“Sensational,” “Scary,” or “Queen”: no matter which nickname WWE fans preferred for Sherri Martel in the late 1980s and early ’90s, the versatile performer portrayed a gregarious villainess (and polar opposite to the company’s poster girl, Miss Elizabeth) who was in many ways, ahead of her time.
Martel, born in Alabama as Sherry Russell, was one of the most successful graduates of the Fabulous Moolah’s infamous wrestling school, getting her start before moving north to the AWA. Eventually, her success as a wrestler and manager led her to WWE, where she excelled in both roles. Ironically, when the company discontinued its Women’s Championship, Sherri became one of the Golden Era’s rare female superstars, accompanying the likes of Randy Savage, Ted DiBiase, and Shawn Michaels.
Sherri Martel Started Off Hot By Winning The WWE Women’s Championship
Sherri – who’d already proven herself in the Minnesota territory as its Women’s Champion and as the manager of Tag Champions Buddy Rose and Doug Somers, joined WWE at the recommendation of former AWA cohort Jesse “the Body” Ventura.
She vacated the AWA Women’s title immediately upon her first WWE appearance, during which she won its Women’s Championship from Moolah on a July 1987 Houston house show. However, since women’s wrestling was already circling the drain in the Golden Era after Wendi Richter’s successful Rock ‘n’ Wrestling run, Sherri occasionally pulled double duty as the Honky Tonk Man’s mysteriously disguised, troublemaking valet “Peggy Sue.”
Sherri Martel Became A Queen Next To “Macho King” Randy Savage
Sherri’s title reign was much more impressive on paper – 440 days was a solid run, even in the ’80s – than in practice. Moreover, her usurper, Rockin’ Robin, was also the last champion until Madusa “Alundra Blayze” Micelli’s arrival necessitated the belt’s resurrection in late 1993.
For the remainder of her career, Sherri was a manager first, and it fit her like a sequin glove. Her first full-time WWE stint in that role was famously next to a newly “single” “Macho Man” Randy Savage, who’d recently lost his World Championship and officially sent Miss Elizabeth packing for good. Sherri accompanied Savage through the remainder of 1989, so when he defeated Hacksaw Jim Duggan for the company’s “Kingship” in September to become the “Macho King,” Sensational Sherri was now also a “Queen.”
After Randy Savage Lost At WrestleMania 7, Sherri Martel Turned On Him
Sherri continued to do more than manage Savage through 1990, getting just as physical as legendary male colleagues like Bobby Heenan. Especially for Savage, her mere presence worked wonders. He was the same character he was with Liz by his side, but Sherri’s fierce, aggressive presence and demeanor set the tone for his feuds with Dusty Rhodes and the Ultimate Warrior.
However, when Savage lost a Retirement Match to the Warrior at WrestleMania 7, Sherri’s primal rage – and rare intergender, woman-on-man physicality for the time – at a defeated and prone fallen Macho King set the tone for his tearful, legendary reunion with his estranged valet. Although it looked like, despite being “retired” (spoiler: he was back in eight months), that Savage and Liz took care of Sherri, she emerged a few matches later in the card to join Ted DiBiase in an attack on Roddy Piper to establish a new alliance.
Sherri Martel Managed Ted DiBiase And Shawn Michaels Before Going To WCW
Did the Million Dollar Man need a valet, especially in the wake of Virgil’s defection? Probably not, as DiBiase was a charismatic veteran worker and talker. However, it fit his gimmick – “everybody has a price,” after all – to have a partner at his side due to his large bankroll, and Sherri was no exception, assisting her new charge throughout 1991’s long feud with his former bodyguard.
After nine entertaining but somewhat directionless months, Sherri began showing affection toward WWE’s hottest new young heel, former Rocker Shawn Michaels, and Ted graciously stepped aside and “allowed” Sherri to pursue her new client. Between providing the original vocals for Shawn’s iconic “Sexy Boy” theme and her memorable role in feuds with Marty Jannetty and Rick Martel, Sherri elevated Michaels, as her presence and residual glamour helped define his all-time great character.
Upon her departure in ’93, Sherri’s brief, yet memorable, Smoky Mountain Wrestling and ECW stints led to a three-year run with WCW. First, she played a pivotal role in Ric Flair’s heel turn upon Hulk Hogan’s arrival. After only a few months, however, “Sensuous” Sherri became “Sister” Sherri, managing Harlem Heat in an underrated run that initially seemed like an odd pairing. Although the eventual WWE Hall of Famer met an untimely demise at only 49 years old in 2007, she’s remembered as the true superstar she was, especially during the Golden Era.