Friday, July 15, 2011

Hailey Hatred Interview: JWP Open Class Champion

Hailey Hatred with her four belts -- JWP Open Class belt is on the far right

Hailey Hatred is a ground-breaking talent who has taken adventurous steps with her career and achieved more than any other non-Japanese woman in the amazing and storied world of Joshi Puroresu -- the best and most demanding female wrestling scene in the world.  In the conversation below, Hailey talks about her start in wrestling, her travels, and her recent championship.  I was thrilled with Hailey's generosity and candor in this interview.

DF:  You debuted in July of 2002 when you were 18, next month you will celebrate nearly a decade as an independent wrestler.  What do you love most about wrestling?

HH:  I love that wrestling constantly evolves, it’s never the same. We have to change with the game, get better, learn more. It's all I've ever known, so I don't know what I "don't" love about it!

DF:  When you think back on the early years of your career, what was the highlight?  Who did you look up to?  What was the most important lesson you learned?

HH:  I've been so extremely fortunate to go to the places I have and learn from the people who have been so kind as to teach me.  Early in my career, getting in the ring with Leilani Kai, training at a WWE feeder school and getting to learn from so many people with such a vast array of knowledge .  I really couldn't put a price on that. The two people I look up to most to this day are Jushin Liger and Aja Kong. I'll probably never get the chance to share a ring with Liger, but he's been my hero since I was a kid, and he was a young lion =) Teaming with Kong was an unforgettable experience.  She has so much knowledge to share. As far as the most important lesson I learned, when I was probably less than a month into my initial training, one of the veterans at my school told me that "it takes at least 5 years to get any good" - so that put wrestling into perspective for me. I knew it wasn't a get rich quick scheme, an easy stepping stone to another career - I had the mindset that this will take awhile, and I was absolutely fine with that.

DF:  I was fortunate to see you wrestle in JAPW-WD on January 9, 2010 (the only time, sadly).  It was a 3-way main event with you, SDR, and Cheerleader Melissa.  Action was awesome and intense – it spilled out of the ring.  It was probably a "ho-hum" average match for you -- you may not remember much about it.  It got my attention though!  Give me your thoughts on SDR and Melissa as trailblazing indy wrestlers who went to Japan early in their careers and have done some much in wrestling?

HH:  I don't remember that match not because it was ho-hum, but because I was KO'd in the first 5 minutes =) Those two bring a violence and intensity to the ring with them that shouldn't be met with anything less than one's best. I think coming to Japan early in their career most definitely molded who they have become today, and I can only hope more young girls can match their courage and push everything aside to learn from the best.

Cheerleader Melissa, Sara Del Rey, and Hailey Hatred sprawled outside the ring in JAPW 
Photo by David Falcon

DF:  What made you want to wrestle abroad?  When did you first go to Mexico and how much time did you spend there?  What did you appreciate most about the luchadora life?

HH:  I've always wanted to do more than just wrestle in the States. As soon as I debuted I was itching to travel to other states, then other regions, then other coasts, then internationally. I've always felt there was so much more to see when you travel. You never get comfortable; someone is always pushing you to be better. I first went to Mexico about 4 years ago, just for a couple of weeks. Since then I've done multiple tours, as well as actually lived there. I loved the training in Mexico; I'd wake up and go to one gym, learn from that coach, get some lunch, than go to another gym and learn from another coach. I think everyone should train in Mexico, the earlier the better. Luchadores are completely fearless;  "can't" isn't in their vocabulary. They fly because they try; it's a beautiful thing to experience.

DF:  You seem great with languages.  Are you fluent in Spanish and Japanese?

HH:  I don't even think I'm fluent in English! I studied French in school, and have since learned Spanish (while living in Mexico) and Japanese (while living in Japan) I can communicate in Portuguese and Italian as well, but nothing in depth or difficult!

DF:  Wrestling-wise what did you gain from your time in Mexico?

HH:  Agility and speed.

DF:  I believe you have been living in Japan for about a year now.  What brought you to Japan and what do you most appreciate about the joshi style of wrestling? 

HH:  I've been here permanently since September of 2010, so it will be a year this fall. I've been touring Japan since 2007, but now actually living here has fit with my lifestyle. There was more I wanted to do elsewhere before committing here. I came here to learn and wrestle the best opponents on the planet. My style has always been Japanese inspired, because that's what I grew up with. It was a natural fit. I really appreciate the hard work and dedication that Japanese girls put into literally "perfecting" their skills.

