Women’s wrestling has made huge strides in the last few years. The days of ‘Bra and Panties’ matches and feuds over male love rivals are gone. WWE now has two women’s singles belts (or three if you count NXT) and the notoriously lob-sided gender balance of wrestling fans is finally shifting. Things have now progressed so much that, this week, the BBC aired a documentary, in a prime-time slot, on one of the top women in British wrestling.
27-year-old Kimberly Benson is better known as Viper. The Ayrshire native started a decade ago on the Scottish indie scene and has gone on to perform around the world. She’s had to deal with the stigma of being a plus-sized woman in a scene where most competitors look like bikini models but her hard work and aptitude in the ring have gained her respect in an increasingly progressive atmosphere in the wrestling world. It all led her to become ICW’s first ever Women’s Champion. ICW promoter Mark Dallas calls Benson “the full package”. Things got even better last year when she competed in WWE’s all-female tournament “The Mae Young Classic”, winning two matches before being defeated by her friend Toni Storm.
Despite her success, Benson still has to work part-time at her family’s coach-hire business. Then there’s the pain and injuries that every wrestler has to deal with and the isolation of being on the road for so much of the year. It all leads Benson to ask “What’s a dream worth?”
We follow Benson on her seventh trip to Japan, where the women’s wrestling scene has been significantly better than in the US and UK for decades. On her first trip, she didn’t know anyone and was overwhelmed by homesickness. “I was crying on the phone to my Mum and Dad every day,” she says. Her mother offered to buy her an early ticket home. This became a turning point. After dwelling on the offer she decided to stick it out. Now, years later, she has a group of friends with whom she often shares hotel rooms with and she’s also built a fan following. She gets recognized in public places and asked for pictures and autographs.
The future looks bright for Benson. While the WWE may not have decided to sign her permanently last year, there is a reason to think she could be back in the near future. The two current Women’s Champions, Nia Jax and Carmella, are both having underwhelming title reigns so far and while the company plan to eventually put the Raw championship on Ronda Rousey, they’ll need wrestlers who can convincingly challenge her. Someone the size, strength and athleticism of Benson could be just what they need.
Ultimately it seems that Benson finds that the highs are worth the lows. At the end of the film, we see her with tears in her eyes holding two championship belts.
This film won’t necessarily convince all its viewers why such a nice Scottish girl would do such a punishing job for so little money, but it does do a good job of portraying the ups and downs of life as a professional wrestler. As Benson herself says “It’s sadistic, it’s masochistic, it’s amazing.”
All pictures courtesy of RAISE THE ROOF/BBC