WWE Hall of Famer Young dead at 90

Mae Young, who was pro wrestling's oldest living personality, has passed away at the age of 90.

Pro wrestling legend and WWE Hall of Famer Mae Young passed away Tuesday night at her Columbia residence. She was 90.

WWE reported the news of Young's passing on its website late Tuesday.

Known to millions of fans worldwide as the Amazing Mae Young, she was born Johnnie Mae Young on March 12, 1923, in Sand Springs, Okla.

A highly touted athlete in high school, Young broke into the pro ranks at the tender age of 15, joining a fraternity of women whose grit and toughness would be profiled decades later in “Lipstick and Dynamite,” a 2005 documentary that shone a spotlight on the forgotten first ladies of wrestling who lived hard and fought even harder, blazing a trail on the wrestling circuit and paving the way for future generations.

Young, who broke into the business in 1939, was the first-ever NWA U.S. women's champion and participated in the profession over a remarkable span of nine decades.

She earned a widespread reputation for being one of the toughest, street-savvy workers in the business — and that included men and women.

Young perhaps gained her greatest notoriety when she and longtime friend, perennial women's world champion The Fabulous Moolah (Lillian Ellison), made an appearance on a WWE Smackdown show in 1999, 60 years after Young's entree into the profession. Moolah was laid out by a guitar while Young was put in a figure- four leglock. Both were in their 70s by then, but from that time on they would make semi-regular appearances on WWE television where they became fan favorites.

Although their bits on the show were mostly of a comedic nature, Young would survive power bombs from male wrestlers nearly half a century younger and would even win WWE's Miss Royal Rumble in 2000 at the age of 77.

That same year Young took part in an over-the-top storyline where she dated WWE star Mark Henry, announced that she was “pregnant” and later gave birth to a rubber hand.

Young was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2007 along with Moolah, with whom she shared a home and wrestling complex in Columbia where hundreds of aspiring wrestlers — male and female —trained under two of wrestling's greatest women grapplers.

Vincent Hill of Atlanta was one of those aspiring matmen.Hill described himself at the time as “a green, 180-pound guy who always wanted to be one of the boys” despite turning to two of the toughest women in the business to train him.

“The first thing Mae told me was, 'You need to put on some weight, you aren't wrestling in Japan,' Hill recalled. “Mae took me into the hard, concrete-like ring and had me take a few bumps and run the ropes to see if I would blow up quick or wimp out from the bumps.”

Despite looking like a fool for the first 10 minutes or so, Hill said he passed the initial test and Young invited him back the following week.

Hill said he will never forget the training sessions that lasted for months until his first match.

“Mae was always in the barn, coaching and correcting, teaching me how to tell a story in the ring. She also would smack me if she saw or heard me call a spot.

“When I first met Mae Young, I had no idea how important she was to the business of professional wrestling. She opened so many doors for women; she is the original diva ... I am so blessed to have known her, to have trained under her. I owe making my dream a reality all to Mae Young.”

Young also had helped Ellison, who passed away in 2007, break into the sport decades earlier.

In 1991, she moved in with Ellison and Katie Glass (former midget wrestling star Diamond Lil). It was an arrangement which lasted until Ellison's death in 2007.

“She was in California and had lost all of her family, and I told her this big place was just sitting here and she could have the whole upstairs,” Ellison once said.

For years the two, both members of the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame, were delightful hosts at the Columbia estate and reservoirs of grappling history.

Reach Mike Mooneyham at 843-937-5517 or mooneyham@postandcourier.com, or follow him on Twitter at @ByMike Mooneyham and on Facebook at Facebook.com/MikeMooneyham.