By Chuck Carroll
“You say you want a revolution. Well, you know, we all want to change the world.”
There is a full-fledged revolution occurring in wrestling, and it’s not limited to Monday and Tuesday night. The revolution is a 24/7 365 metamorphosis showing no signs of slowing down. It extends from the biggest arenas to the smallest armories, from the Pacific Northwest to the Southeast and across the pond.
Women’s wrestling. The appetite for it has grown so great that even Netflix is devoting a series to female grapplers.
Enter Ring of Honor. The niche promotion devoted to pleasing the pallets of wrestling purists is now creating the purist form of women’s wrestling. There will be no bra and panties matches. There will be no frilly gimmicks. There will only be wrestling. And that’s the only way they’d have it.
Women of Honor is built around a small group of talented performers who are the driving force behind a rapidly expanding fanbase. While the likes of Cody Rhodes, Bully Ray, Adam Cole, Christopher Daniels and others are drawing more attention than ever to the Baltimore-based promotion, the women in the locker room are making sure they are the ones leaving a lasting impression.
I had the opportunity to speak with two of ROH’s top female talents, who are excited about what’s on the horizon. For them, the future is now, and they are paving their own path. Laying the foundation for what they hope will one day be an empire has created an enormous sense of pride and loyalty. So loyal are they that Deonna Purrazzo, who also works for WWE and Impact Wrestling, says she wants to say as long as ROH will have her. She, along with Mandy Leon and just a few others, believes they are creating history. Their endless enthusiasm makes it nearly impossible to doubt them.
Like for many others, the seeds for their blossoming careers were planted years ago, as they watched Trish Stratus and others tear it up in the ring. But they became slightly disillusioned when the women’s roles on the show were limited to scantily clad catfights of little substance. Purrazzo and Leon had one goal in mind when they stepped into the ring for the first time: restore women’s wrestling to its former glory.
Talk to me about your inspirations for getting into the wrestling business. What caught your attention?
Purrazzo: It was Trish Stratus and Lita and Jacqueline and Jazz. It was kind of like we know it today, but then there was a weird transition to the bra-and-panty matches and the Playboy pillow fights. I decided I can do that if they can do that. I can do that no problem. It was always my goal to try to transition women’s wrestling back to those days of Trish and Lita. To see wrestling today and to get these opportunities that the women are getting now is a really big accomplishment.
Leon: When you saw it go into the Attitude Era, it was the bra-and-panty matches. It was more about the looks and the girls being featured in Playboy and who got the cover this month. It lost the focus on the wrestling. It was a huge goal of ours that we’ve accomplished now to be in a place like Ring of Honor, where we can bring back what our passion was. It’s the wrestling side and not so much the looks. … It’s heartwarming and an emotional thing to be here and see the women’s revolution in its entirety. It’s everywhere you look now.
Where does Women Of Honor fall in the pantheon of women’s wrestling?
Leon: We don’t compete with WWE. We’re our own brand, and it’s not even on our mind. Deonna and I simply asked for a match one day because this is our passion. We never knew that it would turn into something that was a draw and something people want to see more of. … Ring of Honor is known as an elite wrestling company. We focus on wrestling. We focus on the best wrestlers in the world. And now we have the best female wrestlers in the world competing here, and that means the world.
Purrazzo: Ring of Honor doesn’t compete with WWE, and maybe it has the stigma that it does because they’re two wrestling entities and two of the biggest in the world. … Women’s wrestling a thing with Ring of Honor, however. I don’t necessarily think fans wanted to see it when we were ready to deliver it. WWE started this whole women’s revolution, and of course we’d been wrestling for four or five years. It has always been a thing for us. But Ring of Honor gave us an opportunity when women’s wrestling got hot across the world.
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You’re not competing with WWE, but you don’t have the same level of attention yet. So what will help you make the next big leap forward to continue growing WOH?
Purrazzo: Right now, where we stand is trying to get more content and more of the best women wrestlers in the world here at Ring of Honor. A lot of it isn’t in our control, but we’re getting more opportunities to voice our opinions, concerns. We want to make this the best that it can be and the best women’s wrestling on the planet.
Give me an idea of the ideas you have talked about with the higher-ups.
Purrazzo: We want a women’s championship! We want something to fight over! There’s a reason that we want to be here and we need something to compete for. We need something that means the most to us. That’s definitely the next step for us is to be able to have that confidence in our ability and drawing power to give fans something to believe in.
Leon: It’s amazing. There are so many girls in the audience now. We’re inspiring little girls. Here we are two years later, we’ve developed our characters. And people are accepting us now, and they want to see more of it. Okay, well, the championship is the next step for me. That’s what I want. Maybe a women’s tournament. Something more to work for because it’s history-making — the first Ring of Honor women’s champion. That’s the main thing that you really want. There’s nothing else that I want right now.
Bully Ray is here, and we just saw the Hardy Boyz in Ring of Honor. What do you think it would take to get someone of that level from the women’s division to come into ROH? What type of a boost would that give ROH?
Purrazzo: Speaking strictly for myself, I’m in a unique situation because I regularly work for all three companies. I work here, I work for WWE, I work for TNA, I just did a tour of Japan. To get someone of that caliber, it’s just the support that the company is willing to give us. I love being part of Women of Honor and everything we stand for. Being here from day one and creating this, it means so much to be standing in the same building today. I get really emotional about it. Just the continued support from the company is number one. We’re finally getting that, and we’ve earned that. It’s not far off to see big women’s wrestling names coming in and wanting to be part of what we’ve created, because we’re getting the support and have the respect and national level of attention that those women look for.
Leon: The beautiful thing now is that the women we looked up to are the women who now, I don’t want to say this in a cocky sense, but kind of admire what we do here and want to be part of it. It’s like an equal admiration thing that’s going on. You can see eventually people like that coming in. But at the same time this is our home. We’re inspirational too, and people look up to us. Why not bring women from around the world here? Why not bring the legends that we looked up to in here? It’ll get there. Right now the beautiful thing is that Ring of Honor is focusing on their core girls and building up their own team first. Then we’ll bring in whoever we want to.
How do you see Women of Honor in terms of your careers? Do you see it as a launching pad or is this the end game?
Leon: I don’t see it as a launching pad. Growing up, I was a fan of WWE, and it’s somewhere I always wanted to go and somewhere I always wanted to be and experience. But I wanted to be trained by the best so I came through the Ring of Honor system. I grew up in the system, and I’m happy here. I’m not working somewhere to get somewhere else. I’m happy here, I’m happy making history here. If I never make it somewhere else, I’m okay with that, because I’m extremely happy here. This is my home. So, whatever happens, happens.
Purrazzo: I’ve been able, in such a short time, to experience a lot in wrestling. I am really happy here. It means so much to me to have been able to create this from the beginning. The thing with Women of Honor is that we’re able to create history. … I don’t necessarily know where my future leads or ends or what’s to happen. But I know that I’m really happy with everything I’ve been able to do here in Ring of Honor, and for as long as they’ll have me, I’d like to be here.
Chuck Carroll is former pro wrestling announcer and referee turned sports media personality. He once appeared on Monday Night RAW when he presented Robert Griffin III with a WWE title belt in the Redskins locker room.
Follow him on Twitter @ChuckCarrollWLC.