Saturday night in Nottingham and, like many women across the country, Nikki
and Erin are getting glammed up.
The girls chat as they apply false eyelashes, straighten their hair and slip
into figure-hugging outfits.
They’re getting ready for a night with the girls… Except, in this instance,
there’ll be no cocktails or dancing and certainly no flirting with the
Instead, Nikki, 22, and Erin, 24, will be spending their evening in Lycra
costumes, grappling with 15 other women, at an all-female wrestling bout.
The girls are wrestlers and compete on the women’s circuit under the names
Nikki Storm and Erin Angel.
George Clooney’s latest squeeze, Stacy Keibler, 32, is a former female
wrestler, but the UK women’s scene is a far cry from the glitz and glamour
of the American wrestling world.
Tonight’s “show”, which Fabulous has come along to witness, is taking place at
a rundown warehouse turned gym near Nottingham train station. In fact,
there’s nothing remotely glamorous about the smell of stale sweat and
rickety plastic chairs for the 60-odd spectators – mainly men or pre-teen
boys with their mums – there to cheer for their favourite girl.
So why do these women do it? “It’s the competition,” says Erin, who’s been
wrestling part-time for eight years. “It’s brutal, but I love it. You may
not believe it, but while I love the training and fighting side of it, I
also love the showmanship.
“I’m very girlie and I love glamming up. My outfit tonight – a pink crop top
and matching chaps – cost £70 and I got it custom-made from a dancewear
supplier. I have six wrestling outfits and they all feature my trademark
Women’s wrestling is enjoying a boom in the UK, according to Pro Wrestling
Eve, the UK’s only all-female wrestling promotion company.
Set up 18 months ago by husband and wife team Dann and Emily Read, a former
wrestler herself, they’ve organised tonight’s event and say interest in
women’s wrestling has never been greater.
“People are beginning to respect female wrestling and take it seriously. They
recognise the work the women put in to prove themselves the equals of male
wrestlers,” says Emily.
Emily and Dann are quick to dismiss any comparisons to the American scene.
“Mention female wrestlers and most people think of American WWE ‘Divas’, which
is the female division of World Wrestling Entertainment,” says Emily.
“But some of those women are models chosen from swimsuit catalogues, then
taught to wrestle.
“They look like Barbie dolls and the focus can be on that as opposed to how
good a wrestler they are. Our wrestlers are dedicated and their focus is on
athleticism. We don’t care what she looks like as long as she can deliver.”
The women are paid to take part, the amount depending on experience and the
length of the matches. However, no one goes into female wrestling to get
rich quick, with fees ranging from just £30 to £500 a show.
Thrilling the fans
First into the ring is Kay Lee Ray, a 19-year-old Glaswegian with flaming-red
hair. As she bounds into the room, she high-fives delighted fans who cheer,
clap and wolfwhistle. Then the music turns menacing as Dann introduces her
opponent; Portuguese wrestler Shanna, who’s dressed in a revealing black
bikini decorated with pink flames.
She’s greeted with boos and shouts of “You suck!” as she mock-angrily shakes
the railings in front of the audience. The crowd is loving it, and the
atmosphere is pantomime meets The Jeremy Kyle Show.
Watching Kay Lee and Shanna perform an impressive array of drop kicks, and
springboard clotheslines (where the wrestler jumps on to her opponent from
the top rope of the ring), there’s no denying their strength and fitness,
and the battering their bodies take.
Their match lasts 10 minutes and Shanna is declared the winner.
Wrestling – both male and female – is often criticised for being faked. And
Emily does admit that in her events the winner of each match is
pre-determined and each woman has a character to play. However, she
describes the fights as “athletic theatre-based productions”.
“A lot of people think the floor of the ring is padded, but the women wouldn’t
be able to run across it if that was the case,” adds Dann.
Most of the competitors wrestle alongside their day jobs, which range from
shop managers to personal trainers, but wrestling requires huge commitment.
“From Monday to Wednesday, I’m a swimming teacher, then Thursday to Sunday is
all about wrestling,” says Erin.
“I don’t drink alcohol and if I have a big show coming up, I go on a low-carb,
high-protein diet of chicken, brown rice and vegetables, for two months.”
Erin’s boyfriend, Jason Farmer, 35, AKA Jace The Ace, is also a wrestler.
“We met on the wrestling circuit and have been together for three years,” says
Erin. She insists Jason’s not jealous of her male fans who come to watch her
wrestle and are her Facebook friends.
“He’s very understanding. I do get some funny messages on Facebook, but we
laugh about it. Sometimes blokes ask if I will wrestle them!
“Anyway, my boyfriend gets quite a bit of attention too from his female fans –
it’s all part of the job,” she says.
