned the longest title reign in history by any professional athlete among the WWF.
Winning the NWA World Women’s championship in 1956, she held the title over an impressive near thirty years.
Her career started in 1949 trained by promoter Mildred Burke. Her first bout was against June Byers on May 26th. Her first characterisation, Slave Girl Moolah, brainchild of Jack Pfeiffer, joined male wrestler Johnny Long, her future husband.
Still in the ‘50s, Ellison moved on with her career shepherding Elephant Boy, a Mexican wrestler portrayed by Tony Olivias which soon sparked controversy with the audience in that era. Entering the ring, she planted a kiss as routine to her beau on the cheek. Audiences were very particular regarding ethnicity back then and fans considered interracial connections with the wrestlers untoward and forbidden. The Mexican was considered black to the audience. Shortly after this period, Moolah made the decision to part ways with the company. To this day, it remains a mystery whether this reception caused her departure from said organisation, under Pfeiffer’s rule.
Embarking on a new chapter, working with Boston promoters, Ellison was soon headed to Vince McMahon's Sr to link with his Capitol Wrestling Corporation in 1955.
The following year in ’56, the women's world championship was vacant, a perfect time for Moolah to participate in a thirteen woman battle royal besting Judy Grable as the last woman remaining to capture the title. This title shares its heritage with the NWA world women's championship. Under control of Billy Wolfe, the NWA neglected to recognise her as NWA champion since rebuffing his advances in previous years, with strained relations, politically.
Subsequently, McMahon Sr rewarded her accolades re-branding her “The Fabulous Moolah.” Even retired grappler June Buyers broke tradition of retirement to face Moolah for the honourable championship, which Buyers could not wrest from her adversary’s waist. Moolah’s first championship rule lasted a decade, totaling ten outstanding years in the sport. She defended successfully against many opponents including a face from her past, Judy Grable.
Buyers eventually re-retired in 1964, leaving Moolah to be finally acknowledged as NWA (National Wrestling Alliance) champion which melded her as the very first undisputed women's world champion. Betty Boucher ended her longstanding as champion in 1966, only for Ellison to restore rule weeks later. She also traded it to Yukiko Tomoe, on a tour of Japan in ’68.
Banned from wrestling at its most noted home for the sport, Madison Square Garden, women’s wrestling entered a new era of monumental historic change on July 1st 1972, as Moolah became the first woman to ever wrestle in the garden itself. Female wrestling was shifting into a rapid change worldwide. Lifting a ban with the New York Athletic Commission, Moolah persuaded the state of New York to accept female wrestling in June 1972, cementing a legacy encouraging all females after her.
Stronghold to the title and reforming female stance on the sport, in the late 70s, Ellison bought legal rights to the championship. She went on for another six year reign after being without said championship for two days, when transitional champ Evelyn Stevens held it in 1978.
During ’83, the WWF was expanding. Vince McMahon Jr, (Vincent Kennedy McMahon) convinced Moolah to sell him the championship. Issuing a national outreach, the WWF acquired the title, where Moolah and McMahon, bartered exclusivity to the company and in doing so went on to became the first WWF Women’s champion.
Plunged into a new era, pop/rock icon Cyndi Lauper began a fierce war of words with Captain Lou Albano. Albano caused enough outrage to create a topic of mainstream culture from the feud, sparking the highly influential Rock ‘n’ Wrestling Connection. Requiring a powerful female to silence Lauper’s protégé Wendi Richter, the pair met on PPV. Representing Albano, Moolah’s title found itself on the line. Richter downed Moolah’s attempt in a hotly anticipated challenge for the title at PPV, The Brawl to End It All. Albano joined Moolah’s corner in support. The pay-per-view was broadcast on the MTV music channel, beginning the WWF's major dominance in media relations. The company made public knowledge of Moolah’s accomplishments, spanned over the previous twenty-eight years as champion.
Moolah featured in a programme supporting Leilani Kai in her battle with Richter as champion in February 1985; however the underlying tension backstage was becoming somewhat sour. The relationship between the WWF and Richter was waning. Moolah, instructed to don a mask saw her regain the championship on November 25th in what would be a controversial decision. Ugly scenes unfolded as Richter had not been informed beforehand she was scheduled to lose the title to Moolah, shielded by her mask as “Spider Lady.” This was classified as the original screw job reminiscent to the Montréal double-cross in 1997 involving Bret “Hitman” Hart and Shawn Michaels. Livid, Richter decisively quit the organisation swiftly whilst Moolah continued on as champion over the coming two years.
