UPDATE: Student shot by another student at Albemarle High School; suspect in custody

Female professional wrestler from Raleigh tries to push her way to the top

Roni Nicole will be one of the wrestlers appearing Saturday night at Ribfest. (John Edwin May)

Roni Nicole will be one of the wrestlers appearing Saturday night at Ribfest. (John Edwin May)

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Roni Nicole is fighting for her dreams — literally, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.

As a female professional wrestler, she’s used to having to push her way to the top, whether that means disregarding disapproval or taking on the men, she said.

With few female wrestlers in the area, she’s used to playing in the big boys’ league, training and competing against male opponents.

“I will body slam a dude in a hot second,” said Nicole, 27, who lives in Raleigh. “I let them know from the start, ‘I’m one of you, so don’t you dare take it easy on me.’”

At 5 foot 3 inches tall, Nicole will wrestle against much larger men this weekend at the Texas Pete Twin City RibFest in downtown Winston-Salem.

She will be the sole female competitor. The wrestling is sponsored by the United International Wrestling Academy, based in Jamestown.

The wrestling will be a part of RibFest for the first time and will mix traditional American wrestling with lucha libre, a form of professional wrestling developed in Mexico characterized by colorful masks and costumes and fast-pace, high-flying maneuvers off the ropes. Lucha libre loosely translates to “free fighting.”

Nicole is a traditional wrestler; her opponents will be more versed in lucha libre.

The two styles are completely different, said Rey Perez, the founder of the UIW, but the organization wanted to attempt something, well, exciting.

“Luchadores like to fly and throw people out of the ring, but American wrestling is pretty much about trying to get your opponent on the ground,” he said. “We don’t ever know what to expect with a hybrid of the two styles, so anything goes. It’s going to be absolutely wicked.”

The two styles also use different techniques, which makes preparation difficult, Nicole said. In the wrestling style seen on World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), wrestlers grab with their left hand and usually begin moves on the left side, she said. But lucha libre involves intricate combinations, one following after the other in rapid-fire succession and most beginning on the right side.

About 30 professional wrestlers will take part in the RibFest event, including one from Africa.

Two matches will be held an hour, each lasting between 15 and 25 minutes. The event will be one of eight qualifiers around the state, culminating in a championship event in Wilmington in August.

Nicole will have two matches today. She sees it as a chance to prove herself.

Nicole said she had always dreamed of being a professional wrestler. Although she wasn’t allowed to watch TV as a child, she said she would often sneak off to watch wrestling matches when her mom wasn’t looking. She hoped to join the wrestling team in high school, but no girls were allowed, she said.

At East Carolina University, Nicole was a dancer and color guard instructor and had a double major in hospitality management and merchandising.

After graduation, she decided that the corporate world wasn’t for her and decided to pursue her dream of professional wrestling.

“I always knew I wanted to do wrestling as a career, and now I’m running with the big boys,” she said. “They can be brutal, but I can’t be weak or submissive. I have to show my dominance and authority so I can be taken seriously.”

And she’s used to throwing around men much larger than she is. She trains at an academy in Wilson’s Mills, which is between the eastern North Carolina towns of Clayton and Selma, with such male professional wrestlers as Chilly Willy, a retired WWO heavyweight champion.

Nicole said that wrestling men toughens her up, and she hopes to one day sign with WWE or go to Japan, where she said the female wrestling is more competitive.

Nicole said hopes her story will serve as an inspiration for young women about the importance of perseverance.

“Even though it’s a challenging journey being a female in a male-dominated sport, it’s something I love,” she said. “I want to show that no matter what you’ve been through, you are the captain of your future. If you don’t go out there and fight for your dreams, you’re never going to get there.”

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