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

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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

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

 

Progress: The Art of the Babyface Turn

On my journey to watching all of the shows that Progress Wrestling in the UK has produced, I have hit a major turning point: I’ve just finished Chapter 20. If you HAVEN’T, stop reading now. Trust me – you want to experience this unspoiled.

 

After finishing the main event, and crying my eyes out (not an exaggeration – that was some serious emotional catharsis from a wrestling/storytelling perspective) I had pages upon pages of notes. My Facelock Feministas podcast co-host, Courtney, and I will talk about all of them, I’m sure, on the next episode. But there was one thing I’ve been turning over and over again in my head.

While a tremendous credit is owed to Jimmy Havoc for helming the storyline that played out from Chapter 2 to Chapter 20, as well as his opponent Will Ospreay (who remarkably ALSO debuted on Chapter 2) and Progress MC & co-owner Jim Smallman, there are a lot of supporting characters who played pivotal roles in the journey of the Progress title and, arguably, one of the best story arcs in independent wrestling. It featured some of the biggest names in wrestling today, like Marty Scurll and Zack Sabre Jr. It gave some of us foreigners a chance to fall in love with UK wrestlers we didn’t know as much about like Rampage Brown, Dave Mastiff, and Paul Robinson. It even gave me a window into guys I knew only a little about, like Noam Dar and Mark Andrews, and allowed me the chance to become a real fan of their work. But as someone who was guaranteed to develop an affinity for both Havoc and Ospreay as performers during this 18-chapter run, who thought she knew how she would feel when it was all “over”, it was The London Riots who stole my heart.

The London Riots ALSO debuted in Chapter 2, with a match against the Velocity Vipers (one of whom is a terribly young Will Ospreay). The Riots are two big guys with a powerful moveset and a mean streak a mile wide, something that doesn’t necessarily attract me as a fan when it comes to tag-team wrestling. (I am not, for example, terribly interested in The Authors of Pain or War Machine.) But two common threads that exists through all of the Progress roster – singles competitors and tag teams, both men and women alike – is their desire to put on a stellar, show-stealing performance and the stunning intelligence with which they approach wrestling. The London Riots are no exception to this rule, creating vicious, exciting matches that both infuriate fans and stimulate their imaginations. Their ability to wrestle any number of tag teams or singles competitors and routinely deliver some of the best tag matches I’ve ever had the privilege to watch is, therefore, not surprising in the least.

Rob Lynch and James Davis put their first-class abilities to good use during the story involving Jimmy Havoc and his run with the Progress title, though it’s entirely possible to push them from the forefront of your mind while you’re watching. This is not to say they are not incredible, or that they are unimportant, but rather that they seamlessly fold their gifts into the larger story. They enhance everything they touch without pulling focus, which is such a subtle nuance I struggle to find another instance of it in my wrestling lexicon that is remotely comparable. They start out as the Monster Heels of Progress, wrecking every tag team opponent the promotion throws at them. The fans boo them and turn their backs when they enter The Garage and Jim Smallman becomes increasingly more frustrated as he and his business partners search for a way to eliminate the Riots from their roster forever. Naturally, one way is to split them up, with Lynch losing a Last Man Standing match to Danny Garnell and James Davis being taken to his limit before eventually overcoming the still-babyface Jimmy Havoc. It is therefore all the more painful to see Havoc not only turn on the Progress team and its fanbase, but to align himself with these awful heels, whom the crowd thought were gone for good. When the London Riots lift Jimmy up onto their shoulders with the Progress title over his head, the temperature in the room seems to drop several degrees: a long, hard winter has set in at Progress.

Over the next five chapters, Havoc’s enforcers bring chaos wherever they go, including to the ENDVR shows, to rain suffering down on the likes of Eddie Dennis and the Bhangra Knights. Their enjoyment at assisting Havoc in causing chaos throughout Progress seems to abruptly halt when Jimmy brings a knife to a fist fight in order to torture Will Ospreay after the Riots beat Screw Indy Wrestling, Project Ego, and the Swords of Essex to become the number 1 contenders for the tag titles.

It is here you see a crack in the Riots’ facade – that Havoc is willing to go far past the kind of punishment the Riots are comfortable inflicting creates a separation between them, however subtle. It is therefore really no surprise when two chapters later we see Paul Robinson sacrifice James Davis in order to save Havoc and his title reign in a Career vs. Title match against Ospreay, Noam Dar, and team FSU. As the Riots stand over the Progress logo in the middle of the ring, that cold feeling suddenly dissipates and something shifts; they seem genuinely devastated to have to leave, and the crowd seems sorry to send them off. They may have been two of the biggest baddies in the promotion, but they still BELONG to the Progress crowd in a strange way. Davis and Lynch hesitate before heading up the steps to the exit and it’s hard not to feel that we’ve witnessed an important change.

