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Five Reasons to Check Out OVW Now

There’s a core group of fans who attend Ohio Valley Wrestling every week. For the last five weeks, and honestly for the foreseeable future, I’ve become one of them.

It’s been fun over the years dropping in and out to see how the promotion changes and to watch wrestlers come into their own. Having seen the tag team Dark Cloud in one of their first OVW matches versus seeing them now, interacting with the fans, it’s incredible how much they’ve evolved. But you make a much different connection with a promotion when you never miss a show. Wrestlers who may not catch your attention that first week may draw you in the second, third, or fourth time you see them.

After more than a month of live shows, I thought I’d share here a few talents that have really caught my eye. I’m purposely not including friends of mine or long-time OVW standouts. The five (make that six) wrestlers mentioned are people who have grown on me and kept me wanting to go back every week.

Shalonce Royal

Shalonce Royal

Oh how the fans hate Shalonce! They hate her arrogance. They hate her dirty tricks. And they hate – HATE! – her singing. Shalonce sings through every match, her powerful voice belting high note after high note, as she wears her opponents down. She’s fast, she’s powerful, and she’s relentless.

In real life Shalonce is a trained opera singer, and she’s not the first such talent to come along in pro wrestling. Back in the 1950s, a woman named Gloria Barratini made the jump from singing opera to pro wrestling. I don’t know that Gloria sang in the ring to the delight (or dismay) of the fans like Shalonce does, but she did wrestle in Louisville a few times, including a bout against the great Mae Young at The Armory (Louisville Gardens).

Shalonce has a lot of charisma, and she’s a heck of a wrestler. She also had a show-stealing match with Jada Stone (another new-to-me face!) during the September 1 TV taping. And I love watching the fans hate on her almost as much as I enjoy watching her wrestle.

Click here to follow Shalonce Royal on Twitter.

Omar Amir vs. Jack Vaughn

The Veteran Jack Vaughn

Jack made me sit up straight during his match last night when he LEVELED a kid with the hardest clothesline I’ve seen in Davis Arena since the days when the APA were in town. When JBL (then still known as Bradshaw) threw a clothesline in a dark match one night, I could feel it from the second row. I felt Jack’s from the top row last night.

Jack Vaughn’s Twitter says he’s an eighteen year veteran. He’s 6’6″ and looks like he fell through a time warp in Memphis, circa 1983. He’s a no nonsense, hard nosed, old fashioned rassler who often makes mince meat of the younger guys in the ring. He’s also clearly a locker room leader, based on some of his social media posts. The fans may hate him, but they have to respect him!

FYI, Jack only has a handful of followers on Twitter. That’s a crying shame, because young wrestlers could learn a lot from the wisdom he dispenses.

Click here to follow The Veteran Jack Vaughn.

The Outrunners on AEW

The Outrunners

Speaking of guys who look like they fell through a time warp! With their hot pink trunks, their decidedly old school facial hair, and Miami Vice like intro, The Outrunners look like the kind of guys my grandpa would have rooted for on Championship Wrestling from Florida.

Like everyone I’ve mentioned so far, Turbo Floyd and Truth Magnum are unabashed heels, dirty cheaters who look for every angle they can get to seize their advantage over their prettier, often younger opponents. They’re equally adept with zingers and one-liners as they are with putting together some slam-bang action. They get plenty of boos from the ladies and the kids, but there’s a solid block of guys who will cheer Truth and Turbo on against anyone.

Yep, I’m one of those guys.

The Outrunners went 25 minutes during the August 24 TV taping with Level X. No one was fidgeting or watching the clock during either bout. From start to finish, it was as entertaining a match as I’ve ever seen live, ending with a no contest finish that set up their Saturday night double dog collar match on August 27 that you can watch here:

It’s worth noting that the Tornado Tag from August 24 really made me appreciate the boys from Level X. Axton Ray took an absolute beating in that bout and never quit. He and his partner Blanco Loco have a bright future. 

