Dark Sheik on industry progress, The Church of Wrestling, EFFY’s BGB, and more

Dark Sheik on industry progress, The Church of Wrestling, EFFY’s BGB, and more
Dark Sheik on industry progress, The Church of Wrestling, EFFY’s BGB, and more

To describe the reality of a Persian trans woman being a veteran of the wrestling industry and a promoter that’s been running events on the West Coast for over a decade as a rarity would barely do Dark Sheik and her one-of-a-kind reality justice. Unequaled, unique, unparalleled, and unprecedented were all synonyms that felt they got close to capturing that.

As absurd as the idiom is, calling Dark Sheik “as scarce as hen’s teeth” might come close to bottling just how special of a person and talent she is in this industry. Last year, Hoodslam took a blow just like much of the wrestling industry when the global pandemic burst onto the scene.

Things eventually started to look up for the industry as a whole, and Dark Sheik made her return to the ring at EFFY’s Big Gay Brunch in October of last year. I had the opportunity to speak with Dark Sheik recently, and she discussed that BGB clash with Still Life, Hoodslam and the way the industry has progressed, and much more.

Dark Sheik also took some time to discuss some of her challenges as a trans woman in the industry, give advice to those on their own journey to understanding their gender identity, and reflect on parallels between her own career and The Matrix. However, our conversation began with the immediate impacts of still existing as a part of the wrestling industry during a global pandemic.

Dark Sheik talks about adapting to a global pandemic

The first question I asked Dark Sheik comes down to the mental and physical impact of having to live through a global pandemic. We’re all struggling to keep ourselves level in this new world, and I asked her how her mental and physical health were holding up.

“I think they’re both pretty good,” Dark Sheik said. “They both slumped earlier last year. Especially my mental health, because I’m so used to a certain pace and a certain way of life, and it’s just taken away rather abruptly and quickly like so many other wrestlers. At this point, it’s been a year. I meditate. I work out. Things are well.”

Dark Sheik, San Francisco, Pandemic

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 26: A view in front of a restaurant in North Beach in San Francisco on December 26, 2020 in San Francisco, California. Many traditional holiday events, holiday travel and holiday retail shopping activities have been cancelled or curtailed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Miikka Skaffari/Getty Images)

When the pandemic picked up just over a year ago, we saw an entire week of some of the most anticipated wrestling of the year come to a screeching halt and get entirely cancelled. Dark Sheik talked about the shock of that moment and her belief that the issue wouldn’t go away quickly.

“I was shocked. I always figured that if there was some world-ending scenario that people would still need entertainment and I could still sell tickets,” she said. “So, to find out that there is something you never planned for was a bit unsettling. I thought I was so smart.”

“I knew right as it happened that this wouldn’t be a couple month thing. My prediction would be that after the spring of 2021 is when we’d maybe see a return to normalcy,” Dark Sheik continued. “And perhaps this is in a way maybe even the new normal. Maybe every few years or five years we run into this situation again. I hate to say it, but the world changes like that. It doesn’t always wait for you to catch up. I think it’s a possibility.”

“I don’t really mind people keeping their distances or even if they keep wearing a mask,” she said of the long-term impact of the pandemic. “I think it’s great, personally, but there’s a shift. So many things that we used to do to find peace, or to calm ourselves, or to be in groups and find a sense of belonging, are suddenly ripped away. And that’s shocking. Like I said, I knew it would be a while, but I hate being right. It didn’t make it better.”

Still Life With Apricots And Pears at EFFY’s Big Gay Brunch

One of the most difficult losses for the wrestling community was the vast amount of independent wrestling shows scheduled for the week surrounding WrestleMania 36, all of which ended up being cancelled. One of those many shows, EFFY’s Big Gay Brunch, was part of GCW’s The Collective.

Game Changer Wrestling leveraged their logistic framework to help many different shows, some with huge historic significance like For The Culture, become a part of that week. EFFY’s Big Gay Brunch was also one that looked to be a historic moment that Dark Sheik would be a part of, but it didn’t happen.

