Friday, April 11, 2014

Revolution Now

Imagine. Imagine having a dream. Imagine working your whole life for it. Now imagine you are told, time and again, you aren't "(fill-in-the-blank) enough."

Ever since I could remember, everything inside of me just wanted to fit in...

"You aren't tall enough."
"You aren't strong enough."
"You aren't 'built' enough."
"You will never succeed. Just give up. You aren't good enough."

Imagine transforming yourself, losing weight, changing your look, changing your style - but it still isn't 'enough."

I was never one for pretenders, everything I tried to be just wouldn't settle in...

Imagine feeling despair in your heart, and slowly, after years of hearing those words, believing that they are true. Imagine growing harder, hearing critical words from the peers you look up to most. "...Takes it too seriously.."

I get the feeling just because everything I touch isn't dark enough that this problem lies in me...

Now imagine taking a stand. Fighting back. Determined to become the best no matter what. Imagine striving for that goal and having it slip through your fingers, coming so close, only to be prevented by people who feel themselves to be better than you. Pinnacles of arrogance.

You don't scare me, although I'm small - I'm bulletproof and I'm ten feet tall...

Now imagine a chorus of voices swelling up in support, more and more building up until the momentum sweeps you away, propelling you towards your dream. Imagine that wave sweeping away all obstacles in it's path, until you are so close it is almost in your grasp...

You may think I'm talking about the new WWE World Heavyweight Champion, Daniel Bryan. While there are many similarities in their stories and their paths, the person I am speaking of has had major challenges to her health as well as obstacles to her goals. That's right, her. The person I am speaking of is the "Super Hardcore Anime", LuFisto.

Back in late 2012/Spring of 2013, LuFisto was engaged in a war between Mercedes Martinez and then-SHIMMER Champion, Saraya Knight. LuFi and Martinez had been battling in several promotions such as where the feud began (NCW Femmes Fatales), over to Mercedes' stomping ground in Women Superstars Uncensored, a brief skirmish in SHIMMER Women Athletes and back to Femmes Fatales where, in March 2013, LuFisto challenged Saraya Knight for the SHIMMER belt. She might have won, if not for Mercedes running in to clock her in the head with a chair, allowing Knight to get the win via referee stoppage. LuFi might have gotten her revenge, if not for an accident that shattered her kneecap at SHIMMER 53 the following week. This took her out of action until the Fall of 2013 - something that she discussed along with various other, personal topics in a podcast you can listen to here:

Upon her return, she discovered something new about the new SHIMMER Champion, Cheerleader Melissa. Her old ally had become more arrogant, more dangerous, and more of a bully. After defeating Leva Bates to retain the belt, Melissa kept beating on the smaller woman until the recently retired Allison Danger tried to make the save. Unfortunately Melissa went after Danger's head, knowing full well about the stroke that forced her to retire, but before she could do any damage, LuFisto came out to run her off. This touched a nerve on the part of the Super Hardcore Anime: LuFi had suffered a stroke a few years ago, as well as heart problems, yet had been fortunate enough to heal and resume her career. She didn't take kindly to Melissa beating on one of her friends who was also a stroke victim. Martinez and LuFisto resumed their war, with LuFi getting a victory via Burning Hammer on Saturday. Sunday, Volume 60, saw her challenge Melissa for the SHIMMER belt, proclaiming she was going to stand up for everyone who had been a victim of the Cheerleader's vicious streak.

Unfortunately, the Canadian came up short in her quest. However, after the match, Mercedes ran in to double team LuFi until Kana made the save. During, Melissa had been busted open and was pouring blood down her face. This prevented Melissa from competing on Volume 61 - her own streak of wrestling on each SHIMMER volume came to an end, but she still made an appearance. Sixty one saw Mercedes and LuFisto go to battle once more in a Falls Count Anywhere match that took them all over the Eagles Club in one of the most brutal matches in the promotion's history. Towards the end, Melissa ran in and blasted LuFi with the SHIMMER belt, leading to Martinez hitting a Fisherman's Buster on a chair to get the three. It was a shock to see the two SHIMMER originals standing tall over the prone LuFisto as the boos rained down on the two arrogant women.

The saying goes that you can't keep a good man down, and that goes for a good woman as well. At Femmes Fatales XIII, it was planned to be LuFisto and her protege Sweet Cherrie taking on Mercedes Martinez and her Montreal ally, Saraya Knight in a No Disqualification Anything Goes match. But plans change and instead of Saraya beside Mercedes it was none other than the SHIMMER Champion Cheerleader Melissa. All four did battle in Montreal which saw LuFisto put Mercedes through a table with a Death Valley Driver then get the victory over Melissa via Burning Hammer. A most satisfying result which may have been the final tipping point for the SHIMMER Powers That Be to announce LuFisto would get another shot at the belt. In April 2014, on their second iPPV, the two would go toe to toe again but this time there was an added stipulation: this would be a Best 2 Out of 3 Falls match. LuFisto immediately went into intense training to prepare herself physically and mentally for the challenge.

April 4th. New Orleans, Louisiana. Two legends of female wrestling put another notch in their history book. Like an orchestra that starts out softly only to build into a crescendo of symphony, so did the match start out slow as each woman went through a "feeling out" process. The two exchanged holds, not wanting to give the other an advantage, until LuFi managed to hit the Mangalizer for the first pinfall. However, due to confusion about the allotted rest time between pinfalls, Melissa caught LuFisto off guard with an Air Raid Crash to get the second pin. From there, both women went into overdrive as they brawled around ringside, each determined to be the victor. As we had seen in battles past, the Super Hardcore Anime may have had victory in her grasp...had not Melissa pulled referee Bryce Remsburg into harm's way, taking him out long enough for Mercedes to run in and blast LuFi with her Femmes Fatales title, allowing Melissa to sneak out another win.

This was the second time that saw LuFisto denied a win over her opponent thanks to outside interference. The second time that saw victory pulled from her fingers. The second time that the Two-Woman Power Trip worked together to beat down the woman that is determined to stop them no matter the cost. A woman that is fighting for the one who can't fight, for those who have been beaten and broken along the way. A woman who is fighting for justice, who is chasing a dream that she dared dream whilst going down this path. A woman who has been the victim of injustice, that has seen her dream denied through no fault of her own.

This weekend, we already know that LuFisto will finally have the backup she deserves - her tag team partner, Kana, will be by her side as they battle Cheerleader Melissa and Mercedes Martinez on the first SHIMMER volume to be taped Saturday, Volume 63. Yet, if they win with even odds, will we see LuFisto get justice? Will we see her get a fair chance at the gold belt that is currently around the waist of someone who has tarnished it with her actions?

I'm only a man with a candle to guide me...

Will a woman who has remained true to herself, despite all odds, despite all pressure to force her to change herself into something, someone she is not...will she be able to finally catch hold of her dream without losing herself in the process? Or will she give in to the temptation to behave as her opponents have and win at all costs?

I'm taking a stand to escape what's inside of me...

Everything comes down to this weekend. I feel we shall see the ultimate outcome of this war between two giants of wrestling in tiny Berwyn, Illinois. As for me, I shall be watching in the Eagles Club to bear witness to either the Super Hardcore Anime overcoming all odds and lifting the SHIMMER Women Athletes title over her head in final victory...or...