Southampton-based Erin admits it’s easier dating another wrestler because he
understands the commitment involved.
“We train together and we’ve even wrestled each other in shows – I always
win!” she says with a glint in her eye.
Far from intimidating blokes, before dating Jason, Erin says her wrestling
made her more attractive to men.
“Most guys grow up watching wrestling on TV, and previous boyfriends have
thought it was really cool. I’ve never found it put men off me,” she says.
Matches might be pre-determined, but some things you can’t fake. Pain and
injuries are all part of the job and the women on tonight’s roster have had
broken fingers, toes and ankles.
Alpha Female, a 5ft 11in 28-year-old wrestler from Munich, who’s wrestling
tonight, once had her eye split open after an opponent’s hip bone landed on
“I’ve been knocked out and left with a black spot on my vision, but that won’t
stop me,” she says.
Kay Lee, who’s 5ft 7in and 9st, competed in her first all-female “death match”
last year. This extreme form of wrestling, run by the aptly-named Insane
Championship Wrestling organisation, sees the rule book torn up and
opponents able to use anything available as weapons. Kay won the match
against her bitter rival, Carmel.
“We wrestled with chairs, hockey sticks, frying pans – anything goes,” she
says. “I was delighted when I won and I didn’t even notice my injuries until
afterwards. But I’d torn the ligaments in my ankle and my back was covered
in cuts and bruises from landing on drawing pins. I’d still do another one
in an instant, though – the crowd was amazing and it was 30 minutes of pure
Kay may be blasé about her career, but she admits her family find it
“My mum and gran have never come to see me wrestle. They support me but they
can’t bear to watch their little girl get hurt,” she says.
Like Erin, Kay, who works as a home carer, is dating a fellow wrestler who she
credits with introducing her to the sport.
“My fiancé Stephen, 19, and I went to school together. He’s been wrestling
since he was 12. When I was 16, I went to watch him wrestle. I was hooked.”
In the crowd tonight are scouts from Ice Ribbon, the world’s biggest
all-female wrestling promotion company based in Japan. They’re on the hunt for
new talent, and if a girl catches their eye, she could be signed up to
wrestle in a country where women’s wrestling is revered and more financially
lucrative than in the UK.
For the love of it
Most UK-based female wrestlers can’t afford to make a full-time career of it,
although Alpha Female (real name Jazzy Gabert), is an exception.
“I got into wrestling when I was 18 and went full-time five years ago,” she
says. “I’ve given up everything for it. I don’t touch alcohol, I have just a
few friends and I haven’t had a boyfriend in years. I travel all over
France, Turkey, Spain and Italy, so there’s no way I can hold down a
relationship when I’m away so much.”
But she’s not doing it for the money. “As a wrestler, I’m pretty poor – last
year I only earned around £8,000, but it’s worth it to do what I love.”
So what is the appeal of being battered and bruised week in, week out?
For Erin, it’s an opportunity to mix her femininity with physical prowess.
“I was a sporty child and when I watched WWE wrestling on TV I was struck by
how the female wrestlers were glamorous and athletic at the same time. I
thought: ‘that’s what I want to do’, and I’ve never regretted becoming a
At just 15, she spoke to a wrestling promoter and begged him to train her.
Despite the fact he’d never trained a girl before, he agreed.
“At first, my family and friends thought wrestling was just a phase and found
it very funny, especially because I’m only 4ft 11in and at that time I was a
size 14 with lots of puppy fat,” laughs Erin, who’s now a toned size 8.
“But as I spent more and more time training and started winning fights, they
realised I was deadly serious about it, and now really respect me.”
Erin admits that her personalities in and out of the ring are very different.
“In my normal life I’m actually quite shy and modest, but as soon as my
costume goes on and I step in the ring, I’m bursting with confidence.”
In the ring, the women snarl and glare at each other, but after the matches
they gather backstage to chat and hold ice to each other’s injuries.
“There’s a lot of camaraderie between us,” reveals Erin. “It’s great to catch
up with the girls at shows.”
There’s a sense of solidarity and empowerment from all the women, but with
skimpy outfits that leave little to the imagination, and hordes of
salivating male fans, are these women really good role models for young
“Male wrestlers wear a lot less and they don’t get any grief,” says Kay Lee.
“Female wrestlers are strong and I think we show young girls you can follow
your dreams,” adds Erin. “I get lots of little girls coming up to me after a
show, saying how much they love me, asking for pictures and an autograph.
You can see that you’re an inspiration to them, and that’s really
Whatever you think of the sport, the commitment and passion of the women is
undeniable and infectious.
“Wrestling is my life, without it I’m nothing,” says Alpha earnestly, before
striding purposefully to the ring for her next bout.
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