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Mike Pankow

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Tessa Blanchard’s star shines brightly in IMPACT and beyond

Tessa Blanchard’s star shines brightly in IMPACT and beyond

By Mike Pankow

June 14, 2019

With her grandfather, father and stepfather enjoying long and successful wrestling careers, it really was no surprise that Tessa Blanchard would continue the family legacy.

Blanchard, who turns 24 on July 26, already is one of the top women’s wrestlers in the world only about six years after she started training.

Tessa Blanchard holds up the Warrior Wrestling Women’s Championship as she yells at special referee Molly Holly after winning the title by defeating Jordynne Grace at Warrior Wrestling 5 in Chicago Heights, Ill., on May 12.  (Photo by Mike Pankow)

Tessa Blanchard holds up the Warrior Wrestling Women’s Championship as she yells at special referee Molly Holly after winning the title by defeating Jordynne Grace at Warrior Wrestling 5 in Chicago Heights, Ill., on May 12. (Photo by Mike Pankow)

Born and raised in Charlotte, N.C., Blanchard knew she was destined to become a wrestler when she began learning under longtime performer George South.

“The first bump I took, the first time I started hitting the ropes, I was like ‘this is what I’m supposed to do.’ ” Blanchard said during the IMPACT Wrestling Press Pass Podcast and media teleconference last month. “I found something that where I fit in and something I loved. I just did everything I could to be around wrestling, set up the ring, set up chairs, travel the miles, drive for 14 hours to Upstate New York and then drive 14 hours back without a hotel and make 50-75 bucks just [so] I could be around wrestling.”

Blanchard has been around wrestling for pretty much her entire life. Her father, Tully, was a star in the NWA as a member of the famous Four Horsemen stable. Her stepfather, Magnum T.A., was one of the most popular wrestlers in the 80’s before injuries from an auto accident cut his career short. Her grandfather, Joe, was a wrestler and promoter in Texas for many years.

“I look up to my dad and stepdad,” Blanchard said. “They’re very, very knowledgeable. They pour into my business life and my personal life to such a great extent. And that’s helped me at the beginning of my wrestling career, that helped me become the athlete and the woman that I am today. They care and they’re very detail-oriented.”

Blanchard probably has made her biggest mark in IMPACT Wrestling, where she held the Knockouts Championship for nearly four months before losing it to Taya Valkyrie at Homecoming on Jan. 6. Since then, Blanchard engaged in a rivalry with the legendary Gail Kim, which culminated in a match at IMPACT’s Rebellion on April 28 in Toronto.

“Rebellion was amazing,” Blanchard said. “There was a lot of anticipation leading up to that. It was really cool to have my dad (Tully) and Gail’s husband (chef Robert Irvine) ringside in a match I never thought would happen. It was a dream match that I never thought would be reality. It was one of those moments that you’re going to remember forever.”

While IMPACT is the largest American company in which Blanchard works, she has wrestled in the Chicago area frequently over the last year.

Blanchard defeated fellow IMPACT Wrestling superstar Jordynne Grace in the main event of Warrior Wrestling 5 in Chicago Heights on May 12 to become the first Warrior Wrestling Women’s Champion in a match that featured WWE legend Molly Holly (Nora Greenwald) as the special referee.

“My match against Jordynne Grace, that was a cool one,” Blanchard said. “I always enjoy sharing the ring with her, because she’s a ‘hardester’ like me. She goes out there and leaves everything in the ring.

It was also very special for Blanchard to interact with Holly, who was a two-time WWE Women’s Champion in the 2000’s.

“I’m such a fan of Molly Holly. A little bit in the back of mind, I was like, ‘I’d really to take the ‘Molly Go Round’ right now.’ ” Blanchard said laughing before praising Holly. “Molly is someone that I respect greatly. She always helps the newer talent. She’s always sharing her experiences and advice to us. It was really cool just to talk with her and share the locker room with her.”

Blanchard has established herself as a bona fide presence in the Chicago independent wrestling scene and competed in SHIMMER, a well-renowned all-women’s promotion based in the area, just after breaking into the business.

