In Defense of Indy Wrestling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– The Lady J Says

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Progress: Chapters 16-30 Best Matches

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 19: Jinny vs. Pollyanna (No DQ)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 28: Marty Scurll vs. Tommy End

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

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

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

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

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

– The Lady J Says

The Other Side of the Table

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We go further.

The Lady J Says

 

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

 

 

 

The Tale of Two Districts

The school district on Long Island that I attended from first grade through senior year of high school was huge. It’s one of New York State’s largest, not only in number of enrolled students, which currently exceeds 15,000, but it’s also sprawling in terms of square miles. When I was still very young, the district set about redrawing the borders of the areas that fed into our twelve elementary schools to accommodate what was considered an influx of school children in our area. To prevent one school, for example, from ending up with class sizes close to forty while another had classes with only 15 students, they shuffled everyone around. This meant that when I was 9, I lost half of my classmates to other schools, and started fourth grade with a classroom full of unfamiliar faces.

Then in sixth grade, the district voted to make even larger changes: they were going to build a second high school and a fourth middle school. This meant we ended up with double of everything: sports teams, music groups, extra curricular clubs, etc. Everyone in the district predicted we’d eventually fully split in half (as it is, half of the students never meet the other half.) At some point it would become clear that the newer houses with the wealthier families were feeding into one high school and wouldn’t want to pay taxes to the other school where the lower income families lived.

I couldn’t help but see the similarity of my old public school district with what is currently happening in WWE. It seemed entirely sensible that as the roster grew, not just the main roster but the NXT roster as well, it was necessary to accommodate that by creating more unique screen time opportunities to the performers. What better way to do that than to separate the two programs of Monday Night RAW and SmackDown Live into independent programs with entirely separate rosters. Now there were more chances for each wrestler to  actually perform for the WWE Universe, both live and at home.

What this split, at first, was lacking in was the ultimate goal any wrestling promotion needs to move the action along: something worth fighting for. Storylines regularly can create motivation for wrestlers, but in the end it is the promise of being a champion that drives everyone. Immediately after the draft occurred we were presented with the following issues: the tag teams and female wrestlers on the SmackDown Live roster did not have a title to compete for, and the men on Monday Night RAW did not have a major title to set their sights on.

The day after Battleground, Mick Foley and Stephanie McMahon announced Monday Night RAW would have it’s own major title, the Universal Championship, which was crowned at SummerSlam in August. This past Sunday at BackLash, the first SmackDown Live exclusive pay-per-view post-brand split, a new Women’s Champion and Tag Team Champions for the Tuesday night program were crowned. With the coming of the Cruiserweight Division to RAW in the next few weeks (and what is a new division without its own title?) it is likely that WWE will have two major brands, with a combined roster of 86 performers and nine titles. NINE TITLES.

A lot of arguments were made before the WWE draft happened about the benefits of dividing the roster up in a myriad of ways, not the least of which was having certain divisions, like the women or the tag teams, being exclusive to one program. It was clear, though, when the rules of the draft were released that the rosters would essentially be mirror images of one another. For the first few weeks this felt fine, but now that there are an equal number of titles on each program, it feels like an exact replica of my school district.

The rosters, at this moment, really are still carbon copies of one another: two serious, strong willed women divisions with ex-NXT stars as champs; two tag team divisions based in being the comedy act of the roster with violent heels challenging for the titles; mid-card men’s singles titles held by individuals with pretty blonde wives who’ve held other titles and are not in their first reign, turning previously silly storylines into vicious battles; and two ex-Shield babyface/tweeners who have been cheated out of their main titles by indie sweethearts and are now looking for redemption or revenge.

Of course, the stories aren’t EXACTLY the same, and there is something or someone worth watching on both programs. However, two problems immediately jump out. First of all, the limited rosters per division mean the potential for recycled storylines or never-ending feuds between performers. Second, what is the value of one championship when another just like it exists somewhere else? What do I mean by this? Well, let’s look at the tag divisions.

