Interview with Heather Bandenburg (wrestler and author of upcoming book Unladylike)

Added by Jason Norris

When I planned a series of interviews with women of the independent wrestling world, Heather was the first person I wanted to interview. Her crowd-funded book ‘Unladylike: A Grrl’s Guide to Wrestling’, is the first book written about feminism and wrestling, and knowing a little about her career and background meant it was bound to be a fun chat.

Heather and I met to discuss her book, her wrestling career and her views on the business over a drink in Bethnal Green, over the road from the iconic York Hall and the Resistance Gallery, two venues playing host to an increasing amount of independent wrestling in East London, and fast becoming the hot bed for the women’s scene. In Heather’s 7 years in the business she has accumulated some great stories and a unique path to where she currently resides. This interview took place in the run up to WWE’s Wrestlemania, so I was also able to get her thoughts on the importance of women finally headlining the biggest wrestling show in the world and if indy stars aspire to do the same.

Heather, before we start wrestling chat, can you confirm the wrestling alter egos that people may know you better by?

Confirm my own alter egos? Asking me to break kayfabe already! I am Heather Bandenburg, alias Heather Honeybadger when I wrestle for Pro-Wrestling EVE.  As a masked character maybe I am also called La Rana Veneosa in Lucha Britannia, but I cannot confirm that either way. (she is)

And is that the Poison Dart Frog, or the Queen of the Sewer?

Both, it started off as a poison dart frog and then upgraded to Queen of the Sewer when I wrestled at York Hall for Lucha Britannia. I am an angry woman, I like wrestling, and that is what I do apparently now. I’m so happy to be here.

Unladylike: A Grrl’s Guide to Wrestling and other such books

The main reason we are chatting today is the book that you have coming out soon. What’s the latest on the release date?

It’s called Unladylike: A Grrl’s Guide to Wrestling and its now listed for preorder on book sites, which is just terrifying. Our publish date is July 11; we are now in the final stage of editing now, which is terrifying and exciting at the same time. I’ve also just started working with an amazing illustrator call Julia Scheele, and she’s doing the most incredible pictures of wrestling I’ve ever seen. I’ve just given her a list of forty wrestling moves to have at the end of the book asked her to draw a diagram of each. That just happened this week so I am very excited, I have the first ones and they look just like Love & Rockets. It is amazing, so that’s where we are at with the book and it will be out in the summer. It’s called Unladylike: A Grrl’s Guide to Wrestling

The book was set up on Unbound to help fund the publishing. Why did you decide to crowdfund the publication?

The book’s concept started about three years ago when I got sick and I couldn’t wrestle for quite a while, and I was going a bit mad. I had always wanted to write a book and I started off with all of these ideas about what I could write about, and it turns out I was going to write a book about wrestling.

I started off with the Whip It version of wrestling, a teenage girl leaving her tiny town and running away from home. Then I met Milly McKenzie and Candyfloss who were 16 years old women who wrestled, and I was thought I cannot write this book, it’s their story. So I just ended up writing essays for the likes of The Guardian and The Huffington Post about women within wrestling and issues within wrestling that I thought people who were not in the wrestling community would be interested in.

I felt quite frustrated that there were not very many women writing about wrestling, it is just completely dominated by male voices. That’s really hard to see when you are hearing about how we’re having this revolution of women’s wrestling. Things like Glow are coming out and on the outside we are looking very gender equal, but there is this echo chamber of opinion that there are many female voices when there are not.

That was how I got into writing, and then I basically pitched this idea for a book to a friend, and he helped me come up with the idea of it being an introduction to women’s wrestling through a biography. I took it to places like Penguin Publishing and they all came back with the same response – ‘this is amazing, it’s going to be great, but we can’t sell it because it’s wrestling’.

Were they not swayed by how many wrestling books are out there now right?

When you think about it there are not that many and they are written by famous wrestlers, or they directed very much towards wrestling fans. There is no book that I know of that is written by a woman for a non-wrestling audience, which breaks kayfabe and rather than talk about things from the past with nostalgia from our childhoods it instead talks about the physical experience of becoming a wrestler.

The only women wrestlers that I can think of with books, in recent years at least, are Lita and Chyna, but I do not think these are good examples.

