Maryland Championship Wrestling isn't afraid of letting female performers hook 'em up in the ring.
The independent promotion looks to bring serious female wrestling matches to the forefront of their organization with local wrestlers like Jessie Kaye and Candie and up-and-coming regional in-ring talent like Aida Marie and Arlene.
MCW is even home to most likely the only female wrestling referee currently working the indy circuit, Tonya Stevens.
Those women look to blaze their own path to the top of the business and follow the footsteps of females like former WWE and current TNA women's champion Mickie James, who honed her skills in MCW before moving on to bigger and better things.
In MCW's last card "," held at Wild Duck Cafe in Middle River, Aida Marie, a popular newcomer to the sport from Brooklyn, NY, defeated Arlene, a seasoned veteran from “The Bible Belt" in an entertaining match.
Aida Marie’s popularity is soaring. She has 13 matches booked for June and July, mostly in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland.
“I’ve been a wrestling fan of Sting since I was 5 years old,” said Aida Marie, referring to the current TNA champion and a veteran of more than 25 years in the business. “I always knew I wanted to do it.
"When I was in high school and the guidance councilor asked me what I wanted to do with my life, I told him I wanted to be a pro wrestler. After finishing high school I decided to go for it. If I break into pieces I’ll break into pieces trying.”
Arlene began her wrestling career as a valet for her husband, "Preacher" Finneus James, before becoming hooked on the sport and beginning her own training.
Also prominent at the Insomnia event was Stevens, who officiated several matches. A DJ at New Country WGRX in Baltimore at the time, she got her start as a guest referee of a Mid Eastern Wrestling Federation event in 1998 during a Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka match. Since then, Stevens has officiated almost 2,000 matches.
Stevens, who claims to be the only female referee in wrestling, credits her integrity and professionalism for her success.
“I’ve never slept with a promoter or a wrestler,” Stevens said. “I refuse to dress in sexy referee attire. I treat the wrestlers with respect and expect to be respected in turn.”
MCW Commissioner "Wiseguy" Jimmy Cicero said he's known Stevens for four years and believes she is all business in the ring.
“I can say without hesitation that Tonya is first rate and has earned the respect of any wrestler who has had the privilege of having Tonya ref their match," Cicero said. "She carries herself professionally at all times. We are very fortunate to have Tonya back in MCW.”
While some may consider it a novelty, women have been participating in professional wrestling since at least the 1930s, when Mildred Burke dominated the scene.
But, the presence of women's wrestling ebbed and flowed through the decades. It saw a surge in the mid-1980s thanks to women like Wendi Richter and the mostly comedy sketch show Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling in 1986.
Women's wrestling was mostly non-existent through much of the 1990s before the WWE began promoting its "Divas." However, critics of the WWE's female performers believe they are utilized more as sex symbols, as they are typically dressed in skimpy outfits and usually only given a few minutes per program.
Today, Cicero said MCW tries to bring in women that offer in-ring skills, charisma and beauty. He lauded the talents of Candie and Jessie Kaye and the contributions they make to MCW beyond their looks.
“Currently we have a veteran of close to 15 years in Kim Prendergast [Candie],” Cicero said. “As one of the MCW matchmakers and bookers, I rely on Kim for consistent top-notch performances as well as contributing ideas for MCW. Kim really knows the audience well and her opinion is very highly valued.
"Another female performer we have in MCW who is just starting to spread her wings is Jessica Heiser [Jessie Kaye]. Jessie was trained by Duane 'Gillberg' Gill and I believe she has what it takes to make it all the way to the top. Her work ethic is non-stop and attitude is always positive.”
Jessie Kaye is a student of the sport and sees her role as female wrestler as ground breaking.
“I admire the women that paved the road for me, including Mae Young, The Fabulous Moolah and even Wendy Richter," she said. "They were hard-hitting simply tough female wrestlers and they had to be for all the things they had to endure.”
“Unfortunately with the way WWE is right now, they are fishing out women who are actresses and models and making them wrestlers and not the other way around. Women on WWE TV don’t get much time for angles like we do in the MCW."