Six months later, there was a glimmer of hope as GCW looked to run a different version of The Collective at the Marion City Fairgrounds in Indianapolis, IN. The event would be socially distanced and as safe as possible with a limited audience, and Dark Sheik was approached to do the rescheduled version of EFFY’s Big Gay Brunch.

“I jumped on it right away,” she said. “That was my initial reaction, like ‘hell yes, I’m there.’ Then I actually had that moment of like ‘well, let me think about what’s happening and how I can not only keep myself safe but make sure I’m not endangering others,’ because I’m coming from California.”

“There’s these moments where I’m in the locker room and I’ve gotten comfortable and I’m talking to one person, and then all of a sudden I’m in the group,” Dark Sheik continued. “I need to run, hold my breath, grab my mask. Like, that could happen just because it’s still so new to many of us, but I was able to stay safe. GCW did a great job of keeping me safe and keeping everyone safe, I think. I know they caught a lot of slack, but considering what they pulled off, I thought it was really impressive.”

“I came back healthy. I can tell you that. I got tested before and after. My strategy was just to do my match and go to my hotel room. I wear a mask, and I wash my hands, and I don’t touch anything, and it went great,” she said.

At the event itself, Dark Sheik was scheduled to face Still Life With Apricots And Pears. While only on her third year in the industry, Still Life has already broken ground and become a trailblazer as a trans professional wrestler in an industry that would not have been as accepting of that in decades past.

On top of that, Dark Sheik came out in 2019 as a trans woman, though her impact on the industry and fight for inclusivity goes back nearly a decade. Dark Sheik vs. Still Life was historic before the bell even rang, but that didn’t stop these two from tearing the house down with a technical clinic.

“It was amazing. It was really important to me because it was my first match since March, but also just because it was with Still Life,” Dark Sheik said. “I think that she is not only just an iconic character right away, just showed up amazing, but they’re also just such a talent in the ring. Technically sound and innovative. You learn from wrestling someone like that.”

“When I found out that it was she and I in the match, it was magical. I was so grateful to be paired up, and then when it actually happened it was even better. I’ve never wrestled them before, but it felt like we’d wrestled a hundred times,” she said.

“I think what was great was that here we are representing, but we’re also just there to work,” Dark Sheik continued. “We put in a match as good as — if you’re asking me it was one of the matches of the year, but I may have a jaded opinion. That’s just what I hear from other people, though. That meant a lot to me that it delivered in a way that wasn’t just we’re here and representing, but we’re excelling. We’re showing everyone that we’re at the top of what we do. That’s what we’re there for, right? Wrestling.”

Dark Sheik’s impression that her clash with Still Life was one of the matches of the year wasn’t a surprise to me, as I’d picked it as an Honorable Mention when Daily DDT did staff selections for the top matches of 2020. It was an event of great wrestling, but it was also a sign of the progress that’s been made in the wrestling industry.

Hoodslam set an early standard for inclusivity and diversity in wrestling

While shows like EFFY’s Big Gay Brunch and last year’s Paris is Bumping have continued to push the industry forward by spotlighting and showcasing queer talent while honoring queer history, that’s nothing new for Dark Sheik, or Sam Khandaghabadi. She founded Hoodslam over ten years ago, and the West Coast promotion has been embracing progress and diversity from the very beginning.

“It’s beautiful. It’s everything I was hoping for,” she said of the progress that’s been made. “A decade ago, I felt that wrestling had become a bit of a painful experience to be a fan of. There was only one major company on TV, and a lot of the independents had suffered. There were still some people doing great, you can’t say it was all doom and gloom, but the majority of people weren’t wrestling in front of big crowds and some of us not even in front of cameras.”

