Day 6

Pro wrestler Sonny Kiss is helping carve a path for LGBTQ performers in a ring of macho characters

Sonny Kiss is part of a small but growing group of LGBTQ pro wrestlers who have been making headway in the world of mainstream wrestling — an industry that has long been seen as traditionally macho and misogynist.

All Elite Wrestling star to wrestle this weekend at Toronto show; Bret Hart also set to appear

Pro wrestler Sonny Kiss poses outside Ted Reeve Community Arena in Toronto on June 25, 2022 ahead of a Greektown Wrestling event. (Althea Manasan/CBC)

Professional wrestling is full of larger-than-life characters, but even in a multi-person battle royale full of other performers, Sonny Kiss stands out from the crowd.

"Sonny Kiss is a breath of fresh air. Sonny Kiss is the girl next door. Sonny Kiss is, you know, that bad-ass bitch that will kick your butt," the wrestler told Day 6 host Saroja Coelho.

The nine-year veteran originally from Jersey City, N.J., is performing at two shows this weekend in Toronto and London, Ont., for the independently-produced Greektown Wrestling, which is run by Channing Decker (who also happens to be one of its top performers).

But over the last few years Kiss has been a fixture of All Elite Wrestling, the Atlanta-based company founded in 2019 by American sports executive Tony Khan as a direct competitor to pro wrestling giant World Wrestling Entertainment.

AEW viewers will see her this month in both promotional videos for Pride month and in the ring. Kiss describes herself as genderfluid and transfeminine — a rarity when it comes to wrestling on national TV, where macho men and misogynist portrayals of women often dominated its heyday in the late '90s to early 2000s.

Sonny Kiss does a moonsault off the top rope during a 2017 match. Kiss, who is from New Jersey, also goes by the nickname The Concrete Rose. (Elsa/Getty Images)

On the smaller independent wrestling scene, new promotions have been upending the older stereotypes of the genre, including some shows infused with burlesque dance numbers, as well as LGBTQ characters and performers who decades ago would be the butt of a joke rather than a championship contender.

"Around that time, it was still kind of taboo for someone like me to ... just be in wrestling in general," she said.

"It became real to me recently that: 'Wow. You're on the forefront of this, you know, pioneering this lane; this wave.' It's sometimes unfathomable."

WATCH | Sonny Kiss fights wrestler Serpentico:

Kiss brings this energy to a wrestling event even before the bell rings: her signature flourish involves balancing herself atop the ring ropes in the corner while doing the splits in an impressive display of strength and flexibility.

It melds her experience as a yoga teacher and professional dancer. But she says the audience — and her opponents — shouldn't underestimate her because of it.

"I pack a mean punch, so don't let the looks fool you," said Kiss, who goes by the nickname The Concrete Rose.

Kiss gives credit to All Elite Wrestling, which has put a spotlight on performers of various backgrounds, body types and gender identities. 

"I would say AEW is on the forefront of that … progression of the world of pro wrestling, as far as like, culture and identities," she said.

"It's a wonderful thing that we're in this era now, and that ... it is a safe space to be who you are, and go, even as a fan, to wrestling shows and just enjoy yourself."

Kiss, centre, faces off against Troy Merrick, left, and Space Monkey, right, at the Greektown Wrestling event at Ted Reeve Arena in Toronto on June 25, 2022. (Althea Manasan/CBC)

AEW hasn't totally avoided criticism, however, including from some fans and wrestling columnists who note that the men's matches and storylines are often given far more screen time than women's matches on its flagship network TV show, Dynamite.

And while Kiss has been featured prominently on AEW's Pride marketing, fans have clamoured for her to be featured more prominently on television. More often than not she wrestles on the company's YouTube shows.

While Kiss usually competes against male competitors, she cites a mix of male and female wrestlers as inspirations. At the top of the list is Toronto's Trish Stratus, a former fitness model who grew into one of the WWE's top women's champions in the 2000s.

When asked who her dream opponent would be regardless of the time or era, Kiss singled out the late Joan Laurer, better known as the WWE wrestler Chyna.

"She wrestled in the men's division. She's a beautiful woman. I'm a genderfluid, transfeminine human. And I think that it would've been really, really fun to kind of have, you know, that dynamic there," said Kiss.

Written by Jonathan Ore. Interview with Sonny Kiss produced by Pedro Sanchez.

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