Moolah continued on in battles with Velvet McIntyre and Sherri Martel (Sensational Sherri) over the next two years.
June 25th, 1995 approached where Moolah accepted her honours as first female wrestler to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Meeting old friend Pat Patterson, Moolah then re-surfaced for one last run in the WWE. Now featuring slender females, and archaic framed bikini models fully engrossed in sexually motivated angles, Ellison featured on Smackdown in 1998, receiving a guitar over her head by Jeff Jarrett. Accompanied by her trainer and friend Mae Young both added to comedic angles in a tastefully humorous display with sheer skill given. They proved equals to the younger girls on offer, despite the aging process.
Utilising her experience, Moolah returned to action, teaching then champion Ivory a lesson on the Raw brand, in September 1999. Meeting at No Mercy, Moolah, at a gracious seventy-six years of age proved to the world once again how to strengthen women’s wrestle, removing the title from Ivory to become the most respected ever in the sport. Ivory would relieve her of the title eight days later.
In her downturn period away from the business, Moolah also trained females and sought bookings for them with federations. Girl Wrestling Enterprises (GWE) was opened with business partner and later husband of nine years Buddy Lee. The company had high aspirations and a demanding schedule with its goals which included appearance maintenance with hair and make-up presented accordingly whilst acting womanly while dating men who were in the professional wrestling business was advised against.
Moolah came under fire also, accused of supplying talent to promoters with unsuspecting females to provide sexual affection. Susie May McCoy (Sweet Georgia Brown) spoke of being raped on occasions, confided to her daughter while trained by Moolah and Lee. Alternative statements revealed promoters wouldn’t extend agreed wrestling payment until further demand was fulfilled romantically in the ‘60s. Allegedly, Moolah forbode females attending gay bars and influenced them to consider becoming heterosexual, a response met with contradiction. Accused of being a shrewd businesswoman, females under her tutelage conclude Moolah demanded half of their payments received when booking against high profile talent including a couple of matches lined up with Wendi Richter. Moolah was accused of pinching bookings for herself at later dates. Launching the IWA (International Wrestling Association) a non-profit organisation aiding retired wrestlers in the late ‘80s – early ‘90s, she spent the remainder of her years training in Colombia, where she switched to support men learning.
Unstable Diva Victoria soon fell to Moolah on September 15th, 2003. To celebrate her birthday, she became the first octogenarian to compete in a WWE ring. Seeing an opportunity, “Legend Killer” Randy Orton strode out to congratulate Moolah’s victory. Marking his respect, Orton laid out the 80-year-old with an RKO. Moolah signified another bout of professionalism and adoration for the fall fabulously.
She would make appearances in 2006 and 2007, including Wrestlemania 23 and the draft lottery, while also featuring with Vince McMahon and William Regal. That would be her last showcase in August 2007.
For a young female in a male dominated world, aiming to put female wrestling onto the radar in a positive light, The Fabulous Moolah became the beacon of light to all females around the world inspired to make something more of themselves and the audience. Realising a lucrative market, she sent the benchmark for all aiming high.
Personal differences and issues of allegations, for which Moolah sidestepped in part, took the long way around. Training, booking and wrestling without sexual influences herself, created the platform of female wrestling rather than eye candy gaining notorious respect by all her peers years to come and in the future. The only pinnacle of female wrestling in the ring, able to re-structure an entire division, Moolah remains Queen of the ring. The biggest challenge for the future will be upholding that legacy for females worldwide. No one will ever emulate Moolah, and no one is trying to, but aiming to maintain the platform she created should continue to be a priority.
With a career filled with yearly reigns, everyone meaningful and monumental with influence, it is no wonder this female grappler left an air of hope for all of today’s performers. If they can find their niche, and work at it tenfold, perhaps, on some level, those parameters of women’s wrestling can resurface in a somewhat backward portrayal.
The Fabulous Moolah, at 84, stood the test of time for every decade of her life in the ring. Blossoming from a fifteen year old girl to a fully fledged leading lady; Mary Lillian Ellison truly became the “First Goddess of the Squared Circle” where this woman changed an entire dimension in the sport she loved. Ellison passed on November 2nd 2007 due to a blood clot from shoulder surgery. R.I.P. X
© Max Waltham 30th October 2012