On a recent episode of AEW Wrestling, National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) women’s world champion Thunder Rosa reportedly didn’t have good chemistry with challenger Ivelisse. Understandably, Thunder Rosa was concerned that her valued NWA belt could be taken away on national television. Screw-jobs have happened before, most notably Wendi Richter and “Spider Lady” in the WWF’s women’s division. And no one takes a professional wrestling title more seriously in 2020 than Thunder Rosa.

No one. Anywhere. No. One.

The Mexican-American from Texas made an impressive appearance on Chris Jericho’s popular Talk is Jericho podcast, and explained that since winning the NWA strap on January 24, 2020, she has taken the championship as seriously as anyone since Mildred Burke in 1935. The women’s belt actually pre-dates the NWA, which was established in 1948.

Since defeating Allysin Kay as part of the NWA YouTube show in Atlanta in January, Thunder Rosa (Melissa Cervantes) has worked hard away from the ring to promote herself and her brand. And prior to COVID-19, Thunder Rosa defeated Melina by count-out when the challenger bailed in her only title defense. On February 2, she wrestled Respect women’s champion Allie Gato in Denver for that barroom promotion’s title. At the conclusion of that contest, where fans were cheering more for Thunder than they were for their own home town champion, Rosa (who had been working as a tweener) went full-own heel. It seemed as if a return, tag team bout was being teased.

Then for six months, like everyone outside of well-funded cable television behemoths, professional wrestling was all-but shut down. That didn’t stop Thunder Rosa from posting daily updates on workouts and a burgeoning merchandising campaign. The videos and July birthday discount offerings on hats, t-shirts and Burke-inspired photos helped jettison interest in her. And she did it all on her own, with real-life husband Brian Cervantes in full support. Pretty remarkable for someone with just six years in the ring under her belt.

Wrestling then started up in some states, and Thunder Rosa was again out there, and began planning something bigger.

Around the end of August, there was talk of her appearing with AEW on TNT. Thunder Rosa is under contract to the NWA, but apparently promotion owner William Patrick Corgan made an arrangement to share her multitude of talent with the year-old promotion. Thunder Rosa filmed an impactful one-minute video as a way of challenging AEW’s women’s champion Hikaru Shida at the All Out pay per view. The video stressed a true-life quandary: Thunder Rosa was needed to legitimize what has been a lackluster AEW women’s division. Shida is the AEW’s third women’s champion and arguably its most experienced grappler.

Thunder Rosa debuted on Dynamite against a game Serena Deeb on September 2. That match was regarded by many as the greatest women’s match in AEW history. The veteran Deeb was quickly inked to an AEW contract.

Between her AEW contests, a confident Thunder Rosa spoke to WrestleZone’s Dominic DeAngelo and started the interview with, “Since I had a day off, I might as well promote myself.” It’s a refreshing take from a professional wrestler on any stage. She talked with DeAngelo of always working and training with “the best,” a sentiment virtually unheard of on the big stage.

The September 5 match saw Shida retain against Thunder Rosa. More interesting is that the AEW/NWA relationship continued entirely because of Thunder Rosa. The consummate pro, Thunder Rosa defended the NWA world women’s championship on TNT television for the first nationally broadcast defense in ages (if not decades or ever) when she defeated Ivelisse in Jacksonville, Florida. Quickly, rumors swirled that Ivelisse was uncooperative in their September 10 match, to the tune of strikes and kicks being delivered in a more serious manner. It was believed that Thunder Rosa didn’t want her, the NWA, or the NWA world women’s championship to be devalued.

And that speaks volumes.

A tag team match was set up featuring Thunder Rosa and Shida vs. Ivelisse and her tag team partner Diamante. But in the interim, Thunder Rosa’s schedule ramped up, with her beating Kimber Lee in Chicago, before her big contribution to pro wrestling — Mission Pro Wrestling, a promotion run by her and her husband that aimed to employ only women behind the scenes. At that debut show in Buda, Texas, titled the La Mera Meera (loosely translated to “head honcho”) Destruction Tour, Thunder Rosa defeated Lindsay Snow to retain her NWA women’s title.

Then came two high-profile appearances, with Thunder Rosa defeating Priscilla Kelly during the Primetime LIVE weekly pay per view from the United Wrestling Network and NWA in Hollywood, California, on Tuesday, September 22. The next day was the tag match with Thunder Rosa and Shida against Diamante and Ivelisse, which ended with the champions scoring the pin. News had broken earlier in the day that Road Warrior Animal Joe Laurinaitis had passed away at age 60, and Thunder Rosa honored the Hall of Famer by painting half her face in a similar fashion to his unique style.

AEW Women’s champion Hikaru Shida and NWA Women’s champion Thunder Rosa on the September 23, 2020 edition of AEW Dynamite. Photo courtesy AEW

There have been hints of a Shida and Thunder Rosa rematch; however, nothing has been secured. I know I would love to see that bout.

To this eye, much of Thunder Rosa’s appeal is because she isn’t hamstrung by corporate entities. The WWE recently notified its talent that they cannot partake in any more “third party” business dealings. Thunder Rosa pushed hard to get her YouTube Channel to a level for monetization. She doesn’t appear to spend all of her waking hours on video game social media outlets; instead, she told DeAngelo that she has put a lot of her own money into Mission Pro Wrestling and that her husband “has a full-time job” so they are able to work on the project together.

Even in the context of her NWA peers, Thunder Rosa shines. NWA heavyweight champion Nick Aldis was one of the hottest names of 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic railroaded the industry. Aldis had a similar plan with Ring of Honor (ROH) Wrestling before the NWA YouTube channel really launched. Aldis remains under contract with NWA and champions the “Ten Pounds of Gold” but has not (yet) entered the independent scene or other brands like Thunder Rosa has.

ROH closed its doors for months, but reportedly still paid its talent. Without googling, it might be difficult to remember who the ROH champion is at the moment, and its women’s division is still without a title-holder. A tournament for that belt was scuttled. At the time, it looked as if Thunder Rosa might have been a surprise entrant there; but that ship has sailed.

Former TNA Impact champion Tessa Blanchard once had a similar opportunity to Thunder Rosa but that sank when communication between champion and promotion broke down. That’s momentum Blanchard will never regain.

Really, it’s hard to point out any professional wrestler—male or female—that has done as much with so little during such a hard time. Cervantes has made the bombastic and energetic Thunder Rosa required viewing.

TOP PHOTO: Thunder Rosa on AEW Dynamite on September 5, 2020. Photo by Lee South, AEW