Women Who Deserved a #DivasRevolution: Luna Vachon
“I grew up protecting the wrestling industry. I’m of the old-school mentality, not the entertainment one.”
Growing up in a wrestling family can be tough, but it can also prepare you for the peculiar oddness of the industry. In Luna Vachon’s case, this was certainly true – but the business evolved in ways that didn’t do her any favours.
The adopted daughter of Paul Vachon, Gertrude Wilkerson became part of wrestling aristocracy at an early age. Her uncle was famous wrestler and trainer Maurice ‘Mad Dog’ Vachon, and her aunt was the talented Vivian. None of her relatives wanted her to wrestle, but she wouldn’t take no for an answer after a childhood spent playing in the ring before shows. After a brief stint with Aunt Vivian, she was sent to South Carolina to train with The Fabulous Moolah – and having hated working for Moolah, she eventually settled in Florida Championship Wrestling in 1985.
You know how wrestling gimmicks can get really weird really quickly? Well, mild-mannered reporter Trudy Herd was driven mad by Kevin Sullivan, eventually joining his Army of Darkness stable having transformed into Luna Vachon. ‘Luna’ came from ‘Lunatic’, contributing to the long tradition of heel female wrestlers who were presented as being ‘crazy’. You might question how this gimmick stuck, even after her time in Sullivan’s stable. The only real explanation is that she looked badass and her muscular physique gave her an intimidation factor that few women in the US brought to the table at the time. She’d be at home in the company of Charlotte and Natalya, and you know you wish she could wrestle Nia Jax.
Luna wrestled around the world until WWF came calling. She made her debut at WrestleMania IX as valet for Shawn Michaels, which was probably the one good thing to come out of that pay-per-view. It catapulted her into a nasty feud with Michaels’ ex-valet Sherri Martel, which sadly didn’t last since Martel left WWF that summer.
She managed Bam Bam Bigelow, and caused strife between him and his tag partner when they both fell in love with her. And while Luna was never portrayed as undesirable, or even unattractive, the only people who demonstrated any sort of desire for her were villainous. More difficult for modern audiences are the storylines where finding Luna Vachon attractive was actually a source of comedy.
The mid-90s were not exactly great for women’s wrestling, or for WWF in general. At a time when the talent pool was more of a puddle and the women’s division was being resurrected, Luna was a desperately needed lynchpin of the division. But she was not seen as championship material – not compared to the more conventionally attractive, smaller yet athletic, Alundra Blayze.
A great athlete and a very talented wrestler, Blayze was the centrepiece of the women’s division as it took shape in 1993 and 1994. She and Vachon had a feud in early 1994 that helped to solidify Blayze’s title reign; as is par for the course in WWF/E women’s wrestling, they were good but too short to be great. Blayze won every one with the same finisher.
This fast-paced match proves that both women can go – Vachon was always more of a brawler, and her strengths are on full display here, as sub-10-minute matches go. But ultimately, Blayze went over and over and over, even to her own chagrin.
“I was the champion at the time and wanted her to win it,” said Blayze, according to Pat Laprade and Dan Murphy’s book Sisterhood of the Squared Circle. Blayze claimed management wouldn’t allow her to drop the belt, so one night in Luna’s hometown, she told her rival that she wouldn’t kick out of a pin, forcing WWF to accept a very public title change. The referee spotted the danger and refused to count.
“I was the champion at the time and wanted her to win it” - Blayze
Laprade and Murphy’s book states that Luna claimed she had been scheduled to win the title three times. On one occasion the booking changed when she was caught smoking by fans. For the other two, Sable conveniently forgot to bring the belt to the shows.
It’s hardly surprising that Luna was convinced Sable did this on purpose. After a couple of years away on the independent circuit, in which time WWF had killed off and then tried to revive its women’s division, Luna returned as manager for The Artist Formerly Known as Goldust while he was tagging Sable’s husband Marc Mero. It became clear the two women were on a collision course both in and out of kayfabe. The move towards the Attitude Era was underway and Sable, who was hired for her looks without anyone caring whether she trained to wrestle, was the new focal point of the division.
Luna claimed to be very proud of their matches, mostly because she credited herself with carrying Sable. The latter was never much of a worker, and had never really bothered with training because, as she apparently boasted to Vachon, she’d been promised a title run anyway. The little wrestling they managed was certainly all down to Luna, but that wasn’t what the matches were about.
If this match makes you uncomfortable, good. Luna nominally wins, but she isn’t even allowed to have her moment. Not only does the crowd love seeing Sable proudly standing in her underwear, but they want her to have the final satisfaction of humiliating her opponent too. It’s a match built around Sable flaunting her sexuality and degrading another woman in the process. The fact that backstage, Sable got most of the congratulations from their colleagues only hurt Luna more deeply.
The animosity between the two women spilled over into physical violence. Luna was disciplined for starting altercations with Sable on more than one occasion, which eventually led to her dismissal in early 2000.
It was Luna’s fate to be born at the wrong time, and to peak at a time when the Fed didn’t know what to do with her. Still, if she’d been born 10 years earlier she would have had to put over Moolah, as so many women did. A decade later, it would have been Trish Stratus. What about now, in this supposedly ‘evolutionary’ era? Maybe she’d be putting over Charlotte, but at least she’d get 15 minutes to do it.
Her unique look was both a blessing and a curse, creating a place for her in the company but keeping her off the top of the pile. Still, her influence can be felt in many of the performers who came after her, from four-time WWF Women’s Champion Lita to former Divas champ Natalya to Knockouts champ Rosemary and Raw’s own Nia Jax.
It’s heartbreaking to think she never saw a ‘Revolution’ that it seems she would have loved. She spent years struggling with addictions and a diagnosis of bipolar disorder; the latter makes her ‘lunatic’ persona much less comfortable, as it does with ‘crazy girl’ AJ Lee. In 2010, her mother found her dead of an overdose at the age of 48.
To her very last few matches, Luna loved being in the ring. I’d like to think there’s more of her than Sable in today’s squared circle.