PROGRESS: To Begin With

Last night, I was staring at my computer screen and the words just wouldn’t come. Nothing is more frustrating as a writer than when you have a topic you are passionate about, something you’ve talked a great length about before, but when it comes time to sit down and write about it, the words wouldn’t come. So this morning, I got up and made breakfast, and sat down to think about something else – anything else. What popped into my mind was the movie Almost Famous.

Sometimes I feel like that movie’s protagonist, William Miller. Not because I’m two years younger than my mother told me I was, or because I’ve traveled the country with my favorite band. I just keep finding myself in these wonderful, interesting situations that you don’t realize, until you step back and get a little perspective on them, make up a life. In my case they are not music related (or, I should say, they are not usually music-related) but more often than not have to do with wrestling.

For several months now, people have been telling me to give the UK promotion PROGRESS a shot. The thought of paying for one more wrestling streaming service kept me from listening to them. In November, I wrote a blog post about an incredible promo cut by Pete Dunne, Trent Seven, and Tyler Bate (who are currently the holders of PROGRESS’s Championship and Tag Team titles, respectively.) I enjoyed it so much, I promised myself that when I was in a financial position to do so, the next thing I would do was sit down and watch everything PROGRESS had to offer me. That time came this past Wednesday.

Since then, I have started the process of watching all of PROGRESS in order, starting (as one does) with Chapter 1. Naturally, when I began I had a great deal of questions. Was there a context I was missing? Not only was I concerned about things I might miss because these early shows are five years old and what happens between them might be lost on me (for example, Jimmy Havoc had a twitter campaign to get himself on PROGRESS’s second show that they called #BookHavoc) but I was also concerned about the cultural context of my not being from the UK. Surely there would be jokes made by the audience (and trust me, they LOVE jokes in the audience at PROGRESS) that just went entirely over my head. That’s where Twitter came in:

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Every possible question I had, though, was answered by someone on Twitter. I was even provided with a link to a thread on the Voices of Wrestling forum that provides a breakdown of each chapter and Youtube videos for anyone who might be looking for those aforementioned in-between moments & storylines.

As if having a helpful cacophony of PROGRESS fans answering my questions wasn’t enough, the second thing that happened was the response to my general thoughts on what I was seeing, from the matches to the commentary and everything in between. In wrestling, as with everything, there are often fans who feel they have ownership over their favorite promotions and wrestlers. These are the people who are quick to say things like “well, I’ve loved them since 2003, when they were still running out of a barn” or other such nonsense. That’s not PROGRESS fans, at least none of the ones I’ve encountered. Not only are they helpful, they seem genuinely excited to see a new person (just one! I’m only one person!) get into this promotion that they so adore. They get more excited as I experience moments of foreshadowing, and some of them are taking great joy in messaging me things like “I’m so glad you liked that, but JUST WAIT!” Conversely, they reassure me when there are missteps along the way, as the chapters I’m working through are still the first shows of a fledgling promotion.

In chapters 1 through 4, everyone is making it up as they go along. The promoters, the wrestlers, the audience – all of the players involved are working out what PROGRESS is, and what they want it to be. Having already experienced Chapter 41 (December, 2016) I know they eventually start booking women (noticeably absent from the early chapters) and they generally accept a more welcoming and inclusive attitude. Not that there is anything in the first four chapters that I think is so offensive I would turn it off, but there is definitely some language use that would turn people off. The benefit here is in hindsight, and I know it gets better, in large part because people keep telling me it does.

During Chapter 1, I decided to take notes. This is typical behavior for me when I’m going to podcast about something (i.e. Lucha Underground) and I think at some point my wonderful friend Courtney and I will be doing that. In looking over the eighteen pages of notes I have for the first four chapters, I notice one thing that is new for me: notes of moves and maneuvers. Not that I normally overlook such things, as naturally they are incredibly important, but there is something about PROGRESS that just makes the wrestling itself stand out. There are excellent storylines in PROGRESS, and everyone knows how much I love a good story. I expect as we move into the chapters from 2013, their storytelling abilities will only improve. But the individuals in the ring provide such clear opportunities to experience and appreciate quality wrestling. While I’m sure many people would argue over the exact definition of what British Strong Style wrestling is, I would say that a huge part of it is thoughtful wrestling. This is not to say it is, by any means, slow wrestling, or boring. But there is an intellect to what is done; you can see the thought process of each wrestler demonstrated in what their bodies do. This is an incredible feat, when you really think about it: the motion of your body is an expression of how you think as a human.

PROGRESS is fun, and it’s funny. A great deal of this is owed to the audience, and the wrestler’s relationship with them. If you are a wrestler who shows up at PROGRESS with no intention of interacting with the crowd, be warned: they will MAKE YOU. It appears that the wrestlers who “get over” with the crowd (as either a face or a heel, it doesn’t really matter) are the ones who shout back at them, or give in to their ridiculous chants – Jimmy Havoc spooning his opponents, Noam Dar throwing shortbread at the crowd, Will Ospreay starting his own Hufflepuff chant against Mark Andrews. The PROGRESS crowd loves their performers, even the bad guys, and it seems clear that the wrestlers love them back.

