Tessa Blanchard: Wrestling's First Female World Champ Launches Staunch Defence For Intergender Wrestling
Tessa Blanchard made history last month at Impact Wrestling's Hard To Kill pay-per-view when she defeated Sami Callihan to win the Impact World Championship. Not only was this a huge milestone in her own career, but in the history of professional wrestling. Blanchard is the first female competitor to hold a traditionally male world championship, shifting the landscape for women's wrestling worldwide.
SPORTbible took part in a media conference call with the new champion, where she spoke about her journey, the obstacles she has overcome and what the future holds now she sits on the top of the mountain.
The significance of the victory is not lost on Blanchard. While wrestlers travel the world, wrestling almost every night of the week, some matches live in their memories forever. The way Blanchard spoke about her historic win you could tell that this match will stay with her.
"It was an emotional week, and my family was there and got to share that moment with me," she admitted. "It has been a long eight months that Sami and I had been going through all of this. OVE and Sami were a thorn in my side for the better part of eight or nine months.
"For it to culminate at Hard To Kill and for me to be the first woman to win the Impact World Championship, honestly it just meant so much. [It meant] that the last six years of my career meant something, the past 24 years of life, everything has led to that moment. It was very rewarding."
The Blanchard family enjoy a somewhat royal status in professional wrestling, with Tessa's father, Tully, and grandfather Joe regarded as legends of the squared circle. Therefore it is no surprise to hear that family is an important part of Tessa's world title story. Members of the Blanchard clan were in attendance to see Tessa become not only the first woman to win a world title, but the first member of the family to lift a world championship.
"With my family, with my little sisters being there in the front row to watch everything culminate at that event was special for me," she recalled. "I knew everything that I'd been through, I was going to have to use it as fuel almost. To perform to the best of my ability and be the best version of Tessa Blanchard that I could be that night.
"Go out there and win the world championship, and that way my little sister, who's 12, and other little girls, any younger talent, can look at something that I love and made myself great at. They can pick what they love and they can get great at it too, and that's what motivated me."
While Blanchard prepared for her career-defining match, allegations emerged on social media claiming she had used racial slurs and bullied fellow talent in the past. NWA wrestler Allysin Kay and current NXT star Chelsea Green were amongst those who spoke out. The claims, understandably, shook Blanchard -- and she is keen to deny them.
"It was a very emotional weekend: it was full of highs, full of lows," she said. "I chose to step away from social media for a little bit because of all the things that were going on. With everything that went on that weekend, not everyone's going to like me, not everyone's going to agree with what I choose to do with my life.
"I've made mistakes, I've faced challenges. What I will say, though, is that I've never used a racial slur of any kind. It's not in my heart, it's not something that I've done and it's not something that I will do. It's just not true. Some people will look at social media and someone will make an accusation and everyone hops on the bandwagon.
"We've all got our own stories, there's a side of everyone's life that is public and there's a part that's private. The truth is there for all the world to see and can be judged by anyone that is actually interested in it. It's very unfortunate that some people resort to saying certain things and it's just not true."While WWE still divides their roster into traditional gender-based divisions, intergender wrestling is a common feature of the Impact product. This effectively doubles the field of possible challengers for Blanchard's newly-minted championship, and the champion is keen to defend her title against the very best wrestlers, regardless of whether they are male or female.
"I want to wrestle the best in the world and some of the best in the world happen to be female," she explained. "That's the time that we're in right now. I take Taya [Valkyrie] very seriously as a competitor, I take [next challenger] Ace Austin very seriously as a competitor.
"I take a lot of our locker room seriously because they're so talented. Impact has proven that we're not looking at it as intergender wrestling: we're just looking at it as pro wrestling. It might make some people uncomfortable, it's not traditional, it's not what people are used to. But it is our outlook."
Blanchard is walking on terrain no woman has walked before. The closest pro wrestling has come to a female world champion in the past is former WWE IC champ Chyna. The iconic 'Ninth Wonder of the World' is a figure whose influence is still felt in wrestling to this day, and Chyna was inducted along with D-Generation X into the WWE Hall of Fame last year. It is no surprise that Chyna, a fellow proponent of intergender wrestling who could stand toe-to-toe with any male competitor, should be an influence on the career of Blanchard.
"I always reflect on Chyna because she's an inspiration of mine and she's a pioneer for what we're trying to accomplish now," she admitted. "When I started wrestling, I was training with the guys. For hours on end because I wasn't good. I wanted to become great, but I just wasn't there yet.
"I messed up, I screwed up, I took bad bumps. I've broken both my collarbones. I've fumbled, but all of it has been to get where I am today. If anyone else is able to look at me and become great at whatever they want to do, that is my goal. That is what I want to do."
The Impact World Championship brings with it the implication that it will be defended around the world, and Tessa has targeted a UK return and a possible match with one of the best wrestlers in the world today, who just happens to hail from this sceptred isle.
"The UK is one of my favourites because the fans there are always absolutely incredible," she said. "I would love to defend the world championship there.
"One person I would love to wrestle is Will Ospreay. We've wrestled each other before but it was a tag match for WhatCulture Pro Wrestling years ago. But to have a singles match against Will Ospreay I think would be really cool."
With challengers both female and male practically bursting out of the stacked Impact Wrestling locker room, as well as possible opponents dotted all over the planet awaiting their shot, Blanchard is sure to be a marked woman. With her drive to succeed and her uncompromising belief in herself, you get the idea she wouldn't have it any other way.
Featured Image Credit: Impact Wrestling