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“I’d Be Okay Punching A Jigglypuff”: An Interview with Su Yung

In the wake of social media, where we are all our own independent news sources, the needs and yields of the interview are shifting. Information is abundant. I could ask any wrestler their favorite cocktail; I could also open up their twitter and Control-F “Appletini”.  The value of the information we glean from interviews—which may already exist in Facebook posts and Instagram comments—is contextualized by the vulnerability and emotional intimacy shared between subject/reporter. It is something that interviews offer that social media does not automatically guarantee: a captive, compassionate audience.

That vulnerability can be transformative, and more profound than “the scoop”.  It can only be cultivated organically—like in dating,  you can’t treat people like vending machines that dispense [gratification/resource] in return for kindness.

I don’t know yet if sharing space with Su Yung’s fearless enthusiasm and emotional bareness will make me a better writer or a more respected “reporter/blogger'”. I do know the warmth and courage inspired by her excitable yarn-spinning will linger within me for a while. The way she talked up everyone else she knew—and even people she doesn’t know but just inspired her—heartens the hardened muckraker I like to imagine myself to be.

She is why people fall in this line of work, and stick with it even when it sucks. If every friend in whatever field you’re reporting on could be as charming and affirming as her, you’d be on the fast track to a Pulitzer or a Webby or a Buzzfeed listicle of your quotes.

But I bear no belabored delusions of timidity: Su Yung could probably find more ways to kill me than three years of Remedial College Algebra could allow me to count.

I feel we’re in an emotionally incongruous time in wrestling. On the one hand, we have CHIKARA and PWG and Lucha Underground; wrestling is enjoying itself, and it’s cool to like a product that aims to be fun. But it’s still so rare to see someone in the business having fun, or say that wrestling is fun—even in shoots. Is wrestling still fun for you like it was when you were a fan and in the same ways? Or does the relationship with that enjoyment or satisfaction evolve?

I think I actually get more satisfaction out of wrestling than some other girls because I’ve loved wrestling ever since I was young. Once I started getting into wrestling, and understanding it more, and I really took initiative and applied myself to understand the psychological depth through it, it gave me a little more satisfied feeling whenever I wrestled because I feel like I’m accomplishing something though something I love, versus there are people who love it as a fan, that love as a wrestler, etc—there’s a bigger love when you become obsessed with it. It is an obsession; it’s all I do or talk about.

Photo Credit Headlocks and Headshots
Photo Credit Headlocks and Headshots

Has that love ever been tempered by the historic marginalization of women to support roles?

Women’s wrestling, is very motivational and very inspiring, especially watching Lita, Trish, and even Sable. A Sable Bomb on Marc Mero was one of the craziest things I saw as a kid. Chyna battling men was awesome—it kind of opened my eyes more towards the product as a whole because I didn’t just love women’s wrestling; as a kid I actually loved men’s wrestling more than women’s.

I don’t know how to explain it, but I will forever have a special place in my heart for Scott Steiner.

It feels taboo to be talking like this with other people. This is kind of who I am. My first wrestling show was Wrestlemania XIX —my dad bought me a Freakzilla shirt because that was the shirt I wanted out of all of them. I still have it to this day and I wear it randomly.

It wasn’t like later on I fell in love with women’s wrestling more. When Trish Stratus came out with the Stratusfaction, it just made me look at women’s wrestling in another light. I’ve always looked at women’s wrestling in another light from watching, you know, different matches and stuff.

Sometimes, when you’re a kid, you don’t really see anything but what’s put in front of you. It is what it is, you know what I’m saying? You react to it. That’s the truth.

How did you develop your move set? Does it reflect your identity, as either a character or in the context of your background?

To be honest, if I do a wrestling move in a match it’s because I feel like it’s needed there, or I feel like it goes with my character at the time. There are certain moves that I do over and over again, but the only reason I do those moves is because it’s really fun. I know it sounds weird, but I only want to do stuff that’s fun to me.

If we all just wrestled for fun I think that a lot of people would be more invested in it. That’s kind of my motive for a lot of things‑if I’m not inclined, why am I doing this?

National brands are shot and produced in such a way that they present a very homogenized wrestling culture—I sense this doesn’t exist, but lack the context of traveling the country.

The Memphis crowd—those people love wrestling to no end. They’re die-hard wrestling fans. And the area is very known for that, but there’s not many shows that run around because it’s very difficult to get that kind of group of people together. They’re huge lovers of the past, so you have to appease to everybody in your niche.

California has a great fan base there—they’re very polite, they’re very cool, they’re very awesome. In Memphis, the fans believe it so much. When I come out they chant “two dollar ho” to me. That’s them, they’re real about it. They’re in your face about it. A California crowd will be in your face in a different way.

Photo Credit to Modern Myth
Photo Credit to Modern Myth

It’s kind of like accents, wherever you go, there’s different accents, and some places you’re like “I’m attracted to that sound.”

My favourite venue to go to is the Mohawk in Texas, that’s where Anarchy Champion Wrestling is. We recently had a Wrestling Prom and people would show up in dresses and stuff for whatever they wanted. And one of the guys there dressed up as a furry! I didn’t know how to—I was just so happy. I’ve actually tweeted out to him recently. I was like “Can you please dress up as Pikachu at this Queen of Queens tournament?” I think that’s a pretty good story. You don’t see that very often at a wrestling show.

So, first I want to say “Thank you for how acknowledging how polite we Californian crowds are, we try. Second, if you could wrestle a Pokemon

A fan online said Jessica Havok was like Snorlax. If I could wrestle Jessica Havok dressed as a Snorlax that would be awesome.

But my real answer would be I would want to wrestle a jigglypuff. I would be okay punching a Jigglypuff in the face. I would punch a jigglypuff in the face, especially if they tried to sing me to sleep because ain’t nobody singin’ me to sleep.

That might be the most heel thing I’ve ever heard anyone say.

I know. I love Jigglypuff, but sometimes Jigglypuff needs to sit down.

It feels, within the last few years, there’s been a big burst of diversity in women’s wrestling—there are exponentially more women of colour wrestling than there were through all my youth combined. What would you describe as the impetuous for what has allowed for this resurgence in inclusivity of women of colour in wrestling?

