Ashley Massaro was my gateway to professional wrestling

Let’s wind the clocks back to 2007 for a minute.

I was 11-years old and I spent most of my life staying away from wrestling up until this year. I was always aware of it, but I always brushed it off as “fake stuff.” I know, I was a corny kid back in the day.

That was until news broke that WrestleMania 23 was coming to my city. Being from Detroit, no one could stop talking about it for months, even if they weren’t a wrestling fan. As a Detroiter, I felt compelled to see what the hubbub was about a couple months before the Grandaddy of Them All aired live. I started off just occasionally tuning in to RAW or SmackDown every other week for a few minutes at a time. That quickly evolved into watching both shows from start to finish every week. Then, it didn’t take too long before I became enthralled into WWE television enough to call myself a fan. I gravitated towards wrestling for a number of reasons, but believe it or not, one of those reasons was Ashley Massaro.

To be blunt for a sec, WWE was a sausage fest back in the day. Over a decade before The Women’s Revolution kicked in, the idea of women inside of a WWE ring sounded foreign to me. Silly, I know, but in my occasionally channel flipping days, whenever I turned on the blue show or the red one, the presence of women was scarce. In fact, I didn’t see any women on WWE television until one fateful episode of Friday Night SmackDown. My earliest memory of seeing women – then-Divas – in a WWE ring was this segment right here.

In the first ever edition of MizTV, Miz’s first guest was Ashley Massaro. Ashley was there to promote her new Playboy cover and in the process, progress her WrestleMania feud with Women’s Champion, Melina. This eventually led to a brawl between the two. Say what you will about this segment with modern eyes, but 11-year old me in 2007 loved every second of it. I ate the whole thing up like my daily dose of Cap’n Crunch.

Admittedly, I ate everything on WWE TV up back in the day as a new fan – I suppose that made me a “mark,” right? – but I found something infinitely cool about this segment. I thought it was cool to see two women go out there and kick butt like any other dude on the roster. Alternatively, I also probably liked this because, well, long story short, I was 11 and let’s face it, hormones were raging, but I genuinely thought it was awesome to see women portrayed as a** kickers. My 11-year old mind was blown at the premise. I was immediately sold on the feud and I instantly became a fan of Ashley.

Between her unique punk rocker image, the character that came with it and her rocking theme tune that this 11-year old kid proudly headbanged to every Friday, Ashley was the perfect WWE Superstar in my eyes. For the remainder of her WWE run – as brief as it was – I was enamored with the Ashley character. So much that I still recall being outraged and furious at Mr. McMahon for suspending her for spilling coffee on him. Again, I was a dumb mark who didn’t know any better; didn’t know this was a means to write Ashley off TV so she could compete on Survivor. I wouldn’t say it was still real to me, dammit, but I sure did buy into the spectacle like it was.

Of course, as time passed, I’d get introduced to other women’s wrestlers who came along and I was more impressed by their work, but as the saying goes, you never forget your first and Ashley was my first favorite women’s wrestler.

I say all this to admit that upon learning Ashley Massaro passed away yesterday at age 39, the news hit me like a ton of bricks.

Even now, it feels weird trying to come to grips with the news. I typically don’t get so emotionally pained by the death of a celebrity whom I never even met. Yet alone Ashley, who’s name hadn’t even crossed my mind in years. But this one hit differently for me. I’m not entirely sure why.

Maybe it’s because the more I hear about this situation, I learn more updates that naturally bums me out. Maybe it’s because I found out she was training for a wrestling comeback in March and I hate to hear about people dying with unfinished business. Maybe it hit me how vital Ashley’s presence was in the wrestling industry for me; an industry I consider myself to be apart on some level as a journalist within it.

Ultimately, in this strangely eye opening bit of free writing, I think that what hit me most about Ashley’s death is that I never realized how important Ashley was in my introduction to wrestling until it was too late. I never put those dots together until she was gone.

I say that in hopes to implore every single person reading this to express your love and appreciation for your loved ones while they’re still here. Your mother, your daughter, your father, your son, your brother, your sister, your best friend, your lover, your partner, etc. Whoever it may be, whether you hold them close physically, you’ve gotta call them over the phone, or shoot them a quick message, tell them you love them. Do it now and do it regularly, because they can be gone before you know it.

R.I.P. to Ashley Massaro. The thoughts and prayers of the Bell to Belles team is with her friends and family at this time.

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