"Will she ever go into the Hall of Fame?" Such a simple, legitimate question asked of Triple H during his interview with Stone Cold Steve Austin. The "she" being referred to is former WWE Women's Champion and two-time WWE Intercontinental Champion, Chyna. I don't think anyone could've predicted the firestorm H's answer would spark.
One thing I've learned throughout my life is that things aren't always black and white. This wasn't an easy realization to come to for someone who's a bit of an extremist. I'm rarely lukewarm on something, I tend to be either gung ho or no go. In my experience the gray area makes up most of the spectrum when it comes to business, especially big business, and generally speaking the more money involved the larger the gray area becomes. I don't like it, never have, and it's the biggest problem I've had working in management for two very large corporations, one now defunct, during my 18-year job history. Unfortunately it's reality. It's through those glasses we have to see this entire situation.
"Ya know, that's one of those questions. Does she deserve to go into the Hall of Fame? Absolutely," Triple H's reply starts. Giving credit where it's due and sounding genuine. He notes that it's "one of those questions". They clarify that he means a double-sided question. "It's not just as easy as, 'should this person go into the Hall of Fame?'" He continues to laud Chyna's in-ring performances and what she's done for the business, especially for female wrestlers, again sounding genuine and even going so far as to call her a "paradigm-shifter" for the business.
Two things: 1. This is completely just a feeling I got as I was listening to this segment: something began to feel inorganic about it. I don't know exactly what it is. As soon as Stone Cold replies, "What do you mean it's one of 'those' questions?" My ears perked up and I immediately thought "wait a minute. This sounds a bit...not scripted, but contrived. Just the vibe I got. 2. Triple H is a student of the industry and a historian (he even says so in the interview) so for him to use the superlatives he does to describe Chyna's career is high praise. I always want to give credit where it's due, especially as the more I learn about the WWE and it's history my perception of Triple H has evolved (semi-pun). I loathed him post-DX for years. The more I researched wrestling and as I matured in life I came to the realization that I loathed him the way most people loathe all great "Hollywood" villains-because he played the part perfectly. He made me hate him because he embodied the heel role so completely that he sparked a genuine emotional response. Now at the ripe age of 34 I tip my cap to him on many occasions (this week's Raw interaction with Flair being one of those times). Like his father-in-law Vince McMahon and fellow Kliq member and friend Kevin Nash, Triple H is also a businessman. That is true now more than ever with his name being attached to many recent WWE successes, the largest being NXT. He holds an executive position with the company outside the ring. It reads Executive Vice President, Talent, Live Events & Creative under his title on dot com. Oh, and he's kinda married to, and has three kids with, the boss' daughter. Did I mention she is also an executive officer with the company? The business aspect is important context to keep in mind because the rest of his response shouldn't have surprised anyone. "What's best for business," isn't just a line in the script.
After heaping praise on Chyna's wrestling career he begins to professionally gloss over her post-WWE career and, intentionally without going into specifics, discusses its role as the other side of the coin. This is where the company man, and perhaps the real-life father in him, comes out. "I've got an eight-year-old kid. My eight-year-old kid sees the Hall of Fame and my eight-year-old kid goes on the internet to look up Chyna...and what comes up?"
Well, Google, let's find out together. Today searching Chyna brings up more front page results about the Kardashians and some stripper Amanda Bynes wants to be than anything associated with the wrestler (and don't even waste your time telling me to use any other search engine. I'm looking at you, Bing users.) The Google image results are about 90% her (with clothing) and the video results a mishmash of her vlog, match highlights, and tabloid clips about...you guessed it...the Kardashians. None of the results on the first few pages (who really goes past those?) return anything too unsavory relating to Chyna or Joanie Laurer aside from image #90 or so being her Playboy cover, but she's wearing a two-piece black leather bikini.
Now that we at least have that cleared up...what did people expect him to say? This is one of those difficult, sometimes unavoidable, situations that inevitably comes up where businesses live in the gray area. They have sponsors and a board to answer to. Money talks and when millions hang in the balance the company isn't going to risk those millions until they've found a profitable way to spin a matter. Did you think Triple H was going to say anything to compromise his position with the company or, more importantly, potentially cause a rift in his marriage? I mean...come on. The guy was asked a valid question and tried to give the best answer he could given his role then and now on both the wrestling and real-life side of things.
Former WWE writer and friend of Chyna/Joanie, Vince Russo, handed his former employer the positive spin they need for this on a silver platter . I watched his entire interview with Chyna and two of my biggest takeaways were that he sounds like someone I'd like to have as a friend (fiercely loyal and supportive) and that there is a way the WWE could turn this into a redemption story. They have smoothed things over with guys they've had at times extremely contentious relationships with like Bret Hart, Bruno Sammartino (SCSA and Trip discuss him in the interview, as well), and Ultimate Warrior. You could argue fault in the cases of those men, but where Chyna stands it's a lot different and tougher to navigate. In the interview Russo and Joanie each recount the events that transpired leading up to the end of her tenure with WWE and her relationship with Paul/Triple H. I've always been a firm believer that there are multiple sides to every story: the truth each party involved believes and the real truth. The way Joanie tells the story she lost, minimum, her fiance, her job, and the Chyna brand she had built all within a 24-hour period after discovering a year-old love-letter from Stephanie in his briefcase. I'm not going to go too much into that situation because I don't think it's really relevant to her Hall of Fame status/potential induction. What does matter is that Joanie got a raw deal and unfortunately it set her down an extremely self-destructive path. She subsequently signed with the top adult film production company in the US, admittedly found herself at the bottom of a vodka bottle too often, and ended up in a toxic relationship with former wrestler Sean Waltman (1-2-3 Kid/X-Pac).
Her life had become a tragedy. Can any of us say we'd have for sure gone a different direction in her circumstances during such a crisis? What matters in life is how you bounce back. Or get back on the horse. Or rise from the ashes. Whatever. Pick a cliche. Three years ago Joanie Laurer began her road to redemption. She tells us in the interview that was when she picked up and moved to Tokyo, Japan and began teaching English to Japanese children. She's largely been off the IWC radar and out of the public eye during that time. It has helped her perceived transgressions fade into the background. She is quoted as saying she hoped that leaving would be, "a new lease on life". Beyond that I think it has helped people think "wrestler" first when her name comes up. Part of me asks, "What if a top male wrestler went into the adult film industry? Would it effect his HOF status?" There has always been a societal double-standard when it comes to genders and promiscuity in general, why would this be any different? Regardless, it would be great for Professional Wrestling if this story ended with Chyna continuing down her path of a healthy life and sooner than later being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. In a time where the Divas division is on its way back to being wholly respectable wouldn't it be better than fiction to honor arguably the most physically dominant female wrestler, who predates the "Divas" division, in the history of the company? It would be. They just have to find a way to make it profitable. Because, say it with me now, "that's...what's best...for business."