Fake boobs, chokeholds, getting paid $10 - a Kiwi wrestler's day

Getting on stage in front of a thousand people clad in just a tank top and booty shorts takes some guts. 

Then imagine being grabbed around the throat and slammed to the ground.

It's all in a day's work for a professional wrestler. That and having their boobs shoved in a stranger's face. 

But apparently that isn't really a problem. 

"It all happens so quickly though that you don't have time to think about someone's boobs in your face, or yours in theirs," laughs wrestler Tabitha Avery,  "and it's all so professional anyway." 

Previous articles in the series

Avery, 36, began wrestling 18 years ago and, after taking a break to act on Shortland St, returned to training in 2014 with Auckland based wrestling group Hughes Academy.

She cut her teeth (not literally) on the circuit of small wrestling shows in Auckland before big gigs such as Erotica, Big Day Out and Ultimate Championship Wrestling (UCW). However being a professional wrestler in New Zealand is tough. 

"It's not something you can do full time in NZ," says Avery.

"I work at Just Workout in the day." 

But she hopes that this will change. Over the last five year there has been an upswing of interest in wrestling on both ends of the scale. 

Several new training academies are springing up, as well as high end companies such as UCW- which aims to be New Zealand's answer to the global giant World Wrestling Entertainment (the WWE). 

So much does a wrestler earn?

The money can vary hugely depending who you're performing for. 

"The smaller shows you can be paid $10," says Avery, "but for bigger shows like UCW you can be paid anything from $100 - $1000." 

It's not just the money that changes, the scale of show varies dramatically too. UCW makes a point of covering performers' flights and accommodation, and performers come to the ring like WWE stars with fire, lights and fan girls. 

But for some gigs, wrestling organisers say, while you may be paid for a gig you're expected to cover all the flights and accommodation yourself. Or you may just be performing in a school hall for free. 


Fake boobs, chokeholds, getting paid $10 - a Kiwi wrestler's day

Is the fighting real?

Wrestling is closer to stunt fighting than to actual violence. 

Unlike in acting, where the camera angles give the illusion of contact, in wrestling there is physical contact. A large part of the training is learning how to throw and fall safely. 

It took Avery six months of training before she was ready to compete in her first show. 

That said, this doesn't mean that it's not painful. "I'm recovering from a fractured spine right now." 

Avery was kicked by her opponent in a recent show and fractured three discs.

 "So the impact is definitely more real than people think it is!" 

It's also something to think about having had her boobs done. It's generally not a problem however, "I do have to think about how I land. But I trust the girls I work with that they're not going to rupture them!"

What are the best parts of the job?

Avery grew up surrounded by wrestling as her father was a college wrestler in his day.

One of the best moments of the job was her first show. "I was this bad ass biker chick with black hair, which I loved playing, and I had my Dad as my valet. So I got to experience that with him before he died." 

Another highlight is the fans. Every wrestler has a group of fangirls - sometimes literally, young girls who are keen future wrestlers. 

Avery has a tiny tot fan called Brooke: "She came up to me after my last match and we had a moment in the ring where she said she loved me and wanted to be me."

 It's one of those unforgettable moments of the job.

What's the crazy pre-show routine like?

The grooming, and especially tanning, is a long and laborious process. For Avery, in the week leading up to a match, she will get her nails done, hair done, eyebrows done, and her tan topped up. That's not counting the hour-plus pre-show hair and make-up routine. 

But it's the tanning that really cannot be messed around with. Wrestlers look about five skin tones lighter under the lights, so if they don't get the tan right then they look more milky than macho. The favoured tan is one that you leave on for 8 hours, that's the stuff you can't sweat off.

And that's not the only hard part of the job. The diet is something crazy. Avery has a specific meal plan that tells her precisely what she can eat for each meal of each day. She also has a nutritionist and a personal trainer. So what does she snack on?

"Eggs?!" she laughs, "and vegetables. I just go out for coffee with my friends and I'll sit there with my eggs!"