Zan Phoenix may have lost out to the ‘Ballsy Badass’ Shotzi Blackheart at British Empire Wrestling’s ‘Empire Fights Back 5‘, but the self-confessed adrenaline junkie is no pushover. Diva Dirt’s Laura Mauro caught up with her after the show to talk training with the boys, wrestling seven shows a week, and the pressure that comes with breaking boundaries.
Founded in 2014 by Declan Kellett and Tim Birkett, British Empire Wrestling is one of London’s leading independent wrestling promotions. Women’s wrestling is a key part of BEW’s wrestling ethos and has been since the promotion’s inception; BEW boast alumni such as Toni Storm, Kairi Sane and Tegan Nox, and their shows regularly attract international talent from all over the world.
Zan Phoenix began training at the Revolution Pro Wrestling school in Portsmouth in 2013, where she found herself one of just a few women training to become a wrestler. Phoenix says the Rev Pro approach to training does not discriminate:
“As a training school, Rev Pro are amazing. They don’t train ‘girls’ and ‘boys’, they train everyone. There were a few girls filtering through who thought it was going to be a Diva thing, when they actually want the girls to be as good as the guys.
I think there were a few girls who were like, you’ll never get on the show because you’re a girl, and I said ‘no, because I’m going to be as good as the guys’. I was really determined to do it.”
Phoenix was the first woman to wrestle for Revolution Pro Wrestling, making her show debut in an intergender match against Rishi Ghosh. Since then she’s blazed a trail throughout Rev Pro, featuring in their first all-women’s match against Jamie Hayter; to date, she’s the only woman to win the Revolution Rumble. Do these amazing achievements come with a lot of pressure?
“Yeah. I loved it, but there was always that slight feeling of ‘I have to be the best, I have to be the best’, so when the girls started coming through I was like ‘this is great, but I’ve still got to be the best’. And then someone finally just said to me, ‘Look, you’ve done it. You were the first girl, you were the first girl to win the Rumble, you were the first girl to win an all-female’s match, no-one can take those achievements away. That’s set, that’s not something that someone can break through, so just relax!’ It took me about a year to just relax and enjoy it.”
At a time where women wrestlers were starting to break out onto the indie scene, Phoenix says there were advantages to having to wrestle with the men:
“At the time especially, it was hard to be able to wrestle a girl that was very experienced, so I got a lot of experience from wrestling the guys and I feel like I really benefited from that. Now you’ve got girls coming through but it’s still quite hard to find a girl that’s been wrestling for, say, twenty years. Whereas I’ve been lucky enough to wrestle my trainer, which was an amazing experience.
Give it another ten years and the new girls coming through will find there are more veterans, so I think it will be a different experience.”
Outside of the ring, Phoenix trains in aerial, which she says has helped her find her feet and boost her confidence as a performer:
“It took me a while to find my feet in aerial but there’s a lot of crossover. You need a lot of upper body strength. A lot of my training crosses over, so a lot of people say well, which one are you training for? Well, I’m training for both. And also, it’s great for building confidence in performing. I think I probably got a little bit more confident with aerial first before I did with wrestling. I remember going out on a show once with aerial and everything just clicked. It felt like I was performing to the audience rather than just doing a routine.”
Phoenix says that her confidence as a wrestler has grown over time – but that nerves aren’t necessarily a bad thing:
“I definitely had a dip after I wrestled the guys, with all that expectation on me, and I put a lot of pressure on myself. But then it clicked and I just went out there and loved every minute of it. I went on the camps for a summer in 2016 and you do five to seven shows a week. It kind of wears you out of being nervous! Sometimes you’d wrestle twice in one day and you just think, I cannot get nervous that much in one day. And also, because you don’t usually have that many shows in one week, there was this massive sadness at coming back to normal life.
I think it’s good to have a little bit of nerves. My trainer said once you lose your nerves, you lose your passion. A little bit of nerves before you go out, that’s good because it means you actually care, and you want to do well.”
With the rise of all-women’s promotions like Pro Wrestling EVE, and the number of high-quality women’s matches in promotions like British Empire Wrestling and Rev Pro, Phoenix believes women’s wrestling has come a long way in the last few years – but there’s still more work to be done.
“[Women’s wrestling] has really stepped up its game. It’s very rare that you find a girl who just wants to be ‘good for a girl’, they’re all thirsty to be out there, and to be good for a wrestler, and for there to be no distinction. And I think it’s lovely that the trainees coming up will start to have that experience, and be able to wrestle women who are more experienced.
Only last year I said to a promoter, ‘How was that, were you happy with everything?’ And he said he just wanted it to be ‘good for a girl’ and just dismissed me. So you still do have that even now. I think it’s a lot less, and with places like Rev Pro and British Empire Wrestling you have a lot of really positive promotions who are promoting women’s wrestling, but there are still some promotions that have that underlying attitude.”
Phoenix has been named as one of the competitors in Rev Pro’s upcoming Queen of the Ring tournament – the second time she has competed in the tournament. Is there anyone she’d really like to face this time around?
“I would love to face Kay Lee Ray. I did actually face her on that camp, only once, and I loved it. Obviously it was a camp for kids so you don’t go full whack at each other! But I absolutely loved the experience.”