In the past two years, women’s wrestling has catapulted farther into the collective zeitgeist of wrestling fans – from mainstream casual fans of the WWE to the independent and international fanbase – more than any time in wrestling’s history. From stars like Charlotte Flair and Sasha Banks main eventing TV shows and PPVs in the WWE to the rise of “The Man” Becky Lynch on SmackDown to the Mae Young Classic, women’s wrestling has become a welcome trend showcasing the very best that women have to offer. And it’s not just limited to the WWE – while the “worldwide leader in Sports Entertainment” is still the most well known and watched promotion in the world, IMPACT Wrestling continues to develop a stunning Knockouts division, and women’s wrestling – from SHIMMER to Stardom, Pro Wrestling EVE to RISE, to expanding women’s divisions around the world have proven that women can be as competitive as their male counterparts, as talented as their male counterparts, and can become stars at the same level as their male counterparts. But arguably no one has become a bigger star in the past year than IMPACT Knockout Tessa Blanchard, a third generation grappler who absolutely exploded in 2018 to become not only one of the top women’s wrestlers in the world but one of the biggest stars in the world period.
Diamonds Are Forever: Tessa Blanchard’s Meteoric Rise To The Top
Born in Charlotte, North Carolina, Tessa Blanchard was destined for greatness. Like multiple other stars like Charlotte Flair, Natalya, Paige, and Faby Apache, Blanchard was literally born into the business. Her grandfather, Joe Blanchard, was a former pro football player from the San Antonio area. Not quite good enough to make the US pro level, he wound in the CFL, first with the Edmonton Eskimos, before landing with the Calgary Stampeders in 1954. It was there he would enter the world of professional wrestling. Training alongside the legendary Stu Hart of the Hart Family, he would make his pro wrestling debut in Hart’s Stampede Wrestling (although it was still called Big Time Wrestling at the time). After getting his feet wet in Stampede, Joe returned to the US and began to work multiple National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) territories, before retiring in 1978 and starting Southwest Championship Wrestling (SCW), a new San Antonio based NWA territory.
While living in Calgary during his year with the Stampeders, Joe and his wife welcomed a baby boy, Tully Blanchard, into the world. In 1975, after being trained by his father and Jose Lothario, Tully Blanchard would follow his father into the wrestling business by working in Fritz Von Erich‘s Big Time Wrestling (later to become WCCW). When his father opened SCW, Tully became one of the promotions biggest young stars, capturing the SCW Heavyweight Championship seven times. While he worked multiple NWA territories, it was joining Jim Crockett‘s Mid Atlantic in the mid-1980s that proved to be his biggest move. In 1986, he joined Ric Flair, Arn Anderson and Ole Anderson in founding the Four Horsemen, the most dominant faction in wrestling history, becoming a 3x NWA World Television Champion and multi-time World Tag Team Champion alongside Arn Anderson in the NWA and WWE. He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2012.
Tessa Blanchard Joins The Family Business
Tessa Blanchard began her round to entering the business that her family had made such a huge impact in starting in 2013 when she began training with George South. A journeyman with the NWA, WWE, WCW and more, South has become a top trainer in Charlotte, North Carolina, and started Tessa on her journey. As well as South, she also gained mentorship from her father, Tully, and her step-father, former NWA Legend Magnum TA.
In June of 2014, she made her wrestling debut with Queens of Combat (QOC), the Charlotte-based all-women promotion. It wasn’t long before her biological pedigree got her a tryout with the WWE. But it failed to get the young Blanchard into the system as she’d hoped. “After my WWE tryout in 2014, I thought for sure that I was going to get signed and that it is finally happening and that I was going to finally be there. Then, when it didn’t happen I was heartbroken. I always think it is because God had a plan for me,” Blanchard said in an interview on Busted Open Radio last June. “If I had gone and they would have signed me right away, I don’t think that I would have had the life experiences, and that I wouldn’t have been able to of traveled where I went and became the Pro Wrestler that I became that I am today or the woman I am today if I had been signed back then.”
For her first two years, she was primarily working with another North Carolina indie, Premier Wrestling Xperience (PWX), but continually expanded her areas of learning, continuing to work with QOC, as well as debuting with SHIMMER, Women Superstars Uncensored (WSU) and Shine, as well as Absolute Intense Wrestling (AIW), East Coast Wrestling Association (ECWA), and Beyond Wrestling in the process, winning the ECWA Women’s Championship in 2015.
In April of 2016, she finally got a taste of the WWE, starting to work enhancement matches with NXT in Florida, appearing in three matches – all losses – to Alexa Bliss, Carmella and Nia Jax. But her stock on the indies was rising, facing SHIMMER Champion Madison Eagles in a great outing, feuding with veterans like LuFisto and Jessicka Havok in SHIMMER, and working with another generational rising star in Rachael Ellering (daughter of WWE Hall of Famer and Road Warriors manager Paul Ellering) in Shine Wrestling. But her biggest live lessons arguably came from her first tour with Japan’s Stardom later that August, when she debuted in the 2016 Stardom 5*STAR Grand Prix tournament, facing the likes of Momo Watanabe, Io Shirai, and Kris Wolf, and making it to face Yoko Bito in the tournament finals. She didn’t win, but she made a huge impression.
