Melissa Coates Interview by Larry Goodman
Q: I wanted to ask you about your family background. In your bio, you said the rest of your family was pretty conventional.
Melissa Coates: I’m from Thunder Bay, Ontario. My father was a doctor. My mom was a nurse, and she was also an amateur actress, which is probably where I got some of performing interest from. My two brothers are doctors. My sister has written a few books, but she’s actually more of a social worker now. She also studied philosophy. I also went to school and got degree in Biology. I just ended up enjoying weightlifting and started doing powerlifting, and from there it progressed. I played a lot of sports when I was younger. I really loved tennis. At the time, the person I most looked up to was Martina Navratilova because of her muscular build, so I actually started using weights to train for tennis and I developed really easily, and it just kind of went from there. I have my college degree. I can fall back on it, I suppose, but I just enjoy sports. I’m the best athlete in my family. That’s what I enjoy, and lucky for me, I’ve had some success doing it.
Q: You were championship level as a junior tennis player, correct?.
Coates: Yeah, I won the Canadian Junior girl’s title. My mother would have loved if I had stayed in tennis. It probably would have been a lot more money, too. Obviously, I like the unconventional things in life, so I chose an unconventional path doing women’s bodybuilding. It’s the kind of person I am. I like things that are different. I guess I like to push the envelope a little bit, or do things people don’t typically consider “girly.” People wouldn’t normally consider bodybuilding girly. I guess they never will. They probably don’t consider wrestling girly either. I suppose you could say I have a strong tomboyish background. I really feel good doing physical things. I like the idea of having a strong body but also having a very girly face. A lot people think femininity and muscle can coexist. The piece they did on AskMen.com was validating to me in terms of straddling that line. I can’t imagine doing a regular 9 to 5 job and that being the end all of my life. Eventually, I want to settle down, get married and have kids, but right now I have too much physical energy. I love wrestling. I’m combining my physique, my bodybuilder background, and my love of performing with the wrestling.
Q: You had an interest in veterinary medicine at one point?
That’s what I originally wanted to do with my science degree, which I got from Lakehead University in Thunder Bay. I played co-ed rugby there. It was a good team experience. It was tough, but I had blast. Those guys play hard and party harder. I used to work at a vets when I was training for tennis. Like I said, I fell in love with tennis first and then bodybuilding. With the weight training and the powerlifting, I had a really good bench press. Then I pushed it even harder. I was doing weight training and powerlifting and then added the diet, which is what really differentiates the wannabe bodybuilders from the real bodybuilders. A lot of times, people can’t handle the diet. So, I keep pushing myself harder. Now, I’m trying to keep a muscular build with wrestling. Honestly, this is the hardest thing I can imagine doing.
Q: When did you first get interested in pro wrestling?
Coates: As a teenager, I used to watch it Saturday mornings. I just remember thinking how cool it was with Hulk Hogan, Macho Man and Miss Elizabeth. I was more into wrestlers with really impressive physiques, and Hogan and Macho Man had really amazing physiques. But I also liked the emotional triangle, the passion of that whole story with Elizabeth- sweet, demure girl stuck in the middle of all these misunderstandings. It was exciting. Wrestling got you involved at so many different levels. There were the amazing looking bodies, the amazing athleticism in the ring, the charismatic personalities, the drama, and the really good storylines that got people emotionally involved.
Q: So were you following it as a fan from that point on?
Coates: On and off, because I was playing serious tennis and then serious power training and then serious bodybuilding, and honestly, there’s only so much you can do. I tend to completely engulf myself in whatever I’m interested in.
Q: You have to, to get to the level you did.
Coates: Yeah, you have to. It’s very difficult. And with wrestling there’s so much more. I’m very young into this business, Compared to bodybuilding, which is a much smaller world, wrestling is gigantic. There are so many things to know. So many people to know. So much history to know so you respect the backgrounds of everyone that’s put their lives and bodies through this to live their dreams.
Q: Did you leave Canada for Los Angeles because of the bodybuilding business?
Coates: Yes. I had done a lot of magazine work, and the magazine people, the Weider magazines, although I guess they’re not Weider magazines anymore, but Flex, Muscle & Fitness, the majority of that sort of culture is in California. The magazine people and photographers advised that I move to California. So I moved there 3 months before my first professional contest.
