Jordynne Grace gambled on herself, and hit paydirt.
After a breakout performance at All In last year, the already emerging star of Grace agreed to a deal with IMPACT Wrestling. After several months, she also revealed to the company that have a contract. Grace held out for a deal she felt more appropriate, and figures to be a big part of the company for years to come.
However, initially, IMPACT didn't want to meet those terms. As outlined to Fightful months ago, Grace worked without a contract for over six months before informing officials she wanted a raise in order to re-sign. Grace spoke to Fightful and recalled the trembling experience.
"Oh, I was terrified," said Grace in our Fightful studios. "I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared in my life. Because I could have gone anywhere. I really, really, really wanted to stay with IMPACT, but if they weren’t going to give me what I thought was fair to me then I was gonna leave. And so I just decided I’m gonna stick with this and whatever they say, I was waiting on a phone call back. ‘Cause they were like “Oh, we’ll talk about it, we’ll have a meeting.” And I was like man, I’m so nervous. And they called me back within like five minutes and told me. I was like, “Thank you!”
When Grace revealed that she was a free agent in a wrestling world that sees WWE, All Elite Wrestling, NWA, Ring of Honor and IMPACT themselves trying to snatch up talent, it led to much speculation. Only fueling that fire was the fact that Jordynne is engaged to current Ring of Honor (though at the time, also without a contract) Jon Gresham.
As IMPACT's women's division was flourishing and adding marquee names, ROH's was struggling a bit. With Grace on the open market, she naturally got a lot of public feedback insinuating she'd join her significant other under the Sinclair Broadcasting umbrella of Ring of Honot. She mentioned that there were tons of interactions just assuming that she'd end up in the same company as Gresham.
"A million (tweets). There was a lot of speculation about where I was going. But, most people thought I was probably going to go to Ring of Honor because that’s where Jon is, obviously. I think it’s because maybe the companies are competing with each other, so maybe there’s some kind of discord in the relationship because of that. But there’s nothing like that between me and Jon, because I don’t really feel that Ring of Honor and IMPACT are directly competing. Ring of Honor is its own niche, or it used to be. It still can be. They need to get back to that. But, I think Impact is doing something totally different. They’re doing intergender wrestling, and they have this whole liberal thing going on," Grace said.
The deal with IMPACT quickly came together, and Grace got what she wanted in the form of a pay raise. IMPACT got what they wanted in a sure-fire star locked down for three years, and all sides ended up big winners. Though the situation may have been perceived as contentious to some, according to Grace things were business as usual after that and she's happy it worked out. She's quick to advise other wrestlers to know their worth, as well.
"I mean, I didn’t feel any sense of awkwardness at all. No one mentioned it to me in person; it was just like going back to work. I don’t think it was a big deal at all. Yeah. I love it there. Seriously. I definitely don’t feel bad or guilty about pressing the issue because I think people need to negotiate for what they feel they’re worth. And I don’t think they need to just sign a contract right off the bat just because they’re offered a contract," said Grace.
IMPACT's women's division boasts a slew of stars. Tessa Blanchard, Taya and Kiera Hogan all compliment Grace in the ring, with character-driven personalities like Rosemary, Su Yung, Madison Rayne and Jessicka Havok, in addition to Tenille Dashwood for the short-term. This wasn't lost on Grace, as she put over IMPACT's vision for women, not just within the division itself, but from a promotion-wide, open-ended point of view that their booking has originated from.
"At Slammiversary, they had the main event was an intergender match. So I think they’re definitely starting to build the women just as much as the men at this point. We’re side by side. It’s not like the women’s division is under the men’s division at all. They’re given equal opportunity and they’re putting eyes on both products. I think they have a really distinct vision of what they’re gonna do just by hearing what they say in the talent meetings and hearing what they say to me personally. I’m super excited in the direction everything is going. I think people, maybe they’re not going to be surprised, but they’re going to be really happy with what’s coming up." Jordynne touted.
While not named, Blanchard was the mentioned headliner of Slammiversary. She and Grace have become fast friends, despite competing for some of the same accolades. Even though they're both in constant contention for the Knockouts Championship, they haven't ruled out taking intergender wrestling -- and their aspirations -- one step further in IMPACT Wrestling. So much so, Grace says that they hope to compete for some traditionally male-held titles along the way, collectively.
"So, me and Tessa [Blanchard], we really, really want to tag team and we wanna challenge for the tag team titles. And I think Ethan Page and Josh Alexander, I think it would just be an incredible match. I think it would blow it out of the park. And I think that’d be awesome to see. I don’t know if they’ve ever had an intergender tag championship match like that, but I think it’d be really cool. I actually made a tweet, it was me and Tessa, I did a [Snapchat] where we stole the tag titles and I recorded us. And then I had like Ethan walk over or whatever and I was like “Oh, put ‘em back, put ‘em back.” And I was like “Oh, management said if we get over 1,000 retweets on this it might get us a tag title [match].” They didn’t really say that. They didn’t exactly say that in those words. But, it got almost 2,000 likes, so I think people really want to see it," said Grace.