Currently, the RAW tag champions are The New Day, and the longest reigning tag champions for that particular belt (previously the WWE World Tag Team Championship which was, ironically, developed for the SmackDown roster in 2002.) Alongside Big E, Kofi Kingston, and Xavier Woods are only 4 other tag teams: Enzo Amore and Big Cass, Epico and Primo of the Shining Stars, Goldust and R-Truth of the Golden Truth, and Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows. Meanwhile, on SmackDown, the newly-crowned champions of Heath Slater and Rhyno have 6 potential opponents to face: Aiden English and Simon Gotch of the Vaudevillains, Chad Gable and Jason Jordan of American Alpha, Fandango and Tyler Breeze of Breezango, Jimmy and Jey Uso, Konnor and Viktor of the Ascension, and Zack Ryder and Mojo Rawley of the Hype Bros. Keeping this in mind, why wouldn’t it be in, say, The Hype Bros best interest to ask to be released from SmackDown in order to hedge their bets at RAW? Or if Anderson and Gallows find that being outnumbered by the New Day to be unfavorable, why not just roll into SmackDown and take the tag titles from Slater and Rhyno?

Also of note: the way the talent was distributed between the two promotions. Arguably all of the tag teams on the SmackDown roster have elevated their division and have found success in getting over with the crowd, with perhaps the Ascension being the only exception. On RAW, New Day, Anderson and Gallows, and Enzo and Cass leave Golden Truth and the Shining Stars in the dust in terms of being over. With such a small division, you’d expect them all to be over, or at least at the same level, instead of there being such inequality with the crowd. Considering all of this, it’s easy to see the brand new SmackDown titles as the more important ones, even though RAW‘s titles have more history, because there’s more talent, more general popularity, and more potential for diversity in booking.

Now, if WWE had decided to keep their WWE World Heavyweight championship on RAW, maybe alongside the tag titles and the incoming Cruiserweight division, while elevating the IC title on SmackDown with the US title and the entire women’s division, there would still be something for every viewer on both programs, but no need to create new titles (except, as previously stated, one for the cruiserweight.) Then, between 86 individuals there would only be 6 titles – a far better ratio, in my opinion. Also, having one title per division means there is a best – there is one goal. All of the women fight for one title. All of the tag teams fight for one title.

There’s some things I didn’t mention in my comparison between WWE and my school district. First of all, both high schools compete as if they are in their own district. Any time there is cause for competition – whether it be in sports, test scores, music competitions – the schools are going head-to-head. But to the outside world, they are still one district, and as such a win for one is a win for the whole district. The difference here is that WWE isn’t in competition with other companies, not really anyway. While many other wrestling promotions have found successes for themselves and wrestling as an industry becomes popular again with mass markets, no one is functioning at WWE’s level. That could be a good reason to pit two version of the main roster against one another, but not if they rarely face off, and have enough titles on each program to basically be self-sufficient.

I also didn’t mention that in the time leading up to my generation’s influx of children in that area, the district was working on paring down their expenses, because there was less of a need. Not too long ago, WWE was spending a lot of time unifying titles and cleaning up the remnants of a time when there were two rosters, or competing companies with rival titles. Also, some [redacted] years since my graduation, the tide has turned again. The district has closed down two elementary schools and that middle school they built during my time there. As much as WWE’s roster split is fitting for the massive roster they are currently sporting, it is only a matter of time before that changes, too. It will likely be years before we see the WWE roster shrink enough to warrant a move away from two unique programs, but that possibility still exists in the future, at some unpredictable time. Then what?

There’s one major issue with the two rosters that can’t be drawn in parallel to anything else, though, and that is the sheer volume of wrestling content that exists in the world right now. Most large promotions have some sort of online or DVD components now so you can check out what they’re doing, regardless of where in the world you are. Live in Texas but want to check out Chikara? No worries. Live in the UK but want to see BOLA? Not a problem. When we step back and look at how the industry is absolutely flooded with content, it becomes hard to motivate yourself to check out a second night of WWE doing the same basic thing. If the rosters had unique divisions, that would be a good incentive to tune in on Tuesday – to see the Women, or the Tag Teams, or the Cruiserweights. But to see a carbon copy of the way WWE books shows, just with different wrestlers…that’s not motivation to do anything except be anywhere but my couch on Tuesday nights.

