For Vancouver’s Velvet McIntyre, wrestling Fabulous Moolah at WrestleMania II was a major letdown. She didn’t want to be in Chicago. She wanted to be in the Middle East.
“The biggest thing that stands out about that is I wanted to go to Kuwait, but I got WrestleMania II instead,” McIntyre said with a laugh. “There was a trip for the girls to Kuwait, and I always liked to go where I hadn’t been. But I was told, ‘Nope, you get to stay here and do Wrestlemania’, so I was pretty bummed out about that. I didn’t really care for my opponent.”
The Fabulous Moolah was notorious over the years for her control over women’s wrestling in North America, and the battles were as much backstage as in the ring for her foes. Yet when asked to name the best female Canadian wrestler, Moolah named McIntyre.
“I think Velvet McIntyre was a very good wrestler, and I enjoyed wrestling her,” said Moolah, whose real name is Lillian Ellison. “She was full of energy, she had her mind 100% on wrestling. She did her best, she never gave up, she kept going, she was forever training and working out. She was just a great wrestler. I would say she was the best Canadian wrestler.”
The WrestleMania II program features a small photo of McInytre, and calls her “a quick, courageous wrestler and prime contender for the title held by the Fabulous Moolah … considered a real up-and-comer.” The photo of Moolah, beside McIntyre, is about twice the size.
For McIntyre, her favourite opponents were Penny Mitchell, Judy Martin and Leilani Kai. “They just knew their stuff. We had good matches together. They knew the stories. We could do a lot of stuff together. They were good at what they did, whereas a lot of the other girls, you couldn’t do a lot of stuff with them.”
With her bare feet and acrobatic moves, McIntyre was a high flyer, ahead of her time. “I liked to work with somebody who could carry my weight, so to speak,” she said. “[High flying] got me more recognized, I guess, because I was always in to the weird, high-flying moves which today look like nothing, but back then, you just didn’t see it unless you brought it back from Japan. I used to go to Japan, steal all the girls’ moves and bring them back here. Voila!”
McIntyre was athletic as a youngster, always competitive and duking it out with her three brothers. After high school, she heard that Sandy Barr was looking for women wrestlers in Oregon, and she went to train in 1980.
“It was hard. I guess you would call it the older-style training. You didn’t know anything was fake until you actually had your match, type thing. It was hard,” she said. “It was basically a couple of hours ring time every day. A couple hours calisthenics, stuff like that, every day, running to and from the arena every day. It was hard work. My head was like a watermelon for about the first month.”
Her training partner was Princess Victoria, who was from Oregon. McIntyre’s first match was in Idaho, just a few months into the training. “[Sandy] he just wanted to get us going, to get a feel for the ring.” It was another three months before she began working somewhat full-time.
Wrestling provided McIntyre with an opportunity to travel and see the world. She has been to Japan a half dozen times, Puerto Rico, the Caribbean, every U.S. state, every Canadian province, Singapore, Thailand, France, Germany, Egypt, India, Peru, Australia, Hawaii. “I’ve been just about everywhere where the girls go.”
Working barefoot came about by accident, as she wore boots for the first four years of her career. “Somebody took one of my boots as a joke, and I only had one boot in my bag. I was wrestling with Lelani, actually. I said, ‘Well, I guess I’ve got to go barefoot.’ Away I went, and I never looked back.”
The new-found freedom for her feet allowed her to emulate one of her Vancouver favourites, Eric Froelich. “I could do tons more, tons more. My footing was better, my leverage, everything was better.”
As the ’90s progressed, and the wrestling styles changed, McIntyre found herself not wanted to work as much. The opportunities for the lady wrestlers dried up and the openness of the wrestling scene frustrated her. “The biggest thing that bugs me today is that it was pushed into you to cover everything up, kayfabe, don’t let anything out that there’s anything fake about it. Nowadays, it’s just all over the place, which kind of makes an ass the older wrestlers,” she said. “Especially with your families, and stuff. All these years, ‘Oh no, it’s not fake.’ Then all of a sudden, it’s all over the TV. It’s like, ‘Oh, well, sorry for lying to you, Mom and Dad.'”
Family was the reason she gave up wrestling altogether. She was working on occasion for a Vancouver-based promotion when she learned she was pregnant in 1998. Turns out during her last night, she was actually carrying twins.
Besides looking after the twins, McIntyre does home crafts and sells them. She’s happy with her life, though she knows it could have been different. “If I didn’t have the kids, I’d probably still be doing it. But your priorities change. Now it matters if I break my neck!”
TOP PHOTO: Velvet McIntyre and Princess Victoria. Courtesy Chris Swisher