I haven’t been posting stories to this site very much lately. Part of that is just being busy, but another reason for my lack of content is the opportunity Sam! Wrestling has given me.
Greg Oliver at Slam! has long been a big help to me with research on my books, and over the last year, I’ve begun contributing stories to his website. A number of those stories profiled the stars of OVW, a subject near and dear to my heart. So for those who missed them, here’s where you can catch up:
The calendar said Groundhog’s Day, but love was in the air at Ohio Valley Wrestling – at least for a few folks in the stands, who took advantage of OVW’s Valentines ticket packages that night. A packed crowd showed up to see some outstanding action, including two great hourly main events and another show-stealing performance by The Derby City Destroyers and The Outrunners.
In the time I’ve been a regular attendee at OVW, one of the most exciting things to see is the growth in the weekly crowd. Granted, Tough Love was the promotions “special event” for the month of February, but the seats were packed from one side of Davis Arena to the other for what had to be the third largest crowd of the year after the two Nightmare Rumble shows in January.
Last night’s crowd was particularly engaged and vocal. Maybe it’s the local brew or the local food now being served at the concession stand courtesy of Gorilla Bob’s Grub Shack, but last night’s crowd would chant anything – literally. At one point they actually chanted, “We’ll chant anything!”
The OVW roster gave them plenty to cheer about, from a frenetic rematch between Blanco Loco and Hy Zaya to the Rush Division Speed Rumble won by Kat Herro, to the first in what’s sure to be a classic series between Ryan Von Rockit and Star Rider.
The first hour ended with a long-anticipated clash between Hollyhood Haley J and the “fallen” Shawna Reed. Reed, who found herself stranded in the UK earlier this week, showed no sign of jet lag as she and Haley battled in and out of the ring in a no hold barred, no DQ match. With OVW Women’s Champ Shaloncé Royal on guest commentary, the ladies endured some wicked chair shots and suplexes on the outside of the ring, and when Haley took a face full of red mist from Shawna, it appeared to be over. Haley persevered, so Shawna tried again, this time misting referee Charlene in the face.
Desperate to steal a win from her foe, Haley grabbed Shawna and kissed her hard at the center of the ring. Dazed and stunned, Shawna then got a taste of her own medicine as Haley hit her in the face with mist and scored the win.
A pair of tag matches dominated the second hour action, including a two out of three falls contest between The Derby City Destroyers, Big Beef Gnarls Garvin and Biz Zo, and The Outrunners, Truth Magnum and Turbo Floyd. The Florida boys, most recently featured on AEW Dynamite against The Acclaimed (ahem, Tony Khan, just sign them already!) were taken by surprise before the bell even rang, and the referee awarded them a win for the first fall after Big Beef used a steel chair. A badly beaten Truth Magnum couldn’t even get to his feet after the early attack, and the second fall went to The Destroyers.
Honestly, the quick two falls felt like a cheat, but the action in the deciding fall made up for the quickness of the first two. As I mentioned on Twitter last night, I’ve seen OVW do homage to the famous Eddie Guerrero chair spot before, and last night, as before, they did it with a twist. Turbo Floyd shared video of his clever tactics on Twitter last night:
The Outrunners won the deciding fall, and Turbo scored a huge laugh with his ref massage, but it was Big Zo who got the biggest pop of the match. As Zo waited his turn to tag back into the match, the vociferous crowd taunted Zo about a slight wardrobe malfunction: “Fix your wedgie! Fix your wedgie!” Zo must have had his eye on the monitors because as soon as we went to commercial, he grabbed the spandex on his rear cheeks and pulled his trunks even tighter into his crack. The crowd ate it up. Zo didn’t even crack a smile as he adjusted himself in plenty of time for the feed to go live again. Mad respect to the big man.
The main event of the evening pitted Cash Flo against two members of OVW’s newest heel faction led by the infamous Jessie Godderz. Godderz himself took the ring with EC3 to face Cash and a partner of his choosing. Fans were elated when Tony “Don’t Call Him Mudd” Gunn made his long-awaited return to Davis Arena for the match.
