Category Archives: Who’s That Girl

If They Only Knew – Remembering Joanie “Chyna” Laurer

this article was originally published on Wrestledelphia

When I was in sixth grade, I too wanted to be Intercontinental Champion.

Even when a wrestler’s career comes and goes before a fan becomes a fan, that’s not to say their impact on wrestling is forgotten.

And it certainly helps when said wrestler has a book available to be taken out at your public library, which is how one 11 year old who now has a penchant for typing words on the Internet became familiar with Chyna for the first time.

In the midst of the occasional misspelled wrestler name (Rakishi & Sean Michaels in particular will never be wiped from memory), there was the story of a woman who overcame difficult situations in her early life, found a calling and went for it. In the mid 90s.

Chyna was someone who commanded more than what WWF had to offer in 1996 when she came onto the scene. At that point in the company, there were roughly three female personalities on WWF programming–all valets.

Chyna was no valet. She may have arrived in WWF as an accompaniment to Hunter Hearst Helmsley, but she was no valet. She was a bodyguard and it didn’t take too long to figure that out, be it based on her stature or how very easily she would handle Marlena like a ragdoll.

Other women would also be tossed around by Chyna in her time as a wrestler. She was tall, muscular, and could match Triple H’s weights at the gym. It made sense to have her compete against other men, which in part was due to a lack of competition. But for girls watching the product and, thankfully, paying attention to the wrestling rather than what were surely transphobic comments, it sent a huge message, that we could be competitive, dominant, and the personification of superheroines. Girls in wrestling didn’t just have to be the beauty, they could be the brawn as well.

Sometimes when you’re a kid, you miss things that, as a grown up, you realize was in poor taste or just bad. If you’re captivated by someone on TV, you can immerse yourself in how cool they are and let your imagination run wild. That’s what Chyna could do. That’s why she was able to transcend what it meant to be a woman in the WWF/E in her time with the company.

Chyna’s involvement in DX, especially the early days of the faction, was essential to the group’s chemistry. Comedy needs a “straight” character and Chyna was the one rolling her eyes at the manchildren she called her friends and carrying them away if they ever got into too much trouble.

Ultimately, her departure from the company—and in a general sense the way the rest of her life played out—was not dissimilar to a Hugo novel. If you believe the DX book WWE published a few years ago, Triple H says it was Chyna’s idea for the Triple H storyline involving marrying Stephanie McMahon. Subsequently, she’s spurned by her love, tossed aside from the company, and only acknowledged in passing.

Everything did not dry up right away—after all Chyna, was the first woman to ever compete as a wrestler in New Japan Pro Wrestling, which anyone would probably kill for on their resume.

Sadly, the end of Chyna’s road was paved with neglect, being seen as a sideshow rather than a person with problems.

There will be no redemption song a la Scott Hall (who still seems to enjoy creeping Paige’s twitter… questionable). The door was never open for a prodigal daughter to return. But in spite of what WWE wants and allows, thousands will remember her as an inspiration and a pioneer.

Akira Hokuto: Defying Traditions and Societal Norms

Art created and contributed by L. Planas (TOFU + BEAST)
Guest contribution article by @LagerWhat

Akira Hokuto is a feminist icon. Not because she’s been in some of the greatest women’s matches of all time, held titles in numerous companies, or because she continued to wrestle after suffering a legit broken neck (watch her tag match against Kazue Nagahori and Yumi Ogura and try not to cringe when she takes that piledriver at 1:36). She is a feminist icon because she turned two fingers up at Japan’s conservative patriarchal culture, which dictated when women worked and when they stopped, whether they wanted to or not.

Japan’s postwar constitution, signed in 1946, established equality between the sexes, but life and culture has not yet lived up to this ideal. The notion of otoko wa shigoto, onna wa katei to shigoto (“men at work and women at home”) is at the core of traditional Japanese society: A woman’s role is to marry, have children, and be housewives in support of their husbands. Even in 2015, Japan is a “nation of housewives” and it’s generally accepted that women will leave the workforce after marriage. 70% of Japanese women stop working after their first children are born, due to financial and cultural restraints, as well as lack of childcare availability. Divorce is frowned upon and female divorcees are stigmatized for going against traditional values. It’s simply the woman’s job to be a housewife. This expectation to marry and tend house was evident in an unwritten rule at All Japan Women’s Pro-Wrestling (AJW) that required its wrestlers to retire from the ring when they turned 26 years old. For their health, so they can go home and start families.

Turn 26? Get out of the ring, get a ring on it,  and get in the kitchen!

Got married? Mazel tov! To the kitchen!

Had a baby? What kind of mother are you?!?!! Feed that baby and make your man some dinner. To the kitchen!

Abiding by such rules was not for Akira Hokuto. Starting her wrestling career at AJW in 1985, she quickly built a reputation for toughness, tenacity, and skill in promotions all over the world, working matches in LLPW, JWP, CMLL, GAEA, and WCW. She co-held the WWWA World Tag Team title on multiple occasions and won the top women’s titles in AJW, CMLL, and WCW.

In 1993, the year she turned 26 and reached AJW’s mandatory retirement age, Akira met Shinobu Kandori at Dream Slam I and battled what is arguably one of if not the greatest match in all of women’s wrestling. The bout, which ended with rounds of stiff punches, raised the bar for what was possible in women’s wrestling and earned a perfect five-star rating from The Wrestling Observer. Further flipping the bird to convention, she married a luchador, Máscara Mágica, and moved to Mexico, performing as Reina Jubuki in CMLL. Her skills and her star were too strong, too bold, and too bright to retire to the kitchen.