I don’t really know how we get from the storylines of Chapter 4: The Battle of El Ligero to Chapter 41: Unboxing Live. I imagine there will be great moments and missteps along the way, things will certainly morph and change, but I have never in my life been so excited to see all of it. If you’re interested in following along with me, or wish to start your own journey into PROGRESS’s history, check out their On Demand service. I hope to work through the whole thing in the next four months, as I have a trip to the UK planned for the end of May and would love to get to see a PROGRESS show live. In the meantime, you can follow along with me on Twitter, and hopefully there will be more blog posts and a few podcast episodes along the way. PROGRESS chapters are meaty and dense (there is a joke somewhere in there about their wrestlers) and so it will take some time for me to break down every thought I have. I imagine the more of it I’ve seen, the more clear the larger picture will become.

In the meantime, I leave you with the first thought I have on the promotion right now, a paraphrase of the final scene of Almost Famous.

“What do you love about PROGRESS?”

“To begin with? Everything.”

The Lady J Says

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Imposter Syndrome

A few days ago, my roommate (who works for NASA) was discussing a concept known as Imposter Syndrome as it relates to the science world.

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In this case, she was discussing how women feel, even with post-doctorate degrees and fully-funded research projects, that they will eventually be discovered to be imposters in the science community. It’s something many of the women she works with are constantly struggling to overcome.

As I was listening to her speak, I realized that I struggle with my own Imposter Syndrome in the pro-wrestling world as a writer. I’m sure there are plenty of writers (particularly non-male-identifying) who suffer the same thoughts: that what we do is somehow less than, or that suddenly the community will wake up and realize our opinions are invalid.

I always try to qualify my writing with my own experiences or with my “place” in the wrestling community. How many of my posts have included the phrase “Now, I’m not a wrestler/promoter/referee/etc”? Plenty, though I’ve never counted. I make an attempt when creating these pieces to be forthcoming about how much information or experience I possess, and whether or not my opinion can truly be subjective.

Recently, Tommy End made some waves on Twitter with the following statement:

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I’m going to step right over the use of the phrase “valid opinion” in order to make a slightly different point here about objectivity. I believe Tommy’s argument here was actually about the fact that people who comment on wrestling can only give an outsider’s opinion, which lacks a certain insight having never wrestled a match/booked a show before. That is fair, as you are looking in from the outside instead of the other way around. But what I see as a fan and a writer is that Tommy is also forgetting that as a someone who is a wrestler, often times his own opinion (and not his specifically, but anyone inside the business) can be equally as subjective because their own preferences/experiences color their opinions, just as a fan’s does. The only difference is that his opinion is colored by his physical experience instead of his voyeur-based preference.

As a fan and writer, this argument is not entirely unlike the one I run into often regarding my role as a “feminist writer” with an “agenda” (oooh, scary!) I’ve been told many, many times that I am attempting to view wrestling through a lens that it was never intended for. Naturally my counter to that is that none of human history was ever intended to be viewed through the lens of strong female empowerment, so get over it. But the implication there is that the male perspective on wrestling is more valid than the female because they are the “target audience”. And how often has we, as readers of articles and consumers of content, found that men are more likely to rush into half-baked articles, unafraid of their lack of research or proper sources before hitting “publish”? That’s not to say there aren’t women who are also guilty of it, but in an environment where the validity of a woman’s opinion is already in question, many of us feel a need to double down on the “science” side of our work, the quotes, the research, etc., before allowing the general public in.

Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not advocating for anyone who is so inclined to suddenly stop checking themselves. I AM however advocating for everyone else to stop wrecking themselves by giving in to a furious desire to be “first”. (This was recently discussed on the Talking Sheet Podcast rather eloquently by hosts Les Moore, Hugh Little, and Sealia Bloom.) But I am also advocating for women, for anyone who is not a cis-gendered white dude, to find their validity. Take a deep breath and silence that voice inside you that says someone is going to “find you out”. You are a wrestling fan, and a talented content-creator. You’re not an imposter; you’re the real deal.

The Lady J Says

2016

Amid an absolute swarm of year-end lists and review podcasts (Facelock Feministas included) I decided to do one more blog post for 2016 but wasn’t sure what to write about. I got a number of great suggestions (by far, my favorite was “best hair of 2016”) and it was hard to narrow down exactly how I wanted to round out the year.

This morning, I received a tweet from a friend’s locked account (so I won’t be sharing a screen shot here.) It was very simple, and not a response to anything I, or anyone else, had said. It was the sentiment that moved me very nearly to tears, though: the presence of the #PWGrrrlGang had helped this person enjoy wrestling in 2016.

My contribution to the wrestling community is limited. I don’t have a lot of money to travel often or see as many shows as I’d like. I certainly am not athletically gifted or of the body type where you’d ever see me inside a ring. I don’t possess a mind for business that would lend to running a promotion. But I know how to advocate for people who need help, and I can write. That, in its most basic form, was how the #PWGrrrlGang was born. I wanted to create something that brought people together, that created positive discussions, and that gave people that had been feeling alone in the fandom a sense of community and belonging.