No. There is no other option. This weekend we must see justice done. We must see the underdog defy all odds. We must see LuFisto rise to the top of the mountain, head and belt held high. And we will urge her on with our own revolution. The "Yes Revolution"? Not quite. The Oui Revolution! Oui! Oui! Oui! WAR LUFISTO~!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Road tripping with Sassy Stephanie: A Glimpse into the Independent Wrestling Life

On Thursday, September 19th, I set off for the home of independent wrestler Sassy Stephanie. I would join her for the next two days as she traveled to two different states to wrestle for two different companies. I would be lucky enough to peer through the looking glass, as it were, and get a taste of "the life". Granted, I had been on road trips with a few wrestlers prior to this, but that was to Dreamwave, a promotion that garners a sizable crowd in a rather populated city. This time, my travels with Sass would take me, first on Friday, to Farmville, Virginia (yes, there really is a town by that name) for Bruiser Wrestling Federation. Second, on Saturday, we would head to Oil City, Pennsylvania for Darkhorse Championship Wrestling. I had never heard of either promotion but it turns out, according to Adam Lash, BWF has been around for close to fifteen years; whereas DCW had only had two shows prior to the one we would be at. Needless to say, this would be a far cry from the previous promotions I had been to.

I arrived at Sassy's about 8:30 at night. Her car was already packed up. She would be heading to bed soon since she had to be up at 3 a.m. to be at her non-wrestling job at 4 a.m. She said she would be leaving work at 9 a.m. so I needed to be up and ready to go by fifteen after. Unfortunately it took an age for me to get to sleep, but I was up at 8:30 and ready to leave when she got home. We threw some energy drinks and water into a cooler, got some snacks, put my stuff into her car and off we went.

The GPS said it would take a little over seven hours. I started off driving and the weather was nice fortunately. We headed south through Ohio, into West Virginia then into Virginia. Unfortunately, due to lack of sleep (and being an amateur at long driving), I only drove for about an hour and a half before having to switch off. Since Steph had left off drinking Pepsi, she had little to no caffeine in her system anymore. So when she started drinking a Mountain Dew energy drink, she was able to drive the rest of the way. I took about a two hour nap but managed to stay awake the rest of the time. The drive itself was lovely - very little traffic and the sun was out. As she drove, we talked about lots of things: wrestling, mutual friends, her wedding, our mothers...but mostly wrestling. It was fascinating hearing her stories over those two days, what she had gone through and what she hoped to achieve.

Farmville, Virginia~!

We arrived on time at the fair, about two hours before the 8 o'clock show was set to begin. As she drove up, Steph halted the car near a parking attendant. She told him she was a wrestler on the show and needed to know where to park. His response (an older, African American man) was telling, "*You're* a wrestler??" Then he laughed. Not harshly or for long, but the fact that this was the reaction she received was galling to me. Stephanie took it in stride, saying that yes, she was and needed to get to where she needed to go. He directed her around to a gate where a second attendant stopped. This man's response was to ask, who she was going to "beat up" tonight. Once we had parked, I said, "I take it you get that reaction a lot." She nodded. "All the time. I'm used to it." I thought this a shame, but at the same time, this was the reality of people in independent wrestling. Stephanie had made a name for herself in "bigger" companies such as Women Superstars Uncensored and SHIMMER Women Athletes but in places such as here (despite having competed in BWF against Kacee Carlisle prior to this show), she was an unknown. At least, to those who were strictly working with the fair that BWF was having their show at.

When we got out of the car and went up to the building, a few men were there to greet and direct us where to go. As we walked out from behind the backstage, passing the ring, I realized...this was a barn. Granted, the weekend before this I had been to Wrestling is Heart, which was also in a barn but it was more like a showcase area, large and rather spacious. This was much smaller, dirtier actual barn. Dirt and hay were under our feet, and I could hear the soft mooing of cows and clucking of chickens nearby. Past the barn was the actual fair itself. This was a far cry from the Eagles Club or the Knights of Columbus Hall. However, it was what it was, and I followed Stephanie and the man guiding us to outside, in front of the barn. There were tables set up already. The one on the left hand side had WWE merchandise such as figures and shirts. The tables to the right were clear, and we were told we could use the one right next to the entrance. Sass quickly got her merch out and set up with an efficiency that was impressive. One of her newest shirts; stickers; trading cards; a program with a small biography about her; photos from WWE, TNA and various independent shows she had taken; old 8x10s; a binder filled with her newer 8x10s; and three bags filled with misc gear. One was marked at $100 as it was a complete set; the others were lower since it was only one piece and not a full set. I wondered at setting these items out - what casual fan would purchase something like that? I said nothing though, and listened as she wrote down the prices for everything and gave me various instructions. I was to be her "merch bitch" for these two days. I had hopes of selling several things for her as, since admission to the wrestling show was free if you paid to get into the fair, I worried that her booking fare wouldn't be worth the drive.

Despite my worries, I never discussed pay with her. That's one subject I feel is off limits, no matter how close of a friend I might be with any wrestler. It's something I never need to know about. By this point, there was an hour left until the show started, and Sass, after making sure I was fine and understood about prices, left to go get ready. The table I was at was right in the path of the setting sun, so for awhile I was sweating it out until it went down. The flyer for the show was on the wall above me. Reading over it, I noted that their main attraction, their star for today's show, was "The Patriot." 

Sass was challenging again for Kacee Carlisle's NWA Women's Championship, and their match was the semi-main. As such, we would be there for a few hours. As I sat there, listening to the Patriot call everyone "bruther", watching the people pass by, some of them headed straight for the WWF table or were attracted by the man in the brightly colored mask. Eventually, after getting her gear on and filming a promo for her upcoming SHINE tag team wrestling match, Steph came back out to stand behind the table with me. Her and the Patriot chatted about the show, the local area, and various wrestling promotions. Later, she said that they had been on shows before and knew each other from there. He also knew about Lexi, Brandi Wine and SHINE Wrestling which amazed me. As the people passed by, she would call out to them, ask them to come and watch her wrestle Kacee and see the rest of the free wrestling. Most of them stopped to talk to the Patriot, but she had no problems engaging kids, parents, older people, all kinds. Some ventured over and looked at her gimmicks, but no one bought anything. She stayed until there was only a few minutes left before bell time, then both of them went to the back. Someone with the show stayed to sell Patriot's merch.

Perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised, but I was at the fact that not only did every seat and bleacher fill up inside the barn, but people stood outside, on the slight incline to watch the show. Other than Kacee, Sass and Patriot, I hadn't heard of any of the people on the show, so between that and not wanting to leave the table unattended, I didn't have much of a desire to watch it. One young man bought a program from me for a dollar. That was, unfortunately, the only thing I sold that night which was disheartening. Something I noticed over the few hours we were there stuck with me though.

I had quite a few people who eventually came out and mostly leafed through the binder of Sassy's 8x10s. Maybe it was the fact that, at SHIMMER, it wasn't unusual to see the women in various photoshoots in either their gear, bathing suits or other attire. It wasn't unusual, to me, to see them selling 8x10s of these shoots. However, I watched the people who flipped through the binders and looked at her various shots. The reactions made me angry inside - I saw barely concealed sneers, slight shakes of heads, and looks of disapproval and judgment. Most of these reactions came from middle aged or older women and a few older men. Younger women and men didn't react the same way. I chalked it up to a combination of conservative values (we were in Virginia, after all), jealousy, and maybe a backwards conception of female wrestlers overall. If these folks were expecting a woman in a one piece bathing suit from The Fabulous Moolah's era, or a cheesecake who was only good for photoshoots, they were going to be sadly mistaken on both accounts. If they stuck around to see her match, that was.

