Equal parts vixen and vanquisher, the TNA Knockouts hammer home the storylines of their weekly rope operas with pins, rolls, and body slams.
By Alanna Nash
The TNA Knockouts—like their counterparts from the rival WWE, the Divas—add sizzle, spice, and sexiness to professional wrestling. The women, who formed their own Total Nonstop Action Wrestling division in 2007, provide Spike TV’s Impact Wrestling with its highestrated segments. Superstars to wrestling fans in more than 120 countries, the Knockouts prove weekly that they are athletes first, icons second. Penthouse caught up with Traci Brooks, Tara, and Brooke Tessmacher in Orlando, Florida, between tapings.
Why did you want to do this work?
Traci: I think all of us were fans growing up. I grew up in St. Mary’s, Ontario, Canada. Five thousand people. We were pig farmers. I watched wrestling with my dad when I was in grade six. My parents were separated, so my dad just let me stay up late and watch Saturday Night’s Main Event and some Saturday make believe wrestling. I never went to a live show until I got into wrestling. But I always had the mind-set “Women can do what men can do.” We have to look sexy when we do it, but I always wanted to get in there and prove that I could help my man, or I could be a tough woman on my own. I can be sexy but powerful—and kind of dangerous. Elizabeth [Randy “Macho Man” Savage’s valet/manager and wife] was a huge inspiration to me, but I never actually knew it until I got into the business. I’ve been with the company since April 2003, so basically I was the original Knockout.
Tara: I didn’t want to be a wrestler when I was a child. I was a pre-med biology major in college, and I was competing in fitness competitions. My friend Tori was a valet in WWF [now WWE], and I couldn’t believe she was getting paid just to walk a guy out to the ring. And then I met Chyna, who was with WWF, and she said, “Are you a wrestler?” And I said, “No, but I think I could do that,” because I had [done] gymnastics in the past. So I sent myself in. Only my husband knew anything about it. I told my parents, “I’ll do this for two or three months, and then I’ll go back to school.” Here we are, 12 years later [laughs]. But they’re my biggest fans now.
What does your family think?
Traci: My dad says, “My daughter’s a wrassler!” He thinks it’s hilarious, because my two brothers are amazing cooks, and they have kids, and I can’t cook to save my life. My older brother is like, “You’re half-naked, and your boobs are hangin’ out, and people are staring at you.” But they’re very supportive. Every day I’m blessed that I get to wake up and do this.
Tara: Once you get into this business, there’s no escape. You never leave.
Tara: It’s an addiction.
Brooke: The high you get when you walk out … it’s crazy. There’s nothing like it. I’ve done pageants, and shot a pilot for a reality show. But hearing the people chant or boo for you—either one, you know they’re behind you, whether you’re a good guy or a bad guy. And that feeling, with the [pyrotechnics] and the lights, is unbelievable. It sucks you in. A lot of people have a dream of doing what we do, because it is awesome. You’re creating your own image of being a superhero, and you’re that character.
Tara: Also, because you’re an athlete, you get to demonstrate that you’re a powerful, independent woman in a man’s world. Because these strong, beautiful women can also kick your butt.
Traci, you’re married to a wrestler.
Traci: Yes, I’ve been married to Kazarian for two years. But I actually managed him in 2006 for a year, and that’s how we hooked up.
You often play a tough character, but you’re quite feminine and charming in real life.
Traci: Well, as for being a good girl, a baby face, that’s really who I am. So it’s me. It’s Traci Brookshaw, not Traci Brooks. But when I play the bad-guy character, I get to be this crazy, insane, bitchy woman, and I love it! But as a baby face, it’s hard. All these people look at me and I feel very vulnerable. As a person, I’m actually quite shy.
Brooke: I’ve never really gotten to be a bad guy.
Tara: Most of my career I’ve been the bad guy.
Because of your dark coloring?
Tara: It’s almost sort of comic-book. The blondes are normally the good guys. And it’s easier for me, because if a girl is cheering for me, I can go up to her and say, “Oh, is this your boyfriend? Did you know he thinks of me every single night?” Boom! She’ll hate me for the rest of her life [laughs]. And my mannerisms are very intense. I’m a bigger girl, too, so I come across as the bigger girl bullying the little girl.
Brooke: It was very, very hard for me to be taken seriously and earn respect at the beginning, because I came in as a model.
Tara: It’s very high school. Cliquey. Where you get your respect is what you do out in the ring. It’s a bizarre life. If I had a daughter, I don’t think I would let her be in this business. You can break your leg, you can break your neck, and you’re done. You eat, breathe, and sleep out of a suitcase.
