The shelf life of a promotion is directly proportional to the funding, the talent, and something to set itself apart from every other promotion. Throughout history, we’ve seen promotions come and go, who don’t follow these basic principles, and it is never more true than when talking about women’s wrestling. Previously, I talked about the despicable history of women’s wrestling, and especially how they were never given a fair shot.
Since the inception of All Japan Women’s Pro Wrestling in 1968, to G.L.O.W. becoming a cult success in the late 80’s, women’s promotions have proven that they have a place in wrestling. They can be a success if given the right place to shine. When the status quo in wrestling has always been “women’s wrestling is inferior to men’s wrestling”, why would they be given a place to shine? Fortunately for the future of wrestling, there was a massive shift in this mindset that ultimately changed the paradigm of pro wrestling.
Japan is rife with women’s only promotions. Stardom, effectively the leader in Joshi, had four of their best performers compete at this year’s Wrestle Kingdom – Japan’s biggest wrestling event of the year – as they are New Japan Pro Wrestling’s sister promotion.
But, could an all womens promotion thrive in the United States like it does in Japan? According to former WWE Performance Center Coach, Allison Danger, “American Joshi is possible”.
When looking at women’s wrestling around the world, you see a slew of promotions trying to make it big, but only two are the current pillars of the revolution; the United Kingdom’s Pro Wrestling: EVE, and SHIMMER: Women’s Athletes in the United States. For me, the latter is the best wrestling promotion, full stop.
To talk about the success of SHIMMER, we have to start by talking about Ring of Honor (ROH). They have always been a hotbed for exceptional talent to be showcased to the world: CM Punk, Samoa Joe, Bryan Danielson, Kevin Owens. Without Ring of Honor’s influence, I think it’s fair to say that we would never have seen the shift to indie style wrestling in major companies over the past decade.
Since its inception, much like the world of wrestling, ROH has had an inherent masculinity to it. However, a very small handful of women wanted to change that narrative, and were so good that Ring of Honor would have been crazy not to promote them. I’m talking about the Sumie Sakai’s and Allison Danger’s of the world.
In 2002, Ring of Honor hosted their very first women’s match between Sumie Sakai and Simply Luscious. Sakai, who I believe to be the heir apparent of Manami Toyota, is one of today’s best competitors, and there is a reason for that. She is a third degree black belt in judo, has a two wins, four losses record in MMA and has held 15 championships throughout her tenure in wrestling. At the ripe age of 50 years old, Sumie Sakai is still an absolute badass.
Early on, Ring of Honor knew they had something with Allison Danger, Daizee Haze, and Cheerleader Melissa, but didn’t quite know how best to use these talented women. If it weren’t for the mind and drive of Dave Prazak, SHIMMER might never have put on their first show. Prazak was a huge fan of Joshi Puroresu prior to entering the wrestling business in 1998, before eventually becoming a manager in ROH.
According to Sisterhood of the Squared Circle: The History and Rise of Women’s Wrestling by Pat Laprade and Dan Murphy, while working for Ian Rotten’s IWA Mid-South promotion, Dave Prazak was in charge of booking the women’s division, mostly centered around Rotten’s trainee, Mickie Knuckles. Prazak had contacts with Traci Brooks, Lacey, Rain, Daizee Haze, MsChif, Mercedes Martinez, Sara Del Rey, and Cheerleader Melissa, calling them in to do IWA Mid-South shows when needed. In 2004 IWA crowned their first women’s champion in the finals of the Volcano Girls tournament, with Lacey defeating Mercedes Martinez and Daizee Haze in the finals.
Prazak would go on to say “I had a plan to do, essentially, some IWA Mid-South women’s division events, perhaps a DVD series of the women’s shows, and to do a format where we tape two shows in one day just to get the most out of the plane tickets and gas prices involved. I left IWA and I had all of these plans, so it was either try to do it myself or completely abandon the idea of having anything to do with women’s wrestling. So I decided to give it a shot.”
SHIMMER: Women Athletes had its first day of tapings on November 6th, 2005, at the Berwyn Eagles Club in Berwyn, Illinois – with a roster of 18 women selected by Dave Prazak and Allison Danger.