It’s because basically, you know, I feel like within the history of women’s wrestling we’ve been looked at as taboo. But now it’s not really as taboo, and people actually like that women are investing in wrestling. And it’s the passion behind it. If you have that passion behind if you’re going to make it to good places.

Photo Credit to Modern Myth
Photo Credit to Modern Myth

Have you ever felt sort of pressured by bookers or the community to try and incorporate more of an “Asian influence” to your wrestling or character?

I always have people encouraging me to do that type of style, or be a certain “way” when wrestling, You’re always going to experience that, wherever you go. There’s always going to be someone pressuring you to do something you don’t want to do, or don’t want to be like. And, you know, you’ve just got to understand as a person you can say no. You can say no, because you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do.

Why break yourself for something that’s not going to break for you? If you’re not gonna be yourself, why would you want to do something and make yourself someone you don’t even know anymore?

As it is as an art form, you have to understand that you can lose yourself in this, and once you do, that’s when you start losing everything.

Wrestling, like every fandom, has that sort of “this house is clean, nothing to see here” reactive denialism to these topics.

No one’s gonna know anything’s wrong unless it’s yourself. Everything that I do, everything that I experience in life, I want to do it for myself. If I ‘m gonna do something, and I want to take on a challenge, it’s because I want to and not because someone’s making me. And there’s no reason anyone should feel forced to do anything.

Where does selling fit into that “doing it for myself” philosophy? Can selling be an indulgence in and of itself?

I feel like within selling, you’re gonna do what’s best for the time. For me, there’s no ego behind it. If someone punches me in the face, I’m always going to react the same no matter who’s punching me.

It’s on you to do your job. As far as selling, it’s up to that person if they want to have a really good match or not. Do you really want to see two people not doing anything in the ring, and not making you feel like you’re part of the action? Or do you want to feel what they’re feeling? It’s all upon how they project that, and that’s just really what it comes down to.

That, for me, has always been one of the most compelling aspects of pro wrestling. There’s always someone pulling their hair at a football or baseball game, screaming “you should’ve made this play, how could you not have made that play, why am I here and not there doing your job for you?” With wrestling, when I saw Pentagon Jr put Sexy Star in that modified surfboard my one thought was “fuck, better her than me, I’d probably die.” It’s the emotional release of a finish—knowing you wouldn’t have fared better.

Exactly. I totally am with you on that. That’s amazing. And I think that’s part of the access of fun. You see them having fun doing it because it looks fun but it also looks scary. That’s the thrill. It’s an amazing roller coaster ride that never ends.

What is a fun move to take?

To take?

Yeah.

Screencap from Shine Wrestling via WWNLive.com
Screencap from Shine Wrestling via WWNLive.com

The RKO is always fun, even if you’re just in a swimming pool. I love stunners. I think those are really fun. I’m a sick person. I like anything really dangerous. I’m down for danger. I really like high risk stuff. But there’s not a lot of people that are willing to do stuff like that.

If you can take a tilt-a-whirl headscissors into a pool, it’s so much fun.

I like it when a girl can do a handstand in the corner and then turn it to a hurricanrana.

People don’t realize how high you are up there when you’re on the top rope. It’s really scary. But once you’re getting comfortable with your surroundings it’s amazing. It hurts though. It really does hurt. But I’m weird.

How do you feel about crowds now? With Botchamania and Twitter, crowds are getting very smart. And they’re making chants that are in jokes, and they’re holding up signs that are very clever; do you feel like that’s a good thing for crowds to be in on the joke of wrestling? Or is it better when crowds just cheer when they’re supposed to?

It’s a very hard question to answer; I do love crowds, but there are times when they’re very spoiled and ungrateful. “If we don’t see what we want to see, we’re mad”. There are a lot of people putting their bodies on the line for your entertainment, or your interest, whatever you want to call it.

Wrestling’s a market—it could be anything. There are some people that honestly invest in professional wrestling because they love the innuendos and sexual parts of it. There’s a lot of different niches in this and it’s hard to go “Well, everybody’s gonna likes this” because there are some crowds that are way cooler than others.

Photo Credit Travis Brogen Photography
Photo Credit Travis Brogen Photography

I’m not gonna lie: I’ve seen many different crowds where they’ve been unforgivable and they just wanted to hate everything. But there have also been crowds where they just love the people and are just happy to be there. Normally, those are the ones I like, the ones who are ready for anything, versus expecting something. When you expect something you’re always let down.

You can’t go in and are like “I need to see this”. That’s very mainstream visual/thinking. Whenever people go to a WWE show they’re like “I wanna see John Cena, he better FU somebody tonight.

One of the things that I feel made the indie scene so popular now, and so viable, is that the matches were so unpredictable and non-formulaic—and in turn that’s become the indie formula, you know, when people describe Cena vs Owens as “Cena doing an indie match”.

Everything’s formulated in a way, it’s just not always a 1+1=2. It’s okay to have a 1+1=2 because sometimes that’s what’s needed to be done.

There’s nothing behind passion that can be stopped. If you have the passion and drive for something you will succeed no matter what. You may not succeed in what you expect, but there is gonna be success there. It’s a positive lifestyle thinking, you know?

We respect people who are cynical and jaded and don’t like stuff.

A big person who is positive in this industry is Serena Deeb, She’s a very good positive person who reaches out to the soul. It’s really nice. And Saraya Knight, she is a definite positive person that’s really cool. I enjoy people like that more than people who feel like they are owed things.

You can’t expect things. You’ve got to be happy.

Did you get a chance to play, when you were a kid, the WCW Nitro playstation game?

Yes!

Remember how you could unlock the weird arenas? The disco club and the North Pole?

I wish they still had stuff like that on the video games sometimes nowadays. Those were so fun.

If you could set up a wrestling ring in some weird locale, what would you want it to be?

If I could put up a wrestling ring in any location I would actually want to put a wrestling ring in the water at the beach. I would want to find a way to make a wrestling ring that is okay to be halfway in the water, halfway out of the water. That would be a phenomenal thing to me.

Can you imagine how sick it would be if someone had a jet ski and they tied someone to it and just dragged them through the ocean like that? That is sadistic, and scary.

