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.
For months Ring of Honor has been including Women of Honor matches at their television tapings. While not being aired on their weekly television programming, they have been uploaded for viewing on their YouTube channel. Typically it has been one or two matches, varying from singles to tag team to four corner survival matches. In response to demand for more, Ring of Honor announced that at their February 6th Nashville television taping they would have a “special spotlight” on their women wrestlers. They will be filming multiple Women of Honor matches for an upcoming VOD release, in addition to debuting their newest female graduate from the ROH DOJO. A list of great talents has already been announced, including ROH regulars such as Veda Scott and Taeler Hendrix, in addition to the likes of Amber Gallows and Sumie Sakai.
WSU holds a very special place in my heart. It brought some of my favorite wrestlers to a very near, convenient location to me. I have fond memories of excited chats and jokes shared with admirable athletes and being licked by Mickie Knuckles. I may be biased in favor of WSU for all the wonderful memories, but the product itself has given me very little reason to dislike it.
Yet, Sunday, July 11th began with some disappointments. My car proved to be unsafe to use when I had promised two friends I’d be the driver for both this and the CZW show later that night. I had to shell out for a rental, but at least made it early enough to find decent parking at the 2300 Arena (Formerly known as Viking Hall or Alhambra Arena, but most notably to everyone else: ECW Arena). The other disappointment: I knew I wouldn’t be seeing my long time favorite LuFisto, since she was suspended for attacking management in the previous show (after management interfered, costing her the company’s top belt)
While she’s snuck into other events in the past https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r7f_lz5wSrk I knew she was scheduled to appear at Atomic Pro. She’s been a professional wrestler for 18 years and I knew full well she would not disappoint the fans that were expecting her there.
But I did have plenty else to look forward to. I was surrounded by friends. Excellent wrestlers were scheduled to appear and I looked forward to the double header with CZW.
But it’s wrestling. Can’t start it off without … lengthy promos! I gave up cable TV years ago—I hear y’all folks deal with hour long promos now. We didn’t have to suffer that much.. For the uninitiated, WSU, while owned by DJ Hyde/CZW, is directed, at this time by The Office, a cadre of multi lingual members: speaking Spanish, wrestler Amanda Rodriguez; articulating in French, manager Mille Rachelle, and leading the Office and elucidating in English, former spirit and tag champ, Sassy Stephie. It’s hard to find a more unsympathetic trio in the company at this time. It fell on this administrator to deliver the bad news that Shanna, Portugal’s Perfect Athlete, couldn’t attend this show due a legal mix up with customs and was forced to return home. I understand that wrestlers have a bad rap with customs in Canada and the US. This was enough to prompt Shanna’s would-be opponent for the event, the Boy Diva Rick Cataldo, the company’s outspoken, cross-dressing baddest bitch, to come to the ring.
After a hilarious interchange of insults, it was conceded that Rick had won that match by default. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a live victory for a Cataldo match, so I was happy for him! BUT, if you know him, you know that he’s had dreams for this night. His previous appearance at the ECW arena was as a manager. Why should he be denied his chance at a match there? He was granted one with a challenge to Sassy Stephie herself. Satisfied, the Boy Diva left.
Amanda Rodriguez vs Pink Flash Kira
Amanda Rodriguez, oddly, was not dressed in business casual wear, but in wrestling gear. Stephie had promised her a chance at revenge on LuFisto via her student, Pink Flash Kira (LuFisto had later confirmed that she given Kira “wrestling clinics” but did not fully train her). Kira arrived to the ring, positive, confident and with dazzlingly colorful hair. Any concerns for the Office members outside the ring weren’t apparent on her masked face.
The opening bout moved more quickly than I expected and set a great tone for the quality of fights we’d see later on that day. Amanda seemed to be at a disadvantage in physical strength and Kira hustled, rushing her opponent frequently, denying a chance for a breather early on. Rodriguez retaliated by tugging at Kira’s mask. I thought Kira would have the final fall with a devastating lung blower but Amanda had just enough breath to kick out. She caught Kira with a DDT, and proceeded to test the wrestling knowledge of those in attendance. The CZW crowds that tend to populate WSU shows have a reputation for being bloodthirsty lovers of ultraviolence, merciless to perceived “fuck ups” in the ring. That reputation held true this evening but this crowd knew enough to erupt in boos at the final pinfall when Amanda blatantly pulled the tights, preventing Kira from getting the leverage needed to kick out.
