SI.com’s Week in Wrestling is published every week and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.
LuFisto: ‘The law of silence needs to change in wrestling’
Allegations of rape, sexual assault and other misconduct in professional wrestling have been a central topic throughout the industry over the past week.
Some of the allegations have led to swift decisions by companies, most recently from Impact Wrestling, which released Joey Ryan and Dave Crist and suspended Michael Elgin on Monday evening. The #SpeakingOut allegations are horrid, ranging from sexual assault to mental abuse, and the vast majority are from women.
As allegations continue to come forward, the pro wrestling industry needs to make serious changes in order to ensure the safety of everyone involved, especially women.
For Genevieve Goulet, who broke into the business in 1997, change can only begin in one way.
“It starts by believing the victims,” said Goulet, who has starred in six different countries throughout her career as LuFisto. “Women need to be taken seriously, and that starts with their promoters. They need to listen to them, and if they say something happened, they need to stop booking the person that did something wrong.”
Although an in-ring revolution has taken place in women’s wrestling, with female stars headlining shows and being placed in more compelling storylines both in top promotions like WWE and across the indies, Goulet’s biggest concern is what takes place off-camera.
“The backstage has not changed,” said Goulet. “There are stories out there that I’d heard previously in confidence, ones where the women were not ready to share them with the world. Over the past few days, I’ve gone from extremely sad to extremely mad. I’ve been reading about abuse that happened to minors. Some of this happened after I personally told the promoters that this guy was doing something, and some of them did things to me. Not all promoters are blind, there are some good ones out there, but there are some that didn’t do anything.
“What I’m afraid of right now is that people are going to use ‘#SpeakingOut’ to air dirty laundry or get back at people they have heat with. So many people have been taking advantage of minors, and it’s so disgusting. This should not be happening.”
A primary goal across the wrestling industry should be to protect its talent, preventing people from future abuse. Another way to transform the business, especially in more mainstream companies like WWE, AEW, Ring of Honor, Impact and MLW, is to hire more women in backstage roles such as agents, producers and other positions that require more women to travel.
“You don’t see a lot of that with big companies, and there could be more agents and people traveling on the road, not just one person,” said Goulet. “You need women that have been on the circuit for a while, too.
“I wish I had older women to help guide me when I first started. When I was 17, on my first tour, one of the male wrestlers tried to get in the shower with me. And I have plenty of stories like that. There has been an evolution in the ring, but we are still seeing the law of silence and people still not taking the women seriously.”
Change will also continue to take place, Goulet explained, when all female wrestlers are treated as athletes, both in the ring and backstage.
“For women, wrestling is difficult physically and mentally,” said Goulet. “Women had always been seen as an attraction, something added to the show. For me, I saw that right away in 1997. We were there to be more sexual or to be put right before a bigger match. We just weren’t taken seriously, and women weren’t seen as athletes.
“Today, women are taken more seriously in the ring as they are involved in storylines, main-event some shows, and there are even all-women shows. It is the backstage stories and law of silence that hasn’t evolved nearly as much.
Goulet created her success in wrestling through a relentless pursuit of her craft and a willingness, especially as “The Queen of Hardcore,” to sacrifice her well-being in the ring. But she explained that, too often over the past two decades, her work has been dismissed for reasons unrelated to her wrestling.
“Personally, every time I had something good happen in wrestling, very few people say, ‘You’ve been working really hard,’” said Goulet. “People think you’re sleeping with the promoter. ‘#SpeakingOut’ exploded after an ex-girlfriend of David Starr went public, but for me, it started when I called out CZW for branding women’s wrestlers as porn stars.
“This has been brewing for a long time. There are so many people coming forward. The law of silence needs to change in wrestling. Speaking up should not cost you bookings or your push.”
Despite the hurt and anguish that has been expressed over the past week through the #SpeakingOut movement, Goulet understands why people are still enamored with the wrestling business. Its ability to create joy and bring people together is among the reasons why it needs to be safe for the performers.
“Wrestling is where I feel fulfilled, and I have a special connection with fans all over the world,” said Goulet. “I love it so much, and it’s why I’m still here. I love being in the ring, I love helping younger talent put their matches together, I want to help and I want to give as much as I can.
“As sad as it is, there are a lot of ass----- that got opportunities they shouldn’t have. We need to clean up, and replace the bad with good people. Wrestling is for everyone, whether you’re gay, straight, bi, trans, black, white, Asian, whoever you are. Wrestling is a big mix of beautiful people that get together and do what they love, and that’s why we need to remove the bad ones.”