You could have one of your matches be interrupted by a giant sea monster.

Like a Cthulu underneath the ring? Oh snap.

And then you’d need to get all your wrestlers out to fight the evil sea monster.

Yes. I think they did that in California, recently. I remember there were a couple of my buddies that went over there and they wrestled a Cthulu monster from under the ring at a show.

I think it’d be crazier if it was a beach show, though.

How do you define success for you as a performer? You had talked about going through the developmental process at WWE—I imagine it can feel like when you do the indies that you’re just doing a lot of the same, and without that national coverage it can feel like there’s not a forward progression. But how do you define success? Is it the pops that you get from a crowd? Is it personal development?

Photo Credit Headlocks and Headshots
Photo Credit Headlocks and Headshots

Success in wrestling for me is if I can walk away smiling and I don’t have any worries in my life. I’m grateful for everything I have. That’s successful to me, because there are some people out there, and I’ve been one of those people before, where you had to just scrape by, and you didn’t really have much, and you’re on that struggle life. You didn’t even know if you could make it to the show because you didn’t know if you had enough gas money. And by some miracle you got to the show, even though you’re not getting paid what you thought you were getting paid.

Sometimes I would walk away with nothing—I would get screwed over. They just didn’t think they would have to pay me. There are sometimes that happens and it sucks. It’s real. That’s real life. It’s a big struggle on the independent scene. And girls struggle, but guys struggle worse because they have to work harder, and they have to work better because there’s always going to be someone there competition wise.

There’s going to be 100 guys to one girl in the world of pro wrestling. It’s a bigger market. There may be stigmas of how people view women in wrestling, but there are girls out there that bust their bodies to the ground, just like the guys do, because they’re trying to make it to where one day they can wrestle on a great grand stage‑maybe the grandest of them all.

You can’t let things change you, and that’s the success in my books. If I don’t sell my soul to the devil, I’m good.

Are you familiar with crowd funding? Video games and comics and vloggers are using it to support content hat would otherwise be difficult to be paid for through traditional means. I feel like the PPV is an antiquated model and there’s a dozen independent wrestling shirt companies which aren’t transparent about whether or not wrestlers are paid for their likenesses. How do you feel about wrestling companies and independent wrestlers crowdfunding their content on a site like Patreon?

I feel like if people can give you money, they will give you money. If you need help, there’s people who love you that through hard times will help you, but you don’t need to ask a stranger for something because you don’t know what that stranger is going to ask for in return.

If you want to do a GoFundMe, go ahead. That’s on you though. I don’t do that because I know there’s people out there who work hard for their money, like I do.

I’m not downing anyone who does it, because honestly if people need to be on that hustle, I got you, I understand. For me, myself personally, I don’t want to be on that hustle game because I know that there’s consequences that sometimes come with that hustle game. And I have people who love me and care about me, that tell me “If you need anything, let me know.” Those are people who have my back. That’s my heart and my soul right there; I don’t want to let those people down.

There’s a lot of people who struggle out there and go through job upon job just to even try and make it in this business. And for you to go out and get a GoFundMe that’s just like them getting a job. There’s no difference there, because you are both getting money, it’s how you’re doing it.

It’s just like if someone wanted to be a stripper or a porn star while they’re wrestling, or they wanted to sell wrestling DVDs; there’s no difference there, you’re still making money.

There are people who are like “I’ll never understand that”, but you’re lucky because you don’t have to understand that. That’s the difference.

If you were to form a stable —we’ll say a Trios stable, and maybe you could go to King of Trios or the Lucha Libre World Cup, who would you want? Who do you have that you respect that love for as colleagues that you would want to be part of a bad girl trio?

On my right side I would have Jessica Havok. A lot of people look at me and Jessica Havok as a feud. She and I are kinda Undertaker and Kane. That’s how I think about it. That kind of destruction is amazing.

I would want, on my other side—this is a tough one because there’s so many good girls out there. I would probably want somebody who isn’t afraid of risk, and somebody who isn’t afraid to show who they really are out there. I think it would be really cool to have Athena. I really do appreciate her work. And I think that she does show a lot of passion through it. That would be my team.

“I’m Actually Pretty Great At Sleeper Holds”: An Interview with Bake And Destroy’s Natalie Slater.

In childhood, I played the odd game of touch football without an audience, held together by the numbers–points, winning streaks and personal bests. A captive audience buzzing with capital make for interesting stakes, but few if any athlete will be invited into his respective hall of fame on the grounds that, though he never won any championships, he had a really good grasp of the “psychology of the fans”.

Being a wrestling fan is not a passive state. When you look into a painting, your gaze gives that work of art meaning. In art, we call this “funding and fusion”. The ball can float through the basket whether its watched by one or one thousand people. But the botched grace of a Pollock is not empirical. Likewise: the things we love about wrestling–the sell, the hope spot, the “let me tell you something, Mean Gene”–require not only our witnessing, but our reciprocation. Hulk Hogan did not attain immortality; it was thrust upon him by throngs of fans who saw him deplete the nemeses of America with the white hot fire of a Rock N’ Roll Jesus.

The fan-created art, blogs, zines, and non-name brand merch that sprout from wrestling fandom are not just the pop culture carbon footprint of wrestling, but necessary infrastructure; we are building gods and warriors and whatever they’re doing with Sandow out of otherwise “common people”.

In curating a culture for wrestling to thrive in, wrestling fans have a lot on their plate.

And Bake And Destroy’s Natalie Slater wants to fill that plate with delicious vegan food that will kick the shit out of you if you think for a second about making a “well I’ll just eat double the cows hurr hurr hurr”.

Her book has been given high marks by Colt Cabana and Lita. Like, I mean scores. Not John Cena tripping on LSD wrapped in bows.

How much of the aggression in your aesthetic is a counterpoint to the notion of veganism as passive or detrimentally pacifist? Vegans are so angry because they’re always starving”.

honkytonk
Honky Tonk French Toast

Well, I’m an aggressive person to start with, so regardless of what I was or wasn’t eating, I have always been aggressive, and confrontational. Having something that I feel really passionate about, like veganism, like ethical veganism, just gives me more ammo. I just sort of enjoy arguing no matter what it’s about.

