Disclaimer: I don't know Portia Perez. Never had a conversation with her or a brief chat. I only see what she tweets, what she says in her interviews, and her work in the ring. This is not an attempt to psycho-analyze her - it's merely thoughts on her as a fan, and thoughts on what other fans think of her.
|The So-Called Face of Evil - Portia Perez. (Credit Minas Panagiotakis)|
Portia Perez. Throw that name into a discussion with other knowledgeable wrestling fans and chances are you will get a reaction somewhat like this: "She's great in the ring but really not sociable." Sometimes the reaction is more harsh. Chances are you've heard and seen what people say about her. Portia herself has as well. I heard from a friend that someone had approached her at the SHIMMER after party and said something (I don't know what) to her, she replied, and said person called her anti-social due to her reply. Perhaps that's what sparked the tweet she sent on November 3rd:
"When did the job title 'Professional Wrestler' become a synonym for 'Professional Nice person'? Oh, that's right: Never."
The same day, she also tweeted a picture of a bag of M&Ms along with a message:
"This is my reward for wrestling with dislocated ribs. This, and inevitable hatemail for not smiling enough."
As you can tell, Portia is very aware of the reputation she has. The question is, is it deserved? Or is a better question that are wrestling fans (female wrestling fans in particular) too demanding?
Fans of SHIMMER Women Wrestling have a reputation as being "creepy." On a few message boards I've frequented, I've heard others talk about people on the SHIMMER forum that talk about female wrestlers as if said women belong to said fans. Others claim they would never set foot into the Eagles Club due to the fans and their behavior. To be fair, the only fan I know that has been actually banned from attending SHIMMER is one male that frequently went into the women's restroom. There's a fan who is known to take pictures of the wrestlers when, supposedly, they're executing a suplex into a bridge. There's also a man who comes only to promote his cheesecake business it seems (he claims to have sold cheesecakes to John Cena and J-Wow from the Jersey Shore - absolutely thrilling, I'm sure).
Darin Childs, owner of Texas-based Anarchy Championship Wrestling, has been vocal on his formspring as well, saying that the term is well known in locker rooms around the U.S. He also claims that several of the SHIMMER roster itself is uncomfortable with the after parties. How much of this is true and how much of it is due to the fall out between the two companies, we will never know. However, taking a step back and looking at things objectively, I can see how overall fans of female wrestling have gotten that reputation. It's not just restricted to SHIMMER fans.
Wrestling fans in general can be very hard to please. Be it how a match goes, the winner of a match, the path a story line takes, what have you, you will never find fans wholly satisfied To a degree, this is justifiable - after all, take WWE. We know it's the top choice of a lot of wrestlers, male and female, but once they get there, they aren't used to their full potential. That seems to be changing (look at CM Punk and Bryan Danielson), but for the women it remains to be seen if the recent signings of Britani Knight, Tenille and Buggy Nova will result in an overhaul of the women's division. The point is, we know the talent is capable of much more than they get to show on television. As consumers, we shouldn't be satisfied with the mediocrity on television. We should make our dissatisfaction plain until things change. And if they don't, we hit them where it hurts - ratings and profits.
However, on the Independent scene, it feels different. Because more often than not the men and women are more willing to engage with fans on social media and in person, we form attachments. We feel we come to know these people, and at some point the line becomes blurred. We start to feel as if we have bonds with these men and women and sometimes we feel like we are on the "inside" of the wrestling business. We're not just fans anymore - we're friends.
Yes, I am including myself in this, because I've formed attachments of my own. I have been very privileged to get to know some of the women on a personal level. That's not bragging either - I don't believe I pursued personal friendships with these ladies, but for reasons I'm not certain of, they have let me in to a degree. Make no mistake, however, I don't abuse these connections. And I struggle from time to time with the line between fan and friend. Overall though I remain a fan first and a friend second. I admire so many of these women because they are strong, determined individuals - they are people I look up to. They are on a separate level from me. I never forget this.
As such, I am on the level with all the other fans. I don't expect preferential treatment. So when, to use an example, if I tweet a wrestler and get no response, I don't take it personally. These folks are swamped on social media to varying degrees and it simply isn't in the realm of possibility for them to answer everyone. However, I have seen fans that take it so personally that if they receive no response, they turn on said wrestler. There is one in particular that has seen fit to abuse several women that he was formerly a fan of when they don't reply to his tweets. That's an extreme case to be sure, but it does happen to varying degrees.
Since I have only been to the SHIMMER after parties (and one Femmes Fatales party), I can only remark on what I see there. Depending on the location that they have been at, the fans and wrestlers have been either lumped together in a relatively small place, or they have been separated voluntarily in a larger place until everyone has eaten at least. Most fans do conduct themselves in a respectful manner, at least I have not witnessed anything out of the way. There were a few shenanigans that happened (some video taped) during the after party in April 2010 - that may be where some of the reputation that the SHIMMER fan base has comes from.
Since then, however, nothing of the sort has happened. But invariably when you have drunk people, you have out of the way behavior. You have demands for pictures and autographs. You have fans wanting detailed discussion of the matches that the women have just went through. You have fans who want to spend the night talking with their favorites while the women want to relax and chat with friends they only see once or twice a year. You have fans that demand wrestlers sit with and spend time only with them. When it's over, you have people who complain about how unsocial such and such was, how they will never be a fan of said wrestlers again, and so forth.
Which brings me back to Portia. From my own experiences, I have either seen her briefly appear at the after party or not at all (which isn't to say she wasn't ever there, just that I did not see her at times). The longest I saw her at a party was this previous October set of shows. Her and Nicole Matthews walked in the door to Paisans and were immediately flooded with fans. She hadn't even gotten one step away from the door. Seriously. To her credit, her and Nicole talked with fans, took pictures and were very social. But I can't blame her for leaving not too long afterwards.
