Grit & Glitter is the weekly podcast dedicated to the power of women’s wrestling, hosted by Harley R. Pageot, Emily Fear, and their team of correspondents known as The Glitterati. “The Glitter Buzz” is an irregular feature here at Bell To Belles where Harley interviews various wrestlers and wrestling media personalities around a different central theme. Your theme for August is… momentum.
The COVID-19 pandemic definitely put a halt to a lot of our momentum. My zines, my record label, my interest in certain wrestling promotions… they all stuttered and sputtered to a quiet demise. For some, it was a chance for a much-needed vacation. A rare opportunity to rest and reset. For those of us who work retail, the conveyor belt of capitalism never stops turning. Wrestling as a whole is of course the same. On an independent level, promotions suffered. In some countries wrestling still hasn’t returned. But wrestling overall survived. There is no off-season, no down time. Wrestling keeps moving. Through it all, even a global pandemic, wrestling survives.
What does a goddess do on her time off? 21-year-old Chakara was taking England from storm in the tail end of 2019 after two standout matches against Big Swole for Riptide Wrestling. Then a pandemic hit. For 16 months she was forced to sit on the sidelines and watch the world pass her by. All the momentum gone, through no fault of her own. How do you recover? How do you return into the thick of it? How does the Golden Goddess find her way back on the track to gold?
PAGEOT: I want to say that I first saw you wrestle as part of the Black Lives Matter mixtape on IWTV when they featured one of your Riptide matches with Big Swole. I remember that mixtape being a big deal at the time and really trending. I feel like I saw other people sort of discovering Chakara for the first time. Did it feel like that for you, like a breakthrough moment with Americans?
CHAKARA: Oh, one hundred percent. I wasn’t really known to the American market per se up until I did that match at Riptide with Big Swole. We did two matches across two days and it was one of the most intense moments of my career. I was so nervous. Being able to wrestle an import on one of the biggest shows in the UK, it’s a big thing. I took pride in that as well but I was definitely nervous. But it went well in the end.
The mixtape airs on IWTV June 2020 but the matches with Swole took place the previous October so it had been eight months since they actually happened. Is there still a disconnect between what happens in the UK and who pays attention outside of the UK?
For me, yes. Whenever I’m asleep and I wake up with notifications from the Americans, I’m like “What? What happened?” I remember when Effy was on Twitch and he put on one of my matches – apparently he’s done it a few times – I was like “Oh my god, I’m missing all this stuff because I’m sleeping.” Then I’m getting all these follows and all these mentions. It’s so humbling. It’s lovely. It’s just so cool to be recognized from another country/continent and people like me! That’s great confirmation for me that I’m doing something right. But there is a bit of a disconnect, definitely, because I don’t really know what’s going on. I’m just used to being a British wrestler and people from Britain know who I am. Europe, maybe. I feel like I’ve sort of touched base with the American fans now and they are great.
I’m in Canada and the stuff that happens here I never see talked about or written about anywhere. Especially with American websites, like the big American news sites, they’re almost always talking about just the same four or five promotions over and over.
Yeah, the British newsletters rarely post American independents unless it’s people that have come over before, like Suge Dunkerton, or people who have gone to America like Jamie Hayter. If there’s a crossover, then definitely it’s mentioned, but in terms of week in/week out, it’s rare. I think it’s sort of the same for everywhere. It’s just the main companies like WWE, AEW, New Japan… That’s what everybody does record on but not necessarily independents in different countries.
With streaming these days, almost any country, anywhere you go, you can watch the show live as it’s happening. Although I guess, because of the direction the time zones go, it’s tougher for you. If a show starts at 8 p.m. here, that’s 1 in the morning for you. Whereas if you’re doing a show at 8 p.m., that’s 3 in the afternoon for me. That’s beautiful.
It’s great for you guys to just chill out, have lunch, and watch it. For us, it’s a whole thing. WrestleMania is always a big issue for me. I have to pre-nap at 9:00 because I don’t really sleep in during the day. So I have to force myself to go to bed at 9:00, wake up at 12, get my food ready for 1:00, and I’m knackered by 3! It’s a whole ordeal for me but I’m a night owl so it’s alright.
Those two Riptide matches with Swole in October 2019 marked a real turning point in your career.
They change your trajectory. They really put you on the map in a lot of ways. Then you follow it with matches against Jazz and Jinny and Taya Valkyrie. These are some of the top names in wrestling. There’s so much momentum on your side… and then the pandemic hits.
