Wrestlers who deserved a #DivasRevolution: Ivory
“It always seems like they don’t quite know what to do with the women, from a wrestling point of view.”
If you’ve said this at any point in your pro wrestling-viewing life, be assured that you’re not alone. This was Ivory, speaking to Slam! Wrestling in April 2000 – by which point she had already had two title runs, been in the first ever women’s hardcore match, managed a successful male tag team, wrestled a septuagenarian and had a match in a giant gravy bowl.
In a lot of ways, Lisa Moretti’s WWF career summed up the Attitude Era. She debuted in 1999 as Mark Henry’s love interest, manager of the tag team he had formed with D-Lo Brown – Ivory, the natural partner for the “ebony” of her two black partners. A few months later, she won the WWF Women’s Championship for the first time: a four-month run which included hardcore matches against Tori and Luna Vachon. She lost the title to a pensioner for the space of a week, won it back, then lost it again by being stripped to her underwear in a swimming pool.
She had won by keeping her clothes on, so of course, she took them off anyway to celebrate.
The woman who took her title in this match, Miss Kitty, was married to everyone’s favourite creepy bastard commentator Jerry Lawler (who has some lovely things to say about her here, and who also happened to have an input in the storylines). She had won by keeping her clothes on, so of course, she took them off anyway to celebrate. The crowd seems to love it, and this probably tells you all you need to know about that period in pro-wrestling. But on the outside of the pool, serving no ostensible purpose, you’ll also spot Mae Young and the Fabulous Moolah as “special guest referees”. Moolah, at the age of 72, had been responsible for Ivory’s title loss a couple of months earlier. Watch the match if you must – it wasn’t the first time a talented wrestler had to strain to drag a match out of Moolah.
All of this took place in her first year.
And while it’s every bit as insane as it sounds, it distracts from the fact that Ivory was not only a trained wrestler, she was damn good at it.
It must have been a culture shock for Ivory to enter the bizarre world of WWF. She’d already had success under different names on the independent circuit, where she was used to wrestling a much more physical, technical style. She’s said in interviews that when she had time off between tours, she would go back to her former wrestling school to keep up the skills she felt she was losing on the road.
You should definitely check out the first women’s hardcore match between Ivory and Tori – short matches are an unfortunate theme in the WWF women’s division, but there’s a real sense of danger and violence to it. Still, weapons and gimmicks are often used to hide a wrestler’s limitations, a boon Ivory didn’t need (though some of her opponents definitely did). Working with other trained and talented women like Jacqueline, she would do her best to make the most of the brief matches she was handed. It took the end of the Attitude Era and an influx of new talent to give her the freedom she deserved.
Admittedly, “freedom” is a very loose term when you’re being disgustingly undermined by Jerry Lawler, but you can see there’s a clear development here. By this point Ivory had joined Right to Censor: a group which satirised the conservative angry parents of Bible Belt America by railing against the rampant immorality of WWE. Lita, the incredibly talented woman who happened to wear a very visible thong in the ring, was a natural enemy, and the feud they had during late 2000 and early 2001 did a lot to press the reset button on the women’s division.
Right to Censor generated huge amounts of heat. Lita was a beloved face. The feud was hot – listen to the crowd reactions. And although the match is still pitifully short, it’s got a lot of actual wrestling moves and tells a good story within its constraints: Lita is the resilient babyface who won’t stay down, trying to overcome an overbearing, aggressive enemy in Ivory, who also has help from Stevie Richards. Their next meeting, at Rebellion 2000 in the hallowed halls of Sheffield Arena, saw Ivory cut what might have been the promo of her life, simultaneously begging Lita to change her ways and moralising against The Full Monty. The opportunity to develop such a different character and prove herself in the ring was not wasted on her.
Ivory made the most of bad situations for virtually all of her WWF/E career. She got good drama out of people who basically couldn’t wrestle, and went along with every stupid storyline she was given – even though Attitude Era writer Vince Russo told her only to “Be a bitch”. Finally, a time was coming when she might really be able to show the world what she could do.
New blood such as Lita, Trish Stratus and Molly Holly gave her fresh opportunities to feud and fight with real wrestlers, but that period was far too short for her liking. By the time they were being allowed to have something that resembled an actual women’s wrestling division, Ivory had been moved out of the ring to become a trainer on Tough Enough, and was eventually handed presenting roles on WWE TV before her release in 2005.
Not before she’d had some chances to shine, though.
Trish Stratus vs Lita vs Ivory vs Jacqueline vs Jazz vs Molly Holly (Six-Pack Challenge for the vacant WWF Women’s Championship, Survivor Series 2001)
This is a line-up for the ages. As in, if this was an early Pro Evo, these would be your picks against Classic France and you wouldn’t even be worried that they were outnumbered. Six of the most talented women to set foot in a WWF ring, going all-out to get in as much wrestling as they can in eight minutes. Ivory had moved on from Right to Censor by this point and was back in her classic purple gear; in a sense, it’s as though her career had come full circle and she was finally performing in the way that she wanted to from the start. Well, maybe if they had another ten minutes.
Ivory’s all-too-brief WWF career was certainly eventful. She earned her place in the Hall of Fame, but she’s often been outspoken about the treatment of women in the wrestling business – that brief and sunny period of women’s wrestling faded, and the likes of her and Molly Holly were eventually replaced with untrained models. She still hates the word “Diva”. It’s fascinating to think of what she could tell the current generation of wrestlers if she wasn’t busy running an animal daycare centre these days.
The more you think about all she’s achieved, the harder it is to sum her up. It’s like getting all your shit into a three-minute match. She’d probably understand.