You know the women in the ring at a SHIMMER show are from Australia, because the fans chant “Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi.” But the chant is hardly confined to SHIMMER. There’s Peyton Royce and Billie Kay on WWE Smackdown, Rhea Ripley in NXT, and Tenille Dashwood on the independent circuit. In short, Aussie women are here to stay, and it’s time to look at how all this talent came from the land Down Under.
At the SHIMMER tapings April 15-16, in Berwyn, Ill., there were no less than seven performers from Australia: former two-time SHIMMER champion Madison Eagles, former SHIMMER champion Kellie Skater, former Heart of SHIMMER champion Shazza McKenzie, a mainstay tag team called Blue Nation (Jessica Troy and Charli Evans), as well as Indi Hartwell and Face Brooke, who were both making their SHIMMER debut. And that’s not including Kellyanne, who was scheduled to be there but had a personal emergency.
They can look at the successes of Royce and Kay — the Iiconics — who graduated from NXT to Smackdown on April 10, attacking SmackDown women’s champion Charlotte Flair, resulting in Carmella cashing in her Money in the Bank suitcase and becoming the new champion. Another to watch is Ripley, still in NXT, who performed in the Mae Young Classic tournament in 2017, and will likely be in this year’s event.
Then there’s Tenille Dashwood, formerly known as Emma in WWE, who might be the most in-demand woman at the moment on the indy scene. Plus, she was a part of the Women of Honor tournament to crown Ring of Honor’s first women’s champion.
While the above names are making waves, they all owe a debt of gratitude to Madison Eagles, the wrestler who put Australian women’s wrestling on the international map.
“The first person you need to look at for that is Madison Eagles,” said Skater, who retired just a year ago after a 10-year career. “Madison is a massive factor in all of this. She paved the way to girls who came after like myself, Jessie (Billie Kay), Cassie (Peyton Royce), Shazza, Jessica, Charli, Face Brooke. She’s a big one.”
For Jessica Troy and Charli Evans, Eagles was instrumental in their growth.
“She’s very important in my development,” said Troy. “I think every woman in Australia who wants to become a wrestler should learn from her.”
Evans echoed her partner’s comment.
“I don’t think Jessica and I would be as far as we are now without her. It’s all in the details, you know. Me and Jessica, being smaller girls, she’s able to find ways to make us look bigger than we are,” she said.
JUST WHO IS MADISON EAGLES?
Madison Eagles was born Alexandra Ford on June 5, 1984. Pro wrestling caught her attention in the late 1990s watching the World Wrestling Federation. She knew this was something she wanted to do, and she began training in 2001. A few months later, she had her first match at the age of 17.
If the Australian women’s scene is blooming at this moment, it wasn’t the case back then.
“There wasn’t a women’s scene when I first started,” said Eagles. “I would wrestle the same one or two girls, week in and week out. The company I was working for, International Wrestling Australia in Sydney, was very busy but had just a few girls.”
She would wrestle all over the state of New South Wales but working the same people over and over. So, in 2003, she left for the United States, where she worked for OVW, HWA, CHIKARA and Ring of Honor, among others. After four years, she came back to her native land and started her wrestling school in Sydney. Shortly after that, in 2007, she created Pro Wrestling Alliance Australia (PWA) and, ultimately, Pro Wrestling Women’s Alliance (PWWA).
“At the end of 2006, there were no real trainers in Australia. So I opened a school with my ex-husband (Ryan Eagles) for both men and women. The promotions came after,” said Eagles.
At the time, there were some women wrestling in different states like Queensland, South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia, but they would only wrestle in their home state. Eagles wanted that to change.
“Women were not wrestling interstate. I was the only one doing it, so I thought it would be a good thing to have them travelled and wrestled all at one place, because the men were travelling, but not the women,” explained Eagles, who was voted as the top female wrestler in North America in 2011 by Pro Wrestling Illustrated.
