There are a number of things that make Tatevik Hunanyan stand out.
She’s beautiful. She’s tough. She wrestles under the moniker Tatevik The Gamer, due to her love of video games. She’s the very first Amenian-born, lady professional wrestler in history. The list goes on and on.
But nothing stands out more during a conversation with this star than her incredible outlook on life and her sheer determination to make her mark in this world. Like so many families all over the world, young Tatevik’s parents fled their homeland in search of a better life.
“Opportunity … the lifestyle,” Tatevik answered when asked what brought her family to the United States. “To come out here for a better life was, I think, the ultimate goal, according to my family and my parents.”
The family first settled in Studio City, Calif., later moved to North Hollywood for a year, before finally settling in Glendale, Calif., a place Tatevik has called home the last 22 years. That opportunity and lifestyle that Tatevik’s family sought didn’t work out the way they had undoubtedly hoped. In fact, the subject of family is an emotional one for the very open young woman.
“I didn’t have the best childhood growing up, to be honest with you,” Tatevik said when pressed about her upbringing, adding that her parents often argued, eventually causing them to divorce. “It was really difficult to grow up in those types of circumstances when you’re a little girl,” she said, a hint of uncomfortableness evident in her voice. “You don’t understand why your parents are arguing, you just know you don’t like it. You want everything to be OK and it’s not.”
The tension between her parents had a lasting effect on the young girl.
“I grew (up) around a lot of fear,” she said. “I had a lot of fear growing up. I wasn’t sure what really the outcome was going to be in my family, so I had to set myself free in order to survive and to amount to something. It was really difficult for my mom because I think I was seven when my parents got divorced.”
Through that fear, the young Tatevik witnessed her mother make the ultimate sacrifice, perhaps instilling some of the fearlessness that her daughter now displays.
“My mom (was) like a warrior, she had to raise a family all by herself,” Tatevik recalled. “Literally, she gave up her dreams,” she said, adding that at the age of 40, her mother went back to school to earn her nursing degrees. “It was just really tough,” Tatevik said. “It wasn’t the easiest childhood.”
With her family life causing her fear and distress as a young girl, Tatevik would soon turn to the arts to cope. Specifically, she found dance.
“Dance was what I grew up doing,” she said, happiness returning to her voice. “I actually wanted to become a tango dancer.”
It was dance that would eventually lead Tatevik down her path with destiny.
“Doing tango opened the doors to acting and that’s when I enrolled in the Lee Strasberg (Theatre and Film Institute) and I started taking acting more seriously,” she said. “The tango was the most beautiful form of dance that I’ve ever done. There’s mystery and passion and everything from the music … kind of like wrestling, but with less violence.”
Her brother, eight years her senior, would later introduce her another of her passions, video games. “(He was) into video games,” Tatevik said. “That’s actually how I got into games because he would always come over with his friends after school and they would play Mortal Kombat and all these other cool games — and Contra — and I would sit there with them and play and have fun.”
Little did he know then, but her big brother was instilling a passion in his sister that would become a big part of her life as an adult. Dance and video games are a far cry from martial arts and professional wrestling, two of the staples of Tatevik’s life nowadays. In fact, it was while taking stock of her life that Tatevik found her calling — and ultimately her fate.
“I came to a point in my life where I was ready to find my niche, rather than just going from one place to another,” she said. I was still in search — a lot of people go through that, I’m sure. But really I had some soul searching to do to find myself.”
Whether it was fate, or her strong spiritual side, Tatevik eventually found herself standing before the man who would change her life forever, Benny (The Jet) Urquidez, the legendary kickboxer, martial arts choreographer and actor who pioneered full-contact fighting in the U.S. Urquidez’s influence on Tatevik cannot be overstated.
“When I finally met Sensei Benny, everything made sense,” Tatevik said. “Everything from when I was a little girl to who I am today and everything that I’ve done, it’s finally falling into place and I’m beginning to slowly understand my purpose.”
No one person, save for her mother, has had as much impact on Tatevik’s life as her mentor Urquidez. “If it wasn’t for him, I probably wouldn’t even be doing this interview right now and I wouldn’t have had all the doors opened and all of the opportunities that have been presented to me. He truly is like a magician. It’s almost like he hypnotizes you into believing the unbelievable, the impossible and he makes it possible for you to see that. And then once you see that, in your mind, you not only see it but you start believing it. Then when you start believing it, there you are. It just happens. At that point, there’s no question of how and why all of this is happening. It’s because you made it happen, it’s because you believed. It’s kind of like The Secret, but what The Secret doesn’t tell you, the secret behind The Secret is you have to work your butt. You have to work your butt off.”
