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Home arrow NZ Scene arrow 2010 Stories arrow Satin-Covered Steel: The First Women Of NZ Wrestling - Part I
Satin-Covered Steel: The First Women Of NZ Wrestling - Part I
Written by Kirsty Quested   
May 16, 2010 at 06:00 PM

*Important note: acknowledgement & representation

The key for women is not to set any limits.
- Martina Navratilova

In September 1893, New Zealand made history when Parliament passed legislation granting women the right to vote – the first country in the world to do so. Over a century later, New Zealand women are once again making history as they step between the ropes and into the rings of the country’s pro-wrestling promotions.

Women have been involved with pro-wrestling since the early part of the 20th century. Indeed, names such as the Fabulous Moolah, Mae Young, Penny Banner, Gladys “Killem” Gillem, June Byers and Ella Waldek have become synonymous with pro-wrestling’s beginnings.  But in New Zealand, women’s wrestling has only begun to thrive in recent years, with the three main promotions – Impact Pro Wrestling (IPW), New Zealand Wide Pro Wrestling (NZWPW) and Kiwi Pro Wrestling (KPW) – all boasting a women’s division on their rosters.

There have always been women involved in New Zealand’s pro-wrestling history, but the true pioneers of the sport are the ones currently blazing the trail. With three thriving promotions and others in development, pro-wrestling in New Zealand is the strongest it’s ever been. And as anyone involved in the promotions will tell you, their female warriors are now an integral part of their shows.

“The reaction we get when we step through the curtain is huge,” says IPW’s JPE, one of NZ’s most experienced women grapplers. “The crowds are not just supportive; they’re excited to see a women’s match as part of the show.” JPE made this remark to me in the locker room during this year’s Christchurch Armageddon. I had arrived backstage and spotted a lone girl firmly anchored amidst a sea of masculinity. If it bothered her, she didn’t show it. She wasn’t adrift.  She simply got on with the job of entertaining the crowd – by wrestling her male counterparts. Although JPE is best known as a monster heel, on this occasion she turned babyface... and she still drew a huge reaction from the crowd.

JPE’s IPW colleague, Britenay, agrees. “I think we’ve done an excellent job of showing the crowds that we are more than capable of doing everything the boys do,” she says. “In some cases, we do it better than the boys. We’re always looking for ways to shock the fans and show them what women are capable of.”

NZPWI’s reporter for the Wellington Scene, David Dunn, reflects on the reaction from KPW audiences when a women’s match is announced. “The crowd get very vocal, very fast,” he says. “The girls know how to get the fans involved with their matches. Whether it’s Jessie passing out loads of ‘Hollie Sucks!’ signs on her way to the ring, or Hollie writing ‘Kiss My Wanganui’ on her derriere when she’s wrestling there, the girls really try and make everyone feel like they’re a part of the show as well.”

What is it, though, that drew these remarkable women into such a male-dominated sport? To go from watching it on TV to lacing up a pair of boots is a huge jump, and yet like most of their international and historical sisters, they don’t aspire to a masculine image – quite the opposite. That they retain their femininity while engaging in a traditionally male activity is one of the many characteristics that make these women unique.

“At first the whole thing seemed so bizarre,” says NZWPW’s Carmella Caprice. “The way these people were being thrown around and jumping off the ring was insane!" Carmella began training with NZWPW following in the footsteps of her sister, who also wrestles for NZWPW as Rose Caprice. “I’ve been a wrestling fan since I was little,” says Rose. “I always knew I wanted to compete.”

Having been a fan of wrestling since they were young – going all the way back to the WWF years – seems to be a common thread among women across all promotions. “I was watching when I was 4 years old,” recalls IPW’s Alita Capri. “I was just so inspired. I decided I had to be a part of all that excitement.”

IPW’s Evie also remembers being initially inspired by TV. “It was the theatrics and the storylines that really got me hooked,” she says.

