'Moolah's Girls' made mark on wrestling world
By MIKE MOONEYHAM
Leilani Kai and Susan Green share a unique distinction.
They're both “Moolah's Girls.”
It's a name given to the hundreds of lady grapplers who were trained by the late WWE Hall of Famer, The Fabulous Moolah, at her legendary wrestling school in Columbia.
These two, however, share another distinction.
They're both former women's world champions, and they'll be appearing as special guests at the Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Legends Fanfest in Charlotte on Aug. 1-4.
Kai, who defeated Wendi Richter for the WWE women's crown in 1985, also will serve as a trainer at the Future Wrestling Legends Training Camp, a four-day talent search for two dozen of the top young male and female wrestling hopefuls.
Kai is excited about the opportunity to work with new talent.
“I always look forward to Fanfest,” she says. “And I'm really looking forward to working with those attending the camp.”
Kai, who most recently served as a trainer for the WOW (Women of Wrestling) promotion in California, says she loves the training aspect of the business.
“That's what I love to do. I want to teach the psychology, the bumps, the moves, just anything I can possibly do. I live and dream it all the time.”
Kai, a top performer on the women's circuit for a number of years, got the name “Leilani Kai” from Moolah, but says she thinks either Prof. Toru Tanaka or Mr. Fuji came up with the idea since she resembled a Hawaiian beauty.
“They gave her a few names, and I think Moolah just put that one together,” says Kai, 56, whose real name is Patty Seymour.
“I studied a little bit about the islands, and I eventually did go over there. I went to Japan 46 times, so I stayed in Hawaii a lot. I even had an apartment there at one time. I liked the culture and hung around with a lot of Samoans.”
Kai appeared at the inaugural Wrestlemania in 1985 when she dropped her WWF women's title to Richter.
But her victory over Richter several months earlier for the belt was one of her most memorable. Kai won the title at The War to Settle the Score, with Moolah in her corner and singer Cyndi Lauper in Richter's corner. It was during WWF's “Rock 'N Wrestling Connection,” an era that combined both music and pro wrestling.
Kai says she still doesn't understand how she was chosen for Wrestlemania.
“It was exciting. But I never expected to be picked for that,” she says. “I know (WWE owner Vince McMahon) liked Wendi a lot, because she was tall and had that big, bright smile. But I guess they needed somebody at Wrestlemania to try and get her over.”
Kai says at the time she had no idea how big the event was.
“I really didn't know anything about Wrestlemania when I first got there. I just knew I was coming in for a little angle. I had no idea what I was stepping into. It was all new to me.”
Kai recalls flying from Japan, where she had been wrestling, to New York's LaGuardia Airport.
“They had me go from a helicopter to the arena because I had gotten in so late. When I got there, it was so huge, and I could see it was different. I had been at Madison Square Garden several times, but this was a little different. Even afterwards, I didn't realize just how big it was.”
The first Wrestlemania, however, would not be Kai's last appearance on the big stage.
She was part of several subsequent pay-per-views, and was brought in for Wrestlemania X in 1995.
The business, she notes, had changed over that 10-year period.
“It was a little bit different. Plus I hadn't worked in a while. I was working a regular job, and I had been doing a little bit of training.”
At first Kai hesitated when WWE asked her to appear at Wrestlemania X. They knew she was well versed at time production and getting someone over, and that she could serve as a trusted veteran who could make her opponent look good.
“They wanted me to get Alundra Blayze (aka Debbie “Madusa” Miceli) over. I had worked with her before. But I didn't think mentally I was ready for that. I hadn't done it in so long. Their TVs and Wrestlemania are very intense.”
McMahon sent Kai and Blayze with some of the WWE crew on a European tour, and the two women were able to iron out the kinks.
The two worked their Wrestlemania X bout on March 20, 1994, with Kai doing the honors.
The Glamour Girls
Kai also was half of one of the top teams in women's wrestling during the mid-'80s — The Glamour Girls — with partner and fellow Moolah trainee Judy Martin.
The two, who had worked together at Moolah's school a decade earlier, would go on to hold the WWF women's tag-team titles on two occasions as well as the LPWA (Ladies Professional Wrestling Association) tag-team championship. They were managed by “Mouth of the South” Jimmy Hart.
Kai recalls pitching the idea to Hart.
“I told Jimmy that we had this idea to change our image a little bit. We wanted to be a little more colorful as a tag team. He came up with the idea of us dyeing our hair blonde. I thought, 'Blonde hair on a Hawaiian?' But it worked out.”
Hart also came up with the moniker of “The Glamour Girls,” reasoning that the flashy name might give the team a nice heel touch.