I swallowed my gut reaction and didn't say a word. Let them judge. If they didn't want to bother to look up who Steph was or what all she had accomplished in wrestling, that was their loss. I passed the time on my iPhone or reading a book I had remembered to bring along. Halfway through the show, the Patriot came back to man his table (he was in the main event), and it was then he asked me, "You're Stephanie's friend? I'm Tom." He extended a hand and I took it, introducing myself. He said that he had driven down from Philly (I believe) and had had to do the trip on his own since his friend couldn't come with him. It had been a long drive and his voice showed how tired he was. But he never hesitated to take a picture, sign an autograph or anything the fans asked. 

When it came time for Sassy's match, I came out and stood at the entrance of the barn. The ring was slightly elevated, so I had no trouble watching it. It was strange seeing Steph come out as a babyface, playing to the crowd as "Awake and Alive" blared over the loudspeaker. Everywhere else, she plays a bitchy heel to perfection. But the crowd responded well and during the match, I didn't hear any disrespectful remarks from anyone nearby, nor was anything inappropriate shouted. This was probably due to the kids being in attendance, but not even SHIMMER is free of douchebags despite being a company that has a reputation for strong female wrestling. It was also a far cry from the judgmental looks earlier. As Kacee made her entrance, the music was almost drowned out by the boos. I had to shake my head though - in wrestling, your entrance music is a vital part of your persona. Some people become inseparable from theirs (it's why Shawn Michaels continued to use "Sexy Boy" even after entering middle age and starting to bald). Kacee had chosen Metallica's "Ride the Lightning", which, for me, was already solidly associated with a Midwestern wrestler. Plus, in my opinion, it didn't fit her persona at all - much like Steph, she's very old school in her wrestling, not the type to pull out flashy moves or create an intense persona. But it was what it was.

The match that followed saw a lot of ground based moves, head locks, arm bars and only once did Sass go up top for a flying crossbody that got a great reaction from the crowd. When she hit a Japanese arm bar on Kacee, an older man near me remarked to his friend, "I ain't never seen a move like that!" It was a very basic, but undeniably solid match that engaged fans. The two worked well together, and I learned later that this was only their second time wrestling each other. Kacee kept the belt after hitting a DDT (I think), but Steph got a round of applause as the referee helped her to the back. It was when the bell rang that I packed up all her merch and put it back into the backpack. Not long after that, her bright red hair shielded by a hoodie, she came and got me, and we went to the back to say goodbye. I believe it was around 10:30 p.m. We had a little under five hour drive ahead of us to get to the hotel, and since she was amped up from the show, Sass said she would take the wheel. The GPS naturally took us a different way since we were going north, into Pennsylvania, and we would cross through Maryland at one point.

By this time, it was pitch black and I was shivering. Shorts might have been wise when the sun was high in the sky but up in the mountains at night it most assuredly was not. With the heater on, we began our way through the mountains once more, twisting and turning as the wind blew, making the trees sway, casting shadows that we drove through. However, we sang *N Sync, Steph voxed her fiancee Chris, and I recorded videos of us singing in the dark. It was fun and at points I could look up into a cloudless sky and see the stars. It was like salt scattered onto a piece of black construction paper. Beautiful! At one point, Steph halted the car beside a small building. Out in front, highlighted by lights, was a statue of a gigantic rooster. Of course we had to take pictures. It was then I realized that this is one of the perks - when else but traveling the back roads between small towns would you stumble across something as silly as this? Moments like these are memories.

Biggest cock I've ever come across.

As we drove, Stephanie told me about something that had happened during the match that she had never experienced before. Normally, she said, once she's out there in the ring she doesn't register faces or people in the crowd. She's in that "zone" that all wrestlers enter. However, when Kacee had her in a submission, she looked out and saw a kid that probably wasn't over seven years old. Their eyes met and although she couldn't hear him, she read his lips. "You can do it." Even when she had been a babyface prior in her career, she had never had that kind of connection with anyone. "He believed in me," she said, "I wanted to justify his belief in me. He may forget this in a week, but that's something I will remember for the rest of my life." I could tell by the look on her face and the tone of her voice that she was serious. This child had connected with her. It was still real to him. To that kid, and indeed to the rest of them that were at the show, everyone in the ring was larger than life. Wins and losses still mattered. The age old struggle of good versus bad still held a magic, to kids and adults alike. Food for thought for me.

Our rooster stop and a stop at Sheetz for gas and food (Sass was good enough to stop at a next door McDonalds for me) delayed us getting to the hotel in Bedford until around 3 a.m. She had booked us in a comfortable hotel. We had to be up by 8 and gone for the three hour drive in order to make it to Oil City by noon, when the promoter had wanted everyone to be there. We were out by 3:30 but I woke up at 7:30 to get a quick shower. Four hours of sleep! Steph got four and a half since she woke up at 8, but we were out by 8:30 on the road again (after another stop at Sheetz - their coffee is AMAZING!). I dozed off for awhile but switched with her again to make the final trek to a high school gym where the show was to take place. By this time it was raining steadily, which wasn't pleasant but it wasn't bad enough to impair driving. We made our way into the main building to the gym where the previous show had been held. When we peeked in, however, there was a girls basketball practice being held. By this time it was almost noon, so Steph and I decided to huddle down in a nearby hallway, her to take a nap while waiting to hear from the promoter as to where everyone was. As we waited, she started laughing, "The glamorous life of a professional wrestler," she remarked wryly. I couldn't help but laugh too.

We didn't have to wait long - it turned out they were in a separate building nearby. We packed up our stuff again, drove the short distance and got into the school quickly. As before, we were led into the gym and Sass quickly got her gimmicks set up at a table near the entrance where fans would be coming in. It was a prime spot, although M-Dogg Matt Cross had gotten the table right next to the entryway. He was someone who knew the value of choosing your place as to maximize the prospect of fans buying merch, she said, something that came with developing good instincts. Every dollar counted. I took a seat behind the table as she went to get changed and discuss things with the people she would be working with. I watched the ring being set up, noting that both men and women were pitching in, despite some of it being heavy work. I noted that Blk Jeez and the Latin Dragon from CZW were on the card as well as Kimber Lee, Missy Sampson (the DCW Women's Champion), Marti Belle and one of the green students from the CZW school, Samantha St. Paul. I thought it was interesting and kinda cool to see some of the more well-known independent names at this show that was, apparently, broadcast on a local television station. This was going to be taped for a future airing. It amazed me that a small promotion that was still brand new was on tv, although I had no idea how that worked. As bell time grew closer, fans started to trickle in and to my surprise there were fewer people here than had been at BWF last night. I asked Sass, who had come out in her gear to stand at the table, if there had been so few at the previous first show that she had been at (having been unable to make it to the second show). She replied that there had been more at the first. I thought this was a shame as the show looked to be a solid one. But beggars couldn't be choosers, and although it began a little behind schedule, the promoter came out to thank everyone who was there.

This time, despite fewer people stopping to look at what Stephanie had for sale, an older man with his grown daughter wanted to buy a t-shirt. The girl protested, wondering what "mom" would think. He bought one nonetheless and I thanked him with a smile. That turned out to, again, be the only sale I made but she was grateful for it. Small victories are better than none. Steph again had her ring-worn gear out for sale, and I asked her while in the car if it wouldn't be better to hold onto those until she got to SHIMMER in a few weeks as they would be more likely to sell to the wider fan base. She replied that there was always the chance that one of the fans at these smaller shows would buy it. She had the same nonchalance when I told her about the women who had turned their noses up at her photoshoots. "Sex sells. I'm never fully naked despite how it looks in some of those shots, and they sell. I'm appealing to those fans." A sound business strategy, rooted in common sense. Part of the reality of being a female wrestler.