“My big point really was for people to have fun, and it so happens that the people I knew and myself were minorities, were queer, were just from a diverse crew. So when we started out, it wasn’t like there was any real intention other than we want wrestling to be enjoyable again,” Dark Sheik continued. “We want this to be the passion project we always intended and not this love/hate relationship.

“Now, to see what we kind of had stumbled upon on accident is that we were very inclusive and kind of progressive, and that wasn’t by model. It just happened to be who we were and what was around us and representative of the talent pool and the area,” she said. “I think that you’re seeing that more and more. Not only is it being highlighted and spotlighted, but also becoming just a measure — I don’t wanna say it wrong, but a sense of normalcy to see people from all different backgrounds and orientations being represented.”

As she discussed this, I mentioned how this progress helps the wrestling industry look more like the real world around us. Whether it’s race, ethnicity, gender identity, or sexual orientation, things are more diverse than ever today, but the wrestling industry has taken a long time to actually reflect that.

“I think that’s the goal, even when we’re doing something that is fantasy-driven. I don’t just mean wrestling, but you have a show where you have a wizard wrestling a dinosaur, whatever the hell it might be, it’s still cool to see the people involved represent the world and not just one group of people,” she said.

“I think that’s something we tiptoe around a lot. It’s not just that queer people or Black people or Latin or other minority people are getting representation. It’s that it’s not just a white man’s sport anymore,” Dark Sheik continued. “Nobody wants to straight-up say it, but that’s what it is. It’s not that it’s gayer, I mean it is, but it’s really just not straight white man only or their interpretation of what a gay wrestler or a Black wrestler or a Middle Eastern wrestler is. We’re just able to have people just be, or be something that they intend and not just what’s forced upon them, and that’s really what we’re seeing.”

That shift that she spoke of is one that more and more fans and members of the wrestling industry and community have taken note of. This has unfortunately been an industry filtered for decades almost exclusively through a straight white male perspective, but that’s not the future of professional wrestling.

“It’s not just that wrestling is changing. I’m a Persian trans woman, and I’m one of the few booking a show, but a lot more people who are queer or Black, Latin, whatever. All the minorities, we’re running shows now,” Dark Sheik said. “We’re in positions of power, and that’s what’s changing. It’s not that everybody all over the country that was running an indie in the 90s decided that their indie will be more inclusive now, it’s that their way has died off because it wasn’t good business and our way is good business.”

“That’s why it’s changing. It’s not that wrestling has like softened up or decided to let us in. It’s that we can’t be held back anymore,” she said. “We pushed our way through. I’m stressing this more now because I was tiptoeing around it because I didn’t wanna offend anybody, but that’s what it is.”

How fans can help push the wrestling industry forward

There’s clearly progress being made, as evidenced by events like EFFY’s Big Gay Brunch, Paris is Bumping, For The Culture, and the increasingly diverse pool of talent on the independent wrestling scene. When we spoke, I asked Dark Sheik what she felt fans could do to help keep this progress moving forwards.

“All fans have to do is support who they like. They don’t have to do anything more. If they cheer for their favorites, then if there are smart business people running the company, that’ll do it,” she said. “You know, you go with your dollar. That’s the best way to put it, and I don’t feel the need to ask anything more from them other than to be respectful.”

“You can yell s**t at me. I’ve got thick skin. I’m Iranian. I wrestled as a Sheik for fifteen years. I’ve heard it all, and some new ones lately too, to be honest, but it’s not about whether I can take it,” Dark Sheik continued. “It’s about whether someone else in the audience now feels like they’re not in a safe place where they can be themselves openly. Because if you’re yelling ‘f- you, you f**king Middle Eastern this or that,’ like I’ll tell you to f**k off and go back to work, but now there’s a person three seats behind you who’s Middle Eastern and they’re like ‘I better pull my hat down and cover my face, because this person will attack me in the parking lot.”