Truth Magnum was once known as Shiloh Jonze, and back in 2014, he was one half of one of my favorite matches ever at the Davis Arena with his former tag partner Raul Espinoza. I’ll have to reprint that story sometime, as it was published in my now out of print book Eat Sleep Wrestle. 

Click here to follow Truth, and click here to follow Turbo. 

Freya the Slaya

Freya the Slaya

Yep, another heel. The biggest, baddest woman in the OVW women’s division, the Queen of the North is pretty universally hated by the OVW fans. That’s due in large part to how well Freya plays the role given her. 

Freya has a lot in common with Jack Vaughn in the way she works. She’s slower, more deliberate, and she makes every move look devastating. She may not be the current OVW Women’s Champion, thanks in part to her “ex-boyfriend” referee Aaron Grider, but until someone knocks her off her pedestal, she is still the most dominant woman in the house. 

And shout out to Aaron Grider, who two years ago appeared in a short film for me during Covid. Aaron got a lot of TV time during Freya’s recent run as champ, and he made the most of it. You hated him for letting himself be led around by the nose, and when Freya let her true feelings be known, your heart broke for him. 

You can follow Freya here, and you can follow Aaron here. 

Jay Malachi

Jay Malachi

Jay stands out on this list for two reasons. One, he’s a babyface, the only one I’ll write about in this column. And two… this kid didn’t exactly grow on me. He grabbed me from the moment he hit the ring. 

Jay is tall, fit, and incredibly athletic. He flies high when he’s on offense, and he flops hard when he’s taking a beating. Every time I see this kid, he’s doing something new in the air or off the ropes. He’s incredibly fast and remarkably creative, and when he takes to the sky, it feels like he’s in the air forever. 

Oh yeah, I almost forgot. He’s also eighteen years old. 

I’ve seen Jay twice at OVW and once at Paradigm Pro Wrestling in Jeffersonville. I sure hope to see a lot more of him in the coming years, and I don’t mean on the local scene. 

You can follow Jay here on Twitter. 

One final note. Al Snow’s stated goal with OVW is that everyone who works at Davis Arena, from the wrestlers and refs to the backstage crew, can use it as a launching pad to the next level in professional wrestling. It’s worth noting that Shalonce Royal, The Outrunners, and Freya the Slaya have all made appearances on AEW Dark. They’re not the only current OVW roster members to do so, and they definitely won’t be the last.

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FTC Lights Up the (Mid)Night

The setting felt as outlaw as they come. Nestled less than a stone’s throw between the Ohio River and an active rail line sat a rusted, metal warehouse with an empty gravel lot just big enough to hold a wrestling ring. A trailer bearing the promotion’s logo stood next to the metal-framed entrance curtain, and four, bright LED lamps on fifteen foot stands provided all the illumination around the wrestling ring. The night air was at least cool, thanks to a few thunderstorms earlier in the day, and the bridge from Ohio to Kentucky illuminated in purple gave the scene an almost romantic backdrop.

Fans were already claiming their spots in the grass opposite the warehouse when I arrived at 7:30. There were a hundred or more by the 9 p.m. bell time, when the ring announcer took a moment to honor the veterans in the audience before asking everyone to stand for the national anthem. Finally, the first wrestler’s music hit, and FTC’s Midnight Madness was underway in Ironton, Ohio.

If you’re picturing the infamous meme on social media mocking your typical, local wrestling promotion (the champion is also the owner, the champ’s kid is on the card, and the veteran who once worked as an extra on Raw), you’ve got the scene all wrong. There were several names on the card that made the three hour trip from my hometown worthwhile: T.I.M. The Infinite Man, Dani Mo, Facade, and the big surprise added to the fatal four-way at the end of the night, Dustin Jackson.

“Is that OVW’s Dustin Jackson?” I whispered to my host after hearing his name announced.

Bobby Blaze grinned. “Yes, sir!”

