WWE's announcement this week of an inaugural Fabulous Moolah Memorial Battle Royal set for WrestleMania 34 sent many viewers' faces through a rather complex gymnastics routine. Eyes rolled as much as eyebrows raised, the news arousing a paradoxical combination of both stupefaction and resignation. The match is a fantastic idea. That name, is not.
Of course WWE would dub it for Moolah. She fulfills all the requirements: she's sufficiently historic, sufficiently dead, and sufficiently not a porn star. Looking down the company's frankly embarrassing list of notable female performers, only Mae Young and Moolah have been adequately canonised to carry the appropriate cache. And we've already had the former for a tournament just last year.
So no-one in the know was especially surprised at Moolah being paid tribute. What alarms is that WWE to this day persist with their hideously malformed hagiography of the woman, first fashioned out of loyalty when she and Young returned as lovable oldies during the Attitude era.
Ostensibly, the match is a nothing but a female-specific equivalent of the Andre the Giant Battle Royal, a largely meaningless contest designed to get as much of the idle roster on the card as possible, with a snazzy photo op at the end. As with the women's namesake, André's legacy has been lionised - the upcoming HBO documentary will inevitably be heavy on saccharine-soaked sentimentalism whilst shy about Bad News Brown bus-baiting. Malleating the truth for a throwaway over-the-top tussle isn't a particular problem - that's just wrestling. What is a problem, is that the Moolah mêlée has been conceived with a particular remit, presented as the latest step in WWE's barrier-breaking conquest for gender equality. The match's very equivalence with the men's actually makes it more important, and given this context, Moolah's ersatz exaltation takes on a much darker hue.
It'd be a lie to claim Moolah did nothing for the betterment of women's wrestling, but more accurate to note she did much of it for the betterment of herself. One of the major ways in which she brought women parity with men was in her unvarnished venality. Spearheading an overturn of the ban on women's wrestling in the state of New York was as much for her own financial gain as it was her peers; as most of the territory's top women were part of Moolah's Girl Wrestling Enterprises agency, their representative could demand a 35% cut from all their matches. The more they performed, the more she raked in.
The Fabulous facts run even grimmer than that. Skimming the top off her workers' coin was the sort of common-or-garden exploitation the wrestling industry was built upon. Practically pimping them out into prostitution took it to a whole new level of murkiness. One of Moolah's charges, Sweet Georgia Brown, recounted to her children that her trainer's wrestling school was effectively a disguise for an undercover prostitution ring, the students regular sold - if not directly, at least implicitly - to the 'boys' for sexual services. Brown's testimony is not alone; Jeannine 'Mad Maxine' Mjoseth and Luna Vachon both corroborated the claims that Moolah was in essence a souteneur-slash-slaver. All went ignored.
Most people would not consider someone who procured women into sexual serfdom as an embodiment of female empowerment. Apparently, WWE do - and see no issue publicly lauding her with a brand new accolade devised in the spirit of equality. They might as well have named it for noted misogynist Greg Valentine, or revived the Miss. WrestleMania Battle Royal tag.
The issue WWE face is that they've spent so long revising Moolah's history that to suddenly scrub her now would only draw attention to their deceit. Better to plough on as though there's no scandal to see here, just as they did when Nancy Argetino's killer Jimmy Snuka was beatified in the wake of his death. But no amount of mawkish piano music overlaid on their video packages will change the facts readily available to anyone who cares to look.
The promotion are being as painfully naive as they are hypocritical. They vow Chyna - someone who, for all her faults, genuinely did blaze trails for women's wrestling - can never go into their Hall of Fame through fear of what uneducated kids might rake up on the internet. Sure, those results are more immediate, but they are nothing like as sordid as the scoop on Moolah - and as someone active over half a century ago, familiarity amongst the current generation will be in even shorter supply. The company are practically encouraging scrutiny with their tone-deaf appellation.
It'd be one thing if Moolah as an eponym for the maiden women's stramash made sense from a purely wrestling standpoint, but it doesn't even pass that test, making the choice to revise the ghastly truth all the more galling. Andre the Giant, not exactly a stellar worker, was nevertheless a Battle Royal behemoth, and a fundamental part of WrestleMania until his declining health intervened. His WrestleMania 2 success in the WWF vs. NFL Battle Royal is more than reason enough to forge a trophy bearing his likeness. Moolah boasts no such pedigree: the number of good matches she enjoyed can be counted on Edward Scissorhand's fingers, and her 28-year title reign was a sham; her iron-clad grip on the belt contributed to regressing women's wrestling in North America more than promoting it. Furthermore, her in-ring WrestleMania legacy is practically nil. It doesn't make sense on any level.
In being left with little option but to label the latest part of their 'revolution' after the wretched Moolah, WWE have yet again drawn attention to their own historical failings towards women, whilst forcing the current crop to glorify someone who would have made each of them suffer in her day. It makes for uncomfortable viewing.
It speaks of the company's gross insincerity that in the same week they honour Indira Gandhi as part of Women's History Month, they go ahead and christen a pioneering women's encounter after a horrendous sexploitation scumbag. WWE are constantly chasing the buzz of the social zeitgeist for their own commercial gain - with any luck, this latest attempt will leave them stung.