All wrestlers have to start somewhere on the path to making their dreams a reality, whether it be a wrestling school, church basement, bingo hall, etc. From there, those wrestlers work their way up to the pinnacle of their dreams. For many, that’s a career in WWE. But sometimes the journey is just as important as the destination. In this LWOPW feature, “Before They Were Famous,” we take a look at the pre-WWE careers of some of the company’s top current stars, following along on their road to superstardom. In this edition, we will look at the rise of the Latina Sensation, Mercedes Martinez.
Following signing with NXT as part of the January 2020 WWE Performance Center, debuting on NXT as a roster member, and making her Royal Rumble debut, things are finally coming up roses for Mercedes Martinez. A native of Waterbury, CT, Martinez enters her twentieth year in professional wrestling. She was trained by Jason Knight of ECW fame. Following her initial training, she was mentored by Afa of the Wild Samoans. In an interview with Danny Stone of the Mirror she said this: “With their tutelage, advice and support, I didn’t have to go through like 10 times what maybe a Sara did. It was ‘this is my girl, do not mess with Mercedes!’. So no-one really messed with me. I had the right people at the right time, and if they did mess, I know how to handle myself anyways. I know how to put someone in place!”
Before They Were Famous: Mercedes Martinez
Before signing with WWE, she was one of the most tenured, respected, and traveled women to not be signed with a major promotion. Mercedes Martinez began to work in the industry in the New England area for promotions like Jersey All Pro Wrestling (JAPW), New England Championship Wrestling (NECW), and Afa’s World Xtreme Wrestling (WXW). This would also expand to include IWA Mid-South, CHIKARA, CZW, Assault Championship Wrestling, Women’s Extreme Wrestling, and Dynamite Championship Wrestling by 2005. 2005 would also see the beginning of a promotion in which Martinez would be heavily involved with, SHIMMER Women Athletes.
Throughout this first quarter of her career, she would hold a couple of championships. These would be the IWA Mid-South Women’s Championship and the NECW Women’s Championships. Mercedes would tangle with other women who would breakout such as Sumie Sakai, Alexis Laree (Mickie James), Nikki Roxx, and Alere Little Feather. This would just be a few of many, especially as SHIMMER began. On the first volume of SHIMMER, Mercedes tangled with another revolutionary women’s wrestler in Sara Del Ray. Also in late 2005, Martinez was able to wrestle the legendary Luna Vachon. This was for the Power Wrestling Alliance‘s debut show in a triple threat match also involving Cindy Rogers.
Martinez would debut for Ring of Honor in 2006 at Best in the World against Allison Danger, Daizee Haze and Lacey. She would also hammer home her versatility, competing in matches with both men and women. From Stairway to Ecstacy barbed wire bat matches, to ChickFight tournaments and even her tryout match with WWE on Sunday Night Heat in June of 2006 in a match against Victoria. By then she was a rising star on the indies, evening winning the WXW Cruiserweight Championship, en route to becoming a 5x WXW Women’s Champion.
In 2007, she made her debut with Combat Zone Wrestling (CZW)‘s sister company, Wrestling Women Uncensored (WSU) and she continued to be one of SHIMMER’s top stars in the company. Over the next few years, she would make debuts in more male-dominant promotions like Full Impact Pro (FIP) and EVOLVE Wrestling, all while stocking her trophy case with more gold – becoming a 2x WSU Champion.
As the 2010s hit, Mercedes Martinez had made her mark as one of the most dominant women’s wrestlers in the US indie circuit, debuting with Shine Wrestling in 2012, and arguably one of the best wrestlers period. In June of 2016, she would win her first of two SHIMMER Championships, defeating Madison Eagles at SHIMMER 85, and capture her second at SHIMMER 90 against Kellie Skater, holding it for an astounding 364-days. She would win her third WSU Championship, holding it for 490-days, and capture the Shine Tag Team Championships alongside Ivelisse for 434-days in 2017.
In 2017, she returned to the WWE for the first time since her 2006 tryout match, competing in the inaugural Mae Young Classic. Surprisingly, she made it all the way to the semi-finals, defeating Xia Li in the first round, Mexican star Princess Sugehit in the second, and then Abbey Laith (Kimber Lee) in the Quarter Finals, before losing to Shayna Baszler in the semi-finals. It was clear that WWE took a lot more notice after this display than they had after Sunday Night Heat.
In 2018, she teamed up with another women’s trailblazer in Cheerleader Melissa, winning the SHIMMER Tag Team titles for another historic reign of 377-days, and in December of 2019, finally captured the Shine Championship, making a clean sweep of major titles in SHIMMER, Shine, and WSU. She returned to WWE for the second Mae Young Classic in the summer of 2018, defeating Madison Rayne in the opening round, before bowing to Meiko Satomura in the second in one of the best matches in the WWE Universe that year.
She continued to impress in the US indies, even working several shows for England’s PROGRESS Wrestling during their 2018 summer tour, and in 2019 headed to England for a series of events for Pro Wrestling EVE, including a strong showing in the SHE-1 tournament, defeating Mercedes Blaze, Kasey Owens, and Ayesha Raymond, before losing to Millie McKenzie in her Block Final. She would also briefly work with All Elite Wrestling (AEW), appearing in the women’s Casino Battle Royale at AEW All Out in August, as well as appearing on a November episode of AEW DARK. But fans around the world continued to wonder how such a revolutionary pioneer in the ring for women’s wrestling, who had become such an important mentor to an entirely new generation, could be left on the sidelines from major companies.
But after 19 years, the news finally arrived in January of 2020, when Mercedes Martinez was announced as part of the January Class of new recruits at the WWE Performance Center. She debuted on NXT TV the following week, in a Battle Royale for the #1 Contendership for the NXT Women’s Championship, and then two weeks later appeared in the Women’s Royal Rumble on her first WWE PPV. She began working the NXT Live Events circuit before COVID-19 shut everything down, and she returned home to be with her family.
But now she is back and after a teaser vignette a few weeks ago appeared on NXT TV, she is ready to start her first proper run in the WWE Universe, and it all starts on Wednesday night at NXT’s Great American Bash. They say “never say never” a lot in the world of pro wrestling, but in Mercedes Martinez’s case, she never did and for that, her 20-year career has finally been rewarded.
Stay tuned to the Last Word on Pro Wrestling for more on this and other stories from around the world of wrestling, as they develop. You can always count on LWOPW to be on top of the major news in the wrestling world, as well as to provide you with analysis, previews, videos, interviews, and editorials on the wrestling world.