Sherri Martel

Name: "Sensational" Sherri Martel
Year Inducted: 2014

"Sensational" Sherri Martel

So many people saw her as “Scary” Sherri during her WWE run alongside Randy “Macho Man” Savage and “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels, or managing Harlem Heat in WCW, that the actual wrestling career of Sherri Martel is overlooked. That’s a shame, because Sherri Russell, a native of Birmingham, Alabama, was one of the best talents of her era, male or female.

“Sherri, along with Luna Vachon, was one of the few women that could do it all,” said former manager Father James Mitchell. “She could cut a promo, she could get in there and wrestle with a man and she was not afraid to do it. If you ever saw her after a show, she wasn’t afraid to get into it physically with a man in a bar if they talked any trash to her. Sherri was an incredible, unique talent that was probably the greatest American female wrestler ever.”

Growing up, a teenage Sherri and her mother would attend the wrestling shows and she began wrestling under the tutelage of Butch Moore for small independents running opposition to Bill Watts’ Mid-South territory. Her first ever match was in a cattle auction barn in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. At The Fabulous Moolah’s school, Martel furthered her training with Moolah and Donna Christianello, starting in the fall of 1980.

In the American Wrestling Association, Martel won the women’s world title three times in the 1980s and served a stint as manager of the championship tag team of Doug Somers and “Playboy” Buddy Rose. In 1987, Martel moved to the WWF (while still AWA women’s champ) and quickly captured the women’s world championship from Moolah.

“I won the WWF women’s championship on July 24, 1987 in Houston, Texas,” Martel told writer Jimmy Van in 1999. “Being that she was my former teacher, I think she probably gave me one of the worst beatings of my life... which I probably deserved at one time or another ’cause I was always a very disobedient student.” Martel and Moolah extended their rivalry as captains for the first-ever women Survivor Series teams in 1989. Sherri held the title for 15 months before Rockin’ Robin defeated her in Paris. A bad back eventually sent her to the managing ranks on a full-time basis.

Martel was a wildcat as a manager, screaming, running around and using her purse or shoe as a weapon. In 1994, she talked about her desire to perform on the FM Light Show radio program on WBAI. “You know people, if you don’t go out and give them everything that you got, they’re going to see it, and that’s not what they pay their hard-earned money to do. They didn’t come to see a failure out there.”

After her WWF departure, Martel was a regular on the AAA promotion in Mexico, worked briefly in ECW and for Cornette’s Smoky Mountain Wrestling. In WCW, Martel managed Harlem Heat as Sister Sherri, a white woman with two African-American wrestlers in a role that announcer Gary Michael Cappetta said created “easy heat.” But Martel didn’t care about that: “We didn’t see color and I don’t think anyone in the wrestling business sees color because we’re brothers and sisters and family.”

During a Wrestle Radio U.S.A. radio program in 1994, Martel was asked about whether she preferred being a manager/valet or wrestler. “Well, when I was wrestling at a particular time, then it was wrestling. When I started managing, the thing that scared me was that I didn’t know how to talk on TV. And you know yourself when that red light goes on, there’s no turning back. It’s true that you can do the interviews over, but you just have to get comfortable with the storyline.”

Sherri died June 15, 2007.

- Greg Oliver

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