With Ronda Rousey’s mainstream success and Holly Holm’s monster win, it’s been a great year for female fighters and athletes alike. These impressive women who have never stopped hustling are finally getting credit where credit is due and that’s great. But for professional wrestlers, women both aspiring and working in the ring are met with the same skepticism from outsiders as male wrestlers. It’s fake. It’s silly. It’s not real.
But to people like Joanna Marie, aka Sonya Strong, wrestling is what she works tirelessly for everyday. The Bronx native regularly sacrifices energy, money, time with her 3-year-old son and most obviously, her body all for the greater goal of becoming a successful professional wrestler. In wrestling the storylines and outcomes are predetermined, but people in her chosen career path also struggle, get injured and even die in the ring That’s very real to her and the fans. If you still don’t get it, listen to this guy because he does:
Less than two years in, Sonya Strong is already on her way to being successful wrestler. She’s the heart of a budding women’s division at House of Glory, a wrestling school promotion based out of Queens, where she will have her biggest match yet against indie veteran Candice LeRae this weekend.
In wrestling traditionally there’s always an underdog and that may very much be Sonya. She is aware of the fact that she’s wrestling with someone who’s had skin in the game since 2002, but she’s prepared and appreciative of the opportunity to elevate her career. We caught up with Sonya in a rare free moment to talk about wrestling, how she got to where she is and what she does to manage it all in the day-to-day.
The Frisky: How did you get started in wrestling?
Sonya Strong: I grew up around martial arts my entire life. Since I was six months old I was in a carriage outside my family’s dojo. My father owns a tae kwon do school, so I spent a lot of time there. I’ve watched wrestling since I was a little girl and was a huge fan of women like Ivory, Molly Holly, Jackie and Lita growing up and I wanted to be just like them. So I always wanted to be a wrestler from watching what they did in the ring.
Frisky: What got you to finally try doing it yourself?
SS: I got to House of Glory [Wrestling School] a little less than two years ago. I was going through some personal stuff in a relationship and was always doing things for other people. Then one day I woke up and was like, “I’m going to wrestle.” So I started in the Bronx — about six blocks away from my house where there’s a wrestling gym, but it wasn’t a school it was just an open gym. Then after about three weeks a guy name George told me I needed to go to HOG.
Frisky: How did you come up with your ring name?
SS: When I first got to HOG because of how I dressed and wore my hair, everyone called me Kitana, but that was just a nickname and not original. Then I was going to go with Jade and right before my debut match the wrestler Mia Yim changed her name to Jade. So I thought, “I’m hispanic, I need a hispanic name.” I went through all these marvel characters and people in martial arts, and Sonya was right there. Strong followed as a way to describe a kind of strength like, “Sonya strong.” But fans interpreted it as a last name and I went with it.
Frisky: Your debut match was with a male wrestler. What was that like?
SS: The story line with my opponent, Good Hank Flanders, was that he thinks all women should be home in the kitchen. Me being able to wrestle him was to show other women that no matter what people think, you fight for what you want. And not necessarily physically. I get to fight because of the business that I’m in and I’m lucky. I get to hit people and not get in trouble. But in everyday life people deal with those struggles of what you should be doing, versus actually chasing your dreams while doing the necessary things. I get to do both because, at the end of the day, I’m also a mom.
Frisky: How challenging is it to balance being a single parent on top of pursuing wrestling?
SS: It’s really hard because I don’t get to see my son as much as I want, and I know he needs me, but I’m also doing this for him. He comes to my shows and when he sees me, his face and him cheering, I want him to look back on that no matter what happens and know I did that for him. I feel guilty and selfish, but my parents are very helpful and supportive. They understand and know I’m not out clubbing. I’m working towards something.
Frisky: What is your ultimate goal with wrestling?
SS: Of course the WWE is the highest platform there is and I want to be able to wrestle for them. But regardless, I want to influence people in a positive way with my wrestling. You can get stuck in this world of what you should be instead of what you can be. What you can be is what I want to stand for.
You can watch Sonya Strong wrestle Candice LeRae Saturday, February 27 at the Queensborough Elks Lodge at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available through HOG.
Original by Lauren Vinopal @LaurenVino