Cheerleader Melissa has moved past the pom-poms
GREG OLIVER - Co-Producer, SLAM! Wrestling
California's 'Cheerleader' Melissa Anderson, a second-generation wrestler, offers proof that advertising on the Internet works.
Not too many 21-year-olds can offer up a resume that includes training under Christopher Daniels, an in-ring debut at age 17, four months in Japan, a trip to Europe, time in a WWE ring and a Future Legends Award from the Cauliflower Alley Club. Yet Melissa Anderson, who has indeed done all the above, is still very grounded despite all the hype over her burgeoning career.
But based out of Northern California, and its hi-tech world, she recognizes the power of the 'Net, and credits both her web site - www.cheerleadermelissa.com (with its fascinating diary of her stay in Japan) - and the growing ClickWrestle site - www.clickwrestle.com - for some of her success to date.
These days, she works every other week, sometimes five or six shows a month, mostly around California, and mainly for APW. "The reason I work so regularly for them is because, even though we may be wrestling in front of 50 fans, but all the best matches from the show go onto Clickwrestle.com, which has gotten me tons and tons and tons of exposure," Anderson told SLAM! Wrestling. "People buy those matches, people download them, people watch him. I tell you, it's Clickwrestle that got me my booking in Germany. When I started putting matches on Clickwrestle, it was kind of cool - I had no idea, but I started developing a fan base in Germany, and that's how they got the booking in Germany."
As much as Melissa is hip to the current technology and trends, she is quick to give props to the past. A lifetime member of the Cauliflower Alley Club (the closest thing wrestling has to an alumni association), she grew up in California surrounded by wrestling.
From as young as two, she can remember sitting beside her mom ringside during her father, Doug Anderson's matches in the mid-to-late '80s. "He was Superman to me," she said. "I was too young to realize if my dad was really getting hurt or not. Also, I remember that when we would go home back to the house, I remember, I used to point to my dad's bruises and say 'Ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch.'"
Melissa was one of four girls on her high school wrestling team, and started training with her dad's "brother" and frequent tag team partner Billy Anderson in the pro game.
"We are not related, but we became great friends while I was training Doug in late 1984," recalled Billy Anderson. "I even lived with Doug, his ex-wife Maria and their little daughter Melissa. I changed her diapers as a baby! Doug and I remain good friends to this day. I trained Melissa for a brief period of time back in 1998 I believe. Doug brought her to me before she moved on to other schools, where I guess she hooked up with Chris Daniels."
Right from the start, her dad was her biggest supporter when she decided to start wrestling. "My dad was totally supportive. Anything I've wanted to do in life, he's supported me. My mom, on the other hand, didn't really support it at first. She thought I was crazy," Melissa said with a laugh. "It wasn't until a few years later on when my mom started realizing that I was actually going somewhere with pro wrestling, then she started to support me and be proud of me because I took a sport, or I took a path that can be very difficult, especially for females, and actually started going somewhere with it."
Melissa Anderson and former California promoter and Cauliflower Alley Club V-P Karl Lauer in Las Vegas after Melissa was given the Future Legend Award. -- photo by Greg Oliver
Having been drilled in the amateur side of the sport, the 5-foot-8, 142-pound Melissa is big on the basics of pro wrestling, the moves on the mat that build the foundation for bigger moves. "Chris Daniels really helped me, going back to basics and then working my way up," she said.
After helping out on some of her "uncle" Billy Anderson's shows-selling programs, setting up the ring, doing whatever she could-her dad tried his hand at promoting a few shows, and that brought a 16-year-old Melissa Anderson in touch with Shannon Ballard, who had a twin named Shane Ballard. The twins had decided to play up their resemblance to the Hanson Brothers from Slap Shot as the Ballard Brothers. "Even though there are no cheerleaders in hockey, they really wanted a valet. My dad told them about me," she said. "Lo and behold, I became Cheerleader Melissa."
It was a great character for her to play. "I think what made it so popular was that we were heels all the time. And normally, when you think of a cheerleader, you think of a happy-go-lucky, blonde, jumpy, and I came out as the evil bitch cheerleader that got involved in matches. At the time, I was doing the Lita thing, run in there, do a huricanrana moonsault or something and get out of the ring. The fans would pop for that, but at the same time they'd hate me because we were heels."
Melissa had her first match on her 17th birthday in Douglas, Wyoming against Lexie Fyfe, and started going back and forth from being a valet to wrestling.
Graduating from high school came next, and she fast-tracked through her diploma thanks to some understanding teachers. "I remember I would drive home. 'Okay, what's going on tomorrow? Okay, I've got to book a flight for this, do that.'," Melissa said. "My teachers were really cool. They'd always email me work to do or stuff like that. If there was a test coming up, they'd email me some notes and stuff to study on my own. I remember one teacher, he was really cool. I was going to miss a test, so I did the test on my email, did it online and emailed it back to him."
About the same time that she was winding up school, Melissa got a chance to work with a start-up women's promotion in California that had dreams of being the next WOW. The experience had its good and bad points. "They hired a bunch of stunt models, actresses or whatever, and they tried to train them overnight. It was funny, here I am-I don't even remember how I got hooked up with the job, it was just good timing-but it was kind of funny, here I was 17 years old and I was the only female wrestler out of the entire group," she said. "The trainer was Mando Guerrero. I remember, there were times when I used to help Mando train the rest of the girls, getting ready for this TV show. ... how could I turn down such a great offer? It was great pay."
Eventually the promotion fizzled, and Melissa concentrated on the San Francisco-based APW and travelling with the Ballard Brothers to their shows up and down the West Coast.
