Featured Image via Wayne Young Photography
The story of how Indi Hartwell found wrestling is a familiar one, yet few have shown as much promise as the young star.
Born and raised in Melbourne, Indi started watching wrestling over the shoulder of her brother, and immediately became enamoured. ‘I can’t really remember exactly what it was that attracted me. I think it was the larger-than-life characters and the storylines that had me so intrigued,’ she says.
Like many adult fans will understand, the phase never wore off for Indi. ‘Everyone in my primary school watched wrestling, so I had a lot of people to talk to about it. Then when you get to high school, it’s like, not cool anymore.’
‘I even made myself stop watching it when I got to year seven, because I was like, “Imagine if people found out that I watch wrestling…’
Indi recalls a lack of female presence at local shows, being an avid show-goer in her young teens. But when women were on the card, she felt inspired. ‘The first match I remember seeing was Siren Monroe versus Niki Nitro at a Professional Championship Wrestling show and I was so amazed because women were wrestling. My Dad even said to me that I had this amazed look on my face the whole time watching them.’
‘I feel like I got into wrestling at the perfect time, in terms of women’s wrestling.’ At 19, Indi Hartwell had her debut match at PCW, against Kellyanne.
‘I got told a month before, and I was freaking out, because… Oh my God, Kellyanne! I’m getting to wrestle Kellyanne in my first match.’ Indi remembers watching Kellyanne as a fan from the crowd at Professional Championship Wrestling and Warzone Wrestling Australia shows, as the reality of making her debut against such a trailblazer set in. ‘Not a lot of people get to wrestle a veteran in their debut match. I was extremely lucky to be put in with Kellyanne, someone who had been wrestling for years and had experienced wrestling around the world. When I found out, I think I cried, because I was just so excited to have my first match. On the day she made me feel relaxed. It’s probably still one of my favourite matches in my two years of wrestling.’
Now 21, it’s been a steady two years for Hartwell, but the last few months have seen her grow in leaps and bounds. She set sails for the States at the end of 2017, training at Booker T’s school, and wrestling at Rise Wrestling and Shimmer Women Athletes. ‘When I got back, I think it was the MCW [Melbourne City Wrestling] Final Battle show… I don’t what it was but something just clicked when I was over in America, maybe it was talking to people, getting advice from people. Something just clicked and I got this new wave of confidence.’
‘For a year and a half, I was still trying to find myself, what my style was. So it was pretty hard to come up with a move set and a character and everything, but I think I’m starting to come into it now.’
To connect with the crowd, Indi has used her strengths to overcome challenges, making her presence felt at Melbourne City Wrestling. ‘I feel like using my wittiness, like when I stole the skateboard at “Clash of the Titans”, and then I came back out on it at the next show. That was something I came up with on the spot. I thought it would be funny, and people liked it. I do random things and it works with the crowd.’
‘I like cutting promos, but that only happened recently. I didn’t like the sound of my voice, and I didn’t think the crowd would react to what I’m saying. I would shake when I was holding the microphone. When I first debuted at MCW and I cut a promo I was just so confident and I’ve never felt like that.’
As a performer in the digital age, Indi understand the power of social media in building your character. But she admits that she’s struggled tip-toeing the lines of reality and fiction. ‘It’s so hard these days. Recently I posted a video of me training in the ring and it got all this attention, because people were like, “She’s breaking kayfabe”. But the WWE post training videos of their wrestlers all the time. WWE just came out with a documentary about the women’s Royal Rumble and they literally showed them rehearsing the match in a spare ring. That’s just how it is these days. Obviously wrestlers train.’
‘You can’t just expect wrestlers to be wrestlers on the weekend. We’re people and we’re wrestlers and we have to train. I think I’d rather have social media and have the lines blurred a little bit.’
Indi truly has come into her own, reflecting on where she finds comfort in her persona. ‘I’m much better as a heel in my opinion. Maybe I’m more of a meaner person in real life. It comes to me more naturally. When you’re a face you have to do more flashy moves, and I don’t do many flashy moves. I feel like even with heels now, they want to pop the crowd by doing flashy moves, but that’s not your role.’
To give her character the extra edge it needed, Indi took on the title of “Impressive” Indi Hartwell, after a match with Tessa Blanchard at last year’s World Series Wrestling International Assault show. ‘ I did a springboard dropkick for the first time, and people were like, “Oh, that’s so impressive”. And I was like, “hmm… Impressive… alliteration,”’ and with that, she found a gimmick that stuck. ‘I felt like I needed it, but I didn’t just want to choose something and have it not suit me, or for the hell of it. This one came naturally and it took two years. But, it was worth it.’
With young Aussies like Demi Bennett finding success in the WWE as Rhea Ripley, Indi seems to have a good handle on the comparison trap. ‘With Demi, I definitely feel pressure because we’re the exact same age, and she’s doing pretty well for herself. But then there are a lot of women who are a bit older than I am. I don’t feel relaxed but I always know that I have time to achieve what I want to achieve.’
As Indi makes an impact, the Melbourne scene vibrates on the world’s doorstep. ‘Wrestling is getting bigger here in Melbourne, we just have to keep doing what we’re doing I guess. We have the talent here; we just don’t have the eyes on us.’ She hopes that with exposure, Australia will see the success that the UK have reaped in years passed. With frequent visits from big-name international talent, that new frontier seems closer than ever.
Wrestling at the March International Assault event, Indi reflects on wrestling Deona Purrazo, Shazza McKenzie and others at PCW’s home in Ferntree Gully. ‘I’m comfortable there. When I wrestle in places that I’m not used to, I find it challenging, but I know it’s something I have to get used to because you’re not always going to be at your home, which is something I’ve come to learn through travelling and going to MCW.”
As she ventures onto other promotions, it’s clear that the Melbourne scene is covering all bases, and going strong. ‘At MCW, I’m on shows with a lot of the wrestlers I watched growing up, and PCW at the moment is more about bringing up younger and newer stars. A lot of the guys at PCW are much younger, but they’re young and hungry so they put on great shows. At MCW, I feel like it’s a bit of a mix.’
‘It feels amazing that I get to work on shows with people that have helped make the Australian scene what it is today.’
Earlier this month, Indi became the first ever Newcastle Pro Wrestling Women’s Champion, in what was her first championship win. It only seems to be up from here.
‘I’m always looking at moving forward.’ Indi has hopes to one day make it to the WWE, but she has much left to offer her home country. ‘I’m pretty happy in Melbourne right now; it’s the most liveable city in the world, right?’
Indi’s Wrestling Idols:
‘I’d say my number one is Kellyanne because she’s the one who brought me into this business, and every time I have a match with her it always goes so well. I also love wrestling Shazza McKenzie. I have tweets from like 2012 where I would tweet her saying, “Oh my God, I love you,” which is funny because we’re friends now. I like FaceBrooke! I’ve wrestled her once before and I’d love to wrestle her again, in Sydney on her home turf because the last time was here in Melbourne.’
‘There’s so many wrestlers in America I’d love to wrestle, so next time I go hopefully I can get a match in Shimmer and wrestle against one of the Americans.’
‘My number one growing up was Trish Stratus, and at the moment it’s Sasha Banks and Charlotte. I love how Charlotte carries herself, she just looks like a star and larger-than-life.’