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Nicole Matthews' big ECCW win reignites men vs. women debate
By PATRIC LAPRADE - SLAM! Wrestling


Nicole Matthews just after winning the ECCW heavyweight title. Photo courtesy ECCW

Men against women. In anything and everything in life, there's always a comparison or even a competition between men and women. Wrestling is no different. Last weekend by winning the ECCW title -- a men's title -- Nicole Matthews brought back the debate that is a century old: Should men wrestle women?

On Saturday, August 23, Nicole Matthews beat Bishop for the Elite Canadian Championship Wrestling title, the company's main championship. For the Coquitlam, BC native, it was a real honour.

"It feels pretty incredible. I'm just so excited there was such an overwhelmingly positive response, both live and online," she told SLAM! Wrestling about winning her very first men's title.

"I think it's just a tremendous opportunity for ECCW and I to do something different. It's a cool accomplishment to be able to do something so unique and I'm really pleased that my home promotion is willing to take risks. I'm not one to get emotional about titles necessarily, but it was definitely a proud moment to be trusted to pull this off," added the 27-year-old grappler.

For ECCW's promoter and wrestler Scotty Mac, Matthews was an obvious choice.


"She is one of the most talented and hardworking wrestlers out there, male or female. Nicole is a smart wrestler with a very strong and convincing offence. She hits harder than a lot of men!" said Mac. "And Nicole Matthews isn't trying to be the best female wrestler out there. She's trying to be the best wrestler out there, period. That comes out in her matches."

If one would think that the reaction would be so-so from the fans -- and especially the promotion's other wrestlers -- Mac straightened that out.

"The people in attendance weren't nearly as shocked as I thought they'd be when Nicole beat Bishop. I don't think that this could have been the case with any other female in ECCW past or present," said the veteran performer. "The fans in attendance lost their minds, the boys in the back applauded when Nicole came through the curtain, and the online response has been nothing but positivity and excitement."

This debate of women wrestling men is by no means a new one. It's been there for decades now. As a matter of fact, most of the oldtimers will tell you that it's not believable, that in real life most women would not beat most men. And that is probably true.

But in real life, would two men clinch each other at the beginning of a fight? In real life, would someone be hit on the head with multiple chair shots, shake himself up and win the fight less than 10 minutes later?


Candice LeRae flips over Rich Swann at Pro Wrestling Guerrilla's 2014 Battle of Los Angeles, Night 2, on Saturday, August 30, 2014, at the American Legion Post #308, Reseda, Calif. Photo by Devin Chen, chdevinphotos.com
If Catwoman, Wonder Woman or the Batgirl can beat up men in a fantasy world, why can't a female wrestler beat a man in a scripted world? What's the difference?

"At the end of the day, wrestling should be entertaining," said Matthews. "Sometimes to be the most entertaining, a company needs to break some barriers and do something that other companies around them may not be doing. Wrestling guys has also been a great learning experience for me too. I've learned how to fight from underneath and be an underdog, which is something I never really experience fighting other females."

Wrestling needs to be believable in its stories and in its matches, but it also needs to be larger than life. Women are not and should not be seen the same way now than 50 years ago, where even a match between The Fabulous Moolah and Lou Thesz would have been unthinkable. If a 5-foot-5 guy can win a World title, a woman should be entitled to win matches over men, no? In an era where size has never been so meaningless, it would be about time that gender joins size in that pool.

As a promoter, Mac wanted to keep his options opened and not be trapped in time with an old-school mentality.

"The wrestling business has changed leaps and bounds since Moolah and Thesz. I'm not going to resist change. I'm going to embrace change. If wrestling is evolving then I'm going to evolve," said Mac. "I love where we come from, but I also love where we're going. Changing perceptions is what allowed smaller wrestlers like Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart and then even smaller like Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero main eventing Wrestlemanias and winning World titles. Those changes gave me something to aspire for. It's not that I don't believe the points that one would make against females beating males. A lot of them are probably valid. But this is where we're at, and I'm on board. The ECCW fans are loving it and I'm going to continue to listen to them."

LUFISTO, A PIONEER


LuFisto with the NSPW title. Photo courtesy of LuFisto
By achieving this, Matthews becomes only the second woman in Canada's wrestling history to capture the main title of a major promotion. The first one was LuFisto in December 2012 when she won the NSPW title.

Those are two very good picks according to SHIMMER's co-founder Allison Danger.

"I believe LuFisto and Nicole Matthews were great choices," said Danger. "Both have contributed a lot to wrestling and are setting a gold standard for the younger generation of female wrestlers."

Upon winning her men's title, LuFisto was particularly proud of her accomplishment, especially since like Matthews, she won it on her own turf.

"It's the outcome of a fight I'm in for years now, to be recognized as an equal opponent and not just a woman who wrestles," said LuFisto, who is Gen Goulet by day. "I'm extremely thankful and honoured to see NSPW put all that trust in me and for giving me that opportunity."

In the modern era, LuFisto can be seen as a pioneer by many of her peers as she contested a decision by the Ontario Athletic Commission that didn't allow her to wrestle men in the province. Not only she won her case in 2006, but after that the commission stopped regulating pro wrestling altogether. [See Female wrestler pins Ontario Athletic Commission]

CHYNA, A DIFFERENT STORY


Chyna in WWE circa 2000, before the company tried to make her more feminine, and before her Playboy pictorial.
Both Matthews and LuFisto have been wrestling men for years now. And they are not the only ones. Sara Del Rey beat El Generico (Sami Zayn) a few years ago, the same guy who's dominating NXT now. Luna Vachon beat Stevie Richards, who spent 10 years with the WWE after that. More recently, Jessicka Havok defeated Sami Callahan (Solomon Crowe) and it didn't prevent him from being signed by the WWE.