So your wrestler archetype would be Roddy Piper circa ‘84-’85.

Oh, you nailed it! If I could be anyone I would be for sure Roddy Piper.

What would go into a Rock N’ Wrestling era Roddy Piper themed cupcake?

Whatever it is, it’s gotta be something that can be used as a weapon. I feel like a good cream filled pie would be excellent. It would only make sense if it were coconut–a coconut cream pie that he could smash in anyone’s face would probably be perfect.

That is the moment I became attracted to men When I saw that happen and I was like “Whoa, that was cool, that guy’s kinda hot. Wait a minute, I think I like dudes.”

Roddy Piper was absolutely my first crush, and still remains… he still looks good.

Seeing that happen was a big part of my childhood.

Piper I was born after that segment aired. Maybe that’s why I’m a lesbian.

You know, it could’ve gone either way for me. It’s not too late still.

Wrestling is pretty much the one constant of my life. I get older, I change—no matter who I grow into, wrestling is a core part of that person’s identity. I’d definitely change my sexual orientation before I quit wrestling.

 When I was a child, I was afraid I’d be stuck living in Europe forever and never get to watch wrestling because I bought into this idea that everyone hated America’s freedoms and so Germany wouldn’t let the WWF in their country because Hacksaw Jim Duggan would try to get the crowds to chant “USA” and start an international incident. Before I ever kissed a girl, I was tits deep in the realpolitik of the ring.

Pro wrestling really, at it’s best, holds up a comical mirror to society. There’s always the guy going “USA USA”–there’s always the character, his opponent, who stands for whoever in the current news is viewed as trying to take away our freedom in some way, or challenging the American dream in some way. If you’re in on the joke, as a fan, you know you’re kind of making fun of yourself, and America is making fun of itself. You appreciate it, because you’re in on it, and it’s funny.

But I know that for a lot of people who maybe didn’t necessarily get into it when they were young–it can be a lot harder as an adult to appreciate the complexity of it and not just see it as buffoonery.

Deep Fried Cream Corn Balls
Deep Fried Cream Corn Balls

My husband did not grow up a wrestling fan, at all. He was a skateboarder, is a skateboarder, was always outside, never watched TV, wasn’t interested. He grew up a defiant little kid; everybody watched wrestling, all the people that he wasn’t interested in being friends with.

For him, as an adult, trying to appreciate something that means so much to me, it is a struggle for him, as a 43-year-old man trying to understand wrestling for the first time in his life.

So it is something very uniquely tied to your upbringing Some people do get into it as adults, and more power to them. For most people I know, it is tied to whatever it gave you as a kid, whatever feeling of unity or release or escape or whatever.

When people ask me “Why do you think we can achieve [insert goal of the “social justice agenda” here] in our lifetime” I go “look: when I was a kid, I believed John Nord was a Viking somehow resuscitated to fight the undead.

Those were magical days.

When I was a child, my parents told me that chicken wasn’t made of chicken, that it was just a vegetable that we called chicken. Until I was about 9 or 10 and had seen a farm slaughter firsthand, I had believed I was a vegetarian. It was like learning wrestling was fake—not wanting to turn around and see the steps you’d taken, able only to keep walking like nothing had ever happened. Can you remember, and do you want to share, when the pieces began to click and you realized wrestling was a work?

It wasn’t so much something that I did, or realized; it was a tide shift in wrestling itself that sort of made me willing to suspend my disbelief. In the mid to late 90s, I would say probably 1994/95, is really when Steve Austin really started booming. And by 1997, he was the biggest name in professional wrestling. And his entire gimmick was sort of gimmickless in a way.

It was certainly and exaggeration of his personality, but instead of saying “Oh, I’m a professional model and I’m gonna spray you with my essence”, instead of these cartoonish characters, he was like just a bad ass dude–you could kind of picture him being your friends’ dad or a cool uncle or whatever.

Well, I don’t know how cool he was with his jean shorts, but you know what I mean.

When wrestling started taking that shift, from that caricature to Degeneration X, where it was more just cool and every day guys, it made me, as a teenager at that point, go “oh, all that stuff before like Doink the Clown were these silly things, I accept that”.

Now everybody is just sort of like a realistic badass. There aren’t as many fanciful characters anymore.

champcakes
Banana Bread French Toast Cupcakes

Honestly, that’s kind of when I quit paying attention for a long time. I didn’t want that, I wasn’t interested in that as much as I was interested in all the weirdos–demented clowns and repo men. For a while they were all just kind of this dad guy.

I wonder if that magic can co-exist with social media. Every WWE show, it’s “livetweet this match! The Bellas have been busy on Instagram! Look, we made Kane and Sheamus read your insulting tweets!

That’s a good point. There’s not that barrier between us, as fans, and the stars anymore. It’s sort of removed some of that magic and mystery.

When you think of baseball, there are foods you associate with that. Hot dog, cracker jacks, a warm beer. Though other sports don’t have quite that culinary identity, there is a food/party culture to sports: tailgate parties, popcorn, $8 beer, etc. Would you break vegan for a Superstars Ice Cream Bar, and if given necessary leverage, what would you make the “official food” of wrestling? 

Would I trade in my vegan card for the day for an ice cream bar? I have to say no. As excited as I would be to see that, it would really need to be something truly delicious that would ever tempt me away from this path that I am passionate about.

I have very clear memories of that ice cream being super icy and artificially vanilla.

Amy
Lita & The Hurricane would make for a good indie band name.

I would for sure instagram it and be super excited that it existed—but I don’t think it would be worth it for me to actually eat it.

If it were up to me, I would say since no other sporting event has ever truly claimed nachos as their own, I would like to claim that, on behalf of wrestling. And really make something of it! I love nachos–that’s probably my favourite food.

But that is really interesting that there has never been food associated with other sports—you can get a soft pretzel and peanuts at any sporting event. I wonder if it’s because wrestling events are always indoors and there’s not that picnicking aspect to it that you kind of get at a baseball game.

I was also gonna say whatever the food was, it would have to be cheap enough that you didn’t feel upset when a wrestler knocked it out of your hand and called you a piece of shit because you got too close to the guard rail.

That’s a good point!