I like Chyna’s book in a way but they are not great. There is AJ Mendez’s book which is really good and I recommend it, particularly as she is an absolute champion for people with mental health issues. There’s also a line where she starts talking about wrestling that goes “I assume you must know about wrestling or why are you even reading this book? For a bet or something?” It’s not a dig at the reader – she’s just aware of the reality that books by female wrestlers really only tend to get one kind of audience.

There are books on women in wrestling but they are written by guys and it does not mean to say their opinions are invalid and they are not well researched, but it’s important to have the voice of the person you are writing about sometimes. I think that is what I really wanted to do with this book.

Getting into Wrestling

Let us go back to the start, how did you get into wrestling?

So just to be clear, I didn’t really know about wrestling when I started. I didn’t know when I started my first wrestling training who The Undertaker was, that is how little I knew.  

I used to do stand-up comedy and I did a gig at the Resistance Gallery where Eve have their shows and train. Gary runs the place and after seeing my act he said I clearly did not mind making a fool of yourself, and he asked if I wanted to come to a free training session on day for wrestling. So I said ‘okay sure’ and I turned up with my best friend.

When was this?

7 years ago, it was me and my best friend Becca, we both hated exercise, we did not even own jogging boxers so we both had our pyjamas on and we were so terrified. The London School of Lucha Libre is open to anyone who wants to come but then it was more people who knew about wrestling that came to the training classes.

However, everyone was so nice, everyone was so friendly and everyone was so encouraging. If you are a woman you have generally been told your whole life not to take up too much space and not to make too much noise.. If you are into sports in school, you are told you should do netball, and maybe football if you are lucky, and gymnastics. But most women do not leave with a sense of kind of doing it for themselves in any way, and the class was the total opposite.

Is it as if exercising in secret is normally expected?

Yes, I mean that’s it. The whole point of wrestling is that yes, you have to be ridiculously fit, and it’s so freaking hard. I have never liked play fought before in my life, and I suddenly had this thing where you can fall over and be clumsy, and be loud and be a character and be strong and it’s good to be able to do these things. I was just addicted, so that was it, 7 years and I have been going every single week since.

One of my questions was going to ask if you watched wrestling as a kid and what was your first wrestling memory, but the answer to that seems to be a no?

No! I did have a memory of wrestling. My friend Carys Evans had a WWF computer game; it was on N64 so I am guessing it was No Mercy. I remember because it was her and my brother who played, I was not allowed to play the actual game as I was terrible; but I was allowed to design costumes. However Carys, she’s the perfect tomboy, she stole a boy’s football in the playground, and he gave her a Stone Cold Stunner and broke her collarbone, and then wrestling was banned! That is my only childhood memory of wrestling. So I went from that to ‘oh yes I will try it’ to where I am today.

With a lack of wrestling as a kid, and getting into wrestling training almost by accident, how did you progress from doing your first session to wrestling your first match?

That would be 3 years of working my ass off! It did not come natural to me, because not only do I have dyspraxia, so falling over I am great at, but telling left from right is not a thing for me either. It meant I had to start from scratch physically, but I also had to learn everything about wrestling. People could tell me to do a stunner, but I did not know what a stunner was. I started at the London School of Lucha Libre with the basics, learning to bump, learning to roll and learning to do a character.

Many people have watched like the first season of Glow and they all go through that type of training. Is it similar to that or is it different in the real world?

One thing I like about Glow is they did not suddenly become great right away, they all sucked and I think that is completely correct about wrestling training.

One of the things I always say about learning to wrestle is some people will turn up, and maybe they have got a background in dance or martial arts and they will pick it up like that and they will be great in 6 months. But those kind of people might struggle at being a character, or they might struggle at the engaging with the crowd.

I had the opposite problem, from day one someone could be like ‘do a promo as a box of fried chicken taking down vegans’ and I can do that without thinking about it, but if someone asked me to do a press up I couldn’t manage one. So I think the main thing I learned in 3 years between going from starting to wrestle to being in the ring for a match was just learning about the humbleness needed to become a wrestler, like helping to put up the ring up for those shows.

So you went through the proper training of putting the ring together?

I don’t think you can do it any other way, I don’t think you can learn about being a wrestler until you’ve done it the long and hard way, I genuinely don’t and I don’t think any wrestler would disagree.