Returning to Japan a divorcee in 1994, Akira Hokuto faced Aja Kong in the main event of “Big Egg Wrestling Universe”, an inter-promotional show held in the Tokyo Dome; the all-women event had a $4 million gate. Without taking inflation into account, Big Egg out drew WrestleMania X-7, where Steve Austin beat The Rock ($3.5 million), and WrestleMania XIX, which saw Brock Lesnar pin Kurt Angle ($2.76 million). Who ever said women can’t draw?

1995 saw her WCW debut — and a new marriage, this time to NJPW’s Kensuke Sasaki, a legendary wrestler in his own right. Akira continued to wrestle and became WCW’s first — and only — women’s champion in 1996. Hokuto and Sasaki welcomed their first child, a son, in 1998. Returning to the ring after a brief maternity leave, she wrestled for three more years and had her farewell match in 2002.

Akira Hokuto defied tradition and societal norms. She wrestled, aged, married, divorced, remarried, had a baby, continued to wrestle, and left the ring when SHE felt the time was right, not when a conservative patriarchal culture (repeatedly) expected her to.

Feminist. Icon.

 

Sasha Banks: A champion we can bank on changing women’s wrestling

They say that the best heels are the ones who are fundamentally in the right. So when the ring general of NXT and current women’s champion Sasha Banks makes a claim that she will match and surpass legends like the Fabulous Moolah as the greatest women’s wrestler in history well… there’s evidence that points to Banks becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The phrase “Sasha Banks is the rock of NXT’s women’s division,” can be read as a metaphor or an allusion and still be a true statement. Banks is the foundation of the success of the division, inside her toolbox of wrestling abilities there’s a fix for every opponent in her way, and her adaptability means a high rate of must-watch matches. She can match Becky Lynch’s innovative submissions, be as athletic as Charlotte and go blow for pummelling blow with Bayley. Most of all, Banks has the personality to go with all of that- she is a distinguishable presence who not only talks smack but backs it up. And like The Rock, Banks comes with her own catchphrases, nicknames, and unique personal style. In short: Sasha Banks is the total package.

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Banks among those leading the charge for women’s wrestling in NXT means the opportunities we have been seeing to match quality and character development are only going to continue so long as she has anything to do with it. Growing up as a young wrestling fan Banks loved the legendary Eddie Guerrero, but was unable to really get behind the Divas. Banks’ formative years as a fan were days where bra and panties matches and pillow fights were a hefty fraction of WWE’s women’s content, that and the infamous Trish Stratus and Bradshaw vs. Jackie Gayda and Chris Nowinski match. Banks knew, even at ten years old, that women in wrestling deserved better. She knew that if she was going to make it to WWE, she was going to perform above and beyond the notion of Divas that was offered up to her in the 2000s.

banks breezeSo far, Banks’ performance in NXT is not only backing up the argument that women in wrestling deserve better, fans are clamouring for more good women’s wrestling in WWE. The existence of women like Banks who – as cliche as it sounds – live, breathe, eat, sleep wrestling and therefore have a mind for the business are beneficial on a more mainstream level, because more fans will see a standard of wrestling that women deserve and ultimately demand it.

It doesn’t seem like it’s been all that long since there has been a women’s wrestler in the greater WWE-sphere that has received such unanimous praise from all parts of the fandom, but Banks has managed to maintain support where other well loved Divas have faltered. Part of this is attributable to her workrate, and part due to her openness on social media.

Banks is one of the few WWE related personalities who openly uses Tumblr. Through it fans can relate to her not just as a hard working, badass character (which often comes out in kayfabe reblogs of her rivals with heelish comments), but her nerdy side which includes but is not limited to Sailor Moon, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, comic book characters and 90s nostalgia in general. Banks is also a fervent admirer of joshi and along with reblogging the greats of AJW, will post some of the weirder moments in puroresu like Kota Ibushi flashing his bum, Kenny Omega in DDT and even Don Frye. All this amidst a torrent of pictures of Victoria’s Secret models and beauty inspiration.

Banks’ social media presence is so important because it affirms that women don’t need to other themselves and stress they’re “not like most girls,” they can be their authentic self and embrace all sides of the outdated girly girl/tomboy spectrum without tearing anyone apart for their interests. And you can be respected as a woman in your craft doing it.

It also teaches us you can be one of the best wrestlers in WWE and still get a kick out of headcanons, photoshopped images of you with other wrestlers and every now and again ask your following to convince Hideo Itami or Finn Balor to get a picture with you. sasha kentaTo put it bluntly, Sasha Banks looks into the depths of her tag on tumblr and doesn’t flinch, no matter what’s in there. that’s bravery.

So Banks has something for everyone: a developed character, marketability, an inspirational journey and a hint of fangirling, oh and she’s put on some of the best matches this year to boot. It won’t be long until we see Banks wowing crowds at much larger scales and proving that women’s wrestling is awesome.

Becky Lynch: Charming us into Submission

Of NXT’s “Four Horsewomen” leading the charge in changing women’s wrestling in WWE, it’s Ireland’s Becky Lynch we’ve seen NXT_266_Photo_11-3362264059_0the least of. If you tally up the amount of matches each woman has had on NXT television, Lynch has a mere 18, that’s half of Charlotte’s total (36) and a smaller fraction of Bayley and Sasha Banks’ (40 and 48 respectively). And in those 18 matches, not including appearances in backstage segments or accompanying her BAE-partner Sasha, Lynch has not stayed with one fixed character or look for long. She has seen her fair share of hopping (and skipping, and jigging) around things that may or may not have worked. In spite of her character soul-searching on air, there is so much more to Lynch than meets the eye and her depth means we’re going to see even more great things from the emerald of the women’s division.

NXT commentary has reminded fans time and time again about Lynch’s 15 year-old wrestling beginnings. At 18 and 19 years old Lynch was already traveling the world, completing tours in Japan, across Europe and North America. One of the highlights of Lynch’s (then-Knox’s) early years was a 2-out-of-3 falls match in Shimmer against Daizee Haze.