I read more of my book until it came time for Sassy's matches, which I told her I would record on my phone. The first was a tag match. I noted one older woman who was taking pictures giving all the heels grief. Yet, before the show, during intermission, and afterwards she asked several people to pose for a photo with, I assumed, was her grandson. It was fun to see not just the kids but the adults get into it, mostly for the chance to get on television. The kids still believed it was real, but these adults were clearly in the know. There was no chance of a riot here if a babyface lost, unlike last night. The contrast between the two groups of fans was fascinating.

I really enjoyed Sassy's match against Missy - being that Sampson had the size and height advantage, Steph went for different types of submissions, trying to keep her grounded. The end came when she pulled out a submission I had never seen before, from her or anyone else. I won't describe it here as I'm sure she'll use it again in the near future, but she performed it well. Missy passed out instead of submitting, making Sassy Stephanie the new DCW Women's Champion. Fans were pissed, especially the older woman who got up and yelled that Steph had cheated. Sass got right in her face, asking how she had cheated when she had had a clean submission on. The woman retorted that she went to the outside, but Steph countered by saying that Missy had knocked her to the outside to start with. The older woman had no retort to that except by repeating she had cheated. Sass laughed at her and went to the back, belt firmly around her waist.

Unlike last night, there was no rush to get things together after her match ended. Stephanie stayed until the show was over to help do local promos for television spots. She got everyone herded into the room where these were shot and made sure they were done before allowing the wrestlers to leave. In her own words, she was a bitch who made sure things got done. To me, this wasn't a bad thing - sometimes you have to be tough and firm to get a job accomplished, especially when some people are unwilling to do it without a push. It was a mark of how much the promoter relied on her to do behind the scenes work. After gathering up her gimmicks, I waited, watching some of the wrestlers interact with the fans that were slow to leave. I also watched both men and women take down the ring, admiring how there was little hesitation to do something that might not be the most glamorous thing but was essential to the process. I had no idea if these were wrestlers who were in training and paying their dues or if they had been hired from outside the promotion. Either way, they were efficient and uncomplaining.

By this time, Sass had joined me and it turned out that one of the fans who was in attendance was the host of a local radio station. He invited Steph to do some promos for his show as well as two advertisements for local area businesses. Since she had a track record of doing stuff on the radio and in front of a camera, she had developed a good, clear voice for these kinds of things so we followed the guy to the radio station after everything was done at the show. I have to admit, I was apprehensive about this. He was older and we were the only people in the small building. But nothing untoward happened, and I listened as Sass did the two ads and three promo spots, the latter three unscripted. She was a natural and the man thanked her profusely, giving her a few items for her willingness (a travel mug, knapsack, stickers with the radio station, and a stress hockey puck). After that we headed to a nearby bar and restaurant to eat with some of the folks from the show that were able to stick around.

Despite only knowing one or two people there, Steph was adept at making small talk while I ate and observed. A product of being in such a public business, you have to be outgoing to some degree, with fans and fellow workers alike. Perhaps she had always been this way. I wasn't sure how many of these guys and gals knew each other, or how well, but they all relaxed, talked and laughed in an easy way. At one point I was gently kidded by one of the guys sitting across from me about my lack of speaking. I blushed and attempted to make small talk but in large groups and especially around people in the business, I'm more likely to take a step back. I remained aware that I was a fan who was lucky enough to take a look behind the curtain.

It was nightfall and still raining when we left. Soaked again but that didn't matter much. We were both in good spirits - the fact that the drive from Oil City back to Stephanie's house was only two hours (the shortest distance we would drive over the two days) probably had something to do with this. Neither of us had difficulty staying awake, and as we drove back into Ohio she told me a few of the things that were in the area as well as some of the history, plus a few things about her mom and the high school she had attended. I offered a few stories of my mom and the high school I went to. It wasn't long before we were back at her house, I believe by 11:30 or somewhere around that time. We both crashed out, and the next day I drove back home...a five hour trip that took nine hours.

On the drive home, I found myself reflecting on what I had seen and experienced over the previous two days. I had never had any illusions about independent wrestling being some sort of glittering life. I knew it involved hard work and a dedication to wrestling that goes above and beyond what the average fan feels. You have to have a passion that motivates you to drive anywhere from 30 minutes to seven hours to perform in front of anywhere from 20 to 400 people for who knows what amount of money. You have to be willing to smile for fans, be accommodating when they ask for pictures or autographs, make small talk to try and sell an extra shirt for a few more dollars. You have to be ready to wrestle indoors or out, rain or shine, and make it through all types of weather to get to the show. You have to be able to show promoters you can do business in a professional manner, be at the venue on time, amendable to any sudden changes (while maintaining your own best interests), and work with people that you may or may not get on with. When the show is over, depending on your status in the promotion, you either tie up any loose ends, collect your pay and depart for the short or long drive home; or, you stay and help take down the ring, collect the chairs and clean up before leaving. Then you either set off for your next booking, which could take you on the road for another few hours or minutes, leaving you with the option to either sleep in your car somewhere or book a room in any kind of hotel to sleep for a precious few hours; or, you set off for your home, hoping to make it to your bed for any kind of sleep before getting up for your "real world" job.

Like I said, it's a hard life. But, it has it's rewards. Stephanie has no regrets. "I love what I do, and I have fun," she told me when I shared some of my observations after the trip was over. Indeed, she never complained about the driving, the people, the promotions, none of it. On the contrary, she was wide awake and ready for anything that could and did happen. The random things (such as running into the giant rooster and having the opportunity to record spots for a radio station) are part of what makes the independent wrestling life such a fascinating one. You never know what might happen on the next trip. The special things (such as connecting with one fan as they cheer for you during the match) are what make for lasting memories. The ability to touch a fan and bring them to their feet with cheers or boos isn't something that all wrestlers have. For those that do, that is part of why they choose to live this life. To create lasting memories, for themselves and for the fans, is something unique.

For my part, I loved it. I was captivated hearing the stories she had to share about her almost seven years in wrestling. I was fascinated by the places we went, the roads we drove, and the glimpses of small town life we caught. Especially up in the mountains of West Virginia and Virginia, the forests were beautiful. I found the people we came into contact with interesting, from the fans to the fellow wrestlers to the promoters. Sure, the drives were long, the weather was less than perfect on Saturday, and we got little sleep but I felt positively alive and thrilled to have been asked to come along. It's a life that, had I had a different body, I would have tried to live. As it is though, I was honored that Steph asked me to go with her. I have gained more of an insight into the life, and my respect for those who willingly go through the trials in order to live their passion has doubled. It only increases my determination to help support those that truly love what they do, and reward their dedication however I can, in small ways and large.

Fans may joke about the frequent user of "brother" between wrestlers, but it reminds me of the lines from Shakespeare's "King Henry V":

"From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother."

A huge thank you to Stephanie, I appreciated this so much! Get out there and support independent wrestling and independent wrestlers - they deserve it!

(Here is a link to her promo she shot in Farmville for the SHINE Wrestling iPPV. Order it on, and catch it on September 27th! )

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Further Thoughts on Wrestlers and Wish Lists

Note: This is a follow up from my previous post which is here:

It was a rather weird coincidence that almost a week after I wrote and posted this that I got involved in a Twitter conversation. It started out as playful banter between Eryn and Markus Crane then spread to involve wish lists, at which point I gave my two cents. (It was too much of a coincidence, coming so soon after my writing this blog, for me to not jump in.) It then spread to involve the person behind the Squared Spandex podcast Twitter, a friend by the name of Greg Davis, and Patrick Creed (who works for both AAW and SHIMMER Women Athletes). Crane, Creed and the Squared Spandex person were both anti-wish list, for the following reasons:

Crane stated he was against wrestlers having wish lists since it looked like they were trying to take advantage of fans to him. Some fans bought gifts for wrestlers with the expectation of getting "closer" to said wrestlers. He gave an example of a girl who had posted her wish list and asked a guy to buy her stuff repeatedly, despite the fact the guy was mentally challenged. I gave the argument that if fans had ulterior motives (beyond wishing to say thank you to said wrestlers), they were idiots. He countered with the point that some are merely lonely and don't know any better, or they were a bit 'slow'. I observed that it looked like people who were virulently anti-wish list (not specifically Markus, as his statements were some of the less angry I have seen) were looking down both on wrestlers who had them and on fans who wanted to purchase gifts. He said that he wasn't looking down on fans at all, and repeated his point about wrestlers who have them looking like they wanted to take advantage of fans. "By having a wish list I feel wrestlers are just asking fans to buy them things."