At the end of 2016, she would form the tag team Mount Tessa with Vanessa Kraven, capturing the SHIMMER Tag Team titles at SHIMMER Vol. 89 from Team Slap Happy, featuring Evie (now NXT’s Dakota Kai) and Heidi Lovelace (now WWE’s Ruby Riott). The tandem would hold the titles for 363 days, dominating the SHIMMER tag team division. But Tessa was destined for more. She was destined for singles stardom and it was not a matter of if, but when. And the time was closer than most would have expected.
In 2017, she began to wander more confidently into the world of intergender matches, and during a multi-title scramble match, defeated DDT Pro Ironman Heavy Metal Champion and WrestleCircus Sideshow Champion Joey Ryan for both titles. While she’d lose the DDT title soon after, she remained the Sideshow Champion for 238 days, adding the WrestleCircus Lady of the Ring title as well. Earlier that year, she also made her UK debut with Defiant Wrestling, in battles with Bea Priestley. In July, she returned to the WWE, but this time as a competitor in the first ever Mae Young Classic. And while many expected her to be signed out of the MYC, she returned to the indie circuit as like her NXT appearances the year before but left with more knowledge gained. “When I wasn’t in the ring wrestling during the Mae Young Classic, I was in the back either doing pre-tapes or watching the other matches,” she said in an interview with WrestleZone Radio last year. “They picked some of the best female wrestlers in the world, some who I’ve had the pleasure of sharing the ring with, and some of them who I hope to share the ring with some day. No matter whether someone has been in the business longer than you or for less time, you can learn something from any of them.” She also had her second tour with Stardom that year, teaming with Jessica Havoc during the majority of it, as well as being part of the 2017 Stardom Cinderella Tournament.
But while she was still very much an indie darling with some buzz prior, it was in 2018 that Tessa Blanchard finally became a name that wrestling fans around the world became not just aware of, but that fans clamored to see more of. Arguably the biggest turning point was her February intergender match with WrestleCircus when she put her Sideshow title on the line against Brian Cage‘s Ringmaster title at The Show Must Go On. In a near 20 minute classic, Tessa took Cage – who had blown up on the indies himself with Lucha Underground – to the limit, before ultimately losing the match and her title to the Machine. After that, a star was born and she went on a path of destruction around the world.
First, it was with Chicago’s Zelo Pro Wrestling, claiming the Zelo Pro Women’s Championship (which she still holds), before heading to California to claim the PCW ULTRA Women’s title (which she still holds as well). In June, she defeated indie veteran Mercedes Martinez for the WSU Championship (still reigning), and then down to Mexico where she won The Crash Lucha’s Feminil Championship (where she’s closing in on her 200th day as champion). Alongside her WrestleCircus Lady of the Ring title, she was now in possession of five singles titles across North America.
Last April, she made her debut with IMPACT Wrestling, where she joined the commentary team at the Redemption PPV, before interfering in the match between Keira Hogan and Taya Valkyrie. It was later announced she’d signed a two year deal with IMPACT Wrestling, shocking many that the rising new star had given up on the WWE and was now joining IMPACT to become one of the new faces (and soon to become the face) of the strengthening Knockouts Division. In August, she would finally snag more gold, adding the IMPACT Knockouts title to her trophy case and becoming one of IMPACT’s biggest stars in the process. She recently lost her title at the Homecoming PPV at the beginning of the year and is now teasing a match with IMPACT Hall of Famer Gail Kim.
But her 2018 year wasn’t solely defined by her IMPACT run or her growing reputation as a belt collector. She also became a star with RISE Wrestling as well, and at RISE 10, lost her Phoenix of RISE Championship to rival Mercedes Martinez. While the loss was unfortunate, Tessa and Mercedes entered the record books by competing in a 75-minute match that set a record for the longest women’s match in the history of pro wrestling. She also made debuts in Canada, with Smash Wrestling, and in Australia, with Melbourne City Wrestling, expanding her brand globally. She also appeared at the indie wrestling Supercard, All In, this past September, winning a Fatal 4-Way against Chelsea Green, Britt Baker and Madison Rayne.
And with 2019 now upon us, Tessa Blanchard has become a star with not one, but two nationally televised shows, as she made her debut on Friday night with the fifth season of Women of Wrestling (WOW), as the promotion made its debut on AXS-TV. And like all things Tessa, she didn’t enter WOW quietly. She immediately went straight to the top to challenge WOW Champion Santana Garrett, which will ultimately result in a new challenge for more gold to put around her waist.
Many wrestlers have emerged from famous family lineages only to end up less successful or forgotten in the annals of history – for every Bret Hart, The Rock or Charlotte Flair, there is a David Sammartino, Amy Hennig, or Manu. Birthright doesn’t automatically translate to success in the wrestling world, and neither does simply doing the work. But Tessa Blanchard has proven that she has the drive, she has the talent, and undeniably, has the star power, to not only continue the Blanchard family legacy but transcend it. And in doing so, has become one of the top superstars in the world of professional wrestling. And she’s only 23 years old.
Unfuckwithable is making your own opportunities instead of waiting for someone to give you one. Unfuckwithable is building your own doors—and then knocking them down. Unfuckwithable is what happens when you believe that your work matters. And unfuckwithable is an attitude. pic.twitter.com/jsotMLMD0O
— Tessa Blanchard (@Tess_Blanchard) January 9, 2019