Women’s wrestling is a hot topic, cultural phenomenon, fast-growing show business, and a great subject for a successful TV-series. But how it is in real life when someone decides to become a professional wrestler? Laura James gives an insight into the spectator sport and the lifestyle that comes with it.
Interview with Laura James
Where are you from and what you do?
I am originally from Plymouth England but I have been based in Los Angeles for almost 10 years. I am a former professional wrestler and I have now gone into stunts and acting.
Why did you start wrestling?
I watched wrestling when I was younger in what was called the attitude era of wrestling but then I stopped for many years. I’m not quite sure what got me back into watching it but after I did I realized I wanted to give it a try for myself. I tracked down a place in LA where I could start to train. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to hack it at first but I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. The training is very intense. You have to be able to handle a bit of pain and also be at least a little acrobatic. When I started I practised 2-3 times a week for 3 hours at a time. This was on top of me driving three hours to the place and an hour and a half back once traffic had died down. In the beginning it was difficult, like anything else, but I pushed through because I enjoyed it. Once you start wrestling on shows you can cut back a bit on the training because you’re learning on the job.
How to get a job in shows?
Usually you start doing matches for the school that you train at. Most schools run their own shows. Once you have worked those enough you can start trying to get booked on small, local indie shows by going to there and speaking to promoters or by asking other wrestlers who are already working and could recommend you. From there it’s just about working and building your name and your brand. You choose a character and build your performance on it. I always liked wrestling that was a bit more comedic and more of a show, so I went to that direction. Maybe it sounds odd because wresting in general is a show but there are other styles such as strong style or more grappling based.
It takes a few years to be able to really start building a name for yourself. Your success depends on how good you are and how you market yourself. Networking is just as important than your skills. I know awesome people who never made it out of those small, local shows. If you work hard and your marketing is good you eventually will get bookings for bigger and bigger events.
What’s the best part in the job?
When you start to have a name you will be flown to other parts of the country or world. Wrestling has given me the opportunity to travel to places I may have never gone. I have met people that will be my lifelong friends, and I have been able to perform in front of thousands of people which is a great feeling. For me any kind of showmanship is super fun. I was part of a tag team, called The Killer Baes. Travelling and doing shows with one of my best friends was just incredible.
And the worst part…
The first few months of training. It is extremely challenging, but once you break through a certain point it really becomes so fun. Travelling is great experience but it also can be exhausting. Long flights and even longer drives can take it out of you quite a bit.
What would you advice to a girl who wants to start wrestling?
I think now is the best time in women’s wrestling. Finally we are given the opportunities that men have and we are also appreciated as much. So, my advice would be the same to men and women; Just know it will be hard but if you truly love what you do it will be worth it. Make sure you do your research and find a reputable place to train at. There are a lot of charlatans out there. Also, know your worth and be cautious of shady promoters. Wrestling has changed a lot since I was doing it. Opportunities are really there these days. Before wrestling was viewed as a little corny but now it is much more popular with a more hip crowd. There are more indie promotions that can draw big crowds and get more buzz. The show gets also bigger promotion on TV and it doesn’t have to pretend to be something it is not anymore.
Do you need any sports background to start?
Not necessarily. If you’ve done high school or collegiate wrestling is definitely a bonus. Gymnasts and cheerleaders seem to catch on really fast, too. The shows based around the looks, so if you have athletic body or any kind of fitness or sports background it helps. Even runners could be good because for wrestling you need endurance and cardio. But I’ve seen many people who weren’t athletic at all but they do really well just because they enjoy what they do.
Training to wrestle teaches you how far you can push yourself both physically and mentally. Many people don’t last past the first few training sessions. It’s incredibly hard on the body but you do eventually build up a tolerance and learn how to protect yourself from getting hurt. You have to have a lot of endurance but also a lot of drive and a passion for it.
How long a wrestler’s career can be?
I know female wrestlers who are in their 40s and 50s and still wrestle and have done it for years. Usually women don’t have as much longevity as men but it’s not always the case. Wrestling is very hard on the body and any athlete has a shelf life. I think in general it is normal for athletes to slow down or stop in their 40s due to wear and tear.
Why did you stop wrestling?
Wrestling has enriched my life massively and although I have moved on to other things it is always something I will cherish. I won’t give up completely, I will do a few shows here and there, but I feel I achieved what I wanted in wrestling. So, when I started to get new opportunities, I got offered work on TV shows, the change seemed obvious. Now my focus is on doing stunts and acting. Stunts is a no brainer for me, it is a lot more choreographed fight sequences than wrestling. In the end of the day it is all performing, not too dissimilar from wrestling in a sense.