So you start and you put the ring together, and you have 3 years of training. So then did you have your first match?

Yes, my first match was, this is good, it was against my now-husband, so an intergender match. I was so nervous about having my first match, I had been ready for ages but I was nervous because I wanted to be a feminist character, but back in 2012 if you were a feminist character fighting other women you were going to be booed and I just did not want that.

I realized that if I wrestled a really horrible man I would be a face (a hero, as opposed to a heel/villain). So Fraser came out to the ring and did his promo starting with ‘Where is this woman? She wants to get on the barbecue’ and just said horrible things to the audience. My dad was there and Fraser had never met my dad, this is the first time my dad is meeting my new boyfriend, and he takes his top off and throws it at my dad. We had the match and it went great, looking back I think I did okay.

It’s quite cool that your first match was an intergender match, because there is a lot of talk about that right now.

Yes, so the intergender question. Another thing I should point out is that at Lucha Britannia intergender has never not been a thing, we have never had separate divisions.

I’ve been to Lucha Britannia shows and I have seen the madness in the intergender matches and the whole show is crazy. I saw a monkey man come out to the ring and cut a promo all in monkey noises (Monito Alludo the monkey man who climbs and swings himself into the ring). It is quite out there, anything can happen.

That monkey man is my husband. I married that! Sometimes I think I prefer him as the monkey man.

It’s mad and I do not think I could have become a wrestler and stuck with it if I was not in that bizarre environment. I just thought it was normal that men and women would wrestle each other. And the fact is that now it’s only here and in a few places like Riptide Wrestling that you do not need to say its mixed gender, it is just wrestling.

I progressed and I ended up wrestling with more women, but I think that most of the wrestlers will agree with me that even when you are training you’re training intergender, that’s just how you train. It is only really when you get to the big leagues that you are split off.

Building a Career in the Ring

How many matches have you had in total now?

Maybe I need to explain that during the seven years that I have wrestled I had cancer and I was out for two and a half years. I am fine now, I had the ‘nicest’ type of cancer and they cut it out and its fine, but I have had some ongoing injuries as well. I guess I would say I am up to 300 matches for Lucha Britannia and EVE, and I got to appear at York Hall. That also includes matches that I have been the referee for, which is about 60 now.

Sorry to hear about those problems, and happy to hear that you are now OK.

That is still a lot of matches, were you at Wrestle Queendom? (EVE show from 2018, largest ever all women’s wrestling event in European history, a star studded affair now available for free on YouTube)

No, I wanted to be and was booked to be a referee, but I was on my honeymoon, which was totally fine. I wrestled at Lucha Libre World at York Hall on the same show as Lady Apache and Chika Tormenta, and that was amazing to me because they do not take their masks off. You meet and are just saying hi when you realise ‘I am talking to you, and I do not know what your face is, this is your life’.

I think York Hall is such a cool venue for you to wrestle in. I’ve seen quite a few shows there I think that is such a great venue, and the crowd you can get there sounds really good.

It’s up there as one of the top moments of my life, I would cherish it forever. I obviously want to wrestle there again immediately, but sometimes you have to say to yourself ‘I’m just going to hold on to this moment’, even it does not matter how big the venue is sometimes you just get those experiences. And I think that’s why people continue to wrestle, because it’s hard and it hurts but we get those moments.

On that point, where’s the weirdest place or what’s the strangest events you have wrestled at?

The weirdest wrestling event I wrestled at was for Lucha Britannia, 15 of use were shipped out to a private party in Berlin for 24 hours. We arrived and there was this enormous ring, and in Germany the rings are different, they have this slightly slippery surface.

We arrived in Berlin at two in the afternoon and had an hour or two in the ring; with our matches a part of this huge private party with an art installation in every room. We went for dinner and then we got into our gimmicks and then we were put into this room waiting until 1 a.m., and there was nothing to drink except Red Bull and gin. They did not give us water, only Red Bull and gin, and eventually everyone cracked and drank Red Bull and gin. At 1a.m., they let us out and we are all just going crazy. The people around the ring had no idea what was about to come out, so all of these lucha wrestlers came out and we did this match in front of these crazy drunk Germans.

