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Sitting in her tattoo artists chair, two hours into a three-hour session for a new horror tattoo, Shotzi Blackhearts mind was consumed by one thought.
Im the biggest baby when I get tattoos, its so painful that I take every break I can, Blackheart says. I was down for a break, and thats when I got a text from work asking me to call.
The office of Paul Triple H Levesque was sharing pleasant news with Blackheart, informing her that she would be hosting the Halloween Havoc-themed edition of NXT, which airs live Wednesday night.
The return of Halloween Havoc will be a familiar sight for longtime wrestling fans. The pay-per-view event was once a staple for WCW, serving as the launchpad for some unique concepts and matches. Halloween Havoc was home to the Chamber of Horrors match, a Coal Miners Glove match, a Monster Truck match, and perhaps the most frightening match of all time: the disastrous 1998 main event pitting Hulk Hogan against the Ultimate Warrior.
There were also all-time classic matches, with Eddie GuerreroRey Mysterio from Halloween Havoc in 97 remaining a bout with few peers. Randy SavageDallas Page from 97 was also a fantastic match and immensely important to the long-term success of Page. Other matches that still resonate decades later are the 93 Texas Death Match pitting Vader against Cactus Jack and a masterpiece between Steve Austin and Dustin Rhodes from 91.
I didnt even know Halloween Havoc was coming back, but when I found out I was hosting, I was so happy I almost fainted, Blackheart says. It was the greatest news ever.
My favorite match of all-time is from 97, GuerreroMysterio. And before wrestling, I wanted to be a horror host, just like Elvira and Vampira, watching horror movies and making cheesy comments about them. Its going to be reason enough to tune in just to see the Halloween outfits Ill be wearing.
Ashley Urbanski is the 28-year-old ball of fire known in the wrestling circle as Shotzi, and she is destined to inject excitement and violence into the WWE product for the next decade. The lone concern surrounding her longevity is her style, which includes a reckless disregard for her well-being in pursuit of the most thrilling performance possible.
Thats exactly how I want people watching at home to feel, Blackheart says. I want them asking, Is Shotzi Blackheart going to die tonight?
Authenticity pours out of Blackhearts words and corresponding actions. She takes pride in saying No one can out-crazy Shotzi Blackheart, and that is more promise than threat. Blackheart recently cut a promo where she proudly used a staple gun on herself to inflict bodily harm.
The moment I start questioning or thinking too much, thats when Ill get hurt, Blackheart says. I just go for it. For me, thats the best way to do it. This is the life I live.
The rebellious Blackheart has openly invited pain into her life since she was 15, which is when she received her first tattoofittingly, the comedy and tragedy masks on her shoulder.
I begged my dad to take me, and I even made a whole PowerPoint presentation on why I should be able to get a tattoo even though I was only 15, Blackheart says.
Before embarking on a career in pro wrestling, Blackheart shined in theater. She starred as Roxie Hart in her high schools production of Chicago during her senior year, then attended college for musical theater.
Theater is the vehicle that led me to pro wrestling, Blackheart says. I was watching Raw, this blend of theater, violence and rock, and I asked myself, Why have I not been a wrestler the entire time? I signed up the next day at a wrestling school.
Blackheart has stood out in NXT, most recently elevating her stock even higher last month in a performance with NXT champion Io Shirai.
That was my opportunity to prove myself as an in-ring player, Blackheart. Io is the best in the world. My goal was to get to her level. I was so focused on that, so I was comfortable and confident.
The post-match interview following that loss to Shirai particularly resonated. Blackheart held back tears as she very genuinely shared what the moment meant to her, not the type of content witnessed in the scripted world of Raw.
I cant hide my emotions, Blackheart says. In that moment, I legit wanted to cry. When youre watching, youre going to see my raw, real emotions.
I am ready to give it my all. Im in it, Im so in it, and I am going to do everything I can to elevate the womens division in this company.
Fans of Blackheart hope the added spotlight of hosting Halloween Havoc elevates her into a long-term program with Shirai for the title. She plans on capitalizing upon her role as host, paying tribute to the legends of WCW while also highlighting the women and men who define NXT.
I always loved Halloween Havoc, so to be resurrecting it after 20 years, its insane, Blackheart says. Im going to keep living in the moment and living fast, going as hard as I can, and youll see that at Halloween Havoc.
Courtesy of Nick Karp
The newly released Death In Covid publication is a rare look into the genre of deathmatch wrestling.
Nick Karp led the photo exploration, which features images from deathmatch shows that all took place during the pandemic. Including shots from GameChanger Wrestling, Violence X Suffering, and IWA-Mid Souths King of the Deathmatch, the project spotlights a dangerous, blood-soaked sector of pro wrestling that is still finding ways to succeed amid the pandemic.
This runs deeper than wrestling, Karp says. Its documenting a subculture of American life during the pandemic. Its a subsection of this sport that is still running and still thriving.
The son of a photographer, Karp traveled from his home in Queens, N.Y., to cover as many shows as possible for this project.
During the early stages of COVID, I saw that some promotions were still running and, as a documentary photographer, thats the s--- I love, documenting outlaw culture, Karp says. There were so many unknowns about running shows in the pandemic, but I thought it would be a cool project if I hyper focused on this. I reached out to Adam from Orange Crush, and I am very lucky that I got his blessing.
Courtesy of Nick Karp
The finished product is a 100-page zine, and it includes some commentary from the wrestlers putting their bodies on the line in the death matches.
There is one quote that really stands out, and its by Orin Vedit, who thought he needed a blood transfusion, Karp says. He gives a different perspective of what its like after wrestling a death match in the pandemic, in a hospital where visitors arent allowed, thinking he might bleed out and die alone.
Karp captures images that seize peoples attention, and he was willing to push boundaries to highlight the risks and sacrifices made by the performers.
Its incredible to see this type of performance art, Karp says. This is documentation of how these wrestlers were working when so much else was shut down by the virus. I was in awe of their heart. These wrestlers are doing what they love, even under the circumstances.
As if 2020 werent wild enough, here is The Rock helping induct Ken Shamrock into the Impact Hall of Fame.
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.
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