Choke holds and hair spray: In the ring with the Women of Wrestling

Azucar of Women of Wrestling at the Eastside Cannery in Las Vegas on Saturday, January 19, 2013.
Photo: Leila Navidi

It takes a lot to make it as a professional female wrestler, but above all, you've got to have T and A. “Talent and attitude,” Cher Ferreyra explains, applying a coat of dark lip liner in the mirror.

Better known as Loca, Ferreyra is half of the wrestling tag team Caged Heat, which returned to the ring after 12 years in January for the relaunch of Women of Wresting at the Eastside Cannery.

Women of Wrestling

“When people think of women wrestling, normally they think of us rolling around in the mud, in bikinis or wet T-shirts,” says Loca, who performs with partner Delta Lotta Pain as a pair of hardened jumpsuit-clad criminals on special “fight parole” from Nevada State Penitentiary. “That’s not us. It takes athleticism. It takes hard work. Not anyone can do this.”

Founded in 2000, WoW now features more than a dozen new and returning performers with personas pulled straight from the pages of comic books. (Several of the women admit they auditioned based solely on the job’s “Want to be a superhero?!” ad description.) While the fights are staged and thoroughly fantasy, real work and preparation goes into the performances.

About four hours before fans fill the arena, the wrestlers arrive, filing into dressing rooms with coffee in hand, hugging one another and exchanging gossip while seated before their vanities—a far cry from the hair-pulling, face-smashing and limb-twisting rivalries that will play out in the ring.

The next two hours are spent on award show-caliber hair and makeup—an arsenal of foundations, primers, fake eyelashes and at least five sizes of curling irons covering every functional surface. The process isn’t just about enhancing features; it’s about preserving them: Long, thick hair is pulled back into sleek braids and coiffed ponytails; menacing black lipstick and metallic eye shadows are made sweat-proof with coats of setting mist; and globs of Aspercreme and body glitter coat arms, backs and shoulders, the closest thing their bare skin will have to armor for the fight ahead.

“I look like I belong in a drag show,” says performer Fire, aka Taylor-Morgan Lewis, tousling her pumped-up mane of crimson locks. “That’s the point.”

Women of Wrestling Portraits

The preparations might seem excessive, but WoW’s comeback is more than a year in the making. After multiple callbacks, the final group left standing—hailing from both fitness and acting backgrounds—began a rigorous, three-month training regimen that consisted of two hours of fight training and choreography and one hour of individual cardio six days a week.

“There were some days I was crying, it hurt so bad,” says newcomer Azucar, a lucha libre-masked performer from Mexico City who withholds her real name to add to her character’s mystique. Even with her broad shoulders and background in muay thai martial arts, she admits to having breakdowns as her body was pushed to its limits during training, which included learning how to body slam, choke hold and bounce off the thick ropes in ways that uphold the fight illusion while keeping the wrestlers safe.

“If you do it right, you don’t get injured,” Azucar says, pulling up her sequined leotard to reveal a grapefruit-sized bruise on her hip. “This is what happens when you don’t do it right.”

But even seasoned pros like Erica Porter, an original WoW star known as Jungle Grrrl, can’t avoid the inevitable wear and tear that comes with the gig. The day of the show, she learned that an ache in her side was actually a fractured rib, the result of her signature gravity-defying splash off the ropes. She’ll still go on to perform, of course, and as she steps into the ring, it’s hard to imagine her wincing earlier as medics taped the injury.

Perched cat-like on the ropes, Porter arches her back and flings herself atop her opponent, the thud of her torso against the mat unmistakable. She looks up, teeth barred and eyes narrowed, but it’s not pain contorting her face. The referee raises her arm in victory and she lets out a yelp—Jungle Grrrl’s signature howl of victory.

Follow Andrea Domanick on Twitter at @AndreaDomanick and fan her on Facebook at Facebook.com/AndreaDomanick.

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