The near half-hour bout was filled with submission maneuvers, mat work and counters. Those technical skills never left her even as a career-threatening injury forced Lynch to take time off wrestling and try out pastures new, none of which could ever replace wrestling.

Over Lynch’s time in NXT she’s had the opportunity to not only regain in-ring confidence and enhance her abilities on the

W0tQ7Rdmicrophone, but bring out her own personality in the face of “reel”-y questionable character traits. Even being a redheaded rocker or backstabbing Bayley to align with Sasha Banks had a vague sense of deja vu. But Lynch has an endearing personality and quite the sense of humour. Lynch is also an esteemed wordsworth, going on warpaths of puns while livetweeting WWE RAW and other events.

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But no piece on Becky Lynch could ever go without mentioning (and grovelling through words) her biggest break yet: the NXT women’s championship match against Sasha Banks at May’s NXT Takeover Special. Lynch introduced the NXT audience to her submission specialties, her holds and suplexes and her attention to detail. The psychology in the match has been applauded by many a fan, calling back to the match structures of decades gone by and ultimately supplying yet another easy addition to the Match of the Year short list.

 

It is all these things that earn Lynch outpours of appreciation from her peers around social media, including a shout-out from the late American Dream in one of his final tweets. Screen Shot 2015-06-15 at 1.36.03 PMWe can hope that one day Lynch may have more lengthy holds and counters heavy chain wrestling bonanzas, or that she will have more time to let her naturally comical side out. But with so much to offer, you might as well sit back, grab a pint and enjoy the future for Becky Lynch.

Charlotte does it with Flair

When her entrance music hits, the sampling of Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra gives you all you need to know about her esteemed wrestling lineage. When she defeats her opponents in the ring, the same sampling sends her off. In a way it’s a sign that her familiar entrance theme is the first and last thing Charlotte wants to hear about being “Ric Flair’s daughter” and luckily she has given wrestling fans plenty of reason to see her as her own woman.

In a showcase of the benefits of the WWE Performance Center, the company would be blind not to feature Charlotte front and centre. She has combined her athletic background with wrestling training that has come exclusively from the facility and in turn put together impressive performances that have allowed her to strut her way onto many Match of the Year lists. Charlotte is evidence that the approach to developing women’s wrestling in NXT is working, provided women are allowed the opportunity to put in the time and the work, and it’s clear Charlotte has put in tremendous work.

It has been incredible to see Charlotte’s growth over the duration of NXT, beginning as the new girl in the BFFs to taking the opportunity to become the next face of the NXT women’s division. Her big break was at NXT Takeover to determine the new Women’s Champion against Natalya.

The match was largely a ground game/submission match, a style that showcased Charlotte’s grit and determination to take her place as the Queen of NXT. It was also a sign that women had a place in the WWE environment to take their time and develop more detailed, psychological matches.

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From there, her in-ring acumen has seen her embrace new styles and moves, enhanced by the talents of those she shares the ring with. From exciting matches with Sasha Banks to more emotionally charged bouts with Bayley, to the stunning performance of all three plus Becky Lynch in the fatal four way, Charlotte has a bounty of opportunity to keep getting better and better, and potentially develop a richer character.

Charlotte’s progress was enough to allow her a chance to grace the main product at the end of 2014 in another match against Natalya, but as many could see something was off. The two women work well together but the current environment of women’s wrestling in WWE proper is not conducive to what Charlotte, and with many other talent are meant to accomplish.

Whatever comes of the state of women’s wrestling in WWE, the work Charlotte has done in her short time becoming a wrestler does justice to her family name.

 

Bayley’s Gonna Hug You

You can just hear her name or see her face and your mouth curls into a smile. Is it the thought of hugs, headbands and high ponytails? The electric personality evident in most everything she does? Whatever it may be, Bayley is one of the most unique characters at the level she performs at, and arguably the most important character in all of WWE, because Bayley dares to cover territory a woman in WWE has never been allowed to enter.

 If you take a peek at the women’s division in WWE, for years it has been plagued with the stale notion of “all women are catty and out to get each other.” This has led to the absolute minimum amount of differentiation between faces, heels or the Divas in general other than “this girl dresses goth” or “this girl wears sporty clothes.” It’s not often that you can be quirky and happy all the time without having some kind of “crazy” label stamped on you.

Bayley is as babyface as a babyface could get. She only truly hates her opponents when they’ve given her no reason to like them, and although her counterparts may deem her strange, she’s never painted in a negative light for her positivity, ultimately earning the respect of many of her opponents because of her passion and heart, and maybe even her hugs.

 It could have gone up in flames from the get go. A perpetually giddy, awkwardly shy superfan could have been a nonstop cringefest. But Bayley touched on moments and experiences that many if not all wrestling fans could relate to. Let’s be honest, not all of us have played it super cool when meeting professional wrestlers, and some of us to this day still embarrass ourselves around anyone who’s laced up a pair of boots. We have all experienced the excitement that Bayley showed about wrestling and as a result people connected with her.

 As she’s developed, more of her own personality has come through in shows. Bayley has never made any secret of her pogo-sticking past and love of Randy Savage but on a deeper level, the superfan persona has evolved into showing her drive to be a great wrestler and how much she loves wrestling. Bayley simply can’t be bothered to constantly engage in tearing her rivals down, she’s busy making sure she is the best she can be.

 One of the strongest examples of Bayley’s heart and determination was in her match against Charlotte at NXT Takeover Fatal 4-Way.

Bayley was the loveable underdog who put her all into battle with the whole crowd behind her. While her efforts were not enough to secure the championship, Bayley earned the hearts of the fans and gained new appreciation from Charlotte.

 Of the “four horsewomen”, Bayley interestingly enough brings the hard hitting moves to competition, ramming opponents into the ring, employing a number of suplexes including her signature Belly-to-Bayley, in essence taking her #huglife to a punishing level.

