Jeanie Buss exudes female empowerment as the controlling owner and president of the Los Angeles Lakers. That feeling is carried over into WOW: Women Of Wrestling, which is also in her ever-growing entertainment portfolio. It’s a show where female athletes take on the roles of larger-than-life “Superheroes.” It was a presentation Buss couldn’t help but get behind. Partnering with founder David McLane, the company has gone through varying evolutions on different broadcasting and streaming platforms.
Now the all-lady league returns to its syndication roots from 20 years ago. The show has been cleared by 100 percent of the country as part of a big deal with Paramount Global Content Distribution along with international markets. And when you add in popular former WWE women’s champ AJ Mendez signing on as executive producer and color commentator, the stage is set for WOW to reach new heights. That’s what Buss is counting on anyway when we caught up with the trailblazing boss ahead of the premiere.
What is your first pro wrestling memory?
Jeanie Buss: When I went to my first WOW match. That was the first live wrestling I had ever seen. It happened to be what they call a “hair match” where the loser has to shave their head in the ring. I was like, “This is blowing my mind.” I had never heard anything like it. The stakes were high. Ice Cold lost and had to shave her head. It was unbelievable. I loved it the first moment I saw it.
That sounds like the early days of WOW.
I want to say it was 2001-2002. I had heard of GLOW [Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling] before that. It didn’t really capture my attention until I saw this in person. When David was putting on matches at the Forum and kept inviting me to come to see it, I was giving him every excuse in the book. I thought it would be this mud-wrestling or Jell-O wrestling or something that wouldn’t appeal to me. Then when I finally went to a match it all made sense. It all came together. I was hooked.
How has it been for you to learn the ropes of this unique business combining sports and entertainment?
For me, I was the kid that collected comic books. I’m used to superheroes. The good guys versus the bad guys. To see women fighting their own battles was so intriguing to me. I became a fan of wrestling, but it easily translated into the world I grew up in. I was the kid who would pretend to be Supergirl and fly around the house. Here, in real life, I’m watching these great athletes do the same exact thing and do it well.
There is a big buy-in with WOW given the full syndicated television clearance. What were the negotiations like as you were trying to sell the product?
In my career, I have watched the evolution of women becoming more commonplace in the sports business. When David and I were pitching this for five, six, and seven years, we literally sat in a meeting with television executives. They said, “Why do the women want to be wrestlers? Are they drug addicts? Are they single moms who have nothing else to do?” I said, “No, these are really great athletes who deserve to perform before an audience.” It took a while to find the right partner. Thankfully, Paramount was the right partner.
When Wonder Woman came out, I remember sitting in the audience and the opening credits started. I just started crying because this was always the dream. That a strong female could carry a show and be center stage. Finally, entertainment has caught up and realized women in sports and athletics have a place in the marketplace.
What I love about WOW is that these women are portraying characters who are extensions of themselves. The show goes into their backgrounds and why they are who they are through vignettes.
What stands out to me are the Tonga Twins. Island girls who are strong, loyal, and exactly the type of wrestlers you’d want on your side. Their backstory is inspirational. There is the Beast, who is absolutely beautiful and one of the strongest people I’ve met in my entire life. I’m a fan and get tongue-tied when I meet the girls because I’m so overwhelmed with their talent and ability. I’m grateful to be a part of what is allowing them to find their audience and have the platform they deserve. They are not the undercard or sideshow, but the main stars. These girls can carry a show.
You brought AJ back to pro wrestling. She comes with a massive following. What does it do for the brand to have her on the team?
She is so well-respected. She is articulate and so smart and fearless. The idea she saw something special in WOW. Her being able to commit was a validation of all the things we believed in and what we were doing and accomplishing. At first, we had to sell her. We had to let her know what it was we were doing. When she got it, she embraced it.
Are we going to see you on the show? Maybe taking a bump?
I usually stay in the background, but David McLane has a way of creating storylines. I’ll do anything to help this property be successful. If he deems that important, then absolutely. I’ll be there.
This partnership with Paramount opens up a lot of doors. Do you have plans for live shows or even pay-per-view? What are some of those long-term goals?
My dream is always to have a tour and take these women across the country. Take them globally. I want to reach as wide an audience as possible because that is really what the goal of WOW is. That’s what these women deserve.
What kind of response have you gotten from the organization about being in the wrestling business? Will we see some Lakers players at the shows?
I haven’t directly invited any of them, but I know a lot of them are wrestling fans. Dwight Howard even talked about becoming a wrestler when he does retire. I don’t think he is retiring any time soon. Of course, Dennis Rodman is a friend. There is a lot of crossover between the two worlds, and I expect that to continue.
Kept you waiting, huh?
— AJ Mendez (@TheAJMendez) October 7, 2021
A lot of these performers come from athletic backgrounds, but wrestling is new to them. They are essentially learning on the job. What can you say about the training and recruiting process?
We are looking for great athletes and performers who can be a character and bring something to life and connect with the audience. Then, if they have never wrestled before, we can train them. We have the best trainer in the world in Selina Majors. I believe it’s going to be like when I was younger and saw what was possible. Seeing women in positions of power really inspired me. I believe when the audience sees what women can do, it will lead to us discovering the next great talent and so on. I’m looking forward to that growth.
What can viewers expect from this new era?
They can expect great storylines and in-depth character development. What I think I’m most proud of is the diversity of our cast. That every young girl will be able to see herself in our wrestlers. We have wonderful representation. It is wrestling, good versus evil, but what is important is it’s women fighting their own battles and standing up for what they believe in. Maybe what they believe in is a little misguided, but they are not afraid to stand for something. I think that is a message that is really important to our young people right now.
WOW: Women Of Wrestling Premiere, September 17, syndication