Inadvertently, I helped myself along the way. Writing and podcasting as often as I do has bettered my craft. I have also made a lot of wonderful friends who I know I can count on for thought-provoking conversation, for checking my ego, and for encouraging me when I get down on myself. There is a family here; one I am so proud to be a part of.

Many thanks are owed to EVERYONE who has used the #PWGrrrlGang tag, who has responded to or shared my work, and/or who tunes into the podcast. You are each incredible and the community would not be the place it is now without you. You’ve all inspired me with your varied backgrounds and outlooks to give me, to work harder.

In 2017, the PWGrrrlGang will be giving back – to the fans, the promotions, and the performers. There is much more work to be done, so please know I am here for the long haul. We have built something amazing this past year, all of us together, and I feel strongly that we have set into motion tremendous changes for the industry and the fandom. One day, there will be people of all walks of life who feel safe and included at independent and large-scale wrestling shows; people who maybe won’t know what we all did together, but who get to exist in a safe and inclusive fandom. By then the phrase “PWGrrrlGang” and even The Lady J may be long gone. But that’s the thing about a legacy. “It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.” Who knows what the world might look like then. For now, I have high hopes that next year is going to look pretty good.

Best wishes for health and happiness for all in the coming year (and always).

With kindest regards & gratitude,

The Lady J

 

The Value of a Fan

Professional wrestling is an interesting choice of topics to create content about when your ultimate goal is to be taken seriously.

It’s almost a contradiction in terms, really. Imagine trying to find validity in your own work when the general populous, half of the fandom, and even the thing itself rarely considers the topic to be serious. Let’s not confuse “serious” with “real”, either. I fully understand the parameters of professional wrestling. But I see no reason to turn out half-baked blog posts or podcast episodes when my heart isn’t in it in order to fill a space in the void. First of all, there’s barely any space anyway – there are thousands of voices shouting about this art form, this business, on any given day. Second, whether I make an effort to keep them separate or not, this blog and my podcast are just as much a part of who I am as a writer as my work running a literary magazine or having pieces of creative non-fiction published. I take ALL of my writing seriously, regardless of the topic. That means when I misjudge someone, when I come around on a storyline or character, or when I am flat-out WRONG about something, I’m going to be forthcoming about it. It doesn’t appear to be a characteristic of the community (yet) to be forgiving and allow people to grow or change their minds, but I’m hoping that will morph over time.

For example, since my experience at EVOLVE 72 & 73, I have done a complete 180 on Ethan Page. I did a podcast where I expressed (in no uncertain terms) that his in-ring style lacked a certain force that I’ve come to prefer in competitors like Chris Hero. I maintained, naturally, that his promo and character work could not be denied, but that (in particular) his match at EVOLVE 73 against Chris Dickinson left a lot to be desired for someone who was only seeing him for the second time. Since then, Page participated in the discussions about safe/inclusive wrestling promotions that we had a few weeks back on Twitter. He answered some questions about Alpha-1 and made it clear any fan should feel free coming to him or anyone on staff with concerns about their live shows. I got to see him live at EVOLVE 74 this past weekend in Queens in an intense, character-driven match against Cody Rhodes (whose status as a Bullet Club member had only been announced the night before.) One could argue my major complaint about Page’s match at 73 against Dickinson were still factors here: both men were TECHNICALLY in heel-mode, but the crowd’s desire to see SOMEONE get their comeuppance (Page in particular) kept us all invested. Plus, I firmly believe Page is at his best when his opponent matches him in presence, and Cody surely fits that bill.

After the show, getting to speak with Page at his merch table and see first-hand how passionate he is not only about the business at large, but in particular about fan’s reactions to him and creating a space where EVERYONE can enjoy the show, really made me a convert. Not only does he take what HE does seriously, he understands how important the relationship between the fans and the talent is, and that when talent don’t take the fans seriously they run the risk of being rejected. It isn’t necessary for him or ANY wrestler to read this blog or listen to my podcast in order for me to like them – that would be very silly of me. And surely by now, wrestlers have grown exhausted of fans telling them “I run a podcast on _____”, but a smart performer remembers, somewhere in the back of their mind, that any fan who takes the time out of their day and the money out of their pocket to produce a podcast or run a website on wrestling is truly dedicated to the product at large.

Fans are just as much a part of the show as the wrestlers are, and how they participate dictates what the industry has become. If fans whose strength was in writing and research didn’t start using their talents to create zines and websites about wrestling, wrestling journalism wouldn’t be what it is today. If fans with audio and production backgrounds didn’t get into podcasting, think about all of the wrestler-helmed shows that wouldn’t exist. To some extent, fans have created whole sections of the wrestling industry, ones that generate quite a bit of money, too, that wouldn’t exist today without them taking their work seriously. And, in their defense, most wrestlers today started out as fans. A truly great promoter, booker, or wrestler recognizes that common ground between themselves and the people in the seats. We ALL got into this for the same reason, we just participate in different ways. Just because another fan doesn’t keep a blog or produce a podcast doesn’t make what they do less valid than me. I don’t subscribe to a lot of streaming services so there is a LOT of the product I’m not consuming, and that doesn’t make me less valid as a fan that someone who has five or ten different streaming subscriptions. Fan fiction writers and cosplayers, graphic artists and toy collectors, all of these people invest a great deal of time and money into their projects and all of them do it because they LOVE WRESTLING. Some fans can’t go to live shows, but they consume a great deal of the different products from their own home; they are just as valid as fans who create things or travel to who attend every Wrestlemania.