“A couple of girls who thought they were divas,” Kai says of the gimmick. “We weren't divas, but it worked out like that. I loved the image and had fun with it.”
Kai and Martin, who combined old school with the newer, faster pace of wrestling, wanted to bring in some talented Japanese women wrestlers to work with. She says Moolah, who still controlled the girls' bookings, initially didn't like the idea.
“We wanted to do something different. But she didn't understand that kind of wrestling. And I think she wanted to manage us. But I just knew it wouldn't work like that.”
Kai says she and Martin approached WWF creative genius Pat Patterson at a TV taping and told him of their idea.
“That sounds really good. That's different,” he told the women.
Patterson returned about 20 minutes later, says Kai, and told them their idea had been approved.
“I almost fell out. I couldn't believe it,” she says. “Jimmy was busy at the time with The Hart Foundation (Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart), but he agreed to manage us.”
The result was a series of some of the greatest women's bouts in WWE history.
Japanese imports The Jumping Bomb Angels (Noriyo Tateno and Itsuki Yamazaki) and The Glamour Girls staged a two-out-of-three falls match at the first Royal Rumble event on Jan. 24, 1988, with the Bomb Angels winning the belts. Kai and Martin would recapture the title six months later.
Kai can still remember their first match.
“We worked so well together. We had our hair done, our makeup done at a TV taping. Vince (McMahon) was going, 'Wow!' It was quite a change, and he liked it.”
The interviews, she says, were carried by Hart, one of the best talkers in the business.
“I didn't have good promo skills at the time. We made it short, and Jimmy carried most of it. We had our first match, and it was really good. It was probably the best match we ever had.”
With their styles and languages being so different, Kai says she had to lead her Japanese opponents through the match.
“We had to do everything fast-paced, just to calm them down, because they didn't understand the storyline part of it. But it all worked out.”
It wasn't exactly Moolah's style, says Kai.
“She didn't really like it when we did the Survivors Series. Judy and I had to put our heads together to get everything put in the way they wanted it, along with all the high spots. They wanted the Bomb Angels over, so that was good since I knew they (WWF) liked them. Moolah just couldn't understand that kind of wrestling.”
Kai says she and Martin, who began teaming in the late '70s in North Carolina, had great chemistry.
“It just clicked with Judy. She was awesome,” says Kai.
“Judy was the business part of the team. She would take care of the motels, and she had a good business mind. I did more of the planning in the ring. She could do anything I said. She was like the leader of our group.”
Kai recalls the days and nights on the road while working in the WWF.
“The Bomb Angels didn't really speak any English, so we traveled together sometimes. They would also travel with the British Bulldogs a lot.
“For a while, we traveled with Hulk Hogan in Vince's plane. It was easier for Hulk because he had so many appearances to make, and he had to be at the arenas early. So Vince decided to have us fly with Hulk. We didn't do drugs or anything like that, so we weren't any problem. It was just a matter of saving plane tickets. Hulk was pretty easy to get along with.”
Learning the ropes
Being one of “Moolah's Girls” encompassed a large group of women wrestlers. Most lady grapplers of note from the '60s through the '80s came out of Moolah's school.
“There were quite a few,” says Kai, who rattles off such names as Vicki Williams, Joyce Grable, Toni Rose and Donna Christanello.
As for being one of “Moolah's Girls,” Kai says the label doesn't bother her.
“I don't mind it at all. Moolah's school had a lot of respect. Everybody knew that if you got Moolah's girls, they were going to be there. You wouldn't have any problems.”
Moolah, whose real name was Lillian Ellison, rose to stardom in the unique world of professional women's wrestling during the 1950s. Like Gorgeous George, Moolah was a pioneer who brought flamboyance and color to the sport and made it a hot television commodity.
For a number of years, Moolah was regarded as the most influential female figure in the industry, having maintained an iron-clad control over women's wrestling in this country for decades.
She was a strong woman in a man's business, and always maintained that she was protecting her girls and putting them in a position to succeed in a male-oriented arena.
But the empress of women's wrestling could be domineering and intimidating, says Kai, and the two didn't always get along well together.
“When you have a bunch of girls together, sometimes things don't work out. She was very controlling, and that was a problem. But I did learn a lot at her school, and she was a great champion and she did work hard. I have to respect her for all the work she did. But she did make me mad a lot.”
Kai joined Moolah's stable in 1975.
“Susan Green and Ann Casey picked me up in Augusta,” she recalls. “When I got to Moolah's house, I met Donna (Christanello), Toni (Rose) and Dottie Downs. I trained a lot with Susan (Green) and Vicki Williams. Judy came along later and worked out with us. We all trained and learned from each other.
