Friday, 5 December 2014

There's Something About Ivelisse

When Tough Enough returned in 2011 one of the show’s fourteen contestants was Ivelisse Velez, a 22-year-old who’d been wrestling on and off since 2007. She was one of the season’s better potential wrestlers, having a good look, athletic ability, and a demonstrable passion for the wrestling business. Had she not been cut after suffering a leg injury I think there’s a good chance she could have made it to the end of the series and won.

Not that getting cut was necessarily the worst news. Having obviously impressed somebody Velez was signed to a developmental contract later in 2011. She worked for both FCW and NXT over the following nine months, before being released in the autumn of 2012. I saw all three of her matches on NXT (a victory over Paige, a count out win over Natalya, and a loss to then-monster Tamina Snuka) at the time and enjoyed them well enough, but she didn’t make a huge impression on me. From what I can remember she struck me as perfectly competent but nothing more.

That changed when she rocked up on Impact Wrestling in early 2013 as part of their ill-fated (and ill-thought out) but well intentioned Gut Check segment. For those who’ve blocked Gut Check from their memories or been lucky enough to never see it it was a segment presented as something of a shoot, where two wrestlers would compete for permanent spots on the TNA roster. Ivelisse cut a fantastically passionate promo about how she’d loved wrestling since she was a kid, saying that she desperately wanted to make it.

Nine times out of ten wrestlers trot that out when they’re in similar situations, and in most cases I’m sure it’s true. But it’s been heard so often that it’s hard not to see it as something of a cliché these days. That wasn’t the case with Ivelisse. She gave an excellent performance that made her stand out. She seemed particularly sincere with her claim and her desire to succeed. It was heartening to see someone like that in TNA.

Ivelisse was booked to win her try-out match opposite Lei’D Tapa but it was Tapa who got the contract. It seemed a contradictory way of operating, but that’s TNA for you. Tapa would be dispatched to OVW to “learn how to work” before returning as Gail Kim’s bodyguard, only to get released for not being a good enough wrestler. It strikes me now as a perfect example of the age old wrestling approach of desiring size over anything else. And also of TNA not having a clue what they were doing.

Since then Ivelisse has most prominently worked for the various WWN Live promotions. She’s worked as a valet for the likes of AR Fox and Rich Swann on EVOLVE and Dragon Gate USA shows, usually being used to combat Su Yung in her guise as the Premier Athlete Brand’s secretary. Her work there has been fine for what it is. The fem-gangster act isn’t the best thing ever but it at least seems believable and is played with conviction. We’ve also seen her on Lucha Underground, so it’s not like she’s lacking TV exposure.

Ivelisse likes a rag-scarf.
But it’s Shine where she’s truly… well, shined1. Since her WWE release she’s become a regular for the promotion, earning herself a top spot, being a founding member of Valkyrie, and enjoying a reign as the group’s second ever champion with quality matches against the likes of Mia Yim, Serena Deeb, and Nevaeh. She has made herself someone to watch and helped make Shine a group to pay attention to. When she was champion she carried the title like it meant something to her, a trait far too rare amongst wrestlers.

Getting released by WWE in 2012 was probably, in hindsight, about the best thing that could have happened to Velez. She’s getting regular work against a wider variety of opponents than she would have had were she based at the developmental performance centre, and she has far more creative freedom. She’s also been on a tour of China, something not even WWE would have offered her.

But as well as she’s doing outside of WWE I hope to see her make her way back there at some point. It’s always nice to see a hard-working performer getting paid good money, and matches pitting Ivelisse against Sasha Banks, Bayley, Charlotte, Natalya and Paige could all be superb. Basically if WWE ever get their act together with women’s wrestling Ivelisse would be a great signing. She’s got the look, the passion, and the ring skills to be an asset to women’s wrestling and any promotion, from Shine to WWE, that has the sense to hire her.


1 This is possibly a grammatical error. It could be “shone” rather than “shined”. But I felt comfortable with this as I’m a fan of puns. Deal with it.

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