The greatest lesson I have ever learned as a writer is not to wait around for other people to give their approval in order to consider yourself a Real Writer. What I create is of value, even if only to me. It’s important enough that I take time to do it to the best of my ability, even if no one reads it. You, dear reader, coming here to put eyes on it is just icing on the cake. Seeing the amount of responses to the #PWGrrrlGang twitter chat last Thursday was incredible, but even if only two people wanted to talk that night, it would still have been worth it. Working on all of the projects I am involved with as The Lady J can be thankless and frustrating, not to mention exhausting, but they bring me joy and they are all important to me. This is how I participate; this is who I am as a professional wrestling fan.

And I take that very seriously

 

The Lady J Says

British, Strong, & Stylized: Three Gentlemen of Progress

I’ve recently had an influx in new followers and new readers of the blog asking who I am and where I came from. The story of The Lady J is not a very interesting tale, but it does date back over two years to a few articles and videos I was doing for Cageside Seats. The one that seemed to garner the most response (and helped me to find my voice) was one on the Art of the Promo. That (VERY LONG) article came out of my own training in theatre and creative writing, which is the lens through which I have always viewed professional wrestling. I tend toward promotions that favor a cohesive narrative that intertwine all members of their roster, but also enjoy cards where the storytelling that is happening inside each match is equally compelling. My favorite thing, though, is an exquisitely delivered promo. We don’t see them as much anymore; it’s almost as if the true art of a great promo is being replaced by things that are heavily scripted or under-valued in their contribution to the show as a whole. While I love the acting work on Lucha Underground, arguably the promotion I follow most closely, the vignettes we see there are not quite the same thing as a good, old-fashioned wrestling promo. Need an example? Funny you should ask…

Yesterday, a YouTube clip from the Progress Wrestling promotion out of the UK popped up on my Twitter feed. I think I watched it three or four times. Check it out for yourself:

 This might end up going down as the best out-of-ring promo of 2016, and a lot of people are going to sleep on it because of its simplicity. Even if you are not a fan of these three gentlemen, even if you don’t follow Progress, even if you’re not a UK wrestling fan, there’s something here you need to be looking at.

First of all, make sure you take note of what ISN’T in this promo: there are no fans, there is no giant Progress banner behind them (though Dunne is holding the Progress title), nobody is in their wrestling gear, and no one is yelling. The reason there’s nothing flashy about this promo is simple: it doesn’t have to be. Progress itself as a promotion doesn’t require confetti and glitter to bring in new fans – it already has a massive following the world over. And these three fellows don’t need your attention either; they already have it. They have your attention, your titles, the keys to your car, the deed to your house, and you might not realize it yet, but your wallet is missing, too.

Regardless of what their in-ring personas are like (and we do get clips of Dunne and Trent Seven getting pretty mouthy with the Progress audience), in this promo there is a sense of both calm and confidence. The greatest thing a heel has ever done in a promo is speak softly and slowly. They say you catch more bees with honey – and that’s the key. Not to be sweet, but to lay a trap so easy to fall into it would never occur to us to give it a second look.

A trio of well-dressed British men are standing before a brick wall, coolly explaining that they are not in possession of the Progress titles for the honor of it. It’s about power – those titles are going to get them OUT of Progress, out of the UK to bigger, more lucrative contracts in other parts of the world. You don’t need to like it or even understand it, that’s just how it is. They even TOLD you they were going to do that, you just didn’t want to believe them. They’re smug and cocky and it’s absolutely BRILLIANT heel work.

I could surely write pages and pages of praise for Trent Seven’s ability on a mic. This man can talk, regardless of his affiliations, but his slimy, conniving heel brilliance is unequaled. Meanwhile, Pete Dunne is lousy with brash swagger and attitude, akin to an over-confident 1920’s mob boss on the brink of either domination or termination. The key to this entire interview, though, is in the last 20 seconds when we get exactly six words out of Tyler Bate, who has spent the entire promo looking over his shoulder. The most recent convert to the dark side has plenty of reason to be concerned who or what might be behind him (no spoilers here) and conveniently masks his discomfort with aggressive misdirection before walking off.

Think about all of the stories told here: Trent’s reasoning for abandoning Moustache Mountain for British Strong Style, Pete Dunne’s plans for the Progress title, and Tyler’s inner battle with his own heel behavior. None of it reaches out and slaps you in the face, though. Every second of this video is calculated and smooth, just like the characters steering it.

The icing on this little promo cake of deliciousness? This video is two minutes at fifty-two seconds long. I bet at 2:53, you were figuring out how to get your eyes on the Progress show in question – and probably all of their past and future products, too.

Well done, gents. Lady approved.