Round 1 of the WSU Spirit Belt semi finals – Brittany Blake vs Hania the Howling Huntress
With the warm up match out of the way, it was time for the Semi finals with Brittany Blake vs Hania. At the preliminaries, Blake scored what was seen as an upset victory over Hania the Howling Huntress and “AK47” Allysin Kay eliminated Solo Darling. Due to scheduling conflicts, AK couldn’t make it and the Office, in a case of blatantly not watching the tape, had reinstated Hania (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nid8QipwmtQ).
Blake has over a year’s worth of wrestling experience, is a graduate of the CZW’s Dojo, and for a time, underwhelmed me, but I saw her style and skill evolve at other events in the Northeast. She used to have slow strikes that barely registered. Her offense seemed limited except for a top rope dive, that felt out of place. Her style is now harder hitting. One of her best assets was her ability to take punishment. She still takes a licking, and when she reacts, you feel it but now, she gives it back as well. Impressive for someone with such a small frame—and the Tequila Sunrise she added for submissions is a great fit for her!
Hania on the other hand is trained by Sara Del Freakin’ Ray. She has a powerful and disciplined build. She toys with gravity mid-leap. Out of all the accidental hits I’ve taken from pro wrestlers (non work punches, errant dives, etc), she’s caused me the most pain from her HIGH FIVES alone. Despite Brittany’s improvements, the odds were still stacked against her. Hania still had a reach and strength advantage. As aggressive as Brittany became, Hania still had a bigger mean streak. Yet, the crowd that had previously watched near mute or with taunts to her matches suddenly found themselves cheering loudly for this spirited underdog. She struck Hania with force that even surprised the Huntress. But despite great escapes and an array of painful looking attacks, including that fantastic Tequila Sunrise, Hania handily won and proceeded to disrespect Brittany post match.
Round 1 of the WSU Spirit Belt semi finals – The Fallen Goddess, Athena vs Leva “Blue Pants” Bates.
Athena was my pick for the most logical winner from the start. She was a #1 contender for the WSU Championship and, pound for pound, she is an amazing athlete that manages to hold her own in all aspects in wrestling. Her repertoire of attacks leaves me breathless or screaming in fear for her opponents. She entered with three standard bearers to her theme song and emerged with a wolf like mask tucked under hood. I still get chills whenever I see photos from that entrance.
Leva is no slouch, either. Trained by the Dudleys, she is deceptively tough for her wiry frame, but I couldn’t see her besting Athena despite a slight reach advantage. Leva returned in her Netflix ninja Daredevil in training outfit from her previous WSU appearance. She had lost her planned outfit and luggage and apologized to the crowd before the contest began. I sincerely doubt anyone was holding a grudge against her, even without such a disarming and unnecessary apology. Cosplay is her thing; we love her wrestling even more.
The bout went off showing what I expected. Strength and tactical advantages from Athena however, there were many cases where Leva managed to use the Goddess’ momentum against her and a few counters that backfired. Most impressively was Leva’s arm bar being thwarted by a deadlift single arm power bomb. This counter couldn’t come soon enough and Athena had visibly nagging pains in her arm. Bates surprised me with her resiliency. She resisted painful submission holds and held her own in strike exchanges. She was surprised as well by her victory! Hania, a fierce rival to Athena, returned to distract her long enough for a roll up (no tights pulled). It did not seem like a welcomed or coordinated effort. Athena was quick to chase Hania after her loss.
Rick Cataldo vs Sassy Stephie
Cataldo’s presence is maligned by many in the crowd but I was happy to see cheers and bows from many of the faithful. But I’d think the self proclaimed, “Baddest Bitch of Them All” and frequent tag team fighter would have recruited some back up to counter Stephie’s Office mates (Bring in Eddy McQueen?). Full disclosure: as a hardcore fan of Cataldo, I knew that he was excited for this match. His wrestling bucket list included having a catfight in the ECW arena and he got his wish, rolling after a pounce from the Sassy one. They quickly spun on the mat, fighting with more conviction than I ever saw from Francine lunging at Beulah. This cat fight rolled over senior WSU official, Nick Papagiorgio, like a demented spandex-clad Katamari, eventually spitting him out onto his butt. The match had some funny bits to it, but I’ve had a grudge against Stephie for all she’s done to keep LuFisto down. I was hoping Rick would get his first win in the longest. But despite innovative and classic attacks from Rick, the Office worked together. Mlle Rachelle distracted the ref as Amanda Rodriguez tossed a, what seemed like, an over sized knuckle duster to Stephie, easily helping her get a win. The office was 2 for 2 that evening.
