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5 Canadian female pro wrestlers on feminism, getting exposure and those who call their sport "fake"

"I kept getting better and stronger until they had to shut up and admit I belonged."
(Credit: Ryan Faist )

When we think of pro wrestling, our minds generally jump to the male powerhouses that have dominated the sport for decades: The Rock, Triple H, Hulk Hogan. But with the recent rise of indie leagues, female wrestlers are being given more and more opportunities to make a name for themselves in the ring — beyond the 'Bra and Panties' matches that flooded the WWE in the early 2000s. And with the premiere of GLOW (or Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling) — a new Netflix comedy showcasing the lives and personalities of female wrestlers in the 1980s, starring Alison Brie and Canadian actress Ellen Wong — coming this June, we're about to see a whole lot more of these inspiring athletes.

To get an inside peek at what life is like in — and out — of the ring, we spoke to some of Canada's rising female wrestlers to get their thoughts on feminism, wrestling's ritualistic roots and what they have to say to those who call their sport "fake".

Xandra Bale

(Credit: Ryan Faist )

Xandra Bale is an independent wrestler known as the Suicide Blonde, who first came on the scene in 2008. She's a two-time PWE Flame Champion and current APW Interprovincial Champion whose signature moves include the 'Bale Out' and the 'Fisherman Neckbreaker'.

When you were younger, what impression did female athletes have on you?

I was far more influenced by male athletes. I wanted to become a wrestler because of guys like Macho Man, Chris Benoit, Owen Hart etc. I looked up more to female hockey players who had their "revolution" much earlier, when they were allowed to compete at the Olympics.

How has the 'male dominance' of wrestling changed or digressed in your lifetime?

It's a night and day change from when I first started watching wrestling. It used to be that the females had their place as managers, and maybe having one quick match on a show. That's how 80s women's wrestling was, with the occasional amazing match from the Jumping Bomb Angels or Wendy Richter.

In the 90s, women became more of a prop. The Attitude Era was not kind to women's wrestling or women's rights as a whole. Women were more commonly in 'Bra and Panties' matches, or some other degrading match. It was very rare that they were allowed to showcase athleticism and actual wrestling skill. That started to change with women like Lita, Trish, Ivory, Molly Holly towards the end of the 90s and early 2000s.

In the independent scene, the "women's revolution" has been happening for much longer. Companies like SHIMMER were created to shine that spotlight on the quality of women's wrestling. Only in the last year has women's wrestling started to have a permanent place on WWE TV, where fans are engaged in both the competitors and storylines.

Do you consider yourself a feminist?

Does what I do empower women? Yes. Am I a strong believer of equal rights and opportunities? Yes, if they are earned. Nothing should be handed to anyone on any grounds. I'm an independent woman. Everything I have in my life is because I busted my butt to get an education and worked hard for everything I have. I balance a full career outside of wrestling in a challenging field and work out two hours a day. If that makes me a feminist, then so be it. I just consider it earning what I have.

What do you say to people who claim that wrestling is "fake"?

My injuries aren't fake. I've broken my ankle and my wrist. I've developed a double Scoliosis from bad bumps in the ring. What we do is predetermined. We're trying to be safe with each other and put on entertaining matches for the crowd. But things happen. There's nothing fake about my gym routine, my diet or all the hours a week I put into studying and perfecting my craft. We are all athletes in this business and what we do should be respected.

With everything progressing at such a hyper pace in entertainment, where do you see the role of women in wrestling going in the future?

This past year has done wonders for women's wrestling. We've seen women main event a pay per view. We've seen women in hardcore matches and cage matches. The sky is honestly the limit. I hope to see women main event a Wrestlemania one day.

Do you think that the physical toll your body takes in wrestling is a positive influence for women and strength in femininity?

It shows that women can do anything they want to. I'm not proud of my injuries that I've had, but I'm not ashamed of them either, and I'm not afraid to put my body on the line for my passion. Women shouldn't be afraid to put their all into everything they do.

What do you wish you were told when you started?

I'll never wish for a path different than the one I've taken. The only thing I wish I had known is how difficult it would be to balance the career I picked with wrestling. Employers will tell you that they get it, but in most cases they don't. When I've been injured, I've been fired. When I've needed time off to make wrestling in Japan a reality, I wasn't granted it. I've been put in countless situations where I had to pick my career over wrestling. My biggest fear in life is living with the regret of making the wrong choices and and not chasing my dream to the fullest capacity. I wish I'd realized that while my career can act as my safety net, it has also been my anchor.