As she became the reference point for women wrestlers in Australia over the years, some enrolled in her school while others stopped by and train with Eagles for a little while.
Skater, who was on the first PWWA show, wasn’t initially trained by Eagles as she started in Melbourne, but Madison took her under her wing and became a mentor.
Likewise, McKenzie had trained for a year before coming to Eagles. “I had to re-train Shazza,” Eagles remembered, laughing.
McKenzie did not disagree on that assessment.
“I’d say yeah,” McKenzie answered, laughing as well. “I was only trained for a year before I came to her, so I like to think that I didn’t have horrible habits a year in that couldn’t be easily retrained. She was very much influential in my career. Madison trained me on a weekly basis for the last nine years.”
IICONICS SET THE BAR HIGHER
After three years spent at WWE’s Performance Center, while also mostly working NXT house shows in Florida, the call that Billie Kay and Peyton Royce were waiting for finally happened. In fact, it came two days before for Royce, as she was part of the WrestleMania Women’s Battle Royal, where she and five other NXT wrestlers made a statement in the first few minutes of the match.
Billie Kay, born in Sydney on June 23, 1989, started wrestling in 2007. Aside from indie promotions in Australia, she largely worked for SHIMMER for seven years, using her real name of Jessie McKay.
Royce was born Cassie McIntosh on November 10, 1992, in Sydney as well. She started wrestling in 2009 and mainly worked in Australia, under the name of KC Cassidy.
Both of them were signed by NXT in April 2015.
“Jessie McKay was the first woman I have trained from scratch. I have also trained Cassie from scratch. I’m so proud of them,” said Eagles. “That was their ultimate goal from day one. That makes me so happy because it’s just them perfectly succeeding at what they wanted. And that’s exactly what I want. I want all of my trainees to be the best they can be and that’s exactly the case with Jessie and Cassie.”
McKenzie, who had been wrestling for a year at the time, remembered when Royce first started.
“Madison was running boot camps for two weeks straight and Cassie was the only person in the whole boot camp who came to every single session. So I’ve known her since then. She was like 15 or 16 at the time and to watch her grow into such a strong, confident woman, it’s so great,” said McKenzie. “I cried watching them come down on SmackDown because I know how much they work. They worked their asses off to get there, and they worked their asses off once they got there and now they’re getting what they have waited so long to get. It is absolutely amazing!”
Of the six Australian women wrestlers other than herself at SHIMMER, Eagles also trained Charli Evans, Jessica Troy and Face Brooke, and mentored Indi Hartwell. She also mentored Kellyanne and NXT’s Dakota Kai, who is from New Zealand, but considered to be an adopted Australian by her peers. The United Kingdom-based Toni Storm, who grew up in Australia, was also helped along the way by Eagles.
NO ONE CAN FORGET EMMA
However, not all Australian women wrestlers were trained or mentored by Eagles. For example, she had nothing to do with training either Rhea Ripley or Tenille Dashwood.
Born in a suburb of Melbourne in the state of Victoria on March 1, 1989, Dashwood did work some PWWA shows that Eagles ran, before she took another path, which saw her train with Lance Storm in Calgary, Alberta, Canada in the summer of 2008. In 2012, she was signed by WWE and sent to Florida Championship Wrestling. After being moved to NXT, she wrestled Paige in February 2013 on the first ever NXT special event, NXT Arrival. Before Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks and Bayley, Emma and Paige opened the eyes of many and led the way for the new generation of women wrestlers in WWE. Their match at NXT Arrival proved that the young generation of women wrestlers was ready for a bigger spotlight.
Emma made her main roster debut in 2014, becoming the first Australian woman to do so.
Even if Eagles didn’t train Dashwood, some think there’s a part of her in every Australian female wrestler.
“Even if they haven’t trained at her school, if they ever shared a locker room with her, she would’ve assisted them in some way, because she’s always willing to help,” said McKenzie. “She wants to make us all better because if we all bring ourselves up, it benefits everyone.”