Gunn was force to watch for most of the match as Cash took on both men, though not by choice. Godderz and EC3 cut the ring in half and gave the big man a rough go, keeping Gunn in the corner by refusing to allow the tag. With Shannon the Dude at ringside, the heels employed plenty of dirty tricks to keep the odds in their favor, but Cash was eventually able to spring free and give Gunn a chance to throw hands with EC3 and his bitter rival, Jessie Godderz.
Alas, a happy ending was not in the cards for Tough Love. This new faction, which also includes Mahabali Shera, Luke Curtis, and Adam Revolver, is proving to be almost unstoppable. Right after EC3 and Godderz got the win, Godderz took to the mike to run down the crowd and send them home even angrier. Then EC3 got on the mike, taunting the fans, asking where they were going and why they were so sad.
OVW truly stands out for their ability to tell a long term story, and much as the fans HATE this new alliance, they’re not going away any time soon. They already own three belts, and they’ve got their sights set on claiming all the gold. There are tag team titles to be won, along with the Country Boy Brewing Kentucky Championship. The tale of Haley J and Shawna Reed might – and I stress MIGHT – be over, but this new tale of domination from six dirty, cheating heels is just ramping up.
OVW is live every Thursday night at Davis Arena in Louisville and on FITE.
This story has been a long, long time coming. I’ve been friends with Charlene McKenzie for several years now. We’ve crossed paths at dozens of shows, and she’s graciously given me interviews for other stories. Now, finally, I’m happy to be sharing her story.
Most fans in the Kentuckiana area have seen Charlene working for one promotion or another over the last twelve years, from IWA Mid-South to Girl Fight to Terry Harper Presents to Ohio Valley Wrestling, where she currently does most of her work. Few fans know her true origin story: she was born overseas, the daughter of a U.S. Army soldier and a German woman.
“I have dual citizenship,” she told me recently. “German and American. I was born in Germany, but when my dad transferred back to the States, he brought me and my mom back with him.”
The family lived on a few Army bases until Charlene’s parents split. At the age of seven, she moved to Florida with her mom, but by the time she was fifteen, she had moved to Kentucky to be with her dad.
“I was always a daddy’s girl,” she says.
Charlene was a lapsed fan when she came across wrestling on television in 2006. Her father introduced her to pro wrestling early in life, and it became her escape when she moved to a neighborhood in Florida with few kids. She hadn’t watched in several years, but a familiar face made her set down the remote control.
“I saw Edge, and I thought, hey, this guy looks familiar,” she said. “I kept watching that night and every week, and that’s when I fell in love with it again.”
Wrestling took hold of her for good this second time around, so much so that she started looking for a place to train. After moving back to Kentucky, she heard about a school across the river in Indiana where she could give wrestling a try.
“The promotion was called Classic Championship Wrestling,” she says. “It was run by Marcus Snyder, who used to be at Ohio Valley Wrestling. Crybaby Chris Alexander was with them as well. I was only sixteen at the time.”
When CCW went on hiatus, Charlene went back to being, in her words, a normal high school kid. A friend of her started training at OVW, so she started attending their weekly shows. Through her friend, she got to know a number of wrestlers at the school, but it frustrated her that they treated her like a fan.
One day her dad came home from work at University of Louisville Hospital with the name and number of a trainer in Madison, Indiana, about 45 minutes from Louisville. Charlene contacted the guy, and she started training again. She was glad to be back in the ring, but this time around, she realized that being a wrestler was not for her. “I was not athletic enough, and I didn’t want my body to be all beat up.”
Charlene had done enough to impress Biff Wellington, who was booking the Madison promotion at the time. He approached her and asked if she might want to try being a referee. Charlene said yes, and Biff immediately started to use her. Soon she was working for other promoters, starting with Bobo Brazil, Jr., who ran shows in nearby Austin, Indiana.
“I was still in high school. I think I was still seventeen,” she said. “Then after high school, I met Mickie and Pondo. That’s when things really started to take off.”