Armed with her new skills, and her new approach in life, Tatevik would find her way to the world of professional wrestling a few short years later.
“I went in for a casting call in Los Angeles and the casting call was for WOW Superheroes,” Tatevik said, referring to the relaunched Women of Wrestling promotion. “When I saw WOW, I thought World of Warcraft, cool,” she added with a laugh. “I wonder what this is.” Upon further reading, she discovered it was a casting call for professional wrestlers.
Tatevik was intrigued, to say the least. “I thought ‘wrestling, OK, that’s definitely out of the norm, something that I’ve never thought about.’ I took a shot. I took a shot and it was definitely a challenge that I ended up turning into an opportunity. I’d say it’s going pretty well.”
Tatevik shot up the ranks of the WOW promotion, racking up an undefeated streak that continues to this day, all while garnering attention from fans, the media and even legends of the business.
As for what drew her to the craft, Tatevik said she’s just naturally competitive, and wrestling seemed like a perfect mix of her skills.
“I’m naturally, believe it or not, an aggressive person,” she said. “I have a very aggressive soul. And I’m very competitive and I’m very passionate at the same time. So when you put everything in the mix, and you put everything together, I think that people would appreciate what they’re seeing.”
And while Tatevik has worked hard for everything she has earned, getting in the ring felt natural, despite having no wrestling background whatsoever.
“When I first got in the ring, everything came really naturally to me,” she said. “I am an actress and I studied acting for quite some time. (Wrestling) is everything from knowing how to dance, having good co-ordination, understanding your partner, understanding the psychology… It’s like a great painter. A great painter has many colours and I have all the colours to work with. So when I have all the colours, why not paint a beautiful picture?”
Tatevik’s manager, Steve Stasiak, and WWE legend Jim (The Anvil) Neidhart, along with influential women’s wrestling superstar Leilani Kai have all be very influential and positive influences in Tatevik’s young wrestling career. All, she says, have preached to her about the importance of staying true to herself. And like any good student, Tatevik has been soaking up knowledge, and history, like a sponge.
“When I first started (wrestling), I would watch so many wrestling matches, typically old-school matches,” she said. “I would watch wrestling from, say the ’80s and wrestling of today and I would kind of take notes and compare what was then and what is now and what do I have to do to make a difference?”
Make no mistake, Tatevik may be a student of the business at the moment, but she has one end goal: greatness. She will settle for nothing less. While watching wrestling from yesteryear and from today, one thing runs through the mind of the budding star: “What do I have to do to bring those together and create something different and create something that makes sense to people at the same time? Something people haven’t seen but yet, still keep that flair going where people are going to appreciate what you have to offer.”
Tatevik is well aware of legacies carved out by the greats who came before her: names like Trish Stratus, Lita, Mae Young and the Fabulous Moolah, to name a few. To her, they are both role models and targets.
“I want to do everything that Trish hasn’t done,” she said, matter of factly. “Something different. I have a huge appreciation for everybody, but I want to do something different. I’m a fan of change, but I’m not a fan of making the same changes everybody else has. I want to make my own changes … I want to kick the ratings up a notch.”
When you watch Tatevik work, it becomes evident she is both extremely prepared and very focused and calm inside the squared circle. That’s no accident, she said. She takes her approach as seriously as she does her matches.
“I like to meditate,” she said. “I meditate regularly to make sure that I’m prepared for the show or whatever is to come days before so when I’m at the show, I’m completely relaxed. I’m more focused on relaxing my body, my mind, rather than being all over the place. I’ve seen a lot of wrestlers, they get so nervous, they’re sweating before the show and I’m standing there like ‘Man, I’m getting nervous watching everybody, I’ve got to get out of here. When am I going to be up?’ I think that meditation really saves me. Again, martial arts, that’s what introduced me to meditating. And it’s very important to be in the moment, to be in the now, and not to think about what your next move is, what you’re supposed to be doing. Music helps me a lot. Music is very important. I have to have my music before all of my matches. That keeps me centered as well.”
There is, however, no substitute for preparation, Tatevik said.
“Preparation is key. Preparation is everything. If you don’t know how to prepare, then you’re going to be in trouble out there. You can’t do your preparation in front of people, you have do all of that hours before the show. When it’s getting close, just warm up, do a little warmup, get your blood going … make sure you know where you’re at. You already know what you’re doing. You already know what you’re going to go out there and do, but when your nerves kick in, you can forget everything. The only thing you need to worry about is relaxing your mind and your body before a match.”