Q: Tell me about the body building diet.
Coates: It changes depending whether you’re trying to get ready for a contest, or if it’s off-season and you’re trying to put weight on. Since you’re trying to build muscle, it’s mostly protein. I don’t eat a lot of fish unless I really want to lose weight fast, but chicken and turkey. I lot of bodybuilders don’t like to eat beef, but I think it builds muscle well. The key thing with the bodybuilding diet is you eat every few hours because you’re body only absorbs so much protein. You only want to feed your body as much as it needs, so for bodybuilding, that means eating a lot of protein because it breaks down muscle tissue and the protein is necessary to build it back up, so you’re eating protein every two and half to three hours. I would eat some carbs before your workout and some after. You try to limit carbs at night because you’re not going to be burning calories while you sleep. And then a certain amount of fat is needed for healthy hair, skin and nails. So the key is eating 6 to 8 meals a day. It’s a job in itself – eating to be a successful bodybuilder.
Q:: How did you have to modify your diet for wrestling?
Coates: For the wrestling you don’t have the luxury of being able to eat on schedule like that. You have to eat a lot more carbs. You also need a little more fat. You need more weight to take those bumps. When I first start training for wrestling, I had a bodybuilding physique. I was still eating like a bodybuilder and those bumps were brutal. It hurt because I was skin, bones and muscle. I looked really, really good. I looked like a bodybuilder. I miss, to a certain extent, having that type of look where my symmetry was so good, because with the wrestling my body dimensions have changed to meet the demands of the sport.
Q: You physically can’t hold up with that type of a build?
Coates: It’s pretty hard. You get injured much easier. I did this cool swimsuit spread for Muscle Mag two years ago. I was training at OVW at the time and I was trying to do more of Ricky Steamboat style armdrag. Because I was dieting and depleting, I twisted my ankle really badly. Your body is not going to have the same sort of water in the joints, it’s not going to have the nutrients to work towards that sort of functional movement. The big adjustment is going from display muscle, which is what bodybuilding is, it’s all about how you look, to wrestling, which is all functional. And for me, it was a real challenge at first. I was one of the top women in world of professional bodybuilding. I did the Ms Olympia a couple of times. My highest rank was number nine in the world. I was also very well publicized in magazines, which was really cool. I was one of the last woman bodybuilders that got cover work, poster, and centerfold work, as well as being a top ranked competitor. I’ve been on the cover of Muscle Mag, Ironman, Flex, Muscular Development and Muscle & Fitness. I’m very proud of that. In any case, I needed more carbs, more fats, and more electrolyte drinks. If you’re not feeding your muscles the sugar to replenish glycogen, and get them to move to do what you need to do, it’s much easier to get injured. There were a number of top bodybuilders that tried to get into wrestling back in the late 90s, some of the top men in the world. They look huge and imposing and really impressive, but they would get hurt wrestling. Not too long ago, I was talking with one of the top guys that had been interested in wrestling. He was asking what I had been up to. I do fitness modeling now. I haven’t competed in bodybuilding in quite a few years and I told him I was wrestling. He said, “Wow. You can really get hurt doing that.” I said, “Yeah, but I love it.” I feel good doing it. It’s fun. I love entertaining. I need that sort of rush.
Q: So how did you get started with your wrestling training?
Coates: When I was bodybuilding, I was watching WWF. I loved the “Attitude” era. I loved DX. I had a lot of people say to me. “You should check out Chyna.” Of course, I’m not 5-9 like Chyna is. I just under 5-5, so I consider myself more of bikini bodybuilder, like a muscular bikini model because I’ve done a lot of swimsuit issues and lingerie issues. I was missing being athletic. Bodybuilding doesn’t require a huge amount of athleticism. I was just starting to get bored with it. It just wasn’t interesting me the way it used to. I had done tons of magazine stuff. I had done Ms Olympia twice. I had done Ms International twice. I won my first pro show, so I had already accomplished a lot within that world. I started watching WWF a lot more, and then I started meeting people that were friends with other people in the wrestling business, and got interested from there. It was a slower process getting into it because I had to let some of my muscle mass pare down a bit. People think I’m big now, but I was a lot bigger before. I’ve hardly trained my upper body in four years. I started letting my upper body shrink down a little bit by the end of 1999. I actually did Ms. International probably smaller than I should have because I was beginning the process. But I knew it was going to be a long process for me. When I started training, I had friends up in Boston, so I ended up going to Killer Kowalski’s school. Like I said, at first it was difficult getting that functional muscle working instead of just having the muscles that looked really good in the way of women’s bodybuilding. I had to suddenly get used to being thrown on the canvas. I had a good time at Walter’s school. Eventually there were issues that lead to the school being shut down, and I move back to Los Angeles where I had more opportunities to fitness model and wrestle at the same time.
