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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.

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Pre-order Princess Victoria Now!

Princess Victoria is one of the unsung heroes of women’s wrestling. She only wrestled for four years, her career ending after a fluke accident, but she remains a fan favorite. She’s a Cauliflower Alley Club award winner and a Women’s Tag Team Champion. She’s also a true warrior, a survivor who overcame a horrific childhood before she ever set foot in the ring.

Vicki Otis holds nothing back in this new memoir. She is incredibly frank about the abuse she suffered as a child, a story she shares in hopes of helping others. Vicki will also make you laugh out loud with some fantastic memories of friends like Wendi Richter, Velvet McIntyre, Stan Stasiak, Buddy Rose, Sandy Barr, and Roddy Piper.

Books will be in stock this weekend and ship early next week. If you’re a fan of 80s wrestling or ladies wrestling, this is one you cannot miss!

Order your signed copy of Princess Victoria’s autobiography now! 

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Girl Fight: Billie Starkz vs. ELLA!

I can’t believe I’m a week late posting this. I’ve been waiting a long time to see Ella back in the ring. Not only is Ella back, she’s fighting Billie Starkz!

Ella was the only woman never to be pinned in Girl Fight before her hiatus. Can she keep the streak alive against Billie Starkz?

Girl Fight is presenting empty arena matches every week for its wrestling-starved fans for free. All they ask is, if you can, to send a few bucks to the ladies. Here’s where to send a little thank you to Ella and Billie:

Ella:
Venmo: @Elizabeth-Johnson-348

Billie:
Venmo: @Billie-Starkz
CashApp: $BillieStarkz
PayPal: BigStarkzBrand@gmail.com

And don’t forget, Ella also has a novel available on Amazon!

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Ella Screams Into OVW

Ella was on a hot streak in Girl Fight. She was unpinned in all her appearances, a staggering accomplishment in the promotion. After taking more than a year off, she has begun to make her presence known in new places.

Hollywood Haley J had her hands full with the scream queen this week. And I couldn’t be happier to see one of my favorite young stars back.

Keep an eye on Ella. She’s got the talent to go far. Oh yeah, read her novel too!

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Princess Victoria: Coming in April

I am very excited about this book.

I just re-read through the wrestling chapters tonight. Vicki has some tremendous stories about Wendi Richter, Velvet McIntyre, Stan Stasiak, Roddy Piper, and more.

This will not be an easy read for some. Her childhood was a living nightmare. It’s a story she wanted to tell in the hopes that other people with similar experiences can get help just as she has.

Available in April.