 

As far as role models in wrestling go, Bayley is no doubt among the top of the list. Her genuine nature, drive for self-improvement, respect for her peers and colourful presentation style has made her a favourite of young and old. And to have a character in wrestling that dares to be different beyond the normal alternative, not-like-most-girls specifications is refreshing. Bayley is all of us deep down, many years ago, when wrestling was the number one thing in our lives, and for quite a few of us out there, Bayley is still us.

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Fan Edition | JH Roberts

Name: JH Roberts @jh_roberts

Age: 31

Location: Athens, GA

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Describe your ringside style: T shirts of bands, wrestlers or other pop culture thing, skinny pants, jean jacket with Cesaro or X Files patch on the back, and flats.

How did you become a wrestling fan?

After living in Alabama during the Attitude Era, I had a lot of negative associations with wrestling, mostly based on the fans I knew and how they treated teen-female-bodied-punk-rock me. Even after meeting a collection of male feminists who like wrestling, including my current partner, I still had a mental block against it. Fast forward to 28, through a period where I studied ballet and restoration comedies: partner and I are sitting around unemployed after moving, and he binge watches CM Punk matches. I start to recognize how wrestling functions and see that it’s not all offensive, just mostly. What really sold me was going to a Chikara show in AL, and meeting people partner had stayed with touring with his band, and re-meeting people I knew from punk shows in Montgomery. I then realized there was a space in wrestling for me and my friends. I settled into that space and then branched out from there.

Fave wrestler:

Mayumi Ozaki

Fave Promotion:

DDT

Fave Move:

Surfboard

Fave Match:

Dream Tag Team:

Cesaro and Sami Zayn

If you had to choose your entrance theme, what would it be?

For my imagined vampire-Euro trash-incestuous mixed tag team at Monstrosity Championship Wrestling:

 


For my imagined New Orleans spooky lady gimmick, Rosie LeFanu: 

 

For my imagined veg-anarcha-feminist gimmick

 

Fan Edition | Hard Femme Fashion

The wonderful Courtney from Wrestling With Makeup sent in a submission, check out her fierce fashions.

Name: Courtney Rose @ChicagoCRose

Age: 27

Location: Chicago

Describe your ringside style:

Hard Femme. I am nothing without baby doll dresses, leggings, docs and red lipstick. I started Wrestling With Makeup simply because I needed more ways to involve wrestling into my wardrobe aside from shirts. Even if no one else knows what I’m doing, I feel a little more badass inside.

How did you become a wrestling fan?

I was about 7 or 8 years old when I first remember watching WCW. My sister and I would stay with our uncle & grandmother after school until my parents could get off work, and my uncle loved wrestling. We would stay there Monday nights to watch Nitro, then he’d tape Raw for us to watch the next day or vice versa. We still have our first pieces of Wrestling memorabilia: mine was a DDP brawling buddy and my sister had a NWO Macho Man.

It’s nice that wrestling is a family thing in our house. Our uncle got us into it and remains a huge fan, my mom watches it semi-regularly and has hilarious opinions as a casual viewer and my dad used to dress up as wrestlers for Halloween to amuse us. My sister and I have a really great bond, we’re best friends, and a lot of that connection was built on our mutual love of performance, traveling, and watching men beat each other up at our feet.

Fave Wrestler:

Kenny Omega & Chris Hero

Fave Promotion: 

It changes often, but right now I’m hugely into PWG and New Japan on repeat.

Fave Move:

Omega Driver, Cattle Mutilation, & One Winged Angel.

Fave Match: 

Impossible question. I have a YouTube playlist of matches I watch because they’re amazing, and one of guilty pleasure matches that make my insides fill with glee. Here are some:

Dream Tag Team:

  • Height of career Goldust and Kenny Omega
  • Chris Jericho & Chuck Taylor
  • William Regal & Chris Hero
  • Nakamura & Daniel Bryan (I know everyone wants to see this match, but I can dream of a tag team first right?)
  • Lita & Candice Le Rae
  • Luna Vachon & Jessicka Havok
  • Sensational Sherri & Sasha Banks
  • Heidi Lovelace & Paige

    Like I said, trouble making decisions. 

If you had to choose your entrance theme, what would it be?

If I had my way, Pony by Ginuwine would play every time I enter a room.

Also I have a life goal of creating a stable that enters the ring to “Ruff Ryders Anthem” by DMX, entirely dressed as Teddy Roosevelt.

But if we’re serious: 

 

Fan Edition | I Ain’t Afraid Of No Mark

Name: Marissa @yunatron

Age: 30

Location: Chicago

Describe your ringside style: 

Band shirt, leggings and Adidas Superstars since Chuck Taylors and Docs have already been used…

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How did you become a wrestling fan?

Watched syndicated WWE programming during the 90s. I liked the over the top personalities and crazy moves. Was one of the millions of The Rock’s fans during The Attitude Era.

Fave Wrestler: Macho Man Randy Savage

Fave Promotion: 

I rotate various promotions. Right now I’m into Lucha Underground and Shimmer.

Fave Move: Brainbuster

Fave Match: Backlash ‘99, The Rock vs Stone Cold

Dream Tag Team:

Best and The Beard (CM Punk and Daniel Bryan)

If you had to choose your entrance theme, what would it be?

If you want to be featured please email us some photos and fill out our questionnaire!

Fan Edition | Buttons and Hats

Name: Ami Moregore (@happypeep)

Age: 33

Location: NJ and travelling about 1.5 hours in all directions for good wrestling as my budget allows.

