One of the most intriguing character arcs in Impact Wrestling in 2017 has been that of Laurel Van Ness. From heel-in-love, to jilted bride, to finally re-emerging as a face when she proposed to Grado, Laurel Van Ness has put on a masterclass of storytelling this year - but Chelsea Green, who plays Laurel on Impact, has been tearing it up in the ring on the indie circuit this year. We sat down with Chelsea this week after her first ever UK show to discuss all matter of wrestling topics, from the incident between Sexy Star and Rosemary at TripleMania, to the Mae Young Classic, to her desire to make a mark on the UK wrestling scene.
RealSport: Is this your first trip to UK?
Laurel Van Ness: No, and that’s something people don’t know about me, is that I actually lived in the UK. I lived in the UK when I was about 7 to 8 years old, I was in primary school in Devon. I am from Canada, but I moved here with my family for about a year and a half, and then moved back to Canada. So this would be my third trip here, because I came travelling here a couple of years ago as well. The UK is kind of my second home.
RS: But this is your first time doing shows in the UK?
LVN: This is my first time here for work, which is really cool that I get to come here, essentially, doing something that I love, for free.
RS: And you’re coming back next week?
LVN: Yes, so I’m here for four days, and then I’m home in the US for five days, and then I’m back for five days again. So I have a week apart and I’m back again, in Norwich.
RS: UK wrestling scene is growing, because of fans – what was your first experience like performing in front of a UK audience?
LVN: Well that’s the funny thing. I know British fans are rowdy, they love their chants and things like that, so I did hear some of those which I love. But I found that yesterday, they were quite quiet, much quieter than I thought they would be, but I felt like when you ask for them to be there with you, and to be lively, they’re there and they’re with you, you know what I mean? They know what you want and they give it to you, which I love. It was so much fun yesterday, working for BEW, and I’m excited to do it again in Norwich with Bellatrix. I think the crowd is going to be big.
RS: How important is it that Impact has a home on Spike UK?
LVN: It’s very important because we have so many fans in Europe, and especially in the UK, that look forward to watching us, and it was sad when we couldn’t give that to them. So I’m very glad you guys have Spike, you have that outlet for us to showcase Impact or Xplosion or whatever it is that you love to watch. I absolutely love going onto my twitter every Friday and listening to my UK fans, and hearing the feedback, because they are the ones that give me the most feedback is the UK fans so I’m very happy that we’re here and we’re on Spike TV and you guys can watch us.
An actress and a wrestler
RS: You haven’t been in action on Impact TV since Slammiversary – when can we expect you back in the ring on tv?
LVN: Well, it’s tough to say. I hope, very soon. But you know, my character is so kind of driven by these behind-the-scenes promos, and backstage footage, and I like doing that too. I did have a great match at Slammiversary, the opening match, and I think that people enjoy watching me and enjoy my character, so I think, I’m hoping in November, you guys will see me back in the ring, and it’s going to be a mix of the crazy Laurel, and the professional wrestler. There has to be a balance, you know?
RS: Are you worried sometimes that being so involved in the backstage segments might overshadow your in-ring ability?
LVN: Well that’s why I’m very happy with GFW, that I do get to work on the independent scene. Anyone who’s my true fan can YouTube me or come to shows, or watch my social media, knows I can wrestle. I was trained by Lance [Storm] and when put in the ring and on the spot, I have great matches. So I’m OK with the fact that you get to see a different side of me on Impact, you get to see the crazy side, and the actress come out of me. I’m a terrible actress, but you guys get to see that ridiculousness. So I think it’s a good balance what I have now, where I’m totally a wrestler on the indies, and kind of almost totally a crazy actress in GFW. But I think the fans are yearning to see me back in the ring too.
RS: What were your thoughts when you were first told about the “jilted bride” gimmick?
LVN: That actually came about from something I did. That was not part of the plan. If you watched the wedding, you’d see at the very end of the wedding, how I was down on my knees, acting ridiculous, crying and throwing a fit, and drinking the champagne. That gave Dutch [Martell] an idea, ‘why don’t we cut a promo backstage where your makeup is all running, and your hair’s a mess, and you’re sitting on the floor with your shoes, and you’re upset.’ So I sat there, and I think he didn’t expect for me to be so full-on when he asked me that. I think a lot of girls get nervous and don’t want to look stupid, and I’m not like that. I don’t care. If you want me to look stupid, I’ll look much more stupid than you thought I could even look, know what I mean? So I sat there, and gave my all, and looked absolutely ridiculous, and from that promo spawned the idea of the jilted bride. From there, it just grew, and we kept adding to it. We didn’t think that it would get this reaction, and that’s why we’ve continued for so long. It’s been eight months – eight months! – that I was in that wedding dress, but people kept asking for it, and kept asking for different things, so we wanted to give it to them.
