Pro wrestling has long been a treasure trove of entertaining and exciting moments. Moments that make us acknowledge the pioneers and innovators that set the standards and passed along the torches to the next generation. The aerial assault artists with an affinity for all things high risk. The fast talkers and flawless promos we can recite word for word. From the DX crotch chops to the Ric Flair “WOO’s” all the way down to every moment where we saw “The Rock” raise an eyebrow, there is a moment of importance captured that will replay on television to generations well beyond the current.
But some stories of pioneers and innovators never see the acclaim they deserve. The toils and tribulations of their journey to triumph often end up on a hushed back burner reserved for those willing to dig a little deeper than what is presented in the mainstream. These stories also belong to important figures. The true pioneers and innovators. The characters who struggled tirelessly in their careers to shape better conditions and circumstances for the future. In the realm of women’s wrestling few can argue against the fact that the current regime is experiencing a renaissance and perched in the background is one of those pioneers that made it all possible. A pioneer many refer to as “The Wounded Owl”.
In a week where Women’s wrestling is making millions in the Hollywood box office with WWE’s adaptation of superstar Paige’s life story in a film called “Fighting With My Family,” another long journey from one of the greatest women to ever grace the ring is coming to a close. On February 26th, veteran wrestler LuFisto announced her impending retirement from the sport of professional wrestling in a lengthy blog post on her website. In all honesty, the blog broke my heart into pieces. Not only did she cite her injured knee and nagging injuries but the sentiment of the blog portrayed her frustrations in a career in which she gave it her all and was never able to accomplish her goal of being long tenured in one of the major promotions.
(Excerpt Courtesy of Lufisto.com)
A part of me has always hoped that the sweat, blood, scars and the thousands of tears would pay off. So, I was fighting through the pain. You make bad decisions for a dream sometimes…The pursuit of the dream has also messed with my head and my heart.
Storylines and promos about me being “bitter” and that I was always complaining (even if I knew it was just for “the show”) or interview questions on why I didn’t make it started to be way too heavy on me. Even if it was part of the character, mainly my heel persona, I’ve never been comfortable with the concept. That this hurt me so bad shows you how messed up my mental state it. Why?
Because it couldn’t be more far from the truth.
I love wrestling. I love it so much that I fought tooth and nail for respect. I got beat, stretched, called an asshole or a big head because I wanted women to be seen as equals and no, being a manager or valet wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to be a wrestler. That’s all I ever wanted to be.
I’m not bitter. I’m heartbroken.
Heartbroken that I didn’t prove wrong all those people who were telling me that I was wasting my time, that I was a loser, that I wouldn’t go anywhere… Today, I feel like they’ve won. I’m grateful for every single opportunity and for all the promoters who let me step into their ring. However, I have that emptiness that there is something missing because I didn’t reach my goal of joining one of the major promotions. No matter how hard I try, it just won’t go away.
I am over sensitive and weak. I’m so tired, all the time. I feel like I’ve been buried alive. I’m there but I’m gasping for air…Therefore, because of my body tells me it can’t go on, because my soul is filled with darkness, because my heart is so heavy that there is no more beauty in anything, I have decided that 2019 would be the last year of LuFisto.
When I say this broke my heart, I truly mean it. As a shy, quiet kid I fell in love with the sport of professional wrestling because it was a sport with no season. One without an end in sight. Regardless of injuries or circumstance, the show always went on. To me professional wrestling was a constant while the rest of my childhood was full of abrupt changes and moves.
Over the years, through the television, newsletters and magazines, I experienced some big wrestling moments I will never forget and as I grew older my appreciation began to span through the annals of wrestling history and the men and women who brought it to the forefront and made those moments possible.
From independent shows all the way up to the WWE, I grew fascinated with pioneers and innovators and learning about any wrestler I had never heard of. In that time period I was in my early twenties and the WWE’s presentation of women’s wrestling was rendered to 4 minutes of television time per episode, usually reserved for two models ripping off each other’s clothes in a baby wading pool full of turkey gravy or something equally insulting our intelligence.
Long gone were the days where WWE had decided that a true Women’s Championship mattered. When Alundra Blayze went to WCW and threw the women’s title in the trash can, it almost seemed as if Vince McMahon was okay with metaphorically leaving it there. In the mainstream, Women’s wrestling was considered an attraction, and a short scantily clad attraction at that. It seemed that in just a few years time I went from reading an issue of Pro Wrestling Illustrated touting a bout between Bull Nakano and Alundra Blayze that drew 32,000 people in Japan and with a simple blink women’s contributions to the industry in the United States were rendered to a “Diva Search” and a treated like a commodity or fodder for the cover of Playboy magazine.