The “Come As You Are” Battle Royal that kicked off the show, was something special, in more ways than one. With this being an all women’s show, the men were the novelty act this time.
Featuring some of indie wrestling’s top talent at the time, including Alex Shelley, Austin Aries, Claudio Castagnoli, Delirious and Matt Sydal, the 11 men involved came to the ring, simply as they were. Being in town from the previous night’s ROH show, Dave stated that he had paid the participants each a dollar to perform in the dark match. The ending saw 10 eliminations all at once, right before the final entrant was to come out – Jimmy Jacobs was announced as the final entrant. He ran out to the disgust of his peers, getting the victory as soon as he entered the ring. Brilliant stuff.
The first match of the night, and the first official match for SHIMMER was Shantelle Taylor taking on Tiana Ringer. Shantelle Taylor, would go on to become Taylor Wilde, having iconic matches for TNA against the likes of Awesome Kong, eventually becoming the first wrestler to have been both a KNOCKOUTS champion, and a KNOCKOUTS Tag Team champion.
Lexie Fyfe, an indie women’s legend, faced off against Christie Ricci, in a pretty basic, but decent match. Fyfe, who fans may remember as the person who portrayed Hillary Clinton on an episode of RAW, where she wrestled fake Barack Obama. The event also saw bitter rivals MsChif and Cheerleader Melissa face off, in a barn burner of a match. Maybe there is some bias involved, but if you haven’t seen a Melissa/MsChif match, you’re missing out. There isn’t much you can do to top a Melissa/MsChif match.
Next SHIMMER presented us with what was an outright classic featuring Danger and Beth Phoenix. As history shows, Beth Phoenix would go on to blaze an immense trail in the WWE, becoming the fastest female Hall of Fame inductee, and the youngest to do it at the age of 36. Allison Danger stayed on the indies, providing exceptional opportunities to the most aspiring women in the business, eventually becoming a coach at the WWE Performance Center.
In wrestling, there are few competitors that you look at, and instantly see an “it” factor. Mercedes Martinez and Sara Del Rey have that “it” factor, and SHIMMER knew it. As a fan watching the event, it seems like the entire show was centered around this dream match.
Del Rey, now a head coach at the WWE Performance Center, has competed all over the world, in every major promotion. She was having incredible matches at Ring of Honor before the “Women’s Revolution” was even a thought. She was having what I believe to be five-star caliber matches for All Japan Pro Wrestling, the National Wrestling Alliance, Pro Wrestling ZERO1, Lucha Libre Femenil, and Pro Wrestling Guerrilla all before she even stepped foot in a SHIMMER Ring.
On the other hand, prodigy is thrown around a lot in the world of wrestling, but it was never more accurate than when talking about Mercedes Martinez. Martinez at 41 years old has competed in-ring for over 20 years. For 11 of those, Martinez has been included in the awards for the best women in wrestling. She has consistently ranked in the PWI top female wrestler lists for nearly every year of her career. A veritable threat, Martinez was just beginning to lay the groundwork for her iconic career at the first SHIMMER event.
Del Rey and Martinez wrestled to a time limit draw, that many consider to be the greatest independent female wrestling match to ever take place – and on SHIMMER’s very first show. While not the main event, looking back on it now there is no doubt that this is the greatest match in SHIMMER history.
Finally, the closing match was between Daizee Haze and Lacey. Generally considered to be the sleeper match of the night, Haze and Lacey would become the beating heart of SHIMMER for years to come.
Dave Prazak and Allison Danger, doing commentary for the show, made the decision to stray away from talking about future shows, because no one was certain of SHIMMER’s direction at the time.
“We drew maybe 70 people for that [the first] show”, said Prazak. Obviously, based on the handful of fans that attended the show, it was nigh impossible to know that it was going to be a success. However, according to Dave Prazak, “ROH said the DVD was selling more rapidly than anything they had released on their website since Samoa Joe versus Kenta Kobashi.”
When you compare the debut of an all women’s show to the single greatest indie wrestling match, then you have lightning in a bottle. SHIMMER: Women Athletes has proven that not only is women wrestling worthy of wrestling attention but is a viable threat to the main promotions in the states. As Allison Danger mentioned at the closing of SHIMMER: Volume 1, “American Joshi is possible.”