“That’s an experience I’ve actually had being that fan and having fans follow me to my car after a show,” she continued. “Everyone there is trying to enjoy themselves at a show, you know? Talk s**t to people you hate, but if your s**t talking is going to make someone else in the audience feel bad about themselves or feel mostly like ‘you’re embarrassing’ or ‘you’re someone to be avoided,’ then you’re going too far.”

As Dark Sheik pointed out when discussing the bigoted verbal abuse sent her direction by fans in the past, much of that has come by being Iranian and portraying a Sheik character. She’s far from the first to do so, which she also talked about when it comes to the way the character has evolved over the years.

“I’m really happy with what it’s become. I’m still an ever-growing person. We’ll see what happens, but when it was first given to me it was specifically like ‘you speak the language? Okay, then you’re this.’ Like, that’s all it was, and that was frustrating because I felt like it was something that had been done to death and was old and we needed to move forward, but I tried my best,” she said. “I looked at what freedom fighters and holy warriors in the Middle East looked like at the time, and I tried to be authentic to modern interpretations, and I tried to still be an artist about it.”

“Where we are now is kinda funny, because you may have heard I started something called The Church of Wrestling. While it’s not the first time people have prayed to wrestling, it’s the first time someone has registered the name with the government, and that’s kind of like my purpose,” Dark Sheik continued. “I’ve fulfilled my namesake because a Sheik is not a prophet or a deity, but they’re someone that’s living on the right path. They’re showing you the way it can be done. The way it should be done, even. A source of emulation. Now while I am imperfect, I assure you I make mistakes and will apologize, I feel like this is what I’m doing now.”

“After ten years of Hoodslam and showing people that these alternative shows actually have merit, and now they’re all over the world, and that’s beautiful,” she said. “People are enjoying wrestling, but now also this new way to appreciate it. Not just to have fun with it, but to be grateful to what we’ve gotten from it and through it. It’s wild. I didn’t mean to do that, but it turns out I am the Sheik.”

Wrestling, Dark Sheik

Wrestling (Photo by Etsuo Hara/Getty Images)

Dark Sheik reflects on the impacts and lessons of Speaking Out

While the ongoing pandemic has had a huge impact on the wrestling industry, last year also saw the birth of Speaking Out as many women took the difficult step of going public about their experiences of sexual abuse at the hands of men in the wrestling industry. The movement saw international coverage, and our own Samantha Schipman led a roundtable discussion about the effects of the movement back in June of last year.

When I spoke to Dark Sheik, she took a moment to touch on the things that can be done in the industry to try and keep these things from happening. Dark Sheik also discussed how she has felt as a promoter who unfortunately booked some of those named prior to knowing what they’d done, and what she feels she has to do in order to keep that from happening in the future.

“I mean, there’s a lot we can do just as far as looking out for each other. I think that goes a long way. It’s a very simple and easy thing. And [we need to] look at each other as, you know like when you’re wrestling specifically we’re going to work. This isn’t high school. That goes a long way. I think some people don’t see that,” Dark Sheik said.

“To put it all on wrestling is tough, because the issues that we have are not wrestling. They’re with how a lot of young people are programmed, and this is what they grow up into and they don’t know any better, and there’s a lot of women who become victims because of that,” she continued. “There’s also, a lot of men are also victims in the same thing. And unfortunately women take the brunt of that and they get so much bulls**t just trying to grow up and just trying to exist. They have to go through so much, but at the same time the guys that don’t know anything or don’t know any better and are not taught any better are also victims of this situation. So, I think as a society we need to fix it there. We need to teach people from the start growing up just how to respect each other and that people are not things. People have autonomy, and that goes a long way.”

“I think what we’ve done at eliminating people is really good. I think that when people have made mistakes and they wanna get better that they should be given a chance to prove that, and I don’t know if that needs to be at a wrestling show, but just in life,” Dark Sheik said. “If people are trying to grow, then let’s respect that as well. But when you see someone’s an asshole and they’re not gonna stop being an asshole, don’t stand for it. Don’t tolerate it. Don’t hide it.”