Tag Team Championship – TNA’s Doll House: Jade (FKA Mia Yim) and Marti Belle vs Annie Social and Kimber Lee AKA: Chicks Using Nasty Tactics (c)
Oh fuck, this was just all sorts of crazy-awesome in a ring. I lack cable, so I’m not sure what the Doll’s House was all about. It looks like two preeminent bad asses were playing the part of childish adults. Fortunately, seeing their pre-fight stretches in the ring after their toying with lollipops belied this image. They were hilarious, though, hamming up things with immature in-ring banter. Confidently striding to the ring was another pair of badasses: Kimber Lee sporting new violet hair and Annie Social rocking a mini mohawk. I could picture all the complaints people must have been making on the internet to the new look and I couldn’t wait for Annie not giving a single fuck to other people’s opinions.
Kimber Lee better be on everyone’s radar on the indie circuits. She’s a bump machine that has made a name for herself for taking savage attacks and getting through just fine, doing intergender fights and nearly decapitating people with her round house kicks. Annie’s a veteran no nonsense brawler that slugs the shit out of her opponents when she isn’t grappling. Seeing the speedy style of my fellow Caribbean, Marti Belle and the complementary power and submissions from Mia Yim/Jade made for a match packed with violent wonders. Displaying her own raw strength, Kimber Lee pulled a delayed vertical suplex to an unsuspecting Yim as well as trading and no selling each others’ over the head german suplexes. My only disappointment was the match ending too quickly when Annie snuck a pinfall victory over Marti. Clearly the champions took the worst of this exchange, but Annie had the wherewithal to shift from “punch people until they stop moving” to win quick and get out.
As they were leaving, the Doll House exacted revenge. They’d been using double team methods throughout the match to stay fresher (who’s using nasty tactics now?) and came from behind to choke out Annie and Package Piledrive Kimber Lee! The champions helped each other to the back, victors; the formerly saccharine smiles of the Dollhouse suddenly looked predatory.
CZW crowds love their badasses, so of course they chanted, “Please come back!” They also chanted “suplex city” for like two suplexes, so whatever.
INTERMISSION was an orgy of sweaty hugs and greetings from fantastic performers and friends travelling long distances to catch this show. Annie shared an anecdote about her hair cut. PWG was trashed in my presence. DJ revealed he would be debuting a new outfit. Dan Barry drew ISW’s Mike Rotch as an anthropomorphic penis. Lines were incredibly long to give financial support to some of my favorites and I wound up missing the entrances for Veda Scott vs Solo Darling!
Veda Scott vs Solo Darling
The date for this event was July 11th or 7/11. Solo Darling, the sugared up squirrel girl came to the ring with her Slurpee and a separate one as a gift for Veda. Scott refused this gift on nutritional grounds. After that previous hard-hitting match and the craziness of the cramped merch table space in ECW’s hallowed halls, a comedy match was overdue. Solo’s affectionate tendencies and fingers sought Veda’s for a handshake. While Veda was grossed out by the sticky, candy-covered grip, Solo soon discovered it was effective for multiple arm drag take downs. Veda sought to regroup outside and Solo adorably chased after her for a hug! Solo Darling is freaking adorable. She’s this tiny lady (that is taller than a stack of pancakes) that always tries to sneak in hugs to her opponent. Veda wasn’t having that. She struck the squirrel and then walked the GUARD RAILS in an old school rope walk variation ending with Solo’s cranium smashed to the guard rail… and then Veda yelled at me to take pictures (I love pro wrestling!). Veda kept the upper hand barely as they grappled back in the ring.
While Solo recovered from submission attacks, the fashionable lawyer-turned-wrestler finally accepted a drink from her gifted Slurpee and made a fatal rookie mistake. She reeled quickly from a brain freeze and spat the contents in the face of concerned referee Dan Yost. Solo rallied the last bits of her strength but her sugar rush was clearly near its fuzzy tail end. Solo refueled with her Slurpee and went a sucrose powered rampage. Solo ended the bout with her — get this — HUG FACTOR attack! A defeated Veda mewled for a Slurpee once she regained her wits. In her weakened state, she dropped her gift and cried all the way to the back.