Describe your ringside style:

I’d like to think it’s nothing too unusual. Simple shirt, tights and skirt. Sensible closed toes shoes or boots (since I’m frequently front row and never know when I’ll need to run due to falling humans) and a DSLR around my neck. Something happened during the late winter of 2014 and I began wearing these adorable hats made by Athena’s Wink. I’ve now seen my hats on DVDs I bought and feel equal parts mortified and amused that these are on a permanent record. My purse also gets in on the act. I’m quicker to buy buttons over shirts since my dresser is over capacity and I get to support multiple wrestlers rather than just one.

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How did you become a wrestling fan?

I’m old enough that I remember Hogan’s Rock and Wrestling on the air, but I don’t think that made me a wrestling fan (except to Roddy Piper). It’s such a blur but I’d have to blame older kids in my neighbourhood for enthusiastically talking non stop with an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the Texas Tornado or the Ultimate Warrior.

Fave Wrestler: 

Ugh, there’s so many. Currently active faves will always include LuFisto. In addition to the sheer artistry she brings to wrestling and the genuine emotion she can evoke, she inspires me. She’s my age, which is by no means old, has accomplished so much, and yet she’s still hungry. That and she’s just such a sweet human. I’ve also noticed that any wrestler I talk to long enough will admit their appreciation of her.

Fave Promotion: 

I’m so spoiled by the amount of great promotions near me. I’ve been consistently happy with the quality of matches I’m catching from WSU/CZW, and I don’t even like death matches! It’s hard to separate the two companies. In addition to their product, the staff has been most kind to me. But seriously, there are so many great ones near me that I am spoiled and feel guilty.

Fave Move:

Arm bar choke hold. It’s a move that has multiple ways to apply, even if the end result is the same and it’s a legitimate painful move if done right. I’ve used it to take down people three times my size!

Fave Match:

For now? Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi vs Danshoku and Yoshihiko in DDT where, SPOILER ALERT, Taka ‘kills’ Yoshiko. Favourite live match I saw may be reDRagon defeating the Young Bucks at ROH War of the Worlds 2014.

Dream Tag Team? 

Danny Hodge and Lou Thesz in their primes. I can imagine wrestlers well versed in history collectively needing a change of underpants at that thought.

Dream Entrance Theme?

Amanda LePre’s The Gift. Though if I ever get married I should totally come out to Muta Concerto instead of Here Comes the Bride.

Thanks for taking part, Ami! If you want to be featured please contact us via email or on twitter!

Lita

Arguably one of the most popular wrestlers in the women’s division during the attitude era, we’d be daft to overlook Lita.

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Lita was fairly contentious to say the least since her storyline was heavily sexual in nature. You might remember her from such on screen flings with Matt Hardy, Christian, Dean Malenko, Kane and a “live sex celebration” in the ring on Raw with Edge, when you should be remembering her for her multiple title reigns, fantastic in ring work rate and being the only woman to take part in a TLC match within the WWE.

Her biggest push was part of Team Xtreme alongside the Hardy Boyz, one of which she had an off screen relationship with ‐ Matt Hardy. That relationship was ended to pursue one with Edge and WWE creative hopped on that and made it into an on screen storyline. Utilizing a woman’s sexual prowess to aid their heel turn is tricky business and one that I generally wouldn’t advise. It’s really tough to see someone you admire and respect being portrayed as evil for pursuing her desires and regarded as manipulative and pitting friends against one another. That push tends to be taken from a different angle when it comes to men, HBK for example, who is praised as a ladies man and it’s entirely okay. This wasn’t always used in a negative light, and in her feud with Trish Stratus they used Christian and Jericho’s bet on who could bed their woman first to spur a Battle of the Sexes match since the men were such pigs.

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Lita was a four time women’s champion and held that title for a consecutive 73 days. Lita retained said title in a hardcore match against Jacqueline; and I wish more women would take part in hardcore matches. She is also one of EIGHT women in the WWE Hall of Fame.

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Here are two really great matches of hers you should watch (including said hardcore match):

 

Fan Edition | Shelly Deathlock

In today’s “Who’s That Girl?” we focus on another fan of pro graps and their awesome fashion sense. This time it’s our very own Shelly Deathlock!

Name: Shelly Deathlock

Age: Play Button (see that’s what WWE made the 31 in “Wrestlemania 31” into because 31 sounds like it’s too old HEY WAIT A DAMN MINUTE.)

Location: Connecticut

Describe your ringside style: Early to mid 90’s heavy metal.

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How did you become a wrestling fan?

I turned on Raw one night in 1993. Yokozuna was delivering several Banzai drops to Crush and Tatanka wasn’t coming out to help him. I was AMAZED. Slippery slope from there, and I began watching all the time. It’s totally a prototypical scene for my wrestling fandom: Good guy is getting murdered by bad guy; good guys friend… isn’t helping? How good can good guys be, then? Good guys aren’t very good. So, murdered good guy joins bad guys, gets to hang out with Mr. Fuji and beat the shit out of Randy Savage. Life lessons.

Fave Wrestler: Shinsuke Nakamura, King of Strong Style and saviour of professional wrestling.

Fave Promotion: NJPW

Fave Move: The… @indiandeathlock. 😉

Fave Match: This isn’t even difficult. Nakamura vs. Ibushi at Wrestle Kingdom 9 this year made most other matches I’ve seen look like they weren’t pro wrestling at all, but some sad shadowy version of it. That match was amazing.

Before that, it was probably Bret vs. Owen at WM X & also their Summerslam ‘94 cage match. I was super invested in those as a baby Owen Hart fan.

Dream Tag Team: Sasha Banks & Kazuchika Okada. $$$$$$$

If you had to choose your own entrance theme, what would it be? 

But then I’d have to also literally bleed black somehow to keep it kayfabe. I’m working on it.

