Thanks for stopping by on such a melancholy day. Please proceed as I remember the late, Mae Young.
Johnnie Mae Young was born in born in Sand Springs, Oklahoma on March 12, 1923 and she passed away at the age of 90 on January 14, 2014.
To say that Mae was a pioneer might be an understatement. She always defied the odds and the societal stereotyping that many women could not escape.
To think that a 15 year old high school student would be so bold as to travel to downtown Tulsa from the Sand Springs suburb that she lived to challenge the best women's wrestler in the world to a legit, wrestling match is incredible.
It was, at worst, 'great.'
That's the day that the "The Great" Mae Young found her true calling in life.
Mildred Burke was the 'Queen of the Ring' as author Jeff Leen's epic book described. She was the Hulk Hogan of her era....Millie was Ric Flair in her world as she traveled the globe defending her professional, women's championship.
Mildred's promoter, Billy Wolfe, fearing his money maker would either lose or be injured in a UFC like fight, long before anyone ever thought of selling PPV's featuring Ronda Rousey, agreed to pit Mae vs. his legitimately toughest female Gladys Gillem.
This 'shoot match' was held in an empty arena in Tulsa the afternoon before the evening event where Burke was to 'defend' her title against "Killem" Gillem.
Mae made quick, decisive work of Gladys impressing women's wrestling impresario Billy Wolfe into offering Mae a contract to which she accepted after leaving high school two years later.
In those days, travel was done by car with 2-4 women riding together for endless journeys of one night stands in a business that was physically and mentally demanding and without an offseason. The women paid their own road expenses and also had to pay the demanding Wolfe a commission for all that they earned.
Life as a touring, female wrestler with no home territory to establish one's roots was enormously challenging to all that attempted it. Through it all, Mae young survived and thrived.
Mae was Wolfe's 'policewoman' inasmuch as Mae policed the traveling troupe and would put any unprofessional or rowdy female wrestler in their place...by any means necessary.
It was widely known that Mae Young was the bona fide toughest and most dangerous female in the rough and tumble world of old school, pro wrestling.
Mae told me many stories of smoking cigars and playing poker with her male peers that only enhanced the legend that was 'The Great' Mae Young. Mae once discovered a male wrestler cheating at cards for which he paid an embarrassingly physical price.
Mae was also a world class softball player in high school playing on a national championship team in the 30's. Adding to that, Mae also played tackle football on the boy's team in Sand Springs.
What Mae saw, heard, experienced and lived in her amazing life would make an amazing film and/or book but every time that I suggested that she do a book Mae seemed somewhat reluctant perhaps preferring to keep her life as it was...a personal journey that was unduplicated in the annuals of sports and entertainment.
Johnnie Mae performed in the ring in nine different decades which in itself is astonishing.
The tough Okie was powerbombed through a table by Bubba Dudley on Monday Night Raw not once but twice at the age of 76. I vividly recall that she was beaming at the end of each night for experiencing a maneuver that many male wrestlers were reluctant to endure.
The genre will never know another performer like Mae Young. She was indeed one of the most off the radar greatest, female athletes that most of the world never knew. She lead her industry of women's professional wrestling against the "good, old boy" establishment ran with an iron fist by mostly alpha males as Mae paved the way for every woman who ever earned a living inside the squared circle.
So...the toughest woman in Heaven is once again young and vibrant and likely holding court and telling some of the same stories that she told me over the years. I hope that her new audience is enjoying them as much as I did.
Thank you Johnnie Mae for always being a mentor and a friend. You will always be remembered with respect and fondness and, at the end of the day, isn't that a wonderful accomplishment?
RIP my fellow Oklahoman and WWE Hall of Fame member. I hope that our paths cross again some day.