Featured Image by Rob Braizer Photography
Dahlia Black and I video chat while she’s visiting family in Auckland. Like many, she discovered the squared circle through her brother. But, not in the way you might expect.
Her brother had started wrestling at Impact Pro Wrestling New Zealand, when he asked her if she’d like to come along to training and try it out. ‘I loved musical theatre, so I liked the idea of performing. Plus, I always kind of liked the idea of being a diva. I loved the [WWE] Divas,’ Dahlia says. In her last year of high school, she went to a training session, where she met Evie [WWE’s Dakota Kai] and a few other girls. She picked it up quickly and decided to stick with it.
After she told her boyfriend she was training to become a pro wrestler, he dumped her. She explains, ‘He thought it was masculine, what I was doing. But that’s alright. I don’t really care about that anymore. I just really started getting into it.’ When Travis Banks moved to Auckland, he began running training sessions that saw Dahlia consumed by wrestling.
‘It became so full-on and took over my life. I realised that this could be a career if I tried hard.’
After training in New Zealand, Dahlia set her sights on the UK. She made the move over with her partner at the time, TK Cooper, and quickly, London became a second home. ‘In hindsight, it [moving overseas and wrestling abroad] was a really cool thing to be able to do with a partner. I think then, we realised we couldn’t do it without each other – Because we were two people from the same country, it made us more attractive [to bookers and audiences] and we had something that was different,’ she says.
That was why PROGRESS liked us. It was like a two-for-one kind of deal. You’ve got this one versatile gimmick that can be used in women’s matches, men’s matches, tag-team matches – he punches her opponents, everyone goes apeshit, and it was fantastic, and they loved it,’ Dahlia reflects. Soon, TK and Dahlia teamed up with Travis Banks as the South Pacific Power Trip, and she was taking on championship matches in PROGRESS with Toni Storm.
‘We planted those seeds and then we started growing. We [no longer had to] rely on that gimmick that we created, or on each other, because we were doing our own thing.’
Dahlia made it to the UK at the perfect time. The scene was sky-rocketing, with the WWE soon taking interest and establishing their NXT UK brand. Dahlia was competing with established and up and coming talents, including Pollyanna, Jinny, Nixon Newell, Session Moth Martina and Candyfloss. ‘There were a small handful Australian people who’d made it over and had luck cracking the scene. It’s all about timing and who you know. We managed to wriggle in with PROGRESS by going to their training schools and talking to the right people. I think if we had come a year later, we wouldn’t have had a chance in hell to get in there and you can’t expect that to be the case every single time,’ Dahlia says
Coming home to New Zealand now provides a lot of perspective and insight for Dahlia. ‘I’ve been home a few times since I’ve been away, and having gone to some local shows, the scene is hugely different. People who wrestle in New Zealand and Australia now are so lucky because they’ve now got access to all these different opportunities, wrestling schools and companies to work on. The people who’ve paved the path before them now have connections to Bad Luck Fale and Japan and Travis in the UK,’ she says.
‘I’m not saying it was hard for us, but we didn’t have a lot here. We had very few companies, very little safety and we often weren’t getting paid to throw ourselves on our heads. The thing for us – for TK and I – was that we had to leave New Zealand to make something of ourselves. We weren’t going to be seen if we didn’t leave. But now because the attention is coming to Australia and New Zealand, [companies and performers are] making huge impact right where they are, which is fantastic because not everyone can leave their country,’ she continues.
‘We were young. We didn’t have any commitments. There are people here [in Australia and New Zealand] who have kids, jobs, people to support, that love wrestling. It’s different now and that’s the best way it could be.’
Although, the Pacific isn’t quite there yet in terms of providing a full-time outlet for performers and fans. ‘Somewhere in the UK, there’s a show every single weekend, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. There’s this buzz that comes from the number of shows and attendance. You can only exhaust your [frequency of shows] so much in New Zealand, whereas there’s so many different fans going to so many different shows in the UK. Because of that, there’s more opportunities for people to work full-time,’ Dahlia adds. In terms of the trajectory for evolving Down Under, Dahlia thinks it’s a matter of understanding your social and economic climate. ‘I believe companies will find their own style that works with their country, the number of people that live there and what they can afford to go see.’
In terms of developing gender equity in Australia and New Zealand, Dahlia shares her experiences in the UK: ‘I just think there isn’t really any gender bias. I know so many promotions that wouldn’t even call it an intergender match, because it’s just a match! Pete Dunne vs. Millie Mckenzie, because fuck, it why not? I really like both wrestlers, so why shouldn’t they get a chance to wrestle each other? There’s this amazing progression where people don’t even think twice about it and it’s so cool. I love wrestling with the boys.’
‘It’s a great time to be a wrestler. Not only in the UK but in the world, because we’re all moving forward.’
Dahlia has decided to hang up her boots upon her return to the UK. She’s enjoyed a stint as a full-time commentator for PROGRESS, and now looks to her future projects away from wrestling. ‘I’m retired. I liked the spotlight and I loved where it took me – it took me all over the goddamn world. I think my leg injury reminded me that I am not made of steel. It also became clearer to me that I was not as passionate about wrestling as a lot of my peers were…When you’re a part of something for so long, and then when you step away from it, it can be really tempting to go back. So, I had to pull myself away from it completely and be like, “You’ve made your decision, you’ve made your bed, now lie in it!’ Besides, I’m so unfit that I would probably throw up during my entrance,’ Dahlia laughs.
‘And now I’m going to study to become a forensic autopsy technician and cut open dead people,’ which this change in focus, Dahlia also looks to commit more time to her candle making business. ‘I’ve always been a very tactile person, I love making things. I made a candle when I first moved to the UK. I bought a silicone kit and made a mould of a baby head and then I just started making candles off the bat. I just do it in my kitchen, and I drive my boyfriend absolutely mad because there is always wax everywhere.’
‘That chapter’s done in my life, but I don’t think wrestling is something I’ll ever 100% move away from. I’ll be stuck with it for life.’
Dahlia’s Wrestling Idols
‘Candy Lee. I love her. She only started wrestling when I left so I completely missed her which was unfortunate, but she’s going to Melbourne soon, which is awesome. I love Rick Cataldo and what he’s doing for the LGBTQ community, The Samoan Wrestling Diva [Jason Dewhurst], Eddy McQueen… The LGBTQ community is just blowing up in the wrestling and it’s fantastic!
You go to wrestling and that’s your comfort zone. That’s what makes you happy. If you have a bad day at work or you’ve broken up with your boyfriend or girlfriend, and you’re feeling shitty, you go to wrestling and it makes you feel good. To go to something that is your comfort zone and to feel uncomfortable… it’s important that we are step by step removing those horrible bigots that make it like that. Everyone’s in and it’s one big safe space for everybody.
Oh! Melina. Melina’s amazing. I got to wrestle her a couple of years back and she was just so funny.’