March 27, 2008
HOFer Mae Young vows to keep wrestling
By RYAN NATION - SLAM! Wrestling
At 85, Johnnie Mae Young will become the oldest living female to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame this Saturday. However, do not expect her to slow down anytime soon.
Recently, SLAM! Wrestling caught up with Young via telephone from her home in Columbia, South Carolina to discuss her career and upcoming induction. Young exuded a youthful vigor and enthusiasm when discussing the business she has been a part of for so many years.
"It's the greatest thing on earth to me," said a heartfelt Young, already a member of the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame (Class of 2004). "It's the highest spot in my life. I'm so happy about it. There's no better honor I could ever receive than from WWE because they are the greatest.
"I live to wrestle for the fans because they keep me going," continued Young. "I'm 85 years old, and I still plan on wrestling when I'm a hundred. I look forward to seeing all of the fans. When I look out from the ring and see the fans cheering, hollering, booing, whatever; it's always exciting to me."
Young was born on March 12, 1923 in Sand Springs, Oklahoma. She was an amateur wrestler for her high school wrestling team thanks in part to her sibling.
"My brother and I went to school together, and he was on the boys' amateur wrestling team," explained Young. "He taught me all of the amateur wrestling holds so I was a good wrestler. When we went to school, he would go down the street and say, 'I bet my sister could whip you.' So, I was wrestling all of my life."
Her introduction into the wide world of professional wrestling was somewhat brash, yet effective to say the least when she made an open challenge against the world women's champion.
"When they brought Mildred Burke to Tulsa to wrestle a girl by the name of Gladys 'Kill 'Em' Gillem, I caught a streetcar and went over and challenged Mildred Burke because she was the world's champion," recalled Young. "Billy Wolfe and Sam Avey, the promoter, told me, 'You can't wrestle the champion, there's no way.' The next day Billy Wolfe brought a girl by the name of Elvira Snodgrass and Gladys 'Kill 'Em' Gillem over to my high school.
"In the gym, I shot with Gladys and beat her within seconds," continued Young. "Then, I shot with Elvira, and I beat her in seconds. Billy Wolfe then said, 'Well, I might make a girl wrestler out of you.' He smartened me up and said you gotta go with the flow."
Being a female wrestler was not exactly an easy road to travel especially considering the lack of acceptance from her male counterparts.
"Back during the time I started wrestling, they didn't like to see girls in the ring," recalled Young. "Ed 'Strangler' Lewis told me, 'Women belong in the kitchen and not in the ring. I don't like women wrestling but if there ever was someone born to be a wrestler, you're it.' That's the greatest compliment I ever received because that was what I was born to do. That's the only thing I breathe and think about. I go to sleep thinking about wrestling, I love the business."
As mentioned in the March 6 edition of Jim Ross' Superstar of the Week blog, Young was wrestling in Memphis on December 7, 1941 when she heard Pearl Harbor had been bombed by Japanese aircraft, which led to the United States officially entering World War II.
Young would go on to hold the U.S. Women's Championship and grappled around the globe for a number of promoters while breaking down barriers for women's wrestling.
"I was one of the first girls in Canada," stated Young. "Mildred Burke and I were the first girls to work in Canada for Stu Hart. Mildred Burke and I opened up Canada for girl wrestling. That's been back around 1941 or 1942. I don't remember the exact date because it's been so many years ago, but we worked for Stu Hart, in Montreal, and all over Canada."
When it comes to promoters, however, Young is no stranger to working for the McMahon family. "I was the first girl to wrestle for Vince McMahon Sr. when he bought out Washington, D.C. and Joe Turner's Arena," said Young. "He and Toots Mondt promoted wrestling at the Turner Arena. I was the first girl over there to wrestle for him. At that time, Lillian Ellison started booking girls. Of course, I taught Lil to wrestle. Vince asked me, 'What do you think about about Lillian Ellison and the girls?' I said, 'Vince, I think it would be the greatest thing in the world for you to get her and her girls.' Of course, Lillian would go on to become known as The Fabulous Moolah."
Young also shared her thoughts with SLAM! Wrestling about how the business has changed over the decades. "When I first started, we wrestled two out of three falls matches and to small crowds. It's no comparison to what they do today. I enjoy it more and make more money than I ever did in my life. I thank Vince McMahon for that because he is the one that has brought wrestling to this level. I like showmanship. There's not as much wrestling as there used to be, but it's showmanship and they have to have ability to be in there. I'm just blessed to still be a part of this business because I was in it when it was really rough and tough."
"Lillian will be there with me although she will not be there in person, her spirit will be right beside me because her and I have always been friends, honey," explained Young. "I know that she would be happy for me to be there, and she will be right there cheering me on saying, 'Okay, do it, John!' Her and I made a pact two or three years ago that we would both be wrestling when we were a hundred years old. I am going to carry it out."
Just how serious is she about wrestling more matches? "We have a ring here, and I was just out in the ring a while ago doing a little exercise. I want to make sure I am in good shape in case I'm called to wrestle. Stephanie McMahon has promised me that when [her daughter] Aurora Rose is 17, she will challenge me for a match. I said that's the greatest thing I ever heard."
Ryan Nation enjoyed sitting under The Learning Tree during his discussion with Mae Young. E-mail your thoughts and comments to him at email@example.com.