As I said on a few social media accounts Saturday night, this evening’s entertainment reminded me why I fell in love with indy wrestling. The show had a little of everything: singles, tags, a street fight, and the aforementioned fatal five way. Facade thrilled everyone by taking a leap off the top of the only port-a-pot on the grounds, and Calab Thorne gave everyone a jolt when Misery tossed him off the top of the FTC trailer, over my book table, and onto a pile of three other guys.

@johncosperauthor

And they missed the book table. Phew! Great night in Ironton watching FTC wrestling. #indiewrestling #ftc

♬ original sound – John Cosper

The intimacy of the setting led to some great interaction between fans and wrestlers, the kind of thing you just don’t get at a TV taping. Two little girls raced up to get hugs from every babyface, and one of them got a bit of a fright from T.I.M. when she boldly ran up to taunt him after his loss. Nursing his injuries, T.I.M. turned and screamed, “AAAAAA!!!” at the girls, causing the smaller one to leap back a good ten feet.

I have Bobby Blaze to thank for my ringside seat Saturday night, and the fans have Bobby to thank for the quality behind much of the action. Many of the wrestlers working the show are students of his, and I couldn’t help hearing shades of Tracy Smothers as I listened to Bobby silently comment all through the action.

“Slow it down! Take your time! There you go, that’s it! Now why are you taking him back there? The fans can’t see you!”

Bobby’s passion is evident not only in the commentary, but the way he brags on his kids. As Jock Sampson did his own Tracy Smothers impression, running down the fans on the mic, Bobby filled me in on the kid in the opposite corner, Steve Meek. “He’s a great singer. He’s in a barbershop quartet, and he’s headed back to college this fall.”

One young lady I was eager to see was Reese Ramone, who I spotlighted a few months ago on this blog. You can read my previous interview with her here. Reese took on the heel role in a street fight/ blow off match with fan favorite Sarah Bubbles. The ladies brawled in and out of the ring, with Reese taking a hard bump off the side of the trailer and Sarah taking some wicked shots from Reese’s cowboy boots that everyone could feel. Proud wrestling poppa Bobby Blaze had nothing but praise for the girls throughout the fight. “Take your time! Don’t rush! That’s it, perfect!”

Reese demonstrated her skills as a majorette, a role she fills for the Marshall University marching band, twirling her baton and using it on Sarah as a weapon. Alas it was Sarah who seized the baton, using it to finish Reese and bring the match – and their current feud – to an end.

The teacher wasn’t done with the student. Reese not only got feedback from Bobby following her bout, she sat under the learning tree as he continued to share his own private commentary with the two of us through the night’s remaining matches. Bobby’s a hell of a teacher. That much was evident last summer when I discovered his former student Judi-Rae Hendrix, who is now with OVW. Reese is smart, talented, and oh so good at being bad. She’s also a heck of a nice person, when she’s not telling booing little children to shut up. I expect to see her have great success in the years to come.

One of my long-time best friends lives across the river from Ironton in Ashland, Kentucky. He’s not a fan, but he had told me several times the last few weeks what a great job the local wrestling promoters were doing. He wasn’t exaggerating. FTC runs shows all over the tri-state area, and if you’re close by or passing through when the next show kicks off, it’s worth the trip. I had a blast watching the action, seeing good friends, and getting my own ear full of Bobby Blaze’s wisdom.

You can follow FTC on Twitter and Facebook.

Bobby Blaze can be found on Twitter.

Reese Ramone can be found on Twitter and Instagram.

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Girl Fight Brings the Heat

What kind of fools would go out on a sweltering Tuesday night to sit in a notoriously steamy building to watch a wrestling show?

Well, me, for one. And a bunch of other fans spoiling for a Girl Fight.

Despite the intense heat and humidity, the ladies and the fans turned out for Girl Fight this week, and the speedy, single-intermission show delivered with action the fans have come to expect.

