Dojo Princess: Roni ‘Big Bang’ Nicole Rules the Ring [Kawasaki, Japan]

‘Big Bang’ Nicole is a force to be reckoned with: a fierce opponent in wrestling rings from Mexico to Japan, she also stuns onlookers on the catwalk when the opportunity presents itself. Aisha Adkins had the opportunity to talk with this pretty and powerful athlete about her experience as a female African-American wrestler in Japan. Nicole shares a bit of her story as she tells us how she went from small town American pageant girl to international wrestling star.

Where did you grow up? Was traveling a part of your background?

I grew up in Houston, Texas. My mother traveled a lot with my father throughout the [American] West when I was younger. As my grandparents aged a little, she made the decision to move to North Carolina to take care of them and have me grow up around them as they went into their late golden years. I am very thankful to have had that time with them before they passed. Being a wrestler is a gypsy life so this doesn’t feel out of the norm for me.

How did you get into professional wrestling?

Initially, I was a fan from a very young age and I have older family members who are scholastic wrestlers. It wasn’t until I saw it on television, presented by Monday Night Raw, that I found my passion.

I was looking for a semi-professional cheer team to audition for and saw an ad for what sounded like cheering, but it turned out to be wrestling. I was able to link up and find a school to train at and was fortunate to train under CW Anderson (ECW), Chilly Willy (ECW), and Lou Marconi (NWA and WWE). I began the journey in 2001.

How did you get the opportunity to wrestle in Japan? What did you expect the first time you went to Japan?

Happenstance. I worked with Steve Corino (ECW) and he has a wrestling federation called Hubert. In 2012, I auditioned for a company in Japan called Reina. Japan was always my dream, but I wanted to go when I was ready. The superstars who wrestle there talk about how difficult it is. It is one of the places you go to find out if you are going to be a wrestler or a pretender. I wasn’t so worried about the physical part — the physical part was terrible. But the mental fortitude you have to have to be in a foreign country — an island — studying your craft by yourself, is another whole level. A lot of things are revealed to you when you make a decision like that, so I knew it would be a big adjustment.

Steven mentioned a new company was looking for wrestlers. They asked me if I would stay for a year and I said yes. At first I wasn’t sure I was going to go because things were moving slowly and I did not want to get my hopes up. I tried to be pragmatic and realistic about everything. Eventually I was like “Oh, wow — this is happening!”

I tried to do as much research as possible and to learn about the foreign experience from people I encountered through wrestling. I reached out to Jenny Rose (Women of Honor), TNA’s Caleb Konley, and black male wrestler MVP. There are very few African-American or Afro-Latino women [wrestling] over in Japan. I asked [MVP] what his experience was being a minority there, and found he was very accurate and helpful. I had a good schema to work with in terms of what is expected of me. If you know more about where you’re going, the wrestling culture and the national culture, it helps. I was a little worried about that, but preparing myself helped.

I am equally excited and terrified to head back next year. [Japan is] a really special place, especially for a wrestler. I belong to a Facebook group called Black Women in Japan. I was surprised at the negative experiences my queens have had, but I realize that I am in the wrestling bubble. Living in the dojo, there’s not a lot hoppin’ in Tokyo Bay. But even when I go out, I don’t get those negative experiences. I know that it’s because I am in that ‘celebrity’ bubble.

Image: Roni Nicole

 

How did your family and friends react to you wanting to become a professional wrestler? What about moving to Japan?

My close friends were surprised at first, but then they saw me in the ring and were less surprised. Because I was always theatrical, modeling, doing pageants, marching band, color guard — no one was surprised at that element. I think they were surprised I was willing to get hit in the face.

The person most surprised was my mother. I come from a very traditional, southern, black Baptist family. My mom looks at me like “what is wrong with you?” Her perception of wrestling is that it was for “good old boys.” For white men.

In the old days, if you were an African-American, if you got to wrestle, you were going to lose. In her mind, her daughter, who had the wits to be a doctor or lawyer, shouldn’t be running around in a ring in spandex.

I didn’t mention anything about moving to Japan until it was almost too late. But when I got there, and was getting the crap kicked out of me, my mom said, “you need to stay and see it through.” She ended up being one of my biggest champions and saw the difference in how I was treated in the United States versus in Japan. In Japan, I was on the cover of a wrestling magazine. I was in a pamphlet for my first press conference. That does not happen in the U.S. She knows the difference in how I feel. She knows that’s where my heart is. She is one person who’s always supported me.

