For more than 13 years, Gail Kim has used her athleticism and charisma to entertain audiences around the world performing in the ring, and most recently, as one of the top performing Impact Wrestling Knockouts.
Women's wrestling has changed a great deal in the last couple of decades. The early professional female wrestlers had a passion for the business but were few in number. Limited to basic wrestling moves and simple submissions, their matches were fillers on the cards. Valets joined the wrestling companies, pretty faces with the ability to ignite a crowd -- basically managers for the male wrestlers -- who knew how to work the mic and often found themselves involved in matches to help their "man" win.
Now, however, the ladies aren't relegated to arm candy for the muscle-bound he-men, escorting them to the ring and holding their robes. The women are in the ring, and they're putting on a show.
"I got started the conventional way. I had a dream and I followed my dream. After going to a wrestling school, I went out on the independent circuit and paid my dues for two years," Kim said. She's worked for all of the major companies and has recently settled in with Impact, where she's made her mark.
"I've always been happiest here," Kim said. "I've always felt this company was home."
Kim initially joined Total Nonstop Action's Impact Wrestling in 2005 -- recognized as one of the pioneers in the brand's women's wrestling division -- and after a stint with another major company, returned to Impact where she earned a share of the Knockouts Tag Team title, as well as the Knockouts Championship.
"Women's wrestling started off with a small amount of women; Fabulous Moohla, Wendy Richter. People like that. Now you have 12 to 15 wrestlers in a company. When I first started, I was watching wrestlers like Trish Stratus, Victoria. They had more of an athletic role. There's always been a place for women who don't want to wrestle too, but I love being in the ring, entertaining the fans," Kim said.
Today's ladies in the ring have it all according to Kim "She's a great role model. She's athletic. She's beautiful. She's smart. It's the all-around package."
Kim grew up in Canada participating in a wide variety of sports. Basketball, softball, volleyball, soccer; she enjoyed them all.
"I was junior athlete of the year and senior athlete of the year, but when I got to college I wasn't good enough at any of them to keep playing," Kim explained. "I put all my efforts into taking care of my body and put all of my energy and passion into wrestling."
That dedication has paid off for Kim, who is at the top of the industry and a household name for fans.
"I always envisioned big things for myself but the things I've accomplished - mostly with Impact - are more than I could have imagined," Kim said.
She continued, "Just to say I've gotten to do what I love - a lot of people in their lifetime never get to do what they're passionate about."
Recently married, Kim is home in Tampa, Fla. about four days a week, unusual for the industry. It's a perk of being involved with Impact. She can drive to work for TV tapings in Orlando and enjoy some limited quality time with her husband, who also travels for his Food Channel television program.
While she does look to her future in wrestling, she's in no hurry to leave the ring.
"Sometimes in this business, longevity is an issue. It is a man's world in this industry. Companies like TNA put women's wrestling on a platform. The Knockouts division, you watch any of our matches, you'll say we're very physical. We want the fans to watch and say that was a great match. Not just for the girls, but that was a great match."
She's anticipating an exciting match in Spencer Friday night when she and Tessmacher lace 'em up and let it fly.
"I've always kind of called her a rookie, but she's come a really long way. I would say the champion in the Knockouts wrestling division has to be very good, but I've been working really hard and won't stop until I get it right," Kim said. "I was the longest reigning women's champion in Impact from October (2011) until May. I want it back."
Kim started her career as a heel, or bad guy, and spent many years as a baby-face, or good guy, until her recent turn back to the dark side. It's a role she really embraces.
"I'm feeling the groove. I'm looking forward to being the heel. I change my wrestling moves. When I'm a heel, I'm more technical and use submissions. When I'm a baby-face, I'm more of a high flyer," Kim explained.
And she relishes the fan reaction she gets as the bad girl.
"Just on Twitter alone, the amount of hate you get. If you can bring out that kind of passion in the fans, it's intense and you know they're really into it," Kim said.
Kim acknowledged that walking into an arena packed with fans screaming - good or bad - is an adrenaline rush unlike any other and she's planning to enjoy it as long as she can.
"Right now I feel so great," Kim said, despite having spent time recovering from a broken collarbone in the past year, taking her out of in-ring action. "It was so hard for me to sit back and watch everybody in the ring doing what I love to do. I'm going to try and do it as long as I can. I've been so lucky to be able to have done this for as long as I have. Every wrestler has a passion to do it as long as they can."
Looking back on her career, she has a hard time pinpointing her greatest moment, but acknowledged one battle that spanned many matches.
"There's been so many, but my feud with Awesome Kong I think really left a mark with the fans. They will always remember that. It was physical."
The day isn't in her foreseeable future, but Kim is aware that there will come a day when she will have to step through the ropes one final time.
"I would love to leave wrestling at some point on a good note. Everybody wants to go out on top," Kim said. "Most of all, whatever I do next, I want to be passionate about."
She continued, "Because I've had wrestling so long, I know how happy you can be doing what you love. I'm looking forward to a future with my husband and what it holds."
In addition to the women's championship match, Friday night's card will include some of TNA's top talent, including a Battle Royal, for a shot in the main event against the men's champion Austin Aries. The card will include: Bobby Roode, Olympic gold medalist Kurt Angle, "The Charismatic Enigma" Jeff Hardy and "The Cowboy" James Storm among others.