There is another person who took a sharp dislike to the Ninja after she allegedly shunned some international fans and was rude to him. I don't give him much credit, however, because this person also thinks that some of the SHIMMER roster sleeps with the owner for their pushes. I have heard other stories, of how she was rude or dismissive of fans and what have you. Let me propose a thought though: perhaps Portia Perez truly is not a people person. Her Twitter profile describes herself as a "misanthropic people-person." Misanthropy means to have a general hatred, distrust or disdain of the human nature. If you've seen her tweets, this pretty well hits the nail on the head, although social media isn't the best way to get to know a person obviously.
Maybe she has had bad enough experiences with fans that she keeps her wrestling persona up at all times. Perhaps she wears it like a shield, preventing anyone from getting too close. Maybe at the times that said fans have approached her, she was having a bad day, had gotten some depressing news, or just did not feel like putting on a smile. Maybe she hates crowds (goodness knows a lot of people do, including myself) and feels suffocated around groups of people.
Or maybe, just maybe, for a woman who has been wrestling since she was sixteen years old (for nine years), worn out, working through injuries, traveled all over the world...maybe she's a bit tired and a bit jaded. A bit tired of fans calling her a 'bitch', 'arrogant', 'anti-social' - all because she doesn't bend over backwards to please people. At the end of the day, people go into wrestling (Independent wrestling, at least) because they have a love for the business. Their passion for it drives them. You have to love it to be willing to go through what these people do to their bodies for low and sometimes non-existent pay. To work through injuries. The catch-22 is that the wrestling business has to have fans willing to pay money for it to stay in business. Which means that, to a degree, wrestlers have to be accommodating to fans.
That doesn't mean that we get to stake a claim on these men and women, however. They belong only to themselves - not to us. We cannot and should not think that we have exclusive claims on their time and attention. We must also remember that these athletes are also performers. They are actors and actresses. The personas we see aren't who they really are. Or maybe they are, but it's their own personality turned up to an outrageous degree. We must also remember what they go through.
For the SHIMMER women, some of them fly halfway across the world, suffer through customs and boarder controls, rely on others to get to their hotel where they can decamp and spend time with friends before going into a weekend where they may wrestle up to 4 times in two days before fans who have come to expect near perfection from every woman on the roster. In-between volume tapings, they have to cram into a tiny space with their fellow workers, put on a smile and sell as much merchandise as possible to fans who often times want to stop and chat, which causes congestion. Then after each days' shows, they go to wherever the after party is (with varying degrees of enthusiasm) to stay for varied lengths of time and are almost bombarded with fans who want to chat, criticize, get a picture or an autograph and sometimes don't let them even have a few minutes to eat and chat with friends they don't see at any other time in the year (although, in fairness, this past set of shows in October the fans were good about letting the wrestlers eat before approaching them). Then come Monday, it's off to either back to their regular jobs in their own countries, or off to another booking (which also may be in yet another country). Over the weekend, various injuries may or may not occur, which they either choose to wrestle through or must sit out a taping, causing fans to speculate.
Portia Perez wrestled on Volumes 49-52 over the weekend of October 27th-28th. Only one was a singles match but it was against one of the hardest hitting Joshi, Ayako Hamada. Her first match was a defense of the SHIMMER Tag Titles with Nicole against two more hard hitters, LuFisto and Kana. The following Saturday, she wrestled two matches for Femmes Fatales, the first against Courtney Rush (who defeated Perez with a spear - consider the fact she was working with dislocated ribs, yet still took the spear), the second against Pink Flash Kira, which was abbreviated when she walked out. Now knowing about the ribs, the walk out was justified. At the Femmes Fatales after party, she was there for awhile, mostly sticking close to other wrestlers who, to me, it felt like were sheltering her. Portia looked tired, and my heart went out to her. This is what sparked this post, contrasting how she felt and remembering all the nonsense I had seen directed towards her. It infuriates me.
To me, no other wrestler takes as much shit as she does. And it isn't right. She is one of the best wrestlers, male or female, in the world right now. She works for several different promotions, and has wrestled in Europe and in Japan. She's done every style of match known to the business. Her peers hold her in high regard. She is one of the all time best heels (in my opinion), up there with Jake 'The Snake' Roberts, Raven, Ric Flair and Bobby Heenan.
Yet, despite always giving her all in the ring, Portia continues to receive insults for not giving of herself outside of the ring. Honestly? I can't blame her if she is/was rude to fans. Because she is as human as all of us. She has her bad days. She has nagging injuries (from a tweet she sent not too long ago, it gave the impression that she is in constant pain). Sometimes, you just don't feel like putting on a song and dance, no matter if those same fans are the ones who help keep the promotions you work for going.
To those out there who are guilty of this: stop. Put yourself in her shoes. Think twice before saying or typing something that she may hear or see. Remember she bleeds like the rest of us. Portia Perez is a woman who loves wrestling, loves what she does, but doesn't necessarily like the side effects that come with it. For as much as she has given to us, we can afford to give her the respect a top notch athlete such as herself deserves. After all, how many of us, were we in her shoes, elect to wrestle two weekends in a row with an injury?
That doesn't just apply to Portia, it applies to every man and woman who steps into the ring. Whatever you may think of them outside the ring, whatever bad experiences you may have had, they deserve at least respect if not support for being willing to put their bodies through stuff that the majority of us never will. For traveling great distances, for training hard, for paying their dues, for following their passion and allowing us to witness their athleticism...
I say, thank you. To Portia Perez, and every man and woman who has put themselves through hell following their hearts - thank you. I appreciate and am grateful for all you do for us. For me.