Nancy Toffoloni will forever be remembered to wrestling fans as Nancy Benoit, the wife killed by her husband Chris Benoit on that dark weekend in 2007. Whilst the tragic death of her and son Daniel should never be forgotten it’s also a fitting tribute to her not to forget what a great performer she was in the wrestling business in her own right.
Early modeling shoots for Wrestling magazines brought her into contact with Kevin Sullivan who persisted in trying to convince her to become a part of the business and join his wrestling entourage. Eventually she relented and made her debut in Florida Championship Wrestling in 1984, taking the name Fallen Angel.
Becoming part of Sullivan’s’ stable of “Satanists” , The Army Of Darkness, which included perhaps most famously The Purple Haze (who was clearly some form of inspiration for Mark Calloway’s interpretation of the Undertaker character), she and Kevin took the act around the country to various territories. It was this gimmick that Hulk Hogan rather unfortunately brought up in the aftermath of her death. Nancy and Kevin married each other in 1985.
Nancy soon found herself in WCW under the name Robin Greene, where she was introduced as a “plain” fan of Rick Steiner who would sit at ringside cheering him on and trying to speak to him whenever he wrestled. In classic wresting tradition this led to her turning on Steiner and aligning herself with her husband (following a “sexy makeover” from the Steiner’s then manager Missy Hyatt) and taking the name which brought her most fame, Woman. She managed Doom as they attempted to destroy The Steiner’s but when they failed to do so she fired them and began to manage Ric Flair.
In 1993 Kevin and Nancy performed in Eastern Championship Wrestling where Sullivan teamed with The Tazmaniac (Taz) under Woman’s management and lifted the company’s tag titles. When Sullivan returned to WCW Nancy stayed, most famously managing Too Cold Scorpio and The Sandman. As incongruous as the latter association seemed initially it was a partnership that worked well, with Woman fitting into the gimmick by opening beers, lighting his cigarettes and attacking his opponents with her own Singapore Cane. She even wrestled for the company in a Singapore Cane match, teaming with Sandman to take on Tommy Cairo and Peaches.
She returned to WCW in early 1996, initially seeming to side with Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage before turning on the latter to rejoin forces with Ric Flair in the new incarnation of The Four Horsemen with Arn Anderson, Brian Pillman and Chris Benoit and “Miss” Elizabeth as another management figure. Her main direct feud came when Pillman was replaced in the group by Steve “Mongo” McMichael who was joined by his then wife Debra. The two women generally bickered and didn’t get along with Debra in particular using her microphone time to disparage Woman. There was never a physical feud though and the storyline kind of petered out.
It was around this time she started an on-screen partnership with Chris Benoit. Benoit was feuding with her husband Kevin Sullivan and he was shown “home video” footage of the two canoodling and mocking him. Apparently still in the kayfabe era, Sullivan is said to have instructed the two to “hold hands” and the like whilst backstage and out and about. This had the side effect of the two falling in love for real, leading to Nancy getting a divorce from Kevin in 1997. She made her final appearance for WCW in May 1997 before abruptly disappearing off our screens with no explanation.
We wish the “Woman” story had ended there but ten years later she was back in the news in the most horrific of circumstances. Outside of a few brief on-screen appearances with Chris (most famously at the conclusion of WrestleMania XX) little had been seen of Nancy in the intervening decade and no one would have wished her return to public prominence to have come in such a fashion.
Now is not the time nor place to investigate the troubled mind of Chris Benoit. But whilst it is in some ways perfectly understandable why the death of Nancy Toffoloni overshadows her life, taking a moment to respect her achievements in the wrestling business seems the least we can do in her memory.
– By Matthew Roberts