It was at this point that I mentioned the coincidental timing regarding this blog. Crane said that he had just done a podcast with Shared Spandex and included their Twitter tag. This brought him/her into the discussion, their view point being that it seemed to "prey on fanboy/fangirl obsession." This was interesting to me, as I honestly had not thought about this aspect of it. It was at this point that Greg was tagged into the conversation, who agreed with me, saying he had always thought of it as just another way to support the wrestlers (after buying all the available merchandise). The conversation caught the attention of Pat Creed, who was blunt in his assessment: "Buy merch at the shows. If they don't have merch, leave it in the tip jar. Wish lists are simply a way to get free shit. Might as well have a kickstarter. ... It reeks of desperation on the performer's behalf. Get out there at intermission and work for it. Just my 2 cents."

Greg made the observation that I had, namely that the people involved in good independent wrestling were underpaid, so whatever helped them out was fine by him. I responded to Creed, agreeing with Greg, saying wish lists were another way of saying thank you to me. He then made the distinction of a fan deciding on their own initiative to bring a gift for a wrestler, and a wrestler asking for a gift, saying the latter made the person asking look desperate. SharedSpandex stated that, to them, someone thinking, "Man I wish I could buy Andre Dawson something nice for his birthday" sounded incredibly obsessive to them.

Perhaps wanting to clarify his remarks, Pat Creed tweeted me, "I don't want you to think I'm shitting on fans here. I'm not at all. A fan who wants to give a wrestler something extra is absolutely terrific and a great fan. I loathe LOATHE the desperate shilling of the performer. 'BUY ME THIS PS3 GAME!' Fuck you. Buy it yourself. I'll buy your t-shirt. If you use that money to buy the PS3 game, good for you! Please PLEASE don't mistake my anti-wish lists rant as an attack on fans. It's not that in any way shape or form." I assured him I hadn't taken it that way, and thanked him for offering his opinion.

Indeed, the conversation gave me new perspective on it. I can wholeheartedly agree with Creed in that wrestlers that perpetually ask for gifts, shill their wish lists or beg fans to buy them things come off as needy and desperate. I can think of one wrestler in particular who shills theirs at a drop of a hat. Most that I have seen may not wait until their birthday or Christmas to pass it along, but they haven't come across as desperate or begging (to me, at least). They are ones who, at SHIMMER and other shows I've seen them at (men and women), are out there shilling their merch and putting on great matches to earn the fans' money. However, I haven't seen anything like a tip jar (although I do occasionally tell them to keep the change, like if their shirt costs $15 and I give them a twenty) - this is a tremendous idea, if wrestlers were to put out tip jars I'd have no qualms contributing!

I also agree with Crane - there are some people out there who have no problems taking advantage of others who have mental incapacities, or of those who are simply good-natured and simply don't know any better. Maybe it shows how naive I am, but I honestly never thought about that possibility, even though I know people can be cruel and opportunistic. People like that ought to be exposed for the greedy assholes they are. As another friend, Christopher, said, "Wish lists are sources of good will from fans that some people choose to abuse."

I find SharedSpandex's comments the most troubling. After the comment about a fan having the thought of buying Andre Dawson, who I assumed was some sort of actor (Google tells me he's a retired baseball player), a gift for his birthday, I took a step back and thought about it for awhile afterwards. To me, there is a sharp distinction between someone who is well paid and can afford the finer things in life (for instance, I remember Matt Hardy saying in an interview that a fan had bought and shipped him a video game console; this was in the early 2000s after the Hardy Boyz were starting to gain fame and a following along with Edge and Christian post-No Mercy Ladder Match. Arguably, at this point, he could have afforded to buy a console if he wished to.); and those that we wish were paid what we feel they are worth. Because, as I noted above in the original blog post, there are dozens of great wrestlers who will never be signed and will never earn "WWE money." 

Knowing this, they still go out and give 100% in their matches, be it for 10 or 100 fans. They still opt to take the risk every time they step into the ring. They still travel for hours in all manner of weather, choosing to wrestle with injuries (major and minor). They choose this life because they love wrestling. That's something I greatly admire and respect about them. Hence, if after I've bought all the merchandise they have to offer; drive several hours to attend the shows they are on; and spread the word about them via social media; if they have a wish list, and I want to further say a personal thank you, I turn to it, usually on their birthdays or holidays. This isn't something I would do for people who can afford it such as people in WWE, or actors or the like and the idea of doing so for them strikes me as yes, obsessive and a bit creepy.

However, is there a distinction between the two really? My point of view is probably in the minority, in that I expect nothing in return and wish only to show my appreciation for their work, but does that make it any less obsessive and/or creepy? It's something to consider as being a wrestling fan doesn't exactly have the best reputation as it is. Why add to it by trying to extend beyond the established means of showing support? By extension then, what about the wrestlers who sell gear that they've worn in the past and the fans who buy it? What of the wrestlers that get injured and either set up a Kickstarter or some other kind of donation website to cover their funds and the fans who donate to help out? Where is the line drawn?

Being a fan of independent wrestling is a different thing than being a fan of WWE. Due to the various social media connections and the fact that several promotions have some sort of after party for fans and wrestlers to gather at, the bond between wrestlers and fans can feel more intimate than they really are. The lines become blurred and sometimes crossed completely. There are plenty of opportunities for wrestlers to take advantage of fans but also of fans to take advantage of wrestlers. It's a double edged sword.

So what, if anything, can be done about it? Honestly, I'm not sure. I'm not sure anything can be done, to be honest. Sure, getting rid of the wish lists is one solution but there are other avenues for exploitation. If anything, however, the discussion I was involved in has given me much to think about. If anyone has their own thoughts to add, please feel free to leave a comment or Tweet me @PocketVolcano. Thanks to SharedSpandex, Markus Crane and Pat Creed for the discussion!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Of Fundraisers, Wish Lists and Judgmental People

On July 24th, LuFisto posted a link to her social media sites. It was to a site called and although the original message has been lost, the premise was this: she wished to move to Florida to live there on a permanent basis and work as a graphics designer (which is her non-wrestling job). Having put out feelers to companies in the state and getting encouraging responses for a job, she felt that as long as she had a job lined up, the process would be easier. That, combined with the fact that Florida has become a haven for female wrestling in particular over the past year, Lufi felt this would be the best direction to go in. However, she needed help to gather the funds to gain a Visa and move. After making her exasperation known about how much a U.S. Visa cost, fans responded offering help, and one helped her set up a page on GoFundMe. Several of the first donations came from fans on Twitter who had wanted to help originally. She then posted the link with a request for help. There were no threats, no intimidation, no pressure; it was a simple request from a woman who has put her body on the line for over fifteen years to her fans. No more, no less.

