Professional wrestling has come to Corvallis – again. While it wasn’t the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), Prestige Wrestling brought familiar names to the heart of the Valley for the second time on May 18th. One of those names was Leva Bates, a female professional wrestler helping to move the sport beyond the obvious sexualization of its past and towards the respected form of athletic showmanship that it is today.
Bates represents a movement in the United States professional wrestling scene where the
women are taken just as seriously as the men. Many want to break free from decades of forgettable, embarrassing, and sexist matches. April was the first time that the main event of Wrestlemania, the WWE’s biggest show of the year, had an all-female lineup: Charlotte Flair, the company’s most popular act Becky Lynch, and former Ultimate Fighting Championship star Ronda Rousey. It is not only the WWE that has taken women’s wrestling more seriously, but also the numerous independent wrestling companies across the country like Prestige Wrestling.
I asked Bates what she thought about the rise in women’s professional wrestling.
“I love it, we’ve taken a lot of steps forward in the past few years. It’s not just a popcorn match anymore. You go to a lot of shows where there are as many women’s matches as there are men’s matches,” said Bates.
This is not only a renaissance for women’s wrestling, but also independent wrestling as a whole. More performers are choosing to leave or rebuff the offers of the WWE and instead perform in smaller independent organizations around the country. Bates is currently signed as “The Librarian” in a rising new wrestling promotion called All Elite Wrestling, which just had their first pay per view event on May 25th.
She was formerly known as “Blue Pants” in the WWE’s developmental territory NXT, and was one of the top draws at Saturday night’s event. Her popularity was on par with Prestige Wrestling world champion and former UFC fighter “Filthy” Tom Lawlor, and local Oregon State University wrestling star “Grizzly” Kal Jack.
Bates’ recognition in NXT grew with time. Originall booked for one appearance as a “jobber”, a wrestler hired to lose and “put over” a contracted wrestler, she was mockingly dubbed “Blue Pants” by the wrestler who introduced her, but unexpectedly connected with the crowd.
“It was almost like a science experiment, let’s see how far we can take this. I was only supposed to be there for one show to do the job and it took off, so they called me back to see how far we could take it,” said Bates.
Cosplay has also played a big part in Bates growth in popularity, with many of her outfits going viral. She has dressed up as numerous superheroes including members of the X-Men and the Avengers, as well as many other well known figures in popular culture. Bates said that she makes many of her own outfits, and also relies on help from friends and family.
Her cosplay experience helped her get signed as “The Librarian” in AEW, who just announced they will have a weekly wrestling show on TNT, the channel which once hosted the most popular wrestling show in America, WCW Monday Nitro. Bates also appeared on their Pay Per View “Double Or Nothing” in a segment with AEW’s other librarian character Peter Avalon. While this was her first time wrestling in Corvallis, she has previously wrestled for Prestige Wrestling in Hermiston.
Bates spoke about her theories as to why women’s wrestling had become so popular. She said that as women and other minorities have been taken more seriously in our culture, that acceptance has carried over to professional wrestling.
“As we as human beings grow and are accepting of everyone, and people become more open, women and other cultures are going to be respected more. People are people,” said Bates.
The future is bright for not just Bates, but the entirety of women’s wrestling as they are given the opportunity to demonstrate that they are equal to the men, allowed to flesh out their characters and the time they need in the ring to put on matches that rival or exceed their male counterparts.
By Jonah Anderson