WSU Championship – Tessa Blanchard vs Cherry Bomb (C)
An odd trend in WSU and CZW: the main championship isn’t always the main event. I find it odd. The part of me that listened to too many old wrestler rantings thinks this waters down the prestige of the title. I’m not a pro or promoter, so I don’t know what makes money. I know that I bought my ticket mostly to see Solo vs Veda and anything with Athena and was more than satisfied.
It was touching to see Tessa enter with the tribute yellow polka dotted knee pad. It had been a month since Rhodes’ passing and I don’t know if her upbringing had her meeting Dusty but he certainly made an impact on her family. My heart goes out to 2nd and 3rd generation wrestlers, especially if their kin were famous in the business. Standing in their shadows and being expected to take up the business like their forebearers must be intimidating. I won’t deny that this young wrestler overflows with charisma and is a —no pun intended— thoroughbred athlete.
Cherry Bomb was a controversial champion going into this match. Despite her prowess and experience in the ring, blatant interference resulted in her being awarded the belt. She is currently in the CZW faction #TVReady and regularly meddles in matches to aid their champion BLK Jeez alongside her husband, Pepper Parks. Furthermore, she sonically assaults the audience with a high pitched squeaking voice and appears to be half unaware as to how annoying it is. So in short, she’s a fantastic person to boo!
It is confusing as to how Tessa received a title shot. She hasn’t won in the appearances I caught her in WSU. She did remark on it in her pre-ring interview that it was a surprise to her as well that the powers that be saw something in her and she vowed to make the most of her chance. Oddly enough, I’m told that this is one of the few venues in which she’s not a heel. If her villainous behavior is like the 4 horsemen of old, however, I bet she’s just as beloved.
Maybe it was the rising temperature and humidity, but this didn’t feel like a main event fight. It wasn’t bad. There was some great wrestling but it felt more like a solid above average midcard fight. Cherry shrieked, eye raked, pulled hair and threw Tessa out of the ring. It’s not that it was bad, far from it, but I saw no way, short of interference, for a relative rookie to defeat Cherry Bomb. A BSE (“Best Superkick EVER!!!” her move title, not mine) caught Tessa and Cherry retained her title. When Blanchard came to, I was impressed by the defiant set of her jaw. Definitely easily getting everyone’s sympathy as a determined challenger but not giving me the feel of someone to be champion (yet).
WSU Spirit Belt finals – Hania the Howling Huntress vs Leva “Blue Pants” Bates
Leva entered in costume again, but instead of Netflix Daredevil in training, she was a full on comic book Daredevil with a lucha style mask, Daredevil logo shirt and red pants. Bless the crowd for spontaneously cheering, “Red pants! Red pants!” I don’t even watch WWE shows and got the joke.
Hania entered with an air of arrogance that was delightful. Sometimes I forget how grueling it is to come back to fight more than one match after being spoiled by other tournaments. The main event started off slow and I was mentally writing it off until Bates did an impressive turnbuckle assisted knee dive into Hania, only to get her mask ripped off seconds later (PS: Daredevil was Leva all along!!!). Hania displayed that raw strength again, casually lifting and choking Leva.
The match was easily going in Hania’s favor and she was obviously more lively of the two. Hania critically miscalculated an attack and left herself stranded on a corner for Leva’s knees to once again strike her statuesque abs. You’d think with her physique, she’d work a gimmick where people would hurt themselves striking her abs. Leva’s follow up was a horrifying double stomp but this combination was not enough to stop the Huntress. Hania gained the upper hand and was getting ready for what appeared to be a superplex when Athena arrived. Tit for tat, she distracted Hania long enough for Leva to recover to a degree. Rather than come off her seat on the top turnbuckle, she played possum, waiting for Hania to climb up. Bates double under hooked, stood and jumped for the Pepsi Plunge. Head driven to the canvas from such a height, how could Hania get up in less than 3 seconds? Spoiler, she didn’t.