I think it’s human nature to try to solve the problems that exist before us without worrying too much about what is coming down the pike or how our problem fits into a greater, global community. If we do, it’s easy to become totally overwhelmed by the prospect of every possible outcome. However, a lack of foresight cannot be considered a virtue when the realities of single-mindedness are standing right in front of you  – back to back on Mondays and Tuesdays.

– The Lady J Says

 

 

The Storyteller

 

The wrestling hangover I suffered from post-King of Trios was a doozy. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt that burnt out after a show before. Granted, it as 3 days of incredible wrestling coupled with the discovery of a promotion fairly close to where I live that expertly utilizes all of the aspects of wrestling that I adore: theatrics, linear storytelling, complex characters, and a suspension of disbelief. Never having spent quite so much time immersed in the pro wrestling community, I think I left with more questions than I entered, so I tried to sum it all up and ask Twitter for some thoughts. One response in particular stuck out:

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The front row was still too far away.

That blew my mind. I know that feeling.

This is not to say I want to be a wrestler. I can’t possibly stress enough that I don’t want to be a wrestler. Besides my confidence that my body would never withstand the things a wrestler must do, I also suffer from enough anxiety that my own fears about injuring whoever I got in there with would almost certainly come true. If I got hurt, that would suck. If I hurt someone else, I would be inconsolable. This is not the job for me.

I’m a storyteller. I have an overactive imagination that can outrun my own speech. I dream up things faster than I can put words to breath or pen to paper. My brain never shuts off, not even when I’m sleeping (see above mention of anxiety). My computer is full of half-baked notes and voice memos about characters and backstories, about plot lines and connective tissue; more of it than I could ever use in a lifetime, and more of it is being born every minute. This can make me awkward to encounter in person; I’m either going a mile a minute, or I’m quiet because my mind’s gone into overdrive and I’m hopelessly trying to retain even an ounce of whatever’s being created.

Being a fan of Lucha Underground has been incredible for me because it gives me something to focus on. I enjoy doing the Facelock Feministas podcast because I can take notes on the show and refer back to previous episodes, and know that there’s a definite amount of time before my hypothesis and questions are answered. I appreciate the interaction with the people both behind the scenes and the wrestlers themselves. But I have never been to The Temple in California, and with my wretched fear of flying, I may never get there. Attending Chikara’s King of Trios event last weekend sent my mind into a tailspin of ideas. Then someone posted a link to the history of the promotion and all of its characters and storylines. Now I’m in it.

I love the word “Nazmaldun”. I love the Hexed Men’s entrance music. I love Ophidian’s mask and Thunder Frog’s hammer. I love The Colony and all of their individual stories. I love how Cedric Alexander, Johnny Gargano, and Drew Gulak played to the story of them being “Team CWC”. I know there are many, many people like me who have a lightbulb go on in their heads when they see something like Chikara or Lucha Underground, the same way some people are inspired by reading Tolkien or seeing the musical Hamilton. If you can take that inspiration and channel it into your own work, that’s incredible. I’m sure some people would say, “well, J, why don’t you write fan fiction, or just write short stories inspired by the stuff you see at wrestling shows?” I could do that. But then the only way for an audience to consume that art is to read it. When I watch wrestling programs with intricate, deep storylines and characters, they are performance based and they inspire me to create art in the same forum. When I watch wrestling, I don’t think “I want to write stories that feel like that.” I think, “I want to help other people tell stories like that.”

I don’t know how I’m perceived by others in this community. I’m not sure it would serve me at all to care. I don’t know if people think I’m some weird superfan (I am), or some aggressive, opinionated feminist sjw (I’m that, too.) I certainly hope people don’t think I’m trolling wrestling shows for a lover, or to get famous. I’m not at a wrestling show to blow someone’s cover or get behind the curtain. Even with kayfabe in this strange limbo stage now, I prefer not to know who is behind a lucha libra mask if I can help it. It doesn’t enhance the experience for me to be “in the know” – unless that knowledge is how the performer has created their character and chosen to tell that character’s story. A discussion on the artform of wrestling and the storytelling that drives it is my idea of a good time.