“I wish —  I booked people that got spoken about, and I was like ‘wow, here’s twenty women saying things about what happened to them,’ and I feel like it was this secret that was only secret to me,” she said. “Like, why did nobody tell me? I was very hurt by that. Not putting any fault on anyone for not telling me, but I was like, what didn’t I do to make people feel comfortable they could tell me? What could I have done better? How could I have made myself more available to the people that needed help”

“So I think that’s something that I need to work on, like all promoters. If there’s this guy going around the whole goddamn world and everybody knows about it except the people that are giving him the platform, and I’m sure sure of them did and turned a blind eye to it, but what am I then as the person giving that platform doing that didn’t let someone think they could let me know?” Dark Sheik said.

“So I need to figure that out, and I need to fix that so that next time someone comes to town and they’re on a flyer, that my friend or my coworker can say ‘hey, this person isn’t someone who should be on your flyers.’ I want them to feel confident that they can tell me that,” she continued. “That’s what I need to personally change. I don’t know about the whole industry, but that’s what I need to do. I need to get where people can tell me ‘hey, this person has twenty victims across the f**king country,’ because I’m mortified that I gave him a platform.”

Wachowskis, Matrix, Dark Sheik

VANCOUVER, BC – AUGUST 06: (L) Netflix’s Sense8 creator Lana Wachowski attends Vancouver Pride Parade on August 6, 2017 in Vancouver, Canada. (Photo by Andrew Chin/Getty Images for Netflix)

Dark Sheik and Hoodslam vs. The Matrix and The Wachowskis

When I was getting ready to speak to Dark Sheik, a parallel occurred to me when looking at Hoodslam, Dark Sheik, The Matrix, and The Wachowskis. While originally written and produced prior to The Wachowskis transitioning and coming out as trans, the queer influence on the movie has become clear in later years and it’s now recognized by many as a trans allegory.

By comparison, Dark Sheik only came out as trans in March of 2019, but the queer influence can be seen through Hoodslam going back years. I asked Dark Sheik if she could see her identity influencing her work and Hoodslam prior to her coming out, and she also discussed how that influence can be seen in the evolution of her own character.

“Absolutely. It’s weird when you look back at it. I think some of it I knew was happening as it was, but just for my own personal character,” she began. “Like, my character died and then came back as just this angry person. This malevolent undead. This rage that wouldn’t go away. Dark Sheik was intended to be basically like Evil Ryu from Street Fighter, but Evil Sheik didn’t sound as cool as Dark Sheik, so I borrowed from Dark Phoenix.”

“Then, over time I started wearing a robot mask for years. My face was just taken away and became this mechanical representation, and my tights changed to robot tights,” Dark Sheik said. “Looking back at it, I’m just like ‘wow.’ This is super clear to me what I was going through then. That I felt like I was just going through the motions, and I wasn’t really living in my body. I was living what I was programmed to live in, either by my own internalized transphobia or by all the stuff society had pushed on me. Whatever it might have been, I was living a program. I wasn’t living me, and so looking back at it now that’s super clear to me.”

“We were always very female first,” she said of Hoodslam. “It’s something that people don’t really know, but the highest paid performers at Hoodslam have always been women. Even though it’s still not a one to one representation because of the talent pool, but going back to Shelly Martinez or whoever else was on the show. Brittany Wonder and Shotzi Blackheart have always been a big part of our show, and so many others, our regulars.”

“We’ve always had female representation. When I started doing the Femmed Out events and people would call it drag shows, which I would say is not quite right, because we’re not dressing as drag performers. We’re dressing as women that inspired us, and sometimes women are on the event too,” Dark Sheik said.

“It’s been clear to me looking back not just with me and what I went through where I eventually came out in the ring to almost everyone in the world, other than the locker room and my family, and just from the show itself,” she said. “How it started as this kind of underground warehouse punk rock to embracing femininity, again not to tiptoe around it, embracing femininity and feminine energy and just not putting that masculine energy first. Leaving room for everything.”

