A Song For Whoever: UK Indie Wrestling Edition

Sidekick Andrew: I’ve a confession to make. I’m not the lithe and effortlessly cool 21 year old you might suppose from my internet persona. In fact, despite the fact that I am rapidly approaching 40, I only passed my driving test a few weeks ago. There were a few reasons why I only just passed, but one of the main reasons I finally got round to taking lessons was to get myself to indie wrestling shows.

As such, this weekend was the inaugural Andrew Southern WONDERFUL WACKY WEEKEND O’ WRESTLING. On Friday I travelled to Preston to watch a show put on by NBW Southside Featuring a bunch of wrestlers you’ve never heard of, as well as ex-WWE star Dave Taylor and TNA-star Doug Williams, this was a pretty fun show culminating with the frakly amazing sight of Nigel McGuinness (fiiiiiine, Desmond Wolfe) hosting a raffle and pulling tickets from an old vase. You don’t get this kind of thing at WWE shows kids!

Next up on Saturday was XWA Wrestling in Morecambe. Unlike the Preston show, XWA didn’t pull in any major names, but they did put on a more professional looking show and they did happen to have the best match of the weekend.

I might well be biased, having a small stake of interest when it comes to Pro-Wrestling EVE and the title, but Britani Knight and Jenny Sjodin put on one of the best womens matches I’ve seen for a long time, and probably the best one I’ve seen this year. Any match involving an Orton-like draping DDT, but to the floor from the apron, is going to be a winner – but, mysoginistic as this might sound, it wasn’t a move I was expecting from these two. The show as a whole was pretty enjoyable (Joel Redman and El Ligero in particular are worth checking out) but the EVE match was definitely the highlight for me.

As for Sunday…

So, this week’s Song For Whoever is dedicated to all the men and women traipsing up and down the UK to entertain small crowds of pretty rabid fans in sports halls and nightclubs. If you get chance to visit a local indie promotion, I’d highly recommend you do so. If you’re in the UK and you don’t know of any local shows, feel free to post in the comments and I’ll see what I can find out for you. In the meantime, here’s this weeks song (and before you ask, none of them – although Nadine could whisper things in my ear if she really wanted to) [Boss Lady Ray’s Edit: If you’d choose Nadine over Cheryl, I may have to disown you.] [Sidekick Adrew’s Edit: I would choose Cheryl, but I wouldn’t be able to understand a word she was saying. See? I can be topical!]


