Mickie James has to be one of the hardest-working women in pro wrestling. Not only is she on the road with TNA – “for 200 days out of the past year,” she sighs – but she’s also working on her new album. It’s a cliché, but how does she balance two demanding and creative careers?
“Wrestling, for me, I feel I know it well enough that I can get in there, do my dance and do it rather well; but I’m tapping into adrenalin-based emotion,” she says. “Music is more like the heart and soul. I try to write songs that aren’t what everyone’s said a million times, and that takes you back to a place in your life that you can relate to. It’s fun, because it goes off in a different creative pattern. Being on the road so much, I have a lot of road stories that I can play with!”
But something has to give, surely? “I think sleep is the one thing I give up. And my sanity!” she laughs.
James is still a big wrestling fan, but she admits she stopped watching shows after she left WWE. Now she checks in to RAW and Smackdown very occasionally – “When the Rock first came back, I still am a huge fan of the Rock! Then I watched this one promo of CM Punk’s!”
James’s WWE spell is probably best known for the ‘Piggy’ bullying storyline with LayCool, and that storyline focus on the Divas’ appearances continues today. James is rather wary of such a proliferation of ‘Mean Girls’ behaviour amongst the women. “If everybody does it, that loses the power,” she says. “The storyline with LayCool that I did, the hardest part for people was that they could relate to it because it was so real. Everybody’s gotten picked on at some point. It really does happen. It really hit home with a lot of parents – someone’s there and being ridiculed and people are laughing and that’s not OK.”
TNA’s Knockouts division, on the other hand, gets a significant proportion of airtime, with some interesting angles developing, particularly now the tag-team belts are a new focus. “We have a strong division, and that comes a lot from the credibility of the wrestlers in the ring,” she says. “We have less girls, but more focus. They recognise the women draw ratings and can get it done in the ring.”
So does that mean WWE could be doing something better with their women wrestlers? She pauses. “It’s a catch 22. It takes away from the credibility of the wrestling ability – but when you’re left with a load of girls whose strong point is not their wrestling ability, that’s really all they have going for them, so that’s all they know and can talk about,” she says. “It’s reality-based television. Beth [Phoenix] and Nattie [Natalya] are the strongest wrestlers – they could totally be saying, ‘You couldn’t lace my boots on a good day.’ It would not be too far from the truth. But I’m not writing the show.”
James enjoys being able to have some creative input to her own storylines and character on TNA. “We have an open floor, whether your idea gets taken or not,” she says. “Honestly, nobody can stop you once you’re out there. You might never get the mic again, but they can’t stop you. I know what’s going to get a reaction, what works, and if I feel it won’t work, I’m open to say I don’t like it and why, and what if we did something like this along the same concept. Nobody knows your character like you.”
At the age of 32, James has been wrestling for the past fourteen years. She’s at the peak of her powers, but she’s well aware that for any wrestler, and particularly a female one, this is a time when she needs to be thinking a little bit about the future.
“I feel that I’ll know it’s time to stop wrestling – I love it, and I want to do it, but I recognise that I can’t do it forever, especially if I want other things in life, like a family,” she admits.
She doesn’t see herself stepping completely away from wrestling; she’s very clear that music isn’t an alternative career, but something additional to the profession that she loves. “I would hope that my music career takes off, and I can branch over and still be able to come back to wrestling and do certain things, like be an ambassador, or be a special guest referee once in a while, or do those novelty things,”she says. “I know I can walk away with a smile on my face and knowing I have achieved something with my life, and not feel there is an empty space. I’m a realist. I know I’ll have to hang up my boots, and I’d rather do it at the top of the mountain than coming down the other side.”
She’s very specific about wanting to retire while she’s still the best in the business; as all wrestling fans know, the industry is littered with people who have gone on for longer than they should have, for whatever reason, and tarnished their legacy. However, she’s equally specific that she will make the decision for herself, and not listen to anyone else’s advice.
“Ultimately deep down it has to be your decision,” she says. “Nobody would force you, but if they’re trying to persuade you to retire and it’s not in your heart, you’ll end up coming back. I feel like I’ll know when the time is right. You see it so often, and it breaks your heart, especially when it’s people you’ve idolised for so long. I want people to remember me when I was the best of the best.”