Johnnie Mae Young (March 12, 1923 – January 14, 2014) was an American professional wrestler and an influential pioneer in women's wrestling, helping to increase its popularity during World War II and training many generations of wrestlers. She wrestled throughout the United States and Canada, and won multiple titles in the National Wrestling Alliance.
Beginning in 1999, Young had a high-profile "second career" in the World Wrestling Federation (WWF, later WWE). Young was part of a recurring comedic duo with best friend The Fabulous Moolah in appearances on WWE televised events. She is a member of the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and the WWE Hall of Fame.
Professional wrestling career
Early career (1939–1999)
Johnnie Mae Young was born in Sand Springs, Oklahoma in 1923. She was an amateur wrestler on her high school's boys' wrestling team at the age of fifteen. Her brothers Fred, Eugen, Lawarence, and Everett taught her to wrestle and helped her join the team. She was the youngest of eight children (one died at birth). Her mother Lilly Mae Young was a single mother (her partner left to find work and never returned) living during the Great Depression. Young's oldest sister Inie was severely disabled by whooping cough at a very young age. Young also played softball with Tulsa's national championship team. While still in high school, Young went to a professional wrestling show and challenged then-champion Mildred Burke when she visited Tulsa to wrestle Gladys Gillem. Because the promoters told her she could not wrestle the champion, she wrestled Gillem in a shoot fight, beating her within seconds. After the fight, promoter Billy Wolfe wanted Young to become a professional wrestler. She left home two years later to wrestle professionally.
There have been conflicting reports as to the year in which Young began her career. Young claimed her first match was August 20, 1939, while WWE said she "started her professional career" this year. However, Young also once said her first match was March 22, 1940. According to Dave Meltzer of The Wrestling Observer, historians have been unable to find any records that she began in 1939 and that her first match was most likely in 1941. Meltzer wrote, "In reality, Young is believed to have competed in seven decades, matching the record held by Lou Thesz. [...] You really couldn’t call [her] 2010 match anything resembling a pro wrestling match, even giving as much leeway as possible. While she always claimed to have started in 1939, at 16, historians researching have been unable to find any records of her wrestling prior to 1941, when she turned 18 and went on tour with Billy Wolfe’s troupe."
In 1941, Young, along with Mildred Burke, opened up Canada for female wrestling. In Canada, they worked for Stu Hart. She was wrestling in Memphis, Tennessee on December 7, 1941, the day that Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese, which led to the United States entering World War II. During the war, Young helped women take advantage of the fact that the men were fighting overseas by expanding their role in the sport.
She fought under the nicknames of "The Queen" and "The Great Mae Young", but she used her real name for most of her matches. During the 1950s, she wrestled for Mildred Burke's World Women's Wrestling Association (WWWA). In 1954, Young and Burke were some of the first females to tour Japan after the war. In 1951, she became the National Wrestling Alliance's (NWA) first Florida Women's Champion. Five years later in September 1956, she participated in the battle royal to determine the new NWA World Women's Champion after June Byers was stripped of the title, but the championship was won by Young's friend The Fabulous Moolah. In 1968, she became the NWA's first United States Women's Champion.
As an instructor, her students included Ric "The Equalizer" Drasin and The Fabulous Moolah.
World Wrestling Federation/Entertainment
Early storylines (1999–2000)
Young made her World Wrestling Federation (WWF) debut on the September 9, 1999 episode of SmackDown!, seated at ringside with The Fabulous Moolah. Jeff Jarrett invited Moolah into the ring and smashed a guitar over her head. When Young tried to help Moolah out, Jarrett put Young into the figure four leglock. After this appearance, Young and Moolah began appearing regularly on WWF televised shows. On the September 27 edition of Monday Night Raw Young and Moolah defeated then WWF Women's Champion Ivory in a Handicapped Evening Gown match, where Young got stripped to her bra and underpants. Young managed Moolah during Moolah's WWF Women's Title victory over Ivory at the No Mercy pay-per-view in October 1999. Young and Moolah both competed at Survivor Series with Debra and Tori against Ivory, Jacqueline, Terri Runnels, and Luna.
At the age of seventy-six, she was named the WWF's "Miss Royal Rumble 2000" at the Royal Rumble by winning a bikini contest. Young appeared to remove her top during this pay-per-view show, which aired from Madison Square Garden. Young, however, was wearing a prosthesis and was not actually exposing herself. Also in 2000, Young began a storyline where she dated WWF superstar Mark Henry, including an announcement that Young was pregnant. During this storyline, The Dudley Boyz, specifically Bubba Ray Dudley, performed a powerbomb on Young through a table twice in consecutive episodes of Raw - the first being in the ring and the second, in which Young was originally bound to a wheelchair, being off the entryway stage as what has been described as the most famous or notorious powerbomb in WWE history. Young was 77 years of age at the time, but expressed enthusiasm for the stunt. Her "child" was eventually delivered and found to be nothing more than a bloody rubber hand.