all-female wrestling: a woman’s view

Over the past 24 hours a discussion has been circulating on Twitter concerning the fact that Pro-Wrestling: Eve has been accused of being sexist and bad for the wrestling business. Pro-Wrestling: Eve is a new, all-female, UK based wrestling promotion. Their first show (the DVD of which Andrew will be reviewing soon) took place in May and the next takes place on the 16th of this month at The Delphi Club, Sudbury, Suffolk. It has been intriguing to watch it start-up and we’re looking forward to seeing how it evolves.
Why Pro-Wrestling: Eve has been singled out, I don’t know. The wrestling industry is often unfathomable.  If Pro-Wrestling: Eve is discriminatory, why isn’t Shimmer, for example? The comments bring up issues that are more wide-reaching than just one single promotion. Is a women-only promotion sexist? Well, it kind of depends on your definition of the term. If you believe that anything excluding the opposite sex as a matter of course is sexist, then yes, I suppose it is. It’s tricky though, isn’t it? Nothing is ever quite that black and white. If someone launched a wrestling franchise that was advertised as exclusively for male competitors, there would be an outrage. It would seem unfair and unjust.
So what’s the difference? The difference is that, to claim that an all-women’s promotion is sexist, it suggests that male and female competitors within the wrestling industry are all working on a level playing field. If you think they are, you’re dreaming. When was the last time you watched a WWE pay-per-view, or even a WWE weekly show, where women were involved in the main event? And when I say ‘involved’ I mean competing. I do not mean draped over the arm of one of the male competitors. As an aside, I’m discussing WWE because it is generally considered the ultimate goal for any wrestler. Love it or hate it, wanting to be gainfully employed by the biggest wrestling company on the planet is a perfectly reasonable aspiration.
To be honest, I’m just pleased when a Divas match gets booked for a WWE PPV. I then spend the actual match gripping the arms of my recliner repeating pleasebegoodpleasebegoodpleasebegood in my head until it ends. This has nothing to do with the talent of the women on the roster. It’s more about the way they’re presented and the pitiful amount of time they’re given to build feuds and tell stories in the ring. I’ve mentioned my frustration that women within the WWE are treated like second-class citizens and have to fight for airtime on several occasions. Having recently watch Maria Kanellis’ shoot interview on Highspots.TV, my suspicion that the Divas themselves are even more frustrated than the viewers was confirmed.
I almost wish WWE hadn’t made the third and supposedly final series of NXT all-female. Call me a cynic, but they knew all too well that NXT was being cancelled by SyFy. They knew they’d have less time to play with. With Michael Cole trashing it every week they’re all but admitting they know it’s terrible and they don’t care. What it does do is give WWE a tentative excuse if anyone suggests that they don’t give the Divas enough TV time. It’ll be a case of ‘Hey, we gave them a chance to have their own show and it was terrible. Nobody watched it. So we’ll assume nobody wants to watch women’s wrestling.’ But that argument will only be valid if WWE had made the best possible show they could have. Making a deliberately awful programme does not win your argument.
Even on this week’s Smackdown, which was an opportunity for WWE to showcase its talent to a new audience on a new American TV network, the Divas action was short and interfered with by Hornswoggle. Only knowing that Beth Phoenix is almost healthy, the fact Natalya has a much-deserved title shot at Hell in a Cell and the brilliant comedy timing of LayCool excites me at the moment.
A few months ago I wrote a post about the lack of intergender matches in mainstream wrestling and I mentioned the issues surrounding the conflict between kayfabe and reality. I won’t repeat the whole piece, but it’s worth mentioning again the fact that televised wrestling really struggles with placing men and women on the same physical level. If wrestling is an alternate universe where absolutely anything can happen (and it does), there should be no argument that men and women fighting each other is a thumbs up for violence against women, yet it’s used as an excuse keep men and women apart all the time.
Without independent wrestling promotions, and especially those showcasing women as the main product, how on earth will women get an opportunity to truly wrestle? Surely if there are more opportunities for women to perform, everyone wins. The competitors improve their skills and the audience is even better entertained.  Who could possibly complain about seeing a great show? I’ve watched hours upon hours of all-female wrestling over the past few months and I’m regularly blown away by their athleticism and wrestling ability. In fact, the more I see, the more it frustrates me that so few people get to see it and enjoy it as I have.
The truth is, if women in wrestling had exactly the same opportunities as men, nobody would mind if all-female promotions (or all-male ones, for that matter) existed. I’m genuinely pleased and even excited that Pro-Wrestling: Eve is in business, promoting women and giving them a platform they’d struggle to find within mixed promotions. How something that allows women to progress within wrestling can be damaging to the business is beyond me. If you don’t want it to succeed, I would suggest you don’t want women to succeed in wrestling at all.

wrestlegasm’s top 10 female wrestlers – part 1

Contrary to what you may have been led to believe, based on my unabashed man-crush on William Regal, I am not only heterosexual but also married. Being married to a woman who doesn’t watch wrestling whilst being a fan of women’s wrestling can lead to a few raised eyebrows at the least, not to mention a number of disparaging comments. While this can be excused (and even expected) during something such as the lingerie matches or gravy bowl matches of old, or during a Kelly Kelly match; sometimes even a depraved character such as myself enjoys watching a women’s wrestling match for the actual wrestling.

As March is Women’s History Month (a fact that, perhaps ironically, was brought to my attention by wwe.com) Ray has been kind enough to allow me to do a brief write-up on my Top 10 favourite women wrestlers. These are all women that I feel have a huge amount of wrestling ability, and get by based on that rather than how good they might look in a bikini. Having said that, I don’t mean to imply that any of these women wouldn’t look good in a bikini – I’m still a bloke after all.

A couple of pointers before we start. First of all, this list is only including current wrestlers. The reason for this is that I hope that at least some of you may have your interest piqued enough to look up a few matches by these women. If they are still wrestling it gives you something to look for in the future. Also, this list only contains ten wrestlers, primarily for two reasons.

1.    It’s a traditional number for lists, and I am nothing if not a traditionalist
2.    I’m quite lazy, so couldn’t be bothered doing write-ups for more than ten

Unfortunately, confining the list to only ten current wrestlers does mean that a lot of great women have to be missed out; women like the hugely influential Trish Stratus, Lita (who was partly responsible for my resurgent interest in wrestling back in my twenties, the criminally misused and underrated Molly Holly, the always enjoyable Vimto-loving national treasure that is Jetta, and my guilty pleasure Mickie Knuckles to name a few. That’s without even going back and looking at managers such as Sunny or Sherri Martel, or older stars such as The Fabulous Moolah or Mildred Burke. That being said, the ten wrestlers listed should be enough to get you interested, and if you do enjoy any of the videos linked then I’ve done my job.

Also, the more well known the wrestler, the less I’ll be writing about them. Let’s be honest; you’ll all be pretty familiar with, for example, Mickie James’ work in WWE – but you might not be as familiar with Cheerleader Melissa’s pre-TNA career. So I’ll be concentrating on the wrestlers and aspects of their careers that you will hopefully be able to learn a couple of bits from.

Historically wrestling promotions haven’t treated women with the greatest of respect, although a lot of indie promotions still pay women more than men as they apparently “perform the double duty of wrestling and being eye candy.” The WWE (and, as much as I hate to admit it, TNA) have both upped their game lately in this regard, but companies such as CHIKARA and Ring of Honor have generally treated female wrestlers just as well as their male counterparts for longer. Unsurprisingly though, it’s still the all-female promotions that are the best places to watch women’s wrestling. Chicago-based Shimmer is probably the most successful and best known but there is also an all-women promotion currently starting up in the UK called Pro-Wrestling Eve which looks promising (and not just because they listed me as a Follow Friday on Twitter once) so they could hopefully be one to watch. The other “current” all-female promotion is Wrestlicious; which, despite featuring a number of very talented female wrestlers (including two from my list and one current WWE star) I find very hard to recommend.

Of all the wrestlers on my list, LuFisto will probably be the most controversial. After all, this is a woman who regularly competes against men in deathmatches (a “privilege” she had to fight for.) For those of you not in the know, deathmatch wrestling is a predominantly male orientated niche, involving a multitude of weapons such as barbed wire, fluorescent light tubes and the like.

Born Genny Goulet in Quebec, Lufisto debuted in 1997 and, after working the usual role of valet, became the first woman to win a male championship title in Quebec, winning the ICW Provincial Championship (just one in a string of firsts) In 2002 she was booked to compete for the Canadian Blood, Sweat & Ears promotion in the main event against a male wrestler called Bloody Bill Skullion. Unfortunately the Ontario Athletics Commission would not allow the match to go ahead, due to a rule banning women from wrestling men in Ontario. This would essentially ban LuFisto from wrestling in Ontario, as there was a dearth of female wrestlers who were working the same style as her. After lodging a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission, LuFisto managed to get the regulation dropped, allowing her to forge a successful career in Ontario, before moving back to Quebec to wrestle for the NWA and set up “Onyx and LuFisto’s Torture Chamber” – a wrestling school at which she is co-head trainer.

LuFisto has gone to find success in the United States as well as Canada, becoming the first ever female Combat Zone Wrestling Iron Man Champion, as well as the first woman to compete in both the CZW Cage of Death match and the CZW Best of the Best tournament. She has also had a series of acclaimed matches for the Shimmer promotion, including twice being named #1 contender for the Shimmer Championship.

In June 2009, alongside Stephane Bruyere, LuFisto set up the NCW Femmes Fatales promotion in Montreal, helping to create an extra market for female wrestlers in Canada.

Warning: the following video does involve some deathmatch clips and blood, so if that’s not something you want to see – don’t watch it.

Former valet of Matt “Evan Bourne” Sydal, and current head trainer for all-female promotion Shimmer, Daizee Haze is the next entry on my list. Trained by ex-WWE & ECW star Kid Kash and current Chikara and ROH star Delirious, Daizee Haze’s gimmick is that of a “hippy-stoner” – a tribute to her hippy dad who died when she was 15.

After debuting in 2002 for the Missouri-based Gateway Championship Wrestling promotion, Haze became Matt Sydal’s manager in both IWA Mid-South and Ring of Honor in 2004. Despite women’s wrestling not being common in ROH at the time, Haze entered into a feud with Allison Danger (random fact: Allison Danger is the sister of ex-ECW star Steve Corino and the wife of current Chikara star Ares, as well as being the co-founder of Shimmer.)

Haze went on to have great success in both ROH and it’s sister promotion Shimmer, although she has never held the Shimmer Championship. Haze also appeared in TNA on a few occasions in 2003 alongside Matt Sydal, at one point losing a mixed tag match against Julio Dinero and Alexis Laree (the future Mickie James.) Haze also took part in the Wrestlicious tapings as Marley Sebastian, although as that episode hasn’t been broadcast yet who knows how embarrassing it may be…

The first really well known wrestler on my list, Mickie James will be well known to you all from her huge successes in WWE. However, she had already had a reasonably successful career on the indie wrestling circuit as Alexis Laree. An ex-dancer, James debuted as a valet for KYDA Pro Wrestling at the age of 20, going on to manage Tommy Dreamer to win the KYDA Pro Heavyweight Championship.

After making the move from valet/manager to wrestler, James continued to train, attending camps at Dory Funk Jr’s Funking Conservatory and the original ECW dojo run by Taz. Like many of the women on this list, James worked for ROH for a while, before joining TNA and becoming a member of Raven’s “Gathering,” a stable also featuring Julio Dinero and CM Punk. Whilst there she became the first, and to date only, woman to take part in a Clockwork Orange House of Fun match (and yes, I am well aware how stupid a name that is for a match.)

James eventually (after an apparent 2 years of phone calls and tapes being submitted) signed a WWE developmental contract in 2004, being placed in the then developmental territory Ohio Valley Wrestling. After a year of mainly tag matches (and a much-coveted Halloween Costume Competition victory) James was entered into a tournament for the OVW Television Title, defeating Mike Mondo (later Mikey of the WWE’s Spirit Squad stable) in the first round, before being beaten by Bobby Lashley (then wrestling as Blaster Lashley) in the second.

After feuds with both Beth Phoenix and Shelly Martinez (ECW’s Ariel), James left OVW and started a very successful stint as Trish Stratus’ obsessive fan, a role which soon moved onto the lesbian stalker angle we all know and love. This angle culminated in a very enjoyable Wone’s Championship match at Wrestlemania 22 in which Mickie won the title.

Following this, James had a numbe rof sucessful feuds against the likes of Lita, Melina and Beth Phoenix, before recently being thrown into the now infamous (at least in Wrestlegasm circles) “Piggie James” angle against Michelle McCool and Layla. Ray has covered this particular angle in much more detail than I will, suffice to say that when James recovers from the staph infection that’s keeping her out at the moment, we’ll be hoping for a slightly happier ending to that feud.

While arguably better known to a wider audience for her recent stint in TNA as both Raisha Saeed and Alissa Flash, Melissa Anderson (a second generation wrestler) has had a successful career for promotions like Chickfight and Shimmer. After training under Christopher Daniels and Bryan Danielson, Melissa’s cheerleader gimmick came about after she was a valet for an Ice Hockey themed tag team known as the Ballard Brothers (and yes Ray, I’m aware that there are no cheerleaders in Ice Hockey)

After having her debut match on her 17th birthday, Melissa was chosen to train in Japan alongside Taylor Methany from WWE’s Tough Enough program. This led to a certain amount of internet exposure for her, thus ending her valet career and transforming her into a full time wrestler. Melissa went on to perform at the first 10 Chickfight tournaments, defeating ex-WWE star Jazz to win Chickfight 5, and British wrestler Eden Black to win Chickfight 7. Melissa also had a couple of suns with Canadian promotion Extreme Canadian Championship Wrestling, feuding against Natalya Neidhart (then Nattie Neidhart) as well as having a try-out match on WWE Heat against Victoria in 2006.

Melissa has also appeared for Shimmer at all of their events to date, even competing in their first ever Hardcore Rules and Last Woman Standing matches against MsChif. This feud spread across Shimmer and the UK-based Real Quality Wrestling, although the Melissa and MsChif eventually formed a tag team, taking on the likes of sara Del Rey and Awesome Kong.  It was in 2008 however, that Melissa gained her first international TV exposure, accompanying Awesome Kong in TNA as Raisha Saeed. Although her first few appearances were in managerial role, at 2008’s Lockdown Saeed and Kong had a steel cage tag match against Gail Kim and ODB. This led to a number of tag matches, eventually culminating in the tournament to determine the first TNA Knockouts Tag Champions. During this tournament the team fell apart, leading to a match against each other with Kong won; essentially ending the team for good.

Melissa returned to TNA in May 2009, having a “try-out” match as Cheerleader Melissa defeating Daizee Haze. A number of sporadic losing appearances, now under the name of Alissa Flash, eventually led to a win over Cody Deaner due to the interference of a number of other Knockouts. Alissa Flash didn’t score her first unassisted victory until November, although as TNA neglected to use her again after that match, she requested and was granted her release in January 2010.

Now known as Tara in TNA, I’ll stick with Victoria through personal preference. Originally a body-builder and fitness model, Victoria (born Lisa Marie Varon) met Chyna who encouraged her to get in touch with WWE to train as a wrestler. After training with then developmental territories Memphis Championship Wrestling and Ohio Valley Wrestling, she debuted on Raw as one of the Godfather’s “Hos”    before entering a feud as Trish Stratus, somebody she had met earlier while working as a fitness model. This earlier meeting was to be used in the WWE to build the storyline, with Victoria being a demented character out for revenge after Trish had apparently betrayed her during this previous career.

Victoria went on to defeat Stratus for the Women’s Championship at Survivor Series 2002 in a hardcore match, although the feud continues through to Wrestlemania XIX when she dropped the title back to Trish in a triple threat match.  Later that year Victoria took part in the first ever Women’s Steel Cage Match in WWE where she defeated Lita. After this, and entering into a feud with then Women’s Champion Molly Holly, Victoria turned face. After regaining the championship by beating Molly, their rematch at Wrestlemania XX was a Hair vs Title match which Victoria won, leading to Molly Holly being shaved bald.

Victoria soon turned heel again though, leading Vince’s Devils (Victoria, Candice Michelle and Torrie Wilson) against the likes of Ashley Massaro and Trish Stratus. Victoria’s character was boosted soon after by her more vicious nature coming through, legitimately breaking the noses of Candice Michelle and Michelle McCool, as well as the jaw of Beth Phoenix (in her debut WWE match). After retiring from the WWE in January 2009, Victoria has continued training in Mixed martial Arts and has returned to pro-wrestling as part of TNA, winning the Knockouts Title 3 times to date.

So that’s it for this part. A couple of very well known wrestlers, and 3 who might not so familiar to you. Hopefully you’ve learnt a little and enjoyed the videos. I’ll be getting the second part (Ranks 1-5) together very soon, but if you have any questions about women’s wrestling I’ll be happy to access the secret geek part of my brain and see if I can help.