Yeah… It really did get me down a lot, to be honest with you. It really did. I had a lot of depression. When COVID started and we were in lockdown, it was March. Come about May until I got mentioned on [the PWI 500 list], I was super-duper down about myself. I was not confident in myself at all. I’m still not confident in myself at all. It’s really sort of rocked everything. It does get me upset because I was really on a roll there. I was doing really good matches. I was wrestling every weekend, twice a weekend. That was just sort of come to a halt. I’m wrestling again now. I’m doing RevPro again, so that’s confirmation I’m okay, I guess. But, yeah, it really was detrimental for me. For my mental health and everything around it.
There was always at least a little bit of solace that it wasn’t like you’d injured your leg and you’re sitting on the sidelines as wrestling passes you by. All of England is shut down. Everybody you know is in the same boat as you.
Very true. That was the sort of comforting part of it, one hundred percent. Obviously, everyone’s been through their mental health journeys, especially during the pandemic, so it’s nice to know that you’re not alone. But, just on a personal basis, it was… crap. To say the least.
I’ve talked to a lot of American wrestlers over the past year and a half about how they managed their lockdown but even the American indies were only down for a couple months at most.
Yeah, it picked up quite quickly again, didn’t it?
By last summer it felt like they were doing big weekends with five promotions teaming up together.
Yeah, ‘cause I do follow a few American wrestlers so obviously I see their match graphics. I was like “whoa, they’re so lucky.” I wasn’t really too sure at the time what the COVID-19 status was in terms of vaccinations, stuff like that, so I was very surprised to see shows were coming back up again. But as long as people are being safe, I guess, and people are vaccinated, there can’t be too much of an issue.
We’re following the same protocols as you. Here in Canada, wrestling still hasn’t come back yet. We’re just now starting to talk about maybe we can do some concerts in October/November, but there are still no “events” here yet.
Okay, so how’s the COVID in your area?
It seems to be okay. They got the numbers down a couple months ago. We’ve got something like 65% of Canadians fully vaccinated.
Brilliant. That’s amazing.
They’re just being very cautious because we don’t want…
Everything’s great! And then a month from now things have spiked again and it’s chaos. Especially with back to school starting in a couple weeks.
Yes, and winter’s coming as well.
Everybody goes indoors. Christmas shopping could be a nightmare. All the malls.
Yeah, got to be an online situation this year, I think.
You’re back now. You’re back in the ring. What’s changed in the year and a half since you’ve been gone? How did you keep yourself in shape and active and in the mindset of “I’m going to be a big star once they give me that platform again”?
I was pretty much just doing a lot of tape studies. I was watching a lot of old school wrestling. I was also trying to inspire myself again because I lost a bit of passion for it during lockdown, you know? I felt like “Is it ever going to come back?!? I don’t know!” Mid-summer for me, I was just looking at old school matches, stuff that I actually enjoyed, and I was watching some wrestling matches I used to love as a kid. Instead of watching it as a fan, I was watching it as a wrestler. I was studying it and breaking it down, taking mental notes. Obviously, I can’t be in the ring so the only way I can learn is mentally. Gyms weren’t open for a while so I ended up doing a lot of at-home workouts, or attempting to. A lot of walking as well, just trying to keep the cardio up. Those were the two main things. I won’t lie, I was stuffing my face for the first few months of lockdown. I think everyone was. But towards the summertime I was getting back into a routine of some such. And I had my first match back in the beginning of July.
It’s been over a year since #SpeakingOut hit. There’s obviously always going to be work that needs to be done, always things that need to be addressed. But, with wrestling returning to the UK now, does it feel like anything has changed for the better?
Yeeesss…. and no? It’s a weird one to judge because wrestling hasn’t come back completely one hundred percent, so it’s hard to get a whole scope of it. Things have changed. People have been obviously removed from the scene, as such, but there is still a lot of work to do. There’s always going to be work to do. There are always going to be improvements that can be put in place. That’s something that we’re going to have to learn. As a scene, we’ll learn and make mistakes. The only way we’re going to get better is if we take it head-on and not allow anything to be swept under the carpet. That’s what I believe. In general, I do think things are getting better. I think what’s most important now is that we keep getting better and not fall off now that #SpeakingOut has “died down.” It’s still a massive problem worldwide. As a scene, we need to stick together and ensure that everyone who comes into the scene, whether they’re a fan or a wrestler, is safe and protected. The main part is that we’re here to enjoy what we love, and that’s wrestling. That’s what it should be about.
As the only British woman to make the PWI 500 last year, I guess that makes you the official queen of intergender wrestling in the UK.
