Boo That Man

There’s a terribly embarrassing story out there about me screaming at the top of my lungs in a ridiculously hot rec center in Queens, NY last year because of the utterance of a single word:

“Aye!”

That was it. I had gotten everything I’d hoped for in that one moment. That sound meant Zack Gibson was going to come out and wrestle his real-life mate Jack Gallagher, one-on-one for the first time in over a year. The match was a surprise, as Jack was meant to wrestle WWE UK Champion Pete Dunne with the title on the line, but Pete had been injured the night before, so Jack was in need of an opponent. Nothing about this experience disappointed; the match was all I could have asked for. But what truly elated me was the promo beforehand and the reaction from the crowd: over a thousand people in a New York borough were booing Zack Gibson at such a deafening volume, you’d think they all had some sort of personal history with him or Liverpool. But this behavior was something we’d all learned from watching Progress On Demand – Gibson is a heel not just because of how he behaves, but because of where he comes from. If you asked anyone in the Elmcor center that day, I doubt any one of them could tell you what there is to hate about someone from Liverpool (having been there myself twice now, I’m still not sure) but they know that when Zack Gibson opens his mouth, we boo that man.

“Gibbo” as he is more affectionately called (though by whom and with what affection remains to be seen) has been around in Progress since Chapter 1. He’s wrestled 44 matches over 39 chapters (and 2 US shows) for the company. He’s one of only 2 men to appear in all three Super Strong Style 16 tournaments (along with Mark Haskins). He’s won the Natural Progress Series Trophy (sort of), held the Tag Titles twice (sort of), and has remained a major part of Progress’ roster since Chapter 12. And yet all throughout these nearly four years now, Zack Gibson has managed to do something most of the other major players for Progress have not: he’s never turned.

Zack’s been a lot of things over the history of Progress Wrestling. He was Flash Morgan Webster’s original foil. He became affiliated with Nathan Cruz’s return as part of The Origin. He was the measuring stick for Jack Sexsmith proving himself. He effortlessly turned the Progress Ultras’ loathing of James Drake into a powerhouse of a tag team. Zack Gibson has been the constant baddie throughout Progress, no matter what else was going on. Perhaps he’s never been the “Big Bad”, like Jimmy Havoc at the helm of Regression, or Pete Dunne and British Strong Style. Instead, Gibson has presented the Progress faithful with someone they can count on as consistently antagonistic, whatever his storyline may be.

Currently, that storyline involves him and his tag team partner, James Drake, (otherwise known as the Grizzled Young Veterans) vying for a rematch against Mark Haskins and Jimmy Havoc in order to recapture the tag titles they lost at Chapter 63. A promo courtesy of the Grizzled Young Veterans went up on Progress’ Youtube channel today, and it was a fucking doozy.

It starts off like any other promo from Progress’ number one, the weeeeeerld’s number one…but then, something happens. About 29 seconds into the video, while Gibson is looking up at the camera and repeating the name of their tag team, there is suddenly a shift on his face. With JD scowling beside him, it’s as though the word “grizzled” has suddenly struck Zack Gibson as perhaps too on the nose for a descriptor. Suddenly, the past six years and sixty-something chapters seem to be written all over his face. He looks exhausted, as though he no longer has the energy to even muster the quick-witted banter we’ve come to expect from him. He takes a breath to steady himself and then launches into a more pointed version of his usual claims, culminating in an accusation that they were robbed of their titles. There’s another moment here, with Drake looking directly into the camera and Gibson’s focus elsewhere that we see it happen again, his history flashing for a moment all over his face. Zack Gibson has never won a singles title in Progress. He beat Flash Morgan Webster for the Natural Progression Series trophy, but not until after the tournament was over. In fact, the ONLY title he’s ever held in Progress was his 77 day run alongside Mr. Mayhem.

The way he spits out Haskins and Havoc’s names like they were curses, and points to Progress management for allowing such underhanded methods to cause a title change, he appears to be smoldering just below the surface. Haskins and Havoc have had every opportunity – literally every one. Both of them have been Progress Champion, both of them have been loved and hated by the Progress audience over time. They ARE Progress at this point, so synonymous with the company that the thought of at least one of them not being on a show is bizarre, almost absurd. Comparatively, too, Gibson has never been quite as obnoxious or dangerous as Haskins or Havoc were in their earlier days, so it’s not hard to see from where his anger stems. He also points out the injustice of Vicky Haskins being allowed not only to hang out at ringside during the match, but to do so with her propensity for barbed wire wrapped accessories. Surely, if Zack brought his own Missus to Progress, she’d kindly be asked to keep her seat. He then demands a rematch, no matter what they have to do to get it. There’s a moment of brevity as Gibson leans back on the wall behind him and James Drake steps forward, but Zack interrupts him with a rant about Flash before he can speak, a la Brookes and Lykos, and then they wander off to regroup.

There is a staggering amount of vulnerability that Zack Gibson offers up during this promo. The ebb and flow as some of it attempts to reach the surface before he stuffs it back down, the cadence to how he speaks as his words cover up years worth of successes and failures. His record in singles competition in Progress isn’t great. But his matches are consistent. His work ethic is consistent. His level of engagement with the fans – who absolutely LOVE to hate him – is consistent. To be held back AGAIN by the three problem children of Progress, whose transgressions and fuck-ups fans seem to forgive and forget time and again, must be infuriating. To be partnered with someone, as Trent Seven so loves to mention, who’s “other job” is working for WWE must also be infuriating. At this point, the fact that Zack Gibson hasn’t yet become Progress’ Big Bad is completely shocking to me. Surely he’ll crack at any moment under that amount of pressure, with all that rage seething inside him.

Now. Go back and watch the promo just one more time. All the way through, just enjoy it this time, because Gibson is a BRILLIANT promo, arguably the best in the business. He’s good, ain’t he? Hard to hate a man that good at what he does. He’s so good, I bet you didn’t even notice where he was standing, did you? With the light just above him and to his left.

So James Drake is standing in his shadow.

– The Lady J Says

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January 1, 2018

In 2017, I was gifted a lot of wonderful things. I met some amazing people who have brought me great joy. I was introduced to incredible wrestling that I immersed myself in. I overcame my fear of flying in order to experience those people and that art form live and in person. I tried to give back to that community by being, I felt, a force for good. But the last two months have been a struggle for me, as I try to balance all of the things I’ve been doing this year with a shift in my family, and a sudden push-back from some that what I do in this community isn’t enough (or maybe never was.) My sense of panic and dread leading up to this final UK trip of 2017 left me sleepless night after night, to the point where I began to wish parts of it away in order to keep my head about me.

I may never be more involved in wrestling than I was this year. I may never see as many promotions or cut as many podcast episodes. I may never meet as many new people or be in as many wild and wonderful scenarios. I will, most likely, never be able to give to wrestling as much as it has given to me. And, perhaps, it is my deep desire to do so that has led me to the point where I am now:

It’s not fun anymore.

Wrestling started out, for me, as a place where I could escape when I was taking care of my Mom. For three hours on Monday, I wasn’t a caregiver. I was a wrestling fan. But now, it seems, the wrestling fan part has taken over everything else. It has overshadowed my ability to be a good daughter, a good partner, a good friend, or just good to myself. I find myself becoming radically up in arms about things I genuinely can not and never could control. I see myself and other sniping at each other in ways I would normally find cruel and unusual. This was a place I came to felt better, to feel uplifted, and I feel so incredibly ill-equipped to lift everyone up that I, in turn, feel crushed.

Now, that’s not to say something that is no longer fun is not worth saving or fixing or making better. Of course it is, because as Jim Smallman likes to remind us, wrestling is the best. But I cannot do it alone, and I cannot do it right now. I am not running away or abandoning anyone. But I am going to step back, and put my own oxygen mask on first. What better time for us to all do a little soul-searching, to find ways to look after our selves, than the beginning of a new year?

When I look at 2018, and all of the plans I’ve made, I don’t know how many of them will involve wrestling. I don’t know how many times I’ll return to the UK, or if I will even return to the Ballroom. I am searching for something – that feeling I used to get years ago when wrestling first saved my life. That feeling is what I’ve forgotten. That feeling is what is keeping this from being fun, and me from being happy. I felt it for a moment at Unboxing, though, so I know it isn’t gone for good. I felt it press in on me during an entrance, during a surprise, during a smile across the room. It felt like magic. And when it comes back, so will I.

Until then, please look after yourselves, friends. Be well in 2018, and be happy.

What You Don’t Know Can’t Hurt You

This year, I turned 30. Being 30 is very odd, and brings with it a sensation that has seemed to seep into every aspect of my life – in particular, wrestling. That sensation can best be summed up thusly: I am suddenly acutely aware of how very little I actually know.

Over two years ago, I wrote this angry post in response to an interview Triple H gave to a radio station in which he said, regarding the booking of WWE, fans “don’t have 1/100th of the information that it takes to make those decisions on a daily basis.” I remember feeling so angry and the best thing I could do to deal with that anger was to sit down at my computer and write about it on my blog. This blog has been a place I’ve put what I’ve been feeling in regards to wrestling for a long time now, but I’m not so sure it’s the right place for what I’m thinking or feeling anymore.

In that same blog post, I lamented a lack of a “path” for what, at the time, I thought was the career I so desperately wanted. There were no schools or courses to take to become a wrestling writer; there were no female mentors or role models who I could go to for advice. I wanted help, I wanted guidance. I wanted someone to tell me what to do or how to begin.

A year ago, in my Year in Review post, I foretold something new coming with the PWGrrrlGang hashtag that I’d been using for nearly all of 2016. I didn’t explain what that would be, other than to say I’d be using it to give back to the community – I just did it. There’s a good reason for that, too. I didn’t know what PWGrrrlGang would become, or how it would affect the independent wrestling community, if it would at all. But it did, and now there is a wonderful community of people trying to look out for one another, who are trying to take care of their wrestling family. It’s not perfect, and it cannot insulate the independent wrestling scene from all Bad Stuff. I don’t know what the PWGrrrlGang will become, but I hope it will always be, at it’s core, what it is I first wanted it to be: a calling card that lets people know they are among other devoted wrestling fans who just want to go and have a good time, and will do their best to just be good to the people around them, no matter what. That is all we can ever ask of the other people in the crowd, because at the end of the day the match is over, the show ends, and everyone goes home.

I have struggled lately with the existence of this blog, and with the continuation of the Facelock Feministas podcast, though those few hours each week I spend recording with Courtney have been some of the best evenings I’ve had this year. My relationship with wrestling as an art form, as a performance, as a business, has all evolved over the past 12 months. It has evolved so much I find myself teetering upon a line I didn’t even know existed before. I used to believe there was kayfabe, the stories we saw told in the ring, the larger-than-life personas and the roar of the crowd, and then there was reality – wrestlers in airports and photos of weddings on Instagram. But actually, there is a third place that exists between those two things. I don’t know what you would even call it, but it’s the place where wrestling is both business and ethics and mechanics. It’s the place that holds the answers to why certain people work certain places and not certain other places. It’s the place that knows why some stories play out better than others. It’s the home of the magician’s assistant, who doesn’t know what side of the bed the magician sleeps on, but knows how the rabbit got in the hat, or if it was ever in there at all.

It is not so much that I feel like I reside in this bizarre grey area now; I certainly do not. But rather, I know now that it exists. I know there is so much more information about how wrestling works – how the gears are turning and the cogs fit snuggly together – and that is what has left me feeling displaced. I know that for every time a fan asks “why did you do it like this?” there are at least 100 different answers, all valid and all things that had to be considered before a decision is made. I don’t know that I feel more empathetic toward wrestlers or promoters or anyone else than I did a year ago, but I suddenly feel uncomfortable discussing my opinions on wrestling when I am suddenly overwhelmed by how minuscule what I know is. I am also suddenly aware how far-reaching my audience is and how, at times, there is an expectation for me to announce to that whole audience how I feel about one decision or one tweet or one podcast or one promo. Perhaps after years of shouting into the nothingness that is the internet and all of its millions of users, I am now far more in awe of the power of what can happen when said to someone in private, or to just a few people, and how that can create more change – move more gears – than a bully pulpit ever could.

I’ve learned one other valuable lesson this year, and that is to be careful about making promises. Sometimes you let other people down when you can’t keep them, but sometimes the person you really let down is yourself. So I won’t be making any New Years Resolutions, dear reader, and I can’t make any promises to you. What I will say is that I don’t have any idea what comes next. I’m going to keep trying to be an okay human being. I’m going to keep trying to make sure that everyone who also wants to try to be an okay human being, in particular at indie wrestling shows, can get the chance to do that. If that’s the most I do in 2018, I think that would be a win for me.

As for what happens between reality and kayfabe, I cannot say. But I know it’s there, now. And that it was always there all along. I don’t know if finding out about the rabbit and the hat will help me to affect positive change in this thing we all love so much. I don’t know if, perhaps, it would make me not love it anymore at all. But I am acutely aware of how very little I actually know – for now.

– The Lady J Says

 

Dear Nathan,

Let’s start off with the simplest of things: there are heels and there are babyfaces. Good guys and bad guys. You should always be a babyface in your own life. You might be someone else’s heel, someone else’s foil, but in your own story, you are the babyface.

Wrestling is a lot of things to different people, and it will probably take a while to figure out what it means to you. If it’s not as important or all-consuming as it is to another person, that’s okay. Some people say “casual fan” like it’s an insult, but it isn’t. You can be any kind of fan you want, as long as you’re a respectful one.

There is so much wrestling out there for you to experience. If one thing doesn’t suit you, keep trying new things. Taking time to understand why you like other things outside of wrestling will help to steer you toward different styles or promotions. You are a complex being, and wrestling is a complex art form. There is no right or wrong way to experience or fall in love with it.

And you will fall in love with it. When you do, it will be amazing. You will experience such incredible highs and amazing catharsis, it will be sort of like a drug. But like any great love, it can also hurt you. When booking changes, when wrestlers move on, when styles fade, you will feel forgotten and lost. It’s okay to be sad when a thing that brought you such great joy suddenly only makes you sad or angry. But that just means it’s time to find a new kind of wrestling (or a new wrestler, or a new place to see wrestling) to fall in love with. And you will, on repeat, your whole life.

You might love wrestling so much that you want to try doing it yourself. You might want to become a wrestler, or start your own promotion. You might want to write a blog or do a podcast. You should. You should do all of those things, or some other things that no one has tried yet. You should do them, and fuck them up, and try them again. Don’t ever let someone tell you you’re the wrong size or your writing’s too flowery, or you don’t have the right equipment or enough money. Don’t listen to people who tell you wrestling is silly or childish or that you’re getting worked up over something trite. People like that have always existed, and all they are is envious of your passion and drive. You will outlast them, I promise.

Be good to the people you meet through wrestling. We are a community of misfit toys. But we are also loyal and loving. Take care of your wrestling friends, because they accept a side of you that a lot of your school mates or co-workers might not. They understand your excitement, they understand why you yell and scream at shows, they understand why you like one wrestler better than another. Your wrestling friends will take care of you, too. If you drink, they will make sure you get home safely. If you travel, they will make sure you have a place to stay and food to eat. They will become your wrestling family and they might be anywhere in the world. That also means there will always be someone awake at 3am on a Tuesday when you need to talk. Or just know someone is there.

Be good to the people who are not your friends, too, though. Respect that everyone comes to this thing from a different place – a different background, a different path – and maybe you will disagree. But a wrestling show should be a place where you can go and be yourself (whatever yourself might be) and that means you have to allow others to be themselves, too. Stick up for the people who need a voice. Listen to the people who are trying to tell you when they are hurting. Don’t leave anybody out, or anyone behind. But don’t stand for any nonsense, either.

Don’t worry if you fall away from wrestling. Sometimes life gets in the way. But wrestling isn’t going anywhere. When you want to come back, it will still be there, probably with a new coat of paint and a lot of new faces, but it will still want you to be a part of it. When life gets ugly, when days are grey, it’s a good way to escape or have a laugh. When life goes to shit, there’s a really good chance it will make you happy, even for a moment. And you should be happy. Everyone deserves to be happy.

