Pro wrestling fans know SoCal Val as the vivacious redhead who worked in a variety of capacities for TNA Impact Wrestling.
The Orlando resident’s love of sports entertainment began at age 11. It was around the same time she got a taste of another passion: modeling.
“I was getting headshots done,” Val said. “I know I was in overalls. I was so little.”
The personality will be among the featured guests of Pinned Miami, a three-day festival that celebrates pin-up, rockabilly, burlesque and tattoo culture Memorial Day Weekend, May 23-25, at the Miami Airport Convention Center. Much like acting and wrestling, Val enjoys modeling because it gives her a chance to play a role and take on a character.
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“I have been lucky lately to have a lot of input in the styling in the shoots I’ve done,” she said. “When you’re hired to do a shoot as a model you wear the clothes and don’t get to have a lot of input on what you look like. With me having this fashion blog, lately I have been able to incorporate a lot more items I already have because I have such a huge wardrobe and closet to pull from.
“I did a shoot in Toronto recently where I wore this really long gown, and we were shooting on a rooftop for an editorial. I was able to wear this gorgeous dress that I knew would be pretty cool on camera. So it’s nice to have that creative input. I think that is probably my favorite part. I can kind of envision what I want the image to look like and the photographer does as well. So to be able to juxtapose those and play a character is great, and clothes are a big part of that.”
Her blog is aptly titled “The Art of Overdressing.” This is based on the fact co-workers and friends, especially in wrestling, think she is always overdressed. One of her favorite venues to standout is in airports.
“It’s my favorite places to push the boundaries and wear gloves and hats and things like that,” Val said. “It’s the airport, nobody knows you there. You can be who you want to be and wear these glasses and scarves and things like that. The fact that I’m told I’m always overdressed is really something I pride myself on.
“I’ve had the guys tell me I look like a flight attendant on several occasions, which I take as a compliment because my mother was a flight attendant. They have tremendous style. I had this flight to Paris on the way to London and the French flight attendants are impossibly chic. They had red lipstick, a high bun. I thought they were just the most glamorous women ever. They probably hate to have to wear that, but I love to have a job to get to wear that.”
Among her favorite shoots was in London where she was able to get photographed in front of Big Ben.
“I’m the biggest British, Irish history kind of person,” Val said. “All of Europe, but with the United Kingdom I’ve always loved their architecture and history. The fact my first professional fashion editorial shoot was in front of Big Ben and in front of the London Eye was just so cool.”
Through the years Val has been able to infuse her love of modeling and fashion into her career in the wrestling business. She cites Stephanie McMahon as an early influence because “she was the ultimate, classy female.”
At 15, Val would be a regular at events in California with her friends. Overdressing actually helped her get noticed. So much in fact three days after she turned 16, Val made her debut. After her family moved to Central Florida, Val continued to work the independent scene in Orlando, Tampa and down in South Florida. The teen managed the Heartbreak Express, Danny Doring, Roderick and Sedrick Strong in places like IPW and NWA Florida.
“Being young, I’m the girliest one in my family,” Val said. “I know nothing about sports. I just enjoy the wrestling. It was a shock for my mom that I wanted to get involved in pro wrestling… She just said to me if this business ever changes you, then it’s time to get out. I’ve kept my head on straight. Everyone likes to go out and have fun, but I’ve considered myself someone who can separate real life and wrestling. I think the ability to do that has taken me far and kept me level-headed.”
After developing a name for herself, she began attending TNA shows armed with tapes and a resume just in case. Val loves wearing hats, and she wore many of them during her career with the Nashville based company. The driven youngster’s foot in the door came by way of producer Dave Sahadi, who gave her the job of production assistant. From there she transitioned to ring girl thanks to Jeremy Borash. At one point Val was in the middle of a feud between Sonjay Dutt and Jay Lethal. After doing some managing she took on even more responsibilities behind the scenes. She began creating her own scripts, copy for Impact previews and producing other talent during backstage segments and other projects.
“I will never forget writing some liners for Hulk Hogan on a commercial or two,” Val said. “I just thought the fact I get to ring announce for Hulk Hogan and to write lines he is actually saying in commercials is just the ultimate fan dream, and I got to do it thanks to TNA.”
Some of Val’s best experiences in the company was serving as ring announcer during the live event loops throughout the country. She believes her time in TNA provided lessons and gave her knowledge she can take moving forward in not only wrestling, but in other broadcasting avenues. Always a fan and a student of the game, Val now finds herself watching the WWE Network.
“I’ve got to switch to my old VHS tapes that have pink sharpie scribbled on them with titles like ‘WWE Diva Volume 9” that I made myself, my little compilation tapes,” Val said. “Instead of that, now I can go back to re-watch all the things that made me fall in love with wrestling in the first place.”
Looking back at the past has given Val an appreciation for the opportunities women in her profession are getting.
