Fearless and fabulous.
Those words perfectly describe Mickie Laree James-Aldis, better known in the professional wrestling world as Mickie James.
Fearlessness has been one of her greatest qualities from a very early age, when equestrian sports were her passion.
And fabulous describes her now nearly 20-year run in the professional wrestling world, where she has helped raised the profile of women and built a case to be called the greatest female wrestler of all time. At 36 years old and counting, she’s certainly one of its most decorated.
James’s love for pro wrestling traces back to her youth.
“I grew up a fan of it,” James said in a telephone interview ahead of her first “official” House of Hardcore appearance in Niagara Falls, Ontario, on May 7.” I watched it with my dad. That was kind of our bonding thing. That’s when I found wrestling, that’s when I fell in love with it.”
As she grew up, her love for wrestling waned a bit as life got in the way, but she was pulled right back, along with an entire generation, during World Wrestling Entertainment’s now legendary Attitude Era.
“I’d watch it whenever it happened to be on TV, but it wasn’t like I was as into it as I was when I was a kid. And then I fell back in love with it in the whole Attitude Era, D-Generation X, The Rock and Stone Cold … these crazy characters pushing the envelope and stuff. I was in (my) rebellious teenage years anyway, so I just kind of connected with it and loved it.”
James, like many young people her age, enjoyed many passions. Music and equestrian sports were a huge part of her youth. But following her post-secondary education, James found herself at crossroads, looking in all directions, hoping she’d spot her destiny.
“Honestly, once I got out of high school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. In my mind, I guess I thought I’d be a horse trainer because that’s what I loved and that’s what I was good at,” she said.
It was while watching wrestling with a friend that fate finally arrived for the young woman from Virginia.
“I was watching (wrestling) and a friend of mine, (whose) buddy had a school, he was like, ‘You know, you’re such a huge fan of it, you should just go try it, see if you like it or see if you’re good at it.’ ”
Never one to shy from a challenge or let fear hold her back, James went for it.
“I didn’t even know that there was such a thing as wrestling school,” James admitted. “I guess in my mind, I thought, ‘Oh, they found (people) at the circus. They just find these larger-than-life characters all over the world.’ I didn’t know that’s how you got into wrestling. So I went up and I checked it out and I fell in love with that side of it and I’ve been doing it ever since.”
And she lived happily ever after. The end.
Well, not quite. There were the usual sacrifices, bumps, bruises, doubts, fears, worries, physical impossibilities and so much more that are just part of the journey in pro wrestling. Oh, and there was getting her parents to agree to a what essentially equates to the life of a travelling circus star.
“It was mixed reactions at first,” James said when asked how her parents took the news that she was going to pursue a career as a pro wrestler, a female pro wrestler no less in a world dominated by men. “Obviously my mom, she wasn’t really a wrestling fan (so) she had no idea. She was like, ‘Oh, that’s interesting.’ But she’s learned a lot, obviously, with me being in it so long. But at first it was kind of like, ‘Are you sure this is something that you want to do, maybe you want to have something with a little bit more stability, or think career-wise?’
“My dad was a wrestling fan so he was like, ‘Oh, that’s cool,’” James quipped.
Eventually, after watching their daughter make sacrifice after sacrifice after sacrifice, even her dad, the eternal wrestling fan, began to worry that young Mickie was spinning her wheels in the mud.
“After I was doing it for a while — I was doing it for a long time before I actually made any money at it — even he was like, ‘You know, you’ve been doing this for a while and maybe you might want to start think about doing something else, you could still do this on the weekends and for fun … it could be a hobby … but you really need to start thinking about the future, too.’”
But, like all great parents, they continued to support their daughter, who eventually began to find success in the zany world of wrestling.
“They were always very supportive as far as me going after it, especially once I started to gain more notoriety and started to get tryouts and stuff. They were like, ‘Oh, maybe this might pay off, you never know.'”
Pay off, it eventually did, big time, but it was a slow and arduous road, James admitted.
“My first paydays were only for $25 bucks and a handshake. And for my first year or two in the business I didn’t get paid at all. There were even certain shows after that that I didn’t get paid for, but you do it to build your name and you do it to build your notoriety and hopefully it pays off in the end. I was fortunate enough to be one of those for whom it did.”
James said the key to success is a cliché, but simple: Never give up.
“I think with everything, within every star or with anybody who’s going after anything, whatever their goals may be, there’s always going to be that doubt. The trick is to have more belief in yourself than in the doubt.”
James’s belief in herself carried her to the very top of pro wrestling, where she remains. Her journey, however, was not a direct path, but rather one filled with more than its share of doubt, particularly in her WWE developmental days in Ohio Valley Wrestling, where she spent a long time awaiting her one opportunity to show the wrestling world what she could do.