The Lady J Says

To Give Thanks

2015 was a hell of a year for me. I spent the last four months of it trying to adjust to my new life in northern Virginia: starting a retail job, tagging along with some close friends who showed me around, and getting lost (a lot). It wasn’t until January 2016 when a friend from work mentioned he was going to check out a local independent wrestling promotion that I had even heard of NoVa Pro Wrestling. Nat went and really enjoyed it, so I tagged along to the next show in March.

Eight months ago, I had interacted a bit via Twitter with a few of the individuals behind NoVa Pro, but could not see where the whole promotion would be now. If you happen to have purchased that March show, Last Exit to Springfield via Smart Mark Video, you’ll get an eyeful of my horrific reactions to the main event match between Logan Easton Leroux and Sonjay Dutt. I don’t sit in the front row of wrestling shows anymore.

After I came home, Sarah Slam and I fired up the Facelock Feministas machine and did a podcast on our live indie experiences that weekend (Sarah had been to an AAW show a few days earlier) and got great feedback from our listeners. In May, we did another “Indie Darlings” podcast along with a special guest who had attended an EVOLVE show, our friend Jess. It wasn’t until after the third “Indie Darlings” episode (entitled “Indie Darlings Among Us” after my own AAW experience in Chicago) that we started to bounce around the idea of combining the podcast and the NoVa Pro events. After Mike King, who is the promoter and matchmaker at NoVa Pro, and I talked it out, we decided I would broadcast the Facelock Feministas live via Google Hangout from the show and interview some of the wrestlers on the card. I was joined by Kate Foray and that day we interviewed Bobby Shields (who turned heel later that night), tag team and crowd-favorites Cutie & the Beast, and even had our first interaction with commentator Emil Jay. It was one of the most fun and fulfilling experiences I’ve had at a wrestling event.

As the months went on, and the pre-show grew and morphed with time. Eventually, it became a real learning experience for me. I’ve interviewed a lot of talent that’s been booked, all of whom have not only helped the promotion by being candid and insightful, a key to getting fans engaged in a card, but they’ve helped me develop my own interview skills and a passion for it. I only hope that talking to me gives them more experience as the interviewee, in a medium they can go back and reference as they prepare for other podcasts and promos. I’ve gained so much from them all. I am still growing as a host and interviewer, and I appreciate all of the opportunities and patience they have with me.

In the past eight months, I have developed a new connection to the promotion – an emotional one. We all come together only once a month, and it’s like a reunion of old friends whenever another show comes around. When I walk in to the venue, I don’t feel as shy or nervous anymore. I will always be a fan first, but it helps to ease my pre-podcast jitters when someone says “Hey, Ms. J!” (I will never get used to the hand shaking thing, though. Sorry, pro-wrestling, I love you but I am 100% going to get a cold this way.) There is a genuine feeling of camaraderie among the individuals at these shows, and it extends to the fans as well. There is a great relationship between the performers, the fans, the promoters, and the technicians. They are all there because they love wrestling, and they respect what one another’s role in that is.

Respect is a big deal for me. I know that when I show up at a wrestling event and people see me talking to the talent, there’s more than a handful of small-minded individuals who assume I am romantically linked to one of the performers. I’m hyper aware of this fact, and I hate it. I hate that my status there as a writer, a journalist, a podcaster, a member of the team are all in question because of my gender. But everyone at NoVa Pro treats me with respect. They know I love their product, and that I am trying to contribute to it in what I feel is the best way I can. New opportunities are always presenting themselves. Money Green came and sat down at the pre-show table at random one time and delivered one of the best shoot interviews I’ve ever heard. His passion for the industry and the art form along with what it can give back to its community is equal parts astounding and infectious. Watching the character work being done between Innocent Isaiah and Beau Crockett of Cutie and the Beast makes me miss my days in theatre. (Spoiler alert: Beau & Isaiah are having more fun than you.) Discussing the tactics of dastardly heels like Logan and Brandon Day, or navigating the thoughtful assertiveness of NoVa Pro heroes Chet Sterling and Arik Royale constantly help me to reassess my concepts of good and evil within the storytelling of professional wrestling.

Last night at Paradise by the Dashboard Light, NoVa Pro had their last show of the 2016 calendar year. The card included not only all of the regulars who push to outdo one another and themselves every month, but names we all know, admire, and respect. Names like the returning Donovan Dijak who had an incredible match against Jonathan Gresham. Rachael Ellering joined me on the pre-show to discuss her career and her debut at NoVa Pro against Brittany Blake. Undefeated Ace of the Mid-Atlantic Arik Royale took on a knockout of a challenger in Chris Hero, in a match that I spent most of with my hands over my mouth in shock. The entire promotion continues to grow and become more. It is a testament to independent wrestling at large and its success is anchored in fanbase made up of people like you and me supporting the individuals working hard to showcase themselves, their fellow performers, and this art form.

I don’t run a wrestling promotion. I don’t book wrestlers or make matches. I don’t do commentary (except that one time, heaven help us) and I don’t ring announce. I can’t work a steady cam or put the ring itself together. I don’t know insider secrets or finishes to matches; I still get embarrassed and shy when my favorite wrestlers come to town. I am not, and likely never will be, cool. I’m a writer with an affinity for radio, who loves independent wrestling. At NoVa Pro Wrestling, I was embraced not just by a community, but by a family. I was lost once, but now I’m home.