Alexia Nicole

(Credit: Ryan Faist)

Alexia Nicole is a two-time PWA Elite Women's Champion singles and tag team wrestler. She's known for the move 'World's Tiniest Canadian Destroyer', which is fitting, since she stands tall at 4'11".

When you were younger, what impression did female athletes have on you?

I was never super into sports, but I still knew which athletes were popular and very rarely was it ever a woman — unless it was in wrestling. When I saw those women, I wanted to be like them.

How has the 'male dominance' of wrestling changed or digressed in your lifetime?

There still is male dominance in wrestling, but definitely not as much as there used to be. When I started watching wrestling, and even when I started wrestling, it was the norm for only one 5 minute women's match on a show. Sometimes there were no women at all. Now, there's more female talent showcased on major shows, all female promotions and more people taking women's wrestling more seriously instead of treating it as a bathroom break.

What differences do you see between a platform like WWE or TNA for elevating women in wrestling vs. private and independently run companies?

WWE and TNA are influenced by independent wrestling and vice versa. There's tons of great female talent on the independents. With social media, it gets more attention and more people see it, which I think leads to a demand in places like WWE and TNA. Then, when women's wrestling is showcased there and respected, more independent companies are likely catch on to it and feature women in big roles.

Do you consider yourself a feminist?

I don't know if I can call myself a feminist. I'm for men and women being equal in all aspects of life, so I guess I am, but I've had some friends say that wrestling in short shorts and tight clothing and having my hair and makeup done can be demeaning to women. I think I'm a feminist, but I can see how some people wouldn't agree.

Sports have rapidly become about monetizing the athletes. Do you feel like wrestling has stayed pure to its initial ritualistic intent?

Kinda. Wrestling's a little weird. A lot of wrestlers try to monetize themselves through their gimmicks and different types of merchandise. Being a wrestler is really all about selling yourself to the audience, so in a way, the ritualistic intent goes together with monetizing the athlete.

What do you say to people who claim that wrestling is "fake"?

I've dislocated both my shoulders countless times and had two shoulder surgeries on the same side. You don't get those kind of injuries by doing something that's "fake."

Do you think that the physical toll your body takes in wrestling is a positive influence for women and strength in femininity?

I definitely think it's a positive influence. It shows that being feminine doesn't mean being weak or fragile. Women can be strong and feminine.

What do you wish you were told when you started?

I wish someone had told me how consuming being a wrestler can be. I don't regret becoming a wrestler or anything like that, but once you get into the business there's no leaving. I was only 15 when I started training, so I wasn't prepared for it. Everything you do somehow gets related back to wrestling. Being so young when I started, I thought [the lifestyle] was normal, but I now realize how exciting and sometimes painful it can be.

Jewells Malone AKA 'The Hardcore Princess'

(Credit: Ryan Faist)

Jewells Malone is a professional wrestler who has competed across Canada and the United States for Pure Wrestling Association, NCW Femmes Fatales and Women Superstars Uncensored. She's a PWA Elite Women's Champion and had the 3rd longest reign in history with that title. 

When you were younger, what impression did female athletes have on you?

It is because of seeing strong women in the Olympics, the WWE and American Gladiators that I knew I would be in my element as a professional athlete. [They showed me] women could be successful by being athletes rather than cheering on the male athletes or providing commentary on them. They also provided a more realistic image of a woman who is hard working and dedicated. They would do what they need to do with their bodies in a healthy manner to perform their duties as an athlete, rather than putting on cosmetic masks and losing weight so they can fit in a size two. I was always criticized and bullied for having bigger legs and muscles in grade school. The other girls had smaller bodies than me, but that's because I was working out and played so many sports.

How has the 'male dominance' of wrestling changed or digressed in your lifetime?

I began watching wrestling in the early 1980s when there was Fabulous Moolah, Sensational Sheri, Miss Elizabeth and Wendy Richter mainly. Other than that, the remaining 97% of the roster was male. I very rarely watched women in the ring, but when I did I watched quite closely.

