Tessa Blanchard is an old soul. Though she’s only been wrestling for a little more than a year, she’s been around it her whole life. Consider her pedigree — her grandfather was wrestler and promoter Joe Blanchard, her father is WWE Hall of Famer Tully Blanchard, and her stepfather is Magnum T.A.
As she finds herself about to embark on her first extended wrestling tour — anywhere — her mind drifts back to the past, to the days of territorial wrestling.
For the next two weeks, she’ll be in a dozen small arenas around the Canadian Maritime provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, as part of the Atlantic Grand Prix Wrestling tour.
“I’m super excited. I haven’t done anything like this before,” Blanchard told SLAM! Wrestling from the home of promoter Emile Dupre out in Shediac, NB. “My dad was telling me it is structured like the territories. That’s how you learn, just working night after night after night after night after night.”
Upon arriving, she plunked herself down in front of Dupre, and heard story after story of Joe Blanchard — who had wrestled with Emile back in the 1960s.
“I’ve just been sitting all morning just talking about wrestling with him. I texted my dad last night. I was like, ‘Oh, it’s so cool because I get to hear all these stories about my grandfather that I didn’t even know.’ It’s super, super cool because he knows so much of my family history also. It’s cool to just sit back and listen.”
Running this tour is René Dupre, veteran of the WWE ring and, more recently, of Japan. Others on the tour include Seiya Sanada, Kat Von Heez, Bobby Sharp, and Rip Impact (who will be writing a tour diary of his time out east).
There is no denying that the 5-foot-5, 125-pound Blanchard is eager to learn and improve, and lists Leilani Kai and Bull Nakano as favourites from the past, and Natalya and Charlotte as current faves.
“I haven’t been wrestling that long, just a year and a few months now, but I work a lot with George South and some of the Ring of Honor guys have helped me out a lot. But my dad and my stepdad have played a huge part in that.”
But the on-screen antagonists that were Tully Blanchard and Magnum T.A. — who could ever forget their battles over the NWA U.S. title? — masked a friendship that morphed into something quite different years later, when Magnum Terry Allen married Courtney Shattuck, Blanchard’s ex-wife.
Tessa has taken advice from both sides.
“I always say that I have the best of both worlds with that, because my dad is very serious, very strict, looks at it like it’s a business and you go, you make your money, you save it, you leave. And then my stepdad is … very follow your heart and your dreams; he’s like a giant teddy bear.”
She addressed the decision to start wrestling, dropping out after one year of university, and naturally it ties into the past.
“[My grandfather] would always tell stories, and it was just like, ‘Whatever,’ for me, because I was so young and I didn’t really get it. He passed a few days before the [WWE] Hall of Fame in 2012, so we went straight from the funeral to Miami. It was from the lowest low to the highest high,” she said. “Just seeing how my dad handled it all. I think at the Hall of Fame was when I actually started to get, ‘Oh crap, maybe my dad was actually somebody.’ I don’t even know how to put that experience into words. I think that’s when I decided that I wanted to get into wrestling, start training. I thought it would be a lot easier than it is. It takes a lot of hard work. I’m enjoying it. I’m having so much fun just on the indies right now, and learning from so many girls that are better than me, getting in the ring with them and just learning.”
There are a lot of women she treasures time with in the ring.
“I’m excited because after this tour, I fly straight to New Jersey and I get to wrestle Kimber Lee, who I love watching work. I got to work Candice LaRae not that long ago and that was absolutely amazing. Mickie James, I enjoyed working with her. I don’t know how to explain it, the different places you go, you find way different styles of working. Up north, I notice how it’s a lot less character, more highspot wrestling, I guess.”
Then there was her SHIMMER debut in April 2015, where Blanchard laid the cards on the table in a memorable promo. She didn’t shy away from her name.
“I’m not ignorant to the fact that I’m going to have heat probably wherever I go, and that’s just not going to go away. I don’t know if it’s jealousy or what it is, but I’ve only been wrestling a year. That’s nothing. A lot of these girls have wrestled five, 10 years to get where they are today. I’m just the new girl running in,” she said. Criticism is inevitable. “Girls are girls, girls are catty, girls are mean, but if you have the mental strength to just brush off, and say, ‘Hey, whatever.'”
Given her confidence and drive, people think she has been wrestling longer than she has.
“I’ve always said my last name may get my foot in the door, may get me in front of the right people, and might give me a shot, but once you get in the ring, the last name doesn’t really do jack shit for you. Who you know to get there, what you can do to stay there.”