As a non-vegan, I really love vegan baking. The ethical and moral shit aside—we’ll save that for the PPV blowoff–there are genuine objective advantages to vegan baking.

foodfightFor one thing, just right off the bat, if you’re the kind of person who likes to eat cookie dough or taste cake batter if you cook, vegan baking is the way to go. You’re not at risk for all of the food borne illnesses that you’re at risk for if you’re consuming things like raw eggs in your batter. From a purely snacking while you cook perspective, it’s awesome.

Another thing that drove me nuts, as a conventional baker, was the constant need for ingredients that I wasn’t necessarily using for anything else. Nobody in my family eats eggs. My kid doesn’t like them, nobody likes them–if I had a recipe and I needed two eggs, I’d have to get an entire dozen to make this one stupid recipe.

The same with milk! We’re not big milk drinkers, I mean being vegan, obviously now we’re not, but we never were. There were just a lot of things that I had to keep around in order to bake, that now that I don’t have to; the substitutions are simple and cheap, and they’re real food substitutions.

I can use bananas instead of eggs. I can use baking soda and vinegar as an awesome leavener. I can use flax seeds ground up and mixed with a little bit of water as a binder. There’s all these things that I can use, that are super simple, that are already in my house, really inexpensive and are actual, nutritious, food.

Once you know the tricks, it’s really not that complicated anymore. And I think it does trip people up—they’re so used to butter, milk, eggs as being the baking staples. But honestly, there’s a handful of tricks and they’re easy.

A vegan diet is a cholesterol free diet. If you stick to real foods, it improves your digestion.

There are a million health reasons associated with it too– it’s also just a purely simple and inexpensive way of cooking and baking.

What was the litmus of your suspense of disbelief? For me, I knew wrestling was real when Jake “The Snake” Roberts tied Macho Man into the ropes and had Damien bite him. Looking back, I realize that doesn’t speak well for the “magic” of wrestling. It’s athletic improvisational theatre with complicated but engaging rituals—and when that doesn’t work we have this live animal in a sack!

I remember my little sister and I being genuinely terrified of the Undertaker.

I remember him putting Ultimate Warrior in a coffin and slamming it shut. We literally cried, the two of us cried, because we thought he was dead. That was shocking, and terrifying, and we really thought we saw someone die. It couldn’t have been more real than that very moment.

A runner up for me, of moments that “wrestling is so terrifying it transcends the question of ‘real’” would be Royal Rumble ’94 where you see the Undertaker inside of the casket and then he becomes smoke and ascends to the TitanTron. That is probably why I am legitimately afraid of being buried alive, as an adult.

Those matches were really scary. It’s funny; I’ve brought my iece to quite a few wrestling events, and she cries every time Kane comes to the ring, because the fire and everything else. It’s scary, and he’s scary. I guess in a way it’s nice that some of those really supernatural and weird characters did manage to live on to keep scaring little kids the way they should.

I have always loved a good heel. But I didn’t hate Undertaker; he just scared me. It wasn’t until I was older when I appreciated that, really.

Even as a kid I, always liked Jake the Snake, I always liked the Million Dollar Man. I liked those guys because they were funnier and more fun to match. There was something about the Undertaker, though; he wasn’t a straight heel. He was something else. He wasn’t good, he wasn’t bad, he was just kind of evil and that was frightening.

He’s kind of like the Borg in Star Trek. He’s this inhuman force that can’t be reasoned with.

Right, yeah. That’s totally it. You picture yourself somehow encountering these people. If you met Hulk Hogan, he would ruffle your hair and tell you to say your prayers and take your vitamins. If you met the Million Dollar Man, he would call you a peasant, and you might be able to kiss his ass and carry his briefcase for him and maybe he would let you hang out with him. You kind of know how to handle them as a human.

The Undertaker, there was no interaction that you could picture with him because he was so cold and dead. And really, maybe the most interesting character.

Would you have taken your niece to an Attitude era show?

fraaaandsWell. it’s interesting because the biggest reason why my niece is interested is because my family is very close with Phil Brooks, formerly known as CM Punk–he and I have known each other for 20 years. He definitely crashed our house quite a bit as a teenager.

At the height of his popularity in the WWE was like right when my niece kind of hit the age where kids in her class were really into wrestling–she was second or third, he was all over the place, everybody was talking about the “Pipe Bomb” and she was really interested. My sister was like “you know, he’s a friend of ours. And auntie can take us to matches.” We would always sit ringside and it was exciting for her. A big part of why she was even interested was kind of the access that she was able to have because just of his friendship with my family.

I don’t know if there was anything going on during the Attitude Era that would have caused as much of a buzz in third grade as Punk kind of breaking that wall and really airing his grievances.

I feel like older kids were more interested in the Attitude Era—even adult men were really into Steve Austin and the whole whoop-ass and all that. DX and all their groin grabbing–that was kind of for older kids and grown ups. So, I don’t know. I really don’t know.

I feel like I should mention this now, in case you ever Google me, but I used to be a super, super, super intense critic of CM Punk

That’s fine. Let me tell you: being friends with him for 20 years, you definitely have to have a thick skin about people’s criticisms of him. People were critical of him before he was anything, when he was working in a comic book store. It’s nothing new.

I’ve warmed up to him in the past few years, because I’m an adult now. The Attitude Era was fun for what it was. And ECW was fun for what it was. But wrestling cannot be that anymore. Wrestling needs to be accessible to children. I came to really appreciate the work he’s was doing to make wrestling accessible to kids. So if you’re ever wanna tell him “I talked to this girl who used to hate you, but now she doesn’t”—well, I’m sure he hears that a hundred times a day.

Hahaha, yeah.

Do you prefer the blue waffle-style cage or the chain link fence?

I think maybe the chain link just for no reason, I just picked one that I’m like “I like that better.”

When people talk about wrestling, they frame it as a sport/jock culture. But wrestling is not a jock culture; it is very firmly a nerd culture. I hear people argue with such lengths about which cage is better. And in fact, I know some wrestling writers who hate steel cage matches, and it’s not because they don’t like the gimmick of it, but because they find a face having to escape a situation to win thematically inappropriate.

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Has a more pretentious statement ever preceded the splendor of Beth Phoenix?