Knowledge of local promotions was not a huge factor for many, but in some cases was actually a cornerstone of their decision to get involved. “I started off playing around with my brothers,” recalls NZWPW’s Stellar Hammer. “But then I met a bunch of lads that were so hard out, they had their own ring in their backyard and I loved going over there to take them on. Then I saw a story in the newspaper about females in NZWPW, and I went and checked it out. It was the best decision I ever made.”

Likewise, IPW’s Britenay was also aware of the local promotion. “I was living in Hamilton at the time,” she recalls. “But I was really interested in what the NZ boys could do, so I regularly made the trip up to Auckland to watch them.”

IPW’s Megan-Kate Deluxeo was also well aware of her local promotion. “I went to a lot of IPW shows,” she says. “I saw the first ever women's match at Nightmare Before Christmas:  Evie vs. Britenay. That was when I rushed home to email IPW.”

Almost without exception, “the boys” in each promotion welcomed the female newcomers, offering advice and support. “It’s been a great experience, with the men,” says Rose Caprice. “They provide a lot of guidance and tips, and make sure you’re doing your best and succeeding to your highest ability.” IPW’s Evie agrees. “The guys have been great,” she says. “They’re awesome in that they always give advice on how to better yourself and your matches. We really are like a big family.” Britenay credits the acceptance of women in IPW to attitude, and the desire to prove your worth. “I think you are treated based on how you portray yourself, and I have always been there for only one thing – to wrestle,” she says. “If you want to be respected, you have to respect yourself.”

Inter-gender matches have long been a topic of controversy in wrestling circles. While it has not been uncommon for women of a certain size and strength to take on men (Chyna, Beth Phoenix, Victoria, Awesome Kong, Bull Nakano, etc.,), there has long been a hesitancy to encourage men and women to lock up, even if their size and strength roughly corresponds. On this topic, New Zealand’s women have wide-ranging opinions and experience. “Some of the guys have actually requested matches with me,” says JPE. “I was the first woman in New Zealand to compete in six all-male rumbles. I’ve gone one-on-one with Jon E. King, and had a match with the most annoying man on the IPW roster: "Handsome" Danny Jacobs. I was also in the crazy 10-man tag team match at the 2010 Christchurch Armageddon. Being the only female in that is a moment I'll never forget.” (It’s a moment I’ll never forget either; I refereed that match and witnessed first-hand JPE giving as good as she got!)

JPE’s IPW colleague Alita Capri agrees. “I recall a match I had with Lil' T, MANY years ago,” she says. “I believe it was the first inter-gender match for, the then-newly formed, IPW.  It was a good experience and I would definitely like to do it again. I have also competed in mixed tag matches and inter-gender matches;  it definitely adds a different dimension to the match, a good one I think.”

JPE and Alita Capri’s opinion is also shared by NZWPW’s Stellar Hammer. “I had a mixed tag team match recently, which was interesting,” she recalls. “It's a good experience. Everyone wrestles differently and it is good to learn from the guys as usually they have been doing it for longer.”

Opposition to this point of view is reasonably strong, however. “Obviously, there are men whose arses I could quite easily kick,” muses Britenay, “but I don’t think it needs to be proven in a ring. Men shouldn't beat on women and whilst a woman could take on a man, they really shouldn't embarrass him like that in front of so many people. It is an unnecessary fight. There are so few women out there to fight but we shouldn't resort to fighting men and making them look weaker.”  NZWPW’s Rose Caprice offers the point of view that matches of this nature are unrealistic. “Even though they might be the same size and bring a lot of skill with them we just couldn’t compare with what they bring to the ring,” she says.  “I believe women can be great and work hard to succeed, but there is just too great of a disadvantage as men are always going to be tougher and more capable of throwing us around. We run the risk of being seriously hurt.” Carmella Caprice agrees with her sister, and also raises some sociological concerns. “It’s something I don't think we should be encouraging at shows as kids can take what we do in the ring and do it at home which can lead to disasters!” she says. “Having unisex fights just wouldn't work and it would probably cause a lot of concern for people watching in the audience.”

