"You're like Grace Kelly on steroids and I want to put that on TV every single week!" Sam is trying to persuade soap star Debbie to join the cast of his all new female wrestling show. But Sam doesn't just persuade Debbie — Sam persuades me. I want to wear a red Baywatch leotard with shiny tights, to shouts for an encore. I want to ride into the ring on a white horse, like a hench Lady Godiva, and I want to be crowned the winner when my Wonder Woman moves demolish my opponents. I want a wrestling name like Voya the Destroyer, and my own super hero backstory. But mostly, I want to wear '80s leotards. So I am obsessed with this summer's Netflix series GLOW — Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling — a sitcom based on the true story of the real Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling.
Yep, this shit is real. The original GLOW launched in 1986, after actresses were cast to play wrestlers in a live TV show. Cooped up in a Vegas hotel, and contracted to remain in character round the clock, good fought evil in the ring — and the hotel restaurant. Even Jackie Stallone had her fingers in the pie, as Mama Stallone, manager of the "Good Girls." The show was axed during the shooting of the fifth series, when it was arguably at the height of its popularity. A 2012 documentary suggests this was under the orders of actress Pia Zadora whose husband Meshulam Riklis financed the show. He'd apparently been getting sweaty with one of the wrestlers outside the ring…
So the lights went out for GLOW until Netflix resurrected the story, setting it in LA. But female wrestling is not just an American phenomenon, so I set out to meet London's own Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling.
"I've always been freakishly strong!" says Pussy Willow, calling me after her boxing class. She explains, "I come from a family of gardeners, so I'd chop wood and shovel bricks. I've always done things women aren't meant to do – I was the only female rugby player in my school!"
Pussy Willow started wrestling after a friend introduced her to Pippa the Ripper, who runs wrestling studio The Submission Room: "She taught me some bits and bobs, and it was like I'd found my true calling." Looking back, Pussy Willow says;
I'd always been that weird, "you're dead strong for a girl!" I felt uncomfortable having big arms, big legs, and big, wide shoulders. Actually, I think I always liked it — but I didn't feel it was OK to like it, because women are taught to be small and submissive — they're not meant to be strong." As a wrestler however, "people worship my big, mighty thighs and my awesome back, and now I'm my own legs' biggest fan!
Pussy Willow uses her legs to squeeze her opponents, in a move called Scissors. She says, "lots of people are fans of my thighs, and Scissors is the biggest demonstrator of thigh strength." Her signature move, however, is the Lift and Carry. Variations include the Fireman's Lift and the Aeroplane Ride, but the Shoulder Ride is, "probably the hardest one, as you have to squat them up." The heaviest opponent Pussy Willow has lifted was 92kg.
What does she think of GLOW? "The thing I really related to was the sisterhood of the wrestlers. One of the best things about wrestling at The Submission Room is the amazing community of strong women. We look out for each other and genuinely enjoy kicking ass together." She explains that while GLOW is a different style of wrestling, "it's inspired me to learn more pro-style moves — I had a lesson just this week."
Sahara Knite came to wrestling via Jiu Jitsu. "A friend told me about his ex-girlfriend wrestling. I was interested, so he introduced me to an instructor who was teaching girls basic wrestling moves. I'd been doing Jiu Jitsu for years, so I decided to combine the two." Knite tells me that female wrestlers often have a martial arts background, but they still need to learn to learn the wrestling moves. "The holds are quite different in Jiu Jitsu and wrestling. Sometimes I'll get an email for a wrestling session asking if I can do the Boston Crab or the Camel Clutch — I have to Google it, or ask one of the other girls. Every girl I've met through wrestling is lovely."
As well as being booked for one-to-one wrestling sessions, Knite does custom wrestling shoots. She says, "they send massive scripts sometimes. I did one in a pool, with fake blood and eye gouging, wearing a Batman leotard and a Lucha Libre mask! I had to bash men around the head with a wrestling belt."
Does she ever worry about actually causing an injury?
No, because I don’t go that hard. One gentleman wanted to get choked out — that means put to sleep — three times in a one hour session. I said, "I could, but I'm not going to." It's not safe. They all want choke holds. I tell them I'll apply the hold, but if they're being stubborn and not tapping to submit, I'll just let go.
