By Chuck Carroll
Madison Rayne, under various names, has been kicking around the independent wrestling world for well over a decade, picking up titles and accolades along the way. The former homecoming queen and cheerleader caught the wrestling bug shortly after high school. She debuted with Ohio Championship Wrestling, then moved on to Shimmer, Wrestlicious and other promotions, eventually landing with Total Nonstop Action Wrestling.
The five-time Impact Knockouts Champion has now found a new home in Ring of Honor. I had an opportunity to catch up with Madison Rayne as ROH heads out for a two-show swing this weekend that includes a round of television taping in Pittsburgh on Saturday and a live show Sunday in front of her hometown of Columbus, Ohio.
Let’s talk about you and Ring of Honor. You announced in September that you had signed a one-year deal with the company. What attracted you to go there?
It was a long and unexpectedly exciting year for me. 2018 has been really good to me, and it’s allowed me the freedom to go a lot of places and see a lot of rocker rooms and be part of huge, monumental things like Mae Young Classic and like All-In. I was able to spend some time at Ring of Honor and spend some time back in the Impact locker room. That was awesome, and for a while, I thought, well, maybe in 2018, this is the culture of professional wrestling, and I don’t need to have one home if I’m being embraced so warmly by different promotions. But at the end of the day, it feels good to have a company want to invest in you and want you to wave their banner.
For me, it was just, at this point in my career, figuring out where I could be the biggest asset. I’m so incredibly thankful for my time with Impact, but I was getting to a point where I didn’t necessarily think I had done everything that I could do there, but I was definitely wondering if I had. Then, to see Ring of Honor and Women of Honor and the resurgence of their women’s division, how excited everyone was, how good the energy was in the locker room and this group of incredibly talented women.
They’re all so hungry and driven to make Women of Honor something really special. It kind of felt like the early years of my career at Impact, when the Knockouts division was so new. I hope that, in some way, I was able to contribute to the success of the Knockouts division. So, in trying to figure out where the best home was going to be for me, it just felt right, because the energy and the fun environment that Ring of Honor brought every time I was there felt really good. I’m also hopeful and confident that I can help elevate and help make Women of Honor something really, really special that women want to be a part of.
The company put up a poll on Twitter asking fans who you should face: Sumie Sakai, Jenny Rose, Kelly Klein, and Brandi Rhodes. Of that group, who would you choose? Who would your vote go to?
I actually did vote on that! Well, I voted on it because I wanted to see what the result was. Until the poll on Twitter is over you have to select one to see what the percentages are. I think that I voted for Brandi.
Here’s why: I’ve been in the ring with Sumie, and I’m hopeful to be in the ring with her again in the very near future, because I loved my time working with her in the ring. She’s just such a fun addition to the locker room. She brings that happy energy that I was just talking about. Kelly, I’ve been in the ring with numerous times. Even before my time at Impact, years ago, in the early years of my career, I worked a lot with Kelly. Jenny I’ve actually never had a one-on-one, a singles match with, but I would love to.
But there’s just something about Brandi. She’s this really hungry, not up-and-comer, because she’s been around the wrestling business for a long time. There’s this star quality about Brandi, and it makes me excited as a fan to watch her grow and evolve and change. As a competitor, she’s somebody that I really want to get in there with and I want to test her, but I also kind of want to test myself against somebody who’s so young and hungry into being in the ring.
We just had a group of four, but let’s open up the pool to everybody else, regardless of promotion, whether it be here in the States, or Australia, Japan, or anywhere else in the world. Is there any particular talent that you’ve had your eye on?
I’ve made my little dream list. The one that people talk about a lot, probably for varying reasons, would be me and Alexa Bliss. We’re both from Columbus, we’re both small, we both tend to have a bit of attitude when it comes to our in-ring persona.
I’ve met her several times, I knew her years ago, when we both competed in fitness competitions. So, I just think that it would be fun for that to come full circle and for us to meet in the ring. I would love, and I hope that not far down the road it comes to fruition.
I would also love to get in the ring one-on-one with Tenille [Dashwood]. I’ve not had that opportunity yet, so I’m really looking forward to that.
You told my colleague, Scott Fishman, in August that it was your goal to maybe sign with WWE as you were doing the Mae Young tapings. Yet, here you are happily signed with Ring of Honor. How did conversations with WWE go?
Conversations between WWE and myself were always positive. I always got great feedback on everything I did, from the tryout a year ago to just recently doing Mae Young. This past year has been the first and only time that I’ve ever worked in any capacity with WWE. So, that was really exciting this many years into my career, to finally have been able to do that.
But it’s about trying to figure out what was going to be best for me and which company I would flourish the best in. I felt that Ring of Honor was my best option, and that is not saying that WWE offered me something and I said no, I just feel like I was always very honest and upfront about the fact that Columbus was my home and Columbus would remain my home.
I understand that they have a system that they put their talent through, regardless of whether you’ve never taken one bump, or you’ve been wrestling for many years, and that system starts in Orlando. While wrestling is still very, very important to me, being a mother and being a wife, those two things are greatly more important.