In the 1990s there were more women debuting in the WWE and WCW, however, women were either eye candy or there was only 1 women's wrestling match. It wasn't until the late 1990s and 2000s when more and more women were debuting and being written into storylines in WWE, WCW, ECW and TNA. I believe Trish and Lita Era was the rebirth of female pro wrestling. Now we have women like Natalya, Charlotte, Sasha Banks and other stars competing in the main event of pay per views and shows. The best thing for female professional wrestling is the #womenserevolution and getting rid of #Diva.

What differences do you see between a platform like WWE or TNA for elevating women in wrestling vs private and independently run companies?

The larger companies pay more money, so the athletes can 100% focus on wrestling. Smaller companies like Shimmer, Shine, Bellarix and RISE etc. can be more beneficial for women's wrestling. These companies provide a platform that allows the best of the best female wrestlers to take the main stage without the men. Historically, we have not seen that with the larger wrestling companies. Perhaps it's on the horizon?

Do you consider yourself a feminist?

I would consider myself a realist and not a feminist. I believe that life is fair game and it is ultimately up to an individual to fight because of gender equality, or fight for what they want. It will only be a matter of time when the first transgender wrestler debuts. Then I pray that there will be more and more intergender wrestling matches. They are my specialty because of my hardcore nature.

What do you say to people who claim that wrestling is "fake"?

I always offer to chop them on their bare skin, put them in my 'Malone Torture Stretch Submission' or give them a 'Suplex' on the ground. The barbed wire on my bat is sharp and the scars on my body are real. You can't fake that.

Do you think that the physical toll your body takes in wrestling is a positive influence for women and strength in femininity?

I am always told by others, "I don't know how you do that," "you're stronger than you look," or "you are crazy for taking those moves." That means that outside of the wrestling world, women are surprised and impressed that someone my size (5'3") can be doing what I do. I have had several concussions, which serves as a warning that what I do is dangerous and that accident happen. My scars show that what I do is real. The smile on my face when I am finished my matches  shows others that what I do is my passion. Every Monday at the office when I can barely walk and there are bruises on my face and cuts on my mouth, the makeup covering my black eyes shows others that I am strong, that women can do this job too and that we can do anything as long as there is a passion and we pave our own way.

What do you wish you were told when you started?

I wish that I was told that 1) The business was as tough as it was for women, 2) that I should start when I was younger, 3) you don't need to look perfect, have plastic surgery or get extentions and 4) women would be treated as equals to men in the larger companies beginning in 2016.

Kc Spinelli

(Credit: Ryan Faist)

Kc Spinelli is a singles wrestler and the current SCPW Women's Champion. Last year, she was named one of the Top 50 Females in wrestling by Pro Wrestling Illustrated. 

When you were younger, what impression did female athletes have on you?

When I was younger, "Women Power" was NOT as strong as it is today. Heck! Even The Spice Girls did not come onto the scene until I was in grade four. Women athletes were not as valued, respected or considered for the roles you see today, so the impression was not of the positive kind. Being raised by a single mother and witnessing a lack of female athletes receiving the opportunities and praise you see today, I felt motivated to become a strong symbol for women as a professional wrestler.

How has the 'male dominance' of wrestling changed or digressed in your lifetime?

Most locker rooms I have been in hold a 5-1 ratio of male to female workers, and men probably get paid twice as much. When I was younger, I can't imagine it was any less than a 10-1 ratio, with little to no pay. I've always found males to dominate in athletic sports, but it does look like women worldwide are starting to be recognized more as equals. We owe a lot to the women who paved the way in creating these opportunities.  

What differences do you see between a platform like WWE or TNA for elevating women in wrestling vs private and independently run companies?

The difference between a TV show and an independent show, is just that. One is nationwide (even worldwide), while the other has to rely on things like the Internet to go viral. You'll probably hear and see more of the cage match Jade and Rosemary had on TNA in 2017 than Cherry Bomb and Courtney Rush had at the Smash Wrestling CanUsa Classic independent show held in 2016.  

Many won't be recognized for their hard work or be given a chance to work for the "more successful" platforms, but it doesn't stop women from making a name for themselves on the independent scene. Especially now, when social media is such a big way to be seen performing your art, you don't need to rely on being with the televised promotions.

Do you consider yourself a feminist?

