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Wendi Richter revolutionized women’s wrestling in the 1980’s – Unsung Hero

To celebrate Women’s History Month Diva Dirt will be highlighting some of wrestling’s greatest unsung heroes. These individuals for some reason or another don’t get the recognition, respect, and status they deserve. These retrospectives will occur throughout the month of March.

My first unsung hero is Wendi Richter.

Wendi Richter is arguably the most prolific of our unsung heroes list. In terms of popularity, Richter was a huge part of WWE’s “Rock ‘N’ Wrestling Connection” boom period during the mid-1980s. This was highly due to her high-profile association with Cyndi Lauper.

Yet despite her popularity and trailblazing achievements, she is unfairly and undeservedly left out of the conversation when it comes to recognition and respect. One only has to look at WWE’s list of champions they posted in honour of Women’s History Month, with Richter conspicuous in her absence.

Richter’s career is an awesome, amazing, yet heartbreaking story. She went from unprecedented popularity and took WWF to heights unknown to virtual obscurity in just a few years. Much of her groundbreaking history goes and remains unnoticed and for that, she truly is an unsung hero.

Credit: WWE

Like the majority of women of her era, Richter was trained at The Fabulous Moolah‘s Lillian Ellison School of Professional Wrestling. It was the association with Moolah that would define her career both positively and negatively.

After training with the likes of Judy Martin, Leilani Kai, and Joyce Grable she would make her wrestling debut in 1979 for NWA. Richter would also wrestle for Mid-South, Stampede, and AWA. It was in these promotions that Richter would begin to gain recognition and success. Most notably she was a two-time NWA Women’s World Tag Team Champions with Grable knwon as the Texas Cowgirls.

Due to her impressive wrestling skills, look, and character, Richter was a stand-out and fast-rising star on the wrestling scene. It wasn’t long before she made her WWF debut in late 1983. After facing long-time rivals, Velvet McIntyre and Princess Victoria in various tag team matches, Richter, referred to as “150 pounds of twisted steel and sex appeal” would get her big break in 1984. She was hand-picked by Cyndi Lauper to represent her in her feud with Captian Lou Albano. Albano chose WWF Women’s Champion, The Fabulous Moolah as his representation.

The high-profile feud resulted in the main event match at the Brawl to End it All on July 23, 1984. The match aired live from Madison Square Garden on MTV and drew the largest television ratings for the channel at the time. Richter would go on to defeat The Fabulous Moolah and be crowned as the WWF Women’s Champion. This ended Moolah’s 28-year reign as women’s champion in the process.

The success of the match would directly result in the “Rock N’ Wrestling Connection” era. This would lead to Richter being featured in the music video for Lauper’s “She Bop” song. She was also an animated character on the CBS Saturday morning cartoon series, Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling.

Richter and The Fabulous Moolah would continue to feud over the WWF women’s championship with Richter retaining throughout 1984. This was halted when Moolah’s protege, Leilani Kai defeat Richter for the title in January, 1985. The title would return around Richter’s waist just a month later when she defeated Kai at the inaugural WrestleMania.

Richter was riding a wave of unprecedented success and popularity. She was chosen as the one to end Moolah’s 28-year title reign, directly involved in the rise Rock N’ Wrestling Connection and the face of WWF women’s division. However, despite all of these amazing achievements, it was something else that would, unfortunately, define her career.

The story goes that Richter was unhappy with the payments she received and demanded she be justifiably compensated for her part in WWF’s boom period. It is said that she and Vince McMahon’s relationship had soured to the point where Richter refused to sign a contract extension, a claim that Richter vehemently denies.

Matters came to a head in an incident known as the “original screwjob” when, McMahon, Moolah, and the referee screwed Richter out of the title during a scheduled match with “The Spider Lady”. Richter clearly kicked out of a small package but the referee counted the pinfall to unceremoniously strip Richter of her title without her knowledge.

It is rumored that Richter was so distraught by their actions left the arena still in her ring gear, took a flight home, and never spoke to either McMahon or Moolah ever again. Richter would leave the WWF never to return to mainstream wrestling again and unfortunately for many years be a forgotten star of wrestling.

Wendi Richter was a key figure in the rise of WWF’s explosion in popularity during the 1980s. She drew mass media attention on par with Hulk Hogan and Roddy Piper, due to her friendship and association with Cyndi Lauper.

In 2009, WWE offered Richter a spot in the 2010 WWE Hall of Fame and was inducted by Roddy Piper. The exposure seemed to lift some of the darkness off her amazing career and achievements. This seemed to finally allow her to get some of the praise, recognition and above all respect that she so greatly deserves.

What are your thoughts on Wendi Richter’s career and do you think she ever truly got the right recognition for her services to wrestling? Let us know below and stay tuned to Diva Dirt for more unsung heroes as we celebrate Women’s History Month.

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