Allegations of abuse continue in pro wrestling
The amount of sexual abuse allegations in pro wrestling over the past week is a stark reflection that real changes need to be made across the entire industry.
There have been releases and suspensions, but as of yet, no criminal or civil cases filed. WWE’s most recent statement explained that there will be zero tolerance for matters involving domestic abuse, child abuse and sexual assault. Earlier this week, All Elite Wrestling suspended emerging star Sammy Guevara for comments he made on a podcast four years ago, where he stated he wanted to “go rape” Sasha Banks.
Rape should never be subject for a joke. Guevara apologized both publicly and privately, and his salary will be donated to the Women’s Center of Jacksonville during his suspension. He also delivered a video apology on Tuesday.
To Banks’ credit, she handled the situation with poise and dignity. Role models are not always found on television, but Banks was a true role model in her ability to shine a light on something wrong and then transform the situation into a chance for people to learn and improve.
As the allegations continue to emerge, it reinforces how pro wrestling is a unique field to govern because it is so independently structured across the country and throughout the world. But that should not be an excuse to avoid the problem.
Changes need to start at the highest level possible. In the United States, that is WWE and AEW, and the first change needs to be an increased representation of women at shows and on the road. Women need a bigger voice in wrestling, and that includes backstage as writers, producers, and agents.
The NBA enrolls its rookies in a mandatory transition program, which includes lessons on diversity and inclusion, media training, and social media. Pro wrestling could certainly benefit from a similar practice. If treated with the proper seriousness, this could be a significant benefit to all wrestlers, even if there are those with varying degrees of experience in the business. In a landscape where social media can often be a landmine, why not offer opportunities like this to the women and men that serve as the faces of the company?
More empathy is always a positive. And while this will not fix every evil that exists in wrestling, it is certainly a step in the right direction.
Adam Cole on “dream match” with Edge
Edge’s return to pro wrestling has already led to some memorable moments, primarily his spear in the Royal Rumble and the work he did with Randy Orton in their match at Backlash.
His return has garnered attention from stars all over WWE, including NXT Champion Adam Cole.
“For him to be able to come back in the best shape of his life and receive that reaction he got at the Royal Rumble, I couldn’t be happier for him,” said Cole. “And it brings me one step closer to that dream match, Adam Cole vs. Edge. I want that to happen so badly.”
Edge and Cole never crossed paths in the ring, but they were able to build a mutual respect while Cole was training at the WWE Performance Center.
“A while back, when I was in Shawn Michaels’ class, Edge came in quite a few times to talk to us about the industry, about the business, wrestling, matches, promos. He was always looking to help. And he’d even go as far to give out his phone number or email and say, ‘Send me something if you want me to take a look at it.’
“Of course, you hear that sometimes. You send something, but you never hear back. But if you send something to Edge and ask for his honest critique, you are going to get a long list of positives and negatives. Clearly, he put his heart and soul into watching whatever your performance was, whether it was an interview or a match. You can see how much he loves pro wrestling. I’m very, very happy he’s back.”
The (online) week in wrestling
- In addition to setting an incredible example in the way she handled the situation with Sammy Guevara, Sasha Banks also delivered a highlight reel performance Monday on Raw. Banks and Bayley were also tremendous last week in NXT, then again on Friday’s SmackDown, and a night of WWE programming no longer feels complete without an appearance from the Women’s Tag Team Champions. Banks also teased challenging Bayley on Raw, only to instead challenge Asuka for the Raw Women’s Championship.
- In a very short timeframe, Banks and Bayley have brought so much meaning to the women’s tag titles, which also highlights how special a champion feels when there aren’t separate ones for each brand.
- Matt Riddle made a spectacular debut last Friday on SmackDown, though it was significantly dimmed by recent sexual assault allegations that his attorney has denied. Ring of Honor star Marty Scurll is another high-profile subject of a stomach-churning sexual assault allegation, and he responded with a statement that mirrored some of the language from Kobe Bryant’s statement from 2004.
- Some brighter news: Finn Balor announced that, in the past year, his father has overcome some massive battles, including COVID-19.
- If you are looking for a New Japan Cup match to watch from the early rounds, the battle between Sho and Shingo offered a fantastic display of professional wrestling.