RS: Are you happy to leave that gimmick behind?
LVN: I’m glad, I’m happy to retire the dress, but I didn’t want to retire the character. I like the craziness of the character and I think that everyone has seen a side of themselves like that, or the side of a girlfriend or a wife or a sister that’s been like that, or the drunk girl at a night club, and everyone could kind of relate to that in a certain way. That’s why I really like that character, and I don’t want to give it up. I want to keep brining that to the table, whether that’s in the ring with a certain move, or in a promo backstage, I never want to lose that craziness.
RS: Your current storyline is intertwined with Grado, who is well-known in the UK for his comedic stylings. What’s he like to work with?
LVN: It’s a funny story with Grado. I lived with Viper (Piper Niven) and Kay Lee Ray, which the UK knows really well. I lived with them in Japan a year and a half ago, and they kept talking about this Grado character, and I had no idea who Grado was, because I wasn’t with Impact yet. When I got to Impact, I immediately met Grado, and he’s the best person in the world. He’s amazing, he’s hilarious, so when I was told that I was going to be put in a storyline with Grado, that was the best case scenario, especially turning babyface slowly. He is so over with the crowd, no matter where he goes, and especially in the UK. So to me, I’m being put with, like, that’s perfect for me. I couldn’t ask for anything better, so I was very happy. And I love him, we work so well together, he’s as ridiculous as I am.
RS: You mentioned the slow face turn – do you have a preference for playing face or heel?
LVN: I don’t. I think that it’s so much fun to make people mad, and I think that I can do that really well. I know what people dislike in a pretty blonde girl, and I think I can pick up on that and work a crowd in that way. But on the other hand, I think everyone in the world wants to be a super hero, and be the person that everyone cheers on and roots for and the underdog and things like that. So it’s two very opposite sides and I love them for different reasons.
A world of women's wrestling
RS: Gail Kim has announced that she’ll be retiring at the end of the year. How much of an influence has she been on the locker room and on you personally?
LVN: Coming in to Impact, we had basically a whole new roster full of Knockouts. We don’t have Velvet Sky, we didn’t have Angelina Love when I came in, Brooke was gone, all those girls had left and started having children and moving on to different things in life. When I came in, essentially the only OG of the group was Gail. I love Gail. I’ve always looked up to Gail, so for me, that was a dream. And she sets a really good example for the Knockouts. She sets the example of we can wrestle like females, but we need to have the mindset that we can do anything that the men can do. We are females, we can look sexy, we can do our girl things, but at the end of the day, we need to put on the same five star matches that the men do. And that’s really important. She doesn’t give us any breaks with that, she tells us when we do something wrong, and she tells us when we do something right. That’s what we ask for in a leader. I’m really glad that she’s going to agenting and stepping back and taking a leadership role among the Knockouts, coz we need that. But I wish I could continue to have matches with her. I’ve had one match with her, and it was so much fun, and it’s every female wrestler’s dream to get in the ring with Gail Kim. So I’m glad I could say I did that.
RS: Do you hope you’ll get a chance to do that again before the end of the year?
LVN: I do, but I’m not sure that that will happen. If it happens, it’ll be a surprise to you and me!
RS: Knockouts have been putting on legitimate wrestling for years, but a lot of the publicity and credit goes to the WWE’s women’s revolution. Do you feel the work of the Knockouts has sometimes gone unappreciated?
LVN: I think that our fans notice what we do. I think that our fans appreciate, we have the Jade vs Rosemary cage match, we had the last knockout standing match, our fans notice that, recognize it, and appreciate it. And I can’t complain about what WWE is doing because no matter what, they’re shedding light on the women. They’re having amazing matches, and I can’t be mad that these girls are having these amazing matches and that people are noticing it, because eventually, maybe people are flipping through the channels and stop on Spike UK, or POP TV, or Fight Network, and do tune in to that women’s match because they saw GLOW, or WWE. I think that anyone that talks negative about this women’s revolution, they don’t understand that it is effecting all of us in a positive way, so we should be happy and thankful. We’re doing it in our own way, maybe it’s not getting recognized, but by the people who appreciate us, it is.
RS: Have you had a chance to watch Netflix's GLOW, and what was your thoughts on it?
LVN: I watched about the first five episodes, and I loved it. I thought it was fun, I know that Chavo Guerrero trained the girls, and I really like him, he’s an amazing wrestler. I know that’s tough to do, I trained an actress to do a wrestling scene in a movie that I did called Chokeslam. That took us about a month, to train for a match, so it’s very hard, and I appreciate the work that these women put into it, and the effort, and they’ve obviously done their research on GLOW and on this women’s revolution. It was fun to watch.