I had this amazing moment with Cara Noir jumping out of the ring to leave and this enormous German woman picking him up like a baby and just putting him back in the ring and sternly going ‘NO!’.

We all got paid quite well for it, we wrestled three matches and then we were just at this crazy party in Berlin and then we all got a flight home 6 in the morning. That’s the weirdest one.

That is definitely out there. When I hear what wrestlers usually talk about their strangest venue it is wrestling in front of two people in a farmhouse or something, but that is pretty awesome.

The corporate gigs are always kind of the weird ones, because there are people who have no idea what they are watching, they do not know how to boo or cheer they are just saying ‘what is this?’. What I try to explain to people new to wrestling is it is a violent pantomime, and once they understand that it’s a lot easier.

I use a similar description, it is a soap opera with really good athletic performances, and it’s not what you think it’s a lot better.

I like the fact that wrestling plays with ideas of reality, and the suspension of disbelief is required. The internet is really interesting at the moment, Joey Ryan in my mind has made the ‘what is wrestling’ debate really interesting. (Joey Ryan has created ‘dong style’, which includes the ‘YouPorn Plex’ signature move, a crotch flip with theatrics from his super strength penis. Yes you read that right)

There are the people trying to keep kayfabe and say that this is a real thing and that they are real hard man. Then there are people like us saying ‘I am a robot and I am going to fight a monkey to stop time’, but it is still wrestling and the skill required is the same.

What I really love is the classic old school territory style of logical storylines, but I also really love when storylines are breaking the fourth wall and performers do the crazy stuff. If you are intelligent enough I think you can accept all of those levels on the same show.

And I think that’s what is important. I think many of the reasons that wrestling has stagnated in the past is just because it can be so samey. You are not going to cheer or boo people if their gimmicks are similar, or they do not look crazy or whacky, or you are not going to go into the same shows if you are just going to see the same moves. So breaking down the fourth wall, I think that wrestling has evolved in a way to start doing that, and I love it. I absolutely love it.

You love it, but why are you doing this? Why are you passionate about wrestling?

My whole book is trying to answer this question; I’m trying to explain to people why we love wrestling as its not easy. One of the reasons why I wrote Unladylike is because I have been trying to figure out why I love wrestling. I gave up and stopped wrestling twice because of other life commitments, and I say it loads of times in my book, wrestlers cannot retire, we find it impossible.

Ric Flair and Terry Funk are the classic examples of guys that have struggled with the same thing. Terry Funk must have retired three hundred times I think. (It is officially 72 times)

Exactly, and you would think it is just like these big guys that have got the money and the grandeur and it has been their life but it’s not just them. I am trained by Greg Burbridge, who is an indie legend in the UK, and he has retired a million times as well. Eventually, once or twice a year he just needs to get back in the ring. I cannot really explain it other than it just gives you the chance to completely forget who you are.

Which makes this all sound a bit crazy but it’s completely freeing. To be able to have people suspend disbelief and control them in the way that you want to, and to be this strong superhero, why would you not want to keep doing that as long as possible?

You generally wrestle in London and have had your trips to Berlin and other place as we have talked about. Have you ever wrestled in the US?

I have not wrestled in America. In fact, I had a booking on my honeymoon to wrestle in America but it was cancelled, I found out just before so I luckily did pack my entire gimmick for that trip. I would love to wrestle in America and I would love to wrestle in Mexico and Japan but to get overseas bookings you have to work so hard. You have to expect that you have to go over and pay your own way and that kind of thing. It requires a massive level of commitment which is incredible admirable. I am hoping this book will at least take me to America, so we will see.

Do you want to wrestle on a big show like Wrestlemania? Is that something you can imagine or is that not where you want to go with your career aspirations?

It’s not, I think another reason why I wrote Unladylike is the celebration of non-famous wrestlers. We are an incredibly important breed and I would say having trained for 7 years, one in 100 trainees will get as far as having their first match; it’s that kind of turnover, so having one match is an achievement.

There are all these amazing indy stars who are completely underrated and undiscovered. They still do it because they love it, even if we accept that we are never going to get the Wrestlemania, we do it for other reasons. I didn’t watch wrestling as a child so I never thought the pinnacle of success was pointing at the Wrestlemania sign. The pinnacle of success for me was being on Lucha Britannia and then I did that, and now I do not really know where that next pinnacle is for me.

