“I know you want me!” she sang memorably in her theme tune, and boy oh boy they did.
She was born Tamara “Tammy” Lynn Sytch in 1972 in New Jersey with dreams of becoming a plastic surgeon or a doctor, but before she was even twenty years old she fell into the seductive grips of the wrestling industry.
Her high school boyfriend Chris Candido wanted to be a wrestler. He’d wrestled for several years on the independent circle in New Jersey, plying his trade and learning the ropes. It was there that in 1992 Jim Cornette, owner and Booker of Smoky Mountain Wrestling, took a liking to the handsome twenty year old Chris and his beautiful blonde girlfriend, but there was a problem.
“I couldn’t afford to pay either of them enough to move on their own,” Cornette recalls on his website, “but if they both wanted to work for me, they could come as a couple. Chris would wrestle, Tammy would manage, but they would not be ‘together’ on the air.”
Sytch was sold. She transferred schools and moved down to Kentucky with Candido. Going by Tamara Fytch, Sytch adopted a liberal, snobby character that idolised Hillary Clinton. Within months, the nursing student was a hit.
“Tammy was scary good at ringside,” Cornette tells, claiming Sytch was already involved with “complicated, main event programs after less than six months in the business.”
Unlike Sytch, Candido had a more arduous journey to the top of Smoky Mountain. Instead of an instant main event push like the one Sytch received, Candido worked his way up from the bottom, opening Smoky Mountain shows in warm-up matches. He soon showed his worth and succeeded himself, winning the US Junior Heavyweight Title and rising to the main event.
It was then Cornette decided to pair up the young couple on-screen. Candido formed a tag team with Brian Lee, and Sytch accompanied the duo as their manager. The tag team won the SMW Tag Team Championships and after their separation, Candido with Sytch by his side won the company’s top belt, the prestigious, NWA World Heavyweight Champion.
Soon the WWF came calling.
Sytch was brought into the WWF as Tamara Murphy, an announcer. She was to commentate on the matches in a traditional manner and sell the story in the ring, hosting “Live Event News” segments during the WWF’s television shows, but the WWF soon realised Sytch was ill-suited to the role and transitioned into what she fit — a manager.
The WWF had no qualms with pairing Sytch with Candido and the two adopted the personas of villainous fitness fanatics, Sunny and Skip. Zip soon joined the team and the gimmick took off. In a meteoric rise, the Bodydonnas, as they were collectively called, won the WWF Tag Team Championships on the grandest stage of them all, WrestleMania; Sunny was born.
Sunny resonated with fans. She was AOL’s most downloaded woman of the year and acclaimed wrestling publication PWI’s Manager of the Year for 1996, becoming the first woman to win the award and beating out industry veterans Jimmy Hart and former boss, Jim Cornette.
The Bodydonnas split and Sunny took off. She was once again separated from Candido and pushed into the intercontinental championship scene, managing Farooq Asaad, as well as valeting for cartoonish, popular tag teams such as the Godwinns and the Smoking Gunns. It was during this period the Sytch did the unthinkable. She achieved mainstream notoriety, appearing on MTV’s Singled Out and Entertainment Tonight. Not since Hulk Hogan had a wrestling talent been popular with the outside world. In a time when wrestling was in the dumps in terms of crossover appeal, Sunny, against all odds, had scored some.
Although Sunny was riding high against the tide, boyfriend Candido’s career wasn’t going nearly as well. After losing the WWF Tag Team Championship and Sunny as a manager, Candido found himself in wrestling purgatory, working pointless programs with lesser talent. It was a hard fall from grace, but things were about to even get worse for Skip.
Sunny may have been a highly popular character with the fans, but Sytch’s popularity backstage was in the toilet.
“She did a lot of lying,” recalls Phineas Godwinn, a former client that Sunny managed onscreen. “She could be a very evil person.”
