JOPPA, Md. - Mickie James has achieved worldwide fame as a professional wrestler and a country music star.
James reached the highest level of fame as a wrestler during an eight-year run with the WWE, including a run as the women's and Divas champion and appearing on the promotion's biggest event, WrestleMania. As a country music star, James has released two albums and opened shows for Montgomery Gentry and Rascall Flatts, among others.
Despite her worldwide success, James said she never forgot her roots. For the 34-year-old Virginia native, this included spending much of her early career in the Baltimore area, where she trained and wrestled for Maryland Championship Wrestling .
James will make a homecoming of sorts as one of the headliners set to perform as part of MCW's latest card, set for Feb. 8 at the Joppa Market in Joppa.
"I was toiling in the independent promotions in Virginia in the early part of the century and felt like I had plateaued what I could accomplish there," James said. "I needed to branch out to continue to improve and that led me to MCW."
James wrestled under the name "Alexis Laree" during her time with MCW, while also training at Bonebreakers. The school was run by MCW owner Dan McDevitt, who also would bring in accomplished wrestlers like Bobby Eaton and Ricky Morton to work with the wrestlers.
The time was critical for James' development, she said, and paved the way for the rest of her career. James added that making it through that training was especially difficult for a female, who was usually forced to train under the same system as the men.
"There were very few women training with us, so you had to work with the boys," James said. "It forced you to work harder and get better. Without my time in MCW, I never would have reached the level I reached in my career."
Tara Meyer can relate to James. Meyer trained with James at Bonebreakers and traveled to many independent cards with her. Meyer's in-ring career was cut short by a neck injury, but she still serves as a manager with MCW and is proud of what James has accomplished.
"What Mickie has done is truly impressive," Meyer said. "Obviously, I'm a little envious, but I'm also so proud of her. She did it the right way and never forgot where she came from."
McDevitt agrees. He said James is most likely the most successful wrestler who ever started at MCW.
"Mickie has the ‘it' factor," McDevitt said. "You could tell early on she just wanted to make it. But unlike many female wrestlers today, she got into the business to be a wrestler. She didn't want to use wrestling as a platform to be a model or actress, even as her music career took off. She also didn't let success change her. She appreciates her roots at MCW."
A big break
By 2002, James impressed enough people with her work at MCW and other independents into an opportunity with TNA wrestling, the number two organization in the country. Finally, after two years of sending tapes and reaching out to officials, the WWE signed James to a developmental deal.
It took another two years for James to realize her ultimate dream of making it to the main WWE roster. Competing under her real name, James was placed in a storyline with the company's top female wrestler, Trish Stratus, in which she portrayed an obsessed fan. James said it was a storyline she played a large role in developing.
"It was amazing to see that they liked the ideas I had for the storyline," James said.
James spent five years traveling the world with the WWE and was the top female wrestler there for much of her run. She said she came in at the perfect time because female wrestlers were arguably given their largest exposure on TV.
"I got to wrestle with greats like Lita, Melina, Trish and Beth Phoenix," she said. "Most of them came up like me and got into the business because they were wrestling fans and had to work their way up from the independents to make the WWE."
James left the WWE in 2010 and returned to TNA for a three-year run there, where she won that company's championship multiple times. Since leaving TNA last fall, James has concentrated on her music career while also wrestling on various independent cards.
She even made an appearance at the WWE's Performance Center, where she worked with some of the company's up-and-coming talent.
"I got a call from the WWE about coming down and working with some of the girls," James said. "I'm interested in learning about the other side of the business so I thought it was a great opportunity. Having trained in small gyms and garages, it was an impressive site to see and nice to work with the WWE."
Not done yet
James said while she would eventually like to do more work with training wrestlers, she's
not close to ending her in-ring career. She's also excited about her growing music career. Her second album, released last May and entitled "Somebody's Gonna Pay," debuted at No. 15 on Billboard's Heatseekers chart.
"I still have a lot to give to the business," James said. "I'm truly excited about what 2014 will bring. I also can't wait to return to Maryland where it all began for me and thank the fans that helped me succeed."
Among those looking forward to meeting James is Jessika Heiser . Heiser, 22, is a Towson University senior who has wrestled for MCW for several years.
"Mickie was where I am now," Heiser said. "Seeing what she accomplished is a motivating factor for me. She showed what hard work can accomplish."