Our night kicked off with the boisterous girl from Rydell High Big Mama wrestling the under-handed Savannah Sweet. Big Mama has always been popular with the Jeffersonville crowd, but it was the underhanded Sweet with her foreign object that stole a victory in the opener.

The second match brought two ladies who debuted in April to the ring. I’m becoming a fan of Big Boss Anika, whose Florence Pugh-like Russian accent and constant chatter are a riot to hear. It was Rachel Armstrong, though, who stole the show with the move of the night: a beautiful 450 off the top turnbuckle that had every gasping. Armstrong impressed last month in her debut against Billie Starkz, and she solidified her status as a new fan favorite with her first Girl Fight win.

The final match before intermission saw Bashley Bones in a losing effort against Randi West. West has been absent from Girl Fight for some time, and the crowd was thrilled to see her back at The Arena. She’s one of the toughest broads in the business, and it was great to see her back.

After a quick cool off, the action resumed with another return: “Big Al” Alice Crowley wrestling Mickie Knuckles. Big Al is a protege of Randi West who has been absent from the Girl Fight spotlight for a few years, and she’s come a long way from the girl who had her first ever match at the Arena. The veteran Mickie Knuckles, fresh off a banger of a deathmatch over the weekend against Sawyer Wreck, was too much for Big Al and took home the win in a slug fest.

Speaking of Sawyer Wreck, the 6’2″ powerhouse made quick work of the over-matched Eva Lee. Everything about Sawyer, from her ring entrance to her fluid movements to the cocky grin on her face spells superstar. In April I envisioned her in a “Property of NXT” T-shirt. Last night, I was picturing her standing toe to toe with Jade Cargill.

The first featured match of the night followed with Allie Katch wrestling long-time Girl Fight star Charlie Kruel. One of the things I love about Girl Fight being in my backyard is watching ladies like Kruel go from fresh-faced rookies to fully-formed wrestlers. Charlie Kruel has never looked as good as she did Tuesday. She was confident. She was crafty. She’s picked up a lot over the past year and even the past few months. She has long had one of the biggest hearts in pro wrestling, and she’s developing the skill set to match.

The final match of the evening was for the Girl Fight Championship. Billie Starkz issued an open challenge for the title, and Candy Jones showed up to accept. Unlike last month, when Billie showed her heel side against poor Rachel Armstrong, the teen sensation behaved herself. She took the win and retained her championship with her signature smile, sending the soaked-with-sweat fans home happy.

For the second show in a row, Girl Fight delivered an all-female event. From the ring announcer to the referees to the TV announcers, Girl Fight is all about girl power. Despite the heat, they delivered another solid show mixing veterans, new faces, and long-time favorites.

Here’s hoping it’s a little cooler the next time they come to Jeffersonville… not that that’s likely to keep the fans away!

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Take a Trip With Mars

I’m so excited to see the reaction to this book so far. When you write about a wrestler who was born 100 years ago (this August) and died 65 years ago (also this August), you don’t do it for the money. It’s for the love of the person. It’s a real joy when other people fall in love with them too!

Mars Bennett caught my eye while I was writing about Elvira Snodgrass. She appeared in a “cheesecake” publication from 1948 that Elvira was also in. Elvira was part of a pro wrestling pictorial. Mars was one page over, featured separately. She was hugely popular with the pin-ups and a favorite with those who liked girls with muscles.

A natural athlete, Mars excelled at sports in high school. I’ve seen many photos of her athletic prowess, including some fun, acrobatic shots on the beach with her brother. She was a natural on the webs and the trapeze when she joined the circus, and she became a stellar pro wrestler.

Mars crammed a lot of living into 35 years. She loved performing and being in the spotlight. She loved meeting famous people and collecting autographs. She was engaged twice: once to a jeweler, and once to comedian Larry Storch, before he became a TV legend. She also found love with one of her fellow lady wrestlers, Belle Drummond. The two shared a home, a car, a pair of dogs, and hundreds of adventures.

