Featured Image by CoryLockwood.com (NHBGirls x MCW Fight For a Cause 2014)
Behind every great wrestling show, there’s a woman who helps bring it all together. At Melbourne City Wrestling, that woman is Rhi Bell. The 33 year-old Digital Communications Advisor at an Australian media company has turned her passion for wrestling and media into the ultimate fan experience for hundreds of show-goers.
‘I’ve been watching wrestling since I was about three years old. I used to watch it with my Dad growing up… A lot of people that I speak to say they grew out of it and then they revisited it years later. It was just a constant thing for me, always renting videos and wanting to watch as much of it as I possibly could. The girls in school talked about boys and make up and shopping and all that stuff. I was football, wrestling…’
A life-long fan, Rhi has never let her love for wrestling slip away. Since her first live show in 1999, she was captivated. ‘The first match I saw featured Red Hot Ricky Diamond and Steve Frost. I don’t remember who won or anything about the match.’
‘I just remember marvelling and thinking, “My Gosh, why is the ring so loud?” I couldn’t believe how loud it all was.’
‘My friend that I was with just laughed. He grew up around wrestling, and his Dad was a wrestler, so that’s how I discovered that it existed beyond my TV. From there, I just got hungry for it. I needed to know when the next one was and where I needed to go.’
Rhi wanted to give back. She knew that this was a scene where she felt that she belonged. She, more than anyone, understands how important fans are to the success of a product. She brought this insight into her role as Social Media Manager at Melbourne City Wrestling, and as an active member of the online wrestling community. ‘I feel like I get my creative fix with social media. Anyone who follows my Twitter feed can see that I get a little bit creative, particularly on show day. I banter with the fans, and I think that’s so important because we’re all on this journey together.’
What a journey it has been. Rhi has been pivotal to the success of MCW, since joining the team a year ago. On show day, Rhi keeps media interviews, MCW’s membership program and live social media under control, with a little help from her team. ‘[My first night] was a real trial by fire moment. The MCW Invitational [October 2017] was my first show, when Slex came out and we did the live feed. The next night he came out and his challenge was accepted by Okada. I have never experienced social media blow up like that in my life. It was really exciting to be a part of.’
MCW has become a hot spot in Australian wrestling, helping lead the way in the Aussie wrestling Renaissance. ‘I’m just really grateful. I have been around this community for such a long time, I’ve made a lot of friends within the community who are very aware of what my professional background is. Being able to leverage my professional skills and put it into something that I love so much.’
‘I love to contribute to my community, whether it be professionally or personally, and this really fulfils that need. I’m just excited that I can talk to so many like-minded people through doing what I do at Melbourne City Wrestling.’
Rhi continues to be an active fan of MCW, whether it be enjoying the layers of a show in the post-produced MCW Encore format, or making herself visible to her fellow fans online and at shows. From her days as a tape collector to the modern era of streaming, Rhi has seen what it means to have access as a fan flipped on its head. ‘We have technology now where I can stream basically whatever it is that I want to watch. Being able to be a part of live stream where my friend might be performing, or if I want to watch a show with my friend who’s in the UK…’
As important as a live moment is, Rhi is all about helping that moment live on. Whether you are in the ring or behind the scenes, it’s all about homing in on your craft.
The voice of MCW is something that has set in apart from the crowd in recent months, including how Rhi strives to interact with fans in an online space. ‘I know from my standpoint and the guys at MCW’s standpoint – when I say guys I mean Mikey Jay and Jay Andrews and Criss Fresh, the head honchos – that’s important to them, having engaged fans that care about the stories that are being produced. Plus, being able to get real time feedback, that’s invaluable, you can’t buy that stuff.’
More and more people are turning their heads and the word on the street is, wrestling in Australia is hotter than ever. From the ABC’s Behind the Belt podcast, to a handful of regular features popping up on Fox Sports and other publications, women’s wrestling is definitely the talk of the town. Rhi just finished up narrating an audio documentary about women’s wrestling by the ABC. It will be told from her perspective as a life-long fan and supporter of Australian women’s wrestling.
‘It’s really just telling what I’ve always known: that we have an incredible collective group of strong women and they have barriers that they’ve overcome to fight for their dreams.’
The former owner of website No Holds Barred Girls (NHBGirls) has always been intent on celebrating and promoting women’s wrestling around Australia and New Zealand. More importantly, her journey has been about rejoicing in the success of her friends. ‘Seeing all these girls that I featured regularly on this website – Evie (Dakota Kai), Billie Kay and Peyton Royce, Demi Bennett (Rhea Ripley) – it’s so mind-blowing for me. I was at Demi’s second match ever and now she’s on TV. I’m just so proud. Any conversation I had with those girls, it was always clear that their goal was to get to WWE. That was their end game. They’ve moved heaven and earth to do that.’
‘One of the largest contingents of women from Australia have gone over to Shimmer [in the US]. We’ve got to thank people like Madison Eagles for stuff like this. To me, she is the true pioneer of women’s wrestling in Australia in its current format.’
‘It’s because of people like her that we’ve broken down the barrier of going overseas to wrestle. She’s one of my favourite people in the world.’ Rhi’s admiration of Eagles can be seen in all of her peers, older and emerging.
‘There’s definitely a sense of camaraderie with the women, especially because many of them work so hard to be taken seriously, to get that time on a show. I think there are still some ways to go, but that mindset and that culture that holds them back is changing. That stuff happens slowly.’
As someone with an affinity for storytelling, the future is bright for Rhi and the women she adores so much. Creating narratives and capturing unique voices are what make human connection so powerful. So, what’s next?
‘I want to continue to help foster and guide the brand towards being inclusive. We want MCW to be for everyone. We want people to come to our shows and leaving thinking, “I have to bring everyone I know here.”’
‘Support Aussie wrestling. That’s always been my mantra for the last near 20 years.’
Rhi is hopeful for the future of a place she calls her home, a place this is special to so many. ‘I just want to see so many hardworking people succeed. I’m happy playing a supportive role in people’s success, helping contribute to their story. That makes me happy.’
Rhi’s Wrestling Idols
I feel really lucky to be in a community where there are just so many incredible women doing amazing things right now.
I’ve mentioned Madison Eagles – She’s naturally someone that I feel is a real pioneer in our community and has really paved the way in opening the doors to shining the spotlight on the women in wrestling in Australia. Some other people that I want to mention – Shazza McKenzie, Kellyanne, Toni Storm and Indi Hartwell, to me, these women are the definition of hard work paying off. I’ve had the fortune of knowing these lovely ladies for a few years, and they hustle hard. They are incredibly inspiring.
I admire our queer community so much. I love hearing stories about how individuals like Sonya Deville or Finn Balor inspire people, giving them the confidence and the freedom to be themselves and to embrace it. Promoting inclusion and tolerance is just so important. Witnessing Candy Lee have this tremendous rise in her career, but also educating fans at the same time, has been truly beautiful.
See more from Rhi Bell on Twitter. Check out Melbourne City Wrestling online on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Hear Rhi on the ABC’s Radio National “Earshot” Audio Documentary, I Heart Women’s Wrestling.