“I'm not against the idea of it happening once in a while, but these types of matches are booked for shock factor,” says IPW’s Evie.  “If this did happen all the time, you would not get the reaction that these matches were initially for, and then what would be the point of having a women's division at all if that were the case? It's not about being physically able to work with men, we all know that most talented female wrestlers can do that. Wrestling other girls is not at all restrictive. You still get to showcase your talent, abilities, and be confident and proud while doing it. You do not have to wrestle men to earn that respect, or prove anything.”

Although New Zealand’s female grapplers have worked hard and earned the respect of not only their male colleagues, but their fans, they are still without the goal that all men take for granted: a title. Not one of the promotions offers that pinnacle of achievement to any of the women on their rosters. This seems mainly due to the fact that despite the increasing popularity of women in wrestling, the numbers in each division simply don’t warrant the creation of a championship. Would it be better, therefore, for IPW, KPW and NZWPW to form a Unified NZ Women’s Championship, and work together to organise a tournament to crown the country’s best? NZWPW’s Carmella Caprice thinks so. “It would give all the women in the country something to work for and it's a lot more personalised,” she says.  “Also it would then give bragging rights to the holder that they were in fact the best woman wrestler in the country! And it would be a good way to unite all the feds together and would likely give more credibility and exposure for all the women wrestlers in NZ.” IPW’s Evie remarks that a unified title would broaden her experience. “I would love to be able to wrestle the girls in the other promotions,” she says.  “It would be an interesting mix-up, and a great learning experience.”

Carmella and Evie are, however, in the minority. “I don't know if we could all co-exist if only one existed!” says IPW’s Megan-Kate Deluxeo. “I think it's definitely better for each promotion to have their own, because we hardly ever see the other promotions, and if we do, it's often not wrestling against each other.”

Alita Capri shares Megan-Kate’s view but goes on to say that each promotion should have its own women’s title unless an agreement can be reached. “Like the South Pacific Title - fought for by IPW wrestlers from NZ and Australia,” she says. “That’s a good idea.” Stellar Hammer is also in favour of each promotion having a women’s title, believing it could generate more interest in recruitment. “I believe if we have a belt it might entice more women to join,” she says. “It would definitely give us something to fight for.”

Although none of the promotions have a women’s belt – nor, indeed, does a national title exist – there can be no doubting the importance of each women’s division. “KPW’s Hollie stands out because she’s able to transition between being a wrestler and a manager so easily,” says David Dunn.  “I can’t think of anyone else on the roster who might start the show with a promo, then have a match midway through the card before returning to ringside to cheer on their client in the main event. She’s central to KPW’s roster full stop, regardless of her disposition.”

Just like the men, wrestling’s women are expected to train – and train hard. The gender issues take a back seat when it comes to getting in shape and learning psychology and techniques – everyone is equal. Part II of this feature will take an in-depth look at the training NZ’s women have undergone, both physically and psychologically. These remarkable women also provide some insight into the future, both in terms of their own goals and that of the future of women’s wrestling in New Zealand.

Satin Covered Steel Part II

*In order to prepare this feature, NZPWI strove to contact and include as many women active in the NZ scene as possible. In the majority of cases, they were happy to contribute and provided vital information without which this article could not have been written. I am indebted to all the women who took the time to respond to my questions, and to send photos. I am also grateful to Daniel Burnell of IPW and Martin Stirling of NZWPW for supporting their talent’s participation, and for providing me with photos. Regrettably, KPW management denied their talent the opportunity to contribute, but I thank those from KPW who contacted me personally, and David Dunn for providing me with insight into KPW’s remarkable women, ensuring they did, in the end, have a voice.

Additional Photo Credit: Beverly Short

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