Dark Sheik on the challenges of seeing her pre-transition work

One of the unique challenges Dark Sheik has had to face, and one that differentiates the medium she works in from something like The Matrix, is that seeing her own past work often means Dark Sheik has to see herself pre-transition. I took a moment to ask her whether or not that was a challenge or made looking back on her past more difficult.

“Yes, it does. You know, I really wish I could’ve wrestled Virgil Flynn III before he passed as I am, and not how I was pretending to be,” she said. “Or Mansoor. I had some amazing matches with Mansoor before he became the greatest wrestler in Royal Rumble history or The King of Battle Royals and the undefeated streak and all that. We had some wonderful matches, and I don’t share them as much because I don’t think it looks like me, and I want to see me.”

“I feel like I’m watching, not someone else, but it’s like seeing a version of yourself that hasn’t blossomed yet. It’s like if I tried to watch some matches of myself in my first year when I know I’m not who I want to be yet,” Dark Sheik said. “It’s similar in that sense to where I’m watching someone struggle through something and not just be able to perform freely without that weight.”

“It’s just a version of me,” she continued. “When I say this, I want to clarify that I don’t mean to say that this is the trans experience. Everything I’m saying is my trans experience, and other people may roll their eyes at it, and I’m okay with that. We’re not a monolith.”

“To me, it’s a lot like, and this is more of an internal discussion I have, so hopefully it doesn’t sound dumb, but like at a time in my life I was illiterate. And then I became literate, and I always think of myself as someone who can read. I don’t ever think of myself as someone who started as they couldn’t. I just can, and it’s kind the same thing as now,” Dark Sheik explained. “Like, I’ve always been this person. It’s always who I’m supposed to be. While it took me a while to grow into that, I don’t ever think of myself was not a trans woman”

“So when I watch those old things it’s still me, it’s just before I could be me. It’s like if I watched a video of me when I was a baby and I couldn’t read and I couldn’t really talk and I’m falling over. Like, yeah that’s still me, but that’s not the me I’m intended to be,” she said. “Yeah, so while I can look at it, it’s kind of like showing somebody something when I was a baby, I guess is the way to put it. This is before I was able to grow, but it’s more of spiritually a baby than it is my time on Earth.”

Dark Sheik

KIEV, UKRAINE – JUNE 23: Transgender activists participate in the Kyiv Pride march, estimated to be the city’s largest ever, on June 23, 2019 in Kiev, Ukraine. The parade has been marked by anti-LGBT violence in past years, but a heavy police presence has been generally effective at discouraging direct attacks on parade participants. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)

“You don’t have to live up to anybody’s expectations but your own”

Despite being only 36-years-old and having just come out a little less than two years ago, Dark Sheik has continued to be recognized as a pioneer and a queer elder in the wrestling industry. When I asked her about being seen that way, Dark Sheik also spoke about her fear of not being accepted after she came out.

“I think it just means they think I’m old. I don’t know what that means,” she said. “It’s surprising. It wasn’t something I expected. I thought actually that I would have to stop wrestling for a while. That was my big fear. That people wouldn’t accept me, and it’s been quite the opposite. It’s been amazing.”

“A lot of it is that I’ve been, while I didn’t come out until March 2019, I’ve been dressing as a woman since like 2014. Not just at shows, but there’s a lot of photos of me just on social media where I’d be at some party or at the arcade or wherever it might be,” Dark Sheik said. “So, I think that while I wasn’t out, I always wondered how many people just knew already without me having said it. That is why people have that perception, but it’s surprising to me. Again, I’m just gonna default to that kind of means that I’m old, but I’m just happy that they’re thinking about me at all.”

When we spoke, I explained how from my perspective and some of those I’ve talked to, it’s more a sign of respect within the queer community. There’s also an unfortunate reality where many of our queer elders are no longer with us, whether it be due to the effects of mental illness or violence against the queer community, and as people can sometimes be viewed as elders at a younger age because of that.

