Plenty of pain and gain: guys aren't the only ones who can take it to the mat. Women's independent pro wrestling is tougher than you think.
The PGWA is not a league or a federation, but a promotional company: It sets up and promotes matches between independent women wrestlers, videotapes the results and then sells the tapes on the Web at ladysports.com. Unlike the WWE wrestlers, Powell's do not sign an exclusive contract and are free to wrestle for other promoters at any time. And also, despite the anachronistic "girl" in the title of his outfit, Powell and the PGWA de-emphasize the T & A factor and the theatrical trappings. "I've never wanted to promote wrestling that I felt was exploiting women," Powell says. He and the women he showcases consider wrestling a highly competitive, if under-recognized, sport.
Powell started his career as a writer and photographer for wrestling fan magazines in the 1970s. "Girls like Judy Martin, Susan Green, Leilani Kai, they didn't have a lot of publicity going on, and I wanted to see if I couldn't do some publicity for them." In 1992, Powell brought a video camera to a training session run by Susan "Tex" Green. "After the training session was over, I asked Susan if she and Judy Martin would have a match and let me videotape it. And when I did that, it was amazing how the camera picked up the sounds. The hard slaps, the punches, the grunts and groans." The PGWA was born.
Green was not only the PGWA's first feature, she was their first champion. Born in Corpus Christi, Texas, she wrestled in her first professional match on her 15th birthday and lost. Now, at age 52, she's still active in the ring and runs her own training gym in South Carolina, a space she calls "Gym of Pain and Glory." Both men and women head there to learn what Green has to offer, although she admits that she ends up training more men because the women are often surprised at how tough training really is. "There's no windows, no air conditioning and no heat. I have all the weights, but I don't stress weight training. We should be spending most of my time in the ring." She trains about 10 people a year, including former NFL players, women's rugby champions and anyone else interested. Her specialty is one-day "tryout" sessions for $200. "I tell them as they're leaving, if you wake up in the morning and you can't wait until you get back in this ring, then you've got what it takes. If you wake up and say oh my God,' then you don't want to be a wrestler."
Green started her career as a teen, but she showed interest in women's wrestling even sooner. "I went to my first match when I was 5 years old. My father was a wrestling fan. They announced that the following week they would have women, and I asked if we could get tickets reserved. We did, and from there I was hooked."
"From the time I was 8 years old, I started to pester Mr. Blanchard," she says, referring to famous Texas wrestling promoter Joe Blanchard. "I just kept on and on, and when I was 14, he said, we'll see if you got what it takes." She trained for a year before entering the ring as a pro in Texas, with a special dispensation from Gov. John Connally, who had to be assured that she wasn't violating child labor laws.
When she started, Green was only 112 pounds. She faced a competitor who weighed 140 pounds, and "she beat the crap out of me. But we had a match four years later, and when I came out, I jumped over the top rope. Joe Blanchard had told me I needed to make an entrance that people would remember. I hit the mat, and she spun around to look at me. I was now 212 pounds, and she ended up retiring after that match. She said, if I was able to get that big and that strong [that quick], there wasn't no way she wanted to face any other newcomers."
Soon, Green was touring the world as a professional wrestler. "I actually had my 16th birthday in Hong Kong in 1971. I've been in places I didn't know existed, I've been in some places I'd love to go back to, and I've been in a whole lot of places I don't care if I ever go back to." The only thing that affected her choice of venue? "I don't like cold weather!"
Green even dated another wrestler once. "She was my tag team partner. She decided to retire, and she ended up not liking me on the road, so that didn't work out. I came home one night from New York City, and she had moved out."
How tough can pro wrestling be? "I've got a knee that's been blown out and reconstructed, a shoulder that has to be reconstructed, I've had my neck and back broke," Green reports. "I've paid my dues."
Nowadays, "I don't wrestle as much as I like to," and she spends most of her time training in her gym. Green has a sideline gig as well, performing as a drag king at lesbian clubs and events. "I was at South Carolina Gay Pride 2003, and I was crowned a king for the whole state."
Although the WWE is the best-known pro wrestling outfit, "if you're not 7-foot tall, they don't even think about you," says Green. Like Powell, she also finds their emphasis to be less on athletics and more on showmanship and telegenic faces. In contrast, the smaller independent promotions are more welcoming of variety. "Tall, short, fat, skinny, whatever," Powell says, "they will all have fans." The only thing that counts is ability and dedication.
Powell says he considers the PGWA "a serious hobby." Green has a day job these days. "There's going to be some places that you go, and if you even get enough money to buy you gas and a burger, you're going to be lucky." Nonetheless, theirs is a lifelong dedication to a sport they love.
Powell thinks that the attraction to wrestling by women athletes is simple. "After girls get out of high school and college, maybe they've played sports, the only thing left for them is the little community leagues or something they have at the Y, there's no other outlet. And sometimes that's just not enough."
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|Date:||Mar 1, 2007|
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