Fans responded. The goal was $2,000 and around the beginning of August, an anonymous fan donated $1,000. That, along with dozens of other donations, put her near her goal. Lufi posted this message around the 4th of August:

"Thanx to a very generous angel and all my fans who believe in this dream, I am now able to afford my US Visa. Some papers have already been sent to start the process. I only need to save more for the actual move, including bringing my loving cat. I'm so blessed to have you all. Sooooo grateful. I love you all! :)"

All seemed to be falling into place for the Super Hardcore Anime. However, 23 days ago, on August 12th, she posted the following message on the GoFundMe page:

"Dear fans and friends,

I thought I would give you an update on my US Visa. After a few discussions with an attorney, I've been looking at other VISA options. The one they were offering me can be lost at any time if the company who hires me has to let me go. It means that if I would lose my job, I lose my visa and would have to apply for a new one. I would lose your money and mine and would maybe have to go back to Canada if I can’t find something quickly. I think it would be irresponsible to do so, especially with the love and trust you are giving me by sponsoring this project. I’m looking at options where I could travel, stay for long periods and work easily when it comes to wrestling. 

Since it’s not the original project that was described here, please let me know if you want me to reimburse you (- the 5% GoFund takes on all donations) or send you the equivalent of your donation in LuFisto merchandise… Or I keep the money safe until I can get an appropriate VISA that will guarantee my presence in the States as often as I want to perform for you.

Please let me know what I should do with your donation. Want me to give it to charity? Keep your donation to invest in gear or anything else? Please let me know. I’ll keep you posted on the VISA options I get as soon as I have some news!

Thank you very much."

As is obvious, Lufi was up front with giving updates to those who donated, and for anyone who has attempted to apply for any kind of Visa, there's various pitfalls that come up along the way. Instead of trying to hide what was going on, or, worse, keep the money for herself, here she is wanting to know what the fans want her to do with their money. She encouraged everyone who gave to get in touch with her. Using her personal email account (not the GoFundMe account), she contacted every person who had donated. Some of them received their money back but told her it would be there if she needed it. Most told her to keep it and invest it either in another Visa option or purchase something for herself, telling her it was their way of saying thank you for all she had done for them. Finally, five days ago, on August 30th, LuFisto posted a final message on the website as well as on her Twitter, fan Facebook page and personal Facebook page:

"Dear friends,

Since this process seems to be taking forever and be so complicated after all – that this thing will fall through like all my other wrestling projects actually - I will close this page in the upcoming days.

I just want to say that I’m truly blessed to have such great fans like you who appreciate my work to the point of offering your help. I see a lot of wrestlers being helped for various reasons by you all and it’s just wonderful to notice such generosity and recognition for what we do. 

With that being said, having the greatest and most loyal fans on Earth comes at a cost it seems. Since this page has been opened by one of you and then managed by me, there has been so much negativity from wrestling peers… It seems anybody else can do it… But not LuFisto.

Being called a low-life, asshole and piece of shit by some of my “fellow Quebec wrestlers”… Well, I really don’t need this. After 16 years of trying too hard, I’m just tired of this BS. I’m not going to let pathetic people destroy what is left of me. Being reminded constantly that I will never make it because I’m too old and not pretty is enough negativity coming from wrestling already. These people are not worth my time or energy. 

Therefore, I need to close this page since they are using it as a mockery.

I did contact you all personally already concerning your donation so if you have any questions, please feel free to e-mail me at anytime you want.

I love you and thank you all for the love and support. You are definitely the main reason why I’m still wrestling…


Now, I'm not sure what other Quebec wrestlers have been calling Lufi these names but I do know of one wrestler in particular who has been vocal on Twitter. Not just now but in the past, he has singled out Lufi for no apparent reason. He's Canadian, from Montreal but wrestles various places (such as the now-defunct International Wrestling Syndicate and CHIKARA; as well as C*4, Wrestling is, BattleArts, Smash Wrestling and NSPW). I'm speaking of Shane Matthews, one half of the tag team 3.0. If you don't know who he is, I'll wait while you Google him. Just make sure you include the term "wrestler" or else you'll get other results.

On August 29th, the day before LuFisto posted the final message, Shane tweeted this:

(Read from the bottom up.) He wrote, "The people that gave da Lufisto money to pay for her American work visa and move, did you get your money back? What a joke. Scum." Stephane Bruyere (Alchi091), the promoter of NCW Femmes Fatales and a friend of Lufi's responded that the answer was yes, that people could see this on her Facebook page and that she contacted everyone. Lufi kept each and every email to show proof of her correspondence with everyone who donated. Shane responded, "Good. How do you not research this before asking people for their money? I don't understand." Stephane replied that it was supposed to be easier; that she had all the paperwork with her but they kept asking for more. Apparently this good-sense answer wasn't acceptable to Matthews, as he went on to tweet, "Children go to school without breakfast an are hungry all day... But Lufisto needs money to move an Scott Hall needs a new hip. Sorry kids."

As I pointed out earlier, this is not the first time Matthews has taken fire at LuFisto. Fans of hers will remember that back at WrestleCon in New Jersey, Lufi went up to the top rope for a moonsault. Instead of hitting the assembled group of wrestlers below, she crashed to the floor and for several minutes lay perfectly still. I was sitting front row when this happened and she landed literally footsteps away from me. It was without a doubt the scariest thing I had ever witnessed in person. I thought she was dead. The relief I felt when she got to her feet was overwhelming and not only did she stand up - she got in the ring and executed a burning hammer on another opponent before her and Kana were eliminated from the match. It wasn't until days later that she found out she had shattered her kneecap. Fans of wrestlers know how physically tough you have to be to get into the ring, but how many of them would be able to get back up and finish your part in a match after your kneecap has virtually exploded? Not many of them. I doubt Shane Matthews would, personally.

On her website, regarding the accident, she wrote:

"Last Saturday during the Shimmer 53 event at WrestleCon, I attempted a moonsault from the top rope to the outside, a maneuver I have done before successfully. Whether it was because of miscommunication, bad timing, or miscalculation, I landed very hard on the floor. I tried to turn myself in mid-air but it was just too late.

Despite wearing knee pads, both of my knees took most of the impact, a fall of about 15 feet, right on the concrete. I lay on the floor for about a minute and decided to get up, get in the ring and finish what I had to do. Already as I had Taylor Made on my shoulders for the Burning Hammer, I knew something was wrong."

You can also hear LuFisto explain what happened when she spoke to the people at here:

Which is why his tweets on April 16th, just ten days after this horrific accident, were particularly nasty, unnecessary, and seemed to be an attempt to shit-stir.

"My favorite part of girl wrestling, is when there is 7 girls to catch a moonsault, yet the broad somehow misses all of them...."

"...Then the next day blames all the girls on Facebook an asks her fans to buy her gifts off amazon. That's my favorite."

"Keep it coming ladies! This is great stuff. Don't stop, please."

"Here is da pic."

I asked LuFisto, and this is not a "work" or an attempt to generate any sort of feud between herself and Matthews. This has nothing to do with anything wrestling-related. Which begs the question: why would one half of a semi-well known tag team attack one of the best wrestlers in Canada today? Sure, I could tweet and ask him what's up, but more than likely I would get a snarky answer in reply. Matthews is mostly well known on Twitter for being a sexist asshole who takes great joy in riling up fans of female wrestling as well as females in general. I have had people tell me that this is his character and it's an act; however, in the promotion that he was arguably most well known for being in, CHIKARA, it never showed up in any of his promos or segments. Although I have not seen the match in question, in May of 2012 at "Aniversario: A Horse of Another Color", he teamed with Sara Del Rey, Jigsaw and Green Ant to defeat Eddie Kingston, Saturyne, Scott Parker and Soldier Ant. If he spoke out against teaming with Sara Del Rey, or wrestling Saturyne, it did not make it online. 3.0 had various skirmishes with Daizee Haze and Del Rey when they were part of the BDK, but again there was nothing about Matthews' character being unwilling to fight a woman or thinking that it was somehow beneath him.

