Impact’s Mickie James reflects on ‘The Last Rodeo,’ idolizing Sherri Martel

Reigning Impact Knockouts Champion Mickie James is enjoying her fifth reign after defeating Jordynne Grace at January's Hard To Kill in a title vs. career match to win the gold. 

She will rematch Grace for the title at next Friday's Sacrifice before a four-way title defense at Impact x NJPW Multiverse United the following Thursday if she can survive that match.

I caught up with James for a 30+ minute conversation you can watch above.

Prior to winning the title, she embarked on her self-titled "Last Rodeo" where she would retire the next time she lost unless she won the Knockouts title. That stretch saw her have some top notch-matches with former champions such as Mia Yim and Taylor Wilde. 

While James has had a few runs in Impact dating back to 2002, her most recent stint with the company commenced during the summer of 2021 at Slammiversary after she had previously been released by WWE in the spring. 

"I came back to Impact with one goal and that was for Empower. That was to find a way to celebrate women's wrestling and make it this really united cause across the board from company to company to really celebrate their women and to prove that women could deliver and in an element when given the proper opportunities," she said. "I was in a very transitional phase of, 'OK, well, what else can I prove in the ring?' I have been able to do it all. I have been very blessed. I have had a very illustrious career. I have done more than I ever imagined and and I am very grateful for that."

While James has always been at the top of her game, she did recall questioning whether or not she could compete with the current women. 

"…There was this opportunity to come in and fight for the championship. And at the time, I wasn't for sure that I could still (go). The women are killing it across the board everywhere you go. And I was like, 'Can I still hang with this group and do I want to?' Because, it's a task and not just a task on a physical level, but on an emotional level of mine."

One of the things about James and her matches is she always does something different and it always feels unique to the opponent.

"My style, like "Hardcore Country," is very adaptable. But you're going to have a different style match with every person that you're in there with because there's different stories and they are very different athletes between their moveset or how they just move out there. I always want to tell that story or be able to build that and make sure that everyone shines in that match no matter who. You're only as good as the person that you're standing across the ring from ever." 

James said she wanted to finish out her career in a "blaze of glory" and have some of the best matches of her life.

That's really what the Last Rodeo was about. It was a real test to myself and to hopefully go out with a big hurrah, because that's all I really wanted," adding that she also wanted to prove she could still be a champion. 

"I know that only ten percent of wrestlers in the world get it, but I just wanted that beautiful bow to button up what I felt was a beautiful career. And so in doing that, to prove to myself and to prove to the audience and to prove to every woman in that locker room that not only I still belong and I, you know, can still go, but I can still be a champion."

Women's History Month 

The entire month of March celebrates women's history. Given that James has been in the business for over two decades and has seen it all, I asked her which woman or women she feels has made some of the biggest contributions to the sport of women's wrestling. 

"I would say 'Sensational' Sherri (Martel) every day, all day. Obviously there's a mountain of women that belong on that list. You know, Miss Jackie, Jazz, Molly Holly, Madusa, Luna Vachon, who probably doesn't get the credit that she's deserved because she didn't look the part or whatever. But little Mickie James was terrified of Luna beyond like legit was like 'Oh my God.' Real terror," she said.

"Sherri was so different to me as a wrestling fan. I loved her because she didn't wrestle like the women. You could tell that. Even a young me could tell that she was very respected in the locker room by the women and by the men. You could tell that she feared nothing, that she would take no sh*t, and that she wanted to go out there and be better than the boys."

"And I know that same mentality because I'm like, 'Oh, you got to prove yourself. We got to prove that we belong.' That whole female empowerment thing, she was so different and the way she looked. She was just fearless in her delivery of everything, and it was never like she was a meek sheep, like, kind of lifting up her guy. She owned the presence regardless of who she was standing beside."

"She was as big of a star as the person that she was standing beside and she knew exactly how to highlight them and then highlight herself and make her moments mean something. (She was) magical on her promos and her owning of that character, it was just magic to me. And I would find myself as little Mickie James going like, 'Oh my God. She's so cool and she's so strong and she's so powerful. She's not afraid of these men. She's not afraid of these circumstances.' She just owned it, you know, everything. And she is my inspiration. She's my idol. There is no one that can touch Sherri Martel in my opinion."

James recalls telling the story of the time she got to ask Shawn Michaels about Martel.

"I remember we were on a European tour and there may have been a beverage. I don't know, we don't have to talk about that part (laughs). He's on this tour. I had my vodka bravery on. So, we're sitting there talking about the industry. I was like, 'How do I as a woman break out and just be different and be seen as one of the boys in this sense?' And also, 'How would someone like me reach that same level?' And he goes, 'Well, you know the one thing I could say is that for Sherri, the most beautiful thing about her and probably the thing that held her back the most is that she wrestled like the boys and she was seen like one of the boys. You know what I mean?'"

"She worked hard to prove herself, that she was one of the boys. I felt like in that moment, I realized if I really want to elevate the women's brand, I got to be more like the boys. And I got to wrestle as hard, just like the guys. I got to train as hard, but add my own flair and add my own thing to it. So it was humbling to know that someone who I idolize so much went through some of the same stuff."

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