A few years ago, a friend of mine was doing a project on “creators” and what was at the heart of their art. For me, it was about being an arts facilitator – a storyteller. I like being a writer, and don’t plan on giving up the creative non-fiction I write. But the thing I miss about theater is the interaction with other creators. The minds behind LU and Chikara are just as much arts facilitators. They are less playwrights, as playwrights create a thing that simply is, and will be interpreted differently by every director, actor, lighting designer, and creative team that takes the work on. Those behind a wrestling promotions stories know the character, more often than not, is intrinsically connected to the performer. One character is usually not played by many people, therefore it is a collaboration. A story has to consider the strengths of a performer and what they can bring as that particular character. When a performer moves on, so must a character. There are obviously exceptions, but this is truly the heart of places like Lucha Underground and Chikara – the art of wrestling in these promotions is an immaculately choreographed dance in which we, the audience, never see all of the work that went in, but simply witness the beautiful gliding the performers across the smooth surface of a tight storyline.

Is there a place in the professional wrestling world for a writer, with no aspirations to actually wrestle, to be the storyteller? Can wrestlers trust the foresight of someone whose sole responsibility to the art form is making sure the magic that is laid over the athleticism remain cohesive and untangled? Can this storyteller be a woman? I don’t know what the answer to any of these questions are. I do know that if any of them is “yes”, that’s where you’ll find me. I’ll be banging on the door with a notebook in her hand shouting “let me in – I have a great idea.” Until then, I’ll be the one taking notes in the back of wrestling shows.

The front row is still too far away.

– The Lady J Says

 

For My Mother

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Today is my Mom’s 63rd birthday. Later on, some of my family will be headed over to my parents’ house for cake. But my Mom won’t know why they’re there, or even really who they are, and that’s because my Mom has Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease.

Many of you already know my story. You know I moved back in with my folks five years ago to become my Mom’s primary caregiver. You also know I made the hardest decision of my life last year when I chose to move on, and give up that duty to my father. I think about my parents every day and still actively support my father in every decision he makes as we navigate the later stages of this horrible disease.

Right now, Alzheimer’s Disease is the 6th leading cause of death in the US, and currently affects over 5 million Americans. Every 66 seconds, someone in the US develops Alzheimer’s disease. The estimate this year for the cost of care for Alzheimer’s and other dementia disease patients is $236 billion. In case you can’t fathom a number like that, it looks like this: $236,000,000,000. As time goes on and the Baby Boomer generation ages, that number, and all of the other statistics surrounding Alzheimer’s and other dementia diseases, will skyrocket.

So today, on my Mom’s birthday, I’m asking for help. Please help my mother and all of patients and families battling this cruel disease. Every year in the fall, the Alzheimer’s Association hosts walk-a-thons all over the country to raise money for Alzheimer’s research, patient and caregiver support, and lobbying right here in our nation’s capitol for federal funding to better treat and hopefully one day cure Alzheimer’s Disease. This year my friend Lauren in New Hampshire, my cousin Kathy in Texas, and my cousin Maria and Uncle Billy in NY are all walking in honor of my wonderful mother. My Dad & I are touched by the outpouring of love and support from our friends and family.

If you can and are inclined to donate, you can do so here. If not, please consider sharing this post. Maybe you will inspire someone you know to walk in their area, maybe on behalf of someone they know affected by this disease.

Thanks to all of the wonderful people I have met over the past two years since I started writing as The Lady J. You have seen me through some very hard times, and I am a very lucky woman to have this community in my life.

Happy birthday, Mom.

Love,

J.

 

The Middle

Some stories start in the middle.

The middle of this story finds me sitting home on a Friday night trying to keep pasta away from the dog while listening to a wrestling podcast. On a stupid hot night toward the end of July, I’m taking a break from a fairly monotonous freelancing project to engage in my favorite thing: listening to fun, funny, passionate people talk about pro wrestling, and in particular, Lucha Underground.