The Girl With The Iron Jaw includes over 70 photos, many of them from the family archives. You’ll read dozens of great stories including a bar fight, Texas death matches, a kidnapped dog, and the night she took a punch in the ring from Dory Funk, Sr. It’s a wild ride that comes to a sad, tragic end, but a true celebration of a bygone era and a legendary figure.

This book is now in stock! 

Click here to order your signed copy.

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The Education of Reese Ramone

I thought I knew what busy was. Then I met Reese Ramone.

Reese and I shook hands for the first time last weekend in Ashland, Kentucky. She’s an avid fan of history. Not just pro wrestling, but history in general, and she checked out all the books on my table. She’s minoring in history at Marshall University in addition to majoring in electrical and computer engineering. She’s also a majorette who performs with the university’s marching band.

Oh yeah, on top of all that? She’s a professional wrestler.

Reese’s journey to lacing up her boots began when she discovered wrestling on television. “I was just flipping through channels and found Smackdown. I saw Cameron dressed in a pretty school girl’s outfit, and it caught my eye. I always did dance, and I loved pretty outfits, and I thought it was so cool.”

Reese’s father noticed her interest and started telling her about the wrestling he grew up watching. Right from the start, she knew she wanted to try it. She just didn’t know how! “I didn’t know about wrestling schools, and it seemed unattainable. I decided it was something I could just enjoy on TV.”

When Reese arrived on campus in Huntington, West Virginia, she heard about the Art of Grappling wrestling school in nearby Ironton, Ohio. She met with owner Joe Pace, who also runs FTC Wrestling in Ashland, Kentucky. Pace told her he was planning to build out a women’s division at FTC, and with his encouragement,  she decided sign up.

“I didn’t tell my parents at first,” she says. “I had a show the day before my birthday, so they finally found out. They were scared of me getting hurt, but they were pretty supportive.”

Reese had her first few lessons with former WWE Diva Jillian Hall. “I took my first bumps in front of her, and she taught me a lot about working the women’s style: hair pulling and cat fighting.”

Her second of third week, Jillian was joined by another trainer: Bobby Blaze. Hall and Blaze worked together for a while, and Reese learned a great deal from them both. When the two decided to split, Reese stayed with Bobby.

“He’s been so good to me. He’s invested a lot of time and wisdom in me. He helped me build my social media presence. He introduced me to the guy who did my entrance music. He’s a world class trainer.”

Reese has learned a lot by doing. “I was told on my first night I had to cut a promo! I thought, there’s no way! It wasn’t bad, but I was so nervous.”

It helped to have a lifeline available. “Bobby called me that night. He talked to me for like an hour, giving me confidence and talking me through everything. He’s been so good to me.”

Reese is juggling a lot with school, wrestling, and marching band, but she’s found a way to balance everything while looking to the future. She’s considering a number of career and post-secondary options, but she also hopes to wrestle for the WWE one day.

“Being a majorette helps so much with my conditioning,” she says. “People have no idea how physically demanding marching is. It helps a lot with my cardio.”

Reese can also talk history, and as a history nut myself, it was difficult to stick to wrestling when we spoke. Suffice to say next time I see her at a show, it’s just as likely I’ll strike up a conversation about the new Netflix movie Operation: Mincemeat with her as talk shop about wrestling.

Reese has the drive to succeed in pro wrestling. She’s also got a trainer who has her back and has laid a solid foundation for her. I’m glad our paths crossed last week, and I’m excited to see where she goes in the years to come.

You can follow Reese on Twitter and Instagram!

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Lady Wrestler Unveils an Unforgettable Tale of Wrestling Pioneers

When the largest wrestling company in the world tried to honor the second African American woman to lace up the boots, they made three mistakes. One, they didn’t not contact her family. Two, they got their facts wrong, claiming she was the first. And three, they used footage of the wrong wrestler in their video packages.

Ouch.

When you rely on one company that held a monopoly on pro wrestling for more than thirty years for your history, you’re not going to get the full story. Fortunately for us, filmmaker Chris Bournea went to the source in creating the documentary Lady Wrestler, a wonderful tribute to the first African American ladies of the wrestling ring.

