Former WWE diva and TNA knockout Mickie James will be appearing at the Maryland Championship Wrestling show in Joppa on Saturday night.
I had a chance to catch up with her and talk about what she's doing now, her time in TNA and WWE, what she thinks of the current state of women's wrestling, and what she feels is special about MCW.
You last appeared in TNA in September, what have you been doing since then?
I've been doing a lot with the music. We've had a lot more music shows lined up. I'm still working independents, and signings, and working conventions. It’s the same dance always there. But yeah, I’ve been really focusing on getting the music stuff going. We’re talking about working on the third album and trying to get the schematics on that. So we’ll see.
After your last album, the music aspect of your career really took off, didn’t it?
Obviously, this album did much better than the first one. We really had steam behind it, we had a music video with Trish Stratus and Magnus from TNA in it ... I’ve had more shows and more gigs, and shows at the Harley Centers, so that has picked up a bit more. And that always helps, because people really want to see and hear your music live, to get a really good grasp on who you are as an artist. It did really well. It hit No. 15 on the Billboard Heatseekers chart, which meant I was someone to watch, and that was awesome. It wasn’t something that I expected at all. All I can do is keep moving forward. It’s not going to be something that happens overnight, but if I can keep moving forward, step by step everyday, then I’m doing something.
Is this really the first time you’ve been able to prioritize your music over everything else?
Yeah, I guess, in a sense. Because I’m not contracted or obligated in any way to any wrestling company right now, then it really has given me a chance to sit back and work on it. Wrestling, that’s always going to be my moneymaker, that’s what I’m good at, that’s what I love, and I would never give it up, even if the music takes off. Wrestling will always be a part of me and a part of my life. I just love it too much. It’s built the foundation of who I am, especially in the music world. It’s been a balancing act. You want to be taken seriously as an artist, and not just known as that girl wrestler who sings. So you want to go out and stand on your own legs. But at the same time, I don’t negate the fact that without everything I’ve accomplished in wrestling, I wouldn’t have been given so many really cool opportunities on the music side. Especially so early in my career. I’m still new on the music side. I’ve only really been plugging away at it since 2008 or 2009. But nobody knows what tomorrow holds. I could go back to WWE tomorrow, and that would be on the forefront because it’s such a demanding schedule on any aspect, and it’s what I love to do, and it’s what I’m good at. But even then, it wouldn’t take away from what I want to do in the music side.
When your contract in TNA ran out in September, you were the first of several big names, including guys like AJ Styles and Sting, to leave the company in a relatively short time. What were your last few months like in TNA?
It was weird, because before the last couple of months, for about the year before that, I really wasn’t doing much on TV. I wasn’t really involved in the storylines at all. Hell, I actually probably only wrestled in that year or year and a half, only about 50 or 75 shows. It wasn’t something that I was accustomed to, because I’ve always been used to, wherever I was, that I was doing something on the show, in some aspect. Not necessarily wrestling on every show, but doing something. So that was when those wheels started to turn of, “Well, I didn’t know if I was supposed to stick with TNA anyways.”
And then in those last few months, I was doing a lot. I just turned heel, I was really doing some cool stuff on TV. So when my departure came at that time, it was pretty, not shocking, because I knew my contract was coming up, and nobody even opened the door to talk about it until there was about a month before my contract ran out. But I didn’t expect that day was going to be my last day on TV until that day came. I was pretty happy towards the end because I was doing something fun and exciting and new to me. I begged them to turn heel for so long, and finally they did it, and we were just scratching the surface of it, and getting steam behind it. But then we just had to cut it because I had to walk away. But it is what it is. It was exciting to do something different and play that heel character and tap into that nasty side a bit.
Obviously, you haven’t been there for a few months, but when you were there, what was the locker room like?
It was cool. It was going through a lot of changes. It was going from just taping in Orlando to taking the big jump and doing the live tapings on the road. I thought maybe, monetarily, it was a risky venture, but at the same time, I thought it was great for the show. It brought a lot of energy to the show from the fans that don’t necessarily usually get live TV. When you watch WWE, that live audience from city to city really brings in that energy to the show. I felt like in Orlando, it was the same people coming to watch you week after week, or every two weeks, and it was really hard to get them to move on stuff. You shouldn’t have to overly work to impress them. You should have to go out there and be who you are and tell your story and do your job. And that should be entertaining to the people if you do it well. And I felt going on the road really did that. And they’re kind of mixing it up now. I felt the morale was great though. Companies are always evolving and always changing, and you have to adapt to those changes. I don’t try to let that kind of thing affect my job, and affect what I do every night.
You mentioned earlier that if you signed with the WWE, you’d go out and give it your all, and I know you visited the WWE Performance Center a couple of months ago. What sparked that and is there anything more going on between you and WWE?