You are in a unique spot in time. You were born in a place where wrestling is having a renaissance, amidst a very welcoming and progressive fanbase. You have parents who will happily guide you as you find your own fandom. You will easily be connected to people all over the world who already love and care about you because of how wonderful, generous, and kind your family is. If there are things in wrestling that interest you that they don’t know about, they will find you someone who does to help you. Those people are going to teach you other cool things, too, about music and food and books and theater and film and all that life has to offer. All because of wrestling.

Before you came into this world, we weren’t sure what you would be. And to be honest, I don’t think anybody is ever sure until their time in this place is through. But because we knew so little about you, we called you Bumpasaurus, because you might be anything – even a dinosaur. (Side note: if you turn out to be, in fact, a dinosaur, I’d avoid Jack Haskins at all cost.) But now you are here and you are a Nathasaurus – still capable of becoming anything and everything. And in the best possible place to achieve whatever that may be.

Wrestling’s the best, kid. Trust me.

– The Lady J

Wildest Dreams

The night before CZW’s Tournament of Death was kind of rough for me.

I’ve written extensively on this blog about my feelings regarding blood in wrestling, and how a deathmatch can be the ultimate climax of a storyline. But I’ve also written about my aversion to unprotected head shots, and how it is hard for me to watch an ultraviolent match that has no storyline. To me, that feels like I am consenting to violence simply for the sake of violence – acts that inevitably escalate until people are doing horrific things to themselves that could short their lifespans drastically (or worse, immediately.)

Now, let us not beat around the bush – I went to ToD to see Jimmy Havoc and Clint Margera. I’d never seen Clint wrestle live before, and I was absolutely blown away. He is very different than anyone else I’ve ever seen. Perhaps a good descriptor would be unsuspecting. He is quiet and calm, even when you’re speaking to him one on one. His entrance, his gear, none of it is flashy. But when he climbs in the ring things seem to go very still, like everyone just decided to hold their breath simultaneously. His match with Connor Claxton (Jimmy’s eventual opponent in the final) had a really nice structure to it, considering how much time they spent raging outside of the ring. I was making mental notes to spend more time watching Clint’s matches going forward, to really study his work. I hope I get the opportunity to see him live much more often in the future, and if you, dear reader, are presented with such a chance – take it. Trust me, you will not be disappointed.

I was still nervous, though. Jimmy’s “Pains of Glass” match was fourth on the card, and that was more than enough time for me to work myself up with worry. He has been very kind to me every time we’ve met, and generous with his time. I am very grateful to him for all of the time he has spent, not just speaking with me, but with all of the people I’ve seen him interact with, patiently and with all the charisma in the world. He’s one of those wrestlers who takes their time with fans, no matter how nutty we may get. I’ve seen people in tears with him, and he waits while they get it together. I’ve seen him effortlessly handle big drunk buffoons who can barely sloppily string two works together. But he makes sure everyone got what they came for – a piece of his time and to tell him how much what he does means to them. And I can guarantee everyone goes away feeling incredible having gotten that chance.

When “I Hope You Suffer” hit, I knew everything was going to be fine. The way Jimmy stalks around the ring in his face mask, all pristine in white with his wild eyes watching, I felt at ease. This wasn’t going to be violence for the sake of violence – Jimmy was going to tell a story. And he did. Here I was, someone who had never seen a live deathmatch before, a bundle of nerves in a field in Delaware with hundreds of dedicated, hungry hardcore fans, and I was being given a gift. The writer, the woman who is obsessive about storytelling in wrestling, was going to see her favorite wrestler find a way to snake an actual story through the Tournament of Death.

Matches like these are not for everyone, I understand that. But if you have the stomach for it, take some time to watch Jimmy’s three matches from this event. He effortlessly creates a character – a version of his own, highly recognizable character – who plots, and waits, and seeks out opportunities. He stole a pin, he waited his opponent out. He was crafty, and a bit of a sneak. And if deathmatches ARE your thing, know that Jimmy is a mastermind of the saved spot. If the glass won’t break, Jimmy will break it. Overshot that barbed wire? Jimmy will make sure to plant you in it. And he is not afraid of being on the receiving end of some nasty spots, as well. (If you hop over to Twitter, I’m sure you’ll see a video of a Michinoku Driver through a pane of glass, a piece of fencing, and some barbed wire – I think, I couldn’t keep track of everything in that final match.)

After the show was over, we waited (along with a massive crowd) to see him. People followed him from the entrance way back to his merch table like he was some sort of cult leader – and maybe he sort of is. People in Die Havoc Die shirts, and people who are just CZW diehards alike gushed over his performance. It was really something else to see how much it meant to everyone there, how grateful a lot of the CZW audience is for what these guys do to their body in the name of deathmatch wrestling. There is a sense of reverence among everyone: the wrestlers for the art itself, the fans for what the wrestlers are able to give them. Maybe this place is not MY church, but I can see why people are so dedicated to it.

I’m so proud of Jimmy Havoc. He deserves every success this world could offer him, but I know this one in particular has been a dream of his for a long time. Being a fan of his has given me more than I could ever explain. When Courtney and I began our journey through all of Progress back in January, the first thing I was struck by was Jimmy’s character and his story. I wrote a blog post about it at the end of that month and received such wonderful feedback on it. Watching his approach to wrestling gave me a new perspective and has allowed me to fall in love with the art form in a way I didn’t even know was possible. My writing has been improved for having tried to analyze what he does, and express my thoughts on his work. I gripe often about people tagging me in things he does on Twitter, that I hate being called “the Jimmy Havoc girl” as though I were a fifteen-year-old with a poster over her bed. But I’ll take all the tweets if it means I also get to do things like sit in the audience when my favorite wrestler makes his wildest dreams come true.