“She had so much heat,” Henry Godwinn concurred, the other half of the Godwinns and another wrestler Sunny managed onscreen. “In Germany they had to send her home a week early because somebody shit in her food.”
Sytch was despised. Old boss and mentor Cornette, who had since joined the WWF behind-the-scenes, recalls being made Sytch’s “official office contact for everything because everyone else was exasperated by dealing with her.”
He recalls chastising her for out of control expenses ($80 breakfasts including 10 egg white omelettes, yum!) and for tardiness, but no bigger sin and source of backstage hatred was her affair with legendary wrestler, Shawn Michaels.
In the mid 90s, Shawn Michaels was main event talent in the WWF, the on-and-off champion and by many accounts, an absolute asshole. Notorious for his addiction to painkillers and god-knows-what-else, Michaels and several other wrestlers had formed an offscreen faction nicknamed The Clique, a team of powerful talent that influenced booking and salaries to their favour.
“Shawn and I had a relationship for almost nine months,” Sunny recalls, insisting she and Candido had ended their relationship at that point. “It wasn’t just two people having sex on the road. It was a relationship. We kept it under wraps as best we could. A few people found out.”
Other wrestlers remember the relationship somewhat differently. Zip of the Bodydonnas, Kevin ‘Diesel’ Nash and many more corroborate the theory the relationship was indeed an affair. The late Paul Bearer even told a tale of confronting Candido with the news of his girlfriend’s infidelity. “One day in Madison Square Garden, I called him out in front of all the boys. I said, ‘Chris, come here.’ I called him around the back and said, ‘This is what everyone thinks…’ He said, ‘But Percy, I love her.'”
Sean ‘X-Pac’ Waltman was convinced Candido knew of the affair, but failed to say anything because he wanted Sytch to be happy. The belief in the WWF locker room as a whole was Candido didn’t deserve Sytch.
Amidst the rumours and gossip, Skip skipped out on the WWF and quit. An unsubstantiated rumor claims Candido learnt of Sytch’s affair with Michaels and quit on the spot. Skip and Zip of the Bodydonnas gone. Only Sunny remained, but her days with Shawn Michaels were numbered.
Bret Hart was another top star in the WWF and he and Sytch were good friends, but although Sytch and Hart assert their relationship was strictly platonic, the paranoid, pill-popping Michaels didn’t seem to think so.
“I was a big source of heat between Shawn and Bret,” Sytch reminisces. “Because Shawn thought I was banging Bret, but I wasn’t.”
Michaels even worked his belief into one of his promos. During his heated rivalry with Hart, Michaels shouted into a microphone, “Even though lately you’ve had some sunny days.” Uh-oh. This on air shot reportedly led to a backstage altercation between Michaels and the very much married Hart, which Hart is said to have won.
It’s hard to believe considering the two stable, sane participants, but the Michaels-Sytch relationship ended in early 1997 and Michaels went on to controversially capture the WWF World Heavyweight Champion from Hart (See: Montreal Screwjob), and Sytch went on to host several WWF television shows, whilst also embarking on a short lived affair with a different married wrestler, Davey Boy Smith. “Yes, I slept with Davey,” admits Sytch openly. “Off and on. Davey came after Shawn.”
Sytch’s reputation backstage was at an all time low, and her on air career was about to suffer.
Sable, a former model for Pepsi and Guess?, had debuted in the WWF in 1996 as the valet of real life husband, Marc Mero. Whereas Sunny’s charm had “girl next door” appeal, Sable brought to the table a different aura, unseen before in a wrestling ring, sexy goddess-esque.
“They were two completely different types of women with their own appeal,” Vince Russo, the head writer of the WWF at the time, recalls. “Sunny was the girl next door and Sable was the mysterious, exotic beauty.”
