There have been many "unlikely duos" in World Wrestling Federation history. Whenever a tag team contains two dissimilar members, they're labeled as such. However, perhaps the most "unlikely duo" of all has no interest in winning the Tag Team Championship. In fact, the wrestling ring has nothing to do with this seemingly unusual combination.
Debra and Chyna are real-life best friends. Sure, one's a blonde bombshell and the other is big and strong enough to wrestle men. But it turns out that, once they got to know each other, they're not all that unlikely of a duo, after all.
"We just started talking and started hitting it off," Debra says.
"Our personalities were so compatible," adds Chyna, putting emphasis on the word "so," a la Edge & Christian.
Not a day goes by that the two women don't hear each other's voices. They're as close as close can possibly be. Sitting together for an interview with WWF.com, they interacted like a pair of hyper teen-agers — in a good way — constantly giggling, leaning against each other, draping their arms around each other, finishing each other's sentences. Anyone lucky enough to see them interact can't help but smile. It's a wonderful, healthy and refreshing relationship.
It didn't start out that way.
Chyna was already an established Federation Superstar when Debra came on board. Debra was set to debut on a live RAW IS WAR on Oct. 19, 1998, one day after the Federation's Judgment Day Pay-Per-View. Although Debra didn't work at Judgment Day, she was backstage during the show. She recalls the first time she spotted Chyna.
"I thought, 'Well, I need to go over there and introduce myself,'" Debra said. "I walked over. I said, 'Hi Chyna. I'm Debra McMichael. Nice to meet you.' She snarled at me. She wouldn't even shake my hand. I turned around and I thought, 'This girl hates me. I'm doomed. She hates me.' And I walked away."
Chyna pleads guilty to acting standoffish the first time she met Debra.
"These new women who had come in had no locker-room etiquette," she said, referring to some of the Godfather's Hos, among others. "They didn't have respect for the locker room. They weren't like the men, who have respect for one another. Every time somebody new came in, we had to go through this whole scenario again, about not touching other people's things, about not hogging the mirror, about sharing, about little things that you have to go through like kids. I just started getting fed up with it a little bit. So I saw Debra coming over, and she was in her typical beauty queen mode — smiling, introducing herself — and I guess I had just had it at that point."
But Debra wasn't a "buxom wench" (to paraphrase William Regal) that was brought in off the street. She had experience in the industry, and had learned locker-room etiquette during her tenure with her previous employer, World Championship Wrestling.
Once Chyna softened enough to give Debra a chance, she realized that Debra was nothing like she expected. Today, Chyna describes Debra as "the most giving and caring and kindest person I've ever met."
"She's not manipulative, and I'm very good at seeing that in people," Chyna said. "Our initial conversation ended up being like three hours. I had so much fun with her. From that day forward, it was never, 'I'm going to like this girl,' or, 'Yeah, we're going to have to go out,' or, 'I'm going to have to talk to you more.' It just was."
They learned during that initial conversation that they both have similar personalities. Chyna says they both like the same things and the same type of people. Respect and loyalty are big issues with both of them. Debra says that even if she doesn't like someone, she'll still treat him or her with respect, and she requires the same in return. Debra has had many of the experiences that Chyna details in her new book, "If They Only Knew." The women are also there for each other when a problem arises at work.
"I could tell my sister," Chyna said, "but she wouldn't understand because she's not involved in the same things I am."
The relationship that Chyna and Debra share is very rare in any realm of the entertainment industry, where the competition is cutthroat. Both women say they're extremely selective in whom they trust. "I've been burned too many times by people," Debra says. But in their initial, ice-breaking, three-hour conversation, the two women hit it off so well that they both revealed personal information about themselves. In the two and a half years since, they've only grown to trust each other more.
"I look forward to coming to work to hang out with Joanie," says Debra, referring to Chyna by her real name, Joanie Laurer. "It's just like hanging out with your best friend, it doesn't seem like work. We don't really talk about work that much. We don't talk about our characters. We talk about other things."
Among the topics? Make-up and fashion. Even when Chyna was portrayed the character of an "Amazon," long before the days of Playboy, she was into "girly stuff."
"I'm the one with beauty pageants in my background, but this one here," says Debra, pointing at Chyna, "is up on the latest everything to do with girl stuff. It's great because she'll show me things. I'm like an old dog. I never like to learn new tricks. I like to do the same hairdo, the same makeup. She knows I don't take change very well. She'll redo my makeup, but only at a house show. She knows I can't do this and walk out on TV with new makeup. It'll freak me out."
Meanwhile, when Chyna came to an agreement to appear in Playboy, guess who was the first person Chyna told.
"I told her first," says Chyna, pointing at Debra. "I didn't want to act like I was bragging; I didn't want to tell everybody. I ran to Debra and I told her and I was excited about it because I knew that she would so genuinely be happy for me."
Whatever the topic, the two women are always chatting. Even when Debra took a leave of absence to be with her injured husband (a gentleman you may be familiar with by the name of Stone Cold Steve Austin), they talked every day by phone. When Debra returned to the road, she and Chyna finally had the chance, in person, to huddle in the corner of an arena.
"People are so used to us doing this that they don't even come near us," Debra said.
They also have in common a keen sense of humor; they both love to laugh.
Recently, Chyna was trying to put on an eyelash (as she detailed in her book, one of her eyelashes was burnt off during an in-ring accident just before WrestleMania XV), but it got stuck to her cheek. She decided she'd walk around and see how people reacted. She started a conversation with another superstar, who was either too polite to point it out or didn't notice. Meanwhile, Debra looked on and laughed hysterically.
In New Orleans at the Royal Rumble, the catering room set up for Federation Superstars and staff had been decorated with plastic crabs. Chyna grabbed several of them and put them on her plate as if she was going to eat them. Again, nobody said anything — until she sat down next to Debra, who pointed it out immediately, and they giggled together.
"You see, we do stupid stuff like that," Debra says, and then she adds jokingly, "People think we're mature women? No."
Whether it's a humorous story or a serious issue, the two women always take the time to listen and support each other. Chyna appreciates the fact that Debra is always there for her — whether it's for shopping, food and wine tasting or "man bashing."
Says Debra, "How lucky are you to find somebody at work — as busy as we are; we're here all the time — that you can confide in, tell secrets to, and know it won't go anywhere?"