The WWE deserves credit for changing how they book women’s wrestling. Instead of looking solely at women’s bodies and looks, they are now signing women who have dedicated their lives to becoming wrestlers. Kimber Lee, Heidi Lovelace, and Evie continue a trend that will, in time, produce a women’s division that rivals the men’s in terms of star power and quality matches.
That said, we must be careful not to let the WWE rewrite the narrative of this women’s revolution. As much as I know they hope to take credit for changing the face of women’s wrestling, what’s happened to the WWE is an effect of what already happened at the independent level.
The women’s wrestling revolution belongs to the fans who demanded more. It belongs to every man and woman who ever attended Shimmer, Shine, Girl Fight, WSU, or any number of women’s shows. It belongs to the people who did not go to get popcorn when the women came out at their local indie show. It belongs to the people who chanted “Let’s go Heidi!” “Kim-ber Lee!” and my personal favorite, “Mary’s gonna kill you!” (WWE fans take note – this must follow Crazy Mary Dobson to the WWE!)
The revolution also belongs to the trainers who were committed to creating wrestlers and not divas, legends like Lance Storm, DJ Hyde, Danny Davis, the Dudley Boys, and others too numerous to mention. It belongs to promoters who gave women the chance to shine not only against one another, but against men. It belongs to the men and women who put women in the main event and put their most prestigious titles – including the Grand Championship of CHIKARA – on women who had earned it.
Most of all, it belongs to the women who chose wrestling not because it was a stepping stone to acting or modeling, but because they could not see themselves doing anything else. It belongs to the rising stars of the WWE and NXT. It belongs to women like Veda Scott, LuFisto, Mickie Knuckles, Kelly Klein, Tessa Blanchard, Randi West, Su Yung, Taeler Hendrix, Britt Baker, Rachael Ellering, Amazing Maria, Leva Bates, and Samantha Heights, who are grinding it out night after night in the hopes of filling the spots that have just opened at the top of the independent ranks. It belongs to the young women now taking their first bumps in the hopes of following a trail that now stretches further than it ever has in the business of wrestling.
The WWE deserves credit, not for changing women’s wrestling, but for recognizing that it has already changed. Yes, it is a revolution, but the revolutionaries are not in an office in Stanford. They’re in the ring, every night, putting their bodies on the line for a sport they love.
The best things in professional wrestling are often the things that happen organically. They are not the result of a promoter’s careful planning and execution, but the sum of a dozen or more happy accidents that all fall together. Such is the story of Blue Pants, a woman brought in as enhancement talent at the last minute, who suddenly became a bona fide NXT Superstar.
Like many pro wrestlers, Leva Bates grew up watching wrestling. The daughter of a single mom, she spent a lot of time with the neighbor next door, whose son was a wrestling fan. “We watched it on TV all the time, and we’d occasionally go out to see the matches.” Bates doesn’t recall anyone specific (though her sisters quick to point out one of the highlights was seeing Bill Dundee vs. Jerry Lawler), but she credits those early years will giving her a passion for the sport.
After graduating college with a degree in radio/tv as well as acting, she enrolled at FXC in Florida, where she trained with D-Von Dudley, A.J. Gallant, and Matt Bentley. When D-Von left to start the Team 3D Academy with his tag partner Bubba Ray, Leva followed him. “They both were very hands on and taught everything, but D-Von did a lot of the mat training while Bubba Ray specialized more in match psychology, characters, and mic work.” Bates is a 3-D graduate but still returns to work on things with a personal trainer Dan Carr, who once worked with the American Gladiators.
After leaving school and beginning her wrestling career, Bates did what many wrestlers do: she filled out the application on the WWE’s recruitment page. She got the chance to work a few Raw and Smackdown shows as an extra. Then one day, she got the call that she was going to be on NXT. “It was the day of the show,” she remembers.
Leva showed up in a McChris T-shirt and a pair of blue pants. Prior to the TV taping, they were working out the flow of the show. Enzo and Cass were to come to the ring with Carmella, one of the newest NXT Divas, and when a match with Enzo’s rival Sylvester Lefort didn’t pan out, Enzo would turn to Carmella and ask her if she wanted to wrestle.
