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A Woman Draped in Pelts Competes for the Belt

By Sara Flanders

In 2015, Gina Menold had no idea that her task of helping her husband advertise the new season of his horror television show would lead to the start of a career in professional wrestling.

After a fateful meeting with the owner of the International Wrestling Cartel (IWC), Menold decided to make the jump and try-out and has trained and traveled across the country ever since. Working with IWC, she is getting stronger, improving her techniques, and focusing on the ultimate goal – to make it to one of the internationally televised shows.

“I’d like to make it to television, especially a pay-per-view just once,” Menold said. “Whether it’s Ring of Honor, Impact, or NXT.”

THE START OF IT ALL

Menold, 28, was born in Cape Town, South Africa, but was raised in Pittsburgh. Being the only girl of four children, she realized at a young age that the best way to bond with her father was to watch wrestling with him. Her mom had her try a range of activities as a kid, including dance, playing musical instruments, and sports, which lead to her playing soccer for 11 years.

In 2012, she was working at the Hard Rock Café in Station Square when her manager decided to host the after-party for the Pittsburgh Zombie Festival. There she met the creator of the festival and her future husband, Mark Menold. Mark asked her out at the party, and after meeting for drinks at The Village Tavern,sparks flew, and they’ve been together ever since. Over time, she took on more responsibility with helping Mark with his TV show.

Gina and her husband Mark. Photo Courtesy of Gina Menold

While helping her husband advertise for the new season of The It’s Alive Show, Menold noticed a weekly local wrestling show on the same channel and decided to reach out to the owner, Justin Plummer for help with advertising.

Once she met Plummer, current owner of the IWC, he told her about the Stronghold Academy located in Pittsburgh. Menold mentioned that she was a big fan of professional wrestling, and Plummer told her when the next tryouts were.

That was the beginning of it all. She has been involved ever since.

She tried out with head trainer Brandon K, Dean Radford, and Crusher Hansen, who were in charge of the academy. She says the tryout included running a mile and doing 100 squats, 100 sit-ups, and 100 push-ups in under 20 minutes.

“I barely completed,” Menold said. “[But] I passed and started training the following week to learn the basics and psychology.”

PERSONA TRANSFORMATION

Menold said she was unsure of who her wrestling character would be at first. She wanted to stand out like the characters she knew from her childhood, including Mankind, the Undertaker, and Roddy Piper. Her inspiration finally came while watching a Netflix documentary about honey badgers, who are native to South Africa.

After learning they were small animals with stocky builds and thick skin, and Menold herself being 5’0” and 185 pounds, her husband said it was the perfect persona for her. Mark helped her write out a character that would stand out in the business (which is hard to do). Menold had to study how the animal walked and acted to try to translate it in the ring so it would make sense to the audience.

“Finding my persona was serendipitous,” Menold said.

Gina as Honey Badger. Photo courtesy of Gina Menold.

Many of her fellow wrestlers, including Daniel Hooven, 34, and Steve Schneider, 27, respect her choice of persona because of the intensity and uniqueness of it. She has a reputation of being unorthodox because she uses tactics like biting and scratching and enters the ring covered in fur and war paint.

“She stands out for all the right reasons,” Hooven said. “She embraces the inner badger and stands out, she is one of a kind!”

“It’s a breath of fresh air- most women wrestlers want to be the barbie doll supermodel,” Schneider said. “Gina wants to be a badass and I love it.”

The crowds have also taken to Menold’s wild persona- she has an original theme song that was composed by her husband and Amy Bianco of Motorpsycos. She portrays herself as tenacious, impactful, and fearless of taking on any opponent of any size, male or female.

But that fearlessness doesn’t make her undefeated. The loss that stands out the most was her match against Tessa Blanchard in 2016. In a fight for the PWX women’s title, Menold fell to Blanchard after a 20-minute match.

“It woke me up to how much I still needed to grow and learn as a wrestler,” Menold said.

LIFE AS THE HONEY BADGER

Max Petrunya, 33, a fellow IWC wrestler started training around the same time as Menold and has been able to watch her transform over the years. He has been able to see how her persona took shape and grow in intensity. He has also been able to see her comfortability and confidence grow in the ring.

“I love seeing her progress from show to show,” Petrunya said. “[I’m] so proud of everything she has accomplished and will continue to accomplish in her career.”

Promotional poster featuring Gina and Max Petrunya. Graphic
 courtesy of Gina Menold.

Over the years, Menold has also had to learn the ins and outs of the wrestling world and the culture surrounding it. She says it’s unlike anything she has experienced in both positive and negative ways.

On the positive side, she has had the opportunity to travel across the country for shows, meet new people, and form bonds as strong as family. She became so close with her training class, that many of them were invited to her wedding.

On the flip side, however, she says the wrestling scene is not always glamorous.

“The wrestling scene behind the curtain is so dirty,” Menold said. “It’s very cult-like with secret handshakes [and] unwritten rules.”

One of the craziest things she has seen during her career was when it was discovered a promoter in McKeesport had hidden cameras in the women’s locker room.

“The craziest part [was he] didn’t get murdered by a mob of angry boyfriends and husbands,” Menold said.

