Great Moments in Championship History: Richter vs. The Spider
The current state of women’s wrestling in WWE has reached heights it has ever seen. After the pain that was the Attitude, and immediate post Attitude era, the company has come a long way. For myself, and I know many other fans, the women’s division has become much watch TV, with competitors like Sasha Banks and Asuka constantly stealing the show. The history of women’s wrestling in WWE, however, is fairly tumultuous, yet fascinating.
One of the first big moments in women’s wrestling in the company was “The Original Screwjob”. When you watch the clip, it makes the famous Hart/Michaels one look like it’s just part of the script.
In the early days of WWF, after shifting out of the WWWF era, Women’s wrestling was dominated by one name, Wendi Richter. Having shot to stardom for her part in the Rock N Wrestling angle in the mid 80s, Richter became not only the biggest draw in women’s wrestling, but one of the bigger draws on the card in general. This angle culminated first in, “The War To Settle The Score” that saw Richter lose the title to Fabulous Moolah (more on her later) protege Leilani Kai, only to win it back a few months later at the first Wrestlemania. From this, and in part to the insertion of Cyndi Lauper’s involvement in the story in managing Richter, WWF wrestling started to skyrocket in popularity. This makes it even stranger to think about Richter’s future fate with WWF.
Before we get to that, we need to take a look at the other participant in the screwjob. The Fabulous Moolah might just be the most important woman in wrestling history. Being the first, and decades long WWF/E Women’s Champion, and starting a school that trained future stars like Richter and Kai. Without getting too into it, Moolah came from a time when women’s wrestling was dominated by a promoter named Billy Wolfe, who had the label of trying to get the women wrestlers who worked for him to have a sexual relationship with him or other wrestlers. It’s this type of situation that built Moolah into the tough, no nonsense woman she became. This isn’t to say that she was mean, but she could be a little cold with other workers if she wanted to. That said, she was very loyal to the WWF, so when Vince needed someone to work a questionable, but in his view, necessary spot, Moolah was the logical choice.
As I showed in my last Great Moments piece, occasionally the scripted wrestling style can lead way to the all too real “shoot”, where wrestler’s go off script. On November 25th, 1985 (strangely the same month as the next most famous screw job), Wendi Richter looked to put her title on the line against the masked, mystery wrestler known as “The Spider”. As the match goes on, nothing appears to be amiss, until a cradle roll up by The Spider gets a 3 count, even though Richter clearly kicks out. The confusion and anger that follows are some of the most painfully real, human moments I’ve seen in wrestling involving a wrestlers demise. Richter, in shock, must have known by then that Moolah was probably under the mask, having just seen her early and thinking it odd that she showed up without a match on the card. As Howard Finkel, somewhat in a non committed way, gives the victory to Moolah, and when the all too real punches cease being thrown Moolah’s way, Richter leaves. As legend has it, she grabbed her bag and immediately went to the airport, never to be seen in a WWE ring or event again.
The truth, like always, found it’s way to the light. The decision was made by Vince McMahon, head of WWF/E, that Richter would drop the belt due to her contract disputes. Richter and Vince just couldn’t come to terms on a new deal, and Vince, in a very machiavellian and old school way, brewed up this idea to basically steal the title off Richter. As Vince would presumably defend this decision as “just business”, at that time we were still just coming off the old school territorial days, where respect and handshake deals ruled. This type of move, along with the launch of the Wrestlemania era, firmly planted Wrestling into a new, almost big business style.
Eventually, like almost every wrestling feud, Richter and Vince made amends, and in 2010, she was inducted into the Hall of Fame. Even after her recent comments showing anger toward the state of women in wrestling at that time, it’s always good for such historically great and important wrestlers to come back, and hopefully that meant an apology from Vince. Richter’s departure led to years of the women’s division treading water, with few high points with the likes of Alundra Blayze (that’s a whole other story) and Bull Nakano in the mid 90’s. Having already gone heavily into the history of women’s wrestling in WWE before, I’ll simply say that we appear to have finally gotten the women’s division we deserve with the modern roster.
As for Moolah, there’s not a huge amount to be said other than that she has, and rightfully so, gone down as the most important women in wrestling. After a weird return in her mid 70’s during the Attitude era, and sporadic appearances here and there until 2007, Moolah passed in November of that same year. As one of the most important wrestler’s in history, it’s hard to chop through the reverence to get to some of the meat of the story, which isn’t always nice. This shoot screwjob is an example of that. Regardless of WWE/F’s troubled past with women’s wrestling, I’m confident in saying that the women in the business today would make these two greats proud.