Q: So how did you make the connection with WWE?
Coates: Back in 99 I believe, they were thinking of doing a women’s league. Some officials from WWE came out to UPW and whole bunch of girl go through some training – cutting a promo, doing some athletic stuff to see if they had the ability to become a professional wrestler. They could observer a model or an athlete and determine if you are going to be an asset the the company. The response I got was really positive. They had advised me start training. However, I wasn’t able to pursue professional wrestling at the time because I was in the process of getting my green card, which was based on my accomplishments in the world of bodybuilding and fitness modeling. I’m a Canadian citizen, and mine is based upon being an extraordinary alien in a particular area. Like basically, I needed to stay in bodybuilding to get that green card.
Q: That’s the classification? Extraordinary alien?
Coates: Yes. An alien of extraordinary ability. It’s really difficult to get green cards based on that, but I got it because I was a top ranked competitor and I was in all the magazines. But that made it hard to barrel into a different pursuit because my qualifications were based on bodybuilding.
Q: So you would have been training with Rick Bassman in UPW?
Coates: Once I moved back to LA, I started training at UPW. From there, I met other VIPs at WWE. I was there only briefly, before Danny Davis invited me out to OVW to train. He is a big bodybuilding fans.
Q: Who was the OVW’s head trainer at that time?
Coates: The trainer at the time was Rip Rogers, and he was great. He taught me a lot. I really liked Rip. He was great with psychology and was very clear and concise with how he presented things.
Q: What were your impressions of your time at OVW?
Coates: I had a really great time at OVW. It was cool that they invited me out there. I wrestled and got to be friends with a lot of the girls on the current WWE roster like Beth Phoenix, Melina, Jillian Hall and Mickie James. I still stay in touch with Melina. I knew her from UPW days. I still stay in touch with a few of the guys from OVW as well. It’s good to hear from old friends. I’m very happy for the girls for all their successes, and I had great times with them at OVW. Hopefully, I’ll be working with them again some day in the future. It was a fantastic opportunity when Danny Davis invited me to train out there. We did a lot of matches in front of crowds, which gives the wrestlers a chance to fine tune their performances. OVW made me realize how tough you have to be to make it in the wrestling business. It’s a tough business with tough people.
Q: Who helped you the most in OVW?
Coates: Danny Davis is really cool. He was very positive with me, and I still stay in touch with him. Rip Rogers was great. He and Danny took the most interest in my development. Jim Cornette is of course, amazing. And he’s so funny and entertaining. I had some limited training from Lance Storm and Al Snow. They were both great in their own ways as well.
Q: What time period were you at OVW?
This was 2003 to 2005. I took a couple of breaks from my training to do the first two seasons of the Extreme Dodgeball TV show, partially because I was told the exposure might help me get a WWE contract.
Q: How did that come about?
Coates: I was contacted by the creators, Mindless Entertainment. They were putting together a team called Barbell Mafia, so I auditioned and I made the team. My role was the star dodger rather than pegging people with the ball. I could throw it 38 miles an hour, but they were coed teams, so the guys would do most of the throwing. It was different gimmick teams like Sumo Storm and Curves of Steel, It was compared to WWE in that it was athletic entertainment. The first season we made the finals, where we lost to the Certified Public Assassins. I actually thought they were accountants until we got to the second season, and I found they weren’t accountants at all. They were just actors who looked the part. The creators took it more seriously in the second season. It was way harder and there was more prize money, so it turned into high stakes dodgeball.
Q: Is it true that you also might be involved in a new version of American Gladiators?
Coates: The producers have contacted me. They’re going to resurrect the show at NBC. I’m considering trying out for that as well. I’m very competitive, so that’s definitely something I want to check out.
Q: I’ve always been curious about your appearance for NWA Rocky Top n Knoxville and the urine angle with Krissy Vaine. How did that come about?
Coates: That was Dr. Tom. They wanted a tough girl out there. It got cut really short, though, because Krissy had some other stuff going on. I was supposed to throw that cup of pee on her, which was actually Mountain Dew. It was funny because she was afraid I was going to throw it in her face. It’s too bad that promotion ended because I met some old school superstars there like Rock n’ Roll Express and Dennis Condrey. Later on, I had the pleasure of meeting Robert Gibson again Deep South.
Q: The next time I saw you was at Deep South.
Coates: I went to Wrestlemania 22 and ran into Tommy Dreamer. He’s one my most favorite people in the wrestling business. Unfortunately, during 2005 I had to deal with some issues that didn’t allow me to focus on wrestling, so I ended up leaving OVW. But once you have that passion for wrestling, you just can’t shake it. I wanted to get back involved. Dreamer made a phone call to Bill DeMott, and through Bill I made arrangements to get down to Deep South.
Q: Share your thoughts on training at Deep South.
Coates: Bill DeMott is a great trainer and a very demanding one. The training was very rigorous. It was very much about conditioning. We did less matches in front of crowds at Deep South. That was the biggest difference, if I was asked to compare the two.
Q: What it your opinion of Joe Hamilton?
Coates: Joe was always a cool guy to me. Very positive. He liked my build. He has real appreciation for a muscularly built woman. His mother was very strong. He was a great storyteller.
Q: With TNA expanding to 2 hours and talk of including more women, do you see a possibility for yourself there?
Coates: Possibly (laughs). I have a good rapport with people there. I’ve met the majority of them. Terry Taylor comes out to Anarchy and checks things out. He was very positive with me the last time I saw him. You never know. You might see me there.
Q: How did the Bag Lady character come about at Deep South?
Coates: This guy I was friends with from OVW actually came up with that. We had a character there called Freakin Deacon, who was very popular with the fans. He was a creepy homeless guy that lived in a sewer and follows instructions given to him by his pet tarantula. So my friend suggested, “What if he had a girlfriend and it was Melissa?” Actually, Jody Hamilton had another really cool idea for me that I was getting ready to work on, which is something a little more me, I would have to say, but he liked the Bag Lady idea so much because it was different. It’s very different from the Diva girls and he really liked that, so I agreed to do it. Apparently, people really enjoyed the character, and I enjoyed doing it. It was definitely not what I envisioned myself doing (laughed). Being a fitness model is making a living off wearing thong bikinis. Needless to say, a lot of my fans in the fitness business were pretty shocked. “You’re wearing way too much clothes,” they would say.
Q: Well, it looked like you really threw yourself into it.
Coates: I loved the character (laughs). And I also put a lot of effort into it. I wanted her to be entertaining, charismatic and off kilter, and I thought I managed to do that. I also think I made her sexy in an odd way. I had men hit on me, and I actually collected quite a few bucks with the little change cup I would shake outside the venue. I based look off of Courtney Love’s alternative rocker days. The back story was loosely based off myself – an A lister, well off, famous fitness model who gets ripped off by her manager and ends up on the street. A lot at Deep South said they were glad they didn’t have to do the character.
Q: Digging in the dumpster…
Coates: Yeah. I didn’t mind doing it because somehow, for whatever odd reason, I was able to do a pretty good job. Some of the guys asked, “Have you ever been homeless before? You do that really well.” Thanks, I think. (laughs) I like to feel characters when I do them. That’s the best way to do it, of course. Like get into it. They always say your best character is an extension of yourself, although I can’t really see how a Bag Lady was an extension of myself. You know? When I would be feeling that character, it was kind of painful and lonely, and mentally draining, because I had to go to a dark, desperate spot in my mind to make it as believable as it was. It could be exhausting doing it, but I enjoyed doing it. It was a great opportunity and apparently, fans really liked it. I don’t know that you’re ever going to see a Bag Lady in WWE, but they did have an interest in the character. Deacon’s character got changed several times and he’s now he’s doing the Festus Dalton character on Smackdown. The Bag Lady got transformed into myself by Krissy Vaine, who, in the storyline, was my benefactor. People in the office were entertained by Bag Lady, but with the current trend of the Diva Search and using models, there didn’t seem to be a place for the Bag Lady in WWE.
Q: When Deep South went under you started working indies around Georgia.
Coates: I actually started beforehand. I wanted to get more experience wrestling and doing more matches in front of crowds. I was also able to work on other characters. I started wrestling at Great Championship Wrestling, where I became ladies champion by defeating “Scream Queen” Daffney. I also worked for Georgia Wrestling Promotions and some other independents. Of course, now I’m working for NWA Anarchy.
Q: Seems like there’s a lack of women performers around the state of Georgia.
Coates: That’s partly why I wrestle men now. Which is cool, though, because you always get a lot of attention when you’re wrestling men. You really have to step your game up. I’m not saying they are necessarily better, but because they get more experience wrestling, as a girl, you have to step up your level to keep up with the strength and the speed.
Q: So the whole thing of wrestling men in Anarchy has been helpful to you?
Coates: Oh very, very. There, I work as a powerful, manhating woman, so they’ve taken an interest in me learning a larger repertoire of power moves, and really highlighting my physical stature. It’s really refreshing to be promoted as a strong woman, whereas at Deep South I wasn’t able to be promoted that much, because I wasn’t contracted. Obviously, the developmentals have to spend most of their energy on the contracted talent. It’s understandable. So here in Anarchy, it’s been great. They’re giving me a great spot. I’m doing all kinds of new stuff I haven’t had the opportunity to do. It’s a really great experience. They treat me really great here. I have a lot of support at Anarchy. The level of athleticism here is outrageous. Like I said, they’re really good to me. They’ve given me a really good spot, and they’re encouraging and supportive, and they’re all really great people. I have to thank Jerry Palmer, Bill Behrens, and Todd Sexton for having me here. It’s been really fun working here. I love it. Hopefully, it will continue for quite a while, because I get better and better and always get constructive criticism. They’ve found really nice guys for me to work with. Not every man like to lose to a woman. It’s usually kind of a big deal. The guys I’ve wrestled, they’ve been really cool about it. The important thing is that we’re all having fun, and doing what we love to do, and the fans love it.
Q: How do you react to the “She’s a man” heat you get at the NWA Arena?
Coates: I think it’s funny. I’m a heel, so what else are you going to say to a muscular girl? I usually ignore it. I’m not really offended. I’m also not really crazy about it. Just because I’m a muscular girl doesn’t mean I’m a guy. I certainly don’t have the face of a guy. I just have to laugh it off.
Q: You’ve competed in two worlds where the use of performance enhancing drugs is commonplace. You’re comments?
Coates: First of all, it’s against the law. It’s always better to stay on the right side of the law. And in the long run, they’re not good for you, so it’s better to do without. I think in any sport or business where you have to look a certain way, there are temptations to look for an extra edge. In the long run it’s better to rely on your God give resources. It’s not for me.
Q: In bodybuilding, you had to be competing against women that were using performance enhancing drugs.
Coates: I imagine that some were and some weren’t. It’s hard to tell. I didn’t get in big discussions with other competitors about it, because it’s really none of my business. And they’re going to think it’s none of my business either. It’s not for me. I can say that I was the smallest high ranking professional bodybuilder.
Q: How did the Benoit tragedy affect you?
Coates: That was a really depressing thing. Not that I knew Chris really well, but I had been around him, and he was always very friendly to me. But there’s always things that go on behind closed doors that we don’t know about. I’ve heard bits and pieces in the news, but I haven’t completely kept on it, because I found it extremely disturbing. His depression, the drugs, the effects of the concussions, it’s a complex question for which there is no probably no singular answer. He seemed like such a role model. I have his DVD, “The School of Hard Knocks.” I loved watching him wrestle, and I looked up to him. I don’t even know how much more I can comment on it. It’s still a disturbing thing that I found really upsetting for a good while, and it’s still upsets me.