For us wrestling fans, this time of year has most of us focused on the WWE’s biggest event, Wrestlemania. I wrote a little bit about that recently. But to say the “Road to Wrestlemania” is the focus of not only the WWE itself but most of the wrestling world is not an understatement.
And then a speed bump showed up.
News has been getting out now about an issue with this year’s show. Specifically, a new concept that was introduced last Monday and within hours fans were in an uproar and the company had to backtrack almost immediately. The Fabulous Moolah Memorial Battle Royal.
So what’s the deal and why the name of a woman who left us back in 2007 is still the source of bad feelings? Let me give you the short version to help understand.
The Fabulous Moolah (real name Lillian Ellison) was a long time professional wrestler. She first started all the way back in the late 40’s working for wrestling promoter (and husband) Billy Wolfe. Wolfe eventually had Moolah win a tournament in 1956 where she was crowned Woman’s World Champion. She held onto the belt until 1984 (do the math, that’s a long time) before finally hanging up the boots in 1988, although she would make many comebacks runs for the WWE (then WWF) until the early 2000s. She was also known to be a big trainer of women wrestlers for decades and nearly every woman’s wrestler in the United States was trained by her. On top of all that she was a big money draw, working for Vince McMahon Sr starting in the 50’s and kept working for his son, the current Vince McMahon even after she scaled back her schedule. She was made part of the WWE Hall of fame in 1995 and passed away in 2007. So when the idea of holding a women’s battle royal event at this year’s Wrestlemania was put to use, it seems natural to do it in the name of someone so influential in wrestling as Moolah right?
That is where things went horribly wrong.
Fans were quick to point out that Moolah wasn’t exactly an angel during her time and naming ANY part of such a big show was not only an insult to fans but represented the exact opposite of the women empowerment that the WWE and company executive Stephanie McMahon has been spotlighting for the last few years for the company.
Now, of course, I can’t rattle off every story and accusation. I’d write a book just about all that. They’ve been around for a long time too. Moolah has been accused of using her position as a teacher and someone who handled a lot of business affairs for women she trained and “managed” to advantage during most of her time. Stories have been told of her skimming money from her students and people she has worked with. She has been accused of manipulating people and even the people she worked for to get a better deal of things (for herself). She also demanded money and teaching fees from her students for years after she was done teaching them. The more serious charges including using her position as a teacher and “booker” to sell the women she trained to men for sex, all in the name of the mighty dollar and without these women’s consent or knowledge. The rumors and stories are not rare or pleasant.
So yes, she was a major influence in women’s wrestling. She was a top name and teacher for a long time to the point that Women’s wrestling in the United States was from her influence even down to the style of matches and moves used for decades. But what she did to get there is what is causing the issues now, even after she’s gone.
More importantly, it is hitting them in the pocketbook. The WWE was willing to ignore what the fans were saying (they’ve been doing that forever) but when one of its sponsors voices concerns, that hits them in the wallet. It hasn’t been definitively reported what money sponsor forced the change, but a lot of money had to be on the line to do it and for the company to acknowledge it.
So then it was changed in a heartbeat. It is a business after all and the WWE is a publically traded company. It wasn’t the outcry of fans, it was a sponsor. Money talks but it had something important to say.