Fans of Mickie Knuckles and Mad Man Pondo know both deathmatch legends have a reputation for identifying and helping young talent. That goes for referees as well as wrestlers. Mickie and Pondo started calling Charlene any time they went on the road. She shook a lot of hands, set up a lot of chairs, and she learned to always to bring her striped shirt along for the ride.
“Pondo has always been like a wrestling dad to me,” she says. “He’s always looking to be entertained. I got to meet Jesco White from the reality show The Wonderful Whites of West Virginia when Pondo insisted we stop by his place unannounced and uninvited. I sat in his living room.”
Charlene was a regular face at most of the promotions in Southern Indiana when I started writing about pro wrestling back in 2014, but she wanted to work in her hometown. She wanted to get in with OVW. Her initial overtures to the promotion were ignored, in part because of some of the other promotions she had worked, but a match she called for Casey Reeves gave her a foot in the door.
“Something happened in the match, and Casey kind of got lost,” says Charlene. “I knew something was wrong, so I called a new finish on the fly. He was a little pissed at first, but then he thought about what I had done and how I had helped. He knew I was a team player, and he appreciated my quick thinking.”
Casey pointed Charlene in the right direction, and soon she was in contact with Adam Revolver. Adam put Charlene in some dark matches, and when she proved she was ready, she started refereeing on OVW television.
Charlene has seen a lot of changes at OVW since her arrival. Two years into her tenure, Danny Davis sold the company to Al Snow. “Al has been incredible. He’s always available when I have a question, and he’s very hands on and involved with all of us. We’ve all learned so much from him.”
Charlene was the second person in the ring on the night of OVW’s 1000th television episode, broadcast live from Fourth Street Live in Louisville. “That was a special night. It was one of the last live shows my dad saw before he passed away. I remember sitting with him in the crowd for episode 500.”
Even though her wrestling ambitions ended years ago, Charlene is thrilled to see how Al Snow’s arrival brought change to the OVW women’s division. “It’s a 180 degree change. There are more women and more women’s matches. He brought Amazing Maria in to oversee the women’s division, and it’s been incredible.”
Charlene’s day job keeps her extremely busy these days, but she works OVW as often as she can and even trains in the advanced class with Doug Basham. “With the refs, they focus a lot on out positioning in the ring, knowing where the camera is. Also, we work on making sure the wrestlers stay safe. Doug’s a great teacher, and Al’s classes are amazing too.”
It’s a far cry from the typical baptism by fire independent referees usually get. “They’re like, ‘Can you count to three? Cool. Put this shirt on and tuck it in.’” she jokes.
Charlene continues to work with other promotions when she has the time and opportunity, including Mad Man Pondo’s Girl Fight Wrestling and the upcoming XCF show in Jeffersonville promoted by Terry Harper. “I worked my first Pride show last weekend. It was an amazing experience, working with my old friend Jimmy Feltcher and so many others from the LGBTQ community. They had a drag show in between the matches.”
Working at OVW has also given Charlene a chance to work with Impact Wrestling, and she’s appeared on streaming and pay-per-view events for numerous promotions. Yet even if her hard work never leads to a signing with a major company, she’s incredibly grateful for the opportunities she’s had.
“I’ve done way more than I ever expected I could accomplish,” she says. “Learning from Al. Working Jerry Lynn’s second to last match. Working with so many heroes and amazing people. I’m very proud of what I’ve done.”
A big part of that pride comes from being a trailblazer as a woman wearing the stripes. “There weren’t that many female referees when I started, and there were none on TV. Now you see them all over. I’m definitely very proud of that.”
Charlene McKenzie is a true professional,a proven leader in the locker room and in the ring. She’s seen it all and done it all, from playing the blind referee who doesn’t see the misdeeds of the heels to taking the hard bump out to ring side.
“That looked pretty real, when you hit the apron tonight,” I told her one evening.
Nursing her elbow, she shook her head. “Yeah, that wasn’t planned.”
All things considered, she would have been a lot more beat up as a wrestler than she is as a ref.
I never get tired of seeing OVW live. Not these days. I haven’t been able to go every week this fall because of work and just life in general, but every time I go, I see something great.
