When it comes to professional wrestling, lifelong fan N.C. Harrison is happy to suspend his disbelief.
Cheerleader Melissa, née Melissa Anderson, is one of the most awesome, badass wrestlers on the planet. This doesn’t seem like an descriptor you would apply to a tall, relatively slender young brunette wearing a cheerleader costume who occasionally waves pom-poms on her way to the ring and in photoshoots, but in this case, it fits more than snugly against her lithe, five foot eight inch frame.
Melissa, who has also fought in TNA under the names Raisha Saeed and “The Future Legend” Alyssa Flash, is one of those rare birds in pro wrestling who can go both inside the ring and out. Her interview skills, although not particularly flashy, get the job done by conveying deep, honest emotion in a fast, effective manner so that she can bring viewers into the product and get them emotionally invested. Her ringwork, especially against MsChif in SHIMMER Women Athletes, makes me cringe when I watch it. This is especially true of their match on SHIMMER Vol. 4 when MsChif dons the crimson mask courtesy of a trip into the guard-rail. The blood pours down her chalk-pale face and mixes with the green dye on her teeth–a prop for when she uses the green mist as a finishing move–and the final move of the match, Melissa’s Air Raid Crash over-the-shoulder piledriver, looks like death by plague and nuclear war baked into a casserole. It is a testimony to her skill and care that she has not killed anyone with this apparently devastating move. The brutality and intensity that these women display, in these series of encounters, matches for me what I have seen out of any male professional wrestlers in the last half decade or so.
It is her aforementioned interview skills, though which lifted her from a merely “good” professional wrestler into the category of absolute greatness. During a series of matches for River City Wrestling in early 2010, Melissa captured the River City Wrestling Heavyweight championship–a men’s title–during a thirty-minute match with Joey Spector. This made her the first woman to win any promotion’s top title ever in the United States, quite an accomplishment, and those of us who feel constant frustration at how women’s wrestling is belittled in this nation rejoiced with her.
A couple of days later, however, the unthinkable happened. The operator of River City Wrestling, Jeromy Sage, stripped Melissa of the title because her match with Spector had gone for fifteen seconds beyond the stipulated thirty-minute time limit. It seemed, at the moment, a legitimate thing. Melissa lost the belt and was not invited to work at RCW again, immediately. Many of us who love Melissa’s work were outraged. Although professional wrestling is a “worked” sport with predetermined outcomes, these achievements matter to us fans and even to the athletes involved. Besides, women have been used as little more than window dressing, abused for the amusement of perverted old men and outright ignored in professional wrestling for so long that it seemed utterly ridiculous that one tiny achievement–a small, regional heavyweight championship–should be nullified in this way.
If this was a shoot, if we were not being worked. Those are big ifs in professional wrestling. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Many of us who love women’s wrestling, especially SHIMMER, took to the internet in protest of Melissa’s maltreatment. I know that I wrote more than a few forum rants, blog posts and bitchy tweets to RCW and Jeromy Sage himself. I also shot a quick message to the Cheerleader herself reminding her to stay strong. Her answer to me, as it was to all her fans, was to just wait and see how things went.
She cut an emotional Youtube promo–not Dusty Rhodes level or anything but pretty good–and less than a month later was given a rematch with Spector, won it, and again became RCW’s top dog. She would hold this title for many months before finally dropping it, and accrued a few others as well, thus becoming RCW’s first female Triple Crown Champion.
I have watched that promo multiple times looking for nuance, trying to separate work from shoot, and have had little success. This is at least partially because I am blinded by the astounding-ness of Melissa Anderson’s abs, as she has the best that I have ever seen on a woman and is wearing a cropped top in the video, but also because the whole situation created a perfect storm of modern kayfabe re-genesis for the professional wrestling fan. My expectations about how women would be treated in the sport (crappily, to be honest) and clever management of a pretty standard corrupt authority figure storyline drew me into this web very deeply. Or, on the other hand, perhaps Sage really did intend to screw a woman out of being his company’s top champion, only to have the outrage of wrestling fans and the work of a skillful performer force him to turn it into a profitable storyline instead. To this day, I don’t fully know what happened, and given that I’m an outsider to RCW’s booking table, I doubt I ever will. I do know that this drew me in like matches did when I was a kid–when Sting chased the NWO all over the Nitro arena to harass them for their sins–and it pulled me into the angle with an intensity that bigger companies like WWE find themselves hard pressed to match today.