Her next big break came in 2002 when the Japanese women's promotion ARSION went looking for two women to train in their dojo for four months. They selected Taylor from Tough Enough I first, then picked Melissa. It's a long, convoluted story as to how Melissa got chosen, but suffice it to say that Taylor and Melissa both knew some of the same people and had ties to the Bay Area.
Going to Japan with Taylor proved to be a lot of fun and good for Melissa's career. "It was a really smart move to get Taylor because Tough Enough I had just ended and she had a really big fan base going on. She had a lot of fans still, and her web site was really popping," she said. "It got me a lot of exposure, not only in Japan, but in the United States because people care about what Taylor did and all of a sudden, people starting caring about what I was doing."
Her experiences in Japan are similar to the stories of many other North Americans who travel to the Land of the Rising Sun--homesickness and incredibly hard schedule of training and shows. "It was a great experience. If we weren't doing a show, we were training. And their training sessions lasted anywhere from five to eight hours a day. I loved it," she said. "It's that kind of lifestyle I wish I had over in the United States, I wish I had the best of both worlds. I wish I could live in the United States, where I can read the menu, have my cell phone and drive my car and then also all I had to do each day was go to training; that would be my job."
Two of her career highlights came in Japan. "There's a couple of matches that stick out in my mind, me versus Mariko Yoshida, who is out there considered one of the best female grappling, ground-based wrestlers, and she's been wrestling 13, 14, 15 years now. Also my other favorite match was, I had my birthday out there in Japan, I turned 20 in Japan. For my 20th birthday, as a gift from them, I got to tag with Lioness Aska, who is a legend, a female legend over there. That woman has been wrestling over 20 years, she's 43 or something. She's been wrestling forever."
Another career highlight was wrestling Europe's number one female, Wesna, in Germany. The promotion became enamoured with Cheerleader Melissa through ClickWrestle, and set up a tournament where the winner (Wesna) got a shot at the imported American. "She's a very talented wrestler," Melissa said of Wensa. "I really enjoyed wrestling her, and I hope to go back and wrestle her one day."
Returning from Japan was a turning point in her career. "Japan was the transition, breaking out from wrestler/valet/manager to full-time wrestler, breaking away from the Ballard Brothers," she said. Today, when not wrestling, Melissa works security at a department store and as a personal secretary. Both are very flexible jobs. "My bosses are great, any time I need days off, I've never had a problem getting days off."
While content with her life at the moment, Melissa has been doing her best to get into the bigger leagues. Connections helped her get in touch with Tom Pritchard of the WWE, who has had Melissa out to several events, participating in workouts. Under the watchful eye of the women's division honcho Fit Finlay, Melissa has tested her skills against Ivory, Molly Holly and Jazz.
As someone who considers herself a wrestler first, Melissa is happy with the direction of today's WWE women's product. "They're starting to let the female wrestlers do their thing, and starting to let the other women, such as Torrie, Dawn Marie and all that, do their thing, whether it's valeting or cutting a promo or looking beautiful," she said. "At the same time, you have to realize that this is a business, and they hired these women for a reason. There are all kinds of people out there in the audience, and they're trying to make it a variety, and suit everybody's needs. If one day, I was to get hired, of course I'd have to do the best I can to keep in shape and maintain a great body as well, do the best I can on my part. But I also want them to recognize that I am a wrestler as well, and that's my goal."
Speaking of recognition, it was the Cauliflower Alley Club in April that awarded Melissa its Future Legends Award. She's the first female recipient of the award, whose past winners include Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit and Donovan Morgan. She also participated in the training sessions at the weekend reunion for the second year.
Melissa has a fan in Les Thatcher, former wrestler and current trainer in Cincinnati. Thatcher's promotion used to be affiliated with the WWE, and in a column on PWInsider.com, he raved about her. "Melissa flat out kicked ass both days of training, and on several drills showed more aggressiveness then some of the guys. I got my first look at this young lady at last years CAC, and have followed her career ever since. She was one of the outstanding trainees just a month ago when Ohio Valley Wrestling ran their weeklong try-out camp as I mentioned here, and she didn't miss a beat when she arrived in Vegas. This girl has all the tools, and if she doesn't get a contract soon, I'll be forced to have my friends up in WWE's talent relations eyes checked. She is pretty, she is in shape, she has studied her craft, and her passion and love for the business comes shining through, and she flat out 'brings it' when she steps into the practice ring."
Doug and Melissa Anderson have been going to the Cauliflower Alley Club reunions since she was 15. "I look forward to it. It's kind of like a wrestlers' prom, or something! It's great to see the legends, to see important people in the business. It's that one time that year you put on that suit, or put on that evening gown. ... it's a great time, it's a blast. Drama always happens every year."
This year, the drama was an award for Melissa, and dad was beaming afterwards. "I'm just really proud. She's done so much more in the business than I ever did. For her to be up there, this was all unexpected for her. She found out just five minutes before the award was given to her. So I'm just tickled pink and I just hope that she has a great career, doesn't get hurt, and remembers her daddy down the line," Doug Anderson said.
Regardless of how things turn out, Melissa Anderson is deeply in love with pro wrestling. "Let's put it this way, forever I will always be involved in wrestling, whether it's working for WWE as a wrestler or somewhere in the office. No matter what, I will always be involved in wrestling somehow and someway, whether I'll be training people or overlooking talent. I want to be involved, no matter what, however I can be."
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Greg Oliver founded SLAM! Wrestling with John Powell way back in
1996, and has been writing about pro wrestling since 1985. He is the
author of the recently published book The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame:
The Canadians from ECW Press. Order it from the SLAM!
Wrestling Store. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.