Sporadic appearances (2002–2013)
On the July 29, 2002 edition of Raw, Young returned with longtime friend The Fabulous Moolah to promote Moolah's new book: "The Fabulous Moolah: First Goddess of the Squared Circle" until being interrupted by general manager Eric Bischoff and 3-Minute Warning. 3-Minute Warning then destroyed Young by performing a scoop slam and top rope splash. In 2003, Young made an appearance at Bad Blood, where she stripped in the ring and performed a bronco buster on Eric Bischoff.
In 2004, Young and The Fabulous Moolah were invited to tour, as guests of honor, with the WWE's modern stars as part of that organization's fortieth anniversary. Also in 2004, she was inducted into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame. Young, along with several other lady wrestlers of her era, starred in a 2005 documentary about their 1950s heyday. Moolah and Young appeared on Late Night with Conan O'Brien to promote the film.
Young re-appeared in 2006 at New Year's Revolution during the Bra and Panties Gauntlet match, where she entered the ring and did a strip-tease, whilst Moolah watched. She was attacked by Victoria as she left the ring, which led to Moolah and Mae removing Victoria's top, which helped Ashley Massaro. Mae made an appearance at WrestleMania 22 in April 2006 in a backstage segment with Snitsky, in which he "fondled" her feet.
On March 31, 2007, Young, along with The Fabulous Moolah, attended the WWE Hall of Fame 2007 Ceremonies on the eve of WrestleMania 23. At WrestleMania 23, she appeared dancing backstage with several other WWE superstars of the past and present. Mae and Moolah appeared at the 2007 WWE Draft on June 11. Young also made a special appearance on WWE SmackDown! on August 24 winning a bikini competition. Her last WWE appearance with Moolah before her death was at SummerSlam in August 2007, in a backstage segment with Vince McMahon and Raw General Manager William Regal, two months prior to Moolah's death.
Young was on the 800th episode of Raw where she competed with the current divas in a 16-Diva tag match. Young was later pinned in the match by Beth Phoenix, costing her team the win. In 2008, she made an appearance at WWE Armageddon in the "Santa's little helper" diva match, kissing The Great Khali after the match's conclusion. On April 5, 2009, Young was the special guest time keeper for the 25 Diva Battle Royal at WrestleMania XXV.
On the November 15, 2010 "Old School" edition of Raw, Young wrestled and won a Falls Count Anywhere handicap match against LayCool, thus becoming the first person ever to wrestle over the age of 80 and also the first person to wrestle in nine different decades.
Young appeared at WrestleMania XXVII, in a backstage segment with Dwayne Johnson and Eve Torres. During the May 2, 2011 edition of Raw Young was a "birthday gift" from Vickie Guerrero and Dolph Ziggler to The Rock. After Ziggler and Guerrero laughed at The Rock, The Rock responded by kissing Young. On April 10, 2012, Young made an appearance on SmackDown: Blast from the Past, kissing The Great Khali after kicking him in the shin to make him bend over.
Young also made a backstage cameo at Raw 1000 on July 23, 2012 when AJ Lee was getting ready for her wedding with Daniel Bryan. During the appearance, she was escorted by a man dressed in a giant hand costume; the man claimed to be Young's "son" who was born at the conclusion of the 2000 Mark Henry storyline.
On September 24, 2012 on Raw, Young took part in one of Kane and Daniel Bryan's "Anger Management" skits. On the December 31, 2012 edition of Raw, Mae Young was warming up for her match with then-Divas Champion Eve Torres and began experiencing stomach cramps. It was determined that she was once again pregnant. Later in the broadcast, Young gave birth to "Baby New Year," played by Hornswoggle.
Young's last on-screen appearance came about on the March 4, 2013 episode of "Old School" Raw, Young featured in a segment where various WWE wrestlers celebrated her 90th birthday. Later backstage, WWE Chairman Vince McMahon and WWE executive Triple H presented Young with a personally monogrammed Divas Championship belt.
In 1991, Young quit the wrestling business and moved to California to become a Christian evangelist and take care of her mother, who was sick. She later renounced her evangelist lifestyle. In 1991, she moved in with The Fabulous Moolah and Katie Glass in a house in Columbia, South Carolina, an arrangement which lasted until Moolah's death in November 2007.
On December 31, 2013, it was reported that Young had been hospitalized. The Charleston Post & Courier erroneously reported that she had died on January 9, 2014. Young's death was announced by the WWE on the morning of January 14 after having died at her home in Columbia, South Carolina. On January 16, Total Nonstop Action Wrestling dedicated their live Genesis episode of Impact Wrestling to the memory of Young. On January 17, SmackDown was also dedicated to her memory. Two weeks later, Shine 16 dedicated to her 10 bell salutes. Young's remains were interred at Greenlawn Memorial Park in Columbia, South Carolina, possibly in the family graveplot shared with her longtime friend Lillian "The Fabulous Moolah" Ellison.
- Finishing moves
- Signature moves
- Wrestlers managed
- "The First Diva"
- "The Great Mae Young"
- "The Matriarch of the Mat"
- "The Original Diva"
- Entrance themes
Championships and accomplishments
- Championship Wrestling from Florida
- National Wrestling Alliance
- Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame
- World Wrestling Entertainment