Your new WSU Spirit Champion was crowned and, oddly enough, began bleeding precipitously from the nose. Again, Leva’s expression was of surprise at her victory soon replaced with the sweetest expression of joy. Announcer Emil Jay thought the afternoon’s show was over and began announcing the closing when Hania rose in anger to confront all involved. Athena answered her with strikes. Leva joined in, clearly not a friend of the Huntress and volleyed her between the Fallen Goddess. Hania thought to escape while she had her wits to the entrance way but was blocked off by Athena’s Standard Bearers.
Trapped with nowhere else to go, the villain ran and jumped the guardrail, hopping seat to seat towards the main exit of the building. Athena followed suit, seeking revenge. Leva stayed in the ring, trying to stop the flow of blood but still smiling at her victory. We’ve been denied happy endings for a while at WSU. The former champion was frequently attacked at the end of shows, or we’ve seen betrayals after other main events. This was a long time coming.
I got to speak with Leva after the match. She was in high spirits, doing her best to be sanitary and not bleed on fans. She is the real deal with her enthusiasm and kindness. Also, to the chagrin of the ultraviolence lovers, had spilled the most blood of the entire evening out of both CZW and WSU shows. HA!
Those interested in watching this show and more can always order VOD from SMVOD or go now to the new CZWStudios.com which has all WSU and CZW content in one location for the monthly fee of $9.99 and is good for mobile streaming. I don’t use smartphones, so I can’t confirm that. The next WSU event “Excellence” will be September 12th at the Flyer Skate Zone at Voorhees, NJ. Details here. https://www.facebook.com/events/1663682497194281/ See you there!
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
David McLane does not have an entry in the Southern Poverty Law Center’s database and frankly this vexes me.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Monday Night RAW starts and it’s my weekly internal debate of “Do I sit through three hours of poorly booked wrestling or do I follow my twitter feed and live off the recaps from my followers?” I decided to give it a shot to see if Vince was actually going to follow through with his vague promises.
#GiveDivasAChance started trending on twitter 2 weeks ago and it still shows no sign of going away. The WWE tries really hard to be on the ball in terms of staying current, so every week Michael Cole will address anything related to the promotion that is trending on twitter. It popped up during RAW as a result to the Divas match clocking in at less than a minute; that’s right, we have male “Superstars” who have longer entrance sequences on the show than the women were allotted to fight a complete match. Despite all this, the announcers stayed mum. Fast forward to the next day and we see good ol’ Mr. McMahon tweeting the following:
Does Vince hear us? Is he actually going to take a chance to let us influence the narrative of his product or are we going to see a small glimmer of hope and just slide back into the way it’s been. Their current motto is “WWE: Then. Now. Forever.”; if that doesn’t show a resistance to change, I don’t know what does. Take a skip ahead to last Monday, Michael Cole was given the go ahead to address the hashtag which was trending yet again. He addressed it on air by mentioning that it was trending, but nothing further than that. It seemed your typical RAW with drawn out matches and in ring babbling and added in celebrity appearance since Wrestlemania is just around the corner. This week’s celebrity was Wiz Khalifa who got EIGHT minutes of airtime. The Divas got five minutes total. A five minute match isn’t that atrocious, it’s at least four minutes more than they got the week prior… except this was combined between two matches.
Vince McMahon heard our cry, we kept watching and he “Gave the Divas A Chance” by letting the women have more than one match one the show… but they needed to combine both matches to be shorter than an adequate men’s match. To put some icing on this bittersweet cake, partway through the second match featuring Naomi and Natalya, their husbands (Tyson Kidd & Jimmy Uso) started brawling at ringside and the cameras followed the men. What you’re telling us, Vince, is you hear us but you don’t care.
Who knows if this is a tipping point for WWE in how they treat women, but we need to remember that the buck doesn’t stop with them and they aren’t the end all be all of wrestling. This problem has trickled down to indie level promotions as well. Unless a promotion is all women, such as SHIMMER, League of Lady Wrestlers and Valkyrie, or it’s a women’s event as an exception, it’s extremely commonplace for there to be one women’s match on a card… if any are included at all. Bonus points if your sole women’s match is intergender! There are more than enough talented wrestlers who aren’t cis men that can be booked on your show; what’s the harm in mixing things up?
Women’s wrestling is moving up from what is seen as the mid card “bathroom break” and I will continue to bitch and moan until people like Vince are sick of hearing me and actually make an effort to change. Let’s see if this trend continues and whether or not it’s a genuine effort, or if they’re just pandering to keep us quiet.