I don’t really know ... I mean, I know what sparked that interest in it was, me reaching out and seeing what opportunities were available, or any interest in me at all. And that’s when they talked about if I was interested in going down and working with the girls there, and feeling that whole trainer position out, and seeing if it was something that I was even good at. I’ve never trained anyone in my life. I’ve been fortunate enough to really work with amazing people and have incredible people lead me along the way. Any chance I had to work with Ricky Steamboat or Bobby Eaton, that’s what I did when I was trying to make it, was soak up knowledge from all those people before I went to developmental. I felt like developmental really was that fine-tuning experience with me. I can’t say that I’ve done all this stuff in wrestling, but at the same time, there is a bit of that humbleness that I feel like if I can give someone that knowledge, or pass something on that’s going to help them so perhaps they don’t make the same mistakes that you made, or it’s going to better them as a performer then you always want to give back. Someone told me a long time ago that you always want to leave the business better than you walked into it. This would be an opportunity to do that. Whether I’m in that right position right now, as far as being a trainer, I’m not sure. I have so much stuff going on right now between the music, and still wrestling, and other side projects I’m working on right now. And with that kind of job, I’d have to give up everything else, and I’m not sure if I’m in a place to do that right now. And obviously that could change tomorrow, but, who’s to say.
So that visit was more, at least on WWE’s side, feeling you out to see if you’d want to be a trainer, more than an active wrestler?
Not necessarily, because we’ve talked about both sides of it. Initially, it was more of a feeling-out process, and they were talking about perhaps doing something in the future. I don’t really know where they stand on that, or if there’s interest in bringing me back to do more.
When you first broke in to the WWE, that was during what many have dubbed the “Golden Age” of women’s wrestling. What do you think of the state of women’s wrestling now?
Trish definitely coined that “Golden Era” in her Hall of Fame speech, which was cool. I came in on the tail-end of that. I don’t think I was part of it in its heyday. I was very fortunate to come in when I did and work with Trish and Lita. These were people who were very much in that Golden Era. We had some very incredible girls before that whole diva division started that helped mold the scope of that diva division, like Melina and Beth Phoenix and myself and Jillian Hall. All of us were in OVW [Ohio Valley Wrestling, WWE’s developmental territory at the time] together so we all were busting our hump six days a week, whether it was training from 8 in the morning to 5 in the afternoon or doing smaller shows. We were pretty much side-by-side that whole time, so it was really cool to make it to the big dance together. And then there were girls who were already there like Torrie, and Candace, and Victoria and then the divas search girls, which is where there started to be that switch from women’s wrestling to being a diva.
As far as the divas division now? Nattie is amazing. Nattie has always been amazing in my opinion. AJ is doing a really cool job as the longest reigning divas champion. Obviously, the belt hasn’t been around an immense amount of time, but it’s been around long enough that that’s a pretty incredible thing to add to your resume. I don’t know, it’s hard to say because it’s gone through such a shift, and it’s always changing. But I feel like they’re doing a good job. Obviously, with the show, it’s putting more of a focus on the personal lives of everyone and it could be a good thing. It’s one of those things where you don’t really know these people aside from what you see in the ring. They don’t really get the TV time to build your character or that emotional investment, where I was fortunate enough to have that TV time with Trish to build that emotional investment one way or another. A lot of the girls -- and guys, too -- don’t really get that. It’s a different way to capture that, without having to do that on the TV show.
I guess it’s good, it’s something that’s always changing. At the end of the day, it always comes back to the wrestling, in my opinion. When I fell in love with wrestling, I fell in love with the characters, and the over-the-top kind of personalities, and the wrestling aspect of it. I was more of a Sensational Sherri fan than an Elizabeth fan. I thought Elizabeth was awesome, but I thought she was a bit of a wimp. I want to see people kick [butt], that’s why I tune in.
You were down at the Performance Center, which means you got to see a lot of the WWE NXT wrestlers. I know a lot of fans of women’s wrestling are raving about some of the divas down there, what did you see from them?
I thought there were a handful of them with legit, real potential. Obviously, I thought Paige was amazing. I had met Paige before, back in England actually. I really like her. That was the first time I had worked with Emma, and I thought she was really good. Sasha Banks, I really like her a lot. She had a good personality and was really sharp, and had a great look and a great character. Yeah, there are definitely girls with potential there. You never know who’s going to be the next superstar. Some of them are just kind of getting their feet wet, and have a ways to go, but they could be the next superstars.
Since we are in the Road to WrestleMania, I have to say, one of my favorite WrestleMania builds in recent memory was the feud between you and Trish Stratus [from 2006]. What are your memories of that feud?
Oh my gosh. It was amazing. It was the first time, in my recollection, that a women’s storyline really captivated the audience and had so much time built into the story. By the time we got to WrestleMania, people couldn’t wait to see this match. I couldn’t wait to be a part of it, obviously; it was my first WrestleMania. It was something that I dreamed of for the past seven years of my road, and since I was a little girl being a fan of it. I can’t explain the emotion I was feeling at that moment, except that it was absolutely incredible. I remember points of that match, and a lot of aspects of it, but I just remember being so lost in the moment, with all the people, and my character, and just how incredible it all was. It was definitely surreal. I don’t think there’s been a female storyline since then that’s really had that same momentum behind it. The closest thing to it might have been the development of AJ’s character. Though that’s not really a storyline. Because of her personality, it’s done really well. Let’s face it, with the crazy girl, people love to love us, or hate us, at the same time. But I’m very honored to have had that. It really set the stage of who I’ve strived to maintain to be, and who I was, moving forward out of that storyline. To be able to move forward and face Lita on her way out, and then Trish’s last match at Madison Square Garden. It really set the pace for me, and set my bar. It was up to me to keep raising that bar. I couldn’t have asked for a better intro, that’s for sure.
I also have to ask about one other WWE storyline. What was your take on the still-controversial, and still fairly hated “Piggy James” storyline?
I get asked about that in pretty much every interview. It’s one of those things where I felt that bullying, in today’s society, is so easy with texting and everything. It’s really easy to insult someone without having to see what you do to them. You can just text someone and forget about it. I think it was one of those things to show how ugly bullying really was. And it was our way to attack the whole bullying issue. When I grew up, I got picked on, and I got bullied. And we would fight about it. It’s become such a mainstream issue that it was our way to shed light on it. That’s what I took from it.
On Saturday, you’re wrestling for Maryland Championship Wrestling. You’ve wrestled quite a bit for them. What’s so special about that company to you?
For me, I love [MCW owner] Danny McDevitt. I was wrestling for about a year and a half when I transferred [wrestling] schools to Maryland. I still lived outside of Richmond, and it was a three-hour trek for me to go up and practice and everything else. He opened the doors for me. The school helped me get my start and learn the basics, but the MCW shows at the time were so much bigger, and brought in such big stars, and that’s where I did a lot a camps. Danny was super cool, and that’s where I started to branch out and gain some notoriety out of that as an independent performer. Eventually, that led to my signing at WWE. Hell, it led to me finally branching out and doing indies all over the place to the very first TNA pay-per-view, to becoming one of the main characters at that point in Ring of Honor, to going back to working with TNA, to signing with WWE. If I hadn’t transferred schools and taken that opportunity, I may not have ever left the state of Virginia as a wrestler. It definitely opened a lot of doors for me, so for that, I’m always grateful for a chance to go back and hang out with some of those people, and wrestle in front of those crowds. It’s awesome to me.
What’s it like for someone who has wrestled in front of thousands and thousands of people, to then go to wrestle for independent companies?
It is a bit humbling in that aspect. It’s coming full circle in a sense. Obviously, it’s why I don’t wrestle for just anybody, or every weekend. But, to be able to go back to where I started, and see some of those same fans is amazing. Some of these fans saw me when I was a nobody, and can say they knew me when I was Alexis Laree. And that’s really cool, and I’m sure I’ll run into some of those same fans that were there before. And you have to love that aspect of it. And it’s cool to see some of the people that you broke in with, and see where their lives have taken them.
For the fans who maybe never have ventured out and seen an independent show, what do you think the best part is, for the fans?
You can become more involved in the show. It’s more up close and personal, and you can meet a lot of the wrestlers, during intermissions and everything. The guys and girls will come out and sign autographs and take pictures, and it’s just more of a hands-on experience where you get to meet and hang out and talk with some of the wrestlers. It’s something you could never do with the WWE. And you never know who you could see at those independent shows. You never know who could be the next stars of tomorrow. You can go and see them, and maybe you won’t realize that they’re going to be huge stars at the time, but then later, maybe you get an autograph of them back when they were wrestling in front of 300 fans, before they wrestle in front of 80,000 at WrestleMania.
On Saturday, you’re wrestling Angelina Love. Is it interesting to you that both of you spent so much time in TNA together, and are wrestling on this stage?
It’s weird because Angelina and I have never wrestled that much before, even in TNA. I think for the next couple months, we’ll be in the ring together more than we ever were before, even though we were in the same company. I find that ironic. She’s mega-talented. I’m really excited about the match. We’re going to have fun, and have a great match. With her ability, and whatever I have to bring to the table, it should be great for the fans.
So, finally, what’s next for Mickie James?
I don’t really know. I’m just going to keep plugging away on the music. I do have other opportunities on the horizon. I don’t want to talk about them right now because I don’t want to jinx them. Hopefully the music will continue, and we’re planning on going in later this year and working on another album, and keep wrestling, of course. We’ll see what kind of doors open, but I just have to work on me, and do what I do.
You can see Mickie James, as well as Angelina Love, Jerry Lawler and the rest of the MCW wrestlers as they wrestle at MCW Anniversary 2014. Bell time is 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 8, at the Joppa Marketplace, and you can buy tickets or find out more on their website, marylandwrestling.com.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun