The Extreme Journey From South Korea to South Philly: The Story of Kimona Wanalaya

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Brian Damage

To many wrestling fans, the name Kristina Laum might not mean all that much. However, during the 90s she would appear in ECW and WCW and very nearly in the WWE. In fact, she appears in an iconic moment from the history of Philidelphia’s Extreme Championship Wrestling. Today we take a look at the journey she made from South Korea to the crazy world of professional wrestling and beyond.

She was born Kristina Laum in Seoul, South Korea in 1976. At two years old, Laum was adopted by a couple from Philadelphia. According to her, the adoptive parents were very abusive. Most days, she feared for her young life not to draw attention to herself and risk being beaten by her Mom and Dad.

By the time she reached 13 years old, Laum was removed from the home by the state of Pennsylvania due to their abuse and neglect. She would bounce around from foster homes to homeless shelters as she was trying to runaway from her past. At the age of 16 she went to court and got herself emancipated by the state and could legally live on her own and would go on to graduate high school and work different jobs.

One of those jobs was working as an exotic dancer in a gentleman’s club in New Jersey. It was there that an 18-year-old Laum met Scott Levy who was at the time a wrestler for Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW). Levy personally invited her to attend one of the shows at the ECW arena. Laum admittedly was never a wrestling fan nor did she have any interest in becoming involved in the business.

The night she attended one of their shows, many of the rabid fans noticed her and began cheering for her. She was not a part of the show, but Paul Heyman quickly noticed the positive reaction she had gotten and offered her a spot on the roster. It didn’t take long for Laum to say yes and she went from Kristina Laum to Kimona Wanalaya. To make her feel more comfortable in her new surroundings, Wanalaya was paired with her friend Levy, then wrestling under the moniker ‘Raven’.

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Her looks oozed sex appeal and that got her over with most fickle ECW fans. At 18, Laum went from stripper to ECW valet. She remained with ECW for most of 1996, but her last day with the promotion was perhaps her most recognized. During a show, the ECW arena was suffering from power outages and a broken ring. While the crew were scrambling around to try and rectify the situation, Paul Heyman told Wanalaya to do a striptease to keep the hostile fans from rioting. It was called the night Kimona Wanalaya danced atop the ECW arena.

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It was also the last night ECW fans saw Kimona because afterwards she quit the company. She has said the company sold many of those VHS tapes with her dance as the selling point and never saw a penny from any of the sales. She became a bit discouraged with some of the talent and fans talking about her negatively after her stunt and decided it was best to just walk away from it all. Considering her childhood, Laum wasn’t afraid to leave something for something else that was unknown.

After her ECW experience, which despite the ending she considered it mostly positive, she swore off professional wrestling and vowed never to return to it. That is until WWF head writer Vince Russo contacted her in 1999. She was introduced to Terry Taylor and ultimately Vince McMahon and was offered a contract to join the company. Before she actually signed a contract, Russo had suddenly jumped ship to WCW.

Vince Russo still wanted to utilize Laum, so feeling a loyalty to him she decided to pass on her WWF offer and join Russo in WCW. There she began training in the Power Plant and ultimately was paired up with the reformed Varsity Club with Kevin Sullivan and Mike Rotunda. She was renamed Leia Meow and became the Varsity Club’s cheerleader. As Laum would later recall, ‘things at that time were done on the fly and last minute.’ Soon after debuting, she was back home being paid to do nothing for six months.

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She would pop back up in WCW managing the team named the Jung Dragons of Kaz Hayashi and Jimmy Yang. She was presented as somewhat of a dominatrix character. Something she was very familiar with as in her younger days attended those type of clubs. When Vince McMahon purchased WCW in 2001, Laum was one of the first to be let go and not signed by the WWF. Perhaps McMahon held a bit of a grudge when she turned him down and joined WCW.

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Her wrestling career didn’t quite end with her firing from Vince. She ended up with the upstart XWF in 2002. When that promotion went belly up, Laum called it a day. Today, she still occasionally appears at wrestling shows and conventions but is more focused on outside ventures. She has developed several projects for television and has appeared in a few music videos. Kristina Laum now resides in Southern New Jersey.

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One thought on “The Extreme Journey From South Korea to South Philly: The Story of Kimona Wanalaya

  1. Pingback: This Week in Wrestling 2017 week 16 | Ring the Damn Bell

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