For the longest time, Desiree Petersen has been a name wrestling fans knew, with her run as WWF Women’s Tag Team champion alongside Velvet McIntyre in 1984 among her best known moments. But she had kept silent about her career – until now.
She was born and raised in Calgary, Alberta, which is still home. She originally approached Stu Hart for training as a pro wrestler, but Hart referred her to “The Fabulous Moolah” Lillian Ellison.
Heading south to Columbia, South Carolina, Petersen learned her trade, and soon was on the circuit as one of Moolah’s girls. Over the years, she wrestled across the globe, winning numerous titles such as the Women’s US Championship, and the WWF Women’s tag belts, when she stepped in to replace the injured Princess Victoria alongside McIntyre. They lost the belts to the The Glamour Girls (Judy Martin and Leilani Kai) in August 1985, in Cairo, Egypt. Petersen was often billed from Copenhagen, Denmark, since that is where her mother is from.
Nowadays, Petersen enjoys riding on her motorcycle and reading, and is currently dipping her toe back into the wrestling world. She is doing an in-person signing in Allentown, Pennsylvania, on Sunday, June 27, and virtual orders for autographs are available too through Captain’s Corner
Petersen is also involved with the documentary, Circle of Champions The History Of Women’s Pro Wrestling, as a producer and as one of its stars. (See the official trailer here.)
She participated in an email question and answer session with SlamWrestling.net, revisiting a small part of her career in the ring.
Q: What wrestlers did you look up to and why?
Desiree Petersen: The Japanese Women, Monster Singh (Bertha Faye) shame on you Vince McMahon. And of course all the women before me … I would listen to their stories and think, “Man, nothing has changed for us,” and then think so much has changed for us. We are still a gimmick that men want to watch (you know what I mean) but at least know they recognize our athletic abilities.
Q: What was the worst experience you had in wrestling?
Desiree Petersen: Other than injuries, and I went to Tennessee to work and the promoter asked if I would like to go to Wal-Mart. I had no car at this time. I had flown in and was kindly picked up at the airport. So, I’m still fairly young and still wet behind the ears. I’m excited and said yes. Off we go, just the two of us, to Wal-Mart. We get to Wal-Mart, but he starts to drive toward the back of the building and I’m not thinking anything of it – until he stops and puts the car in park, and I go to get out of the car. He grabs my hand and I pull away … no, I don’t say anything other than, “Why are we here at the back of the building?” But I’m thinking I can walk. And granted, we had a nice conversation on the way over to Wal-Mart with no hanky panky. no hand holding nothing. So, he starts to unzip his pants and I do say something, I’m like, “I don’t know what you’re thinking, but no.” He starts to talk – I get out of the car. I had a nice walk back to the place where we were having the matches and no there was no Uber back then. I was mad and frustrated and needed to cool off. I’m not very pretty or lady-like when I’m mad or really pissed off and I was both. I never saw him after that incident in the back of Wal-Mart. I mean, I’m there four hours, six hours, maybe even earlier before the wrestling even starts and I never saw him again. Someone else told me from the promoter what a great match we had and thank you and that person also made sure I was paid.
It’s funny, if we participate we are sluts; if we don’t participate, then we are labeled as worse. My wrestling ability was never good enough for people like him. I never wrestled for him again or for others I am sure. It’s the same in Hollywood. Can a broken system ever be fixed? Please, moms and dads and other female wrestlers, speak up to another female wrestler and let them know and let them protect themselves. I have all kinds of these stories and some of the wrestlers could be just as bad if not worse.
Q: What is the best advice you can give to someone?
Desiree Petersen: Be true to yourself. Respect others and never forget the fans. That’s how you make your paycheck. And say something nice to a stranger every day. Make someone else’s world better. Remember, it’s not all about you. For wrestlers starting out, remember the past, use the past to your advantage – take some of our moves, high spots, come backs. God knows, learn how to kick, stomp, punch, and my last bit of advice is, if you can’t live with yourself in five years for the proposition made to you, then don’t do it. In other words, for every action there are reactions. If you can’t handle or live with the reaction a week, a year, or five years down the road, don’t do it! And always remember you can be replaced or forgotten in this business – it’s only 15 minutes of fame, so what are you going to do with the rest of your life?
Q: What are your thoughts on women’s pro wrestling today?
Desiree Petersen: I love professional women’s wrestling today. Tessa Blanchard, I just had a chance to meet her at an autograph signing and I totally looked like a crazy person and they don’t know who or what we were about. Or, for shame, that we ever existed. But, in all truth, Tessa Blanchard (one of the best right now), Natalya Hart, Bianca Belair, Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, Nia Jax, I could go on for days.
