It's fitting that Wendi Richter is going to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame on the same weekend that Bret Hart is appearing at WrestleMania XXVI.
Richter and Hart have something in common. They were both double-crossed in the ring on Vince McMahon's orders.
Twelve years before the infamous Montreal Screwjob, Richter went into a match at Madison Square Garden as the WWF women's champion and had the title stolen from her in a conspiracy that involved the referee and her opponent – The Spider Lady, aka The Fabulous Moolah.
For those not familiar with Richter, she was one of the key players in the WWF becoming a pop culture phenomenon in the mid-1980s. The feud between manager Capt. Lou Albano and Cyndi Lauper – one of the hottest pop stars at that time – led to a match on MTV in July 1984 between Richter (with Lauper in her corner) and Moolah (with Albano in her corner). Richter ended Moolah's 28-year reign as women's champion in a match that delivered MTV's highest rating ever at that point and kicked off the WWF's Rock and Wrestling Connection era.
Richter became a bona fide star in the WWF, but she said in a shoot interview a few years ago that she never felt she was fairly compensated. Richter said she frequently went to McMahon and made it known that she believed she deserved more money.
Things came to a head in November 1985 at Madison Square Garden. Richter was scheduled to defend her title against a masked wrestler known as The Spider Lady. When Richter got to the arena, she noticed that the woman who wrestled as Spider Lady was backstage, but so was The Fabulous Moolah. Richter said in the shoot interview that it was highly unusual for Moolah to be at a show that she wasn't booked on.
When Richter got in the ring to face Spider Lady, she could tell that it was Moolah under the mask, so she knew something was up.
"All I knew was, with [Moolah], I've got to look out for myself," Richter said in the interview. "Everything. She'll try to hurt you. She'll try to pin you. And I knew she couldn't pin me. She couldn't. But what I didn't count on was the referee getting paid off."
Several minutes into the match, Spider Lady got Richter in a small package. Richter got her shoulder up after a count of one, but the referee quickly slapped the mat two more times, and the bell rang. At that point, it was mass confusion.
Richter went after Spider Lady and ripped off the mask, revealing Moolah. Richter then kept trying to continue the match. She slammed Moolah and went for a cover, but the referee wouldn't count. Howard Finkel then announced Moolah as the new champion. Richter pried the belt away from the referee and refused to give it up. Moolah then tried to snatch it from Richter, but she was unable to do so and left the ring without it.
"I was so angry that I just walked right out of the building right in my wrestling suit, wrestling boots," Richter said. "I grabbed my bag, went out and hailed a cab – and it was cold; it was in November – and went to the airport in my wrestling outfit and got my ticket. And then I went in the bathroom and put my clothes on at the airport."
Richter neither wrestled in WWE nor spoke to Moolah – who trained her – ever again.
At the time, I think the majority of fans were confused with the way the title change went down. Obviously there was no Internet, and the insider newsletters were nowhere near as prevalent as they are today. I was 18 and had been a fan for over a decade, but I didn't know anything about double-crosses. I thought everything was scripted and all the wrestlers were friends, although I do remember thinking how awkward the finish to that match and the post-match action looked. Unlike the Montreal Screwjob, the Richter-Spider Lady match was quickly forgotten and never referenced again on WWE television.
I'll be very interested to hear Richter's induction speech, not that I really expect her to say anything controversial. WWE announced that Roddy Piper will induct her, but I think Hart would have been a better choice.
Here is video of the Richter-Spider Lady match: