Crystal and Chelsea Marie battle for a Filipina pro wrestling championship

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Wrestlers Chelsie Marie and Crystal went head to head at Manila Wrestling Federation's first all-women match last December. Photo by JL JAVIER

Holding small shows in front of modest crowds, Manila Wrestling Federation (MWF) remains at the forefront of promoting Filipino professional wrestling since it was founded in 2014. Dubbing itself as "Aksyonovela" — a portmanteau of "action" and "telenovela," the federation prides itself in being a mixture of two things Filipinos love. But for so long, MWF has only featured all-male or intergender matches. Back in December, MWF held its final event of the year, Noche Buena 2022, at the PETA Theatre Center. In the middle of this male-dominated card was Crystal defending her Malaysia Pro Wrestling (MyPW) Wrestlecon Championship against Chelsea Marie in the promotion's first all-women match.

Self-billed as the Queen of Philippine Wrestling, Crystal has held her championship for three years and two months throughout the pandemic before losing it in February at a match in Malaysia. She dominated men and women challengers all over Southeast Asia. Her challenger is Chelsea Marie, the first trans woman wrestler in SEA. Since May, Chelsea Marie, who debuted as Brown Shirt, had to earn her name after winning several matches, as per the tradition for all rookies in MWF. At Noche Buena, seven months after her debut, she hoped to dethrone the Queen.

The stacked card also featured well-known Filipino pro wrestlers who dedicated years building the local pro wrestling scene. Robin Sane and CJ Serafin tested their strained relationship. Ken Cifer took on a returning Khayl Sison. In the main event, Jake de Leon and Fabio Makisig, two of the biggest names in Pinoy wrestling, went on a thrilling war against each other for the coveted MWF Pinoy Championship.

As a life-time wrestling fan and a fan of both, I sat with Crystal and Chelsea Marie as they talked about what led to this match and their fight for Filipina pro wrestling.

Chelsie Marie. Photo by JL JAVIER

Can you talk about the story behind your match at Noche Buena 2022? Was there an angle leading to it? Is there supposed to be a good guy (face) or a bad guy (heel) in that match?

Crystal: It's mostly because the crowd deserves a good match between female wrestlers. If you guys are watching our episodes on Gank, there is a segment that we did in which Chelsea just got off in a match and I approached her saying, "You know what, I think it's time for us women to shine in that ring. I'll put my title on the line. It's you and me for the MyPW Wrestlecon Championship." There's little female pro wrestling matches — not only in the Philippines but in Southeast Asia — and there's only a handful of Filipina wrestlers now. The crowd deserves to see what a women's match would be in MWF, and I think we delivered pretty well. The crowd was shocked by our athleticism. We mesh well together and we showed something different to them. I think there's no better way to highlight the first-ever women's match in MWF.

Chelsea Marie: They're used to watching all-men's or intergender matches. Fans have been asking for Chelsea versus Crystal since I debuted. We gave it to them and I would like to think it's the best match of the event. People would think it's Fabio Makisig versus Jake de Leon, of course. But we're the match that everyone would look back at Noche Buena and remember. Because we're the only Females' Match.

Crystal: We were both faces. The thing was, I used to be a "bad girl" type of heel because eight years of experience, that's what gets to you. I actually was booked in Road to Fate 2022. It's one of the biggest PPVs for MWF and I was supposed to be in the main event. It was a four-way for the MWF Pinoy Championship. But sadly, COVID-19 got to me. And I couldn't go. During that match, the crowd was cheering for me and they wanted me to come back. Instantaneously, my bad girl persona was gone. And I'm a face now. My match with Chelsea was more like a match of camaraderie. It wasn't like, "Oh, you bitch!" It wasn't like that. It's more of, "This is what I can do. This is what she can do." And we put it together.

Crystal. Photo by JL JAVIER

Why did it take this long for MWF to finally have an all-women's match? Why are women uncommon in Philippine pro wrestling?

Crystal: It's a weird thing. I started training in 2014, and I debuted in 2016. And ever since then, we would have one or two females enter training. But then for reasons [like] they don't like it, they don't like getting hurt, their parents are against it, their boyfriends are against it (which I still don't understand), they would drop out. There would be girls that would stay, but only a handful. And in the Philippine wrestling industry, I think you could only count less than 10 female wrestlers. It's sad because I think Filipinas do really have something else to offer in wrestling. I think Filipinas are very feisty by nature and that feistiness translates well in the ring. One of the things we wanted to promote in our match is to encourage other Filipinas that, "Hey, you can do it. Look at us, we are here."

Chelsea Marie: We both care about our physical appearance. We're both feminine. Other girls think that if they do wrestling, they're setting aside their femininity and being pretty and all that. But we both showcase that you could still be whoever you wanna be and do wrestling.

MWF has been there for a long time now. Was it the first wrestling promotion here in Southeast Asia?

Crystal: Technically, Singapore was the first country in Southeast Asia to release pro wrestling. And then second came the Philippines and Malaysia at around the same time. The thing with the Philippines, we love fighting here. We have boxing. We have MMA. Fighting is such an entertainment for us. Wrestling is a different type of entertainment. It's sports entertainment. It's a mix of theater and MMA. The theater part would be the drama, the story, the theatrics. And Filipinos love the drama! They love teleseryes, they love radio dramas. And there's fighting. Wrestling is a trailblazer here because it's a mix of two things they love.

"One of the things we wanted to promote in our match is to encourage other Filipinas that, 'Hey, you can do it. Look at us, we are here.'"

For Chelsea Marie, how do you feel going from your debut to this championship match within eight months?

Chelsea Marie: I was fast tracked. It felt like it was fast, but at the same time, it felt like I was able to keep up with it. I don't want to brag but I felt like I deserved it? People would think that you shouldn't have your championship match in your first year, but given the circumstances that there are no females, and that the fans love the Crystal and Chelsea Marie characters and they want us together… I'm sure they want us to fight for different reasons, but the fans would love to see us. Because as I've said, there's only ever been male matches. Even the whole company is testosterone-filled. Medyo umay for the fans. I mean, they love everyone, but they would love to have an estrogen-filled match.

So what made you decide you want to be a pro wrestler?

Chelsea Marie: It's been my childhood dream. As a child, I realized, "Oh, I'm trans. I'm in the Philippines. I'm not American." So I thought, I couldn't make it. All I knew was WWE. I didn't know there were other countries like Mexico and Japan. I kinda outgrew the dream until I saw the reality show "Total Divas." It started to light up a small fire in me, making me want to wrestle again. But the final nail in the coffin is Paige's movie "Fighting with My Family."

After that, I thought to myself, "I'm really going to do this." And then I crowdsourced on Facebook. I posted if there are wrestling schools in the Philippines. And then Pro Wrestling Revolution (PWR) came up, MWF came up, the long lost Art of Wrestling came up. I messaged every page and no one replied except for PWR. They offered their bootcamp thing but it was not yet active. Little did I know there was a message request in my inbox from one of the heads of MWF basically asking me to be part of MWF. I didn't have to try out. They just put me in. I felt pressured coming in because I don't know if I have the capabilities or if I'm fit enough. I was pressured to show that I can deliver.

Also, I'm a dancer. I've been dancing since Grade 1. I dance professionally for competing and for artists. My fitness comes from dancing. And then taekwondo, I play volleyball. So meron na akong athletic background. I was training for eight months before COVID-19, then I came back December 2021 for only one month because I sprained my ankle during training. I came back again in February 2022. So I had 12 months of training before I debuted as Brown Shirt.

"As a child, I realized, "Oh, I'm trans. I'm in the Philippines. I'm not American." So I thought, I couldn't make it. All I knew was WWE," says Chelsea Marie. Photo by JL JAVIER

For Crystal, how does it feel to finally defend your championship against Chelsea Marie after being sidelined by the pandemic?

Crystal: Technically, I already defended it before Chelsea. But it felt different to defend it against her. I'm not discounting the males that I've faced before but there's so much more meaning behind our match than, "Oh, there's a championship." Like I said, it's more about empowerment and showing what women could do in the ring.

I've faced a lot of men. Actually, I'm part of the first intergender match here in the Philippines. It was a lot of pressure back then, because I only had men to face. There was a lot of criticism. People are saying, "O dapat yung mga babae, dapat nasa kusina lang ‘yan. Dapat yung mga babae, nagpapaganda lang." It was so eye-rolling for me at the time. My championship used to be just a male thing. That is until Nor "Phoenix" Diana from Malaysia broke the stereotype that it was only for males, then it became a championship for anyone who could win it.

Honestly, I don't think it's going to be anywhere near in the future that we're going to have our own women's only championship here in the Philippines. There were less than 10 of us. Right now, it's just us two. Are we gonna hot potato it between us two? There's women in training, yeah, but we don't know when they're gonna debut. We don't know when they're gonna be ready.

When I watched your match, I got the sense that both of you were doing this together for a long time now. Do you rehearse your matches or do you rely on on-the-spot calling?

Crystal: We plan the matches. The difference between wrestling and MMA is we preserve each other's bodies. It's because we have to do this over and over. In wrestling, it still hurts. Everything is predetermined. You're gonna have to prepare beforehand. There is one thing that Fabio told me, "This is why I put veterans with newer people." It's because if anything's gonna happen in the ring, we know that the veteran will have the newbie's back. We did rehearse. Of course, we want our moves to be snappy and clean. You don't go in and say, "Oh I've taken that move before." The thing is, wrestlers have their own way of giving their moves. A suplex is the same for every wrestler, but every person has their own timing. It's very important for us to rehearse, weeks before, days before, or hours before. You wanna make it look the best.

Chelsea Marie: And safest as possible. There are other wrestlers who don't like to rehearse. They're mostly super veterans. Everyone is different but the safest way is to rehearse for sure. I'm not super comfortable with my skills yet. Although during training, Fabio booked me against a super rookie. He wanted to see how I would do as the one leading the match. The pressure was on me but I was able to do it. Crystal carried most of our match.

Crystal: When it comes to those, having years of experience and also being trained by so many people throughout the years, it gets you confidence. So anyone could get there.

My goal right now is to go to Japan or AEW. The thing is, even if there are excellent Filipino-blooded wrestlers in Japan, I want to be the first born-and-raised Filipina pro wrestler there," says Crystal. Photo by JL JAVIER

What's next for the both of you? Do you have any plans for major promotions? I know Crystal tried out for WWE, but how about All Elite Wrestling (AEW), New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW)?

Crystal: I was supposed to be in the second Mae Young Classic tournament for WWE. The thing was, it was around the time Trump got into office so it was tough to get in the States. I had this stack of papers from WWE. I had all the legal stuff and everything else, but then I didn't get the visa. They felt sorry for me and contacted me later on to try out in Shanghai. They were like, "Crystal, make sure you get the visa." And girl, my body broke. I packed four Alaxans to prepare. I thought I was prepared but I was not. The four Alaxans took me for only two days, and I was there for seven days.

My goal right now is to go to Japan or AEW. The thing is, even if there are excellent Filipino-blooded wrestlers in Japan, I want to be the first born-and-raised Filipina pro wrestler there. And as much as I love WWE, it's very constricting there. Once you get in WWE, you're only in WWE. If you're in AEW, you can wrestle elsewhere at the same time. Like Riho, she's the Women's Champion in AEW for quite some time, but she's still doing bookings in Japan, in Southeast Asia, in America. So hopefully, if I get invited to AEW, it will be amazing because I'll still be able to go back here and wrestle in MWF, in MyPW, and other Southeast Asian countries. I think Japan first, then AEW.

Chelsea Marie: For me, I wanted to make it to WWE because I want to go full circle. It's my childhood dream. I want my child self to go like, "I made it." I want to face Lita and my other idols. AEW is good too. Me and Nyla Rose (former AEW Women's Champion who's also a transwoman) follow each other. Before I debuted, she was encouraging me to train. There hasn't been a transwoman in WWE, but there is in AEW, so I'm not gonna be special anymore. That's why I want WWE the most. If Southeast Asian countries would want me, I would go, but a lot of them are Muslim countries so they won't allow me there.

I had a match before with Alexis Lee so maybe she could invite me to Singapore Pro Wrestling (SPW). And Betty Boa from World Underground Wrestling (WUW) in Austria. That's why it's good that we have foreign people in our shoes, because it would create connections. We could go anywhere people would ask us to perform.

Catch Crystal and Chelsea Marie’s wrestling matches on Gank, along with all of MWF's events and episodes.