My friends are happy if I’m happy and are glad something has my focus. I can be a little bit of a hippie; this has been the one thing that has never left me. I’ve always found a way to stay connected to it. I’ve got a good group of people supporting me now, but when I started I was doing it by myself, which was not easy.

Have you noticed a change in how you’re treated in Japan now versus when you first arrived? How do you compare your quality of life in Japan versus the U.S.?

Diana, one of the promotion teams I represent, had not brought in an African-American female prior to myself so I think [some of the other wrestlers] were surprised I was there. I have this big crazy hair, and I make these crazy faces. I don’t know if they were used to that. Everyone was cautiously polite, I guess. As I went on, fans came up to me. Fans would stare at me all through intermission. It was kind of like being a penguin in a zoo. Eventually everyone saw that that’s my ‘in-ring persona’, I am not a monster. That’s not my full self.

I am grateful to talk to and interact with fans, especially fans in countries outside of the United States, because you’re allowing me to live my dreams in your homeland. Especially now, as an American having the responsibility of living in a foreign country. I receive messages of people thanking me for coming to Japan and thanking me for my work. I come to the U.S. and it’s a completely different thing; you’re very undervalued as a wrestler here. It’s good to know there are places you can go and be valued. Not that I need a pat on the back for everything I do. But every time you take a bump on the mat, it’s like a car crash at sixty-seventy miles per hour. This is real, what we do. A normal person says, “why do you do it? It’s so risky.” Every passion comes with risk — mine has a little bit more, but you can’t tell me to love it any less. In Japan, I’m being trained for my body. There are women who have been training for twenty years who can out-run me. When you first start out, everyone does these crazy stunts. I tried to be ‘one of the boys’. Now, I’m twenty-nine and I have to go to a chiropractor. As much as I love it, it’s hard when someone doesn’t appreciate or respect — that’s what it comes down to — what I do. It’s cool when we can enjoy the experience together — not just you enjoying watching me wrestling.

Image: Fisticuffs Photography

How has living in Japan influenced or informed your identity as a black woman?

When I told my older family members I was going, there was a lot of “Why? They don’t like black people.” I don’t know what my family was referring to historically, but I found out they were misinformed. I was going with the assumption that I’d have a terrible time and that it’d be racially charged. A lot of pointing and laughing. That did not happen and I was really shocked. The dojo took such good care of me, so I never felt like an outsider. I did in terms of being a foreigner and there not being other people like me, but no one made me feel like that. There were a couple of girls in the dojo who made racial jokes who I don’t think know that was not okay. They knew afterwards, but I think if you get your information from mainstream media, depictions are inaccurate. I don’t believe in letting people be uninformed, especially if I’m being respectful and informed about your culture. As a black woman, it’s broadened me to be more sensitive to all minorities. They receive just as much discrimination, if not more, than we do. Every type of discrimination sucks for everyone. It’s not okay.

Being in Japan has also made me more tolerant of the rambunctious American attitude. There are a lot of American travelers who aren’t representing as well as they should or don’t have good home-training. I don’t get it and don’t understand why people think it’s okay to behave that way. It makes everybody look bad. I don’t know if it’s judgy — I don’t care. You have to be cognizant that you are a foreigner. That used to bother me a lot, but over time, I realized you can’t absorb that from every person because you can’t control every situation. You can only control yourself. That’s helped me in wrestling as well, to deal with rambunctious, smelly men-children. It’s like being around a bunch of knuckle-headed boys. It’s made me the patient, mother-hen of the locker room. It’s helped me to read a situation completely before making a snap judgement.

I tried to explain that to friends when I returned. I was in a Japan bubble; it took me three months to come out of that. I was so disgusted with my life here in the U.S. and how people were so disingenuous, phony, and non-supportive. I was like “Ugh, why did I come back here?” It took a while and the Lord to pull me out of that. I realized in Japan I had such a long time to be introspective and then to take a step out and see how I was looking at the world around me. I am an American, I live in America, in the south. I look at the world one way. Trying to explain that to family and friends was rough. I felt I’d left myself — a newfound experience and identity — in Japan, to return to a place that was counter-intuitive to my career.

Where can your new fans find you on social media?

They can reach me on Facebook at Big Bang Nicole, Instagram at @Glitterliciousfierce, Twitter at @Glitterlicious, and Snapchat @RoniNicoleR.

What is coming up for Roni Big Bang Nicole?

This year I have some major events coming up, including my match with Lazona Kawasaki on January 9 and Shinkiba 1st Ring on January 22. Both of these events are with Diana [wrestling federation].

 

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