THE PASSION SHE KEEPS AT DISTANCE

Menold and her husband Mark have an event planning business, Menold Events, and she works for Lush Fresh Handmade Cosmetics. Although she has a professional Facebook page, she proudly displays her wrestling persona on her personal page as well, with countless pictures from shows she has been in.

Honey Badger in action in the ring. Photo courtesy of Gina Menold.

Everyone she knows is aware of what she does and that she is passionate about it. But she has decided to keep the workings of the wrestling world away from her everyday life. She feels that keeping her wrestling life and personal life separate for the most part will help her relationships last longer.

“I luckily keep it all at a distance as much as I can,” Menold said. “But I’ve always described wrestling as my favorite abusive ex-boyfriend.”

Menold says the lowest part of her career so far was when she suffered a shoulder injury that kept her out of the ring for a full year. She tore her labrum and rotator cuff and had to spend six months in physical therapy. Even after healing and getting back in the ring, her husband, Mark, says he still worries about her safety every second of every match.

However, Menold has also been on the other side of that aisle- she has caused injuries on other wrestlers. Once during practice, Menold was practicing moves with fellow IWC wrestler Steve Schneider, 27, and accidently dropped him on his head.

“I will NEVER let her forget that,” Schneider said with a laugh.

Menold says she is very fortunate that everyone in her inner circle supports her in any way they can. Friends outside the ring will come to any shows they can and cheer her on, while her friends in the ring help her overcome her self-doubt and have more confidence in herself. Her mother has never missed a show since she started back in 2015, and her husband, Mark, travels with her to matches that sometimes take the entire weekend.

Mark Menold says he is very proud of his wife’s accomplishments and feels she’s incredibly devoted which makes her authentic and highly entertaining. But he also appreciates that she leaves her stage persona in the ring and doesn’t bring it home.

“She’s not a vicious animal at home,” Mark Menold joked. “Unless I reach for the last french fry.”

A star RISE-s

The highlight of Menold’s career so far has been her participation in a RISE women’s wrestling seminar earlier this year. RISE hosts seminars and live events to help develop professional women wrestlers skills.

The seminar also included special guests from Impact Wrestling’s development team, and Menold was selected to be a part of the actual show the following day which included a televised match. Menold said it was the best day of her career so far.

“I shared a locker room with women I looked up to and inspired me to start,” Menold said. “It was an amazing 48 hours.”

Fellow IWC wrestlers have a lot of respect for Menold and what she does.

Honey Badger in action in the ring. Photo courtesy of Gina Menold

Daniel Hooven, 34, says seeing Menold kill it at the RISE 2018 seminar is one of his favorite memories of her. Max Petrunya, 33, says his favorite memory is when she made a grand entrance at a show with a live guitarist and dancers surrounding her. Petrunya and Steve Schneider, 27, say their trip to Dayton, OH, is also one of the most memorable because they had such a great time with Menold and spent most of the trip screaming their favorite songs at the top of their lungs.

All of her fellow wrestlers agree that she is a force to be reckoned with and fans love her.

“Gina is truly one of a kind,” Hooven said. “She will make a mark in Pittsburgh and the national wrestling scene before all is said and done.”

LOOKING TOWARD THE FUTURE

Mark Menold says one of his favorite memories during his wife’s wrestling career was the time they had to fly to Chicago for a show. After landing they decided to grab some pizza for dinner, only to learn that a huge snow storm was coming their way. The show ended up being cancelled, for safety reasons, so the couple flew right back home in order to avoid being trapped there by the storm.

“We basically went all the way to Chicago for a pizza,” Mark Menold said.

Menold says her short term goal is to travel around the country more and possibly make her way to international traveling for wrestling. She wants to focus on discovering her style and becoming more skilled by participating in more seminars and camps.

Her ultimate goal is to make it to a TV special such as Ring of Honor, Impact, or NXT. Even if she is unable to get there, she plans on continuing wrestling as long as she can.

“I’d like to keep going as long as my body will take it but I know there’s a point I’ll want to leave on a high note,” Menold said. “Whether that’s the next 5, 10, or 15 years I’m not sure.”

All of those in her inner circle are anxious to see where Menold ends up in the next few years. They all feel her personality and her connection with her fans will allow her to do great things in her career. She recently encouraged her fans to vote in the midterm elections and gave away Honey Badger stickers to those who voted, as well as chose one person to receive a t-shirt.

Her persona is so different compared to other female wrestlers, that even if she loses, it is hard to forget her performance.

Honey Badger in action in the ring. Photo courtesy of Gina Menold.

“Gina’s ability to connect with the fans and her intensity makes her one of the best in the area,” Petrunya said. “You can put Gina in any spot, on any show, and people will walk away remembering her.”

Overall, Menold just wants to continue being herself, having fun, and seeing where it takes her.

“I’d like to be a champion someday, especially in my hometown,” Menold said. “I’ve never won a belt in my career, but I also felt I never needed one to prove my worth in or out of the ring.”

This story was originally published on Offbeat ‘Burgh, a magazine product of Point Park University’s School of Communication.

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