Deonna Purrazzo on telling stories, earning spots, and empowering other women

Deonna Purrazzo discussed several topics with Samantha Schipman
Deonna Purrazzo 2.jpg
Deonna Purrazzo 2.jpg /

Over the last few years, Deonna Purrazzo has made a name for herself as the premiere women's technical wrestler. She spent a couple of years in WWE, where the consensus is that she was misused. Purrazzo then landed in IMPACT Wrestling where she became "The Virtuosa". During her time in the former IMPACT, she dominated the Knockouts division holding the Knockouts Championship three times and the Knockouts Tag Team titles with Chelsea Green as VXT. She also held the ROH Women's Championship and AAA Reina de Reinas Championship in 2022. Purrazzo began referring to herself as the "Champ Champ" when she held both the Knockouts and Reinas titles simultaneously.

In January, Purrazzo signed with AEW. She made her debut in her home state of New Jersey, an idea she pitched to Tony Khan before she signed. As the show got closer and she didn't hear anything, she thought it wasn't happening.

"Oh my gosh. Just thinking about it now -- it's been just about six months -- I could still cry. It was so incredible." After signing her contract, she mentioned to Khan that she's from New Jersey and debuting there would be a dream come true. "I was trying not to be bummed out about it. On Tuesday, Sonjay Dutt reached out and was like, 'Can you come to Newark?' and I was like, 'Obviously! Duh, yeah!' So I flew in that Wednesday and it was just a whirlwind. My dad and stepmom could be there, Steve's
(Maclin) parents could be there. And to walk out and do my spin in the ring and I just looked down for one second and there's my dad like, front row and I just internally lost it."

"It was just everything in my brain that I thought it would be. I feel like in wrestling, things don't happen that way. You build them up and at least for me, I'm a bit of a perfectionist and it's really hard for me to be satisfied with what I do and what I put out there, and that day, there's nothing I would've changed. It was incredible and such a dream come true. Everything I imagined it to be, it was. I tweeted that night, 'a dream come true. Thank you, Tony Khan' because seriously, it was. It was everything I wanted it to be and more."

Wrestling on the pre-show is just as important

Purrazzo originally enlisted Thunder Rosa to be her enforcer on her way to facing Toni Storm for the AEW Women's Championship at REVOLUTION. Purrazzo came up short. She thought Thunder Rosa was taunting her after the loss and eventually turned on her. Rosa would also lose to Storm the next month at DYNASTY. Purrazzo and Rosa would finally face each other one-on-one at Daily's Place where the former Women's champion would get the win.

At Double or Nothing, Purrazzo wrestled Thunder Rosa on The Buy In. The fans were really into the match, chanting for both women and "women's wrestling!" After a great ten minutes, many fans took to social media saying that the match should've been on the main card.

"I think for us, it's one whole show. I saw a lot of the similar feedback [about being on the main show], but I think personally as women. we are the first thing that you saw as a fan coming out for Double or Nothing. We set the tone for the show. The audience was amazing. They loved our match. They loved the energy that we brought. So no, I's either that or we're not part of Double or Nothing. So I was very, very fortunate to be a part of my first Double or Nothing and also be the first thing you saw as a fan in the arena that night."

A certain other company has trained fans to think that the pre-show doesn't matter, when in fact, it sells the pay-per-view to people who haven't purchased it yet. When asked if it adds any additional pressure, Purrazzo says she treats it like any other match. "It's so exciting that if you've yet to decide if you want to buy the pay-per-view or not, you might tune into The Buy In or Zero Hour because it's free. And so to see women's wrestling a part of that, I mean Double or Nothing had three women's matches on it. I don't know the last time or if ever that's happened before."

"So three women's matches -- I think people take for granted that this division is still growing and still introducing people to an audience. I'm new still within AEW. So like you said, to set that tone, maybe get people to tune into the pay-per-view that maybe wouldn't have before, that's a big responsibility to give to the women. And that's what we've been asking for. That's what we've been pushing for and hoping for. So no, I think people need to see it as part of the show. People need to see it as a really great opportunity to set the tone and to continue to build our division and I think Thunder Rosa and I both did that."

Earning a main event spot and growing the division

At Double or Nothing, there was a triple main event which included a match for the TBS Championship. The women have yet to main event a pay-per-view on their own. Purrazzo main-evented several pay-per-views while in IMPACT. "For me as a woman, I don't want to be given a main event pay-per-view spot because we're women. I don't want to just be given that just because it's something we need to do, right? I think when women warrant the position, it's because there's such a story behind them. And so what I think our AEW women's division needs to continue to do is build stories. And sometimes that spans six months."

"You know, in TNA Mickie James and I got to main event a pay-per-view for the Knockouts World Championship for the first time. We told that story for seven months. So what I think our division needs to do is do that. We need long-term storytelling and that's what's going to warrant a main event position. Not just because we're women, but because we deserve that spot because we took it from the men. And I think that the division we have now could absolutely do that."