The Lady J Says

P.S. If you feel disconnected from the wrestling community at large, allow me to give you one piece of advice: the solution may be right in your own backyard.

Safety & Inclusion: A Crowd-Sourced List

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This is how we started off tonight. The response was so overwhelming it took me FIVE HOURS to get through all of the suggestions. A great big thank you to all of the fans, and all of the promotions that participated in the conversation. Hopefully we can continue to add to the list and it will be a constantly evolving resource for fans of all walks of life.

The list currently contains just under 30 promotions in the UK, US, & Canada. Each promotion (where possible) includes information about where they are located, what their Twitter handle is, whether or not they book women & how they do, and whether or not they are family friendly. As more first-hand accounts come in, I’ll include some quotes from people about their experiences there.

If you have any questions or comments about this list (if you felt unsafe at a promotion and think they should be removed from the list, or if there is a promotion you would like to see added) please feel free to comment, email me (theladyjsays at gmail dot com) or DM me on Twitter.

The PWGrrrlGang Promotion List

– The Lady J Says

 

EVOLVE72 – Stand Up and Be Heard

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I was surprised and proud when, a block away from La Boom tonight in Woodside, Queens, I discovered via Twitter that Joey Styles’ abominable comments at this evening’s EVOLVE 72 show resulted in his termination. It helped ease the sting of such a harsh, disgusting, uncomfortable moment among an otherwise killer live event. I don’t want this night to go down in my memory as The Night Joey Said That Thing.

If time allows, I do hope to do a mini cast about tonight’s card, as well as what I’ll be seeing tomorrow in Joppa, MD. I took a close friend who has limited experience with wrestling to this show, and we had a wonderful time. This experience set the gears turning in my head, and I’d like to make some notes so I can clearly share them with you all. But I don’t want this nonsense with Styles getting in the way, so I thought I’d write about it.

In the aftermath of it all, I believe strongly that Gabe Sapolsky did the right thing in firing Styles. But I would like to encourage him NOT to let this be the final comment on this issue. While EVOLVE may be a promotion that does not feature women’s matches, it DOES employee women on its staff, and has a fairly mixed audience of men and women. Making sure these women – ALL of these women – feel safe at their shows is part of Gabe’s job. Terminating Styles’ employment with EVOLVE sends a strong message to the staff and performers, but I wish a clear one was sent to the audiences, not just of EVOLVE, but of all pro-wrestling.

There are many different manifestations of privilege in our culture. In the industry of professional wrestling, men (in particular, white men) are afforded a bully pulpit, which they may avail themselves of if they should choose to do so. With EVOLVE being in a working relationship with WWE, as well as its new relationship with FloSlam, and Sapolsky’s own reputation after years in the industry, it could make serious waves in the favor of equality should he extend his comments on tonight’s events to include that EVOLVE is adopting a zero-tolerance policy for racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and transphobic commentaries, both from the staff and from the fans. What if EVOLVE stood up as a promotion where everyone can feel safe, whether you are in the ring performing or outside the ring observing?

“But he already fired Styles, and set an example. Why should he say anything else?” Because he can. He has the power to not only put at ease all of the fans who skip live events because they’re afraid of what the fans will be like, or that some dialogue in the ring will be triggering to them, but to set an example for an entire industry. When tiny promotions are nervous to lay down such intense policies because they’re afraid of isolating a portion of their fanbase and losing revenue, EVOLVE can stand up and say “yeah, some people won’t like this and won’t come to our shows. That’s fine. We don’t want their business if they need to shout offensive, cruel things during our events.” They can be leaders by example, and set a new tone for promotions that are inclusive and safe.

I don’t run a wrestling promotion. I am a fan who tries to advocate for the things she believes in. Perhaps my idyllic notions about integration and equality in wrestling are impossible to achieve. But, I have hope. I feel strongly that encouraging those with power to speak on our issues is key in the fight for equality. I know that Gabe Sapolsky and other promoters like him will continue to do what is best for their companies, and hopefully what is best for their companies will continue to be what is also best for their communities.

The Lady J Says

This is Not A Moment, It’s the Movement

After a historic event at WWE’s Hell in a Cell pay-per-view on Sunday (and, regardless of your opinion of the final match, the booking of a women’s HIAC match to go on last was, in fact, historic) Monday was a day for reflection.

I spent a significant portion of Halloween afternoon discussing with friends the greater environment of the wrestling community and the landscape for women in the industry. The major topics included training opportunities for women, and how many (if not most) schools are run by men, with much of the lessons based in teaching women how to wrestle utilizing men instead of other women as training partners. This often times comes in direct conflict with the way women are booked, with an emphasis on women’s matches instead of the intergender matches most women learned their craft in. This becomes an issue when veteran women on the independent scene, who have made a career of wrestling other women who usually fall into a certain weight/height bracket, are given super green opponents whose only experience is in wrestling men who are often much taller/heavier than they are. This, clearly, means the methods and styles of wrestling will be in direct conflict.