“If I can give people any peace and help to fill that void, then I’m grateful to be given that opportunity. That’s a special thing to me to be allowed to do. I appreciate that I can help anyone like that,” she said. “Maybe one reason, as I’m thinking on it more, is through doing Hoodslam for almost ten years. Although I wasn’t out for most of it, we’ve been booking queer talent since the beginning.”

A great example is Mariah Moreno, who is very well known on the West Coast, and I think still is very well known beyond that. [She] has wrestled on the East Coast a lot, and has done so much and been a trailblazer, and has been a friend of mine since like 2011/2012,” Dark Sheik said. “It was fun like ‘hey, by the way, so this whole time we’ve been friends I’ve had a lot of questions for you.’ Yeah, they’re wonderful. So I think just people like that having been involved in Hoodslam maybe is why people are able to be confident in my years before I came out too.”

Dark Sheik has had a fascinating and surely challenging, journey. I took a moment as we spoke to ask if she had any advice to others who might be on their own journey to understanding their gender identity, whether to others in the wrestling industry or those outside of it.

“Just know that it is your journey. It’s no one else’s, and you don’t need to be what anybody else wants,” she began. “It doesn’t have to be all pink and dresses and all that. You can still wear jeans and a shirt and be a trans woman. You don’t have to live up to anybody’s expectations but your own. You only need to make yourself happy, and there’s a danger of finally accepting what makes you happy and then going right back into ‘okay, what does society one me to be so I can achieve that?’ It’s almost like trading one curse for another.”

“Just know that this is yours, and the best thing you can do is be you and not worry about what anyone wants you to be or what anyone tells you. It’s all about you in your skin, and that’s what it needs to be. What makes you happy needs to be at the front. Don’t just trade ‘what do people expect of me as this gender’ for ‘what do people expect from me as that gender’. Like, do you.”

That expectation that Dark Sheik spoke of is something that can be seen in the ways some push expectations upon trans women. To many, there is an expectation of an almost hyper-femininity to prove yourself as a trans woman, which is also something Dark Sheik spoke on.

“If it’s what you want, then go for it. But if it’s not, then don’t let anyone force you into it. This is what makes you happy. If you focus on that and keep that, and you’re always honest with yourself, you can do no wrong and you’ll be rewarded. I have,” she said.

Dark Sheik on founding The Church of Wrestling

As our conversation reached a conclusion, Dark Sheik had mentioned The Church of Wrestling. This new endeavor is one others may be just hearing of, or want to know more about, so I asked her to speak more on how it got started and what it will continue to be.

“I feel like it’s a feeling that I’ve always had, and I didn’t know what to call it. The easiest way I can put it to someone is that every ring in the world I’ve ever found, like different countries, different whatever, they’re all home to me,” she said. “They’re all a place of belonging whether I’m around it or inside it. I’ve been a fan, and I’m still a fan. So, it’s not exclusive to just performers, but it’s a feeling where I’m where I belong, and I don’t get that from where I go actually. You may be surprised to find out.”

“One day during the pandemic, in like September I think, when I was really bleak and I didn’t have anything going on, I still wanted to go to the ring. I went down to the Stoner U Dojo in Oakland where my ring, the Hoodslam ring, is ever present,” Dark Sheik said. “And I kinda just rolled around by myself, but at some point I just sat down and I put my hands on the mat. I could just feel how much wrestling has meant to me. I could remember the first time I went to a show. I can picture the first time I took a handstand bump when I was 14, like at training, and I could feel my future still intertwined with it.”

“I’m just really grateful for how much I’ve gotten through wrestling. Being able to find myself and to get so much love where I didn’t think I would have it, and being able to make a living for, I mean this has been my job since 2012 and that’s something I can always be grateful for,” she said. “I’ve been comfortable. It’s tougher now that I haven’t run a show in a year, but I was able to appreciate it.”