I think that there has to be other reasons, and I hate the idea that you have failed as a wrestler unless you get on TV or make it to the WWE network, because it is just not true. There are so many great wrestlers that have been and gone in the ring that have not had half the screen time and recognition they deserve.

Another thing with Unladylike was the chance to research women wrestlers. I have been looking at people like Lola Gonzales and these women were never in the WWE. The fact is they had a big impact due to their skills even though they never got on that big screen.

The stories of these women needs to be told, in fact more so just to give a better idea of what actually draws people to be wrestlers. It is easy to say you are going to do it for money and fame, but what if you are never going to get those things, why else would you do it, and that is what the book is all about.

How the World Reacts to Female Wrestlers

Switching gears a little, I would imagine in the book you probably talk about how people react to you being a wrestler. You touched on it in the preview chapter you released in terms going from your real job to your matches, and explaining what you are up in your office. How do men react when you say you wrestle, and do woman react differently when they find out you are wrestling?

I don’t know if its because I love it so much, but I can definitely say both of my last 2 job interviews where I got the job was because I am a wrestler. People will ask you what you do outside work, and ‘I am a wrestler’ get there attention. I interviewed for my current job a week after Glow came out, so they knew right away what I was talking about and found it interesting.

The way people react when I tell them I am a wrestler, it doesn’t matter if they are a man or woman, they will always ask ‘really, you? You don’t look like a wrestler’, which is always lovely to hear! Maybe it’s because I have a vagina or because I am a size 12, I don’t know why I don’t look like a wrestler, but apparently I don’t look like one. Then they ask if it’s real, and it depends on how much I like the person as to what I reply. If they are saying that it’s all fake I will just say you cannot really have someone throwing you about and it not be real. I ask them to imagine if you are standing in a ring in front of over 200 people in your pants and then another giant person jumps off a 6-foot turnbuckle and you have to get kicked in the face by them without getting hurt. So I tell them yes it is real because it hurts and then I would leave it, but the fact is if people are interested about the nuances of the reality of it I will talk to them for as long as possible, but usually I say ‘no it hurts, it’s real’.

Do you find the reactions have changed over the years, because you were there our there wrestling before the women’s revolution two or three years ago. There is a lot going on now with women’s wrestling, have things changed?

No not outside of wrestling.

What about within the wrestling world, be it male wrestlers, promoters or fans, is there like a change there?

I think yes, I think that now promotions are having women champions, some of which when I started said ‘we can’t book women on the show because they are women’. When I started it was completely normal to have that attitude. It meant as soon as you announced that you were a woman wrestler to another wrestler they would just say ‘oh right’, because they would say you are not going to be good immediately.

But to be honest there is one main thing I have found from speaking to particular wrestling fans, and this isn’t me trying to tar people with the same brush, it’s just my experience since I have been talking about wrestling and writing about it, and having my opinions about it. It’s quite often male fans will explain women’s wrestling to me, which I find quite harsh because there is a conversation where you discuss things, but I have memories of people talking over me, or when someone asks me about my book they answer for me, or just assume that I am not as knowledgeable about wrestling because I am a woman. I think other female fans that you talk to will say it’s a similar thing. Wrestling has people that consider themselves the gatekeepers of knowledge. Generally, I think 99% of the people I met though wrestling are lovely but you get these people.

I bet the people in the Watch Wrestling London meet up group and that listen to the podcast are likely to be lovely, but you have the 1% for whom wrestling is theirs and they feel you have to qualify in order to be a proper wrestling fan and I cannot stand that.

I have come across that more over the last couple of years because of the meet up group, and just going to more live events and being on social media like the wrestling Facebook groups that exist. You are trying to have a discussion with someone and before you know it they just post pictures of women wrestlers in skimpy outfits and go on about the attitude era. Its backward, it is much better now.

Why would you want to watch it if that is what you think? The fact is that I get very frustrated at people who are kind of doing it as a joke, and they do not realize that women are fighting for recognition; it is not something that happened in the last ten years. Women have been fighting for recognition as long as wrestling has existed.