With her husband sidelined with injury, Sable remained on air talent and within a year of debuting, her popularity easily eclipsed her husband’s and to her chagrin, Sunny’s. Sable received PPV bikini matches and magazine covers, whilst Sunny was turned into a “good guy” and lumbered into managing the past-their-peak, Legion of Doom 2000. Sunny had been toppled by Sable, and Sunny absolutely resented her for it.
“Normally, it wouldn’t have been a contest since Tammy was hotter and could outdo Sable at anything,” remembers Cornette, “but Sable had the backing of the office and knew who not to argue with, so Tammy got the heat and Sable was given more high-profile spots.”
“There was no doubt that Sunny was just flat out jealous of Sable,” Vince Russo claims.
Sytch denied the charge of jealousy. “A lot of people think I had a professional jealously, but that completely was not the case,” Sytch claims.
The rivalry reached such fiery peaks that Cornette tells a tale of once talking Sytch out of walking into Sable’s locker room and throttling her. “She [Sable] was pushed to the moon despite not being able, even refusing to learn how, to wrestle, not really able to perform in any way, and cutting horrible promos in a monotone, Stepford Wives-type delivery. She knew nothing about wrestling and didn’t care to find out. This not only offended the ‘star’ in Sunny, but the wrestling fan in Tammy.”
Sable and Sunny’s relationship reached rock bottom (forgive me!) when Sable received and accepted an offer from Playboy. Sunny and Cornette assert that Sunny had been offered the opportunity first and turned it down, Sable denied Sunny had even been approached. It caused problems. Sunny had lost the spotlight to Sable, and Tammy Sytch had lost the office’s backing to Rena Mero (Sable).
Before the Playboy cover was even released to the public and in July 1998, Sunny was fired by the WWF. Her contract, set to expire in October 2001 and worth a mid-six figure sum, was terminated amidst backstage tension with Sable, no-showing several appearances and fervent rumours of drug usage.
Former boss Cornette maintains he never saw Sytch drink or do drugs in Smoky Mountain Wrestling. “I don’t believe Tammy ever took a pill, or even drank a beer during her entire near two-year run in SMW.” As with many wrestlers, Sytch is believed to have picked up her addictions on the stressful schedule in the toxic working environment that was the WWF in the mid 90’s.
After her dismissal from the WWF, Sytch reunited with offscreen boyfriend Candido, and together they enjoyed short stints in major wrestling companies such as ECW and the WCW for the next two years. Both tenures were marred by controversy with accusations aimed at Sytch’s alleged substance abuse and promiscuity.
“We were on the roof of a club in Miami where she was blowing [ECW wrestler] Raven,” claims ECW veteran Sandman. “She just had her hands out for pills. [I was] walking into the boiler room to go get high and Sabu’s in there getting a blowjob from Tammy. He doesn’t give her the somas until she’s done the blowjob.”
“No, she never blew me,” refutes ECW wrestler Sabu, “but she tried. A bunch of times. I will say this: I gave her some somas to show me her tits. And she did. She wanted 50 somas. I gave her 35.”
Sytch short run with ECW lasted just over a year with Sytch departing amidst drug-related incidents and Candido soon following. Her tenure in WCW ended in similar circumstances. Upon her exit in 2000, rumours spread like wildfire that Sytch had passed out after injecting herself with nubane, leaving a syringe in the showers. Sytch denied the accusations. Candido followed her out the door.
“What bothered me is Chris would kind of follow Tammy round like a little puppy dog,” the late Paul Bearer is quoted as saying.
Sytch and Candido spent the next several years on the fringes of professional wrestling, haunted by drug rumours and weight gain, competing on the independent circuit until 2005 when Candido was hired by up-and-coming wrestling company, TNA. His tenure started in January 2005 and ended tragically when Candido sustained an injury in the ring, a broken leg that escalated quickly and tragically. Candido passed away in 2005 four days after the injury due to acute pneumonia. He was 33.
