411’s Wrestling Hall of Fame Class of 2010: The Fabulous Moolah
She may be the most defining women’s wrestling champion in history. It’s a big statement considering the boom in women’s wrestling in the late 90’s that still continues to this day. The Fabulous Moolah’s tale is one of interesting conflicts, shading dealing, wrestling politics and ultimately, long lasting legends stature in the annuals of women’s wrestling.
Lillian Ellison was a married mother of one at the age of 15, when she left it all behind to become a professional wrestler. Having her first match in 1949, Ellison started breaking the mold almost immediately. Her promoter Billy Wolfe encouraged his ladies to have sex with other promoter in order to increase bookings, a practice Lillian refused to partake in. This led her to working for Jack Pfeffer who paired Ellison up with “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers, which was highly successful until Lillian left because Rogers wanted her to become sexually active with him.
Now going under the moniker Slave Girl Moolah, she began managing Mexican wrestler Tony Olivas and they created a stir as Moolah would kiss him on the cheek before each match, resulting in threats of violence from crowds and one near murder attempt. She then moved quickly through Boston and then onto Vince McMahon Sr. Capitol Wrestling where the now Fabulous Moolah won the vacant NWA Woman’s Championship in a battle royal.
This created the next round of controversy as Billy Wolfe still held massive control over women’s wrestling and still feeling slighted by Moolah refusing to submit to his demands, made sure she was not fully recognized as champion until Wolfe went out of business and the retirement of the other predominant women’s champion June Byers. Due to these issues she bought the rights to the women’s title (which now is the WWE Women’s Championship) and started training and booking women’s wrestlers all over the country while still actively wrestling herself.
She became a celebrity of sorts counting Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis as her friends and Hank Williams Sr. as a boyfriend and used her growing fame to get the New York Athletics Commission ban of women’s wrestling overturned and becoming the first female to appear in Madison Square Garden. And bar for a couple short weeks, Moolah was the Women’s Champion for an astonishing 28 years.
When Vince Jr. came knocking during the early 80’s expansion, Moolah had the smarts to sell the rights to her title to McMahon and within the next year helped launch the Rock n’ Wrestling era thanks to her feud with music superstar Cyndi Lauper and the ensuing cross promotion with MTV for the “The Brawl To End It All” which saw Moolah lose her title to Lauper protégé Wendi Ritcher. This all led to the one of the marquee matches at the inaugural WreslteMania and saw women’s wrestling reach it’s high popularity peak.
Not long after, the next phase heaping of controversy struck Moolah whom Vince asked to come and shoot on Ritcher thanks to a soured contract negotiation between Vince and Ritcher. This shoot cost a long standing friendship between Moolah and Ritcher as Moolah had trained Ritcher to become a wrestler and was a fence that was never mended before Moolah’s death.
By now Moolah was 62 and still the queen of women’s wrestling and stayed that way until Sheri Martel defeated her for the title but she still wrestled into the late 80’s before going into semi retirement and earning a spot in the WWF Hall of Fame in 1995.
Then came a career rebirth in the late 90’s as Moolah and her friend and fellow old age female wrestler Mae Young, started showing up on WWF programming and performing bumps and taking shots from the male wrestlers and becoming comedy fodder for the next couple of years and surprisingly, Moolah earned herself another Women’s Title reign at the age of 76!
Health problems caught up to Moolah and she only showed up sparingly in the ensuing years but she did manage to become the first octogenarian to perform in a WWE ring when at the age of 80 she had her final match against Victoria. Finally, on November 2nd, 2007 Moolah died from complication from shoulder replacement surgery leaving behind a legacy as a tough old broad who defined women’s wrestling.
Although there is no doubting Moolah’s stature as one of the greats of wrestling (male and female), Moolah was also involved in unseemly practices in her time as a promoter and has been labeled a pimp by more than one of the woman she managed and two faced by others for discouraging openly lesbian performers form going to gay bars while indulging in same sex activities herself.
Why Moolah was selected…
While there is no denying the dark side of Lillian Ellison left some stains on her reputation, she was one of the pioneering woman in a tough man’s world that when told to do something she didn’t want to do, she stuck by her guns and if someone threw up a roadblock, she’d kick it down and defy anyone to tell her to stop. Her place at the top of the women’s wrestling heap is well deserved and it is 411’s honor to have her in our Hall of Fame.