To tell the truth, I know very little about Shane Matthews. I wasn't particularly interested in 3.0 when I started getting into CHIKARA a few years ago; and after seeing some of his tweets prior to his attacks on LuFisto, I had no desire to support him as a fan. Recently, they became tag team champions in a promotion Lufi has worked for before, North Shore Pro Wrestling. If the name rings a bell, it's probably because she made headlines by winning the NSPW Championship on December 8th, 2012. She was the first woman to win their most prestigious belt, a belt that had previously only been held by men. It was due to her injury at WrestleCon that she had to forfeit the belt. Coincidentally, in the beginning of August, 3.0 won the NSPW Tag Team Titles. Could it be professional jealousy that has sparked Shane's targeting of Lufi? That's pure speculation on my part, but there have always been men in all areas of life who feel jealous when a woman achieves more than they do. Wrestling, with it's abundance of egos and jostling for spots, is no different especially given the bias that women continue to deal with.

LuFisto has done nothing wrong, nothing to deserve such abuse from one of her fellow Quebecers. Indeed, this speaks to a deeper thread of judgement on wrestlers (mostly female, but there are a few men out there) who seek fan support for various reasons. Matthews also took aim at Scott Hall, who recently asked for, and received, enough donations to get his hip replaced. Now, there has been more criticism of Hall for asking for support, due to the fact that his problems with addiction have been well documented. One can safely assume that the money he made in WCW and WWF went towards fueling these addictions, leaving him without a safety net when he bottomed out. If not for Diamond Dallas Page, Hall might very well have died. His health is likely still precarious - however, enough fans were willing to give him a second chance and lend a helping hand in the Bad Guy's hour of need. The same situation occurred with Jake "The Snake" Roberts needing donations to cover his shoulder surgery. Most recently, the Necro Butcher needed help for a surgery, which LuFisto donated to and spread the word on her social media sites. God forbid that one day Shane Matthews might need a surgery but lack the funds to cover it.

Instead of seeing this as a positive sign of people's willingness to be generous, Matthews looks down on it. He also has been vocal about the fact that many female wrestlers have Amazon wish lists (tying that in with his stab at LuFisto above). In this instance, he isn't alone. There are several people who are outspoken about various women electing to make and promote their Wish Lists. Fans, fellow wrestlers and other people in the business say it makes the women in question look cheap or greedy; or that these women are trying to take advantage of fans.

Let me tell you how I see it. The majority of male and female wrestlers won't be able to make a full time living solely from wrestling. Let us be realistic here. No matter how good or deserving or hard working they are, they will not see anything like "WWE Money" in their life time. (There's no such thing as "TNA Money".) These men and women bust their ass, driving across state lines to wrestle for anywhere from 20 to 100+ people, for God only knows how much money, and most don't get the recognition, respect or pay that they deserve. They most likely will never be able to afford the finer things in life. Therefore, if I, or any other fan, sees fit to buy them a book, a DVD, a Playstation game or a goddamn iPhone, we will do so.

Why? Because it is our money, for one. For two, because we feel that the wrestlers we buy for deserve it. For all the reasons I mentioned before, but mostly because for us, it's a way to say "thank you." We say thank you by buying a ticket, buying merchandise, supporting by spreading the word about them via social media, driving hours to watch a show that they are on and giving constructive feedback when they ask for it. But sometimes, we wish to say thank you in a more personal, direct way. Most of us don't expect anything in return (and if a fan does expect something in return from a wrestler, their motives are obviously skewed.), but some wrestlers (such as LuFisto) respond with an autographed picture and a personal thank you.

Do some wrestlers abuse wish lists? Absolutely. Any instrument has the potential to be used for positive or negative. Does that make the object itself a bad thing? Not necessarily. I have an Amazon wish list. I promote it around my birthday and Christmas. I have one because it's the best and easiest way for my family and friends to know what to get me. That's the reason I assume most wrestlers make one, only include "fans" in there as well. I have seen fans ask wrestlers if they have one and encourage them to make one if they don't. I myself have encouraged a few male wrestlers to create one and they did so. That's right, it isn't just women in wrestling who have them, there are men as well. So to automatically assume it's only women is inaccurate. Some wrestlers have fun with theirs: I was told that Kevin Steen had power tools on his. Frankly, I'm surprised he doesn't have various zoo stuffed animals on it. Some zoo enthusiast! (Kidding, obviously.)

At the end of the day though, it's our money and we are not being pressured into spending it. We are not being cajoled or threatened or bullied. Often times we ask how we can show our support. Some wrestlers ask for donations to different charities, which is a wonderful gesture. Off the top of my head, whenever someone asks Veda Scott if she has a wish list, she says no and offers the name of a charity that we can support in her name instead. She doesn't put down anyone who opts to have a wish list, however. Neither do several others who want fans to show support in that way. It makes me wonder why others, like Matthews, cannot take the high road as well.

Going back to the beginning of this, I wrote this post to set out the story of LuFisto and her GoFundMe project. As has been pointed out, she neither begged, pleaded nor threatened any of her fans to donate; people donated out of good faith. And in good faith, Lufi kept everyone informed of the proceedings. When an unexpected road bump emerged, she was quick to update us and ask for anyone who had donated to contact her and let her know what to do with their money. True, there was a portion that GoFundMe kept, but it was minimal. She offered refunds or compensation through her own merchandise.  The negativity and the increasing obstacles made her decide to shut down the project. However, even AFTER making her decision known to shut it down, she received money from a fan with the following message:

"I will give you what I want, when I want to show gratitude for putting your body on the line for us for so many years. Assholes like Shane Matthews and other Quebec wrestlers who put you down because WE want to sponsor you AND NOT THEM can go fuck themselves. Here's something so you can get yourself a massage or a new gear... And THANK YOU for years of sacrifices for US."

The fact that Lufi has such a strong fan base is staggering. I wonder if Shane Matthews inspires the same loyalty, respect and generosity from his fans? Probably not. Lufi has been nothing but open and honest about this whole process. She didn't have to be. She could have easily lied and said things were progressing nicely as far as the Visa went, and took the money and spent it on clothes or what not.

But she didn't. LuFisto was honorable and respectful of us fans, direct and honest. This is the way she has always been throughout her career, taking the high road, despite the fact that others, taking the low road, may have gone farther in their careers than she has. She has kept her values and morals intact. Perhaps it is because of this that her fans are so steadfast. We see her struggles, sympathize with her pain, and rejoice in her triumphs. Maybe we see some of her in ourselves we deal with our own individual struggles.

I believe in LuFisto. I believe in a lot of men and women who have chosen this hard life that has so few tangible rewards and can bring a lot of pain and hardship to mind, body and spirit. This, the gifts, the support - all of these are my way of saying thank you...and I believe in you.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Wrestling Fans and Rookies

Do wrestling fans today expect too much out of rookies? Do we demand instant improvement in their skills and dismiss them out of hand without giving them enough time to grow and develop? Some, including myself, would say yes. In this day and age, where we can have instant anything, if a newcomer isn't progressing as quickly as we would like, there is a tendency to write them off without a second glance. Along similar lines, if a rookie has a lot of "buzz" around them, and they fail to live up to our expectations, we are likely to ignore them even if they do start to come into their own. Wrestling fans can be brutally harsh, and yes I am including myself in this statement. I can be as harsh as the next person, but I try to give those starting out in the sport a fair chance to reach their potential. (Obviously, this doesn't apply to those who have been wrestling for, say, over seven years and are still at the same level they have been for awhile now.)