Ethel Johnson was not only the second lady wrestler to enter the business, she was the second of three sisters to do so! Lady Wrestler centers on the story of Johnson, older sister Babs Wingo, and younger sister Marva Scott. Through interviews with Ethel Brown, Ramona Isabel, family members, and Johnson herself, it tells an uplifting and inspiring tale of three black women who dreamed big.

All in all Lady Wrestler is a much more positive look at women’s wrestling than its predecessor Lipstick and Dynamite. Even its portrayal Billy Wolfe, whose seedy business practices have been well documented, focuses on the good. Wolfe took note of how Jackie Robinson changed professional baseball and opened the door for black women to try pro wrestling. Johnson, Wingo, and Scott were willing to give it a try, drawn in by the public image of the world champion Mildred Burke with her furs and diamonds.

Johnson and Isabel truly shine in the film as the ladies share how professional wrestling allowed them to make a better life for their families. It’s incredible hearing how they devoted themselves not only to traveling the world and working but raising their kids. One of the funniest moments comes when Johnson’s kids tell the stories of how they discovered their mom was “someone,” including coming home from school to find The Incredible Hulk’s Lou Ferrigno in their living room!

Bournea doesn’t shy away from the hardships the ladies faced. Jim Crow laws and systemic racism made life hard for the lady wrestlers in and out of the ring. A particularly heart-breaking story took place in Japan, when the jeers and racial slurs of the Japanese fans caused Marva Scott to have a nervous breakdown.

In the end, the African American ladies got what they wanted from pro wrestling. They made a good living, they provided for their families, and they left an incredible legacy for their children and grandchildren. The descendants of these ring pioneers know beyond a doubt they can be anything they want to be. not only did they see an African American become president, their mom/grandmother/great-grandmother was a professional wrestler!

Lady Wrestler is a must see for lovers of pro wrestling. Ethel Johnson was able to see the completed film before her passing, and it has the full endorsement of the families featured. It’s important to the survivors of these ring pioneers that their beloved mothers and grandmothers are not only remembered but remembered accurately. Lady Wrestler is the kind of tribute such wrestlers truly deserve.

Click here to watch Lady Wrestler on Amazon Prime. 

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Keep an Eye on Judi-Rae Hendrix

At first Judi-Rae Hendrix never paid much attention to professional wrestling. It was on all the time, thanks to her brothers, but she never paid attention until the day her brother said, “Hey, there’s girls wrestling!”

“What do you mean there’s girls wrestling?” she said.

Even though she was a tomboy, wrestling was too much of a boy thing for her. Then she discovered A.J. Lee. “She was in a tag with Tamina and someone else again Natalya and the Funkadactyls,” Hendrix recalls. “I was like, holy cow! This girl reminded me so much of myself. The way she wrestled, the way she presented herself, she was everything I wanted to be.”

Judi-Rae started looking up more wrestling and specifically, more ladies wrestling. She learned about other ladies who worked the squared circle, and she wanted to see them all. At the age of eleven she had found her thing. She was hooked.

Just a few years later she took an interests test in middle school to help her identify potential career options. “Mine came back as professional athlete/ actor/ stunt person. I thought to myself, professional athlete. Professional wrestler! Oh yeah! I could do it! I’ve had my heart set since that day.”

As enthusiastic as she was, her parents did not accept Judi-Rae’s career choice. “They said, ‘You want to do what now? No, no, no. Go to college and get a real job. Be a doctor or be a teacher. Then if you want you can train.’ I didn’t want to be a doctor because I don’t like being around sick people, and I didn’t want to be a teacher because children talk.” Thankfully, Mom and Dad saw her passion and struck a bargain. If she paid for wrestling school and also agreed to go to college, she could train. “The same week I turned in my high school cheerleading uniform, I started training.”