Grace's social media game hasn't been all sunshine and rainbows, as she's drawn the ire of some, but the support of more. Among the talking points that have gone viral in the wrestling world are her insistence on referring to pro wrestling as "performance art" as opposed to a "sport," and her explanation of why more wrestlers are using their real names as opposed to ring names on social media.
Grace, real name Trisha Parker, would expand on this talking point, and explain that change isn't always a bad thing.
Transitioning into a new era where wrestlers can accept they’re playing a character and don’t have to “live the gimmick” I’d imagine https://t.co/rGrQd4SQPl— Trisha Parker (@JordynneGrace) July 26, 2019
"I think it’s weird that we don’t know our co-worker’s real names," Grace laughed. "I call a lot of people by their work name because like you just said some people don’t like their real names being said out loud, which, like I said, I think is super strange. I prefer the real name, but if I don’t know it, I’m gonna call you what I know you as. I think that wrestling is also in a period of transition. So I definitely think it’s gonna take some getting used to. And I’m not saying that I have everything figured out, but I’m saying if fans come up to me and call me Trisha outside of the ring I’m totally okay with that. I think it’s totally fine. I wouldn’t go up to Robert Downey, Jr. and call him [Iron Man]. ‘Cause I think it’s strange."
Wrestling is a unique forum. You have performers often competing under their real names in a fictional format, playing to an interactive audience. As brought up to Grace when we spoke, the difference in Breaking Bad versus IMPACT Wrestling, was that Breaking Bad protagonist (or antagonist, depending on the moment) Walter White was committing crimes, but wasn't doing it in front of an interactive group of potential witnesses that they constantly reference in promos and react to during matches.
The slippery slope of spot, performance art and entertainment is tough. Parker, who we'll refer to by her ring name for the duration of this piece for the sake of clarity, is often caught up in the firestorm of eager fans with their own view of how things "should" be.
"Yes, I think, didn’t they just have someone run over a kid? Yeah so, I think they’re definitely going to do that. I don’t know you might see me—don’t take this out of context—you might see me cooking meth in a kitchen one day," Grace said. "I think people need to understand that it’s all a show. And I think it’s pretty rare that people are doing stuff for real. If I do something in the ring that people don’t like, I don’t think they need to put that together with my personality outside of wrestling. I’m not a bad person because of something I pretend to do. This whole Scott Steiner smacking me on the ass thing. Dude, it’s ridiculous how many people are saying “Oh, you fell for everything you used to stand for, it’s sexual harassment!” How is it sexual harassment if I have agency over my own body and someone asked me if they can do something in a show and I say yes? I just don’t understand how people can say 'sexual harassment' when I gave permission for that to happen," Grace said.
Performances are performances to Grace, but not everything gets signed off on like the Steiner spot did. There are some pretty defined situations that she's been uncomfortable in, and hasn't hesitated to put her foot down.
"Yeah, wrestlers have asked to kiss me in the ring. Stuff like that, and of course I’m going to say no because I think my fiancé [Jonathan Gresham] would have an issue with it, even though it is a show. I still wouldn’t do it out of respect for him. I know there’s a lot of actors and actresses who also don’t do sex scenes just because of how it looks [on them?]"
Wrestling men, however? Not an issues, but not everyone is a fan of intergender wrestling, including one particular name in a position of power -- All Elite Wrestling President, CEO and Founder Tony Khan. who said "The battle royal, does everybody remember when Jordynne Grace got hit in the face? That was probably the one thing I didn’t like about All In. I don’t think that’s cool. I’m really against domestic abuse. I’m not saying that is -- it’s a really complex question, and I knew it would come up sooner or later -- but it’s probably not what we’re going to do. We’re going to focus on a men’s division, singles and tag, and a women’s division, singles and tag, and have those divisions. Could it be some mixed division? I haven’t thought that much about it. But mixed matches are probably not what we’re gonna focus on.”
Grace, while named, wasn't defensive about the topic, but definitely didn't agree.
"I think that it’s his company, so he can do whatever he wants," Grace stated. "I don’t agree necessarily with what he said. I also don’t like domestic violence, I’m really against that. But, I think he’s also sorta new to the wrestling world. And so maybe he doesn’t understand it entirely. Which is totally okay. And I think maybe once he sees some proper intergender wrestling, he might change his mind."
It looks as if Grace will be a huge part of that sample size of "proper intergender wrestling" that Khan will be able to check out. Based on her impression of how things look on the horizon for IMPACT Wrestling, we'll be seeing more of it.
