Black Women in Wrestling Matter

“Black women in wrestling are marketable” is a powerful post made by the former test of strength champion Karen Bam Bam. This post is bold, insightful, and powerful in so many ways. Women of color have always been marketable; however, they never got an equal shot. Jacqueline Moore, aka Miss Jacqueline, Carlene Begnaud, aka Jazz, Black Venus, and Awesome Kong were some modern-day examples of female wrestling pioneers.

It’s upsetting that they didn’t get the push deserved. Her statement had me thinking about a remarkable groundbreaking documentary, “The Lady Wrestler,” directed by Chris Bournea.

“The Lady Wrestler” is the Amazing, Untold Story of African-American Women in the Ring is an 82-minute documentary that chronicles the stories of Babs Wingo, Ethel Johnson, Marva Scott, Ramona Isbell, and dozens of other African-American women who braved racism and sexism in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s to succeed in the male-dominated world of professional wrestling.

These courageous women raised families while blazing a trail for female athletes long before many of the breakthroughs of the civil rights and feminist movements.

Black Women in Wrestling Matter

Bournea had worked over a decade on this film, and I urge anyone who loves wrestling and is interested in history to see this film because it is sensational. This article is dedicated to the many female wrestlers of color who came before and who are currently wrestling.

I came across Karen Bam Bam while shooting one of the finale scenes for my documentary Circle of Champions.

[Photo: Harry Aaron]
At the time, she was the Test of Strength Champion. This promotion does not believe in a women’s division; therefore, Karen had won her championship by defeating a man. “Both athletes put the same energy into perfecting their craft, and they deserve to be treated as equals,” said promoter/trainer Slyck Wagner Brown.

While we were there, pro wrestling legend Jazz, Angel Orsini managed by Gary Wolf, made history when they went against Dan De Man and Love Doug in the first-ever mixed tag match in Connecticut history. “Growing up, Jackie and Jazz were my favorites,” Karen later added. “As black women, some people see us as the “other.” In their eyes, we can’t hold down a division or be the face of a company.

They don’t believe people will relate to us. And that couldn’t be further from the truth. I don’t think this means people shouldn’t “see color.” See it, respect it, and acknowledge that it doesn’t make any of us less than. We have different talents, stories, and gifts to share. That’s the beauty of wrestling. It is the human experience within the squared circle.”

She describes studying Awesome Kong and Aja Kong influenced her in-ring style. Karen was originally trained by WWE HOF Johnny Rodz in Brooklyn, NY. She chose to continue her studies at Fall-Out Shelter in Queens with Masha Slamovich, Steve Pena, Jorge Santi, and Mike Law.

When asked what inspired her comment on social media, she said

“I just get the urge to shake things up from time to time. And Twitter is my outlet for that. But it all seriousness, there is always conversation being had and work being done around equity in wrestling. I am not the first or even the most active person saying these things. But one person can’t shoulder the weight of being the change we want to see.

So from time to time, I want to contribute to these conversations. As a public figure, I have a voice. It’s important to use it.

Several promotions she wrestles for and will be wrestling in the near future for is Pro Unapologetic. They are who also run the Black Girl Magik events. She will also be at the PW Vibe Festival, which is also running an important event. And lastly, Pizza Party Wrestling, which is one of her favorite places to work for.