Bull Nakano

Here we have a woman who was as stylish in the ring as she was tough. With hair that stands almost as tall as I am, that also barely moves, and the most electifying shade of blue lipstick that would make David Bowie proud, she brought a unique and terrifying brand of beauty to women’s pro wrestling. Bull Nakano started wrestling in AJW at the age of 15, and over time has competed in multiple promotions including CMLL, WWF and WCW. Winning her first title Bull was a trailblazer of sorts, and was CMLL’s first ever World Women’s Champion. Her strongest matches were primarily tag matches alongside Dump Matsumoto, and she has held the WWWA World Tag Team Championship on three separate occassions.

This isn’t to say that she’s not a raging monster in the ring when she’s by herself. When she regained the WWWA World Heavyweight Championship title in a Japan Grand Prix tournament, she remained the title holder for just shy of three consecutive years before dropping the belt to Aja Kong.

Bull is my ideal type of wrestler: she’s slow, strong, throws her weight around and doesn’t give two shits about you or how hard you’re going to go down to that mat. No stranger to technique, she uses a lot of brute force moves to exert dominance over her opponent. My personal favourites are when she utilizes the Moolah Whip landing her opponent flat on their face across the ring, or the ever so arrogant standing on someone’s chest when they’re down for a pin. What’s even more impressive is Bull’s ability to be perceived as a tough, unbreakable monster even when she loses a match.

If she hasn’t scorpion crosslocked her way into your heart just yet, then check out this Joshi match on a SUBWAY TRAIN between her and Yumi Fukawa:

As for a suggestion on what else to watch? I’ve yet to be let down by any match of hers, so internet search to your heart’s content. (But don’t just stick to the WWE).

Mt. Fiji

Just as she would rap in her intro, with us on her side she’ll never lose; and she never did. Throughout her stint with GLOW: Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling Mt. Fiji never lost a match, and it would be a big deal if someone were to knock this gentle giant off her feet.

Fiji is one of the greatest babyfaces that women’s pro wrestling has ever seen. Normally, the larger you are, the more likely you are to be billed as a monster among women, but she was beloved by all without having to sacrifice her brute and vicious strength. Her fellow GLOW Good Girls respected and adored her and her opposing GLOW Bad Girls feared her and sought out the challenge to be the one to knock her down.  One of her signature moves is an avalanche which involves crushing her opponent in the corner right up against the turnbuckle. Relying on that, body slams, clotheslines and other maneuvers where she didn’t need to move much, it was extremely difficult to take her out. As mentioned before, Fiji never lost a match, but has eliminated herself in Battle Royals to tend to injured friends.

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As a promotion, GLOW was no stranger to being extremely politically incorrect and relied heavily on racist and sexist tropes in order to push the envelope. Bearing that in mind, Fiji’s character remained genuine and never truly seemed to cross that line. I can’t, however, take into account anything the announcer would spout, and am basing this solely off how she presents herself in ring and in sketches. Fiji is a Samoan American and very obviously proud of her heritage, she would flaunt this in character and that was never presented as the butt of the joke.

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Unfortunately, her luck in being able to thwart racism in her career did not translate to life outside the GLOW house. Nearing the end of the show’s run, Fiji and her family were involved in an incident of extreme police brutality which was seen to be racist in nature that took place at a bridal shower. In response to a noise complaint, the LA Country Sheriff’s department descended upon their home in full riot gear and proceeded to beat members of the family with billy clubs. Fiji stood strong in effort to protect others who were there and prevent them from being on the receiving end of such treatment.

Wrestling quickly became Fiji’s passion and it could be seen throughout the entire run of GLOW. Fiji did have some wrestling related appearances on TV and in film near the end of the show, her final appearance being in Pauly Shore’s Son In Law. Sadly, after GLOW ended Fiji had to stop wrestling. Currently she resides in a nursing home due to illnesses and knee issues, but is still keepin’ on.

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Back to Mt. Fiji’s wrestling prowess, a really interesting fact is that she was often billed in handicap matches where it would be two against one.

Vivian Vachon

One might see the (American) wrestling industry’s tip-toeing around the word “wrestler” when discussing women as indication that the Bellas are pioneers, that women grapplers are just a bit green of a concept, and that WWE and TNA are working their way up to calling them wrestlers, much like you or I might work up to calling mom’s new husband “Dad” once he’s proven himself not a chump.

Before Ric Flair ever strutted his way to a main event melee, Mildred Burke wrestled men at carnivals and held a world title for almost twenty years. 12 years before the first King of the Ring, there was already a wrestling queen: Vivian Vachon.

There’s one (or more) in every family–Mike von Erich, Reid Flair, LA Smooth–wrestling has relied on family dynasties to fluff their numbers and normalize the hazard-riddled lifestyle that comes with the job. But wrestling is not known for it’s ability to 1) care for their own or 2) encourage people to share when playing. A lot of potential succumbs to the crucible of ego, politics, and addiction that comes with your dinner in a wrestling house.

Vivian is the Marilyn Munster of her family of sideshow personalities. A Mad Dog and Butcher for brothers, Luna for a niece–it’s not a lack of talent that keeps her quarried to shadow, or a lack of menace. When the golden-haired muscle muse disrobed her rainbow ring robe, she would stomp your head in with the tell-tale glib sadism that is her family’s trademark.

Wrestling in the 70’s was rougher around the edges–technical pizazz took second chair to just making it look real, and like it hurt. Today a standing leglock is recognized as a rest hold, but before “sports entertainment” gave the wink on whether or not wrestling was staged, a standing leglock could end matches, and kicking someone in the face to break out of one was more than a leadup to another “spot”.

Hair pulling was practically ingrained in the training of women’s wrestlers. Wanna know who Fabulous Moolah trained? See how often they go for the hair.

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Accomplished singer (yes, it still counts if it’s in French) and former model–it’s not stretch to suggest Vivian Vachon could have had a film career beyond the documentary. She had the effervescent girl next door elan that Americans make themselves sick on. We could have had the female response to Hulk Hogan a decade before anyone gave a fuck who that guy was.

