The Fabulous Moolah didn’t just dominate women’s wrestling for parts of four decades, she was women’s wrestling. Moolah (Lillian Ellison), who died at 84 on Friday night, is unquestionably the most influential and famous female wrestler in history.
Younger fans may know her only as one-half of WWE’s spirited octogenarians, as she and Mae Young were used as comic relief on WWE programming over the past decade. For those who were around when “Hulkamania” was a new phenomenon in 1984, Moolah is remembered for taking part in WWE’s first big mainstream angle, as she wrestled Wendi Richter – managed by pop star Cyndi Lauper – on MTV.
I started following wrestling when I was in elementary school in the mid-1970s, and I have vivid memories of Moolah. In those days, there were monthly house shows at the Baltimore Civic Center, and women’s matches would be on the card a few times a year. In an era when women’s wrestling was not overrun with silicon-enhanced models, Moolah was a heat magnet and really knew how to rile up a crowd. Both men and women seemed to truly despise Moolah, as they shouted words at her that my young ears had no business hearing.
I was too young to know anything about the art of being a heel, but, looking back, I recognize just how talented Moolah was as a performer. Not only did she seem to be as tough as any man, but she had me believing that she probably was mean to small animals and children. That’s proof as to how good she was at playing her character, because to those who knew Lillian Ellison well, she couldn’t have been any sweeter or friendlier. She was known to always call people “Darlin’” in her Southern drawl.
Moolah first won the women’s title in 1956 at the Baltimore Coliseum, and she supposedly held it until dropping the belt to Richter in 1984. In reality, her 28-year title reign is one of wrestling’s urban legends – like Andre The Giant’s undefeated streak – as Moolah actually lost and regained the belt several times during that span.
Officially, Moolah regained the title on three occasions. The first time, in 1985, she wrestled under a mask as The Spider Lady and was a participant in a double-cross of Richter. WWE had been having problems with Richter and wanted the belt off her, so Moolah maneuvered her into a pinning position and got the three count, which was not the finish Richter had been expecting. Moolah’s final title reign lasted eight days in 1999 when she was 76.
In addition to her exploits as a wrestler, Moolah also had a major impact on women’s wrestling in other roles. She not only booked the women’s circuit, but she also trained numerous women for the ring, including Richter and the late Sherri Martel.
My condolences go out to Moolah’s friends and family.