I’m with you. For me, wrestling was definitely a nerd thing. A nerdy thing to like, and all the jocks and the people who liked quote unquote real sports were not interested in it because it was fake.

But my husband grew up in Flint, Michigan and all his cousins were from South Carolina. Flint is very urban, but most of the people he was with on a regular basis were a little bit more rural and they all loved Ric Flair. He was their hero, and to him, wrestling was more of a jock thing to be into, because he was a skateboarder and a punk rocker in Flint, Michigan in the eighties, and very much an outcast. The kids who were more socially acceptable and popular all loved wrestling, and loved Ric Flair. It’s really interesting how your surroundings can completely make wrestling culturally acceptable or unacceptable.

I live in Chicago, Punk lives in Chicago too, and it’s been pretty easy for him to have some degree of privacy here. In the city of Chicago, people are very image concerned, it’s very “hip”, and wrestling is not really considered hip. And so he, for the most part, can kind of do this thing and not get a lot of hassle. But when he leaves and goes to the suburbs, or to another city, he gets hassled a lot more by wrestling fans. It’s weird– a lot of it is to do with your surroundings.

If you were gonna make cupcakes of 90s Sting and The Crow era Sting

Oh my gosh!

What would be in them?

90s Sting was so excellent. I loved him, and had a giant crush on him, even though my cousins referred to him as generic Ultimate Warrior.

They were tag team partners. So, not far off? 

It would definitely have to be neon in every way, like maybe a version of a funfetti cake. Lots of colours in there. And it would need to be filled with something fluorescent and custardy. Lots of really artificial food dyes would be in play. Maybe one of those tiedye cakes that are all over pinterest.

For the Crow era: I think you’d have to go really dark–like a dutch chocolate, and then fill it with some kind of red berry jam and ganache. And then you could use white chocolate to do a reverse corpse paint thing on top of it.

They would be two completely different taste buds. One would be a much more kid friendly overly sugary sweet and the other one would definitely be a more bitter and dark chocolate.

And what would your finisher be?

This is not based in fantasy. It might not be as fanciful as an answer as you would hope for. I’m actually pretty great at sleeper holds. I sometimes just throw them on my husband for fun—he’s tapped out on a few occasions.

Considering my love of sweatpants, maybe I would just call it the Comfy Sweatpants. And when I put it on my opponent, they would instantly feel like they were in a comfy pair of sweatpants and they would be unable to resist.

That’s great, that’s better than anything I could’ve hoped for in terms of an answer.

Excellent.

10 Ways Chyna Winning the Royal Rumble Could Change Wrestling: Part 2

By god, a second wind! Last week, we dreamed up a new genealogy of women’s wrestling–how would wrestling be different if Chyna had won the ‘99 Royal Rumble, thus earning the right to challenge for the World Title at WrestleMania.

You can read the first fall of the future Slammy nominee for “Most Indulgent Thinkpiece” here.

6. So I Guess We Have To Talk About “The Hand”

Wrestling has a rigid margin of sustainability for retiring performers, even by the standards of sports. There aren’t a lot of “I’ve been there, let me give you my perspective” analyst jobs for a sport that’s not real. If you can even think straight. If a year round schedule of ladder drops and botched facebusters, rinse and repeated, multiplied by X, hasn’t made your mind a hash of static hiss.

We can’t get jobs with college degrees and years of experience in the field–how are professional athletes supposed to “start over”?

For many retired wrestlers, it’s the slaughterhouse of “real life” or the petting zoo of self-parody.

Ron Simmons was the first black world heavyweight champion in wrestling’s history. He ended his career wandering backstage with a single word printed on his shirt that many watching the show weren’t allowed to say in school.

In the Attitude Era, Fabulous Moolah and Mae Young were featured in a number of gross-out comedy segments. Veritable architects of women’s wrestling competed in swimsuit competitions and complained of the declining virility in American men from under chest-high motel comforters.

Mae Young got knocked up by Mark Henry and then gave birth to a plastic hand. I don’t know how to obfuscate the horror of this in floral verbiage. It is perhaps one of the more egregious excesses of the Attitude Era.

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I’m not suggesting WWE would have hit a mental block with new ways to humiliate the women in their employ–or that Fabulous Moolah’s reign of backstage politics that quashed the careers of many younger wrestlers didn’t deserve at least some consequence.

The best women’s wrestler in WWE at the time was wrestling men. The rest were tripping over their high heels in stripteases masked in the trappings of competition. I cannot help but interpret this as a looming assertion, a warning to current and future women’s talent: your body, whether it sexually excite or sexually revulse our audience, is all we will ever make use of.

I like to think Chyna competing for the World Title would, in addition to imploring a new wave of indie women’s wrestlers into WWE, give Moolah and Mae Young something else to do with themselves. Young and Moolah as the bickering grandmas giving Chyna old-timer advice and encouragement in a vain attempt to vicariously recapture their glory might not have “put butts in the seats” but think of how well that would have aged, say, 15 years later, where women are creating hashtags to convey to you the potential of your own roster.

7. Intercontinental Entitled

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The WWE IC Championship is a good idea. Titles tell stories. It gives wrestlers, and therefore the audience, something to invest in. If a feud fails to find its chemistry, it can always orbit around the mutually exclusive desire to hold a title.

Cometh the caveat: it’s now completely useless. There are no differing restrictions or regulations between the World Title, the IC Title, and US Title.

The current holder is a former World Champion. In the last 10 IC title reigns, the title was held by a former World Champion 6 times. It is no longer the “up and comer, not ready for main event” championship. It and the US Title are just a holding pattern for a bloated main event roster.

Where’s Jim Ross when someone is actually exposing the business?

Losing the main event at WrestleMania (per my “Triple Threat” scenario in part 1), Chyna slips back down to the card and wins the IC Title. She wasn’t ready for permanent main event status; she’s coming into her own in due time.

Chyna was billed as the “9th Wonder of the World”. In an earlier era, she’d be escorted to the ring by a prancing Jimmy Hart, heralding her unfortunate victim’s poor luck like a crazed carnival barker. As an IC Champion, and one who proved she could work the main event at the biggest show of them all, Chyna cements the true purpose of the IC Title–it’s anything goes. WWE’s first ladder match and first triple threat match were contested for the IC Title. It would blossom, under the reign of Chyna, into an anarchic inversion of the World Title. No contract signings, no “beat these three men and you can have a chance to beat another man” storylines. Just get in the ring.