Woman has been wresting as long as men, it was illegal in the 1930s for women to wrestle. The great Mae Young in some states in America could not wrestle women or men so she used to wrestle alligators, because she was so good at wrestling.

Just because you can name every single wrestler that has ever made it to Wrestlemania and you can name every single WWE pay-per-view it doesn’t qualify your opinion to mean more. I feel that is still a thing, this whole gatekeeping mentality, not seeing people as proper wrestling fans or proper wrestlers until they cross a certain level.

Lately I have loved the WWE women’s division, especially the recent Becky Lynch The Man character. I have some friends who are insanely ecstatic that we are going to Wrestlemania and it had better be Becky who main events versus Rhonda Rousey (with Charlotte Flair also added), or they are not going to be happy. It is not about just the women getting good spots, it is actually the main event, it’s just the right way to go.

I am interested in wrestling, particularly the WWE right now, because it’s having to do a full boomerang because you had Chyna who held the men’s intercontinental belt in the 1990s. There are many reasons you can explain why and what happened, but now my opinion is WWE is so behind the rest of the wrestling world. They are trying so desperately to catch up and I think you can hear what the fans want but for some reason they are still trying to retain this small grip, they seem to think their fans are all bigoted men.

The belief is that the hard-core wrestling audience is just straight white guys in their 30s. That is the classic one and they apparently do not want women doing wrestling, that is still an issue.

I do not know if it is an issue, I think they are making it up.

I think there is definitely a hard-core group that does it but there is lot more people that want more now.

Heather: Yes, exactly and I think that it is changing. The big thing that they will always argue with to stop intergender and women wrestling men is Chris Benoit (double murder of wife and child by WWE performer) and domestic violence. It is a family show it has a large audience of kids who they assume are boys and they don’t want these boys to grow up thinking it’s okay to hit women.

But I am sorry as someone who is going to have a kid all I am thinking is I hope my son grows up to be slightly terrified of woman and knows that they can kick his ass. Because I think if more women see these role models like Becky Lynch the problem will solve itself. Nevertheless, I just don’t know, the WWE is a strange organization and it is a family-run business. It just happens to dominate wrestling.

Outside of WWE, some companies are doing a lot, but one of the things that stands out to me is New Japan Pro-Wrestling, which does not have women’s wrestlers. You have got Stardom and other companies in Japan which seems where all of the woman go but it seems odd New Japan still it does not have female roster members. The only woman on their show are in skimpy outfits as valets.

I think for me it is not really an issue, because if I watch the ones where women are in skimpy outfits I try to turn it off. If I watch any Japan wrestling match usually my face falls off because it’s so incredible.  I feel like I can’t comment on it because I haven’t met as many male wrestlers who perform in Japan, I think the only guy I know is Will Ospreay. The way I feel it’s difficult because on one hand yes the biggest wrestling company in Japan does not have women, and in fact it goes further to objectify women, but the female wrestling in Japan has been and continues to be healthy. They had big women only shows back in the 80s and 90s that filled the Tokyo Dome (Big Egg Wrestling Universe in 1994).

They had big shows in front of 30,000 people and it was broadcast on live TV in prime time, and it wasn’t for creepy men, it was for teenage girls. At the same time, women and men have their own promotions and they are doing different things. Maybe it’s because in the UK and America we have tended to stick them together.

If you think about it apart from Eve and Bellatrix in the UK there hasn’t been any other female promotions, and I think only one female promoter in Emily Reed and EVE in the whole country. If you compare that to Japan where you have things like AJW and GAEA, they are very female-centric spaces. I am still not saying I would prefer or that you need mixed gender everywhere but I think you can also say it’s alright to have single-gender spaces.

I wanted to get your views on New Japan because Wrestle Kingdom is usually 78 hours long, yet there is no women’s match at all on the show.

The fact that it’s 78 hours long, I put my hands up I can’t do Wrestling Kingdom I just can’t, I find it hard enough to watch the whole Royal Rumble.

Shows are so long now. The Royal Rumble is my favourite show of the year, but I had to watch it during three sittings to get through the show. I thought after a title match and rumble the show should be close to done but we still had 2 hours!

I remember when I first started wrestling I was told to improve you need to watch wrestling and I asked what was best to start with. My friends said to watch Wrestlemania, so I started with Wrestlemania 1, and imagine watching WrestleMania 1 when you haven’t watched any wrestling ever.