Actually: she’d won the AWA’s Women’s Championship a full decade before Hogan would flounce out of AWA over their unwillingness to take the belt of Bockwinkel and put it on him. Had Hogan stayed to “tough it out” in AWA, HulkaMania may have never happened. Who knows if there’d have been another wrestler to take his place in leading the charge of wrestling into pop culture.

In an alternate universe, Vivian Vachon became a movie star and Hulk Hogan tried to no-sell Bruiser Brody and got hit with the whole bag of potatoes, simmering his star before it ever launched.

When WWE and TNA dance around the word “wrestler”, they discredit the decades of work men and women put to lay foundation for their mainstream appeal.

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They do a great disservice to their queen.

Fan Edition | Shield Devotee

In this week’s fan edition of “Who’s That Girl” we are speaking with this lovely cat from Nashville that I, AV Christensen, met during a trip I took down there in the winter. She was my Lyft driver and got really excited when she saw my profile photo was me executing a flawless Boston Cream finisher and asked if I was truly “a bad ass lady wrestler”.

Let’s check in with Audrey and her obvious obsession with a certain faction within the dubya dubya eeee.

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Name: Audrey Killawatts (a.k.a Khaos Reigns)

Age: 21

Location: Nashville, TN

Describe your ringside style: Chaotic Neutral

How did you become a wrestling fan? My best friend introduced me.

Fave Wrestler: A toss up between Dean Ambrose and Dolph Ziggler.

Fave Promo Cut: That’s a tough one, I really loved Dean’s “Ice Bucket Challenge” on Rollins.

Fave Move: Scorpion Crosslock

Fave Match: Um, dude, I have no idea, there are seriously too many. But Rollins v Ambrose early on in the break up of the shield. Ambrose looked so torn over having to take out Rollins. Brilliant.

Dream Tag Team: I miss the Shield…

If you had to choose your own entrance theme, what would it be?

Huge thanks to Audrey for taking part! Can’t follow her on social media since she’s not a twitter gal. But if you’re ever in Nashville she’ll cut your hair, or maybe drive you around if you order something on Lyft!

Fan Edition | Grapple Kitty

Each week, we aim to highlight some of the best women in wrestling and that includes the fans too.

Kicking off the Fan Edition of “Who’s That Girl?” is @grapplekitty

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Name: Kitty

Age: 25

Location: New York City

Describe your ringside style: Colourful, casual, and comfortable. I rarely wear t-shirts in public, as I am more of a blouse and sweater person. I actually wore a floral blouse to a wrestling show in 2012. I own only three wrestling related shirts. I just ruined my Sami Zayn shirt, and my other shirt is promotion-specific, so this was my only option for the last wrestling show I attended.

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How did you become a wrestling fan?: I grew up watching wrestling, specifically WWE, with my dad. I think I started watching regularly in 1999, with my favourites being Kane, Chris Jericho and the Hardy Boyz. I began seeking out independent and international wrestling in 2011.

Fave Wrestler: Sami Zayn

Fave Promotion: PWG

Fave Move: Chaos Theory

Fave Match: ever? That’s really hard. I think it’s Edge and Christian vs the Hardy Boyz in a ladder match at No Mercy 1999, just because I’ve seen it so many times.

Dream Tag Team: Sasha Banks and Bull Nakano. They’ll look amazing while smashing faces in.
If you had to choose your own entrance theme, what would it be?
Something goofy. Probably the Miley Cyrus/Notorious B.I.G mashup, Party and Bullshit in the USA.

If you’d like to be featured in our fan edition, please email us (femmezuigiri@gmail.com) with 1 or 2 photos of you to be included in the article and we’ll send over a short questionnaire! It doesn’t have to be wrestling tees, it’s whatever you love to wear to shows!

Slam Dunk

Character is collaborative. You can write every intended spoken line and weeks worth of kayfabe tweets, but you can’t move their mouths or blink their pretty eyes for them. At some point, the wrestler enacts agency.

David McLane’s women-based wrestling promotions GLOW and Women of Wrestling were plagued with setbacks by the bucketful, the least of which was a racist run rampant, practically sprinting.

It’s easy, or rather it has been societally programmed as such, to look at women of color playing out race-baiting pantomimes and fall back on the either/or: they must have full agency over their decision to take the part, or they lack all agency in their participation. The truth is stuck in the mud along the border of the rival states. There is room for enjoyment, satisfaction, coercion, and frustration, for working with the system and being exploited by it, simultaneously–the scenario is universal, but the reaction is case by case.

All this to say that WoW’s Slam Dunk made the most out of a preposterly offensive gimmick. She was set up as a (then) heel inversion of Mt. Fiji–the giant undefeated woman. Supposedly banned from the WNBA for being too violent, Slam Dunk compensated a weak knack for grappling with heel ring psychology and the sort of trash-talking swagger of self-love and confident that white America had come to resent so immensely in young black athletes.

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As a face, Bret Hart insisted he was “the best there ever will be”–he wasn’t even the best wrestler on the roster at time. But when Ali called himself the greatest, the soap boxes lined the streets. People begged and pleaded that someone, out there, would be able to teach Ali some manners and his place in society. Babe Ruth calling his shots is now endearing nostalgia–would we tolerate this from a black athlete?

One positive (of many) in building wrestling shows around non-wrestlers who are trained and learn how to be wrestlers as they go: you can actually sell a leg drop. The roughshod choreography of spots, and Slam Dunk’s imposing size difference over her opponents, makes her leg drop look at the very least unpleasant, if not legitimately painful.

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Most women who get into wrestling are taught how to work the crowd as managers–when they finally get a chance to compete in the ring, it’s hard to translate that manager heat into sustaining the audience’s attention. So they try to stick more moves and repeat botched spots and fall apart into a frenzy of awkward half-bumps when the match isn’t working.

