Tori Attwood talks fighting, fame and the 'peach punch' with wrestlers Lana Austin and Hollie Barlow
By day, Lana Austin is a mum of three.
But by night, she’s a professional wrestler who grapples with strapping men and has over 90k Instagram followers lapping up her exploits.
Hollie, an eighteen-year-old-student with an angelic persona, also takes down fierce opponents come nightfall.
Wrestlers in a way are like real-life superheroes. Unimaginable strength that sees them take on opponents twice their size, unwavering resilience that lets them bounce back after a jab to the ribs and their own nemesis with storylines that play out both in, around and beyond the ring.
I’ve hurt my jaw really badly in the past. I’ve dislocated my shoulder.
I’ll admit that my induction into the wrestling world is largely based on Netflix’s GLOW, a fictional series about the women’s wrestling circuit of the eighties. The Manchester wrestlers confirm that there are some similarities between real life and my favourite series. But, the duo assure me that whilst the fights may be staged, the violence – and the threat of injury – is real.
“You see these bruises – these are from last weekend,” Austin explains, revealing a trophy of deep purple marks along her forearm. “It hurts. I’ve hurt my jaw really badly in the past. I’ve dislocated my shoulder.”
“I was out for a year because of my back,” Barlow agrees, offering an account of how a wrestling move went wrong and damaged her back. “You might plan the match, but the wrestlers are hitting each other like they would in real life.”
Dressed in everyday clothes, you’d be forgiven for misjudging that the petite pair could roundhouse kick you across a ring.
“People at work have just started to find out about it [my wrestling] and they’re baffled by it,” Barlow explains. “A few weeks ago I got injured at a wrestling match and I had to call in sick because I couldn’t lift my head off the pillow. When I came into work the day after they all thought I’d been attacked...”
“To me it’s the norm,” adds Lana. “I’ve been wrestling professionally for six years and because I’ve done it all through my childhood, everyone knows me as a wrestler. Even my children are not bothered that mum goes wrestling. When I come home with bruises, they just think that’s just from mum’s job.”
Austin has enjoyed wrestling for over 25 years, since her and her brothers set up a ring in their back garden when they were children. The mum of three wrestles Friday to Sunday, returns home at 2.00am before sorting out her children’s uniforms for the week. Hollie, who is just starting out on her wrestling journey, juggles training around her full-time studies, a part time job and a relationship.
Whilst the Netflix series shows characters transforming into elaborate caricatures for the ring, both Lana and Hollie have found that being themselves is the best role to take.
“I’m more confident being myself than pretending to be a character,” explains Lana.
“I feel like I’m just very me in the ring,” Hollie adds, smiling sweetly. “I like to just have fun and take the comedic angle.”
Storylines still play a big part in the ring – though fortunately the world has moved on from the reductive wrestling and the bad taste of the eighties.
“I love the storylines,” Lana adds. “One of the biggest things that drew me into women’s wrestling was the story line between Lita and Trish Stratus, it was absolutely amazing. You’d watch it and you feel it. That’s the kind of feeling I’ve always wanted to convey. I want people to feel it.”
People were saying you’re going to find it really hard as girl
With the announcement that this year WWE will air its first-ever all-women show, women’s wrestling is beginning to command more mainstream media attention.
“When I first started there was probably only five female wrestlers,” explains Lana. “And when I first started people were saying you’re going to find it really hard as girl, you’re going to find it hard getting bookings for wrestling because you’re a girl.”
“But it’s getting better and better,” Lana adds. “And hopefully independent shows will realise that people want to see women’s wrestling more now. Not just two trainees that have been training for two months so you just stick them on so you can do a girls match. People want to see good women wrestling. And there’s enough girls out that they you can book and have on those shows.”
In my real life I feel sexy, so I’m going to bring that to the ring.
Set in the sexist eighties, GLOW highlights much of the misogyny faced by female wrestlers at the time. But does sexism still stand in the wrestling world?
“I’ve not heard it for a while. Partly because women’s wrestling has got so much better,” explains Lana. “But I like being sexy. In my real life I feel sexy, so I’m going to bring that to the ring.
"I know that there’s a lot of talk around women’s rights and sexuality, "she adds. "But you can be pretty and sexy and smart – and still kick arse. If feminism means that you can’t be sexy then that’s not proper feminism. When I get in the ring, I like to feel pretty - but then I like to kick arse.”
So what does it take to be a professional wrestler?
“Cardio. You’ve got to have good cardio,” Lana explains.
“And leg strength and core strength, because a lot of the moves take a good core,” Hollie adds. “You need some upper body strength as well to pull yourself up.”
Getting up in front of a packed room to wrestle no doubt takes courage – is there empowerment to be found in the ring?
“I find wrestling empowering from a mum perspective,” explains Lana. “I always say to my kids you can be anything you want to be as long as you work hard enough. I‘m living my dream - but it’s been through a lot of hard work and sacrifices. I’ve proved to my kids – and to other mums in fact – that just because you’re a mum it doesn’t mean you can’t have a career.”
And does fighting in the ring make them more confident in everyday life?
“One thing I’ve learnt through wrestling is that if you don’t feel confident, just fake it,” finishes Lana. “No one knows if you’re pretending.”