It was around this time I started interviewing wrestlers for no reason other than I wanted to write about it and somehow be involved with the sport I loved most. I don’t remember who said her name first, but as I interviewed many women having exceptional matches on small independent shows the name LuFisto continued to ring strong as I transcribed voices from tiny cassette tapes that told me of their favorite wrestlers to watch and emulate.
As I watched women having great matches in gymnasiums and VFW’s to a few dozen people, I wondered why this was something that wasn’t on television. It was great. It was competitive and every bit as impressive as the men. One short conversation with a female wrestling fan in particular stands out in my mind and always will. I was in Denver, Colorado for the “Van’s Warped Tour” when a teenage kid with a Smurf blue mohawk and an “LWO” shirt with about 14 piercings in his face handed me a small light blue handbill touting a wrestling show that was going on right around the corner from the hotel I was staying at. My friends were not interested, but I decided that $5 for a local wrestling show beat out the hundred dollars I would more than likely spend drinking at local bars. I sat in the crowd talking to a few fans about wrestling and the two women’s matches on the card when a teenage girl turned around and said something I will never forget.
“Have you ever heard of “Shimmer”…and the rest is history. From this one sentence I discovered so many promotions and women who were changing the face of the sport in one fell swoop. Mercedes Martinez. Leva Bates. Kellie Skater. But above all my very favorite became a woman I would consider a legend and innovator, “The Wounded Owl” LuFisto. While it seems the years have passed without her long term goal of signing with one of the major companies coming to fruition, in my opinion, she has far exceeded that goal in what her existence in the industry has meant. To me she is a torch bearer in dark times. A time when you could look at two women wrestling in a televised “pillow fight” and cringe because you knew they deserved better.
LuFisto said it herself, “I got beat, stretched, called an asshole or a big head because I wanted women to be seen as equals and no, being a manager or valet wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to be a wrestler.” Independent stars like LuFisto were having matches that far exceeded those “pioneering” moments the mainstream will continue to see years from now yet there will always be someone like me shouting their praises from the back of the classroom. When they mention WWE’s first all women’s pay per view the educated will know that Shine, Shimmer and Rise were doing it first and paving the way. When the WWE finally caves and intergender bouts are a regular thing, some of us will always know that the independent circuit bouts of the past and present were the catalyst for that decision.
Looking at LuFisto’s career on paper will instantly raise your eyebrows in awe. Amongst the plethora of titles and accolades stands moments more astounding and groundbreaking than you will ever believe…some being moments I was not even aware of until I was gathering information to write this piece. In 2002, LuFisto was set to take on a hardcore wrestler named “Bloody” Bill Skullion in Ontario, Canada when the Ontario Athletic Commission threatened to stop the show from happening as a rule stated that men and women were not allowed to compete against each other. She won an appeal and the rule was overturned in 2006.
She is the first woman to ever win the CZW “Iron Man” Championship and did so by defeating Kevin Steen, better known as “Kevin Owens” to the casual fan. She has competed in death matches. She came back and competed after suffering a stroke and then fought her way back into the ring once again after a nearly career ending back injury.
LuFisto was ranked in the top 5 of every women’s wrestlers in the world by PWI in 2014; her opponents list a virtual “who’s who” of the best women in the industry at various points in their careers. Her accolades are a testament to her in ring work and more importantly to her character and attitude both in and out of the ring. She is one of the reasons that women are now at the forefront of the industry. She has given everything she has and more and as 2019 winds down the 39-year-old veteran will call it a career, and it is a meaningful career with more stories, moments and depth than any beginner can hope to have as they enter a wrestling school for the very first time.
LuFisto is a shining of example of hard work and determination. While her statement seems to lament not meeting her goal of performing on a grander stage of one of the industries largest promotions, she has done more than she will ever realize to further the sport and further the industry for every girl who dreams of stepping into the ring as a grown woman and being viewed as an equal. In my eyes it isn’t about where you have shined, but how brightly you were able to do so and LuFisto shines brighter than she will ever believe. Thank you for all you have given to an industry that has been a beautiful escape for so many of us as we celebrate your career and what it truly means. Your goodbye statement broke my heart in a way that made me want to reach out and put yours back together. Thank you for your blood, sweat, tears and sacrifice. Here’s to hoping the owl will be wounded no longer.
Thank you, LuFisto.
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