I didn’t think much of the school teacher from Palatka, FL seven years ago during a little contest on Monday Night Raw (you may have heard of it). Frankly, said school teacher — while she looked athletic, sure — came across awkward on TV, as if she knew (along with the viewing world) that she didn’t really fit in with the nipped-and-tucked models in bikini tops who made up the rest of the competition. Her thick accent was a little jarring, her looks (which this competition was pretty much based upon) didn’t quite compete with the models and she lacked any distinct personality. Failing to connect with the crowd, the school teacher was cut from the competition in week four. That should’ve been the last we saw of her, but it was just the beginning.
Fast forward seven years and that school teacher, Michelle McCool, is perhaps the most decorated WWE Diva of the last several years. And like any public figure worth knowing about, she’s as controversial as she is talented.
The once doe-eyed school teacher won over many — including myself — and now, as we say goodbye to her, I want to say thank you, Michelle.
I was, if I’m honest, a little perplexed that WWE signed her back in 2004 following the end of the Raw Diva Search. For four years, Michelle would just be there in the background for me. She hadn’t done much of significance to consider myself a fan or dislike her. She was just there. A string of bad gimmicks ranging from personal trainer to naughty school teacher did nothing for me. And let’s not forget that time we saw her run along a beach on a weekly basis. Scintilating television!
In 2008, with the ‘Top SmackDown Diva’ competition and the subsequent launch of the Divas Championship, my attitude towards Michelle changed. All of a sudden I was beginning to take notice; little-by-little, week-by-week, Michelle was actually beginning to win me over — well, in the ring, anyway. (The lack of personality was another story.) Michelle really showed continual improvement in the ring to the point where she was crowned the first ever Divas Champion. In fact, some of my favorite matches of her during that period would be with a Diva that would become her greatest ally: Layla. (See some matches here and here.) At the time both were still learning and little did we know they’d eventually take the Divas division by storm, but those early matches showed snippets of the chemistry between the two and those were some of the first matches I covered here at Diva Dirt, and I remember them fondly.
Within 12 months of winning the first ever Divas Championship, Michelle was now the top heel Diva in WWE, feuding with Melina over the Women’s Championship. By now, her in-ring skills were at a peak by Diva standards. She could (and would) conceivably go against the more experienced wrestlers like Melina, Mickie James and Beth Phoenix. In fact, her heel turn only made her a better worker. As the predatory Michelle McCruel, for the first time Michelle was winning me over in the personality stakes too. Her vicious, cold personality only added to her matches. Sure, some fans would say she was still boring and bland, but I enjoyed McCruel. In fact, a lot of people enjoyed her feud with Melina on SmackDown, if the reception at the time from fans on Diva Dirt is anything to go by.
In my opinion, Michelle became — and remained until last night — the most consistent worker in the Divas division. She continuously churned out great matches with whoever her opponent was. From veterans such as Beth, Melina and Mickie, to younger hands such as Maryse, Taryn Terrell and Maria. In fact, the latter two praised McCool’s ring generalship in our interviews with them. (Maria interview, Taryn interview.) Her matches with Melina were a treat, as was the Tag Team Tables Match last December.
With LayCool, a new side of Michelle emerged. A side that saw some personality come out as a snobby, mean girl with Layla. That near-two year reign of flawless terror is probably still fresh in all of our minds so I won’t go into too much detail. Layla and Michelle had great chemistry as a duo and Layla — whose comedic chops we’ve championed before — really brought out a humorous side to Michelle that we hadn’t seen before. One might argue that they were everywhere and were given too much to do, but I think it’s a testament to how well their gimmick worked that WWE threw more and more at them.
As alluded to earlier, McCool was often followed by controversy. In fact, she’s perhaps the most controversial Diva in quite some time. (Dare I say ever?) Scrutinized like no other Diva, everything Michelle did, it seems, was under the microscope of fans. From her ‘backstage pull’, to her lack of crowd response, her lack of personality etc. — the list goes on. People will believe what they want to believe. That is the way the world works. As for me? My personal approach to Michelle is that, probably more than any other Diva, I’ve made it a point to go on what I know rather than what I read or hear. This is what I’ve seen and what I know: Michelle’s hard work in the ring is her own. No one can ‘transfer’ wrestling ability into your brain backstage. I commend her for being a great worker. Do I feel like she was in the spotlight too much? At times, yes, (still bitter that Layla wasn’t in the title unification match!) but what’s done is done. Outside of the ring, I’ve always admired and respected Michelle. In the face of contentious fans, she has always held her head high and doesn’t let things phase her. That’s respectable to me. Sadly, women in any industry are often villainized much more than their male counterparts. The wrestling industry is no exception. Michelle, however, continues to tweet and interact with her fans, even if often bombarded by negativity, never letting her ‘haters’ get the better of her. In fact, she’s been known to snark-tweet right back at times too!
As a woman, I respect Michelle’s intelligence. Education is important and she’s got her degree! Even her decision to leave now when she could go for several more years is pretty intelligent on her part, while her body still feels good and isn’t too battered/broken. We sadly saw Edge forced to retire a few weeks ago due to the damage done to his body over the years. I wouldn’t want that for McCool or anyone else, for that matter. I also respect her poise and grace (see above paragraph). And on a wholly superficial level, I admire her fashion sense! Michelle has probably been my favorite Diva style icon of the past couple of years. In my opinion, she’s a good role model for women.
My personal dealings with Michelle have been minimal, but she was always friendly and courteous whenever approached. Michelle has always shown appreciation for what we do here at Diva Dirt, which we’re grateful for. Perhaps what I will most treasure (and she doesn’t know this… until now! Hi Michelle!) is that back in 2009 she offered her assistance to our charity drive, Diva Dirt Gives Back. In fact, she was the only WWE Diva that offered up her help by sending us some personally signed 8x10s. She could have easily ignored our call like some of the others — she didn’t owe us anything, after all — but she didn’t. That is something I haven’t forgotten. Michelle showed her charitable side and she’ll always have my respect for that.
As her run comes to a close, I’ve grown accustomed to that once jarring thick accent, I’ve watched as average-looking school teacher Michelle became more comfortable looking the part of a WWE Diva (and in turn, became a personal style icon), and I think it’s safe to say that as the ‘Cool’ in LayCool, Michelle had a very distinctive personality.
I can’t think of a better way to close this than with a quote kindly sent to us by Michelle’s friend, Lisa Marie Varon, better known to you and I as Tara:
I’ve been in regular contact with her since I heard that this could be her last match. I’m happy that she accomplished everything she wanted in wrestling and I am sure she will have happiness and success in her future endeavors.
Thank you, Michelle!
Follow Melanie on Twitter at @MelanieTeamDD.