Remembering Sherri Martel
I received an e-mail on Friday about the death of Sensational Sherri Martel from a reader of the blog less than 20 minutes after the news had been posted on wrestlingobserver.com. Unfortunately, because of work and family obligations last weekend, I did not have time to post anything about Sherri, who died at 49 in Birmingham, Ala., of what police have confirmed as unnatural causes (foul play is not suspected). And with the controversial Mr. McMahon angle continuing last night on Raw, I felt I had to comment about that instead.
At that point, I decided that the window on writing about Sherri had closed because it was now old news. But a conversation with a colleague at The Sun tonight changed my mind. A longtime wrestling fan, he convinced me that I needed to write about Sherri, even if it was several days after the fact, because she had a career that warranted it.
I hate to admit it, but I almost had forgotten how much she accomplished in wrestling. My memories of Sherri, whose real name was Sherri Russell, are strictly as a fan and observer of the industry. I never had the pleasure of either meeting her or interviewing her. From what I have heard and read about her from those who knew her well, Sherri apparently was as tough as they come but also incredibly warm-hearted. The first quality was necessary for survival in an unforgiving and male-dominated business.
To my recollection, Sherri, who was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2006, was the first woman wrestler to also become a main-event-level manager. She walked down the aisle alongside some of the biggest names in the industry — Ric Flair, Randy “Macho Man” Savage, Shawn Michaels, Ted DiBiase and Harlem Heat, among others. Years before ECW made it edgy to have women taking bumps against men, Sherri, as a heel manager, was bumping for the likes of Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior.
As a wrestler, Sherri, who was trained by the legendary Fabulous Moolah, was perhaps the best female worker I have ever seen. Before the diva era, women wrestlers weren’t usually regarded as sex symbols, but I remember being a teenager and thinking that Sherri stood out because she could wrestle and she was attractive. She was one of the main reasons to watch the AWA show on ESPN in the mid-to-late-80s, as she simultaneously held the women’s title and worked as a heel manager.
In whatever role she was given, Sherri was always entertaining. My belated but sincere condolences go out to her family and friends.