One might see the (American) wrestling industry’s tip-toeing around the word “wrestler” when discussing women as indication that the Bellas are pioneers, that women grapplers are just a bit green of a concept, and that WWE and TNA are working their way up to calling them wrestlers, much like you or I might work up to calling mom’s new husband “Dad” once he’s proven himself not a chump.
Before Ric Flair ever strutted his way to a main event melee, Mildred Burke wrestled men at carnivals and held a world title for almost twenty years. 12 years before the first King of the Ring, there was already a wrestling queen: Vivian Vachon.
There’s one (or more) in every family–Mike von Erich, Reid Flair, LA Smooth–wrestling has relied on family dynasties to fluff their numbers and normalize the hazard-riddled lifestyle that comes with the job. But wrestling is not known for it’s ability to 1) care for their own or 2) encourage people to share when playing. A lot of potential succumbs to the crucible of ego, politics, and addiction that comes with your dinner in a wrestling house.
Vivian is the Marilyn Munster of her family of sideshow personalities. A Mad Dog and Butcher for brothers, Luna for a niece–it’s not a lack of talent that keeps her quarried to shadow, or a lack of menace. When the golden-haired muscle muse disrobed her rainbow ring robe, she would stomp your head in with the tell-tale glib sadism that is her family’s trademark.
Wrestling in the 70’s was rougher around the edges–technical pizazz took second chair to just making it look real, and like it hurt. Today a standing leglock is recognized as a rest hold, but before “sports entertainment” gave the wink on whether or not wrestling was staged, a standing leglock could end matches, and kicking someone in the face to break out of one was more than a leadup to another “spot”.
Hair pulling was practically ingrained in the training of women’s wrestlers. Wanna know who Fabulous Moolah trained? See how often they go for the hair.
Accomplished singer (yes, it still counts if it’s in French) and former model–it’s not stretch to suggest Vivian Vachon could have had a film career beyond the documentary. She had the effervescent girl next door elan that Americans make themselves sick on. We could have had the female response to Hulk Hogan a decade before anyone gave a fuck who that guy was.
Actually: she’d won the AWA’s Women’s Championship a full decade before Hogan would flounce out of AWA over their unwillingness to take the belt of Bockwinkel and put it on him. Had Hogan stayed to “tough it out” in AWA, HulkaMania may have never happened. Who knows if there’d have been another wrestler to take his place in leading the charge of wrestling into pop culture.
In an alternate universe, Vivian Vachon became a movie star and Hulk Hogan tried to no-sell Bruiser Brody and got hit with the whole bag of potatoes, simmering his star before it ever launched.
When WWE and TNA dance around the word “wrestler”, they discredit the decades of work men and women put to lay foundation for their mainstream appeal.
They do a great disservice to their queen.