That’s a hard start. It will not have aged well

It’s a hard start, it is still a really long show to start with, and obviously part of me loved it but another part of me thought ‘well this was racist’. I asked my friend why she told me to watch that show, and she asked why I started with the show from 1987. I mean surely you should start at the beginning?

So I went back to the same friend and told her that I did not like Wrestlemania. She realized that I was that clueless and said I just needed a wrestler that I could identify with. I can’t identify with Hulk Hogan or Steve Austin. I am a slightly overweight woman, I need someone I can look at and feel is more me. So she gave me the name of Bull Nakano and I went into YouTube to find her, and it got to the point where I was just clicking on her name and I didn’t care who she was wrestling, I watched it all. I went back her early days when she was just 17, and she was wrestling with Dump Matsumoto. The screaming banshee levels of these women!

Fantasy Booking and Favourites

Would Bull be a dream opponent, or who would it be if you could have one match with anyone?

I would say Cassandro the Exotico because he’s my favourite wrestler of all time. He also came to the London School of Lucha Libre, and he has talked with us a few times and he’s a good friend. I would say he taught me more about wrestling than anyone, outside of my coaches Greg and Gary.

He’s so tough and he was the first openly gay male wrestler to hold a world heavyweight belt. He’s so skilled and he is so tiny and terrifying and flamboyant at the same time. To me it wouldn’t be about my glory, it would be the honour of essentially wrestling with my teacher. But I’m just saying that, I think I’d be too intimidated to even lock up with him I love him that much.

What’s your favourite matches of all times, if you could pick one or two.

I would say any match between Bailey and Sasha Banks from NXT . Charlotte facing Sasha Banks at Hell in a Cell (the first womens Hell in a Cell match). That made me cry, I don’t know why it just got me, I think it’s because Sasha Banks is just so into it, and she’s so tiny and they work so hard to get there.

I was going to ask you about a something which ties nicely into that match. When it comes to wrestling, sometimes it’s basically physics, and women are generally smaller than men. When you think wrestler you think of big guys in the ring. I was watching that Sasha vs Charlotte match, a really amazing match, and I remember they were trying to put Sasha through a table and she’s so tiny – they were trying to throw her through it but it would not break.

Heather: But the thing is for me those are the bits that made it, that’s why I loved it because you could tell they haven’t fixed it to be easier to put Sasha through the table, they were going hell for leather and I loved it.

I say my other favourite match is Bayley vs. Nia Jax, which I saw live at Takeover London. That made me cry, it was just the most amazing match, the story they told it was just like the proper David and Goliath, and of course it’s the easiest story they could have told. For me as woman to be standing there, I remember going to the TNA show (now Impact Wrestling) 5 years before in London, in my first year of wrestling, and one of the female wrestlers fell off the stage, so it was a big improvement. Five years later, I’m watching a women’s match where no one is using it as the toilet break and the whole audience is standing up and screaming and it’s the girl next door versus like a giant Beyoncé. Which is what Nia Jax is, she’s a giant Beyoncé, and you have to have those moments.

I am struggling to remember the match; I am going to have to watch that match again (Update – I did, its awesome).

I was having surgery next morning for endometriosis, and I was feeling really nervious, so maybe that’s why it meant more and I really remember it.

But you asked me my favourite match, and the fact is I keep telling myself my favourite matches are the ones we have at the Resistance Gallery in Lucha Britannia or Eve. The crowd are so close and you can see the perspiration on their faces, and I have been gripped to my seat watching people who I know and have gone for pizza with, but I am suddenly transfixed.  Any match with Cara Noir, Rhia O’Reilly, any match with Nina Samuels in it and these are people that I know very well and they are great performers.

I recommend to everyone that it’s worth going to the gallery for a show if you are in London. The last time I went to one I was ringside with my beer resting on the side and Cassius stood above me.

You’ll have to move out the way so you don’t get kick in the face.

Yes indeed! We had a few guys just jumping onto us, and one of the heels was coming down the stairs to the ring and my friend decided to square up to him – it was a bit intense but it’s really cool.

