Working as an independent wrestler isn’t an easy job. To make a living, you have to travel, gigs can be few and far between, and the money itself isn’t always great. Still, that doesn’t stop aspiring performers from giving it a go.
Francesca Zappitelli is one of those stars, though she’s now hung up her boots to pick up a camera and try her hand as a filmmaker. Her first movie Ballerina I’m Not is a look at her life before she retired from the ring, giving a glimpse at the women’s independent wrestling scene around the world shortly before WWE changed their focus to highlight female competitors. To Zappitelli, it’s not an easy life.
“The life of an indie wrestler is like a circus performer, ” says Zappitelli. “You’re constantly on the road, you’re not making a lot of money, but you’re doing it because you love to perform.”
Still, despite the schedule, Zappitelli’s career took her across America, where she met stars like former WWE ECW Superstar Shelly Martinez, better known as Ariel (Kevin Thorne’s Valet), who appears in her new film.
Though, at some point, a wrestler has to decide whether or not it’s time to step out of the ring, and into something else. Zappitelli, like many before her, decided to retire from professional wrestling, instead looking to do something that didn’t cause so much pain.
Those who perform, and most fans who appreciate the art of wrestling, will agree with that statement. The bouts are pre-determined, which does affect how some view wrestling, but it is a very physical performance. That hasn’t stopped some former stars from voicing their opinions on the nature of the wrestling business. Most recently, former WWE Superstar CM Punk spoke out calling wrestling fake, and it caused quite a stir in the community.
“In pro wrestling, it’s fake. People always get offended by that word. ‘No, we like to say it’s pre-determined.’ For whatever reason, people get angry at fake; pre-determined eases the blow?” says Punk in an interview with SI.com. “It’s fake. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really mean anything. So after a while, it was, ‘Let’s just really fight and see what happens.’ Now I get to.”
Though Punk was seemingly referring to the lack of actual competition, actually saying “you take a beating” earlier in the interview, it did get people talking. Most in the industry disagreed, but since Punk lived the grind, many thought he was entitled to his opinion.
Interestingly enough, that’s the main reason Zappitelli left the wrestling world. Not because of the lack of legitimacy, but rather the real-life pain that comes with being dropped on your back for a living.
“Even though people say wrestling is choreographed and fake, those moves and bumps really hurt and are really physical... it’s not something you want to do all the way to retirement,” says Zappitelli. “People have a lot of long-term injuries that really catch up with them.”
She did make it to WWE’s developmental system, and she admits she doesn’t think she was ever ready for the big time, but bumps hurt regardless of the level you compete. Now, she looks to take the first step in her new career as a filmmaker. That first step involves looking back on her previous life, and while it might be nostalgic, the hectic and painful schedule isn’t something she’ll miss.