When the line-up for this past Monday’s AEW Dark: Elevation was announced prior, one name stood out to longtime fans of the U.S. indie scene, particularly mid-2000s women’s wrestling, and Joshi wrestling – Jessica James. The 17-year veteran was announced as part of a 6-woman tag match, teaming with Gigi Rey and Lady Bird Monroe against the team of Nyla Rose, Emi Sakura, and The Bunny. It marked James’ first match since 2018, following over a decade over triumphs and tragedies around the world in her pro wrestling career.
NEW EPISODE of #AEWDarkElevation
TONIGHT at 7/6c featuring:
— All Elite Wrestling (@AEW) December 20, 2021
A native of Dallas, Texas, Jessica James made her pro wrestling debut in 2004 and really got her start with the now-defunct Professional Championship Wrestling (PCW) in Arlington, Texas, where she was competing in women’s and intergender matches. Her early work was impressive out the gate, and in 2007, she received a dark match tryout with TNA/IMPACT Wrestling, where she faced none other than Gail Kim. While it didn’t lead to a TNA contract, she returned to the Texas indies with a deeper hunger and soon joined the new promotion run by former WWE/WCW Superstar Booker T (who had recently jumped to TNA) called Pro Wrestling Alliance (PWA).
During her time with PWA, she developed other personas to her character – including You-Ma and the more popular Lady Poison – all while learning from Booker T at his school and competing against the likes of Awesome Kong. In 2008, she would be crowned the inaugural PWA Women’s Champion (in 2014, Booker T would rebrand PWA into Reality of Wrestling, and the PWA Women’s title would be renamed the ROW Diamonds Division Championship).
In 2009, she would join Anarchy Championship Wrestling (ACW), a newer promotion on the Texas indie circuit that began in 2006. She would become one of the top names in ACW over the next seven years, winning the ACW American Joshi Championship on three occasions (once as Lady Poison), feuding with the likes of Portia Perez, Sara Del Rey, Daizee Haze, Athena (former WWE Superstar Ember Moon), Su Yung, and many more, including a match against a young Allie Katch in 2016. She was also a frequent intergender competitor, with singles matches against such names as AEW’s Ricky Starks and indie veteran Gary Jay.
In 2010, she finally made her debut with SHIMMER, alongside her frequent ACW tag team partner Rachel Summerlyn in RAJETT, at SHIMMER 30. At SHIMMER 34, they challenged SHIMMER Tag Team Champions Canadian Ninjas, featuring ACW rival Portia Perez and Nicole Matthews, but failed to acquire tag team gold. Jessica James competed frequently for SHIMMER during 2010 and 2011, facing the likes of Sara Del Rey, another ACW rival in Athena, and Joshi veteran Tomoka Nakagawa (Pro Wrestling WAVE, NEO Ladies, Oz Academy, etc.).
In 2013, she made her Japanese debut as she began working for Diana, a promotion she would compete for that year and again in 2014. Part of a gaijin contingent that included Crazy Mary Dobson (former WWE Superstar Sarah Logan), Madison Eagles, and Evie (NXT Superstar Dakota Kai), Jessica James also utilized her Lady Poison character in several matches and was a frequent rival in Diana with a young rising star named Sareee (now more widely known as NXT Superstar Sarray). She also partnered with former All Japan Women’s Wrestling (AJW) star and 2x WWWA World Champion Kaoru Ito in a special tag match against Dobson and AJW Legend Jaguar Yokota.
She returned to Texas and the U.S. indies and more complete and confident package and began working in more area promotions, such as Inspire Pro (now Inspire AD), Iconic Heroes Of Wrestling Excellence (IHWE), VIP Wrestling, and WrestleCircus, winning the IHWE Queen of the Ring title in 2015 and the Inspire Pro XX Division Championship a few months later, which she defended against the likes of Mia Yim, Veda Scott, and Vanessa Kraven. In 2015, she also made her debut with Shine Wrestling, competing at Shine 24 against Taylor Made, and again at Shine 31 against Su Yung.
In 2016, she began to get a series of tryouts with Ring of Honor, competing in three dark matches throughout the year. She won her first encounter against Lady Luck in San Antonio, then fell in her next two matches, to Taeler Hendrix and Kelly Klein respectively. The following year, she was selected by WWE as an alternate for the inaugural WWE Mae Young Classic tournament, although she was never called upon for the actual tournament. She did compete in a dark match with other alternates, teaming with Deonna Purrazzo to face Nicole Matthews & Barbi Hayden.
She returned to the Texas indies once again, this time for a new promotion, Dallas Championship Wrestling (DCW). She competed for DCW throughout the summer of 2018 and into the fall, exclusively under the Lady Poison moniker, where she fought a rising star in the Texas indies named Thunder Rosa. After Lady Poison and her tag partner Wesley Crane were knocked out of the DCW Maggie Martinez Memorial Intergender Tag Team Tournament in November of that year, Lady Poison – as well as Jessica James – seemingly left the pro wrestling world behind. Until now.
The past few years have seen many veterans get a comeback one-off with AEW on episodes of AEW Dark and AEW Dark: Elevation, but it’s also seen a remarkable amount of former women’s indie stars return to the ring for one more fun. Long retired stars like Taylor Wilde, Kayla Sparks, and Debbie Malenko have made the return to the ring, now that women’s wrestling has earned a level of respect far greater than many received during their previous endeavors. Could we see Jessica James finally get the flowers she’s earned, from her years as a tough and twisted competitor in the early days of intergender wrestling in the U.S. indies to her time in the Joshi world of Japan? One can hope.
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