The Nightmare Cup delivered a few great moments tonight. The gimmick this year is that tag teams are being selected by random draw, which is how Omar Amir came to team up with Adam Revolver while Tony Bizo teamed with Anthony F.N. Catena. The story for this match was played perfectly straight but was absolutely hilarious. The heels wanted to be heels, and their babyface partners just wouldn’t play ball. Amir and Catena repeatedly drew the ire of Revolver and Bizo by refusing to cheat, to do double teams, and to take cheap shots. “That’s not how we do this!” Amir told Revolver at one point.
The second Nightmare Cup brought a little of the same dynamic, at least on one side. “Hustla” Deget Bundlez of Dark Kloudz and “Big Whiskey” Jared Kripke struggled to get on the same page as Kripke refused to play dirty. Their opponents were much more in sync, thanks to a little heel play that took place backstage. When the official in charge of pulling names for partners was distracted, Truth Magnum slipped the name of his tag partner Turbo Floyd into the hopper. And as often happens, The Outrunners delivered one of the best matches of the night.
Speaking of The Outrunners, they were seeing double at ringside because Bryan Kennison and Steven Johnson dressed up as the tag team as part of the night’s Halloween festivities. Turbo and Truth were perplexed at first, but then decided, “We love it!” and high-fived the announcers.
Dressed as Captain Jack Morgan, Josh Ashcraft could only lament, “Am I the only grown up at this table tonight?”
The women’s division had a chance to shine this evening as well. Fans were treated to three matches, with Shalonce Royal defeating Judi Hendrix, Alice Crowley defeating Arie Alexander, and Haley J fighting Freya the Slaya to a no contest, thanks to the antics of Jessie Godderdz and Tony Gunn. It’s worth noting that Alice left Arie looking pretty shaken up in the middle of the ring. You can tell how serious a situation is by how many officials come out of the back, and tonight, all of the officials and Doug Basham rushed to Arie’s aid. Could we be on the verge of a monster push for Big Al?
Kudos also go to Manny Domingo, who continues to win over fans week to week with his blazing speed and aerial acrobatics. Domingo has taken OVW by storm, and fans are definitely keyed up to see him challenge Luke Kurtis for the Rush Championship.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t also give props to Superior Tony Evans, who took a beating not once but twice tonight. After cutting a stellar heel promo about how he intended to seize his moment, he poked the bear a little too hard and got laid out by the OVW Heavyweight and National Champion Cash Flo. An hour later he returned to take another whipping in an actual match with the always charismatic Luscious Lawrence.
Not to bury the lead here, but the best part of tonight for me didn’t take place in the ring. Tonight, I took my fourteen year old daughter Lydia to OVW for the first time, and she absolutely loved it. She caught on really quick that booing the heels is even more satisfying than cheering the babyfaces, and she took a special dislike to Tony Evans.
It was delightful looking through her eyes, seeing professional wrestling live for the first time. Well, second time. She’d seen some matches a few years ago at the Indianapolis Public Library, of all places, but this was her first real show. She became completely swept up in the moment. I saw her hands nervously shaking on her knees as the tag match between The Outrunners and Bundlez and Kripke raced to its climax. She howled with laughter every time Jessie Godderdz and Tony Gunn appeared, doing their Road Runner and Coyote act.
The kid was quite observant of things beyond the ring as well. “That guy’s running the whole show,” she said, remarking on the always in motion, always on the spot A.J. McKay at ringside. A.J. truly is one of the unsung heroes who makes the show tick every week, and it was cool to see her recognize that.
I was especially glad she got to see a modern show where the ladies are so well represented. I told her on the way home that what happened tonight rarely if ever happened twenty years ago. Three women’s matches took place in two hours, one of them was the main event. Huge kudos to Amazing Maria, Al Snow, and everyone who has brought the women’s division so far along!
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. This is not the OVW of old. It’s not even the OVW of a few years ago. This is a growing territory with a worldwide viewing audience. It’s a veteran-driven program that keeps fans watching week after week not just for the stars but the stories.
And tonight, much to my wife’s dismay, OVW made a fan out of my kid.
“I’m not gonna have a voice tomorrow,” she said on the way to the car. “Worth it,” she added.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.