Traci: A lot of the girls in the Knockouts come from the independents, where you’d work for $50. So we really appreciate being here, where we can shine, because we remember where we came from. And a lot of us still do independents. I worked in front of a crowd of five people the other day. But you have to be just as energetic and great in front of five people as you are in front of 50,000 people. It’s hard that way, but I think all the girls definitely have that strength and independent trait in them. And stubbornness, I’d say.
Tara: You’re alone a lot. People think that we’re all traveling in a bus together. No, we have maybe a couple of friends on the road. We appreciate every moment of it, but it’s not for everybody. I think that’s why you don’t see that many females in this business. It’s tough.
Brooke: [Pointing to Tara] We’re lucky we have each other. I was at WWE for only two years, and I’ve been here for two years. Even though I started in ’06, I’m very green, as far as what wrestling means as a genre, and also working in the ring. Every day, I’m like, “What? Huh?” But that’s what’s so awesome about having a legend like Tara as your partner. She’s always going, “Brooke, you can’t say that! Brooke, you can’t do that!” It’s like I have a protector.
Tara: I teach her all the underground rules. You keep your ears open and your mouth shut in this business.
So you two really are tight?
Brooke: Yeah, we get that a lot. But now they can see it. I’ve never met somebody in anything that I do, whether it’s modeling or wrestling, that I’m so alike. She’s a lot older.
Tara: I’m 40.
Brooke: I’m 27. But we are identical.
Traci, do you have close friends on the team?
Traci: Oh, absolutely. ODB is one of my great friends. I love working with her. We wrestled up and down the independents forever and lived together in bunk beds. Gail Kim is my best friend, and she was my maid of honor. Any time with her is fun. She actually broke my breastbone. But we can be a little tight with each other and say, “I love you. I’m sorry about your black eye.” And Christy Hemme is another one of my best friends. She broke her hand on my back, hitting me. I’ve wrestled with guys, too. I actually wrestled against my husband. It’s fun, because you get to do a little more high-flying stuff with the guys because they’re stronger, and they’re better bases than a girl is. And there’s just always so much more chemistry. Because you don’t know what’s going to happen with a girl and a guy. Jeff Jarrett hit me over the head one time with a guitar. Boy, the reaction he got! I was the bad girl, so the crowd was just like, “Yes! He did it to her!” They went crazy.
Did you know the guitar was coming?
Traci: Yes. It still hurt [laughs].
How do you keep from getting really hurt?
Traci: First of all, I figure my career is a lot longer than it should have been. I’ve been in it now since 2000. I’ve been really lucky that I’ve never been injured. I’ve had a couple of concussions, but I’ve never been hurt. One of our girlfriends who worked with WWE got released and was working in Japan, and she had such a bad concussion she’ll never be able to wrestle again. I always tell girls who come into the business, “Get trained properly, and say no if you don’t feel comfortable doing something.” You have to know your limits and how to protect yourself. You can put on a good match without killing each other. That’s the art of it. It’s dancing. It’s making it look good for other people. Everyone knows now that wrestling’s fake. It’s out in the open. But it’s still making a punch look good and look real.
The storylines are scripted, of course, and moves are choreographed, but you’re on your own as far as making sure you fall the right way.
Traci: Absolutely. I always say it’s like football. You know the plays, but it’s up to you to learn how to run them. And the camera needs certain angles and certain facials. That’s what I like about the business: the acting part of it, trying to get the anger, or the happiness, or the sadness in your face, and get that person at home to go, “Grrr” [growls angrily]. That’s why my favorite angle was with Karen Jarrett. She berated me the whole time, and I just took it and took it, to where finally I snapped. And then the crowd was really behind me.
Brooke, did you always want to be a wrestler?
Brooke: Well, I had some family issues growing up. I’m originally from Moberly, Missouri. But I moved to Houston when I was seven or eight with my mother and twin sister. We lived in our car, a Daytona hatchback, for a long time. She’d work jobs to get us food and gas, and my sister and I would have to wait in the car for hours at a time. Mom would lay us down. My sister would always get the back, and I’d get the front, and we’d tell each other stories. She was my rock. I would not have been able to make it without her.
And then you became a model?