RS: Do you feel it is helping to spread the word on women’s wrestling?
LVN: I do, I think that anyone that has a negative taste in their mouth about it, I think that again they need to take a step back and realize that any attention is good attention, any publicity is good publicly, because we need that, we need more eyes on us, we need more fans getting behind us and pushing for us to have longer matches, more matches, main event matches and things like that.
RS: Would you have liked to have been involved in the Mae Young Classic?
LVN: I love [the MYC]. I had a bunch of friends that did it, and I rooted for them, and no matter what I think it’s amazing but in the end of the day, the Mae Young Classic was to get people a job, and I have a job. I sat and I watched every match, every episode, and I took things from it, I learned from it, I congratulated all my girlfriends for being in it and I hope that they’ll get signed. But at the end of the day, they’re vying for a position I already have with Impact, so I kind of just watched it more as a fan. And I was totally fangirling for those matches, I loved it.
RS: WWE dropped the “Divas” name last year – do you think that GFW should drop the “Knockout” label?
LVN: It’s funny, I actually get asked that a lot. A knockout, to me, is a great word to describe us. A diva, I get it. It has a bit of a negative connotation, a diva is more someone, you call someone a diva and never in a positive light. You call someone a diva because they’re high maintenance, or things like that. Whereas a knockout, well, I could either knock you out, or I’m good looking. There’s nothing wrong with that, know what I mean? I think they should keep it, it differentiates us, it’s fun, it’s playful, and I think it describes most of the girls in Impact.
RS: The wrestling world is still talking about the events at TripleMania between Sexy Star & Rosemary - have you had a chance to speak to Rosemary since the incident?
LVN: The Knockouts have a group chat where we talk about everything, real life, wrestling, so we knew about it right away right when she came out the ring. It’s really unfortunate, because in this industry we need to take care of each other, and when that doesn’t happen, like we saw, the world will choose the side of the person who was taking care of their opponent and who is safe. So good lesson to be learned - you have to put your ego aside in the ring and do your job, and your job is to keep your opponent safe and yourself safe.
RS: Have you ever experienced anything like that, someone trying to deliberately hurt you?
LVN: To an extent, yes. Yes I have. And I’ve learnt from it, I’ve learnt that all you can do is defend yourself to the best of your ability, but at the end of the day, this is a job, and I will not get hurt at my job on purpose. I’m not going to allow that, and I think that Rosemary, it was really big of her to take that injury and leave and walk out of that ring instead of doing something that she would have regretted.
RS: Would agree to work in a show where Sexy Star was also appearing, or even work with her directly?
LVN: I have worked with her, and I do find that a lot of lucha girls are stiff, they are, that’s how they work. I would definitely think twice now about working in a setting with Sexy Star, and I think that most people feel that way. Then again, I’m taking that experience and I’m going to learn from it, and if I am in that situation, and I want to work that match, I’m just going to make sure that I protect myself more than I usually would, and I think that’s the same thing that Rosemary would do, and Allie and Sienna, I think all of us feel the same way. We probably will be in that position at some point, because the wrestling world is a small world, and all we can do is take care of ourselves. I just have to look after number one and that’s me.
The Anthem era
RS: When you joined Impact, it was towards the end of the Dixie Carter era when things appeared rather tumultuous. What was it like at that time – was there unhappiness in the locker room, or did it bring the locker room together?
LVN: For me, adversity [lead to] coming together. I think that we, as the Impact roster, need to stick together, because there’s so much negativity outside that we’re constantly getting spewed at us, or tweeted and instagrammed and texted, and so many rumors that a lot of the time aren’t true. We need to stick together as a roster and a locker room and fight back. I love everyone that I work with, and I don’t feel that negativity when I’m working. I don’t feel all the things that I’m hearing on the outside, I never feel that when I’m there. I love what I’m doing, I love who I’m working with. So when we were going through that phase, it was nice to have meetings, talent meetings, and just talk about things with each other and make sure that we all knew, let’s stick together, because we need this company to work. If we are on a sinking ship, then we need to start filling in the holes of the ship and making sure that we’re afloat and working together, and I think that’s what we did, and we’re constantly doing that, and that’s why we don’t feed into that negativity.
RS: How different are things since Anthem’s taken over?
LVN: I think that Anthem has taken over more on the back end of things. We are doing the same things we’ve always done - working, going out there and wrestling, and at the end of the day that’s the only thing we can do. I am never focused on what’s happening with TV programming, and money, and things like that, because I’m here to wrestle for you guys. If I get my head wrapped around all these other things I’m not going to get to do my job, so it’s always the same, for me, I’m going in there with a positive outlook, and I’m going to wrestle, and I enjoy myself.
RSL When you heard that Jeff Jarrett was rejoining the company, what was that like for you?
