Although countries like Japan already had professional female wrestlers as early as the late 1960s with the US, Mexico, and the UK following suit in the 80s, it was only in recent years that the mostly underground sport started gaining its popularity in the Philippines. This is thanks mostly to the power of the Internet reigning over the world's social media capital.
Now on its infant years in the country, professional female wrestling has five personalities at the forefront—all of whom, part of the locally based group Philippine Wrestling Revolution (PWR). Is the sport on its way to becoming a big deal in a (male) boxing and mixed martial arts-obsessed Philippines, feisty Filipina "Nina"—who below talks to ABS-CBN Lifestyle exclusively about her life in and outside the ring—has something to say.
[related: Cheat Sheet: How To Build Your Home Gym—Fuss Free!]
The early 'bouts'
"I first heard about wrestling when I was really young, probably around six years old. My brother had left home leaving behind his PlayStation 1, which had a wrestling game called Smackdown! 2: Know Your Role. I played it with my cousin every weekend, not really knowing what it was and who the characters were—but I really enjoyed it anyway. One night, my uncle calls us over and tells us, 'Look! This is the wrestling you guys always play on the PlayStation!' pointing at the TV. It was WrestleMania XX. I became a fan of it ever since,” recalls Nina, now 24 and an advertising copywriter who turnns to wrestling after work and on weekends.
While she looked up to male icons like Eddie Guerrero and Seth Rollins, Nina fangirled more over their female counterparts. She listed AJ Lee, Shotzi Blackheart, and The IIconics as her idols—female American wrestlers whose confidence and bravado she admired growing up.
“AJ was my teenage hero," Nina specifies. "AJ was different—she looked different and she talked different. She wore Converse shoes, jean shorts, and cut-out t-shirts to the ring. She was the least flashy, yet the one who stood out the most from the women wrestlers of her era. I idolized her so much. I dressed like her, I bought all her merchandise I could get ahold of, my first ever tattoo was her pink spider logo. She was relatable and I saw a lot of myself in her.”
Her admiration for American wrestler AJ Lee was what ultimately convinced Nina to train to be a wrestler.
“I told myself that if this 5’3” geeky girl can change the game for women’s wrestling in the world, then maybe I can wrestle, too. So, I got up my ass did it," Nina relates. "I was 18 years old when I signed up for PWR in 2014, and it’s been an on-and-off journey since then."
[related: Fitness Inspo: Bea Fabregas' Fitness Journey—From Fluctuating To Fab!]
Although she was a kid who grew up with many sports, Nina admits not being a standout. She just never felt like honing in on just one discipline, she says, until wrestling came along.
In a country where full-contact sports are not the most popular choice for most women, Nina found herself having to fight for her right to pursue her biggest passion, against the wishes of her family.
“They were never really supportive, to be honest! I kept it a secret for a while. But unfortunately, somewhere along the way, I suffered a broken collarbone during training in 2015 and I had to take some time off. My family was so furious about it then and completely forbid me from coming back. But being the stubborn person that I am, I went back secretly. I knew I couldn’t just let my dreams slide,” she shares.
Nina finally made her wrestling debut in the ring during PWR’s Wrevolution X in 2017.
She details the experience, “I can’t even begin to tell you how nervous I was. I’m not the most confident person, so there definitely were a lot of doubts and anxiety, but you have no choice but to just go out there and do it! After the match, I felt really accomplished. I was just happy to be doing exactly what I’ve always watched my idols do on TV for the majority of my life—so that’s always pretty cool. After all the hard work and obstacles, I finally got to officially say that I was a pro wrestler."
"Until of course, my family found out about it a week later. 'Furious'' was an understatement at that point, and I received a lot of abuse from them in many different ways. They even threatened to sue PWR. It was that serious. I was forced to let it go which made my last two years in college beyond miserable. I was the thinnest I had ever been, and seeing all my friends live their own dreams—with their parents watching them and giving them all the support!—admittedly made me feel ultra bitter," she sighs.
Nina had to "weather it out" and headed to finish her Multimedia Arts degree—"And not even two weeks after graduation, I asked to come back to wrestling. My family finally gave me that sweet 'Yes!'" Nina then ade it back into the ring just in August last year for the PWR Renaissance—a title she said was "fitting" for her journey.
[related: In Focus: Do Home Workouts Amid Lockdown Really Work?]
A passion project
Inside the ring, Nina plays a persona that is the complete opposite of herself in real life. It's all part of the fun of being in wrestling, she says. When the bells ring to signal her entrance, she comes off as this edgy, rebeliious punk—clearly not the "soft marshmallow who loves all things pastel pink and sparkly" that she truly is.
"It’s weird because it’s not that I’m trying to portray someone who’s the complete opposite of me, because I really did grow up a punk rocker and I’ve always been one of the boys and I know that deep down inside it’s still the core of who I am, and that side of me will never really leave, it’s just that my girly side has just been surfacing more and more as I grow older. So, basically, my character is an extension and exaggerated version of myself,” she explains.
With only five female wrestlers in PWR, Nina admits it is really a calling to do what they do for the love of the sport, which has the impression of being rough and dangerous despite all the moves being practiced beforehand.
