As Over The Top wrestling gains traction, women are getting in the ring – and the fans love it, writes Caomhan Keane
With her penchant for spice bags and nicking cans from the crowd who cheer her on in the ring, Martina the Session Mot has become a fan favourite for supporters of Over The Top Wrestling.
Started by Joe Carberry aka Luther Ward, a former Irish WWE wrestler, the franchise reanimates the thrill young men and women got from wrestling in their youth by creating characters and stories more attuned to the wants of its strictly over-18s audience.
Ward, for example, is a bare knuckle boxer, a Traveller who endures racial slurs before unleashing holy hell on his opponents. There’s The Lads From The Flats — peak-capped buzzers who’ll batter the living daylights out of each other over a six pack of tinnies.
And then there’s Martina, their self-described session mot. Decked out in her leopard print PJs and hoop earrings, with a nose for a sneaky baggie, she lives for the session, leading the audience in a bit of a rave after serving up her own brand of justice. Her devoted fans even pelt her with glow sticks.
Karen Glennon is the woman behind the mot. A 25-year-old barmaid from Rathgar, she’s been training for five years as a wrestler and is considered one of the top competitors in the country, irrespective of gender.
“I train with the lads,” she tells me. “All the other girls we have would be at beginners level. But while there have been a few other women taking part along the way, I’m the only one who has lasted this long.”
OTT and wrestling in general has been described as a pantomime with Pat and Peggy undertones. But it’s not simply about putting on a good show. To really get the crowd going, you need to perform some spectacular stunts. Which has resulted in some pretty spectacular injuries. “I’ve seen fingers broken, noses broken, backs broken,” says Glennon. “I’ve had a few concussions, twisted ankles, and teeth knocked out.”
Glennon has constant back pain and bruising, not helped by the long car journeys she has to take to the bouts around the country every couple of weekends. “It’s an extremely trying sport on your body.” She undertakes a gruelling training regimen to ensure she can continue her ascent. “I wouldn’t recommend anyone join wrestling without being prepared to up your fitness levels. I was a big girl before I started, about 17 stone in my teens. I couldn’t run to the end of my driveway. But I trained once or twice a week, and was in the gym whenever I wasn’t in the ring.”
You need to develop strong legs, a strong core to lift people up and throw them about, and lots of cardio to ensure you last throughout the fight. “One of my signature moves I always do in my matches would be a ‘codebreaker’ where I would jump up onto my opponent’s chest while they are standing, using my knees to drag them down, hitting their jaw.
“Another would be a ‘bronco buster’ where if my opponent is laying in the bottom corner of the ring, I would run and jump on them, land, then sit on them.”
[timgcap=Rachel Walker: Tore ACL just before she was to leave for WWE training.]zzzFemaleWrestlingFeature_large.jpg[/timg]
Her main move is the satellite DDT. “I use this to take down my bigger, male opponents. I would run up behind them, flip around their body, and drive their heads into the mat.”
Because she competes so much now, Glennon limits her actual wrestling training to once a week, as it involves getting slammed repeatedly against a mat.
But as Rachel Walker, 30, tells me, when you start you need to spend as much time as you can take in the ring.
“So much of it is memory, training your mind to remember sequence after sequence after sequence. You get that skill through practice. And you need to be hitting the ring and the ropes to build up resistance conditioning. The less you train the harder it feels when you do.”
Walker is the former OTT ringmaster, who was on track to be the first Irish woman to train with the WWE in their legendary training facility in Tampa before she tore her ACL. “It was two weeks before I was due to leave. I had my flights booked and my visa in the bag. I was out in the school in Bray training, and I did a move called a crucifix, jumping across a lad’s shoulder and swinging between his legs, when my leg got stuck. I heard this almighty rip.”
A surgeon took her for an MRI scan and, after getting the scans, told her it was only a partial tear. It wasn’t. When Ray Moran, the medical director of Sports Surgery Clinic, finally saw the scans, he took one look and assessed that the previous doctor hadn’t even looked at them. “He told me, ‘If you were a male GAA player, he would have looked.’”
In recent years, WWE have re-evaluated how they present the women’s fights. “It used to be called ‘the bathroom break’,” says Glennon. “The women wrestlers weren’t athletes, they were Playboy Bunnies. Now fans are saying that women are the same calibre as the men, if not better.”
Glennon says she hasn’t experienced the same level of sexism in Ireland because there are no other girls competing. “They forgot I was a girl. There’s no limitations. Everything the lads were asked to do, I was asked to do as well. There are things, physically, that men can do that women can’t. But, from competing internationally, I have seen women hiding behind their gender. Where they might not try as hard.”
When she is competing against men, Glennon will generally be the good girl, the one the crowd roots for. But when women are imported for her to fight with, she gets to play the bad girl. “For the wrestling, being the good girl is much more fulfilling. But, for the performance, I love being the baddie. You have to work twice as hard, because not only do you have to do your own job, but you also have to get the crowd to like the goodie, by making them really hate you.”
There is a lot of skill involved in the bouts. As Walker puts it; “you need cop-on, you need logic, to tell a story through a sequence of moves and to follow a match format. You need to be able to respond to a crowd, change it up, react, adapt.”
OTT is a huge commitment. Not only does Glennon have to do the fighting and training, but she gets involved in the promotion as well for the monthly bouts at the Tivoli Theatre. “I hang posters, hand out flyers, I fly all over the world, sometimes alone, meeting strangers and having to put my trust in them. All of this makes a lot of demands on you personally, which is why I think so many people can’t keep with it for too long.”
What would Glennon tell those who say wrestling is fake? “I would ask them to step in the ring with some of the tougher opponents, or to take some of the falls over and over again. I could show them the bruises and bumps and some of the really bad injuries. Wrestling may be predetermined but the punches, falls, and everything you see happen in the ring, there is nothing fake about that... It’s one of the most physically demanding sports there is.”
Over The Top Wrestling is in Dolan’s Warehouse, Limerick, tomorrow, and the Tivoli Theatre, Dublin, on Saturday. www.ottwrestling.com
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