For the better part of the last decade, 29-year-old Brittanee Sloan has entertained crowds around the country with her "bad guy" wrestling persona, the Fallen Flower Kikyo.
The Spokane transplant, who grew up in California and also lived in Florida, has spent countless hours training to be a professional wrestler, facing off in matches in cities across the U.S. and even training to go to Japan.
Truth be told, when she gets in the ring, it's the boos she thrives off of, not the cheers.
"I love being a bad guy. It's the best when you have a 6-year-old telling you to 'F.O.,'" she says. "I get to be that customer service representative that finally gets to tell that shitty customer to 'Go to hell' and they can't do a damn thing about it."
While for many, pro wrestling brings to mind cheesy stunts that can look less than realistic, Sloan knows from experience that every time she's hit with a folding chair or a table, or gets slammed to the mat, it's very real, and it takes a real toll on her body.
So, when someone asks what she does outside of her day job through a local temp agency, it really boils her blood when she says she wrestles and their response is, "Oh, that fake stuff?"
"Oh yeah, that fake stuff that broke my knee," Sloan says. "I've messed my ankle up really, really, really badly and then wrestled on it two weeks later; I walked into the show on a cane. I've also dislocated my elbow. This isn't fake — what we do is a dance, it's a physical dance, it's physical improv."
The matches are real, she explains, but there is an element of cooperation with opponents ahead of time to make sure things don't cross any lines, she says.
Take, for example, the time in Chicago when she got in the ring against an opponent with a lazy eye.
"So I proceed to say I'm going to fix it for her, slap her straight. So I slap her in the face and the whole crowd starts to boo," Sloan says.
That was exactly the reaction she wanted. But what the crowd hadn't seen was the conversation ahead of time, when Sloan let her opponent know she had an idea for the match that she wanted to make sure was alright.
"That's something she's been made fun of for her entire life. So that of course is something I want to ask, 'Is this OK? Will that trigger you to beat the shit out of me?'" Sloan says. "There's that conversation to be had. You have to take care of each other both mentally and physically, because your life is in each other's hands."
That's not an exaggeration: at least two pro wrestlers have died in the ring in the last five years, and many others over the years have broken their necks or sustained other serious injuries after one slightly wrong move.
Almost exactly a year ago, Sloan was in Japan ready to start a two-month pro tour when, on the day of her first scheduled match, everything went wrong.
"We were training before the show and I picked the girl up on my shoulders and just felt my knee pop and I went down," Sloan says.
She soon learned she tore her ACL completely from her femur. Not only did that mean she was out for the tournament that she'd looked forward to for months, but it also meant getting surgery and spending the better part of the last year recovering and going through physical therapy.
Just this month, she was finally able to get back in the practice ring for the first time since her injury, where she was able to jump, roll and bump (that's when wrestlers slam flat on their backs on the mat). It's all about getting her body back into wrestling mode.
Luckily, Sloan says, she's been supported throughout the healing process by Cascade Championship Wrestling, a Spokane-based professional wrestling company that brings pro matches to Eastern Washington.
While she hasn't been able to slam other wrestlers around herself, Cascade tapped Sloan to host matches.
She's especially stoked for a special match she'll be hosting this weekend, "The Queen of the Ring" tournament. The folks at Cascade say this is the first ever all-female pro tournament to come to Spokane, with eight female wrestlers from around the country and Canada flying in to challenge each other at the Shriners Event Center, just off Interstate 90 near the airport.
Like Sloan, they mean serious business. This isn't going to be the women's wrestling of yesteryear that some might imagine, she says.
"You're not going to see panty matches or evening gown matches. You're going to see hard-hitting women, and see these girls beat the crap out of each other," Sloan says. "It's going to be fun. It's going to be empowering. A lot of these girls, yeah they're gorgeous, they're drop dead gorgeous. But they will also dropkick you in the face."
The wrestlers scheduled to appear include Calamity Kate, Liiza Hall, Shayla Carver, the Great Bambina, Bambi Hall, Lisa Lace, CJ Stokes and Paradise. Though the match falls on one of the days of Hoopfest, Sloan says it's going to be well worth opting for the wrestling.
"Why would you want to go see sweaty men play 3-on-3 basketball when you can watch eight hot, sexy, powerful women beat the hell out of each other?" she asks.
As for the Fallen Flower Kikyo's return to the ring, the doctor's note hasn't been signed just yet. But even getting a taste by being able to host and start practicing again has made Sloan more sure than ever that she wants to get back at it.
"Wrestling is just life," she says. ♦
The Queen of the Ring Tournament • Sat, June 29 at 7 pm • Shriners Event Center • 7217 W. Westbow Blvd. • $5/$15 VIP/$3 military discount • facebook.com/CascadeChampionshipWrestling