It also seems clear that another contributing factor to the above-mentioned scenario involving training/booking issues for women is that there are so few promotions and training schools run by women, or that have multiple women in positions of authority or power. This is not to say that there aren’t men in the industry, promoters and wrestlers, who advocate for women, who make a concerted effort to regularly book a variety of new, up-and-coming, and veteran women in both intra- and inter-gender matches. These individuals have certainly created opportunities for women where there weren’t before, and continue to help advance equality in the wrestling industry.

Last night, while watching Monday Night RAW, I read a blog post written by Gabe Sapolsky, whose title is current VP of DGUSA, according to his Facebook, which also lists him as co-founder of EVOLVE and creator of Ring Of Honor. In it, Sapolsky discusses Charlotte & Sasha Banks’ HIAC match in terms of breaking barriers and creating new opportunities for women in wrestling. He encourages women getting started in the wrestling industry to take advantage of an upcoming wrestling seminar with WWN. This is a great opportunity and I hope WWN sees plenty of women at their next round of tryouts. I also hope they actually book some of the women who do tryout for them. My issues, however, is with the broad strokes Sapolsky takes in painting the battles women have been fighting in wrestling has being won.

In his post, Sapolsky uses phrases like “The glass ceiling is gone”, “Opportunity is everywhere”, and “The playing field is level”. I know that to some people, seeing women “main event” a WWE pay-per-view product or compete inside a cage structure like Hell in a Cell seems like the crowning achievement of the women’s wrestling movement. However, it is by no means the end of the line. The playing field is most certainly NOT level, and while that glass ceiling may be cracked, it is definitely not disappeared. Changing a highly visible product like WWE to reflect a more equal playing field for men and women is an achievement that will be remembered for a long time. Hopefully, it will inspire a whole generation of young women to explore opportunities in the wrestling industry moving forward. But the reality is, it is not any easier for women to do so, and the opportunities have not actually increased in number. It would be more honest to say that the oneway to make the necessary, further changes at the indie level is for more women to attend training programs and tryouts, thus creating a larger pool of women within the industry to work with and creating a need for more women’s matches and titles.

The other issue that Sapolsky illustrates, though it seems unknowingly, is his introduction. In it, he reminisces about a shared meal with Adam Pearce and Dave Prazak, over which Prazak discusses his vision for a women’s promotion which would eventually transform into the very real, Chicago-based SHIMMER. Though the opportunity that SHIMMER gives to women is unquestionable, what is so clearly illustrated here is that even in the supposedly “level playing field” of wrestling, the credit for SHIMMER is due to a man (even though the promotion is listed as being run by him and retired wrestler Allison Danger). Now, as I mentioned earlier, the movement of equality in wrestling is not without our male-gendered counterparts and there are many instances where opportunities were created with the help of some wonderful men, including the creation of women’s promotions like SHIMMER and its sister promotion, SHINE (also run by Prazak, along with wrestler Lexie Fyfe). The problem lies in creating promotions in which women are in positions of power not just alongside men, and not only when the roster is entirely female. If it is fair to say that a man can run an intergendered roster, why can’t a women? And why are there not more wrestling schools helmed by women? Equality is not a single-tiered field in which opportunities balance at half female and half male. It is a multi-leveled endeavor, in which there must the same opportunities for women on the business side as well as the creative and performance side.

To date, two of the biggest names on the business side in wrestling are Stephanie McMahon and Dixie Carter, the Yin and Yang of successful women in the industry. While McMahon is credited with playing a major role in the recent Women’s Revolution in WWE, Carter shoulders the blame for the failures of the entire company because of her unwillingness to yield in her business strategies. This is not to say I agree with the general publics opinions of these two women, or that I subscribe to these schools of thought, but when we consider women in powerful roles in the industry, it’s hard not to assign them to either column A or column B. In one hand you have a strong head for business who is only being given credit for what the employees of her own gender do, and in the other you have a woman whose name will go down in history as being synonymous with stubbornness and poor business acumen.

I don’t know Gabe Sapolsky personally. I have never met him, and know very little about him. I try not to pass judgement based on others opinions of him or the companies he is associated with. But I do hope that beyond the narrow scope of his posting, he is also having dinner with women who are looking to take on a larger role in this industry. What someone writes in a blogpost like the one you’re reading now, or the one Sapolsky posted yesterday, is only a tiny pinprick into the larger scope of a person’s true perspective. I reserve the right to believe that someone like Sapolsky, with his ambition, his experience, and his love of wrestling, wants to exist in a world where the playing field IS level, where there truly IS no glass ceiling. But to suggest such a time is now upon us discredits the necessity of further hard work and dedication from all of the up-and-coming individuals, especially the women, in the business.

Wrestling has been, to date, the business of good old boys. It is probable that, with every inch of success the movement for equality gains, there are those on inside who hope it will be the last they must give to satisfy us. But there is always further to go. Those men who are truly advocating for equality will offer up the knowledge they have gained from their own experiences, and help to elevate women not just as wrestlers or managers, but as referees, trainers, promoters, and leaders in this industry.