Judi-Rae has trained relentlessly since that day. She started out with Chris Cannon and Shane Douglas, and she moved on to train with Bobby Blaze and Jillian Hall. She’s also taken seminars with other legends like Ricky Morton, Mr. Hughes, and Jimmy Valiant. When we met, she purchased a copy of Tracy Smothers’ book and told me she had been signed up for a seminar before he passed away. The girl knows and loves her history!

Hendrix is a true student of wrestling. She’s a sponge soaking up every bit of knowledge she can get, from the history of the business to the psychology of building a match. “Shane Douglas didn’t just show us how to do things but why we do them. Bobby and Jillian made my ring psychology even sharper, and in doing so, they helped me clean up my ring work. Working with them made a lot of the lessons I’d learned elsewhere click.”

Hendrix is only a year and a half into her wrestling journey, but she carries herself in the ring with the confidence of a a true professional. She stunned the regular Girl Fight fans back in June by not only working the main event against champion Billie Starkz, but hanging with her the entire time. I spoke with Bobby Blaze after the match about her, and Blaze was thrilled to hear his star pupil had done so well. “I’m looking for her to do good things in her future with the business,” he told me.

Based out of Eastern Kentucky, Hendrix has done most of her work in the West Virginia area but is looking to expand. When I met her in June, she was griping over the application she had to fill out to wrestle in Kentucky. “You want to know why you need to fill that out?” said her Dad. “The reason is right behind you.” He pointed to Girl Fight promoter Mad Man Pondo and laughed. (Read Pondo’s book if you don’t know about Kentucky’s Pondo/ Rotten rules.)

Hendrix has worked a number of matches with West Virginia’s Killjoy Kolbe Max, and she loves working against OVW’s Women’s Champ Hollywood Haley J. Long term she wants to wrestling in Japan and the WWE, but in the immediate future, she’s hoping to have more matches with Haley J and Billie Starkz. She also wants to work with Kenzie Page, and she’s gunning for her trainer Jillian Hall. “It’s gonna happen sooner or later, and I swear I’m gonna beat her!”

Judi-Rae Hendrix is one of the people I love rooting for in the wrestling business. She is bright, engaging, and fun, and her talent is only exceeded by her heart. She’s also driven by something deeper than just a love of wrestling that goes far back into her life story.

“I was an adopted child, and I suffered all kinds of abuse in my early years. My birth mom was special needs and never got to do the things she wanted to do. She’s passed away now, but knowing her story fires me up to live the life my mom didn’t get to.”

Like Bobby Blaze, I want to see Judi-Rae make it big in the business. One you see her in the ring, you’ll feel the same way.

You can follow Judi-Rae on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

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Masters of Pain Caps Off Great Weekend at IWA East Coast

It’s been twenty months since I took a road trip to see professional wrestling, and IWA East Coast broke the Covid-enforced moratorium with a bang this past weekend. The promotion hosted three shows from Friday through Saturday, and the entire weekend was a blast.

IWA East Coast hosted their festivities at Skateland, a roller rink set up inside an old elementary school just southeast of downtown Charleston, West Virginia. The decor along the two story walls surrounding the rink included playful graffiti, billiards tables and accessories, and high up in one corner, a life-size replica of Michael Myers, complete with butcher’s knife.

“To me, this building represents all of West Virginia,” said one local on Saturday afternoon. “You have all this fun stuff, and then, a little bit of creepiness.”

Made sense to me. Earlier that day I made the obligatory one hour trek to Point Pleasant to see the Mothman Museum and statue. Yes, it’s absolutely worth the extra time and your $4.50 admission. (You will spend more in the shop. Trust me!)

Back to the wrestling. The action began Friday night when eight men took part in the Zero G Crown Tournament, including Kincaid, Facade, Gary Jay, Aaron Williams, and Jake Crist. The first round match up between Crist and Williams alone made the trip worthwhile for me, but the entire evening was full of great action.