"I think IMPACT is gonna go this more liberal, inclusive, they’re just doing crazy stuff that other promotions I guess aren’t even thinking about right now, this intergender stuff," said Jordynne. "Tessa going for the World Title, I don’t think any other promotion has even thought of that. So I think IMPACT is going to go that route and go, hopefully, they’re gonna go 150%. I think that’s what they’re going for. I personally think they just need to make all titles inclusive of everybody. I don’t think there needs to be any separation at all. Me and my fiancé, we argue about this constantly. He does not like intergender wrestling. He thinks that it should be a special attraction and I don’t necessarily disagree with that, but I don’t really think it’s fair to call it a special attraction. Because I feel like we should just be able to do whatever we want. In this wrestling world, women can be just as strong as men. It’s not fair that Rey Mysterio can wrestle with Big Show and it be totally okay and someone like Jessicka Havok can’t wrestle Petey Williams. It’s not fair to me."
The women's division has all the aforementioned names, and IMPACT keeps adding. When presenting Grace with some of the current stars and the potential ones, she offered up her thoughts on who the promotion could reach out to in order to load the bases even more.
"It’s stacked, right? It’s crazy. I feel like it’s all the misfits that never really got their comeuppance. Yeah, she [Kiera Hogan] signed a new (contract) recently and I hope she got what she wanted. But, it’s not as open between all the wrestlers as I think it should be. I think we should all be talking about it and seeing what’s fair to each other. I think we should all be getting what we’re worth. I don’t know what’s exactly going on with Mercedes (Martinez, I thought she was gonna be a coach at the Performance Center, so I’m not sure what’s going on with that. But, I know she’s retiring really soon, but I think if IMPACT offered LuFisto something, I think that would be awesome. I think that she definitely needs that, she’s been wrestling for years, she’s a veteran in the business and I think it’d be awesome to have her there. I think it would definitely change her mind on the retirement thing. A lot of these girls are already locked into contracts," said Grace.
Talent is getting signed up, because more companies than ever are on television. WWE has two brands, NXT, All Elite Wrestling, Ring of Honor and NWA all have television tapings, and even though they don't have women's divisions, NJPW, too. MLW is starting a new women's division, and IMPACT has a shiny new television deal on AXS.
For Grace, more opportunities and options is a good thing.
"I think it’s great that there’s all these TV shows now and all these different promotions getting TV, because all it does is creates more opportunities for people. And if my IMPACT contract comes up in a couple years and I want to go somewhere else, I have all these opportunities to go to other places. And I think that’s awesome," she said.
After we'd made the walk from the Midtown Event Theater to Fightful offices, Grace was set to work in a venue that in the same week would host OWE, SMASH, a women's wrestling summit show, WXW, PROGRESS and more. Grace hopes IMPACT wrestling's new direction and more open-ended way of doing things will stick, but knows that not everyone feels the same.
"I think so. I hope so. There is a whole lot of people who don’t want it to be though. You know all these differing minds and opinions and they’re always gonna clash. So I guess we’ll just gonna see what the future holds when it comes to that. I feel IMPACT got a lot of eyes on people and then people are seeing how good these people are, like the Rascalz [Dezmond Xavier and Zachary Wentz]. I don’t know if anybody knew who they were before IMPACT, now they’re these superstars. They’re doing crazy stuff every single show," Grace said.
A different way of doing things in 2019 is using the oft-forgotten bear hug as a finish. Grace has long advocated the move, even making the case to Fightful when we interviewed her last year before delving back into things again.
Working smarter, not harder.
"Man, I’m gonna be straight up honest with you guys. My cardio is not the best," Grace laughed. "And I just saw the bear hug and was like, “You know what, I think that’s believable. I think it’s believable that you can squeeze the life out of someone. And also I don’t have to run or really pick up anybody. I can just stand there and hold them as tight as I can and squeeze as hard as I can. And I think that would be an awesome finisher.” And that’s how that went. There’s a ton of different ways to do it. And like I said, I did win a battle royal with that. I had the girl on the outside and I did the bear hug until she passed out then I just dropped her to the floor. So, there’s creative ways to make it work"
Grace has expectations, excitement, and plans, and maybe the devastating bear hug can take her there.. With IMPACT Wrestling's Bound for Glory right around the corner, that's on her mind. However, a well deserved break from the wrestling world looks to be in the cards for her shortly after.
"I’m excited for Bound for Glory. I think that’s gonna be cool. I’m not gonna say what’s going to happen— I’m not going to give you that exclusive! Outside of wrestling, I’m taking the whole month of December off. I don’t think IMPACT’s running at all. So I’m not going to be leaving my house for probably 30 days straight, and I’m looking forward to that the most, to be honest. Not that I’m trying to push like the year by, because I have some incredible matches coming up. And I’m going a lot of different places, but I hate flying. It stresses me out to no end. And I’m just ready to relax for a month. And that’s also one of the reasons why I wanted to get what I thought I was worth at IMPACT because even though I’m not wrestling for that month, I’m still guaranteed to be able to live my life," Grace said.
After that, maybe an IMPACT World Title run? "That is absolutely a goal. 100%," she closed.
You can follow Jordynne on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, at @JordynneGrace or Trisha Parker. IMPACT Wrestling's Bound For Glory takes place October 20 from the sold out Odeum Expo Center in Villa Park, Illinois.
Editor's note: the order of some quotes were changed for clarity