If you, dear reader, take anything away from my experience at Tournament of Death, let it be this: allow yourself to fall in love with wrestling. It is not always going to be perfect – it will not even always be good. But it will be there when you need it. Wrestling will give you some of the highest highs you have ever known. You will fall in love with strange characters, be taken for bizarre twists and turns, and you may even discover things about yourself you did not know. You will meet people who will move you, who will make you want to work harder and do better at whatever your thing is. You will be inspired. You will make friends (and maybe enemies) but you will never, ever be bored. Or complacent. If you are feeling those things, you need to find new things to watch – and you can, because wrestling has NEVER been more accessible. You can connect with people on a global level, people doing things you’ve never even heard of before that will blow your mind (like jumping off a truck into a barbed wire-filled trampoline, perhaps.)

Wrestling is the best.

And so is Jimmy Havoc.

The Lady J Says

 

Be Happy, Be Happy

Technically, it’s Monday, May 29th, 2017. Today is the final day of Progress Wrestling’s Super Strong Style 16 tournament weekender. I fly back to America in 36 hours, and, to be honest, I really don’t want to go.

The past five months of my life have revolved almost entirely around Progress. Every day has involved watching Progress’s shows, working on this blog or the podcast, and talking to the British wrestling community on Twitter. Now I am finally here in the middle of it all, meeting people who were only a handle and an avatar for a long time, getting to watch wrestlers I’ve fallen in love with since January finally wrestle right before my very eyes. It’s overwhelming. It’s everything I wanted it to be and more. And it’s going to be over very soon.

Even though Courtney and I got to see Progress in Orlando back in March, nothing can compare to the feeling of the Electric Ballroom in Camden. I don’t know that any space will ever feel as this place does. It has its own pulse. It truly is a living part of Progress itself – another character in the promotion’s storyline. To attend Progress in the Ballroom is to see Shakespeare done as it was meant to be done. To queue for hours and wander up and down the line talking to friends is Progress. The sticky floors and the spilled beer are Progress. The vibrations of the music and the dim lights are Progress.

The way the wrestlers interact with the fans in the Ballroom is unique as well. Even when they’re behind merch tables, they never feel unapproachable. Everyone is happy to spend time chatting and catching up, even if you can’t afford to buy anything. The wrestlers recognize people that come back show after show and remember details about their lives. It feels like family in the Ballroom; the fans, the wrestlers, the crew – all of them are Progress.

You think you know what something’s going to be like when you watch the videos of it. Even if you watch every last second of Progress On Demand, none of it quite measures up to the Ballroom experience. You don’t know what it’s like to point up to one of your dearest friends on the balcony and sing Mark Andrews’ music at the top of your fucking lungs. You don’t know what it’s like to see Matt Riddle kick out of what you (and all 699 other people) were SURE was the finish to the match. Jimmy Havoc is more intimidating in the Ballroom. Flash Morgan Webster flies higher in the ballroom. Mark Haskins kicks harder in the Ballroom.

In the first two days of Super Strong Style 16, I have seen amazing things. I saw someone who would have been on the periphery of the industry five or ten years ago stand in the middle of a sea of pride flags. I saw that man’s opponent find a way to tell a deeply compelling story that didn’t involve resorting to homophobia to get them both there. I saw someone with powerful convictions wear his political affiliations on his chest like armor. I saw religion interwoven between characters without disrespecting people’s personal faith.

I saw three incredible women in the main event and a new champion crowned.

Progress is all of my favorite things about wrestling: storytelling, catharsis, competition, aggression, compassion, inclusion, and love. There is so much love in Progress, and not just from the people in the folding chairs, though they are all incredible. The fans have embraced us – embraced me – and made me feel as though I’d always been a part of this thing that they helped to create. The people who run Progress love it and love their fans, and the fans love them back and love one another. I heard people talking about mental health in the queue. I heard people talking about substance abuse and poverty in the ladies room. I talked about American and British politics while standing beside the ring. This is an actual community that they’ve built, a safe haven where nothing is off the table or too taboo to mention. No one is unwelcome.

I have to go home on Tuesday. Tomorrow. I have to go back to America and my day job. But I am going back with something I didn’t have when I came here. I don’t know what I was looking for when I booked a flight and bought a Progress ticket back in February. I’d only watched about 20 Chapters – I still didn’t have the whole picture. But I’ve been in the Ballroom. I cried tears of joy and pride. I hugged my friends. I laughed harder than I ever have before. I got caught up in the chants and the people and the feeling.

I don’t live in the UK and I probably never will. But this place is the perfect intersection of my ethics, my artform, my people. This is where I will always be happy.

This is home. This is Progress.

The Lady J

Crackpots and These Women

On Friday, New Zealand-based wrestler Evie posted this story from local publication Newshub, written by Verity Johnson, on female wrestler Tabitha Avery. The article spends entirely too much time focusing on Avery’s physical appearance, how much wrestlers get paid, and whether or not wrestling is, in fact, “real”. In Evie’s subsequent tweets, along with follow-up messages from fellow kiwi wrestler Dahlia Black, the ladies bemoaned Avery’s attitude on what makes a good wrestler and where one’s focus ought to be as the art form (and women’s role in it) progress.

As a woman who writes about wrestling, allow me to provide an additional perspective (though an equally disgusted one, to be fair). The problem with this article does not entirely lie with the interviewee, as a great deal of fault belongs to the author and the publication itself. We are in a time of great change for women in the wrestling industry, and every time something like this happens, it’s hard not to feel as though we take two steps back for every one forward.

When publications wish to offer content on any subject to their audience, they should (at least) have the decency to find a writer who is somewhat knowledgeable about the topic. Wrestling is more popular today than it has been in a long time, and I find it hard to believe it would be too difficult to find someone with even the most basic knowledge to write about it. If a publication is looking for diversity in their staff, or if they’re looking to provide an outsider’s perspective on the art form, they can at least hire someone who will do their share of research first so as not to misrepresent an entire community, which is precisely what Johnson does in her article.

While a video does accompany the article and includes parts of Johnson’s interview with Avery, it is clearly edited and does not provide the full text of their conversation. Therefore, we have no way of knowing whether or not Tabitha Avery is being accurately represented (albeit, the content they do provide from her interview is fairly damning). What we do know is what Johnson thinks of wrestlers, and female wrestlers in particular. She offers no examples of the financial or physical struggles of training or the strain on personal relationships as one travels all over to work (as Avery does mention the New Zealand scene is not as big as the wrestling scene in other countries). She paints no picture of women with varying body types pushing back against a society that is still trying to romanticize one specific female figure and disregard the multitude of others. Johnson does not contextualize the importance of the young women today who are pushing back on decades of stereotypes of female athletes, and wrestlers in particular. Instead, she feeds into those misconceptions of overly-sexualized valets and under-trained models providing the audience a place on the card to take a bathroom break.

A revolution in women’s wrestling starts in the ring. It starts with treating the female wrestlers the same way we treat the men in terms of booking, pay, and marketing. It means diversifying the individuals in roles behind the scenes as well, like promoters, lighting designers, camera operators, road agents, trainers, etc. Beyond the actual promotions and events, we need more women writers, vloggers, and podcasters covering women’s wrestling. We need women who grew up with a very different idea of what our role was in wrestling to give context to the story of women wrestlers now. We need people asking hard questions, questions that get people talking – not just in articles or videos, but in locker rooms and on message boards. We need journalists who want to help bridge the gap between fans and performers, who want to connect promoters who put on all-female shows with a diverse audience who need to feel welcomed at wrestling shows to feel safe.

There are a lot of women out there like Evie and Dahlia who are working hard to change the entire idea of women’s wrestling. How are we helping them achieve this seemingly-insurmountable task? Are we watching their matches, buying their merch, and sharing their work with our friends? Are we covering them regularly and passionately on message boards and fan sites? Are we interviewing them directly on podcasts and vlogs? Are those of us who have access to publications pitching their stories to our editors? If these women have the strength to stand up and passionately represent themselves and their art, we have a responsibility to them to portray them as accurately as possible in the press.

There is a reason we call this the “Internet Wrestling Community”. It’s time we started acting like one.

– The Lady J Says

In Defense of Indy Wrestling

Have you ever looked up the dictionary definition of the word “independent”? I have (because I am a nerd and love stuff like this) and it’s extensive.

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I started a conversation this past week with some folks on twitter about the definition of “independence” in regards to “independent wrestling”, and ended up with dozens of different definitions and a lot to think about. I’ve been sitting on this blog post ever since, as I ruminate what might actually be “independent” about wrestling, if anything at all.

All of the answers to the question of why we call anything that does not fall directly and totally under the umbrella of WWE “independent wrestling” are valid: a past promotion’s relationship to the NWA, the ability of the performers to work as independent contractors for different promoters, or simply being backed by financiers who are not affiliated with the WWE as a business. But no one definition paints a clear picture of every promotion that has been called, or is currently being called, independent. Some of these promotions, like Wrestle Circus in Austin, Texas and Progress in London, England are selling out upwards of five hundred seats per show. Some promotions are lucky if they even get one hundred members of their local community out, and still put on an incredible show for each person who shows up to support them. How do promotions with high production quality, who stream online live or are available via an on-demand service, end up lumped in with promotions whose shows might only exist for posterity on DVD, if at all?

The one thing all of the promotions that we regularly hear referred to as “independent wrestling” seem to have in common is this: they are still dependent on the loyalty of their fanbase to sustain them. In fact, the thing that qualifies them as “indy” is, ostensibly, their level of interdependence between the performers, the promotions, and the fans. Much like theater, wrestling requires a constant transfer of money and energy from the audience to the company or space and then to the performer and back again. When a company grows to the point of being kept afloat by financial backers who operate independent of the audience’s desires, or when the company moves into other ventures that provide enough income that the funding provided by the fans become secondary, we become irrelevant in terms of the business model.

Even more than the stasis of the fan/promoter/wrestler relationship, independent wrestling also creates a sense of belonging for all parties. It becomes a sense of “we” instead of “them” and “us”. While wrestling as a genre of performance has always had its dividing lines between performer and audience, independent wrestling (particularly today) has bred a movement in which promotions adopt wrestlers and fans alike and build a sense of family. This feeling – this atmosphere – is not unlike the sense of a “scene” in the music industry. You start to see the same faces over again as you regularly attend shows, in the ring, behind merch tables and tickets stands, and in the seats. This is what independent wrestling becomes about: wrestlers who sell their own merch, the fans who bring the streamers and know all the chants, the promoters who treat their performers and audiences with respect and provide them a safe environment to both do and enjoy this thing called wrestling.

All over the world, independent wrestling is growing in new and interesting ways. You would have to be asleep not to know that the UK wrestling scene is on the rise in a massive way, but what is happening there is not the same as the renaissance southern wrestling is having in the US, which is drastically different than what’s going on right now on the west coast. There are subgenres inside of this giant thing we call “the indies” where promoters, performers, and fans are putting their own unique spins on things. But even as these pockets develop, there is crossover – wrestlers and fans traveling the world, people with subscriptions to on demand services from thousands of miles away, cross-promotion shows that mix styles and storylines. This is how you create a healthy scene; you try new things, mix different ways of doing things together. Championships become universally recognized. The scene grows. But always it is about the interdependence – the inter-promotional relationships of everyone involved.

I thought about calling this blog post “screw indy wrestling” which would have been a horribly click-bait thing to do. I think we should defend indy wrestling, because it’s really what’s keeping this art form alive. I will never knock WWE as a way for a LOT of people to access pro wrestling, and for many its the ONLY way to access wrestling. But the greatest thing for the indy wrestling scene is for everyone involved – anyone who wrestles, puts up a ring, designs a shirt, owns a promotion, buys a ticket, runs a podcast, or writes a blog – to remember that the machine doesn’t run without ALL OF US. We as fans have to not only go to shows or watch them online, but we have to talk about them and share them with one another. We have to encourage our local promoters to bring in new faces from far away and let them try something new. Promoters should be trying not only to hone their unique vision for wrestling, but be open that the thing that will set you apart – that will make a name for you – is something you haven’t seen or considered yet. Listen to your audience when they tell you what they will be willing to pay you to bring them. It might change the whole game for you. And wrestlers, keep going to new places and learning new things. Take them back home with you and blow your favorite crowds away. Rinse, repeat.

Independent wrestling needs you to remember you ARE it, all of you – together. That’s how you can defend it, no matter how you define it.

– The Lady J Says

Progress: Chapters 16-30 Best Matches

 I think it’s time for another list of favorite matches, wouldn’t you say? Let’s break down the best matches (in my humble opinion) from chapters 16-30! Keep an eye out for our favorites from 31-45 in April, and expect an overall best of list in May!

Chapter 17: Zach Gibson vs. Flash Morgan Webster in the 2nd Natural Progression Final

The rivalry that exists between Zach Gibson and Flash Morgan Webster is brilliant. It’s full of tension and aggression, but also showcases both of their talents beautifully. By the time we see them challenging Will Ospreay for the Progress Championship in Chapter 24, they have both become fan favorites, as babyface and heel.

Chapter 19: The London Riots vs. Jimmy Havoc & Paul Robinson

This match included so much great callback stuff from the course of the Havoc title run, that it would be IMPOSSIBLE for me not to love it. Marry it with all of the hard work from the London Riots after their big return at Chapter 18, and naturally it’s going to make my top 3 matches of all of Progress – if not all time.

Chapter 19: Jinny vs. Pollyanna (No DQ)

The first time we EVER get a women’s match on a Chapter show at Progress, it is a No DQ match, and the payoff from an incredible stretch of storytelling from Jinny, Elizabeth, and Pollyanna. Not only do these women prove they BELONG on the main show, they prove that women can steal the show – and hang with even the most sick and twisted of the gentlemen.

Chapter 20: Jimmy Havoc vs. Will Ospreay (Progress Championship)

It would be foolish of me not to include what might be the greatest, most cathartic title change in the history of Progress. Jimmy Havoc as the finally-conquered Big Bad and Will Ospreay as the Boy King are two monumental characters that will never be topped. This is Progress, for sure.

Chapter 21: Jimmy Havoc vs. Paul Robinson (No DQ)

I have a hard time believing there will ever be a match I love more than this one. Not just in Progress, but in all of wrestling. Fair warning – this No DQ match quickly becomes a deathmatch and features the most blood out of all 30 of the chapters I’ve watched so far. But it also features just as much catharsis as the Havoc/Ospreay match from 20, and the Riots/Havoc/Robinson match from 19 – only in a different way. This one is the punctuation on the end of the Havoc storyline, and leaves us waiting to see where it will all go from here.

Chapter 25: Will Ospreay vs. Marty Scurll (Progress Championship)

This was a match that I IMMEDIATELY wanted to watch again as soon as it ended. While it didn’t feature a moment of catharsis the way some of my other favorites do, it DOES feature the crux of the Villain character, as he ascends to his first Progress title win. He also cements himself as a different heel from Jimmy Havoc, and the Reign of the Villain begins.

Chapter 26: South Pacific Power Couple vs. Flash Morgan Webster & Pollyanna

It’s no secret to anyone who reads this blog or follows me on twitter that I am a huge supporter of inter-gender wrestling. This match not only elevates the South Pacific Power Couple by showing they can hang with the likes of Flash Morgan Webster and Pollyanna, but also is a wonderful example of how powerful inter-gender matches can be. There is some beautiful storytelling in this match, and some really stunning tag work from Dahlia Black and TK Cooper, in particular.

Chapter 28: Marty Scurll vs. Tommy End

How do you find an opponent for an unbeatable villain? You separate a very scary man from his tag partner, and then give him a chance to show what he can do without the title on the line. While the story of Tommy vs Marty progresses, we are also reminded of what a strong singles competitor Tommy is, and how close Marty can come to losing everything he worked so hard to steal.

Chapter 30: The Origin vs. The London Riots (Tag Team Championships)

Bet all your money that, should the London Riots be in a tag match of Day 1 at Super Strong Style 16 this year, they’re winning. After a tremendous showing rocking Havoc & Robinson at Chapter 19, they go on to have a tremendous, fun, and exciting match against The Origin that culminates in them winning the tag titles. It is well deserved and the perfect way to end Day 1.

Chapter 30: Chris Hero vs. Tommy End (Round 3)

“J, how could you not pick Chris Hero vs. Mark Andrews?” Chris vs. Mark is a GREAT match, no doubt. But Hero/End is everything I could ever want in a singles match. It’s violent as hell, stiffer than anything else on the card, and has so much emotion behind it because of their friendship that it’s hard not to stand and applaud, even in the comfort of your own home, when it’s all over. Now THAT is great wrestling.

– The Lady J Says

The Other Side of the Table

You know what a long drive through Western Pennsylvania needs? A pop-punk playlist, a particularly stunning sunset, and a friend to do the driving while you write a blog post about the incredible weekend you just had. Check, check, and check.

My roommate and I drove the nine hours from Washington, D.C. to Toronto, ON on Friday in order to attend Smash Wrestling’s F8tful Eight event on Saturday. The trip was an absolute blast – I absolutely recommend Smash to anyone who finds themselves in Toronto – and it’s hard to go home now. But I learned a lot the last two days, about myself and my perspective, so there’s a lot of work to do when I get back.

I became the Lady J nearly three years ago, simply to create a separate place to discuss my thoughts on wrestling that wasn’t going to annoy my friends who weren’t part of the fandom. What that name means has grown exponentially since then, as I find each aspect of my life becoming more and more tied to the wrestling community. I assume, going into this trip, that I was going to Smash in order to accompany some new fans, advocate for inclusion in their promotion, and see some great matches. But you know what they say about assumptions.

My roommate has two friends from his graduate program that live in or near Toronto, and I found myself sharing a few meals with the three of them. These are brilliant science people, who know little or nothing about wrestling. They have many advanced degrees between them, and one of them had just been working toward becoming an astronaut. I was, intimidated at first, sitting across the breakfast table from all of their knowledge and I felt a little silly saying I was in town for wrestling. But once I did, they asked questions and wanted to discuss the community and my place in it. They wanted to know everything about the PWGrrrlGang and what it’s like being a female fan. One of them told me, when I insinuated what I was doing was nothing compared to becoming an astronaut or being an astrobiologist, that “every community, even science, needs an advocate.” In this community, that advocate is me. I should be proud, she told me. And I am.

Once at the show, I quickly discovered Smash Wrestling didn’t need me to advocate to or for them. They are a self-aware promotion and work hard to create a welcoming environment. The fans are quite diverse and very much like a family – they take care of one another, even if they’re on opposing sides of a match. They love their wrestlers, too, and are grateful to everyone who comes to their home to bless them with the gift of a beautiful match. It felt more like I was meant to be there to learn something than to teach anything. Right now, the PWGrrrlGang is a me, a twitter handle, a t-shirt shop, and a promotion in Canada. But people will adopt it and make it their own. It will evolve and change to fit the needs of the community. I won’t be at the next Smash show because they don’t need me. The PWGrrrlGang is in safe hands there, and I hope Karyn and Dan can help to welcome lots of new faces into the crowd.

I also learned, standing at a merch table, that if you want to have an influence on your community, you have to accept that people are going to be listening. You can’t be shy about who it is that reads your blog or listens to your podcast, even if it’s the promoters or wrestlers themselves. If we want to bring attention to issues we think are important in wrestling, it is not enough to simply discuss them among ourselves as fans. It is essential to be willing to have these conversations with people who have influence or power of their own, to stand up and say in both an eloquent and digestible way what we feel the problems are and how we would like to see them addressed. I endeavor to never become complacent with what I have already achieved, and know there is still more work to be done, more ears to bend, and to speak up whenever I can. More than anything, I hope to encourage other people to do the same. Talk to your local promoters when there is a problem, and also when something is going great. Work toward speaking to the wrestlers you admire at shows: treating them with respect and gratitude can breed the same in return. A mutual admiration society is a great way to create a safe space and an open dialogue, should you need one.

Finally, I found myself sitting with my mentor at a small cafe in my tiny old college town before the six hour drive back home. We spoke at length about what I was doing, and his interests in all of my projects. He has no connection to wrestling as a fan, but finds the sociological aspects to be fascinating. As we discussed the weekend and my experiences, he asked what was next; what was my goal? My answers were long and meandering, as I was really answering them for the first time – even to myself. I thought about sitting across from the scientists in Toronto, and standing next to the wrestlers at Smash, and then looked across the table at him. I thought about how my position has altered in two and a half years, and where I am now. And where I can be.

I know what it’s like to be a female wrestling fan. I know what it’s like to be marginalized, sexualized, harassed, and ignored. I know what the PWGrrrlGang does is important and I know that it will grow with time. I don’t know what it’s like to be a wrestler, or a promoter. I don’t know how to reconcile the things we, as fans, want to see happen at shows in order to feel safe and welcome with the way a wrestling business is run. But I want to. I don’t want to know the finish to a match, or who is winning a title. I want to know how wrestlers feel about working in places where the crowd uses racial slurs. I want to know how promoters deal with crowds or performers who can get out of control. The only way to find these things out is to keep writing, keep talking to people, and do it tirelessly. Maybe there is no perfect solution. There are probably tons of people out there who don’t want to talk to me because they don’t believe in what I do, or they think I expect them to martyr themselves. There might just be, however, a few people who are willing to discuss these things with me. Whatever it is they have to say, I am willing to listen and work with them.

A few months ago I wrote a post about how there were no mentors for women writers, there was no one who could tell me, or anyone like me, what to do in order to get people to listen. There was no precedent for something like the PWGrrrlGang in our community. Now we’re here, on the other side of the table. We’ve done a lot together already. So where do we go next? That’s easy.

We go further.

The Lady J Says