“They say the thing about the good times is you don’t know it’s the good times. No. I knew this is tight. We’re running a show every week. I’m with my friends all the time,” Dark Sheik said. “I’m promoting more. We have a women’s show now. We have all this queer talent. We’re really doing it. We’re having all the representation. We’re putting like 400, 500, 800 people audiences. That was amazing to be a part of that.”

“That’s my story, and I’m personally really grateful to wrestling for it. So, I decided, what if other people could feel this way? What if other people feel this way too, and they don’t know what to call it? Because I’m so happy to finally see this is a holy thing for me,” she said. “I can really feel like the electricity in the air when I’m around wrestling. Even now when I’m talking about it, I can feel my excitement. I’m trying not to rush through my words. I’m wanting to share it with other people.”

Dark Sheik also discussed how there is a website people can find more about things, ChurchOfWrestling.com. There are other pieces in the works, and some donations have been accepted, but it’s still something that’s gaining steam and an endeavor she’s only lost money on so far.

“Let’s say one day this does make money and people are at the point where they’re giving so much where I can do something cool, like maybe I can find a wrestler who wants to do something that they couldn’t afford, but it’s a great idea and I can help them fund it,” Dark Sheik said. “Maybe I can find a wrestler who needs help, whether it be because there’s an injury, or a fire, or a robbery. These things that happen to us all the time. It’s not like a union, but it’s a community.”

“The feeling is really what I’m more focused on, and me being able to give back to wrestling, because it was really awesome with Hoodslam,” she said. “We were able to start GLAM, our sister promotion, and then Sexy Good Time Wrestle Show, and then we have a cousin I guess with Stoner U Dojo where we have students that are able to learn and [we are] sharing a lot of the same tools we’ve acquired.”

“Like the ring or the cameras so they can see what they’re doing and do these Dojo shows. We did Fearless and we did So Caliente, our shows about So-Cal talent or LGBT specific talent, and I’m hoping that’s what this is. So we can do something that isn’t just for the wrestlers and performers in California or in my circle, but something we can all put together,” Dark Sheik said.

“Eventually, it’ll be maybe a system where it’s a little bit cleaner and smoother, and not all of it has to exactly go through me. Where everyone can have their own Church that they go to and they support, and you don’t really need my guidance or my input of what that looks like. You can just love wrestling on your own with your own family,” she said.

As our conversation wrapped up, I asked Dark Sheik a question I usually close things with. I simply wanted to know if there was anything else we hadn’t already talked about that she wanted to say, and Dark Sheik provided this final note to close things out.

“I guess what I would say is that if people went through this interview and they decided ‘ah, this Dark Sheik person is like whatever. I don’t think she’s that cool or needs my attention,’ I’m okay with that,” she said. “That’s fine, but what I would implore you to do is to then find some other wrestler or musician or poet or artist. Somebody who is an independent artist who is working solo and support them, because if it’s not me that’s cool, but there’s so many people doing neat stuff.”

“I’m sure there’s somebody that would so appreciate if you bought their CD or their t-shirt. It would mean the world to them. If you followed them on Twitter, whatever it is, and then you get to be a part of their journey and their art as well. So I implore you to do that,” Dark Sheik said. “It’s cool if you don’t like me, but I hope you can find someone else you do like. If you don’t want to support Dark Sheik or Sam Khandaghabadi or Hoodslam or The Church of wrestling, that’s cool, but find somebody out there. Not only because it will reward them, but it will reward you just because you’ll be experiencing new art.”

You can find more about Hoodslam on their website and on Twitter. If you want to watch and experience Hoodslam yourself, there is plenty of content to enjoy on Twitch, YouTube, and IWTV. EFFY’s Big Gay Brunch returns on April 10 with GCW’s The Collective where Dark Sheik is scheduled for a dream match against AC Mack. The event will be available on FITE.

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