As Bret Hart mentioned in an interview in regards to the Diva’s Era, “Just because you have big boobs and you can drop your pants doesn’t make you a wrestler!” And I hope they continue to get strong, beautiful women to take this era and the next over. That’s only because I still have an itch to scratch. Cheers to all the women wrestlers, of all the new and old promotions, Impact Wrestling, AEW, WWE. But God knows, please watch the past and pick some things up from it. Most of ya’ll can’t stomp, or kick or punch for nothing in this world. For shame, for shame. But the rest of it, you all look great. And I think it is really wonderful that wrestling has started to embrace the world as a whole by promoting the LGBTQ communities, like my friend, Roxsanne Mathena, who was the first openly transgender wrestler.
Q: What would you do if you were a promoter?
Desiree Petersen: I think the only way to promote is on talent and not looks. Looks can be developed but talent can’t be given. You are either talented in this business or you are not. And too bad Vince McMahon missed that so many times. Or his bookers did. Different body shapes, looks, skills, ability is what creates storylines, not us all looking the same and being the same.
But, let me please caution all of you wrestlers and yes, wrestlers get hurt. I know, I get it. I’ve been there. But now more than ever, some promoters are willing to get you hurt instead of wanting to make money with you. Think about this, because you have to think about the rest of your lives – not just wrestling today or tomorrow.
Q: What was it like having the WWF tag titles?
Desiree Petersen: Well, that is not the question I’m usually asked by fans. They usually ask why the new tag belts are the only tag belts mentioned and not the previous belts. And that’s because they were Moolah’s belts and not the WWF belts. Even though Vince McMahon used it for his TV promotions. That’s why they are not actually ever mentioned, but let’s be honest, the WWE has forgotten about the rest of us and I really feel bad for Judy Martin, Leilani Kai, Velvet McIntrye, Princess Victoria, Peggy Lee Leather, Winona Little Heart, Bambi, Monster Singh, Luna Vachon, Penny Banner, Mildred Burke, and I can go on for days.
They were heavy and a pain in the ass to lug around in all truth. They never got me any more money than I was already getting paid. I will tell you a little story. I had the ability to act like I wasn’t Desiree Petersen and get away with it, sometimes. I had so much fun. Anyway, there I am in the airport and I go to put my bag through the x-ray machine and, of course, they need to look inside my bag, so I unzip it and the tag belt is on top and the lady starts jumping around (not profusely, just a little bit) – “I knew it was you, I knew it was you!” And giggling and laughing and yes, she got a picture and got an autograph.
Q: There have been many stories in regards to how Moolah may have mistreated her female wrestlers. What was your experience like living there?
Desiree Petersen: There’s no way I could ever sum it up into a paragraph – there is just too much. Good, bad and the ugly. If you had never lived it, or had the love of wrestling that us wrestlers have, you personally would never have put up with it. You were forced to forgive the injustices you had to understand that there was no talking at times and she was allowed to treat you bad if you said no to Moolah – even though she made money off of us. But there were also many great times, experiences, and I’m thankful to this day my mom made me stay,
Because of these ladies, Judy Martin my biggest rival to this day (remember respect is everything and I do respect her greatly), the kindest Leilani Kai, Velvet McIntyre, Penny Mitchell, Luna Vachon, Black Venus, Sherri Martel (thank you ….you were the best in everything), the great women wrestlers of Japan (Lioness Asuka, Jumbo Miyamoto, Devil Masami, Dump Matsumoto, Jaguar Yokota, Chico and Tomo, Bull Nakano, and so many more), Despina Montagas, and the Fabulous Moolah “who took my money but never taught me how to wrestle” and, of course, Katie.
Note that Johnny Mae Young was not on Moolah’s property for many years … And a side note of living on Moolah’s property, her daughter and her had a falling out (years apparently before I got there in July of 1982 ) “Flossy” as Moolah called her. Moolah and Mary (Flossy) were not talking to each other the whole time I was there. This was the type character Moolah was. It should have been a red light for me, but it wasn’t and yes, she did not treat us like her favorite people, or business associates, or with a whole lot of kindness, unless she wanted something. She used us and we allowed it to happen because we wanted to wrestle and achieve and have that little bit of limelight.
But I wrestled after this with some of the greatest wrestlers – Monster “Rhonda” Sing, went to the country of Lebanon with her; thank you to Gama Singh from Calgary, Alberta, Susan “Tex“ Greene (the hardest forearm you will ever take), Amy Love, Brandi Wine, Angel Orsini, Linda Gonzales, and Brandi (so sorry I can’t remember your last name, one of the best matches I have had in my life).
Q: Please tell us about the original WWF screw job with Wendi Richter?
Desiree Petersen: There was a lady by the name of Penny Mitchell and we were under the impression that she was to go against Wendi dressed as “The Spider Lady” and we all owe her an apology because she took the blame. Moolah decided to become The Spider Lady and stole her limelight by taking the WWF Women’s Title back. Wendi walked out in her wrestling gear. It was wrong of us to think Penny allowed it to happen. Just poor Wendi, boo hoo. Who still didn’t know it was Moolah? What are you stupid, everyone in the world knew but you? That’s right, you are stupid because you could have come back from this. But you didn’t. Moolah could not stand for anyone else but herself to be over. Shame on you Moolah, you ruined a great thing for a lot of ladies.