Two days ago I saw two women wrestle inside the Hell in a Cell structure as the final match of a WWE pay-per-view card. That is how far we have come; that is where our fight for equality has taken us today. Where will we go tomorrow?

– The Lady J

An Artist Debuts

This past weekend was an absolute whirlwind of wrestling for me. It was my first time making the trip to see two separate promotions in two separate cities on back to back days. If you’re interested in checking out NOVA Pro’s NOVA Project 2 pre-show, that’s up here on the Facelock Feministas YouTube channel. If you caught Chikara’s The Black Goodbye either live or on Facebook, just know I’m going to do a blog post about that later on in the week.

My friend Kate (who most of you know as MakeItLoud on Twitter, and from her fabulous RAW Breakdown Project) and I have had plenty of time lately with all of the long car rides we’ve been taking to discuss wrestling at great lengths. We’ve talked about bookings, about promotions, about storytelling, about women as wrestlers, creatives, and fans. But the topic we seem to keep returning to is the unique relationship between the performers themselves and the fanbase. In wrestling, the way we as fans interact with promotions and wrestlers is unlike the way the fans of just about anything else interact with the things they are a fan of. Not only are these individuals and companies available to us through social media and video productions that are widely accessible, but also through live and in-person performances and interactions. Many fans feel a connection with specific promotions or performers, and while most often that manifests itself in terms of admiration, some cool fan art, and really wild cheers at live shows, it can also contort into a sense of entitlement and ownership.

Spoiler alert: I don’t know any wrestlers personally. You could argue my most direct connection to any wrestler is through attendance at the NOVA Pro shows and through doing the podcast. I don’t know anything about these people’s personal lives and we don’t socialize outside of that environment. I am just a fan. But I feel a deep sense of pride in them when they achieve something within this industry – even without titles or tournaments. When they have a particularly stupendous match and you can see it on their face afterwards how proud they are, it’s infectious.

I’m a lady with a blog and a podcast. I like to discuss the performance aspect of wrestling (see also: my Facelock Feministas review of the Weapons of Mass Destruction match on Lucha Underground.) I like to discuss the gender biases within the industry and within the fanbase (see also: the #PWGrrrlGang.) I also like to have fun, which is why – if you are a wrestler – there is a chance you’ve heard me talking about your butt on Twitter. Sorry. (#NotSorry) I am deeply appreciative of the fact that the first (and hopefully only) person who has called me out on this in person is Cedric Alexander.

I’ve seen Cedric Alexander perform live in three different promotions now: I saw him at AAW in Chicago back in June, I saw him wrestle at Chikara’s King of Trios earlier this month, and for the better part of this summer, Cedric was appearing at the monthly NOVA pro shows, wrestling our own fan favorites as well as outside talent, like Shane Strickland. Cedric never once had a bad match with anyone. Cedric’s style, his presence both in the ring and outside of it, and his willingness to interact with fans whether they are lining up for an autograph and photo or yelling Kota Ibushi’s name at him while he’s wrestling, paint a picture of someone who is truly dedicated to his art form. That’s the best way I can describe Cedric: he’s an artist.

When he was announced as being a part of the Cruiserweight Classic, it was natural for me to cheer for him. Before a single episode had aired, none of us were 100% sure what the outcome would be – not only who would win, but what the prize would be. I had hope that Cedric would do well, whatever the bigger picture might have in store for all of the participants. So to then discover that while he did not win the tournament outright, that he WOULD be debuting today, September 19th, on Monday Night RAW as part of the new Cruiserweight division made me incredibly proud. Not all wrestlers have the same goals or aspirations, but we as their fans and supporters hope that they make their craft sustainable; we want them to be able to do nothing but wrestle and feed their families through their art. We know that for many of them, working with WWE is not only a childhood dream, but the place where money and wrestling come together to create that sustainability.

From my tiny place within this giant industry, all I can hope is that hardworking individuals who genuinely love their fans and want to create a body of beautiful work with a variety of opponents are the people who reap the rewards. The current list of cruiserweights making up this new division is quite diverse – the styles and background of each competitor speak for themselves – but I feel strongly that Cedric will rise as a leader among them. I look forward to what their division will bring as a whole to RAW, and who they may inspire to pursue a career in wrestling. They have also left a sizable hole in the independent scene, and I eagerly anticipate who will fill the space they’ve left behind. (I’ll also be keeping an eye out for the new best booty of the indies, of course. Don’t think I’ve totally turned into a mush.)

It is hard to be a wrestling fan a lot of the time. It’s an expensive fandom to exist in where your heart will be broken, bad decisions will be made, other fans will make you crazy, and people you care deeply for will get injured. You can often feel like a tiny, unheard voice shouting amidst a sea of other opinionated characters, with just as much passion or fervor as the next person, but no one to listen. Sometimes the nonsense that goes on will make you want to walk away from the whole thing. Kate & I have joked we should make a shirt that says “Your fave is problematic and your fave is pro wrestling.”

I’m so very proud to say my favorite isn’t problematic.

Mine is Cedric Alexander.

– The Lady J Says