Ready to shine

Cana­dian fe­male pro wrestlers see glow­ing fu­ture in the ring

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - PERSPECTIVES - BY DAVID FRIEND

Xan­dra Bale scowls at the crowd as she pushes through a vel­vet cur­tain and struts to­wards the wrestling ring.

It’s a Sun­day af­ter­noon at the Oshawa Curl­ing Club, in a city just out­side Toronto, and sev­eral dozen wrestling fans have gath­ered to watch the vil­lain­ous Bale get knocked from her pedestal.

“I know you guys haven’t seen a girl who looks like me be­fore,’’ she snarls after snatch­ing the mi­cro­phone from the an­nouncer.

“But when a hot girl comes out — you’re sup­posed to cheer for her.’’

A smat­ter of ap­plause seeps from the crowd, but the room clearly sides with her op­po­nent, Jessie Mack, who skips around prac­ti­cally taunt­ing Bale. Within a few mo­ments, they’re clash­ing in a chore­ographed bout of com­bat that ri­vals their male coun­ter­parts.

It’s the only fe­male wrestling match dur­ing this small event put on by an in­de­pen­dent pro­moter, but across the in­dus­try that’s slowly chang­ing.

Nearly a decade after she started, Bale —whose real name is Alex David­son — has seen women’s wrestling be­come le­git­imized, evolv­ing from hy­per-sex­u­al­ized fan­tasy fights into se­ri­ous butt-kick­ing ac­tion that isn’t merely fill­ing an empty slot in the lineup.

Net­flix re­cently hopped on the band­wagon with “GLOW,’’ a com­edy se­ries loosely based on a real-life rag­tag group of wrestlers from the 1980s known as the Gor­geous Ladies of Wrestling.

And in­dus­try be­he­moth World Wrestling En­ter­tain­ment plans to make his­tory next week by hold­ing its first all-fe­male event in Or­lando, Fla., where 32 women will bat­tle it out.

“There’s never been a bet­ter mo­ment to be an in­de­pen­dent woman wrestler than to­day,’’ says Pat Laprade, the Mon­tre­al­based co-au­thor of “Sis­ter­hood of the Squared Cir­cle: The His­tory and Rise of Women’s Wrestling.’’

“The WWE is sign­ing so many of them.’’

It’s a long way from the shim­mers of progress led by pop singer Cyndi Lau­per back in the 1980s. She joined what was then known as the World Wrestling Fed­er­a­tion to play the man­ager to new­comer Wendi Richter.

Lau­per made a point of em­pha­siz­ing the role of strong women but when Richter pub­licly urged owner Vince McMa­hon to ex­pand his women’s di­vi­sion, he stripped her of her ti­tle, ac­cord­ing to the book “Sex, Lies and Headlocks’’ by Shaun As­sael and Mike Mooney­ham.

In the 1990s, the in­dus­try did lit­tle to ad­vance women, bet­ting on su­per­stars like the Rock while leav­ing others such as Cana­dian-born Tr­ish Stra­tus with sto­ry­lines about af­fairs with their bosses.

Wrestler Tammy Sytch was known for dis­tract­ing op­po­nents by shak­ing her cleav­age and the WWE’s “bra and panties matches’’ sold them­selves as a race for women to get their op­po­nents stripped down to their un­der­gar­ments.

Those mo­ments stick with Jes­sica McQueen, the 26-yearold Toronto wrestler who por­trays Mack in the ring.

Grow­ing up she ad­mired fe­male wrestlers, but even­tu­ally found her­self dis­en­chanted by matches themed around degrading them.

“Any­thing in a pool — mud, Jell-O, all that stuff — and I’m like, ‘That’s not what I want to be,’’’ she re­mem­bers.

“They could get away with it then. But as a young girl grow­ing up try­ing to fig­ure her­self out, that wasn’t some­thing I wanted to emu­late at all.’’

David­son felt the same years ear­lier when she couldn’t find a sin­gle fe­male role model in wrestling.

When she was younger, her heroes were play­ers on the women’s na­tional hockey team, who were in the midst of their own win­ning streak.

Now work­ing as a phys­io­ther­a­pist, David­son tries to keep her love of wrestling separate from her day job, though oc­ca­sion­ally the two will col­lide.

She once ac­ci­den­tally signed a pa­tient’s chart with her “Xan­dra Bale’’ au­to­graph be­fore quickly cor­rect­ing her mis­take. When David­son tells people she’s a wrestler, they of­ten as­sume she’s chas­ing Olympic sta­tus.

After ex­plain­ing that her type of wrestling is more for en­ter­tain­ment, she likes to em­pha­size that the in­juries are real.

A few years ago, David­son broke her an­kle dur­ing a match gone awry and, in what was sup­posed to be her tri­umphant re­turn after weeks of heal­ing, she snapped her wrist.

“You def­i­nitely get bumps and bruises,’’ she says.

Net­flix’s “GLOW’’ cap­tures some of the grit that comes with this type of fight­ing, but what the show hasn’t ex­plored yet is what hap­pens when wrestlers pass their prime.

It’s a ques­tion that lingers in the back of David­son’s mind. She’s now 32 and knows that putting her body through re­lent­less trauma could mean she’s push­ing her luck.

“I al­ways said I was go­ing to re­tire when I was 30,’’ she says.

“Now that I’ve hit 32 the new endgame is: we’ll see how long my body can hold up for. I’m start­ing to no­tice a lit­tle wear and tear, for sure, but I still feel like I’ve got some good years left in me.’’

David­son says she isn’t hold­ing out for a full-time pro­fes­sional wrestling ca­reer, but she also doesn’t want to re­tire with re­grets.

Get­ting a big pro-wrestling con­tract is the ul­ti­mate goal for McQueen, whose char­ac­ter lost against Bale in Oshawa.

But it didn’t mat­ter for a lit­tle girl who ap­proached her after the de­feat and asked for an au­to­graph.

“I think what a lot of young girls are look­ing for right now is some­body to look up to,’’ she says.

“To emu­late the power they have.’’


Xan­dra Bale poses be­fore her bout in a SynRGY Pro Wrestling event at the Oshawa Curl­ing Club.


Xan­dra Bale throws Jessie Mack dur­ing their bout in a SynRGY Pro Wrestling event in Oshawa.


Jessie Mack speaks to a young fan after her bout at the Oshawa Curl­ing Club.


Jessie Mack throws Xan­dra Bale dur­ing their bout.

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