Purrazzo and Rosa each have one win apiece. Rosa is one of the first women to be in AEW to be in an Unsanctioned Lights Out match. She was also in the first women's steel cage match. The first match was also the first women's match to ever main event of any show in AEW. Since then, there have been several street fights involving women. For their rubber match, would Purrazzo like to have a stipulation match and if so, what type would it be?

"I defintely feel like we need a rubber match. The story is not done. Oh gosh, I don't know. I feel like any kind of hardcore match. I've tossed around ideas over the years of the idea of a submission match or like a Texas Bullrope match. I don't think women have ever done a Texas bull rope match to my knowledge. I don't know, I feel like any kind of stipulation match would be great. We just have to again warrant that position and tell that story."

On the June 8 episode of Collision, it was announced that Purrazzo and Rosa would have a No DQ match. The match will take place on June 15, the one year anniversary of Collision.

At Double or Nothing, a new TBS Champion was crowned in Mercedes Moné. ATHENA has spent over 500 days as ROH Women's Champion. Would Purrazzo set her sights on either of those titles?

"Absolutely. I am a five-time world champion, so I want to keep adding. I'm not done. I want all the championship reigns. I don't have my sights on one in particular. I mean, I did tap Toni out at REVOLUTION, so I should be AEW Women's Champion. I'm still entitled to a rematch of some sort, so I'm definitely working towards that."

"To be able to wrestle Mercedes would be incredible for the TBS Championship. I was a former Ring of Honor Women's World Champion and I also never got the rematch for that. So I feel like the possibilities are endless. I just wanna have as many matches with as many women as I can. I want to tell the best stories. So I'm down for whatever on any show that I'm needed to do that."

Changes at TNA Wrestling

Purrazzo was one of the premiere wrestlers in TNA for several years. Her husband is still there, as are some of her friends. TNA has undergone massive changes in a short period of time with the firing of Scott D'Amore and locker room leaders, Motor City Machine Guns not renewing their contracts. Losing three important figures so close together can turn a locker room upside down.

"I feel like the locker room was at it's peak right before all things happened, right? Then a few of us girls left and I feel like coming out of that was a transition and I feel like people really struggled with how to feel or how to proceed, but once -- it's easy to get in your head to say, 'I don't want this. I don't like that. This isn't what I expected this to be.' It's easy to read into the perception of the internet and what people are saying. But I think once you get to work, you're with your coworkers. Yes, you're so tight-knit and such a family, once you get there, it's like 'Ok, it's time to lace my boots up and go to work.' The vibe becomes different. You settle into that 'I'm here to do my job'. And you know does it suck that my boss isn't the same person anymore? Yes, but I'm going to fall in line and work with this group of people.'"

"I think just from an outsider looking in and obviously talking to my husband and some of my friends, it was a rough transition to begin with. But I think everyone is reinvigorated and everyone is ready to put their best foot forward. And with some of the things that happened this week for TNA (early ticket sales for Slammiversary), I think that perception is coming back. I think they're excited and I'm excited for everyone that's there."

Some fans have said they'd like to see D'Amore involved in AEW or ROH in some capacity. "Yeah, if that's something he's interested in, absolutely. I think that him and I have cultivated such a great relationship through my time at IMPACT, now TNA and I think that he treats women's divisions so special. He just had that perfect storm, magic sauce that with us. He treated us with so much respect and so much dignity. I think if that's something he was interested in doing, it would be to our benefit for sure."

Telling stories outside of the title pictures

TNA/IMPACT has always kept the Knockouts at the forefront of what they were doing, especially over the last few years. A big complaint over the five years of AEW's existence is the women's division and some fans not believing it's where it should be by now. Purrazzo would like to see a focus on storylines in AEW's women's division.

"Also too with me and Thunder being on the pre-show that is a story that has nothing to do with a women's championship. These are really integral parts of a division. It's having women and stories that are featured outside of the titles. And multiple women's matches and multiple women's segments. Promos and storytelling. I think in order to grow and reach that main event scene, that's what we need to do."

"So I feel like the pieces are really being set now to continue to grow and expand and reach that kind of level. It takes time and patience and we have to be patient as women apart of it, but also we need the fans to be patient and keep watching and not just tune out because they feel like they aren't getting what they want or it's not happening."

"There's only so many hours in a day and so much tv time to hold so many people and so many stories. So that's why it's great that there's Dynamite, there's Rampage, there's Collision, and there's Ring of Honor. So we have all the opportunities to tell stories throughout the week. So yeah we just need that fan support to be patient with us and the pieces are being set, like I said. So right now, just keep trucking along with us."

Carving a niche as a technical wrestler

When fans think of technical wrestling, many think of Zack Sabre, Jr. or Jonathan Gresham or Bryan Danielson first. Women who specialize in technical wrestling aren't very common. Purrazzo has solidifed herself as one of, if not the best women's technical wrestler and she didn't even set out to become a technical wrestler at all.