Slam Dunk, wisely, spends more time working the crowd than she does her opponent who is, like her, a wrestler by happenstance. You do the best you can with what you have, and many of the women David McLane wrangled for his schemes weren’t given much in the way of respect or concern for safety.

A towering and obnoxious villainess like Slam Dunk is a staple of a successful fledging roster. You can feed them smaller, less experienced wrestlers for heat, then blow it off with an underdog fan favorite with a convincing half-crab (like Slam Dunk’s rival, Roxy Powers).

She may not have a believable big leaguer, but Slam Dunk had the puckered-lip cockiness and stage presence of a reliable heel menace that could have helped WoW cultivate an acceptable product. At least until they could have afforded to give her a less obvious temporary tattoo. Of a basketball.

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David McLane does not have an entry in the Southern Poverty Law Center’s database and frankly this vexes me.

Who’s That Girl? Sensational Sherri Martel

A career like Sherri Martel’s would disrupt the otherwise deftly meticulous managing of women’s talent and identity that has become a trademark of the WWE. The first name only gimmicks and over promoting of an underwhelming Divas reality show allows WWE to effectively own the identities and careers of their talent. Should they tire of their five minute snack break matches, WWE can hold the door open to the inhospitable future that lays before them–where else do you think you’ll go? You aren’t properly trained. You don’t even have a full name like a real person. This is where you belong.

Sherri has a career that defies tethering to a brand identity. A 3 time AWA Women’s Champion and one-time WWF Women’s Champion, she has sassed and sashayed her way onto every major American wrestling promotion, even appearing on TNA before her death a year later. She was the standard bearer for wicked feminine wile in the Federation years, managing Randy Savage, Shawn Michaels, and Ted DiBiase, her deviousness accentuated by exaggerated makeup meant to mask her effervescent beauty and entice the marks to  heap hate and judgment on her.

Even the Heenan family would blush at her career-wide retinue–Harlem Heat, Ric Flair, Shane Douglas, Eddie Guerrero, Art Barr.

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Sherri’s mad mat grappling chops are undeniable, but her ring psychology outshines some of her male contemporaries. Triple H once intimidated a referee into reversing a title change. That sort of heelery seems half hearted hackery when compared to Sherri berating the referee, without ever acknowledging the opponent she is wearing down with illegal holds. “Are you happy now!?” she screams, breaking the hold and giving her opponent a chance for a comeback. Sherri knew, for better or worse (usually worse) how to manipulate what men found aggravating or even offensive about her.

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Laying a foundation for women to be fierce in and out of the ring, a formula followed for decades by other valets/grapplers, may have also cost Martel her staying power. She wasn’t tied to a single wrestler (like Miss Elizabeth) and didn’t dramatically change her name or persona when coming into a new promotion (like almost anybody who isn’t a main event star who can leverage their star power against a booking committee’s whim). She was often jobbed out or paired with wrestlers doomed to dodder into obscurity (Tatanka, Marty Jannetty). No one could own her identity. This was before WWE Creative would give you a list of acceptable names, including your real name switched around, that didn’t have the name you’ve used your whole career. This was before WWE set up a whole “starter league” to put established wrestlers through curtain-jerking purgatory to remind them of their new place. Thus Sherri was not always treated sensationally by the business she devoted herself to.

She coached champion tag teams. She took bumps from Hulk Hogan. She brawled in the audience on the independent circuit.

Sherri Martel was tried-and-true journeywoman glue, helping keep the sport together, even while her male counterparts nearly tore the industry apart because they didn’t want to share the spotlight with younger, fresher talent.

A queen if we ever deserved one.

Who’s That Girl? Madusa (Alundra Blayze)

It’s not so often that you get blacklisted by a company for 20 years only to be honoured and inducted into their Hall of Fame afterwards. But, then again, it’s not so often that we come across wrestlers that are the calibre of Madusa.

Madusa, short for Made in the USA, has held 6 separate titles around the world, including the WWF Women’s Championship on three separate occasions. That title is the one that Madusa would later trash live on WCW Monday Nitro stating that this is what she thinks of the WWF Women’s Championship belt. This was an extra huge deal considering that she was brought in to the WWF to help revive the women’s division since that title had been vacant for the three years leading up to her debut. She debuted under the name Alundra Blayze, however, because she had trademarked the name Madusa, which Mr. McMahon didn’t want to pay the license fees for. In other milestones, Madusa also fought Leilani Kai for the title at Wrestlemania X, marking the first women’s match at Wrestlemania since the first one ever.

In addition to all these titles held around the world, Madusa was the first woman ever to be awarded with Pro Wrestling Insider’s “Rookie of the Year” title and was the first foreign wrestler to sign a contract with All Japan Pro Wrestling. Ultimately, Madusa retired from pro wrestling around the time that it was rumoured WCW was going to be bought out by the WWF. The other reason was that she didn’t like the direction that women’s wrestling was headed in being less about actual wrestling and more geared towards strip matches.

One of the strongest matches Madusa ever held was a series of matches in her feud against Bull Nakano. These matches took place in both the USA and Japan, and she actually lost the WWF Women’s Championship Belt to Bull Nakano while in Japan. Her ability to fluidly move from heel to baby face has always impressed me; a lot of what factored in the response to Madusa herself was where the match was taking place in the world. Her style was very fast paced and using finishers that required great agility such as a bridging German suplex or a hurricanarana.

Outside of the ring, Madusa also acted as a manager to several great wrestlers including, my personal favourite, The Macho Man Randy Savage. Here’s to hoping that her induction into the WWE Hall of Fame will help light the fire under their asses they need to build up the women’s division once more. Sadly, they haven’t learned their lesson yet and we aren’t slated to see a title match at Wrestlemania XXXI on Sunday.