Hailey prepares to piledrive Leon

DF:   Last weekend you were involved in a tag match against two wrestlers that you admire very much:  Kyoko Kimura and Megumi Yabushita.  You said of Kimura, “My favorite quality she possesses is she doesn't wrestle like a girl. I know every time I face her it's going to be a war.”  Most of your opponents would say the same about you.  What is it about hitting hard, and transcending gender stereotypes, that is so important to you?

HH:  I don't really put that much thought into it; it's just what I do and who I am. I don't wake up and say, "Oh, I have to break this gender barrier today!" I just align myself in those situations, I guess. I'm always looking for the best challenge, the person who will push me harder than the last. I like (organized) fighting, so hard hitting is just natural. I love all combat sports, playing, watching, everything. When it comes to getting in the ring with the boys, it's an honor, a tremendous learning experience, and most definitely an opportunity I wish arose more frequently.

 Leon gives hailey a nasty boot to the eye

DF:  Why do young American wrestlers, like Cheerleader Melissa ten years ago, and Mia Yim and Jamilia Craft today, look at working in Japan as such an important career move?  What makes the Japanese scene so relevant, unique, and important to young indy wrestlers?

HH:  I don't know why they think it's an important career move, but I think the pursuit of perfection in anything draws people's attention.

DF:  What are your thoughts about REINA and Hotta’s vision for the promotion?

HH:  Way too early to call.  I'm a regular roster member and I still don't know what this company is trying to be. We'll see!

Hailey roughs up Aki Kambayashi in REINA ring action
Photo by Takehisa Kashima

DF:  How do you see your role with the young American and Mexican workers that are coming over to work with REINA?

HH:  I'm most definitely the trilingual translator, ha ha!

DF:  Congratulations on your Grand Prix Final and JWP Openweight, TLW World Women's, & IMW Championship: what a great match with Leon!  What does it mean to be a champion in Japan?  Describe the sense of responsibility that goes with the belt.

HH:  Thank you!! Being a Champion in Japan means you are BUSY!!! It's nice though, it’s much more appreciated here than in the States, and deservedly so, because earning a title shot is pretty hard business. I have so much honor to be the first foreigner to hold the JWP Open Class Championship, and I really feel like it's my responsibility to prove to Japanese fans that we Americans can fight hard and win matches too, and definitely change any Diva-stereotype they may have.
Hailey receiving her championship belts from Yoneyama

DF:  You have been known to do hardcore matches.  Do these matches appeal to you?  Why do you like them?  Is there still a hardcore style that you would like to experience?

HH:  I take matches that interest me; so the hardcore matches I have done have fit into that point in my career. I've honestly only done a handful, but they are so much more noticed than the hundreds of normal matches I've had, I guess =) There isn't a style or hardcore stipulation I'm gunning for; it's just not that important to me. I feel those 'stips' are better suited in a feud than just a one-off to say that it's been done. All that being said, I would absolutely have loved to wrestle Megumi Kudo.

DF:  I would have loved to see you wrestle Megumi Kudo too! 
You have been known to follow men’s promotions in Japan.  What can the rest of the wrestling world learn from promotions like New Japan and others?  Kana seems to be getting the chance to wrestle men on a regular basis; are you interested in that opportunity as well?

HH:  The rest of the world should check out the men's Japanese scene because it's completely awesome! I'd love to wrestle guys more frequently, in any country!

Hailey slams Basara in Joshi Puroresu action

DF:  I guess it would have to be a pretty special offer to coax you back to the USA to wrestle for a specific event.  What invitation or event might get you to come back to the States to wrestle, if only for a weekend?

HH:  I haven't seen much in the States that interests me, so that's hard to say! The last companies I worked regularly for before I moved were AIW and JAPW.  Both of those organizations were completely professional and always got me good opponents. That's what I seek in "an employer," if you will =).  So I'd definitely work for them again in the future, or anyone else who has a good challenger for me!

Thanks, Hailey!  It's been an honor to interview you -- the first American to hold multiple belts in Japan and especially the first non-Japanese to hold the  JWP Open Class belt!  You have so much to offer wrestling worldwide.  I hope many more fans will follow your title defenses in the months ahead.

Champion, Hailey Hatred

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