“I had an epiphany about this the other day watching a bikini contest,” she said. “I loved all what they did with the storylines, the whole Dawn Marie and Torrie Wilson and stuff like that was great. However, the fact we are in a more PG era is really good, especially for females. A lot of girls are scared of being scrutinized and being exploited as sex objects.
“I appreciate and love the sex appeal of the women in wrestling, but I think we are in a great spot right now to be more respected by the fans and our male audience. The girls are being pushed more creatively.
“For example, the promos we’ve seen from the girls over the last few years have been more thought-out. I think we are in a better era where we are more respected. I’ve done a lot of indie shows recently, and there are a lot of talented girls out there. In WWE developmental there are so many girls who are talented and gorgeous.”
She reminisces about being a little girl looking up to Stephanie McMahon, Torrie Wilson, Stacy Keibler, Trish Stratus and Victoria.
“To meet these people now and see they are still respectable and someone I can still value is a huge reason there needs to be women today that can be idolized,” Val said.
A short drive from where NXT hosts events, she has gotten a chance to check out a show or two.
“I feel like I’m getting a glimpse of the future of our sport,” Val said. “There were some names that stood out to me when I went. The first show was in a smaller venue in Tampa, but now it’s at Full Sail University on a grander scale with the television tapings. It’s very polished and professional.”
Some stars impressing Val are Aiden English, Tyler Breeze and NXT champion Adrian Neville, who she sees expects to truly break out in WWE soon.
“Xavier Woods is someone I’ve worked with, so I knew he was going to be very intellectual as far as developmental and today on the main roster,” she said. “There are a lot of talented girls as well. Mr. Flair’s daughter [Charlotte] is one. I absolutely love Ric Flair and think the world of him. His daughter is an amazing athlete. I enjoy watching her. I’m a huge Summer Rae fan, especially coming from a managerial standpoint. I think she is someone who really gets it. I haven’t had an opportunity to meet her, but am a big fan of hers.
“Lana as well really gets her role and fits very well in it. There is a lot of good talent there. Tye Dillinger and Jason Jordan are a tag team who are now getting some steam. The Ascension too. There are just so many names when you watch NXT, and you should be watching, you feel like you’re in on something big because you’re seeing it before anyone else.
“It makes it that much more exciting when you see them on the main roster because you’ve already been a fan of them and can see what they can do. It’s a really great product and seems like a good family. Everyone seems very polite and professional, inside and outside the work areas. There is nothing but good news to report on that.”
Val has always wanted to go to WWE. She thinks it’s everyone’s goal in pro wrestling.
“I make no secret about that,” she said. “I don’t see TNA and WWE as this huge war. I think we all support each other. That’s been evident whether it has been Dixie [Carter] or Stephanie McMahon or whoever, I think it’s cool when people from both companies talk to each other. We’re all friends anyway. People jump back and forth all the time. WWE is something I watched and fell in love with since I was a kid. So of course that’s somewhere I want to be and learn from the best and spread my wings. As long as I’ve been in the business, I’m only 28. I feel like there is definitely a future in WWE.”
Fans in South Florida can meet the beauty in person at Pinned Miami. The idea of pin-up remains close to Val’s heart.
“I’ve been really lucky on shoots that when they have a style or theme to choose from they look at me and think pin-up,” she said. “I don’t know if I have a retro look naturally or the red hair or what, but I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot of pin-up work. Especially with ‘ Hawaiian’ Bryan Hey, who will also be at Pinned Miami, is amazing. I’ve had some merchandise that he drew for me. We’ll have calendars and photos and artwork. He will be there to sign and sell, which is cool to have the artist there.
“Besides an autograph sessions and photo opportunities, I also have a workshop for girls on getting into modeling and giving them advice on precautions you should take, especially in the pin-up field, where it can be lingerie and burlesque inspired. That is something when they get into modeling, you want to make sure they have their wits about them and go about it the right way and present themselves the best way.
“I’m going to talk social media and do a question-and-answer panel. There is a game show I’m going to be involved in, which I don’t know what I’m getting myself into, but it sounds fun. I will be in full pin-up character the entire weekend. I don’t care if it’s by the pool. I will be there with an old-fashioned Coke and retro one piece. I will not break character all weekend. I’m so excited about it. It’s all about playing a character and Pinned Miami is the perfect platform to do that.”
• Check out Pinned Miami during Memorial Day Weekend, May 23-25, at the Miami Airport Convention Center. Upward of 10,000 attendees are expected to converge for a full weekend celebration of pin-up culture, featuring beautiful pinup models, rockabilly bands, photographers, workshops, vendors, panels, pinup artists, burlesque performers, classic cars, publishers, tattoo artists and more.
For everything Pinned Miami, visit www.pinupfestival.com.
for SoCal Val’s fashion blog and follow her on Twitter @SoCalValerie.
• Follow me on Twitter @smFISHMAN.