- Disappointing news for WWE fans regarding Backstage on FS1.
- The goal for WWE should always be to build new stars, and that is happening with Apollo Crews, who is bringing excitement to his storylines every week. Throughout Crews’ entire stretch with WWE, I can’t remember a time he has been as compelling as he is in this current run.
- Edge’s promo on Raw was spectacular.
- AEW and NXT have brought genuine excitement to Wednesday nights. Tonight marks the final edition of Dynamite before next week’s Fyter Fest, and AEW brings a lineup that includes Matt Hardy-Santana, a face-off between Chris Jericho and Orange Cassidy, a title defense from Hikaru Shida, and an old-school lumberjack match pitting Luchasaurus against Wardlow. NXT counters with North American Champion Keith Lee defending in a triple threat match against Finn Balor and Johnny Gargano, with the winner also receiving a shot at the NXT Championship. Damian Priest-Cameron Grimes is also on the show, as well as Karrion Kross-Bronson Reed. And for Mercedes Martinez fans, hopefully we will see a follow-up to this nicely done vignette.
- Sarah Logan, one of the stars released by WWE in April, announced that she is stepping away from wrestling.
- Dolph Ziggler was reintroduced to Raw this past Monday as the next challenger for WWE Champion Drew McIntyre, but it was also nice to be reintroduced to the Bray Wyatt of old during his SmackDown promo.
- Hopefully Moxley wasn’t infected, but if he was it’s time to hit COVID-19 with the Paradigm Shift.
Michael Kingston on ‘Headlocked: Tales From The Road’
Tales From The Road is the newest project launched from Headlocked creator Michael Kingston, and the series is a wonderful intersection of pro wrestling and comics.
Headlocked was first released in 2007 and has served as an in-depth look at wrestling as an art form. The narrative follows lead character Mike Hartmann, who is a college drop-out who decides to enter the world of pro wrestling.
The Tales From The Road series, which includes 13 unique comic book stories, served as an opportunity for Kingston to highlight stories co-created with different wrestlers, including Mustafa Ali, Christopher Daniels, MVP, Dolph Ziggler, Rob Van Dam and the Young Bucks.
“There are a lot of people that follow Headlocked who’ve read the main series but haven’t encountered these stories yet, so I thought it would be good to do a compilation and add a couple stories,” said Kingston. “Headlocked is Mike Hartmann’s story, so that is a limited swab of the universe. These are tales from the road, and some of the stories are adjacent to Headlocked, some aren’t, so it’s a wider perspective.”
Headlocked is traditionally presented as a drama, but this format in Tales From The Road gave Kingston the opportunity to create in a variety of genres.
“We have a horror-based story, reality-based stories, a fantasy-based story, and a superhero/vigilante story,” said Kingston. “It’s a lot of fun to see all the different ways you can tell stories with wrestling.”
Kingston started a Kickstarter campaign for those looking to contribute to Headlocked. It has already surpassed its goal, and Kingston is grateful for every piece of support, especially considering that his business plans have been significantly altered with the cancellation of so many Comic-Cons due to COVID-19. Options to support the project range from $1 to $500, with a multitude of options in between, and including readers in the project is another highlight for Kingston.
“That’s the best part,” said Kingston. “I struggled for so long to get Headlocked off the ground due to the nature of the comic book business, and the grassroots support that we have is great. Some people find us at Comic-Cons, some people find us online, some people like comics, some like wrestling. That support is the best, and we try to reward the people that support us.
“One of my favorite things is when we draw people into the book as a character. That’s a high-level tier, but it’s so cool to draw people as wrestlers and have them exist in the Headlocked universe. We’re also having artists create pin-ups and stories that will create somebody as a wrestler and includes a PWI-style pin-up and write-up.”
A gifted storyteller, Kingston is grateful to share his joy of wrestling and comics.
“I love telling stories, that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. I love collaborating. That process is different for everybody, but that part is incredible, like sitting down with Samoa Joe and coming up with a story. And I get to collaborate with my artists, trying to push the book visually in different ways, and there is so much creativity through the entire process.
“These books are one-offs, with different genres and different styles, so these 13 stories are perfect for those looking to step into the Headlocked universe. If you like it, maybe you’ll want to check out more. And the other part of the Kickstarter is that those books include extra pages you won’t get anywhere else. We’re always trying to consistently reward the people who support us the most.”
Tweet of the Week
A wonderful post from Simone Johnson.