Over the next three chapters, the tag titles move from FSU to The Faceless, and it seems clear that the Riots have left a sizable hole in the tag team division at Progress. Meanwhile, Havoc manages to retain his title against the likes of Rampage Brown, Dave Mastiff, Marty Scurll, Noam Dar, and even the chosen one of Progress, Will Ospreay. After winning a particularly nasty six-way match, Havoc by Morgan Webster that it’s always best to have an insurance policy.

Enter the London Riots.

This is one of the biggest pops I’ve ever heard from the Progress crowd while watching the shows on demand. The London Riots belong to this crowd. They have been with Progress since the beginning. They have bled and bumped and fought on to entertain these people, and now they truly are the Progress fans’ team. Jim Smallman welcomes them back with open arms, and announces that Havoc and his henchman Paul Robinson will face off against the Riots at the inaugural Super Strong Style 16 tournament.

The London Riots vs. Jimmy Havoc and Paul Robinson is my favorite match in Progress thus far, and might actually be my favorite match of all time. Seems a pretty lofty claim to make, but if you know anything regarding what I love most about wrestling, it doesn’t seem so strange at all. It’s one of the most brutal matches this side of hardcore that I’ve ever seen, which falls directly into my wheelhouse as a fan. In terms of storytelling and character work, though, it is completely brilliant. The London Riots might be the only comparable characters in Progress (up to this point) to Jimmy Havoc in terms of madness. Obviously, they draw a line far sooner than he does on what they think is fair play in terms of the sort of violence they inflict on others on the roster, but they are 100% willing to put their own bodies – their own well being – on the line in order to achieve their goal. Knowing that Jimmy has no limits is like being granted permission to forgo their own limits as well. They even take the time to work outside of their normal moveset, which feels like a nod at anyone who would ask “what have you two been doing the last three shows” because the answer is, of course, plotting revenge. When Rob Lynch uses an Acid Rainmaker on Havoc, it proves that they were paying attention when he was their leader, and that there is no one you want less as an enemy than someone who used to be your right hand man.

Five chapters earlier, Noam Dar showed us all that Jimmy Havoc was fallible. Even though he didn’t win the match, he got Havoc to tap out, and we all saw it. What the Riots proved was that somewhere deep down inside, the old Havoc – the one James Davis put away in a hardcore match back in Chapter 8 – still existed. He could be weakened, he could be surprised, and he could be defeated. It took two of them, their District Line finisher, and the cheers of 700 Progress fans but Havoc was pinned right there in the middle of the ring at the end of the match. The London Riots were heroes. They had widened the crack that had been created by Noam Dar and would eventually break Havoc in half thanks to Will Ospreay. When the Riots joined Ospreay at ringside for the main event of Chapter 20, you knew the end was near – Ospreay couldn’t beat Havoc alone, but he was flanked by the only two men who had managed the unthinkable since Havoc’s title reign began.

Heel turns are awesome. They can be a ton of fun to watch, and can create heroes out of mere men (i.e. Havoc & Ospreay). But if you want to see something truly amazing, take a heel that the crowd loves to hate, someone sick and twisted in their own rite, and find a way to turn them babyface. Watching a heel get his comeuppance is great fun. Watching a babyface finally receive the admiration from the crowd that they always deserved is even better.

Thank you, Riots, indeed.

– The Lady J Says

 

 

PROGRESS: Watch Me Burn

So, I finally got to “That Part”.

Knowing that I had already expressed an appreciation for the character of Jimmy Havoc, many of the individuals who’d already experienced all of PROGRESS to date were eagerly anticipating my watching Chapters 9 and 10 over the past week. I don’t think they were disappointed by my live Twitter reactions in the moment as the major story that ends PROGRESS’s 2013 year unfolded before me. I was genuinely surprised, even though everyone had clearly provided me with signs that something big was coming.

Once Chapter 10 was closed, and the corresponding episode of Facelock Feministas was recorded, I had some time to digest what I had seen and how I really felt about it. Unpacking your feelings about wrestling never gets easier, no matter how long you’ve been watching it or how much of it you’ve seen. If anything, it gets more complicated as you become more honest with yourself. Perhaps that’s also a sign of age – a willingness to see even the ugly parts of yourself reflected back at you in your favorite art form, and forcing yourself to confront those things head on.