Yes! One hundred percent. I’m queen. No, I was outstanded when I was picked to be on that. I didn’t know I was the only British woman wrestler on it. I had no clue. I was just told I was on the list. I thought I was going to be on the PWI Women’s 100 list. I didn’t know I was going to be on the 500 list. I was like “wow, this is awesome.” But I do give credit to the people I wrestled, like Connor Mills and Elijah and DeReiss, because obviously without them, I wouldn’t have been on that list. I’m very grateful. I feel like, if I quit tomorrow, I’ll be happy knowing that I made it onto one of the most prestigious lists in wrestling. I’m very proud of that and I’ll take that with me for the rest of my life. I really would.
Is intergender wrestling starting to become more common in the UK? It wasn’t always the case in the States. RevPro just did their first intergender match?
Yes, yes. Intergender wrestling became popular in the UK maybe two or three years ago? And it’s been going on ever since. Before 2018/2019, it wasn’t as popular, I don’t think. But I love it. It’s my favorite type of wrestling. I think it’s fun, it’s exciting, it’s something different. You can really tell a story. It makes you think more about what you want to do and how you want to perceive the story to the audience. It’s a challenge. It’s hard because you don’t want to do the basic style. You want to really become inventive. That’s where my wrestling juices flow. From there I’m really thinking about how I can make this work. You’re a 6’3” guy. I’m 5’6”. How are we going to make this work? And that’s what’s exciting for me. It’s a different challenge and I love it. I really do. I want to do more.
And in terms of increased presence for women on cards, and especially for nonbinary wrestlers, it feels like doing away with gendered divisions is the future for wrestling. The big promotions, whether it’s WWE or AEW, seem really reluctant to embrace it. It’s going to be another 10-20 years before they catch up with the times but everywhere else seems to be recognizing that this is the future of wrestling, the future of diversity.
Of course. I hate seeing “The women are on.” Yeah, we’re women but we’re wrestlers and we’re trained the same way as everybody else. In fact, we are put through our paces probably even more because people look at us and think “Oh, she’s a girl.” No. When I started training, I was 15-years-old with a bunch of men who were probably 25 over. And I was the one that lasted. In my head I thought “These people probably don’t think I’m serious ‘cause I’m a kid.” But I had the mentality of these guys and most of them became my mates because we all wanted one thing and that was to become a wrestler. I was bumping on literally a mat and concrete. That’s what I was practicing on. It’s rough. It’s really rough but I feel like women now are really being recognized as equals. And we are equal because we’re trained the same way.
I know you’ve wrestled in Spain, Germany, Poland, Portugal… What are the wrestling scenes like outside of the UK? Over here we don’t hear anything about wrestling in Poland or Spain.
It’s kind of weird. Germany has a great scene. It’s amazing. You’ve got wXw, GWF (which is who I wrestled for), so it’s got a really good scene there. I never knew Poland had a wrestling company. When they contacted me, I was like “Wow, this is cool.” The fans in Europe are fantastic. They’re rowdy. They’re loud. They get drunk. I love it. Probably one of my favorite crowds was actually in Poland. The venue was amazing. It was like a warehouse, grungy and really cool vibes. The European fans are awesome. When I went to Portugal and I wrestled there, their main focus is really growing their talent and bringing people over from the UK to train their talent. They don’t have as much access to that because all of the “top” talents are based on the UK island. So they always have a mission to bring someone over to do seminars and have wrestling be recognized more in their countries. They’re really passionate about it and you can really feel the drive when you go out there. It’s really inspiring.
You can debut for the first time in any country, other than Japan or America. Where do you go?
Dubai, just so I can stay there for longer. But it’s probably way too hot. So maybe Amsterdam. Holland. I would love to wrestle there.
What’s your go-to breakfast?
I don’t really eat breakfast but, if I was not being lazy, a nice big fry-up. English breakfast. Sausage, scrambled eggs, fried mushrooms, fried bread, beans, and streaky bacon. Delicious.
We’re only a couple days out from the return of Pro Wrestling Eve and their big show, Wrestle Queendom 4. Is there anything you’d like to tell us?
Pro Wrestling Eve is probably one of the best women wrestling companies in the world. I’ve been very honored to wrestle for them in the past. There’s no denying they’ve been the future. They are showcasing the best talents in the world. Even during lockdown, when they were doing their streams… They are good. I’ve loved working for them in the past and I hope to work for them in the future.
Follow Chakara on Instagram: @chakarawrestler
Follow Chakara on Twitter: @chakarawrestler
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