Johnnie Mae Young, better known as simply Mae Young, is considered one of the pioneers of women’s wrestling in the United States. Born in Sand Springs, Oklahoma, she began her wrestling career in the late 1930s or early 1940s (the date is a matter of dispute among wrestling historians) after being trained by Mildred Burke. With a wrestling career that last until 2013 and thousands of matches, her wrestling school in Los Angeles is a footnote in her legacy.
By the time superior Judge Harold F. Collins lifted the ban on women’s wrestling in California on September 17, 1965, Mildred Burke had long been operating a school for women wrestlers in the San Fernando Valley. With the ban no longer in place, Burke’s school became the supplier of female wrestling talent to the Olympic Auditorium, but the relationship didn’t last long. Due to either politics or the quality of the wrestlers, depending on who you ask, the Olympic started booking women’s wrestlers through the Fabulous Moolah instead.
Moolah’s friend Mae Young made her debut at the Olympic on April 17, 1966 with a victory over Kathy Starr. That same year she would open up a wrestling school for women at the Olympic Auditorium.
The school was located in a room with a linoleum floor covered with a padded canvas, and two or three ring posts on the second floor of the Olympic, across from the booking office. Classes would be held at 9:00 a.m. two or three times a week. In order to determine who was serious about becoming a wrestler, students were charged $500.00 ($3854 in today’s dollars) in order to join the school.
The $500.00 fee bought the students a three week trial. During the trial Young would size the students up to see if they had what she thought it took to be a wrestler. If by the end of the three weeks she didn’t think they’d make it, she dropped them. At the time she told Wrestling Revue “What’s the use of me fooling them or them fooling themselves. We both know they’ll never make it.”
Mae Young’s school at the Olympic became so popular that it attracted male students as well. In fact the most notable student to come out of the school of any note was Ric “The Equalizer” Drasin. A wrestler, actor, bodybuilder, and maybe most notably the man who designed the Golds Gym logo (and former writer for this website), Ric Drasin went on to have a 36 year wrestling career and become a wrestling trainer in his own right.
The school only lasted a few years, and was gone by the early 1970s. Outside of Ric Drasin, possibly the only other wrestler of note to train at the school was Lita Marez, who had a brief run in All Japan Womens in Japan.
Mae Young pretty much retired from active wrestling in 1972. In the 1990s she returned to the ring for Moolah’s LIWA promotion in Las Vegas, then later more famously for the WWF during the attitude era. She died on January 14, 2014.