“Most of the time, the enhancement workers don’t get an entrance or even their name called. They just appear in the ring after a commercial break, but because of the way this story line was playing out, they had to have a way to bring me out. Triple H was at ringside working with Enzo and Cass. I was backstage with Sara Amato (former indy star Sara Del Ray). Enzo and Cass kept ad libbing different ways of introducing me. I heard Cass say, ‘Hey, you back there with the blue pants! Blue pants, come on down!’ I looked at Sara, and we both laughed. We knew that was it.”
What they did not know was how the fans would respond. “The fans started chanting my name. They started singing the ‘Price is Right’ theme for me. I went along with it and played it up. I was like, ‘Yeah! I wear blue pants! I love my blue pants!’ The fans ate it up, and that was how it took off.”
Blue Pants has become a beloved regular at NXT, facing off with Sasha Banks, Emma, and Dana Brooke. She even got her own theme music – the “Price is Right” theme sung a cappella by Big Cass – and her own Titantron video.
“I was amazed how involved Triple H was, even with that. He was working with the video guy to get just the right image. ‘No, make the pants bigger. No, a little smaller.’ He’s very hands on about everything.”
Being backstage at NXT has been a huge learning and growth experience for Bates. “It’s a completely different level. As a radio/TV grad, it’s really cool seeing the directors and agents and crew who make the show work backstage.”
Bates found the staff at NXT to be especially helpful. She took advantage of every visit to learn from Sara Amato, Albert, Triple H, Michael Hayes, Robby Brookside, and the late Dusty Rhodes.
“The third of fourth time I was there, I was peppering Dusty with questions. I was going on and on, and all of a sudden, Dusty turns and yells, “Shut up, Blue Pants!’ I was like, ‘Dusty??’ He put his arm around me and he said, ‘It’s alright, Blue Pants. It’ll be alright.’”
Bates found a lot in common with Rhodes. “He got yellow polka dots over. I got over with Blue Pants. I don’t know if he ever made the connection, but I did. It was really special.”
Bates is more than just enhancement talent. On the independent scene she is a seasoned veteran and an accomplished main event talent. When I asked her what matches fans should look up to see who Leva Bates is, she pointed to her recent appearance at Resistance Pro Wrestling. “I was against Crazy Mary Dobson, and we were the main event. It was a really great match.”
Bates also talked about her match against Mia Yim during the Shine Women’s Championship. “That was her best,” says her very proud mother.
Bates loves to have fun and has a great sense of humor. That love of fun was especially evident in a match for Shimmer when she faced Marty Bell. Bates is known for cosplay, dressing up as characters from comic books and movies, and on this occasion, she dressed as Pee Wee Herman.
“Before the match, I told the crowd the secret words was Three. Every time the ref would start counting, ‘One, two, three,’ the fans would scream. Marty would twist my arm, the ref would count, and on three, the fans would scream. The coolest thing was the secret word lasted the rest of the night. Any time a ref counted three, the fans screamed!”
Outside the ring, Bates is just as fun-loving and approachable as her in-ring character suggests. After the Girl Fight show in Jeffersonville, Indiana, she was the last of the wrestlers to be at the gimmick tables – no longer selling, but just talking to fans. She only packed up after promoter Madman Pondo fussed at her – three times – to wrap things up. Even then, she delayed Pondo from getting to his post show dinner as she paused to talk and take pictures with fans on her way to the locker room.
As we finished our interview, which took place at a downtown pizza place in Louisville after a show, Crazy Mary Dobson brought a young man over to the table where I was sitting with Bates, her mom, her sister, and nieces. He was an NXT fan, and when he learned who was sitting at the table, he began shouting to the whole restaurant. “It’s Blue Pants! Blue Pants is here! Blue Pants!”
The cheers of Blue Pants led to an “NXT!” chant. Leva blushed at first but began pumping her arms in the air, enjoying the moment just like her alter ego. Yes, she’s an unlikely superstar, but that’s what makes her so darn likable. She’s quirky, she’s fun, and when she hits the ring at NXT, Shimmer, or anywhere else, you’re going to have a good time.