“I was supposed to debut probably five times, or came up (to the main roster) with the idea of ‘We might want to use you tonight,’ and then it never came to fruition,” James recalled. “I was (beating) myself (up). I was going, ‘Oh, what am I doing wrong? What do they not see in me or what can I do differently to make them have to use me?’ There were times when I really wanted to give up because I was like, ‘I just don’t understand, this is the third time that I was supposed to debut and it just didn’t happen, what’s going on?’ And there were other girls who were starting and other talent there were going (up) and I was still sitting there in developmental going ‘I just want my shot.’”
Her shot would eventually come, the result of a storyline and character she herself came up with while biding her time in developmental. It became the stuff of legend. James’s idea was a fan whose obsession with one of the women would grow with each passing encounter.
“That character was a character that I wrote up and kind of made up in OVW while I was sitting there,” James said. “I started writing and I came up with this crazy character and I originally pitched it for Lita because I knew Lita.”
The crazed fan would eventually be James’s character and her obsession would be not with Lita, but with then WWE Women’s champ and star of the women’s division Trish Stratus.
“I didn’t know Trish, I’d only met Trish in my tryout or whenever (I’d get called up to the main roster),” James recalled. “It was more of a handshake and she was always super friendly, but I didn’t know her in the sense of ‘I’m going to pitch this idea with the top girl.’ Amy (Lita) was a top girl too, but I knew her personally so I felt more comfortable going, ‘Hey, would you be OK if I pitched this idea?’”
James produced 18 weeks worth of material for her character and the storyline, eventually catching the attention of the powers that be.
“I remember I went up a few months later after I’d written, pitched the idea and sent it in and Michael Hayes pulled me aside,” James said. “Hayes said, ‘Hey, we read your idea, your storyline. Vince (McMahon) really liked it.’ ”
Come again? James remembered thinking.
“He’s like, ‘Yeah, you should go tell him that you wrote it and that that’s your character and you know that character,’” James recalled Hayes saying to her.
To say that advice changed the entire course of James’s career would be a massive understatement. James took Hayes’s advice and waited for the boss outside of his office following Raw on Monday night. It’s a conversation she admitted she’ll never forget.’
“I was sick to my stomach all day long, like terrified,” she said. “After the show was over, I’m going, ‘Excuse me, sir, could I have a moment of your time?’
“He’s like ‘Sure,’ so I went into his office and he shut the door.”
“I said, ‘I heard you read my storyline and the one I wrote about the character.’”
Vince said he had, to which James said, “I heard that you kind of liked it, which is pretty awesome because I’m not a writer but I just want you to know that I wrote that character, I know that character and there’s nobody that can play that character like me and I want you to know that.”
The boss paused. What followed would alter the course of James’s life.
“He just looked at me and he said, ‘You’ve got balls, kid.’ ”
James remembers thanking him awkwardly before scampering out of his office.
Not long after that meeting, Mickie James made her debut in one of the most memorable – and provocative — storylines in WWE history, opposite Stratus. She now looks back and can see that her patience was rewarded.
“Had I come in on any of those other ideas or storylines, my whole career could have been different,” James said.
The Trish-Mickie James angle not only proved a rocket launcher for James’s career, but it’s widely considered one of the best angles involving the women’s division in WWE history.
“I’m honoured that people think that because in my mind there were so many amazing female rivalries in the industry,” James said of the Trish angle. “I think I was very fortunate with the angle I came in on, with such a unique storyline, a unique character that really hadn’t been done. Crazy’s been done before, let’s face it, but that character and that specific type of craziness, and that level of infatuation, it really hadn’t been pushed on the female-female side either.”
Because the WWE was still allowing edgier, less PG material back then, James was able to push the envelope with the crazy character.
“I was fortunate, I think, also to be in that crossover of before it went PG. It was coming after the Attitude Era but not fully immersed into the PG era yet. It was in that in-between place where we were still allowed to push the envelope on a few things here and there. You still had to be kind of cautious and kind of cognizant of the fact that you have shareholders and sponsors, etc., but at the same time, you still had a bit more freedom and being a little bit more off the wall.”
And being in a feud with the top woman in all of wrestling at the time, that didn’t hurt either, James admitted.
“I think to be able to work with Trish, because she still is considered the No. 1 girl, to be in the storyline with her and to have that immediate rub from their highest-profile female on the roster was pretty amazing. A lot people didn’t get that chance. It automatically soared me to the top level of the roster.”
While James is happy that women’s wrestling is once again at the forefront in WWE, she does point out that women’s wrestling has been being pushed elsewhere for years.
“I feel like even when I went to TNA, the girls there, we were having some really great matches,” James said. “I was able to do the cage match and stuff like that, but obviously because it’s not WWE, it’s not seen the same. It’s cool to see that this actually happened on the lower scale first as far the SHIMMERs and SHINEs and the all-girls promotions, the Queens of Combat and then Ring of Honor now having a Women of Honor. TNA, they were doing the Knockouts and they were trying to push the Knockouts just as hard as their guys for a while, I think, before anybody else was doing, after WWE had switched over into more of the divas.”
In her nearly two decade run in wrestling, the bulk of which was spent between WWE and TNA, James rewrote the history books, capturing the WWE Women’s Championship five times, its Divas Championship once and winning the TNA Knockouts Championship three times—the only woman in wrestling history to hold that distinction. While the likes of Stratus and Lita are widely regarded as trailblazers and among the greatest of all time, James belongs in every discussion. She’s also still actively wrestling, something neither Stratus or Lita have done for years. For her part, James is just grateful she’s been able to work as long, and as successfully, as she has.
“It’s pretty amazing. It’s a cool thing to say and I have said that I’m the Triple Crown champ, which makes me sound like a racehorse, but at the same time, I think it is a cool factor and it’s a cool notch in my belt in the sense that it’s made me unique in that I’m the only woman to do that,” James said. “Not to say I’m the only woman who will ever do that, obviously. Becoming the champion is always a blessing and it’s one of those things where you feel like, ‘Well the company has enough faith in me to believe that I can carry the division for this amount of time and what I’m doing with whoever I’m working with on the roster at that time, that we will be able to carry this division or carry that.’ As champion, you’re perceived as though you’re the boss. That’s always a very, very cool factor and you feel like that respect and that love from the office and also that assurance that you’re doing something right.”
James, who married fellow TNA alum Nick Aldis, a.k.a. Magnus, also paid homage to her longtime friend Tommy Dreamer, with whom she will team up at House of Hardcore’s return to Canada, in Niagara Falls on May 7. Dreamer, she said, has long been a friend and mentor.
“I’ve known Tommy since before WWE. Tommy was at ECW when I was doing my ECW tryouts,” James said. “I managed him for a match or two, which still is in my Wikipedia profile, which is so funny to me. That’s the one thing that’s kind of so random, but it’s in there.”
Dreamer was also working in developmental with WWE when James came to work for the company. It was Dreamer, James said, who helped her in her darkest moment of doubt.
“I have much, much love and respect and admiration for Dreamer,” she said. “When I was in OVW and I was having moments of doubt, (I said to him), ‘You know, Dreamer, I just don’t know what I’m doing wrong. I feel like all of these girls are coming in from the Divas search and I’m having to teach them how to grab a headlock and I’m still sitting here and they’re all on TV.’ I was like, ‘I don’t understand. Should I have never wanted to be a wrestler and came in a different way?’”
Dreamer’s advice to James was to go home, think about things, and spend time around her loved ones and friends.
“I’d given my whole life to something (was not) sure if it’s ever going to give back,” she said of wrestling. “It’s like loving this person who’s incapable of loving you back. (Dreamer) sent me home for two weeks. He’s like, ‘You need to go on vacation and go visit your family, go visit your friends, just think about this because I’ve watched you now for six, seven years and I’ve seen you grow and I’ve seen who you are and you love this business and you don’t want to quit.’”
James took his advice.
“I went home for two weeks and visited my family and enjoyed the time and I went to the farm and sat back and thought about everything, my whole life , and thought, ‘I can’t give up now.’ He was such an integral part of that. I’ve told him this, but I don’t think really recognizes or realizes how big of a factor he was in that. I’ll remember that forever. And it was like six months later that I started on TV. It’s crazy how things work.”
James makes her official debut for House of Hardcore in Niagara Falls. She made an unannounced appearance at Dreamer’s recent show, but this will be her first planned appearance. In the Falls, James and Dreamer team to face Pepper Parks and Cherry Bomb, both of whom recently signed with TNA.
“I think it’s amazing,” James said of House of Hardcore. “I love what Tommy’s doing. I think it’s providing something different. He’s bringing in all kinds of stars from all over, from different organizations and people you didn’t really think you would see in matchups together. I’m excited. Niagara Falls will be the first time I’m actually working with House of Hardcore so I’m excited.”
While James still owns horses and has carved out a modest and successful career in country music, wrestling is still her No. 1 passion. And the history books don’t lie. Mickie James is among the greatest women to ever set foot inside a squared circle.
Even James herself hopes to be remembered for all of her work and sacrifices.
“The greatest of all time,” she half joked when she was asked how she’d like to be remembered. “I think that’s what we all want, right?”