Rachel Summerlyn, as photographed by John Hyperion of the Dirty Dirty Sheets
We have been reminded how bad women have it in the mainstream wrestling companies in the last year since Kharma went on the shelf for her pregnancy, especially in WWE. I don't need to run down the laundry list, but anyone who is a wrestling fan knows it's been bad. As bad as it's been in the spotlight though, the role of women in wrestling has been as rewarding and engrossing in the independent scene. We all know about SHIMMER Women's Athletes and Women's Superstars Uncensored in the states. Canada has nCw: Femmes Fatale. PWG has had a long-running feud between Joey Ryan and Candice LaRae.
The real spotlighted winner in terms of elevating female roles in wrestling over the last year has been Chikara. Sara del Rey took the world by storm wrestling men and women alike, and at the end of the year, the true innovators in wrestling were honored in the three-night event known as JoshiMania. While Chikara got all the praise, a promotion down in Texas (frequented by both With Leather managing editor Brandon Stroud and our own Sergio Hernandez) called Anarchy Championship Wrestling has actually been obliterating the gender barrier for quite a bit longer. While del Rey has come of age in Chikara, women have been winning titles in ACW, and not just women's titles either. Portia Perez held the ACW World Championship for a hot second in December, but the real standard bearer was the Tag Championship reign by Jessica James and one Rachel Summerlyn.
It's not surprising if Summerlyn's name sounds somewhat familiar to fans. She appears on SHIMMER regularly albeit as a midcarder, and she's had a cup of coffee in Ring of Honor. However, in ACW? She's the Queen Bee, and it's not a ceremonial title either. Every time she steps in the ring, she goes to war. She's spilled blood, both her own and her opponents'. She's kicked so much ass that one might think she was an abusive donkey herder. And just to prove that she's just as much a woman as she is a wrestler, she's wrestled in yoga pants and looked damn good in them. Until now, her awesomeness has been confined to Texas. Again, she's worked for SHIMMER and ROH before, but she hasn't been allowed to spread her wings.
That is, until this past weekend, she hasn't. Last Friday, she competed in the Girls Grand Prix tournament for Syracuse's Squared Circle Wrestling (2CW). In the first round, she defeated spunky rookie Veda Scott. The semifinals saw her take on familiar opponent from ACW Perez to a rousing success. In the finals, she met del Rey, ostensibly the hottest female wrestler in the country right now, and made her tap out in the middle of the ring. Summerlyn met the East Coast's stiffest challenges, and she aced it. If that isn't statement, a coming out party, I don't know what is.
While 2CW may not sound like the most prestigious promotion because of location, it does have a certain cache with wrestlers and fans in the know. It has attracted talents not only like Perez, del Rey, Mercedes Martinez and Mia Yim, but it also has scored some of the best male wrestlers in the indies, including Kevin Steen, Claudio Castagnoli (or Antonio Cesaro as he's known now), Chris Hero (or Kassius Ohno) and dashing and dapper referee Bryce Remsburg. And as with any movement, the first salvos are always shot in the smaller promotions, the ones that have less to lose by experimenting a bit. If Summerlyn can make it in Syracuse, then why not Philadelphia? Why not Chicago? Why not New York?
Or better yet, even if she only makes sporadic East Coast appearances, or even if her ascent in SHIMMER is slower than what many of the people who know what she can do would like? If it makes people seek her out in ACW and grow their knowledge of wrestling beyond the East Coast and Southern California, then it's a net win. There is so much great wrestling out there as I pointed out a few weeks back that limiting knowledge to those two areas is almost criminal.
Summerlyn is the epitome of that untapped vein of talented individuals who toil either obscurely or in an underexposed manner. She's not just killing it against her own gender, she's breaking barriers, and dare I say she's doing it in a much bolder way than her East Coast counterparts are. I have nothing but love for del Rey, nothing but love at all, but that should tell you how important Summerlyn's accomplishments are.
People are wondering when wrestling is going to go to the next level. Well, Summerlyn is taking it there, and she's doing it with a combination of sexiness and bloodshed that makes her one of the top iconoclasts leading the way. Everyone should do themselves a favor, order an ACW DVD and see for themselves what the hubbub is all about. It's the least we can all do to pay tribute to the International House of Paincakes that Summerlyn built with her blood, sweat and tears.