I'd burn a bra, if I didn't need it. I'm all for women's rights and equality, especially since the two professions I've chosen are male dominated. As a carpenter and a professional wrestler, being considered the weaker sex or not being valued as my [male] co workers is always something I've had to deal with. It does make you stronger, and when you feel stronger, you feel like you're fighting for something important.

Sports have rapidly become about monetizing the athletes. Do you feel like wrestling has stayed pure to its initial ritualistic intent?

Anything on TV is out there for monetization. That's why it's on TV. And wrestling, I believe, is the same. If you're popular and can increase ratings, you'll get pushed ahead of those who can't. Wrestling has changed so much over the years, but make no mistake, on TV or the independent scene, if you can sell tickets, you're money.

What do you say to people who claim that wrestling is "fake"?

I punch them in the arm. Then, after they whimper in pain, I tell them people who say wrestling's fake are ignorant. Do you call magic fake? No. You call it magic. Having a background in other martial arts, I am aware of the difference between having to protect myself and having to protect someone else. In UFC style fighting, I protect myself. In pro wrestling, I protect who I'm in the ring with. The difference is trying to outmatch an opponent rather than performing with an opponent.

Do you think that the physical toll your body takes in wrestling is a positive influence for women and strength in femininity?

Let's be honest. Male or female, when you attack that mat, the toll taken on the body is the same. So, to say that putting myself or my body through this is a positive influence is crazy (maybe as crazy as wanting to be a professional wrestler). The influence I want [to have on] women comes from how I stand up for myself outside of the ring. My body is strong enough (most days) to take the toll I put on it between working, working out, and wrestling.

What do you wish you had been told when you started?

Success comes from going after it. Don't stay in one place, and seek out well-known trainers that can help motivate and encourage you.

Courtney Rush

(Credit: Ryan Faist)

Courtney Rush currently holds titles for the Bellatrix World Championship, GCW W.I.L.D. Championship and TNA Women's Knockout Championship and has been named one of PWI's Top 50 Females in Wrestling four times. You can see her on Impact Wrestling on Fight Network (Canada) and POP (USA) every Thursday night at 8/7c.

When you were younger, what impression did female athletes have on you?

Absolutely none. I grew up with all boys playing football and hockey and watching wrestling, but I was never raised like, "she's a girl, she can't play with us." My brother and cousins treated me the same as everyone else... which means I was being tackled and body-checked and learned to take a hit early in life.

How has the 'male dominance' of wrestling changed or digressed in your lifetime?

The 'male dominance' changes when you change it. You cannot change everyone's way of thinking at once, but just like co-ed sports in high school when the boys wouldn't pass to you if you were a girl until you took it and proved them wrong, in wrestling I kept getting better and stronger until they had to shut up and admit I belonged, or risk looking like a fool if they continued to deny it.

What differences do you see between a platform like WWE or TNA for elevating women in wrestling vs private and independently run companies?

The exposure TNA has given my career is undeniable. While it is, of course, a much smaller platform than WWE, it is still internationally viewed and so many people had no idea who I was before I stepped out on that stage a year ago. Coming from Canada rather than America, independent exposure is so limited even at the "highest" point. You need to be signed at some point to get to that next level.

Do you consider yourself a feminist?

I am absolutely a feminist. The spotlight and opportunities deserve to go to those who earn it, male or female. Making that opportunity equal is what's important, not whether it is a male or female who earns it.

What do you say to people who claim that wrestling is "fake"?

People who claim wrestling is "fake" are grasping at whatever straw they can to go out of their way to be disrespectful to the athletes and fans of this sport. Fact is, they are nothing but trolls who don't deserve validation.

Do you think that the physical toll your body takes in wrestling is a positive influence for women and strength in femininity?

The physical toll wrestling takes on my body isn't going to be a positive anything down the road! But there is only one life to live.This is the one I chose and I wouldn't trade it for anything. The physicality makes me feel alive, but I think the drive and determination to go after what you want in life should be the more inspiring element for any man or woman debating whether or not to chase a dream. Just go after it... if you fail, you still tried, which is more than what the majority of the world would do.

What do you wish you knew when you started?

Nothing. It has been a learning experience every single day of my career and it has all happened for a reason, keeping me both humble and hungry for the day I finally appeared on international television and showed the world what I could do.

These interviews have been edited and condensed.