To understand how green Tatevik was when she burst onto the pro wrestling scene, you need look no further than the first time she graced a ring with a microphone in hand.
“The first time I walked in with a microphone was actually the first time I ever heard myself on a microphone and it was horrible,” she said with a laugh. “I was terrified. I was like ‘Oh god, I hope this goes well.’ But I’m obviously my own worst critic and I always feel like I could’ve done something better. But I’ve definitely had some practice since my first time on the mic and (now) I can’t wait till I go face to face with somebody.”
The first experience with a microphone was touch and go, but her first match, with Santana Garrett, a.k.a. TNA’s Brittney, was much more positive, Tatevik said.
“In my own opinion, it was good,” she said. “I think that I went out there and I was confident and I had a lot of fun. I knew exactly what I was supposed to do and I was focused. We danced. We danced and we had fun. And the people loved it. Actually, I was a little worried because the first time I went out to wrestle Santana, a minute-and-a-half into the match, somebody in the crowd started yelling ‘start wrestling, start wrestling.’ I was like ‘Oh no, what do you call this then? What am I doing now?’ ”
While there is a lot to learn in wrestling, wrestling also teaches those in the profession. For her part, Tatevik said her eyes have been opened wide in her very young career.
“(Wrestling has taught me how to read people, I suppose,” she answered. “I get to meet so many different types of people and so many personalities. You never really know who’s genuine, who’s working you and who’s not. Even the very nice ones, sometimes they turn out to be really evil and you had no idea. But for the most part, I think that would be what wrestling has taught me: how to really read people; how to see through people’s bullshit.”
While Tatevik possesses all the skills, the drive and desire to go as far as wrestling can take her, she shudders when asked if World Wrestling Entertainment is her ultimate goal.
“I’ve learned one thing in life: every time I envision what’s to come, what’s to happen, it never happens that way,” she said. “It always turns out the opposite. I’ve made a lot of changes with that, to not think about what’s to come, just to live in the moment and worry about what I’m supposed to be doing now. I definitely have a goal: my goal is to take this as far as I can go. If WWE is somewhere in the future, then yes, that would be great. But I don’t sit and here and think about it. That’s what everybody else does.”
Tatevik speaks eloquently when asked if she feels if she’s moving in the right direction.
“I wouldn’t be moving in this direction if it didn’t feel right to me because I have so many different directions I could take. This isn’t something that I need, this is something that I want.”
Wherever wrestling takes her, it will be done so through Tatevik’s own determination and sheer will. Even her parents aren’t supporters of her foray into the unpredictable world of wrestling.
“Do you want to know their exact words? she asked. ‘I’m embarrassed of what you’re doing,’ ” she revealed, the conversation taking a sombre turn again. “Why do you think they’d say such a thing?” she asks to silence from her interviewer. Perhaps it’s a fear of the unknown or for their only daughter entering a predominantly male-oriented business. Whatever it is, Tatevik is determined to stand out and succeed.
She’s reflective when the discussion turns to the state of women’s wrestling today.
“When you’re in the ring as a woman, you want to show that you’re strong,” Tatevik said. “The beauty is a given. People already see that you’re beautiful. You can’t hide that,” she said, adding that the line between selling beauty and power and sex is a thin one, and one she is very cognizant of. “Nowadays sex sells, but I feel like there has to be that line,” she said. “There has to be that line where it’s drawn so that the girlfriends are going to be comfortable with their boyfriends watching women’s wrestling, or the mothers are going to be comfortable with their 10-year-olds looking at women’s wrestling. Because as a 10-year-old girl, I don’t know what I’m going to understand when I’m watching two women ripping their clothes off in a wrestling ring.”
Tatevik added that she believes women’s wrestling is currently undergoing changes for the better, putting the focus once again on the wrestling itself. Where wrestling takes Tatevik remains to be seen, but she’s deliberate when asked where she sees herself in three years.
“Hopefully somewhere good, somewhere good, making a living doing what I love, wherever I end up,” she said, before turning serious. “As long I’m making a living and I’m having a good time…as long as I have my health and I have my family, that would be the best place to be in three years.”
One day, she plans to return to her native Armenia, in one capacity or another.
“That would be beautiful, actually. I have relatives down there, there’s so much sight-seeing and history to catch up.
“One day, maybe I can have a match down there,” said with a laugh.
If I were a betting man, I would say you can bank on that.