And this could, in time, lead to women competing against other women for traditionally “men’s” belts. Like the Number 2 headband of Afro Samurai, the IC Title is an open invitation for mayhem.

There is no use for a hierarchy of titles in a sport that does not meaningfully recognize weight classes.

8. Where In The World Is Eddie Guerrero?

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I’m not so radical as to, even facetiously, posit myself contrary to the reality that Latino Heat was one of the greatest wrestlers of all time. If this were a strictly “general wrestling” site, I would gladly take up a whole article just to discuss how his blend of strong style and lucha libre helped pave a demand for cruiserweight wrestlers in the United States.

Before he came to the WWE, Eddie G was well-respected, but not well written. The greatest hits of his WCW heel run included not being a very effective coach for his nephew Chavo and making his former friend Rey Mysterio Jr wear an oversized shirt as a stipulation of beating him. He formed an analog to the nWo, stocked with luchadores–it, like the actual nWo, came to encompass almost everyone in the division. Far from the direst indignities Vince Russo would force Mexican talent to endure, having a band of Mexicans form a blatant, intentional knock-off of a stable of white Americans is in pretty bad taste.

WWE signed The Radicalz as a pot shot on a staggering opponent. They took WCW’s core of technical wrestlers, gave them their turn on the catwalk helping big bad Triple H in his various schemes , then deftly ushered them to the mid-card. Dean Malenko and Perry Saturn fizzled out after being given bad relationship gimmicks, Malenko the serial adulterer and Saturn romantically involved with a mop. Romance angles are the death knell of the midcarder.

When Eddie Guerrero returned to the WWE in 2001, having missed the tail end of the Attitude Era and the WCW Invasion due to complications of his alcoholism, his career was on a very wet precipice. He’d been off TV for a while, and both of his previous American employers were now bought out by his current boss. There wouldn’t be much for him left in the US if he couldn’t get over.

His relationship with Chyna is probably one of the best romantic storylines in the sport. Eddie had an earnest charm–and good comedic awareness. You could almost overlook his creepiness and obvious intent to betray Chyna the moment it suited him; you believed that they could work. Eddie was smaller than Chyna, and that made his professions of love seem summoned from a place of reverence. He worshipped her, like a god. Most romance angles involve a wrestler dating a diva maybe 1/3 of his size. When Eddie won the IC Title from Chyna in a triple threat with Kurt Angle, he pretended to have “fallen while checking up on her” because he knew she could throw him around if they went toe to toe.

His admiration of his own private Amazonian, and numerous betrayals of her, laid the groundwork for his “Lie, Cheat, Steal” gimmick, which would transcend the face/heel dichotomy and give him an appeal irrelevant of his current booking.

Teaming with Chyna helped Eddie Guerrero prove his capacity to do it “WWE style”–with character.

So what if Chyna’s not in the picture? If she’s wrestling Triple H at WrestleMania in a non-singles match, that feud has a few more months of shelf life. Even if Chyna works the IC Division, even if Triple H has already dropped the belt, they’re having a singles program. It’s just due diligence in booking. A main event “former lovers, now enemies” angle isn’t a load you blow on Judgment Day or Bad Blood. That’s a “Big Four” match. She’s not entertaining midcard suitors anytime soon. Even if she and Eddie are booked together, the focus will be entirely on her and her forward motion.

As Part 1 played out: not all of the changes would be “for the better”. It’s possible, if Chyna was pushed to the main event, Eddie Guerrero might not have had his break in the WWE. Women are not interchangeable props. Think of them more as actors–when you realize their opinions of your script effect how well it’s performed and how readily the fans accept it, you might start to write them better!

9. Valet in the Shadow of Death

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It is a time of revolt. After Essa Rios is found flirting with The Godfather’s cadre of sex workers, a jealous Lita challenges him for the Light Heavyweight Title. Test and Albert pass worried glances to Trish Stratus at ringside, knowing if she deems either of them to be the weak link, she’ll just replace them with herself–it’s a marketable acronym any way you spell it. Chyna has shown the way. Turn on your male masters. Take their titles.

In a nameless room backstage, the devil slicks his balding ponytail and quivers his lips, as if savoring the anticipation of his own words.

Vince McMahon clenches–everywhere. Triple H should’ve just stayed down at WrestleMania. Give him federal prosecutors, give him IRS hounds.

“You have a procedural, and frankly a financial imperative, to give my client, Chyna, the proper world title shot she was granted by winning the Royal Rumble. It’s the 21st Century. You can’t deny women equal opportunities in the office. It’s the law. Trust me. I know the law. I’ve been sued more times than the National Enquirer.”

Anything but Paul Heyman.

10. Ring The Damn Bellas

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In January 2014, the Bella Twins pushed for a Divas Tag Title. It seems superfluous to have a Divas singles title when any match of any worth will be immediately modified to be a tag team match.

Tag team wrestling is important. It helps tell more complex stories, allows for more complicated spots (or body counts, at the least), helps young wrestlers learn the trade and helps old wrestlers go down swinging. For women to be fully integrated into wrestling, they must have meaningful tag team competition.

Still: confining the Bellas to a single gender tag division might be wondrously under-utilizing them.

They are the perfection of the twin gimmick realized. The Harris Brothers, The Bashams–all heel twinsies strove to have the charm and heat of The Bella twins.

They have personalities, mic and camera presence–and they fight all the time. They look alike but they don’t think alike!

SEE THAT? THAT’S SHIT. THAT’S NOT EVEN 101. THAT COMES IN THE SYLLABUS THAT YOU GET BEFORE YOU EVEN TAKE THE 101 CLASS.

IT IS STILL A BETTER NARRATIVE THAN ANY OTHER TWINSIES GIMMICK IN THE WHOLE FUCKING HISTORY OF PROFESSIONAL WRESTLING.

With women regularly in the main event, they’d probably already be 2 time champions by now. You’re gonna tell me that even the most ardent of discerning misogynists in pro wrestling couldn’t buy The Bellas legitimately beating The Ascension? Or The Miz & Mizdow?