However, as inspiring as it was that Dashwood was the first one, seeing Kay and Royce is different.
“It was great to see Tenille getting signed,” said Evans. “But it’s different because when Jessie and Cassie got signed, it was like, they actually started where I am now and trained here as well and knowing that the training here brought them there, it’s incredible. I have goosebumps just talking about it.”
Added Jessica Troy: “To see how hard they worked, coming from the PWWA all the way to WWE, it’s very inspiring. It gives me hope for my own future.”
A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT SCENE
Ten years or so after Eagles first started her school and her promotion, the women’s scene in Australia is completely different.
“The scene is really good now,” said Eagles. “People are travelling so much that we didn’t even run a PWWA show in a long time. We have so many women now that there can be more than one women’s match on a regular show. Women will even wrestle men. There are three different promotions in New South Wales, and it’s the same everywhere. A woman wrestler is not just a gimmick anymore. Everyone is just a wrestler. It’s a complete 180 from what it used to be.”
Sydney, in the state of New South Wales, is the place to be as far as women’s wrestling goes, not only because it’s the most populous city in all of Australia, but also because of the presence of Eagles’ school. Melbourne, 550 miles north east of Sydney; Adelaide, 850 miles west of Sydney; and Perth, on the complete opposite side of the country, are also cities where women’s wrestling and wrestling in general is growing.
Not only the local scene is rising, but a number of Australian women are close to making it to the WWE. Storm and Ripley did well in the Mae Young Classic, while McKenzie had a match on NXT recently.
“It gives the women right now a vision of what they can be, and it can also promote pro wrestling in Australia and lead to more women becoming pro wrestlers,” affirmed Skater.
The future seems very promising.
“Jessie, Cassie, Skater and myself all started within a year and a half from each other,” said McKenzie. “And then there was a very long period of time where there was no one and now we see another influx of girls like the Blue Nation, Indi Hartwell and Face Brooke. So there’s like another generation of girls coming up, and it’s kind of cool!”
With its high visibility, WWE women’s evolution changed the game as more wrestlers from the indies are getting signed or looked at. That said, as far as the evolution of Australian women wrestlers is concerned, everyone agrees that Eagles is the main reason behind all this.
Eagles is modest, though.
“It’s very nice from them. But what I came to realize is that if everyone around us is great, then we will also be great,” Eagles said. “Making everyone better will also make me better. The fact that I’m going to places myself might have helped them being more confident about going out and travelling the world themselves. And I’ve always got their back. So maybe that’s why they like me!”
One just needs to hang around a RISE and SHIMMER weekend to see that Madison Eagles’ crew is supporting each other, watching each other’s matches and learning as much as they actually can. This is the kind of spirit that she brings to her school. Plus, Eagles is solicited by so many young girls asking her to watch their matches, that she barely has time for anything else.
With so many of her students succeeding, what does she see herself doing in the near future?
“I love training people. This is what I love the most. Because I love helping people and it really makes me feel fulfilled. If I had to pick between wrestling for WWE and training there, I would train,” Eagles admitted.
After looking at her track record, it’s safe to say that every country, every promotion would benefit from Madison Eagles. Australia sure did.
SLAM! Wrestling’s early Aussie stories
SLAM! Wrestling has been covering the wrestling scene for more than 20 years now, so we’re bound to hit a couple of jackpots. Here are three articles with women in this story by Pat Laprade that we talked to previously:
– 2009: Tenille’s star rising beyond Australia
– 2011: Kellie Skater talks a big game
– 2011: Madison Eagles taking SHIMMER worldwide
Pat Laprade has been following SHIMMER and the women’s scene since 2010 and will say that Madison Eagles is one of the most respected women in any locker room. If you want to read more about women’s wrestling, make sure to get a copy of Sisterhood of the Squared Circle: The History and Rise of Women’s Wrestling, that Pat co-authored with Dan Murphy.