The Strongest Woman in Baltimore
Mild-mannered manager is supervillain in the ring
Published: April 24, 2013
Supervillains have alter egos. Lex Luthor owns a company and was even elected president of the United States; the Penguin runs a successful nightclub; and Cheetah, Wonder Woman’s nemesis, is an archaeologist.
So when you ask to see the manager at Chiapparelli’s in Little Italy, you’ll find the mild-mannered Lisa Danielle Rachuba, the alter ego of Onyx, the baddest female wrestler to ever step into the ring.
“Onyx is one of the strongest women on the planet,” says Rachuba, who created her alter ego when she decided to add professional wrestling to her resume, along with acting and dancing. She talks about Onyx as if she’s another person. Not because Rachuba is crazy (OK, maybe a little), but because Onyx has taken on a life of her own outside of the traditional Italian restaurant where she works.
Taking a break from lifting a pallet of bread over her head to deliver to the kitchen, Rachuba talks about what led her to the ring.
“I went to the Baltimore School for the Arts the same year as Tupac,” says Rachuba. “ I’ve always loved acting and the stage, so it wasn’t a big jump into professional wrestling.”
Rachuba, who’s in her early 40s, left her native Baltimore after graduating from University of Maryland and headed to Los Angeles. That’s when she became one of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (G.L.O.W.)
“I fell into it,” Rachuba says. “There was an ad in an L.A. paper looking for fit women. I went to this audition and it was for wrestling. I didn’t really know much about wrestling, but they trained me. I ended up going to the [World Wrestling Entertainment] school.”
As one of two women in her class at a wrestling school in L.A., she saw no signs of discrimination—only the need to see who was the best and baddest.
“I was one of two females who showed up. They didn’t care about that. It was about strength,” she says. “I never let anyone take me down. Man or woman. I also trained under Georges St.-Pierre, who’s one of the great [mixed martial arts] fighters.”
When she saw what she could do in the ring, Rachuba left behind her former identity as a petite brunette from East Baltimore and created Onyx.
“Onyx is a hard, black stone,” Rachuba says. “It’s hard to break it. Like me. Onyx is the meanest, baddest female wrestler out there. I started out as Baby Face, who was nice and played fair. But I’m from Baltimore. I didn’t want to play fair. I wanted to be Onyx, who’s a total badass.”
Though female pro wrestling is still less popular than the male-dominated version of the sport, one iconic woman grappler, Mary Lillian Ellison, aka the Fabulous Moolah, won the Women’s Championship Belt at age 76 in 1999 and became a role model for female wrestlers, though not for Onyx.
“Onyx’s main inspiration is the Rock,” Rachuba says. “He’s the one wrestler she looks up to.”
As a SAG member who has been in mainstream films, Rachuba’s comparison to the Rock’s alter ego, actor Dwayne Johnson, is not far off.
“I love acting most of all,” Rachuba says as she recalls measuring up a scrawny Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man. “It was a speaking part. It was the scene where Peter tries out for the wrestling night. I came up with the line ‘I’m gonna squish you like a bug.’ Which the director loved, and it stayed in the final cut.”
That was as Onyx. As Rachuba, she’s been seen in the Netflix series House of Cards as a security guard, and on the other HBO show filming locally, VEEP, as a journalist.
Like a true supervillain, though, she revels in her time as Onyx and has no plans to give up wrestling. She’s also up to the challenge of taking on anyone to show off Onyx’s physical prowess. The last time she checked, Onyx, who weighs about 130, could lift about 250 pounds, according to Rachuba, who flexes a well-defined arm to drive the point home.
“I’m kind of a badass,” Rachuba says with a smile. “If anyone wants to take the challenge and get in the ring, I’m up for it. Doesn’t matter what size, color, gender, or weight. Onyx will take you on and win. God gives everyone a certain talent. I can’t draw really good or sing that great. But I was born to be extra-strong.”
As customers file into Chiapparelli’s, Rachuba stands and gets ready for the long night as manager. She greets two little girls with a smile and directs them to a table with their father.
Before leaving, there was one more nagging question.
“Of course I could take Wonder Woman in a fight,” says Rachuba as a small shadow of Onyx creeps across her face for the first time all evening. “She’s a female, and Onyx is the strongest female out there. I’d kill her in the ring.”
> Email J.M. Giordano