Joanie Laurer lists herself as 5’10”. She looks more like 6’4″ in the flesh. Built like a brick lighthouse, former World Wrestling Federation (WWF) star “Chyna” cuts an imposing figure as she greets me at the door to her hotel room.
With her reputation for throwing grown men twice my size around a ring and the room being on the 29th floor of a Tokyo hotel, I follow through with my pre-planned interview strategy of taking a seat as far way from the window as possible. Laurer seemed friendly enough on the telephone but I ain’t taking any chances.
Dressed in high-heels, stockings, denim shorts and a tight-fitting T-shirt (any T-shirt would be tight-fighting around that upper body), Laurer gets straight down to business just as she is known to in the ring. Like any true fighter, she anticipates my moves, answering my questions before I can ask them.
“I’m in Japan to fight for legendary Japanese wrestler Antonio Inoki’s New Japan Pro Wrestling group,” explains Laurer. “Japanese wrestling, as opposed to the WWF version in America, is far more traditional and physical. In America, the contest is designed to be a show whereas in Japan we just go out and fight.”
Struggling to comprehend how any of the smaller-framed female Japanese fighters could possibly pose a threat to Laurer, I inquire as to who her “victims” will be.
With a mix of pride and trepidation, she informs me that she will be fighting Japanese champion Masa Chono at the Tokyo Dome on Oct. 14 in front of an expected capacity crowd of 70,000 screaming fans. This should not be an intimidating prospect for a seasoned WWF (now known as WWE) fighter, one would be justified in pointing out. The difference here, however, is that the fighting will not be choreographed as it is in the WWE and that she will be fighting in the physical Japanese style in which she is not yet accustomed, against the Japanese male champion no less.
In the male-dominated society that is Japan, this is no minor undertaking.
“The Japanese tend to idolize their sporting heroes in a way that America idolizes its movie stars. The concept of a western female beating up on one of their male idols in the ring may be difficult for many to digest,” says Laurer.
I can’t help thinking that taking on a woman of the proportions of Laurer in the close physical confines of combat could at best prove decidedly awkward for the traditionally reserved Japanese male.
“Sure, the guys in training at first didn’t quite know where to put their hands, but after dealing them a few solid blows of my own they soon lost their inhibitions. I think I earned their respect and a lot of the guys had to swallow their pride pills.”
During the course of the interview, a unique contrast becomes apparent: that of a superwoman who once went four rounds in the ring with ex-con Joey Buttafuoco in a celebrity boxing match in front of a television audience of 20 million and that of someone who is just as eager to show off her feminity, doing so emphatically by posing nude for Playboy in an issue that was one of the magazine’s highest selling of all time.
Further evidence of this contrast is provided when Laurer proceeds to show me a Hello Kitty photo album, the contents of which contain a selection of hardcore wrestling shots in which she is depicted wearing a variety of elaborate costumes meticulously designed herself.
Despite her unbridled physical prowess, Laurer is friendly and personable. She also possesses a steely determination to be successful and is not afraid of new challenges.
“In life, you have to take chances,” she explains. “You never know where life will take you and you have to be ready for what comes your way.”
Clearly this philosophy has stood her in good stead in the ring.
Not only does Laurer have the destruction of Chono as her primary short-term target — a goal for which she has been training five hours a day — she also aims to encourage the exchange of Japanese fighters with the United States in order to promote the sport in Japan and to provide competition for former employer Vince McMahon’s WWE, which monopolizes the industry in her home country.
Laurer is under no illusions as to the magnitude of the task that lies ahead but has her sights firmly set on her immediate challenge.
“Fighting Chono at the Tokyo Dome will be the biggest challenge of my career,” Laurer explains, momentarily shifting gears from her cheerful disposition into her fighting mode.
“So, what do you bench?” I offer as a parting shot while Laurer gets ready to sneak out for an ice cream.
“About 315 pounds.”
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