She has held the Zelo Pro Women’s Championship as well the Phoenix of RISE Championship over the last year. She defeated Mercedes Martinez in RISE before losing the title back to her in an incredible 75-minute ironman match last fall at the Berwyn Eagles Club.

Blanchard also won the four-way women’s match at ALL IN on Aug. 31, 2018 at the Sears Centre when she outlasted Britt Baker, Chelsea Green and Madison Rayne.

Tessa Blanchard grapples with Dr. Britt Baker during Warrior Wrestling 3 on Jan. 5, 2019. Blanchard, who also has held the IMPACT Wrestling Knockouts Championship, the Zelo Pro Wrestling Women’s Championship and the Phoenix of RISE Championship, defeated Baker, Chelsea Green and Madison Rayne at ALL IN in Hoffman Estates, Ill., last summer.  (Photo by Mike Pankow)

Tessa Blanchard grapples with Dr. Britt Baker during Warrior Wrestling 3 on Jan. 5, 2019. Blanchard, who also has held the IMPACT Wrestling Knockouts Championship, the Zelo Pro Wrestling Women’s Championship and the Phoenix of RISE Championship, defeated Baker, Chelsea Green and Madison Rayne at ALL IN in Hoffman Estates, Ill., last summer. (Photo by Mike Pankow)

“I always love working in Chicago,” Blanchard said. “I started my career there with some of my matches with SHIMMER. ALL IN was such a cool event. Like Rebellion, it’s one of those moments I’ll remember forever.”

Blanchard’s bout at Warrior Wrestling 5 came during a frenetic span of 10 matches in about a week, which presented plenty of challenges, including stops at Pro Wrestling Revolver, WOW Superheroes TV tapings and AAA shows in Mexico.

“If I’m being a 100 percent real, that was really difficult for me,” she said. “It was very trying mentally and physically. I think a lot of people don’t see those things. They don’t see the work that goes into it and to keep up with your workouts and your diet on top of it.”

Blanchard cites WWE Superstars Natalya and Mickie James as two of her influences in wrestling.

After working a show with James at Maryland Championship Wrestling a few years ago, Blanchard remembers receiving a phone call from her while she was at shopping mall.

“She called me and she spent an hour and a half on the phone with me while I was at a Dillard’s or something just helping me with my entrance and with my character things, which I thought was the coolest thing in the world,” Blanchard recalled.

As for Natalya, who has been a staple of the WWE Women’s Division for over a decade, Blanchard says she can relate with the daughter of Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart and granddaughter of Stu Hart.

“Natalya is a fellow third-generation woman, which is very rare. There’s not many of us,” Blanchard said. “She offers advice whenever I need it, which is really a neat thing. Her career has been amazing and something that me or any woman should look up to.”

Blanchard even received the opportunity to branch out into Hollywood by acting as the stunt performer for WWE Superstar Paige’s character in the critically acclaimed “Fighting with My Family,” which was released earlier this year. She got to tangle with current SmackDown Live Superstar Zelina Vega (Thea Trinidad), who was portraying AJ Lee in the film.

“The movie was a cool experience, because I had never done anything like that before,” she said. “Before wrestling, I always wanted to be an actress. I did musical theater all through middle school and high school. When I was younger my parents put me in the Charlotte Children’s Theater in North Carolina. Every Tuesday and Thursday, my friend and I would go to our acting classes and I loved it.”

There may be more movie roles to come down the line, but Blanchard’s more immediate focus is continuing to be a star in IMPACT Wrestling among a diverse roster of women’s performers.

“Our locker room is so talented,” Blanchard said. “We don’t have any weak links. Everybody brings something different to the table.”

There is no limit to Blanchard’s potential and how much she can accomplish in the wrestling business.

“I want to do everything,” she said. “Whether that’s going after the Knockouts title again or whether that means changing up the type of matches I’m having. I want to carry on my family’s legacy, but forge my own at the same time.”

Tessa Blanchard, left, and Daga, right, pose with a young fan at the Warrior Wrestling 5 fan fest on May 12.  (Photo by Mike Pankow)

Tessa Blanchard, left, and Daga, right, pose with a young fan at the Warrior Wrestling 5 fan fest on May 12. (Photo by Mike Pankow)

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