Chyna: From The Indie Rings To The World's Ninth Wonder

WWE legend Chyna has a complicated legacy, though fans who watched the "Ninth Wonder of the World" during the Attitude Era probably have fond memories of her dominating opponents. The muscular beauty was not just a staple beside Shawn Michaels and Triple H in D-Generation X, but a champion in her own right, often mixing it up with the boys and spearheading the charge for the eventual "Women's Revolution." Chyna was not without her faults, as many things tragic things effected her life, but her accomplishments in women's wrestling simply cannot be ignored.

Before she was Chyna, she was still Joan Laurer, working to find her way in the world. Chyna started her fitness journey in the gym after leaving her home in Rochester, New York, at 16 years old. She went to college at the University of Tampa and graduated in 1992 with a double major in Spanish literature. This was also the time she started to enter fitness competitions before making the leap to the squared circle. 

Chyna trained at Wladek "Killer" Kowlaski's wrestling school in Massachusetts and had her first match in 1995. While working the independent scene, she attracted interest from WWE and WCW (where she was offered an immediate spot in the nWo). Chyna had met Triple H and Michaels at a show in 1996, but when the pair pitched bringing her in to WWE, Vince McMahon was wary, believing audiences wouldn't believe a woman bodyguard beating up men.

Kowalski said he got Chyna into WWE after telling Shane McMahon of WCW's interest in the budding star, but it was her relationship with Triple H and Michaels that seemed to set things in motion. From that moment on, it was time for "The Ninth Wonder of the World" to start making history.

Chyna's road to WWE

Chyna made her WWE debut on February 16, 1997, helping Triple H against Goldust and Marlena. From there, Chyna's first role within the company as an enforcer was born. Initially a stoic bodyguard alongside Triple H — who was still wrestling as Hunter Hearst Helmsley and with whom she had a personal relationship — Chyna was also involved in the creation of iconic stable D-Generation X.

The group started to form during an August 1997 episode of "Raw is War," when Triple H and Chyna interfered in one of Michaels' matches against Mankind. Their first feud as a group was against the Hart Foundation, which included Michaels' nemesis Bret Hart. The group's name derived from Hart calling Michaels "nothing more than a degenerate" during the early stages of their rivalry. On October 13, 1997, Michaels officially gave the moniker to his stable of degenerates.

Chyna was able to expand her character work much more within the group during their heelish, rude, lewd, and often ridiculous antics. She would interfere in the men's matches, low-blowing opponents, as some men were still hesitant to mix it up with a woman in the ring. With the success that Chyna had in DX, WWE soon began to realize she could do much more in her career.

Chyna's historic firsts

Chyna was a trailblazer throughout her four-year career with WWE. She had many historic firsts, notably being the first woman to enter the Royal Rumble. The year prior, she became the first woman to qualify for the King of the Ring tournament, even moving on to the second round with an initial victory over Val Venis. She was also the first woman to become number one contender for the WWE Championship, but lost the opportunity in a storyline.

"The Ninth Wonder of the World" was also the first woman to hold the Intercontinental Championship — a feat she accomplished not once, but twice. She originally captured the gold from Jeff Jarrett at No Mercy 1999 in the infamous "Good Housekeeping" match, where the ring was littered with various household items to be used as weapons. She lost the belt to Chris Jericho at Armageddon that year, beginning another intergender feud. The pair became "co-champions" after one of their "WWE SmackDown" matches ended with Jericho and Chyna pinning each other.

Though maybe not a historic first for any woman in the WWE at the time, Chyna proved she could branch out when it came to her character. She showed that in her romance angle with "Latino Heat" Eddie Guerrero. Initially portrayed as heels, Guerrero and Chyna won the love of the audience with their odd-couple nature, with Guerrero dubbing his love "Mamacita." The odd couple split later that year, with Chyna catching Guerrero with other women.

Chyna's WWE Women's Title reign

With WWE seemingly wanting to move away from intergender matches, and hoping to capitalize on Chyna's babyface character as she was gaining popularity with fans, she was set to become a star in the women's division. Chyna posing for the November 2000 issue of Playboy was worked into a feud with the morally conservative stable Right to Censor. Chyna started a feud with Ivory, one of the group's members, over the Women's Championship. Following a dramatic return from a kayfabe neck injury, Chyna captured the title from Ivory at WWE WrestleMania 17 and went on to hold it for a total of 231 days.

Throughout her impressive reign, Chyna defeated the likes of Molly Holly and Trish Stratus. Chyna retired from WWE with the championship in November 2001, after defeating Lita at Judgment Day. After leaving the company, then-Head of Talent Relations Jim Ross noted she chose to leave for personal reasons, while other reports claimed Chyna left WWE to pursue acting. Chyna was reportedly offered a new contract in 2001, but refused to sign for less than $1 million a year, something the company refused to give her.

Chyna's life after WWE

After leaving WWE, Chyna had a brief stint with New Japan Pro-Wrestling. She first appeared for NJPW at the New Japan Thirtieth Anniversary show, refereeing a match between the Steiner Brothers and Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kensuke Sasaki. Her first match and victory came in August 2002, in a fight with a Chika Nakamura, a female boxer who Chyna defeated in the first round by TKO. Chyna wrestled her final match for NJPW in October 2002, teaming with a fake Great Muta, portrayed by Troy Enders, in a losing effort to Kenzo Suzuki and Tanahashi.

"The Ninth Wonder of the World" wouldn't step back in a wrestling ring again until 2011 when she appeared at Total Nonstop Action's "Impact" tapings. Chyna was introduced as Kurt Angle's business associate and tag team partner at the upcoming Sacrifice event, where the duo faced Jeff Jarrett and Karen Jarrett. During the match, she submitted Karen for the victory. Chyna left TNA shortly after, making the match just not her last in that promotion, but her career.

Chyna's death and legacy

Chyna faced many well-documented struggles in her life, including addiction. Joan Laurer was found dead in her California home on April 20, 2016, at the age of 46. According to an autopsy report, she died with traces of painkillers in her system, as well as a drug to treat anxiety and a muscle relaxer. Her brain was donated to science to study the effects of CTE, and her body was cremated. Despite being at odds with the company she once dominated, posted an obituary for Chyna, and a video tribute package to the late star was shown on "WWE Raw" following her death.

After her death, Chyna was inducted to the WWE Hall of Fame alongside her fellow D-Generation X members in 2019. Fans of the star have clamored for her to be inducted individually for all she had accomplished in the company for years. In 2015, Paul "Triple H" Levesque said that Chyna's career in the adult film industry prohibited her from getting in to the Hall of Fame on her own, though both he and Michaels have claimed that she's deserving since then. 

Chyna is gone, but certainly not forgotten when it comes to the women of today in WWE. Former Women's World Champion Rhea Ripley paid homage to Chyna with her 2023 Payback gear, indicating that she remains an influential figure. With the next generation of trailblazing women competing in WWE who say Chyna inspired them, to women getting more and more opportunities to show what they can do, Chyna's legacy of finding her voice within D-Generation X and not backing down from a challenge is still felt today.

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).