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She’s a name known throughout the world, however you pronounce it. ‘I’ll never have to worry about another Shazza popping up in women’s wrestling, especially in Australia. Americans make it sound classy at times: “Shah-zah McKenzie”. They have no comprehension of the “Aussie-ness” of it whatsoever,’ she says.
“HEARTcore”Shazza McKenzie discovered wrestling late than most in her industry. As a self-confessed girly-girl, it makes sense that the woman who first stole her heart was none other than WWE’s Trish Stratus. ‘I was dating a guy when I was 15, because I thought I was really cool like that. I’d hang out at his house on Friday nights and Saturday nights and that’s when RAW and SmackDown! would be on. He’d beg me to watch wrestling with him and I’d say, “No, that’s stupid, why would I want to watch that?” She reflects, ‘Eventually, he wore me down and we put it on. I remember seeing Trish Stratus just after WrestleMania 20. She didn’t take shit from anyone.’
‘From that day I pretty much stopped going out of Fridays and Saturday nights and stayed in to watch wrestling. I broke up with that guy, and still, that was all I cared about: Wrestling, wrestling, wrestling,’ Shazza laughs.
‘Everyone thought it was just a phase, but it was a phase I never grew out of.’
‘[In wrestling], you either get it and become completely immersed in it, or you can’t force it. It’s just something so unique that when you do get it, it’s completely obsessive. There’s no halfway point.’ Shazza’s obsession drove her to leave school in year ten, with dreams of saving enough money to make it to America and train to become a pro wrestler. It turned out that then-16-year-old Shazza wasn’t the best at saving money. Her parents weren’t keen on her getting into wrestling, so she worked on getting her drivers license and saving for a car until she turned 19.
A lot has changed in Shazza’s ten-year career. Within the space of 12 months, Jessie McKay, Kellie Skater, KC Cassidy, Sway and others were all landing on the scene. ‘When I started training in 2007, and then wrestling on shows in 2008, it was a really cool time. I think we were the first generation of Aussie females to collectively strive to be acknowledged simply as “pro wrestlers” – The girls before us might have been thinking that way, and obviously we a lot of that aspiration to Madison [Eagles].’ Here, Shazza refers to a trickle-down attitude of dismissal towards female performers following WWE’s Diva Search Era. She goes on, ‘I remember specific moments when I was training to be a wrestler where there were jokes [being thrown around] that I didn’t really need to learn how to do anything, because all I would ever amount to was a cat fight.’
‘There were many times where we [the women and I] thought that was all we were ever going to be.’
Now, ten years later, the next generation of women stepping in the ring are reaping the benefits of this attitude shift. Shazza admits, ‘I’m so jealous at times – When I showed up in 2007 as a 19-year-old small blonde girl, I don’t think anyone thought much of me.’
Shazza says that while many obstacles have been knocked down, there’s still ways to go in the women’s revolution of Australian wrestling. However, we can’t begin to acknowledge the progress that’s been made without thanking Madison Eagles. She has showed determination in establishing the first all-women’s wrestling company in Australia – Pro Wrestling Women’s Alliance in 2007 – to all-women’s shows and main events. Since Evie (WWE’s Dakota Kai) faced Jessie McKay (WWE’s Billie Kay) for the PWWA Championship in the main event of a Pro Wrestling Australia Show, Shazza has enjoyed watching the flow-on affect of such momentous occasions.
She adds, ‘Now, especially in the Sydney scene, we rarely acknowledge gendered matches, as in, “The following is a women’s match.” It’s just, “The following is a match, scheduled for one fall.” Maybe there’s women in the match and maybe there’s not. Maybe there’s a guy and a girl, who knows! We’re all just wrestlers.’ It’s a practice that promises to open the doors for further gender inclusivity in the ten years to come.
‘It’s harder to establish a career in this industry because it’s not widely accepted and followed.’
In comparison to other creative industries, Shazza says it’s harder to make wrestling a full-time gig. ‘Everyone has a type of music they like or a movie they enjoy, whereas as professional wrestling is still looked down upon by most society. It’s harder to find ways to learn and grow in professional wrestling because it’s not a common interest [that people have].’ She reflects particularly on the Aussie scene, ‘There isn’t currently the [same sizeable] fan base to back professional wrestling here as there is overseas. It’s harder to achieve international success living down here, as the flights are long and expensive.’
Aussies have been seeking a shot at stardom around the world, with Australia’s long-standing relationship with the US companies Shimmer and Shine, and WWE picking up on some British-polished talent, forming NXT UK. Shazza says, ‘The UK was probably the first place to recognise all the special talent that we had in Australia. It all comes down to it being one of the easiest for Australians to move to and work, which is why that was probably the first place a lot of us were discovered [globally]. Then came the US and Japan… It’s hard travelling as a wrestler and trying to get your name out there when you’re only there for a month: you can’t bargain on blowing up overnight.’
While not yet as popular as it is in the US, wrestling is on the rise in Aus. Shazza meets fellow workers abroad who now turn their heads when they hear word of an Aussie in the room. ‘I think we still have a very long way to go until we’re at a stage where we can do this as a living like the guys in the UK or the US can. But we’re getting there. It’s a slow and steady rising momentum,’ Shazza says, ‘Ideally one day we’ll all be able to do this as a living without having to leave our homes and families. That’s the true dream, to make a living in your own backyard.’
‘I don’t care where or how it happens, as long as I get to wake up every day and say, “I am a professional wrestler and that is my soul income and purpose in life.”’
Shazza’s Wrestling Idols
‘Trish is the whole reason that I started wrestling. You find someone early on that you kind of mimic yourself after, so for me, that person was Melina. You grow from there and find your own stuff.’
‘Madison Eagles is my coach, my wrestling partner. I’ve been lucky enough to travel the world with her and have her by my side. She’s always there to take me under her wing and tell me that everything is going to be okay. I’ve seen her wrestle thousands of times, but every time I watch her, the entire locker room is in awe.’
‘Now that [PWA’s streaming service] is up and running, a lot of the guys like Matty Wahlberg and Ricky South are going to blow up and, hopefully, be all over the country and the world. Ricky’s work ethic is insane. He’s at training every night of the week: Rain, hail or shine.’
‘Jessica Troy…The world needs to see her. I want her to have every opportunity to be seen. I know that when everyone sees her, they’ll realise that she is the future.’