It’s during this podcast I hear some of the individuals (who all appear to identify as male, as they all refer to one another as “he”) talking about the mentorship of some of the individuals behind LU, and how they encouraged the various podcast personalities to follow along the path they’ve walked. This is wonderfully reassuring, as I have had many positive interactions via social media with some of the writing staff, and like to think they have also been encouraging as I work toward…

As I work toward…

What am I working toward?

I have changed trajectories so many times in my not-quite-thirty years in this Earth. I wanted to work in politics, in playwriting, in publishing, in wrestling. I took care of my Mom; I left my boring day job with the government. But what am I doing right now? I am watching every match Roman Reigns has wrestled on the main roster of WWE. I am trying to figure out what to do with a Lucha Underground podcast now that the second season of the show is over. I am horribly neglecting this blog. I am attempting to do some freelance writing and editing. But to what end? What good am I doing; what impact am I making?

I realize I am jealous of these men on the podcast, because they seem to have opportunity, trajectory, and intiative. They have someone in their corner with the LU staff being so supportive. And I realize I am jealous because they are men.

The staff at Lucha Underground, in particular Chris DeJoseph has been very supportive of the #PWGrrrlGang movement. As we have expanded its meaning, many other smaller promotions like AAW in Chicago, Smash in Canada, and NOVAPro right here in Virginia, have been welcoming of a movement to support women in all aspects of professional wrestling. But what they can’t offer is first-hand experience. They don’t know what it’s like to be a female writer or booker or commentator. They don’t know what it’s like to be the first woman to _____. They provide women with amazing opportunities, ones that have been seized and capitalized on, but they cannot show the path to walk to success.

I wish I had a mentor. I have someone from college, a wonderful theater professor who has been encouraging of my varied (& sometimes doomed) choices. He is like my cheering section, but will be the first to admit he has no experience with professional wrestling. I am walking into uncharted territory, where he wishes me great success but can offer no real guidance.

I wish there was a woman who could say she’s been there and done that. I wish there was a woman who had to fight her way into the boy’s club, who eventually found a group – a place to belong – made up of people who were like-minded in their ambitions but still challenged her. I wish she could help me choose where to focus my attentions, the podcast, the articles, the blog – or just to give up altogether because I don’t have the mettle. I wish there was a woman to mentor me, but there isn’t. At least, there isn’t one that I have found.

This story is still in the middle. Maybe it’s at a crossroads, I’m not sure, but it’s definitely in the middle. If it ever moves out of the middle, I hope I remember to look back and offer a hand to someone behind me.

The Lady J Says

How I Show My Love

It’s been a while since I’ve posted in here (poor blog) but I’m working toward making this a bigger priority and writing more. One of the things that’s been filling up a little more of my time has been the Facelock Feministas podcast (which you can check out via YouTube and iTunes) and promoting the #PWGrrrlGang. I had some thoughts I wanted to share regarding last night’s FF podcast, and thought this might be a good place to put them.

I am a female-identifying professional wrestling fan. If you come here or to the podcast looking for the opinion of someone who has been or is a wrestler, or the perspective of someone who is an industry “insider”, you have come to the wrong place. I don’t think I’ve ever given the impression that I have experience inside the wrestling industry, but if I have, I apologize for the misinformation. I’m just a fan who uses my unique perspective as someone with a background in creative writing and theater to help inform my opinions of what I see weekly on my TV or at live events. My personal journey as a human being walking this earth is also painted by my experiences as a woman; those experiences are going to color everything I do in my life and the way I interpret anything that crosses my path: the stories others tell me, things I read in books, or see on TV. It’s not something I can turn off – not that I would want to even if I could.

As a fan writer and podcast host, I feel my purpose lies in being as honest as possible about how things seem to me. I hope that in my honesty I am never alienating anyone, but rather getting the ball rolling on the beginning of a conversation. If we disagree, I want to hear your point of view, as long as we can both be respectful in how we discuss the issue at hand. Just a few days ago a wonderful friend, Willow, and I were discussing our opposing views about WWE’s inclusion of Chris Benoit in products lately. This is an issue I take very personally and have blogged about before, and I believe Willow understands my perspective but can only be honest with me about how she feels. In the end, we agree to disagree but understand one another better as people.