Third generation wrestler Malcolm Monroe III came into the building as an unknown, but by the end of the evening, everyone was chanting “Three! Three! Three!” Host Mad Man Pondo hyped the kid up in his first major event outside his home state of Michigan. Odds are he’s going to be doing a lot more traveling in the near future.

Fans dumped plenty of hate on Jake Crist, who heeled it up all night long as he sailed through the brackets. At one point the crowd split with a “Let’s go Jake Crist / Dave is better chant.” The former Impact star proved he deserves to still be on someone’s roster, and he took home a giant trophy to add to his resume.

Saturday afternoon, the ladies of Girl Fight took center stage. Fans were treated to two great opening matches featuring Girl Fight regulars Charlie Kruel, Mickie Knuckles, Nikki Victory, and Big Mama.  A lesser known competitor named Shayla Hyde put the Girl Fight fans on notice when she hit a 619 on the Black Widow Harley Fairfax. The crowd popped big, and Shayla scored a huge upset.

Another new face who impressed was young Judi-Rae Hendrix from Lexington, Kentucky. I met Judi on Friday night, when she picked up a copy of Tracy Smothers’ book and told me she was training with Bobby Blaze. Having not met her before, I was surprised to see Hendrix in the main event slot with newly crowned Girl Fight champion Billie Starkz. Hendrix quickly showed she belonged, going toe to toe with Starkz and earning a “This is awesome” chant after hitting the champ with a Canadian Destroyer.

Starkz got the win, but fans definitely took note of Hendrix and her tenacity. This is another young lady to watch in the coming years!

Saturday evening was the Masters of Pain deathmatch tournament, featuring eight of the best deathmatch artists in the world: Shlak, Shane Mercer, John Wayne Murdoch, Akira, Jimmy Lloyd, G Raver, Alex Colon, and Nolan Edwards. To be honest I am not a deathmatch guy, but I have endless respect for the men and women who do these types of matches. I also firmly believe that some of the deathmatch specialists are among the very best wrestlers in the world, period.

I’ve often said you could take John Wayne Murdoch, put him in a time machine, and drop him in Memphis or Mid-South during their hey day. A number of the guys competing with him Saturday night would do equally well in that sci-fi scenario.

The show was fun and frenetic from start to finish, but the match that had everyone buzzing in the building and online was the second round clash between Shane Mercer and Akira. Why Mercer is not signed to a major company is beyond me. His combination of power and athleticism are unmatched on the indies. Mercer and Akira dueled it out in a shower of glass shards and fluorescent lights with big flips and power moves throughout. Akira outlasted Mercer, and afterwards, Mercer took a moment on the mic to honor the student who had just bested one of his teachers.

The evening came to a grand finale when Akira and Nolan Edwards entered a ring filled with fan-made weapons to fight for the Masters of Pain trophy. The boys made use of everything from a door covered in barbed wire to a preschool baseball bat covered in glass Christmas ornaments. That said, it was the garbage can full of light tubes that stole the show. The boys began trading head shots, one after another, faster and faster, as if determined not to leave a single bulb unbroken. The flurry of popping glass had the fans on their feet, stomping and screaming for more. The night ultimately belonged to Akira, who bested his close friend and brother Nolan Edwards to win the tournament.

IWA East Coast plans to bring back Masters of Pain next year. If they do it up like these did this year, I highly recommend fans making the trip. The hospitality is warm and friendly. The local flavor is fun. And as I already mentioned, the Mothman is only an hour away… although Mad Man Pondo swears he heard the creature in his hotel room Friday night.

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Happy Birthday, Princess Victoria

CAC Honoree and legendary ladies wrestler Princess Victoria is turning the big 6-0 this Wednesday, May 5. Her sister Mary asked me to put on a little surprise for her. Here’s the video from Thursday night, when Raven Lake joined us for a conversation on Wrestling Bookmarks. Lots of birthday wishes and great stories, plus a run-in from AEW’s Nyla Rose.

Click here to order a signed copy of Victoria’s book.