You’re telling me that The Bellas vs The Usos couldn’t get at least a three star rating, if the Bellas got some actual training?

Just think: more twin magic than David Copperfield trying to make his reflections penis disappear. It’s the storytelling we deserve.

Maybe you’re right.

Teams of smaller, scrappy

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wrestlers who sometimes cheat

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or have trouble getting along

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never go far in this business.

Good thing Jim Cornette didn’t waste his career manag–

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10 Ways Chyna Winning the Royal Rumble Could Change Wrestling: Part 1

In 1999, Chyna became the first woman to compete in the Royal Rumble. By the fingers-crossed fictional logic of the contest, we had a 1/30 chance of an intergender main event for the World Title. Now, even the most part time fan recognizes the Rumble as the long con. Feuds are lined up. Pushes that otherwise take weeks are condensed into twenty minutes of plowing through fading glories. Like a building demolished, the Royal Rumble is a chaos so meticulous it is passed off as a surrender to entropy.

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There is upset at the Royal Rumble, but there are no upsets. Batista and Reigns’ wins were decried, derided on Vines and viral photoshops–fans canceled the Network en masse in disgust and frustration. That is the behavior of people who feel betrayed, not bewildered. From the moment Daniel Bryan was dumped to the floor you knew Reigns was going to win. If DDP had won, the #CancelTheNetwork hashtag might have never caught steam.

But “Which one of these three or four superstars will go through the fanservice guest appearance and half of the tag team we keep forgetting to book to make it to WrestleMania?!” does not a compelling buyrate make.

To trot the paces of a thought experiment, and indulge the hollow promises of the pay per view’s booking: let’s imagine Chyna won the 1999 Royal Rumble. Maybe Creative wrote themselves into every corner of the room and thought “fuck it, let’s go crazy”. Maybe she flipped the script and eliminated Vince McMahon and Steve Austin–what are you going to do, have security escort her out to an elimination because she wouldn’t lose?

Let’s lose ourselves to the somnolence of “what if”. What if a woman main evented WrestleMania?

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But first, two points of order:

Chyna could have probably been a decent wrestler if people gave her fucking time. Every wrestling podcast co-host callously laments Chyna’s choppy ring work. When wrestlers come in from WCW or Mexico, they get a grace period–oh they just haven’t learned that WWF/E style of wrestling yet. But when a woman primarily used as a manager, who occasionally wrestles former models and weightlifters in the eye candy division, has trouble keeping pace with Road Dogg or Jeff Jarrett, oh how they bemoan!

Chyna is a fucking babe. Her first Playboy appearance is the best-selling WWE women’s performer feature of all time, and one of the top five best-selling issues in the magazine’s history. That’s not “oh, I just have a subscription”, or “hey huh huh huh isn’t this weird”? That’s a lot of people, in their rooms, jerking off to Chyna’s naked body. The frailty of straight masculinity requires most men to rebuff her sex appeal–if you like a woman with muscles, you might like men, too!–but the money doesn’t lie.

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My hands are bereft of stones: Chyna’s Playboy magazine was the first one I ever bought, despite being four years too young to do so legally.

There. My bias is out of the way. Onward to Imagination Station! Choo Choo!

Continue reading 10 Ways Chyna Winning the Royal Rumble Could Change Wrestling: Part 1

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.

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.

Foreign Objectification: Toyota/Yamada vs Ozaki/Kansai |AJPW Dreamslam II

At WrestleMania 31 this weekend, the entire Divas division will be compressed into a single tag match with no payoff or forward motion for any of its competitors. This bag of crumbs callously offered to long-suffering believers in women’s wrestling in America will purposely underwhelm in the undercard, making assured shit show stoppers Sting vs Triple H and Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns seem like a stumbling attempt to provide an earnest near-miss of what the WWE audiences actually want.

WWE has gotten hip to the social media, but the overwrought hashtags belie veritable tears in the veneer modernity.

A combined age of 167 in your upper card is not progress. Putting 6 of your 8 wrestlers of color on the pre-show is not progress. Shoehorning women into a tag match whose booking goes contrary to the storylines of the wrestlers involved is not a victory lap for diversity and “reaching the people”. It is a stumbling, begrudged forced march into the dark ages of tone deafness that has sunk the industry again and again.

In 1993, one week after Hulk Hogan won the then-WWF title in a main event he wasn’t booked in, Manami Toyota, Toshiyo Yamada, Mayumi Ozaki, and Dynamite Kansai put on a women’s tag match in Osaka that broke the gender barrier like a shoot kick to the face behind the referee’s back, earning the first Wrestling Observer Newsletter’s Match of the Year for women in the sport.

When brought up, the match is often weighed down by hobbyist wrestling historians as an example of how far wrestling had fallen in that time. And, for real: WWF had shit every bed at the Sleep Train with their non-televised title changes, mismanaged younger talent, and letting Hogan job to a fireball.

But this was the same year that Shane Douglas won and then rebuked the NWA Heavyweight Championship to announce the formation of Extreme Championship Wrestling. AAA put on their first TripleMania and NJPW’s Fantastic Story in Tokyo Dome brought in 63,500 attendees.

A bleach-proof blemish in WWE’s history, 1993 was nonetheless a formative year for professional wrestling across the world.

This match is not the low hanging fruit of an industry in decline. It is, even without the benefit of understanding the commentary, one of the greatest matches in the history of the sport. Full stop; fight me.

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To Set the Scene

This match was the second of a trilogy of contests between AJW’s Toyota/Yamada and JWP’s Ozaki/Kansai. While WWF spent the mid 90’s (and really, the whole of their ouevre as an organization) pilfering talent, no matter how useless, from their competitors, fans of joshi puroresu (primarily women) witnessed rival promotions kick and scream through a series of wrestling clinics that cinched Japan’s fourth consecutive Match of the Year award.

David McLane struggles to keep a women’s promotion open in America–there are 12 listed-as-active women’s promotions in Japan, notwithstanding women who appear on the more mainstream “men’s” promotions. The competition in Japan is mayhaps more collectivist than individualist–but it is yet, as Dynamite Kansai’s face will attest, strong style stiff.

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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.