She adds, "I don’t want anyone going to sleep on me — it's a fine line between coming round and not coming round."
Pussy Willow charges £150 for an hour on the mats — and Sahara Knite charges £250. Could wrestling be my opportunity to wear a high-legged Baywatch leotard and make money? I head to north London to meet Pippa the Ripper who started wrestling ten years ago, as a psychology student at UCL.
She says, "I saw an ad on Gumtree for girls in good shape with a sporty attitude. I had no idea what it would be, but I went along and instantly loved it." Pippa the Ripper had never wrestled before, "but my main sports were horse riding and hockey — that gave me good strong thighs, which are great for wrestling."
Pippa the Ripper became a bikini connoisseur, "you learn which ones keep you in. If it's useless, you chuck it away — you don't want to be distracted by bits falling out!" She also found wrestling brought out a new side to her that's, "playful, fun and a little bit competitive."
Five years ago, Pippa the Ripper opened The Submission Room. Kitted out floor-to-wall with red mats, its asylum-inspired interior resembles a padded cell in purgatory. But I'm just pissy because the colour scheme dashes my dreams of wearing my red leotard. That's OK though — I have a suitcase full of back-ups. GLOW's motto is "Bad blood. Great hair." Who has better hair than the TOWIE girls? No one. So I clip in some of Lauren Pope's hair extensions and put on what is basically some underwear.
When I've finished faffing, Pippa the Ripper me leads me upstairs and shows me her repertoire of wrestling holds. These include picking me up and throwing me over, for a Boston Crab, and crushing my head between her thighs for Head Scissors. There's a Cross-Body Pin with Arm Lock, in which she lies across my chest, locking down my arm with hers, and The Triangle, which is like Head Scissors, except she traps my arm too.
After my lesson, Submission Room regular Sativa steps onto the mats. A black belt in karate, with seven years' Jiu Jitsu experience, it's no surprise that my awkward efforts with her are futile. She wraps her legs around my head a lot, and introduces me to the Schoolgirl Pin and the Camel Clutch, both of which involve sitting on me, one way or another.
Sativa started wrestling in September last year, after meeting a guy in a club, who said she looked strong: "I thought he was a weirdo, but he brought me here, and we did a session — then he put me in contact with Pip." Since GLOW's been on Netflix, Sativa's found it easier to say she's a wrestler. She explains, "now people are like, "oh, that’s cool!" whereas before they were like, "what?!" People are more aware of wrestling now — they're intrigued by it." She adds that women are often put off by the idea of being muscular and strong, but, "both my parents are martial artists, and my mum did weight lifting, so I had a good, strong female role model."
Like Pussy Willow, Sahara Knite, and Pippa the Ripper, Sativa predominantly works as a session wrestler, wrestling men. Are they really wrestling, or are the guys just getting their rocks off? Pussy Willow says guys get erections, "all the time — sometimes I'll give it a smack!" However, she puts the hard-ons down to, "the heat of the moment, when you're scrabbling about." She explains, "people who are into wrestling are into wrestling! They don’t want any sexy stuff — it's not a sexual thing."
Pippa the Ripper is also stoical about stiffies, "if it's not affecting the session, you just carry on." She adds that there are rules against kissing and inappropriate touching, and echoes Pussy Willow when she says, "it's innocent — people come because they want to wrestle. If they wanted to do inappropriate things, they'd book a prostitute." Summing it up, Sativa says, "the guys who wrestle appreciate women for who they are — for being strong and for not necessarily being the typical kind of girl." She adds that it's only since she started wrestling that she's come across men with this attitude: "It’s nice to be appreciated. Wrestling's been good for me in terms of making me more confident in who I am."
I've got the costumes, the hair, and the wrestling holds — now all I need is a stage name. My Twitter think tank offers up strong contenders including Samantha the Panther, Sam the Ram, Rowdy Rea, The Samurai, and Sting Rea (I was clearly born named for this). I put the final choice in the hands of Sativa and Pippa the Ripper — and I emerge from the mats as STING REA!
Samantha Rea can be found tweeting here.