Before I go any further, I have two requests for you, dear reader. First, make sure you’ve actually WATCHED the first 10 chapters of PROGRESS, or I’m about to ruin the whole thing for you. Second, watch this video. It really helped to put some things in perspective for me, and I can tell you right now, it’s going to color the way I watch the rest of this story unfold in a major way.

Going into this experience of watching all of PROGRESS, I promised myself I would make a concerted effort to watch everything – all of the matches, all of the promos, any content PROGRESS provided via their On Demand service, I would consume. That meant seeing where my limit was when it came to Havoc’s hardcore matches. I was always fascinated by this kind of match, but assumed my own usual physical response to the sight of blood (light-headedness and fainting) meant it wouldn’t be possible to watch all the way through. And yet two hardcore matches have occurred so far, and I’ve watched them both completely. Perhaps a debt is owed to Lucha Underground for desensitizing me to blood, or at least for helping me to understand blood is a tool in the wrestling world, and if used properly it can enhance the telling of a story.

The story in question is not hard to follow. Havoc’s character is a weirdo, an outcast at the start. He’s a hardcore wrestler who wants to get involved at PROGRESS, so he has to prove that he can work the style of the promotion. Even though he doesn’t win his matches, each time he steps into the ring the crowd is fully behind him. Each match is a thing of beauty, each opponent elevated for having worked with him. When a real problem threatens PROGRESS, the existence of the London Riots and the mayhem they bring with them, Havoc is put into a hardcore match with one of their members to teach them a lesson. Let them step into the ring with someone who takes great enjoyment in causing them pain. In the end it’s Jimmy who takes a brunt of the force and ends up losing the match – yet again. So when he finally has had enough and unloads on Jim Smallman in Chapter 9, it’s really not that shocking. What is really amazing, though, is the promo he cuts on Smallman, and everyone in charge at PROGRESS. He goes on to make good on his threat of doing what he wants in Chapter 10, cashing in his contract for a match with an opponent and a stipulation of his choosing against then-champion Mark Andrews, and winning both his first match for the promotion and the PROGRESS title in the process.

While watching the YouTube video that summarizes this story and Havoc’s first two years at PROGRESS, it suddenly occurred to me why I don’t hate this heel version of Jimmy Havoc, but rather adore him. It’s so simple, I’m surprised it required any ‘unpacking’ at all, really: you can’t shame someone for being different and then try to capitalize on the thing that sets them apart from you and not expect to be burned for it.

Any marginalized group of people can tell you this story. There’s so many variations on it, the fact that it took this long to figure out what a wrestling version of it would be is the only thing shocking about it. I deal with it within our wrestling community every day, and I’m sure many other writers who are women, people of color, or LGBTQ can tell you the same thing. Day after day we get passed over or considered less-than because we aren’t white males with a specific perspective on wrestling. We’re mocked, we’re trolled, and then when publications find out they need a more diverse writing team, we’re absolutely bombarded with requests for work. Unpaid of course, but it’ll be good for exposure. The same thing happens from the outside looking into the wrestling world, too. Reputable publications never want to be pitched for pieces even in the vicinity of the professional wrestling world, but the second something “newsworthy” happens involving someone with the last name of McMahon, my inbox is full of requests (again, unpaid) because they know my turnover is quick and I know what I’m talking about.

“Fix our problem, but know that we think your art form is still illegitimate.”

Pink chair shots all around, absolutely.

So it turns out that it’s not Jimmy Havoc’s dark eyeliner or his Doc Martens or his love of AFI that makes me his fan. It’s the story. It’s him taking back control not only of his career in PROGRESS, but who validates him as a performer – who gives what he does meaning. He becomes powerful simply by being undeniable and being true to himself. He reclaims his mean streak and, as a result, takes his rightful place at the top of PROGRESS. Sure, in the world of pro wrestling storytelling, Jimmy Havoc is a bad guy – a heel. He beat up one of the promoters, someone who wasn’t prepared (nor should have to be) to defend himself. He poured lighter fluid on a wrestler who’d just wrestled two matches and won his first championship. But he’s also probably one of the most honest characters you’ll see in the wrestling world’s modern age.

“I’m going to do what I want to do,” he says over Smallman’s beaten form, splayed out on the canvas.

I hope you do, Jimmy. I hope we all do.

The Lady J Says

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.

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

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