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What it really takes to be a pro wrestler

Ashleigh Went

When you think of the term ‘women’s empowerment’, it’s unlikely that you think of women in high cut spandex fighting against each other in front of an audience of predominantly men.

That is, unless, you’ve seen GLOW, the Netflix series which tells the (perhaps embellished) story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, a 1980s television series about women’s wrestling.

Personally, it turned my own ill-informed misconceptions about women’s wrestling on their head. It’s not about women performing for the attention of men – in fact, often it’s about women fighting to make a name for themselves in an industry that’s heavily dominated by men. It’s not about violence – it’s more of a hybrid between physical strength and performance art. In fact, rather than yielding to what society considers as typically feminine – soft, maternal, delicate – these women are strong, fearless and, often, downright inspirational.

Like many women in sport, female pro wrestlers are training hard to not only perform well in their sport on an individual basis but to earn the same level of recognition, airtime and status as their male counterparts.

Canberra-born Chantelle (best known by her stage name Shazza McKenzie) was originally attracted to wrestling at the age of 16 when she saw a match on TV featuring Canadian pro-wrestling star Trish Stratus.

“She came out and she had so much personality, she was so strong and beautiful, and I just kind of connected with her. I thought ‘this woman is really cool, she’s gorgeous but she’s kicking arse and not taking crap from anyone.’ I was obsessed.”

At 19, Chantelle started training at a wrestling school in Sydney and a decade later, she’s still at it.

Before we get into details, let’s get one thing clear: wrestling isn’t ‘fake’, per se.

“The best way to describe it, is that the outcome is predetermined, and while we have a basic idea of what we’re looking to do in the match, things don’t always go to plan. It’s not like a dance where it’s choreographed from start to finish, there’s improvisation – and always a focus on safety, because you don’t want to actually hurt someone.”

It’s not just the physical training (though we’ll get to that later) – there’s a huge amount of preparation that goes into every match.

“Once a month, we do what we call ‘promo class’ which is where we work specifically on our characters and that side of wrestling. Throughout all our training we work on how we’re going to connect to the crowd using our body language, our face, our vocals and everything.”

“When people come to the shows to watch us, I want them to walk away feeling like they’ve watched a top-quality show, so the whole package has to be there: the fitness, the looks, the costume… you’ve got to be physically ready 24/7.”

If you’ve ever seen a pro wrestling match (or watched GLOW) you’ll know that these athletes aren’t just prancing around the ring. While the violence isn’t real, it’s still an intensely physical performance that requires strength and fitness.

“I’ve trained in the ring twice a week every week for about ten years. I also train in the gym five to seven times a week – I wake up at 4:00 am Monday to Friday to go the gym before work, and two days a week I have training at night after work.”

Rather than being a time for rest, weekends are taken up by additional training and traveling for matches. And, like many female athletes in other sports, Chantelle does this all while holding down a full-time job, a task that she describes simply as “exhausting”.

“My goal is to be able to wrestle full time as a living, whether it’s with WWE or independently. I’m doing everything I possibly can to create my brand, and to get as much experience and exposure as I can.”

It’s clear that Chantelle is making her mark – she currently holds the title of Heart of Shimmer Champion.

“Shimmer Women Athletes is an all-female professional wrestling company. A lot of the girls that you see on TV now have wrestled there at some point. I started wrestling there in 2012 and have kept going over there since then. In 2015 I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to have a match on WWE TV.”

While it’s wonderful that Chantelle’s career has garnered so much success, I can’t help but wonder what the industry’s attitude towards women is like – particularly given the sexism that’s depicted throughout the first season of GLOW.

“In GLOW, it’s obviously a bit dramatized, but the way that it has portrayed the struggle of being taken seriously as a female in a very male dominated industry is quite accurate.”

“In the time that I’ve been in the industry, it’s changed so much. When I first started training, it was pretty much insinuated that I would only need to know how to slap someone and roll around in a catfight, because no one would actually come to watch women wrestle.”

“Over time, we’ve banded together and fought for equality in wrestling. There will always be less of us than there are guys, so we feel like we need to work a bit harder to get what the guys get. We’ve worked to get to a position where women can be the main attraction, they can be the headliners on the billboards. We’re bringing people into ticket sales, which ten years ago would have been crazy to even think about.”

Chantelle is coming to Canberra on March 3 for Wrestleclash, where Shazza Mackenzie will take on Kellyanne as one of the main fights of the night.

“I’m so excited,” she says, “I had my first match ever in Canberra. I was actually born there, so I’m excited to get a chance to wrestle in Canberra. I’m keen to watch the show and to be a part of it.”

The wrestling fans of Canberra are undoubtedly excited to see Shazza in action, particularly her signature move, the “Shazztastic Stunner.”

“It’s where I do a stunner, which is a move where you grab them by the head and jump up then land – except instead of landing on my arse, I land in the splits, because it’s Shazztastic.”

the essentials

What: Wrestleclash
Where: Canberra Southern Cross Club, Woden
When: 7 pm Saturday 3 March
Tickets: Ringside $25, General Admission (13yrs+) $15
Book: cscc.com.au

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Ashleigh Went

HerCanberra ACTIVE Editor Ashleigh Went has a passion for all things health and wellness. As someone who loves champagne and cheese almost as she loves a sweaty workout, she's all about living a healthy, balanced lifestyle. She can usually be found with her nose in a book, planning her next adventure, in the gym or updating her Instagram @wentworthavenue. More about the Author