The most famous female wrestler to ever wrestle men is undoubtedly Chyna (Joanie Lauer). She had a major run in WWE in 1999 and 2000, winning the Intercontinental title along the way.

At 5 foot 10, 185 pounds of muscle, with a decidedly masculine look (especially pre-chin job), she was not your typical female wrestler, and she travelled a different path to get to the WWF. Her first match ever was against a man, she barely worked on the independents, and within a couple of years, she was pushed against guys like Jeff Jarrett, Chris Jericho and Eddie Guerrero. So it's hard to compare her with the women wrestlers of today, who had to literally fight to earn respect in this men's world.

That being said, even with her look and everything, Chyna was a female wrestler and on a big stage like WWE, there was always controversy over her use.

But she did have an influence. Former WWE Diva Serena Deeb once wrote on her website about the influence of the so-called "Ninth Wonder of the World."

"When I was 11 years old, I fell in love with pro wrestling and my very first inspiration was Chyna. She was such an unconventional female and I feel she was a wonderful role model for young women because she made it ok to be 'different,'" wrote Deeb at the now-defunct serena-deeb.com in October 2010. "The company built her as such a strong woman, literally and figuratively. She was the first woman to hook me on wrestling. After I grew so fascinated by the business, other women came along to inspire me greatly."

The men who fought Chyna in extended programs, like Jericho, didn't suffer from any losses -- or loss of face -- for falling to Chyna.

Still, some old-timers told this writer that men are losing credibility when losing to a woman. It's an old argument.

In his book Bluegrass Brawler, Louisville's wrestling historian John Cosper reports that female wrestler Ida Alb wrestle against and defeated Albert Marc in an intergender match in Louisville, KY. She repeated the feat two weeks later in St. Louis, Missouri, against Charles A. Standbrook. Both matches were fixed. Both matches were held in June 1880!

Companies like SHIMMER, NCW Femmes Fatales, WSU, and SHINE are taking the North American women's wrestling scene to another level by focusing on the girls' wrestling skills instead of the T&A's bigger companies focus on.

However, most of the time women are wrestling for standard promotions, where there are more men than women wrestling. Therefore, there comes a time where a female wrestler arrives at a crossroad if she wants to improve. She can wrestle the same girls over and over, she can travel to face better and more experienced female wrestlers, or she can stay home and start wrestling better and more experienced men.

For Danger, wrestling men should almost be mandatory.

"I think, regardless if she can travel or not, that working with men will help her get stronger. Physically, mentally and emotionally," said Danger.

"If there are no other women available, then your gender shouldn't be an obstacle in achieving more experience and improvement in the ring," added LuFisto.

Again, Mac brought a promoter's point of view.

"If ECCW didn't have men fighting women then we wouldn't have a lot of some of the best matches of the last several years," he said. "If we didn't have Nicole wrestling men then we would end up with one of our best sitting on the sidelines due to a lack of opponents. That doesn't sound like a very good idea, now does it?

"Nicole Matthews is just looked at and booked as a wrestler. Not a female wrestler. She can wrestle guys and it's believable when she wrestles guys. It's believable when guys are selling for her. It's believable when she beats guys. The match was so good that it seriously felt like it could go either way. How much more do you need? If she wasn't getting the belt that night we sure would have been thinking that she should have! Would that be the case for most other female wrestlers? No. It is for Nicole Matthews."

Indeed, wrestling men is not for every woman out there.

"I believe that there are some women that are fighting guys who shouldn't. You must be able to hit and get hit as hard as your opponent," said LuFisto.


A Tweeted photo from SummerSlam featured Ronda Rousey, and her "Four Horsewomen" with WWE Diva Natalya. Left to right: Shayna Baszler, Nattie Neidhart, Ronda Rousey, Marina Shafir, and Jessamyn Duke.
RONDA ROUSEY, A DRIVING FORCE

In a battle like this one, women wrestlers need to get motivation and inspiration out of the wrestling world. Someone like UFC's Ronda Rousey has proved that a woman can rule a so-called men's sport. Not only she rules it, but she outdraws just about every male fighter in the organization.

"It kills the out-of-date and stupid idea that women can't fight and cannot generate any attention from the public. She is the proof that good women fighting works," argued LuFisto.

"I think she is a huge reason why people are more excepting of a bad-ass woman being able to handle her own against males," added Matthews.

Nevertheless, this is most definitely a debate that the wrestling community will have again five or 10 years from now. Still, according to Matthews, this can be turned into a positive thing.

"I think because it will always be a fight, there will always be buzz when it does happen."

No one is saying that professional wrestling is on the verge of seeing a woman being crowned WWE World champion, but there's never been a female U.S. President -- yet -- and there are plenty of women as governors or premiers, and throughout the political spectrum.

Until then, as long as there are promoters like ECCW's Scotty Mac and NSPW's Steve Boutet unafraid of swimming against the current, as long as their will be female wrestlers like Nicole Matthews, LuFisto and so many others who believe in their skills and who'll never stop wanting to improve, the credibility of women's wrestling against its gender counterpart should be in good hands.

As Coco Chanel once said, "Women must tell men always that they are the strong ones. They are the big, the strong, the wonderful."

RELATED LINKS

  • April 12, 2012: Battle of the Sexes: Men vs Women tag in Atlanta -- 1980 bout featured Joyce Grable & Judy Martin vs Jerry Roberts and Steve O.
  • ECCW website
  • NSPW website
  • LuFisto's website
  • Nicole's Twitter: @nmatthewsninja

    Pat Laprade is part of NCW Femmes Fatales' team and will be back at SHIMMER this fall. Feel free to discuss women's wrestling -- or any other wrestling-related topic for that matter -- at patric_laprade@videotron.ca, on his Facebook page or on Twitter.