Sytch has rarely talked about Candido in public since. Often delivering short answers to questions about the infamous relationship. One exception is during an interview with RealityCheck TV in late 2005. “It’s been a rough year,” Sytch curtly said. “What happened back in April is probably the worst thing that ever happened to me, but you gotta move on, life goes on.”
And it did.
By 2007, Sytch, now 35 and clean, was back in school, studying Medical Technology and in a relationship with John, a New Jersey cop. It seemed Sytch had finally found peace and stability in her life. A one night return to the WWF (now WWE) took place, her first appearance for the company in nine years and for a four year period, little melodrama surrounded the once controversy magnet. Her good behaviour was rewarded by the WWE in 2011 when she was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame as the “original WWE Diva.” You just know she loved going in before Sable.
Her legacy cemented, her relationship with the WWE repaired and her body whipped back into what Sytch called “Sunny shape.” It only took a year before things completely spiralled out of control again.
Sytch’s longterm relationship with John ended abruptly and then came the drug and alcohol rumours. It was 1998 all over again. Former ECW wrestler New Jack crawled out of the woodwork to reveal Sytch asked him to “kill” her ex-boyfriend, John. Sytch entered a volatile relationship with Damien Darling, an indy wrestler twelve years her junior. Sytch accused Darling of sexual abuse. Darling accused her of attacking him.
“Tammy was fucking Dolph Ziggler and Davey Richards,” a source who wishes to stay anonymous tells me. “She also had a habit of falling for wrestlers on Facebook that turned out to be frauds pretending to be the wrestlers. She fell in love with a Wade Barrett poser. Sin Bodhi had to break the news to her he was a fraud. She was once best friends with a Michelle McCool fake.”
Sytch went on to be arrested five times within a four-week span, for disorderly conduct, burglary and three counts of violating a protective order Darling had taken out against her. After Sytch was arrested once more for violating the protective order in January 2013, she served a 114 day term in jail and was released in May of 2013. During this timeframe she left the depraved, salacious wrestling industry for a much healthier career as a… webcam girl, sharing Skype sessions with fans where an overweight Sytch would get naked and masturbate for a $100 a pop. In 2015, Sytch was arrested three times for DUI and sentenced to a further 90 days in jail for the crimes. Fortunately for her, the Judge deemed a recent stint in rehab as jail credit and she avoided more time behind bars.
With the exception of another company-sponsored rehab in early 2016 (that cost the company coffers 40k per month!), the WWE has severed all ties with Sytch and she hasn’t worked for the organisation since early 2012.
“The last time the WWE paid me anything was in 2012,” Sytch wrote on Facebook for some reason, “a check for $1000, for an interview I did at Axxess during WM weekend. Before that it was 2011, a check for $5000, for the HOF weekend that I was inducted. Nothing since then, not even royalties.”
Sunny epitomised the wrestling term “diva” before it even entered the WWE’s lexicon. She was sexy, talented and couldn’t wrestle to save her life. Her groundbreaking presence paved the way and changed the game for women in the WWE, but inadvertently it also contributed to a dark era that focused on looks, not wrestling abilities, an era that’s taken the WWE well over a decade to recover from.
Was Tammy Sytch the manipulative whore the wrestling community paints her to be? Or was she simply lost in an intoxicating industry like so many others? It’s all down to opinion. No one knows for sure. My guess is that Sytch was somewhere in the middle.
Sytch has since left the WWE-sponsored rehab-that-costs-40k-per-month and commenced a career in pornography for Vivid. It’s been reported she has been free of alcohol ever since and in a recent interview she thanked the WWE for their help, calling them “awesome.”
Her autobiography was released in February 2016 and is available at this link. Like a lot of what Tammy Sytch has said and written over the years it remains controversial and widely disputed.
Special thanks and credit to everyone quoted, as well as the countless wells of wrestling information on the Internet. We reached out to Sytch for comment, but she failed to get back to us. We wish her nothing but the best.
Flashback Post: This post originally appeared on The Gossip Life 26/08/16.