There was never that definitive conversation, but just given the fact that I knew and I never wanted there to be any gray area in my communication with WWE, and I made it clear that I could and would not be willing to relocate, I think that probably kind of settled the question there as far as whether or not a contract with WWE was going to be in my future.
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I want to ask you about the unfortunate Roman Reigns leukemia announcement. As somebody in the locker room, how does this hit you when you’ve been working with somebody day in and day out and then you get blindsided by this announcement. It could happen with anybody in the locker room, but in this case, it’s the locker room leader and the champion of the company.
That kind of a situation is almost hard to put into words.
I saw a tweet and I couldn’t have agreed more with it. (It said) the fact that as performers and “celebrities” we are expected to live in these larger-than-life roles and these superhero type characters. But we are human behind the camera and behind the curtain we’re struggling with things that we don’t speak about.
You show up to work, and your job is to work. My job is to go be Madison Rayne and be that character, and the stuff that Ashley might struggle with [is] often muted during those hours that I’m at work. So, I can’t imagine what that did for that company and that locker room. He’s a big man, he’s a strong character on camera, and then for everybody in the company to find out this huge struggle that he’s facing and has been facing for many years.
It’s heartbreaking, because to your point, you spend so much time with these people, and we’re on the road, and we form these bonds, and then to find out that somebody, one of us, one of our own is struggling with something so big and do devastating, it really hits home, no matter what company you work for, no matter which locker room it is that you’re a part of. That resonates, and you feel not only for him and his family, but everybody around him, just wishing for the best and hoping for the best possible outcome to all of this and that we all see him back on our TV screens in the near future.
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Given everything that’s going on in Saudi Arabia, if you’re in WWE’s position, do you pull the plug on Crown Jewel? As a talent, how would you feel about having to go and perform there?
I remember it was years ago, three, four years ago maybe, when Impact was originally, the first time, supposed to go over to India. I don’t remember exactly what was going on at the time, but there was a pretty high travel advisory in that area. There was also the terrorist attack in France, where a lot of us were supposed to connect in our travel to India. I remember not being comfortable, not really wanting to go, and ultimately, the decision was made not to go.
As a talent at that time, I was actually happy about it, because as much as I love wrestling and I want to expose as many fans and as many countries across the world to what we do as possible, at the end of the day, our safety as performers should still be at the forefront of any decision-making process. For me, maybe it’s because I’m a mother and a wife, and I have this incredible life outside of wrestling, I think if it’s even a question whether or not the talent and everybody traveling there is going to be safe, I just feel like maybe there’s a better time.
So, at the end of the day, I feel like if it’s even a question of whether or not it’s safe to send the talent, the best bet is to maybe reconsider at a different time.
>>MORE: WWE’s Controversial Crown Jewel Event In Saudi Arabia To Move Forward
You are signed with Ring of Honor and they have the huge show with New Japan Pro Wrestling in April at Madison Square Garden. Obviously, you’re hoping to be on that card. How do you envision that night unfolding?
I mean, doesn’t it only make sense that Madison Rayne should be at Madison Square Garden?
I’ve not experienced the craziness of WrestleMania weekend. For whatever reason, every year, something else has always come up, and I haven’t been able to be part of the chaos and the craziness. So, I’m excited to be part of it all.
But, oh my gosh, it was before I had actually signed with Ring of Honor that the negotiations, I guess, were happening, and then, of course, I fell victim to reading the internet, and it was like, it’s happening, no, it’s not happening, it is happening, it’s not happening! So, the fact that it’s confirmed, it’s a sellout show at one of, if not the most historical venue for wrestling during WrestleMania weekend, it’s got this really big, really important feel! I feel like that night and that show could be a pivotal turning point for Ring of Honor.
I’m fairly confident in saying the biggest moment, the biggest highlight of my career was being able to be part of something like All-In, and I feel like this show at Madison Square Garden is going to be just as big, if not bigger and more exciting. Again, whether I’m wrestling or not wrestling, I’m going to be there. I’m going to be there to support Ring of Honor, and I can’t wait to feel the energy there.
Whatever part Women of Honor play in that show is going to be huge. It’s going to be exciting, and it’s only going to continue this — not to steal the term — but the evolution of women’s wrestling.
ROH Steel City Excellence takes place Saturday, November 3rd at Stage AE. Fans can meet wrestlers during the ROH Meet & Greets starting at 4 pm, prior to bell time at 5:45 pm. Limited tickets are still available through Ticketmaster.
ROH Survival of the Fittest takes place Sunday, November 4th at ExpressLIVE! Fans can meet wrestlers during the ROH Meet & Greets starting at 5 pm, prior to bell time at 6:45 pm. The event will stream live for HonorClub members. Limited tickets are still available through Ticketmaster.
Chuck Carroll is former pro wrestling announcer and referee turned sports media personality. He once appeared on Monday Night RAW when he presented Robert Griffin III with a WWE title belt in the Redskins locker room.
Follow him on Twitter @ChuckCarrollWLC.