Sarah and I have received a great deal of support for the Facelock Feministas podcast, a fact we are both proud of and grateful for. The basis for this podcast was always to give a woman’s perspective on wrestling, but to focus it to Lucha Underground, a market we felt didn’t have as many female podcast voices yet. We’ve had our fair share of trolls, but mostly we’ve gotten a positive response from people – fans, other podcasters, wrestlers, bookers, etc. – and we hope to continue to bring you more fun, intelligent content as we progress. But not every episode is going to be the same. Whether I am working alone, with Sarah, or joined by a special guest, the basis of each podcast episode is in the corresponding episode of Lucha Underground that aired that evening. Yesterday, as I worked through episode 17 of season 2 of Lucha Underground, I felt unhappy with what I was seeing on my screen. When it came time to go live with the broadcast, I said what I felt.

I like be extra sassy and have fun on Twitter, but I never really thought I was cutting the Promo to End All Promos on the creative team behind Lucha Underground. Maybe it’s not always a great idea for me to finish watching an episode and then hop straight on air to podcast. But everything I said last night I still agree with. Maybe you don’t – that’s fine. As long as you do so respectfully, I’d be happy to hear your argument! We received a few comments on our YouTube video for episode 15 of people who did/did not agree with me, all of whom were as passionate as me, but very cool to hear from. The only thing that has given me pause was a reply that popped up on the Facelock Feministas twitter account this afternoon:

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This made me feel bad. My intention is never to make the people who create Lucha Underground (and I mean all of them, the wrestlers, the writers, the camera people, the designers, the technicians, everyone) think I am not grateful for the hard work they put in. I am a huge fan of this program and something really terrible would have to happen for me to stop watching (like, say, I would have to be dead. Or the show would have to be canceled. Both are things I would prefer NOT to happen.) I think sometimes it’s easier to just love something and be satisfied with it than to say “usually this is very good, but this one time it was not up to the standards of the rest of the product.” That’s how I felt about last night, particularly the story surrounding the main event match for the Gift of the Gods championship, Chavo Guerrero, and Cage. I don’t expect every main event to be on the same level as something like the No Mas match from episode 15, but the storytelling for this championship seems like dangerously bland waters to get a guy as on-fire as Cage is into.

The Kobra Moon stuff, on the other hand, is personal to me. How women are portrayed is sort of my thing, it’s where a lot of my heat comes from. I want strong female characters, characters who are held to the same standards as men, and ones that don’t play into long-standing tropes and stereotypes typically applied to women. I don’t know much about the writers and producers of LU, and I don’t know how many of them are female. I don’t know how many of them had the experiences many young girls do of being taught to never be smarter or faster or stronger or better than boys at anything, because that’s not how you get them to like you. It is hard when you have experienced certain things not to view moments like Kobra Moon giving Daga the pin in last night’s first match as a reflection of that experience. Do I think there’s more at play? Sure. Very rarely do we have matches that don’t move a major story arch forward on LU. But watching Kobra Moon trying to lick Daga (yes, I know she’s a snake) made me feel Marty the Moth-level uncomfortable.

And here’s the thing: it’s my opinion. Would I rather watch any other wrestling program available to me instead of Lucha Underground? Hell no. But I also don’t see the point in dismissing the times when you don’t like something and giving a promotion a free ride for all of the good they’ve done up to that point. I’m sure we can all think of promotions who became so complacent regarding their audience that they rested on their laurels and thought we wouldn’t find anything else to watch if they insisted on feeding us the same regurgitated shit over and over. Obviously, one lackluster episode of a show does not an abandoned promotion make; I’m not just going to shut the podcast down and walk away from a show I adore. I’d prefer to get a little heat for calling a spade a spade and saying “this was not up to par. Please do better.”

To paraphrase Amy Gardner’s character in the “Red Mass” episode of The West Wing:

First of all, I’m crazy about Lucha Underground. I’ve been crazy about it for longer than you’ve known wat it was. And I’ll keep poking it with a stick; that’s how I show my love.

Love you, LU.

The Lady J Says