“For me personally, the school that I trained in was an old elementary or high school. The ceiling was very low, so there was no going to the top rope, so it was just happenstance. That’s just what I did was mat work, so that’s always been my basis; what I did since day one. And I think that I’ve really been able to carve a niche and make a career out of the Fujiwara Armbar.” 

“I feel like when it comes to wrestling me, I kind of have to teach my opponent that kind of style and I think that’s what makes me unique. I work really well with other styles and I’m not trying to force technical wrestling on them, but they have to go and transition with me from here and here and here. It’s all arm-based. So yeah, I’d love to see more women do it, but at the same time, it’s what I’ve carved out for myself, so I’m the best no matter what.”

Dealing with harrassment and empowering women

Last month, Skye Blue was sexually harassed by a fan in the audience during an ROH taping in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Fans at the show posted about it, as did Blue’s opponent, Rachael Ellering. Ellering and referee Aubrey Edwards confronted the man after the match. Purrazzo said she was there that night. She can’t recall off the top of her head if she has experienced harassment while wrestling, she has “a ton of experience with it online.”

“It’s so disheartening because we are putting our bodies on the line just like a male competitor is. We are often trying to do more to make ourselves worthy of the fans and the attention that we get. And in a way, I feel that it’s easier for women’s wrestlers to gain that attention, but it’s not always for the right reasons.”

“We have way too many people thinking they have the right to open their mouths about our bodies, the way we present ourselves, and the way we dress. I thought Chelsea Green put it in a really great way how hypocritical it can be where men are wearing just as little as we are. No one is complaining that someone is in little trunks. But the minute a girl has her butt cheeks out, it’s a problem. And how sexist that it is and how wrong it is that you have an opinion about my body.” 

“I get really, really upset and I think for Skye, who dealt with that while she was wrestling, it takes you out of the match. You don’t perform your best because you’re focused on that and not what you’re supposed to be doing. That can cause a lot of issues in terms of can you perform to the best of your ability, but also can you do it safely? Thank God she didn’t go out there and get hurt because that guy was making nasty comments and I mean, I could go on about it all day. But it’s just that men think they have the right to comment on women’s bodies.” 

“We are beautiful in so many different ways and we have to go out there and own ourselves on our worst days and on our best days. We shouldn’t have to go online or go out there and perform and feel like we’re being judged for anything but our wrestling because men aren’t.” 

“So it’s that fight and I’ll get really upset when it comes to things like that. I feel like we have to use our voice and speak out because it’s not happening to anyone else, but it happens to women. So I said something a little bit more aggressive online than Chelsea did. But you know it's disheartening to see that it’s still happening in 2024.”

“We shouldn’t have to turn our phone off. I tweeted this when I first started in AEW because I went through a lot of body shaming and a lot of negativity. And it really – I think I have thick skin and I can handle a lot and not say much —but I said I am a professional wrestler, but there’s so much more to me than what my body looks like and what a number looks like on a scale and what I look like. I just earned a college degree. I have a husband who loves me whether I’m a size small –which I’ve never been – or a size large, which I’ve also never been. I have three beautiful dogs. I own a beautiful home. There’s so much more value in me than what my body looks like and if that’s all you value about me, then I don’t want you as my fan.” 

“I wish that all women could feel empowered the way I feel about myself. I wish that all women had as supportive of a spouse as I have that empowers me every day. And I think that in moments of what Skye went through a few weeks ago, really brings us women’s wrestlers together, but our locker room together to say ‘you are worth more than that. You are beautiful no matter what you wear out there or what you look like out there.’ As sad as it is, it brings the community together in a really beautiful way.”

Speaking of locker rooms, Purrazzo is still pretty new to the AEW locker room. Coming to a new company and new locker room was something that she was nervous about because it was uncharted territory. “There’s a lot of women that I’ve never worked with or don’t know. Obviously we’ve seen so much negativity around both locker rooms and the way people interact. I think that we’re definitely on the other side of that and we all get along.”

 “So I just wanted to come in and be a part of that and put my stamp on it and let everyone know what I’m all about. I’m here to work. I’m here to do my best to make you look your best. And that’s when we produce the best women’s wrestling, when we’re supporting and empowering other women and I am definitely all for that in my real life and in my wrestling life. I was nervous because I wanted the girls to get to know me for me and everything that had ever heard about me or heard about our locker room in TNA. It was important for me to put on my best self for them and let that translate into my wrestling as well.”

Lastly, Purrazzo has a message for her fans. “For me, it’s always just a tremendous thank you. I love you guys all so much. For the last 12 years and through every company I’ve been in, through my ups and downs, I wouldn’t be the wrestler I am. I don’t even know if I’d be wrestling anymore if it wasn’t for all the positive support and love the fans have given me throughout the years. So I am eternally grateful and I always like to take these moments to say thank you.”   

If you use any quotes from this interview, please H/T Daily DDT and credit Samantha Schipman.