“I worked with Vickie Williams a lot. She was pretty tough. She was a perfectionist, so I got that part from her. If it didn't go right, she had a hot temper. But I was a little hot-headed, too.”
The Tampa native trained for only four weeks before Moolah sent her and another trainee on a two-week trip to Alaska. The younger girls would usually be sent out with more experienced wrestlers, says Kai.
“Just get in the ring and make like you're training,” Kai says Moolah told them. “And that's what we did. But we did pretty well.”
Kai later went on the road to work for promoter Nick Gulas in Tennessee. “The houses weren't really good, but I got some good experience,” she says.
Tennessee was followed by stops in New York, California and Oklahoma.
Kai worked for a number of different promoters over the years and, as a general rule, she got along with most of them.
“I liked working for Bill Watts. He was strict,” says Kai. “Bill was old school. He'd tell you that if you went to any bars, you better be able to take care of yourself, or else you would get fired. I also liked working for Roy Shire (San Francisco) and Verne Gagne (Minneapolis). Verne was one of the best paying promoters ever. He took care of everybody. Roy Shire was the type that if your match was good, you were going to get paid top money. That's how he was. I also loved working for Florida Championship Wrestling.”
One of her greatest experiences, she says, was working in Japan where women's wrestling was extremely popular.
“I learned a lot in Japan. It was a great place to wrestle.”
The old days
Kai learned the ropes the hard way.
Even though the schedule and the ring work were more grueling back then, it's the part of the business she misses the most.
“I sure miss the territories. I miss them so bad. It was so much fun, going from territory to territory, working for the Crocketts and other promotions. I loved it. I wish it could be that way again. That's how I got my experience.”
She says she feels very fortunate that she never suffered any serious ring injuries.
“Physically, I've never been hurt. I really don't feel any pain or anything like that. I've always been careful in the ring.”
Kai held a number of titles, including the WWF women's title, the WWE women's tag-team title, the NWA women's world title, the Mid-Atlantic women's title, the All Pacific title and the U.S. women's title. She was inducted into the NWA Hall of Fame in 2006.
She says she's honored to be a special guest at this summer's Fanfest along with Green.
“Susan's a very good friend. I like her a lot. She has always helped me out.”
The six-foot-tall Green, nicknamed “Tex” (her real middle name), was one of the most respected lady wrestlers in the sport during the '70s and '80s. She broke into the business at the age of 15 with the help of the late promoter Joe Blanchard.
Her many titles and accolades include NWA women's world champion, NWA world tag-team champion, four-time Texas women's champ and two-time PGWA (Professional Girl Wrestling Association) champion. She was inducted into the NWA Hall of Fame in 2011.
Green also holds the distinction of making her teacher, Moolah, tap out Jan. 8, 1977, during their title match at the Dallas Sportatorium.
Green now serves as a trainer in Columbia where she instructs male and female students.
“Susan was old school,” says Kai. “She stuck by the girls no matter what. If we had to sleep out in the car, she'd do it. She wasn't someone who thought she was special. She's a very good person, and I learned a lot from her. She respects the girls and cares about them. She's there for anybody.”
Like Green, Kai loves to train aspiring wrestlers.
“I'm not as fast as I used to be, but I have a lot of experience,” she says. “I teach the girls things they can do to keep from hurting themselves, psychology, just easy things, things that mean something at the right moment ... saving a lot of easy steps. I just glided when I go out there. It's just so easy. I might look like I'm tearing someone's head off, but I'm really gliding.”
Kai feels she still has something to offer in the wrestling business. While she no longer has any aspirations of getting in the ring to work a lengthy match, she says she can still instruct the younger girls on how to operate in the ring.
“I can instruct ... I can get in the ring and show things. I might not get in and fly around all over the place, but I can show them a lot of things. I learned a lot of technical wrestling. There's not much I don't know how to do. I can teach it with my eyes closed. I want to do it so bad.”
She says she would love to be an instructor at the WWE developmental school in Florida. There are things she believes she could help the young talent with.
“Things like how to have presence. Presence is very important. Moolah always had presence. It's just in some people.”
Kai, who currently lives in Ocala, Fla., still visits different wrestling schools and gives tips along the way. It gives her great satisfaction to see the young girls of today working hard to see their dreams come true.
Just like she did nearly 40 years ago.
Reach Mike Mooneyham at 843-937-5517 or email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter at @ByMike Mooneyham and on Facebook at Facebook.com/MikeMooneyham.