Brooke: Yeah. I started doing bikini stuff, and that sucked me in. Through that, I was Miss Hawaiian Tropic, Miss Swimsuit USA, Miss Hooters, and I was in a bunch of other pageants. My agent said, “You’re way too ripped to keep modeling. You need to go to the fitness side, or gain some weight and get softer and be a model.” I was kind of lost. I was just going to quit it altogether and go back to school. And then I got an audition for the Diva Search for WWE. I did really want to be a wrestler. I watched Sable, and I wanted to be the sexy, brunette bombshell. The one who came out there and strutted. A month later, I was on TV. It was unbelievable. It was so fast. That was in ’06.
How do all of you keep yourselves in such fabulous shape?
Traci: A lot of people think we don’t need to work out. Well, we have to, six or seven days a week. It’s our job. If I don’t work out now, I feel sick.
Brooke: I don’t work out every day. But I just shot the Hooters Dream Girls competition in Aruba, so for a month before that, I was on it, running sprints, and in the gym every day for an hour and a half, doing abs, and dieting.
What do you eat?
Brooke: Right now, I’m eating a lot of anything. Normally, though, it’s high-protein and low-carb. I found a new recipe for cottage-cheese quesadillas. It’s healthy, with wheat or corn tortillas. Awesome! There are a lot of good recipes in the new fitness magazines.
Traci: I don’t eat as well as I should. I ate a box of sour gummy bears the other day [laughs]. And I do eat bread. But if I crave something, I try to eat it right after my workout. When I’m at home, I’m very strict. My husband and I eat ground chicken and broccoli slaw or ground turkey and asparagus. Fruits and vegetables; mostly whole grains. I try to eat a lot of protein. We have a cheat day once a week. So we’ll have a healthy breakfast, go to the gym, and then it’s on—In-N-Out Burger, pizza, and cheese. Stinky cheese. Love it. My husband always says I love stinky stuff—onions, garlic, and cheese. Oh, my God, I love onions. If I do eat carbs, I try to eat healthy carbs, or eat them earlier in the day. I’m not scared of carbs. I like curves. To me, curves are sexy on a woman. And I think men agree. It’s how you carry them.
Tara: I used to diet all the time, because I did fitness competitions. But now I’m not a big diet person. I’m too much of a foodie. I love sushi. I’m opening a restaurant. I’ve had two restaurants in the past. I kill myself at the gym if I overdo it. I have to do an extra 20 minutes if I eat a piece of cake.
What’s a typical workout?
Traci: I change it up a lot. I like the old-school weights-and-cardio program. I’m not into the whole P90X [Power 90 Extreme] thing. I switch it up. Right now I’m doing lower body one day, upper body one day, and I don’t stop. I just keep going to keep my heart rate going. I have Erb’s Palsy in my right arm. My mum is very tiny, and I was ten pounds when I was born. They yanked me out instead of giving her a C-section, and my arm actually won’t straighten. All the ligaments and tendons in my right arm are stretched or detached, and I don’t have a biceps or a triceps. I have a uniceps. I can’t do a lot of regular workouts. I can only do hammer curls for biceps, for example. A lot of times at the gym, a big guy will say, “Hey, you’re workin’ out wrong.” When that first happened, I left crying. But now I know how to handle it. I just make a joke out of it. I’m like, “Shut up. I have a disability. Leave me alone.” It’s funny, because no one says they notice it in the ring. But even when I walk down the ramp, I’m very aware that my arm’s not straight.
Tara: I think we’re the most insecure people on the planet, because we’re being judged 24/7, everywhere we go. That’s why we’re so self-conscious about our bodies. We have a facade of being confident, but we suffer the same problems as teenage girls. Brooke: It’s true! I’m thinking, What can I do to keep my face like this? My hair like this?
There does seem to be a lot of plastic surgery around here.
Was that self-determined, or from pressure to look a certain way?
Brooke: I’ve only had my breasts done. And that was because I had a big ol’ butt and nothing in the front. I looked like I could fall backward. I needed to balance my body when I started doing bikini stuff. And they’re not overly done. I almost wish they were a little smaller, now that I’m older.
Tara: I felt pressured. God made me a two-by-four. I was very flat-chested. I grew up in California, and growing up in California is a lot about your looks. Right now, I look very busty. Half of my bra is padding, just to push ’em up. I didn’t want to go as extreme, either. And I hope girls don’t feel pressured now.
Traci, a lot of the wrestlers, especially the men, modeled themselves after superheroes and comic-book characters. Did you pattern yourself after anyone in pop culture?
Traci: No. Not even Wonder Woman. I wanted to be me, and hopefully one day some kid will use me as an example. That would be really cool.