“All five women in the promotion surely earned their spot one way or another. All of us who are involved do it merely because we are extremely passionate about wrestling. I do have a corporate day job so I can survive, and weekends would be saved for training and shows. Personally, the training itself never really made me feel like quitting even when it got really tough, because I’m not really a quitter in nature. I love my art so much and I’m fully aware that it requires a lot of hard work to do it. So, with that in mind, even in the times where I feel like my body is giving up on me, I just remind myself that my idols didn’t get to where they are because they slacked or because they gave up. My idols got to where they are because they never gave up. So, why should I?" she declares.
Nina calls the folks forming the young PWR "really passionate people."
"Especially in its earliest years, we may not have had the most professional training nor facility, but we all did what we could with what we had to learn from what we see the pros do abroad. I was first trained by Bombay Suarez for a bit, an OG PWR wrestler, and then I was learning under Jake De Leon after that. I’ve taken part in seminars from talented wrestlers from around the globe, including Emi Sakura, Robbie Eagles, and TJ Perkins. Training would be offered to us once a week,” she details.
[related: In Focus: Here's An Easy Way To Boost Your Immune System Amid The Health Crisis!]
Like all full contact sports, the risk for injury in wrestling is high—and Nina knows this fact all too well. Still, it has never discouraged her from getting back into the ring after every injury.
“Apart from my broken collarbone, I suffered a concussion during PWR’s biggest show to date: Homecoming," she recalls.
"I was knocked out cold for half of the match, up until I got backstage. Other really minor ones like ripped piercings, ripped nail, busted lip, etc. They were all accidents I’ve learned a lot from. I kind of wonder why I put myself in these situations of pain sometimes, but the reward is unexplainable. There’s really nothing quite like the satisfaction of living the dream you’ve had since you were a kid. It makes me feel like my entire life just makes sense,” she explains.
“Training for wrestling really isn’t a joke. People love to think it’s 'fake' or it’s all just fun and games, but my six-screw metal plate, concussion, and countless scars and bruises will tell you otherwise."
Nina also mentions some psychological fears that she's deliberately countered just to pursue the sport.
"I am insanely afraid of heights. And since we don’t have access to our actual wrestling ring when we train, I don’t get to practice standing on the top rope as much as I would really love to. So, anything that involves me jumping out of the really high ring or climb up the ropes terrifies me. It’s definitely something I need to work on."
She goes on to declare, "To train to be a pro wrestler, you have to be the toughest. Period. You need to achieve a certain level of strength, speed, agility, all while keeping in mind the psychology that a wrestling match calls for. There are almost no room for mistakes, because the more mistakes you make, the more you’ll hurt and injure your opponent, which is the opposite of what we’re trained to do. So, without question, pro wrestling training is something everything has to take seriously. And in my opinion, if you can’t handle the pressure or if you’re one who loves to complain, then maybe pro wrestling isn’t for you."
[related: Fitness Inspo: WWE Superstar Sheamus, YouTube's Newest Workout Hero]
More rings to conquer
Through the years, Nina has gotten the opportunity to gain more wrestling experience while training in the US.
“I visited my boyfriend, who is also a pro wrestler, in Los Angeles a couple of times. I was given the amazing opportunity to train at Santino Bros. Wrestling Academy for a month, where alumni include WWE NXT’s Jake Atlas, ROH/NJPW’s Brody King, and so much more talented wrestlers. It’s this pretty famous dojo in California where countless big-league wrestlers have trained in, like Ronda Rousey!" she muses.
Nina recalls how the experience "woke me up, to say the least."
"That was the first time I ever truly questioned all my motives, when my body decided to give up on me to the point where I couldn’t even possibly go on and continue the rest of the training session that one day because I just felt like passing out. And I don’t wanna burst my own bubble here, but trust me, it takes a lot for me to feel that way," she stresses.
[related: The Six Fix: The Craziest Moments At WWE Live In Manila We Won't Get Tired Of Reminiscing About]
Nina recalls training "rigorously" at least four times a week back-to-back—far from the once-a-week setup from before. She mentions having "so strict" trainers who "never accepted anything half-assed."
"It’s arguably the best wrestling training the West Coast could offer, and I feel really, really grateful for the lessons I’ve learned during my time there. It definitely toughened me up and humbled me. On top of all that, my boyfriend would drag me to the gym immediately after training, too, every single day! It was rough, but I honestly ended up falling in love with the grind,” she says.
This has then led to the strength Nina now keeps as one of PWR's few ambassadresses.
“You got to want it. You have to want it so badly to be able to succeed. I’ve seen so many come and go. To become a pro wrestler, you got to know all the most basic moves, because it’s like learning a language: You have to know how to speak it. They may not all be moves or sequences you’re willing to keep for your move set, but you’ll have to know how to take it when your opponent does. And you just keep improving as you go, eventually picking the moves you want to keep in your arsenal and learn to make it your own," she says.
"Wrestling definitely taught me patience and perseverance. I never really knew how driven of a person I actually am until I dipped my feet in this industry. I’ve experienced, first hand, that if you just work really hard and not give up on your dreams, they eventually do happen. No matter how silly people think it is,” she adds.
ALSO READ: In Focus: Pinay Lawyer Speaks Out On The Harvey Weinstein Case
Photos taken from Nina's Instagram account