Maybe that’s why I find it hard to go and watch ‘pedestrian’ wrestling shows after my first experience at Lucha Britannia really being so intimate, because I was confused when there was a ringside barrier at other shows. All are welcome at the gallery and it’s great for your friends who have never seen wrestling before, we really try to make people feel welcome. Honestly if you want to get yourself out of the wrestling closet or bring your girlfriend or whoever to a show do it because it’s designed to bring in new people.

 

How to become a Wrestler

You have training tonight to get to so we need to wrap this up soon. Some of my friends are talking about trying to get involved in doing some training because they think it would be really fun to learn. What would you recommend for those based around London?

Heather: I have three recommendations for training. First is London School of Lucha Libre, we welcome everyone so if you are nice come along. We have people there like me, who when I started to train couldn’t tell from left from right and I couldn’t tell you who The Undertaker was, so it’s suitable for all. Wrestling should be for everyone, we are a family and we look after each other and we don’t judge people and we are not mean, it’s completely open. Every Monday and Wednesday we have beginners class from 7pm and that’s £10.

On Sunday mornings we have The Eve Academy, that is woman only and it’s for all levels to have fun if anyone wants to try. Both groups are at the Resistance Gallery.

And then I am also a part of a group called Burning Hearts. We are a really small woman wrestling collaborative, so rather than running like a promotion we are a co-op. We run everything ourselves as a group we don’t have one person who runs it, and the same goes for the training, we will invite people to come at any level. You can help as much with that as you want but if you want to be involved in things like promoting and being a part of the show we are really good in that space as well.

Fans, We’re Outta Time!

I wanted to end with a few questions from friends in the Watch Wrestling London meet up group; these may be of a mixed quality but think of it like rapid-fire readers questions. The first one I think we have answered, the ‘what made you decide to become a wrestler’ question. It was when you were invited at that stand up show, would that be fair to say? What made you stick with it?

The first fight that I had. This is when I went from being a trainee to ‘I am going to be a wrestler’. I had to suplex a 6-foot man, and anyone who does a suplex knows it’s mainly about the person who you are doing it to as they have to jump over you. But when you giving a suplex to a 6-foot man and you are a 5 foot 4 woman and you manage it you just think ‘this is good, I will keep doing this’!

We talked about Wrestlemania briefly. Do you have a favourite Wrestlemania?

No I don’t, I really don’t have a favourite Wrestlemania. I do watch them but I think until recently I found them quite boring because they are mainly men’s matches and I am sorry to say that. I will say I like the first one because it had Leilani vs Wendi Richter with Cyndi Lauper at ringside. Why is she is not on every Wrestlemania I don’t know.

On a scale of 1 to 10 how hard is this the mat, and then how hard are the ropes when you are running off them?

It depends on the ring I. would say a nice ring is 8 and the ropes are also an 8. However, if you were trained on judo mats that is a freaking 10 because that is like a very thin foam between you and the concrete floor, that’s the 10 bar.

To wrap things up is there anything that you would want to say to any female fans, or anyone thinking to becoming a female wrestler?

First of all, please buy my book Unladylike when it comes out in July, it covers a lot.

The second thing is be vocal, it doesn’t matter if you are a woman and you are a female wrestling fan, your voice is valid, and I know sometimes it can be hard if you are in very male environment to have an opinion, but hold on to it and write about it and talk about it. Seek out women who also like wrestling because they are out there.

And to everyone, not just women, if you think you want to try and be a wrestler the hardest thing is walking through the door. You will know immediately and either think this is horrible, or you might be like me and feel this is the best decision you ever made.

Thank you for your time this evening, I know you have to get off and do some training it was great talking to you.

Thank you.

Jason appears weekly on ‘Holy Shoot - A Wrestling Podcast‘, covering everything from EVE to WWE with news, reviews and discussion on the wider wrestling world. The Holy Shoot podcast is easy to find on iTunes, Spotify, Podbean, Stitcher and all the usual places you get your podcasts from. It lives at https://holyshoot.podbean.com/.

He also runs Europe’s largest Meet Up group for wrestling called Watch Wrestling London, a place for fans in London to arrange events to watch PPVs and attend live events. Find out more at http://www.watchwrestling.london

He also tweets wrestling at https://twitter.com/WrestlingLondon