The death of Rhonda Singh (family friend/ lady wrestler)
"This was one of the best territories anyone could work in. The people you met in Calgary are still your friends. Everyone had a good time."
-- Rhonda Singh
Rhonda Singh, a.k.a. Monster Ripper, Stampede Wrestling women's champion circa 1987, passed away at her home in Calgary on July 27. She was 40. I've known Rhonda since we were kids at the matches. Her mother had front-row seats for 20 years. "When we were good, she'd let us go to wrestling," Rhonda told me years ago.
When I grew up and became a wrestler, there was Rhonda still cheering from ringside.
During a family vacation to Hawaii in 1978, she saw Japanese women's wrestling on TV and decided that's what she wanted to do. At 16, she approached my family looking for instruction and didn't get it. I'm not sure why but it likely had more to do with the schedule at the time than anything else.
Months later, Rhonda sent a bio and photo to women's wrestling legend Mildred Burke. Upon being accepted, she took off for Burke's training facility in Encino, Calif.
After only a few weeks, she was spotted by a scout who hired her on the spot despite how green she was.
A mere two months later, she was main eventing in Japan and it should be acknowledged Rhonda Singh was the first Calgary-born wrestler to make it big internationally -- long before any of the Hart boys did.
When Rhonda came to the WWF in 1995 as Bertha Faye, she told me the Japanese lady wrestlers had given her a hard time years earlier because they weren't used to losing to a foreigner.
In 1979, the Dynamite Kid, who was born and trained in England, was working for Stampede Wrestling. Stu would loan Dynamite to New Japan and one time Dynamite met Rhonda on a tour there. He told her: "Don't take it any more. Once you defend yourself, you'll earn their respect."
That's a lesson I too learned the hard way in my early days in Japan. I could appreciate where she was coming from.
Women wrestlers on the road usually stick together but Rhonda preferred to hang out with the boys, was always accepted and could hold her own among what was a very colourful and feisty bunch.
My brother Owen played all kinds of jokes on Rhonda, which she took as the compliment they were intended to be, and the two struck up a friendship. When a well-known woman wrestler bullied one of the young, new girls, Rhonda put her in her place, which gained her respect from the boys.
Besides her easygoing nature, what I found amusing about Rhonda in her WWF days was to me she always looked like her persona, the mean Monster Ripper, but wearing the cute little girl pigtails of Bertha Faye.
Sadly, most fans will remember Rhonda Singh more for her brief role as one half of a low-class trailer-trash couple with Harvey Whippleman, rather than for a number of respected women's titles she won in various European promotions.
However, it did give Rhonda the chance to work at Madison Square Garden, although in what she called a goofy and restricted capacity.
The office asked her not to do the power moves on which she built her reputation because the male wrestlers were using them, so Rhonda was reduced to skipping around the ring blowing kisses. She'd had enough after a year and left WWF, surfacing three years later for a brief run in WCW, during my time there.
I drove by Rhonda last week, saw her walking on Bow Tr. I wish I hadn't been in such a hurry that day and had stopped to say hello.
It's sad when the roar of the crowd fades, leaving too many wrestlers with memories greater than their dreams.