Female wrestling is big news, and with rising participation in the UK, Christina Quaine reports on why more women are stepping into the ring
‘In a recent job interview, I was asked about my passions. They were surprised when I told them I’m a pro wrestler,’ says three-times British female wrestling champion Rhia O’Reilly, 32. ‘People don’t believe me until I show them a video of me putting an opponent through a table.’ O’Reilly, from Derry, is now on the roster at Pro-Wrestling:EVE – an all-female wrestling club that runs shows in London. ‘When I started in 2009, I was the only woman at my wrestling club, but numbers have easily quadrupled,’ she says.
Female wrestling officially took centre stage this summer, thanks to Netflix’s breakout comedy GLOW, the true story of struggling actress Ruth Wilder (played by Mad Men’s Alison Brie), who lands a role in an 80s spandex-clad wrestling show. Following on from its success, and set to hit cinemas nationwide next year, is Fighting With My Family, a film directed by Brit talent Stephen Merchant that charts the sharp rise of Norwich-born WWE superstar, Paige.
The current female wrestling movement firmly taps into the ‘strong not skinny’ trend, which is focused on building core strength and stamina rather than weight loss. Sammii Jayne, 24, from Perth in Scotland, credits the sport of female wrestling with getting her back into a fitness regime after she had her son, Miles, who is now five. ‘I fight every weekend and I have never felt stronger, or had more energy.’ For O’Reilly, the competitive sport offers a form of catharsis in uncertain times. ‘The world that we’re living in is unnerving – the ring is a safe place where I can vent my anger and frustrations,’ she tells us. ‘I love challenging my body and knowing that I can physically take care of myself. When I’m fighting I’m still me, but I’m turned up to 100.’