Mia Yim (Credit to Bliz Photography)
Mia Yim had a lot of backlash in her rookie years, due to some people in the business hyping her. I can remember several times on message boards fans saying they didn't "get her" and thought she was being talked up too much. Yet, some of those same people are now some of her biggest supporters. Mia traveled across America and to Japan, she took full advantage of the opportunities she was given, and as a result she has grown into a tremendous athlete with still a lot of potential to improve even more. Veda Scott is in the same boat - her first match was against trainer Daizee Haze on May 15th, 2011. She was another who had a lot of hype around her, which led to many fans dismissing her out of hand. Since that first match, she has gone on to wrestle in SHIMMER, SHINE, WSU, ACW; when Angelus Layne had a knee injury, she was invited to debut in Canada at Femmes Fatales IX in 2012. Also in 2012 she had a short stint in Japan where she gained invaluable experience; and in AIW she rounded out the year by winning the tag team championships alongside her legal client Gregory Iron. All this, and Veda is still learning, still technically a rookie. Her hard work and dedication to wrestling has won over fans and promoters alike. Yet, there are still people out there who refuse to give her a second chance.

I can understand that not every wrestler will appeal to every fan. We all have our likes and dislikes, it's part of being a fan. However, it is a bit unfair to simply ignore someone who is just starting out and not give them a proper chance. Similarly, it is also unfair to brutally bury someone in public for having a bad match, especially when bad matches can happen to rookies and veterans alike. One specific case about a week ago caught my eye, when Absolute Intense Wrestling asked a question on Twitter: "What was the WORST match in AIW history?" A few fans answered with a match from Girls Night Out 7, Trash Cassidy versus Thunderkitty. Some went on to have a dig at Trash, specifically.

From Girls Night Out 7. Credit: Myself
I spoke up to defend both women and the match itself. I had been at GNO 7 and witnessed the match for myself. Here is what I wrote:

Thunderkitty took on Trash Cassidy in TK's debut match. This was only Trash's second appearance for AIW, and given that I was unfamiliar with both, I went into this one completely blind. Thunderkitty's gimmick is that she is an "old time" wrestler and she is playing it to the hilt. The one piece outfit, her language, her personal ring announcer, coming out to no music - it all works brilliantly and makes her stand out. Trash...I'm still not too clear on her gimmick, other than she wears a lot of different colouring clothing to go along with her multi-coloured hair. Although she did throw out a great line: "I didn't know I was wrestling Mildred Burke!" The match was decent, but Trash got a "please don't come back" chant afterwards. Ouch.

I've seen bad matches before, and although no one (including the participants) would mistake it for a five star match, it wasn't absolute rubbish in my opinon. There was a fun spot where they criss-crossed in the ropes, and the aforementioned line that Trash yelled had me laughing. I've seen far, far worse that's made it onto television after all. Of course, I didn't know anything about TK or TC going into the event, but after the fact I learned that Thunderkitty has been wrestling since 2008 (from the sparse information I found online) and recently moved out east, presumably to have more opportunities to wrestle. Meanwhile I couldn't find much of anything about Trash - however, I had recently begun to chat with her via Twitter. After meeting her at a Destination 1 Wrestling show, we became friends (I am telling this in the interests of full disclosure).

Not long after AIW posed the aforementioned question, I asked her how long she had been wrestling. Trash responded, "About a year and a half if you account for time out with injuries and just not wrestling too much. Two years if you do include managing." When I asked her about the aforementioned match, she said that she had been sick with a high fever that day and still made it to the show to wrestle.

At this point, I was shaking my head. Here was a woman that, by all rights, should have been in bed and only had a year and a half experience, being pilloried thanks to not just this match, but a previous one against Mary Dobson at AIW. These two matches were, conceivably, her highest profile to date. Dobson is also a rookie, so you're not likely to have the best match between two rookies. However, Thunderkitty had more experience, so technically she should have led the match. Again, though, when you're sick it throws your body off, so I could see how things would have been off again that night.

A few days later, after the conversation, I and another tweeter received a message from Thunderkitty. She asked if we had seen her other work. To which, I replied that yes I had (at Insanity Pro Wrestling and SPARKLE). Thunderkitty then tweeted to us, "I got put against a lazy, clumsy opponent..I didn't exactly get a fair shake...but it happens." This took me by surprise. It was rather harsh to me. I said that from what I understood, Trash was seriously under the weather that night so it was just an off night. TK replied, "I don't recall her being under the weather. I DO recall her not being in ring shape though."

Wow. My further responses to her, stating that Trash hadn't been wrestling for very long and some wrestlers don't mix in the ring went unreplied to by her. She also tweeted the Ringbelles twitter, Thomas Holzerman's twitter and the AIW account that "someday, somewhere, I'm going to give people my exact thoughts on this match." Now, I fully admit that being friends with Trash makes me biased. However, even if I was not friends with her, I would never expect someone with as little time as she has in the ring to be good. Especially since she had been injured recently (or, I assumed as much since she mentioned being injured). Plus, being sick takes you off your game and that goes for athletes and non-athletes.

Personally, I felt it was unprofessional of Thunderkitty to publicly tear down someone with considerably less experience than herself. Even more-so after I went searching for information on her and found this blog that she wrote back in 2010 about how women in wrestling needed to get along since there were so few opportunities for them. To her credit, Trash hasn't addressed any of the comments publicly, choosing discretion as the better part of valor in this case. The fact that TK said this publicly is a side point, but it's another example of private matters in wrestling being discussed publicly for fans to see. It's an unpleasant trend to say the least.

Back on point though, it's really saddening to see how quickly wrestling fans are to condemn inexperienced wrestlers. Above, I mentioned how people who dismissed Mia and Veda are now fans - this isn't a bad thing. It's great that they allowed themselves to be won over by their growth and improvement. At the same time, however, how are people going to improve if they aren't allowed opportunities to work with veterans and gain experience? I fear that due to the backlash she has suffered, Trash may not be offered the chance to work with other promotions and learn from their workers. Her, and others like her, are the next generation of potential stars. Wrestling fans often complain about the tendency of promotions to rely on past stars instead of cultivating new ones. How can new flowers grow and bloom without being watered and carefully nurtured?

There is also the fact that not everyone is a natural athlete. Some have to work hard to develop their skills. If you're thinking that these people should just give up, I have one name that should make you think twice. The Queen of Wrestling, Sara Del Rey, has said many times in interviews that wrestling did not come naturally to her. She had to work and work hard at it. Given that she became one of the world's best, should she have just given up since she didn't take to wrestling naturally?

Prime example of giving a newcomer the chance to amaze you.
If we fans don't start being less harsh and unforgiving, then we shouldn't be surprised when we don't see new faces coming in. Once the veterans retire, then that's it. Game over. Is that what we want? Of course not. We love wrestling and don't want to see it die out. Therefore, we must be more lenient when it comes to the newcomers. After all, speaking personally, if I had dimissed Leva Bates after her match against Malia Hosaka at SHIMMER, I wouldn't have had the privilege to see her grow as a wrestler and as a performer. You never know who will become truly great, therefore it's worth giving rookies the chances necessary to grow and fulfill their potential. I may have used Trash Cassidy as the main example for this blog, but that goes for any man or woman who takes the awesome and terrifying decision to step into the ring and dedicate their bodies as well as their lives to professional wrestling. Those people that make this decision and take it seriously deserve a certain amount of respect as it is.

It's akin to a garden. Plant the seeds, water them, nourish them, and see what grows. The results may surprise you.