LVN: I was really happy, because I had worked with Jeff on the indies and done some seminars with him. I really like his attitude, I love his family, his outlook, I like the other wrestlers that he is able to bring in and the connections he has. I thought that, no matter what, that’s going to be a positive experience for everyone, and it has.
RS: Have you wrestled at one of GFW’s sister promotions?
LVN: I was able to go to Mexico and wrestle for Crash, and that’s something we’re working on for me to do again, and I’m really excited because anywhere where I can travel for wrestling, you can’t go wrong. Doing something you love and traveling the world, that’s all I want to do in life anyway.
RS: Last year you spent some time with Stardom. What was that like?
LVN: That was such a learning experience. Culture shock, is the first thing I can think of when you say Stardom. Going all the way to Japan, and learning the way of life in Japan, learning the way around Japan, and also learning the Japanese style of wrestling is very different. It’s not the same as the UK or as America or as Mexico. So it was a learning experience that I will take with me now forever, and I’m able to apply to my wrestling for the rest of my life, which I love, and of course, I think that Stardom has a reputation for being one of the best companies for females, so that was a bucket list item that I was able to check off.
RS: With Impact taping several weeks’ worth of shows in advance, do you find that it affects the way you wrestle, having to save yourself for other matches?
LVN: I think some people go into it thinking that’s what they’re going to do, but when you get into the ring, you’re never holding back. The thing is no matter what, ok so yes it’s a marathon and you probably shouldn’t sprint the whole way, but it’s essentially not, it’s a whole bunch of sprints. Every day is a sprint, and nobody is going to slow down. You get in the ring the first day and you’re so excited to be there, the first second, third day you’re so excited to be there, and you want to put on your best show. Maybe by the fourth day, you get there and you’re tired, but the minute you get into the ring, that’s gone. Your adrenaline takes over. We’ve had some of our best matches on the last couple of days of tapings, and the girls have some of their crazier matches on the last days of tapings, so that’s really when you see people pull through and pull out all the energy they have left -and Red Bull!
RS: Do you prefer wrestling on live TV compared to tapings, or is the experience the same?
LVN: Yes, exactly, because no matter what, it is always live for us. It doesn’t matter if you’re recording us and showing it in an hour, or showing it right now. We’re doing it live for the audience, so the reaction is still the same, the feeling is still the same, so it really doesn’t matter. Is it more nerve-wracking when it’s televised live? Yes, definitely more nerve-wracking. No matter what though, I have the same kind of feeling when I get in the ring - adrenaline, fear, but also pure joy.
RS: You mentioned that it’s important that Impact let you wrestle at other indies - are there any promotions you haven’t worked with that you would like to?
LVN: Actually, the promotions in the UK are the promotions I’d really love to work for. Progress, ICW, Pro Wrestling EVE, companies like that I would love to work for. And then in the States, I think I’ve worked for the companies I really really really have been dying to work for, and now I would just like to expand my horizons and work places I’ve never worked. But the UK is my bucket list now. I would really like to work [with] Toni Storm, I’d love to work Kasey Owens at ICW again, so that would be great.
RS: Who’s your biggest inspiration in wrestling?
LVN: I think it’s tough. I pull from a bunch of different people. I love Trish Stratus and Lita, I think that they’re amazing role models for the females. And then, of course Gail. I still go back and watch things and pull inspiration from her, and so to have her as a role model but still be by my side, I’d have to say Gail Kim.
RS: What do you prefer - four-sided ring, or six-sided ring?
LVN: Four. It’s funny, when I get in the ring, I don’t notice the six sides, but when I think about it, I prefer four. But that’s also what differentiates us, and people enjoy watching it, it’s just a different ring but it give us something different to look at. When I’m in there, like I said, I don’t notice, but four is just four. It’s easier. I know four.
RS: Who’s the toughest opponent you’ve faced in the ring - the one that’s left you feeling the match the most the next day?
LVN: Probably Jade. Jade, if you watch her, she’s all about the strikes and the kicks. I absolutely love wrestling her, and I absolutely hate wrestling her! I think everybody feels the same way. She’s such a tough competitor, and she gives it her all every single time, and it forces you to be a better wrestler, and that’s why I love it and hate it.
RS: Who’s your favourite wrestler to promo against?
LVN: For me, I always am just talking to talk, I’m not really having those interactions. It’s always just me talking at someone. Now, I haven’t actually cut promos against her, but with her, Sienna. She comes up with the craziest and funniest comebacks, and they catch me off guard, and I love that. I love being caught off guard, and having to think on my toes.
RS: The one person you’ve not yet wrestled who you’d like to.
LVN: I haven’t wrestled Tessa Blanchard. I’ve wrestled her in a tag match at Shimmer, but I have not wrestled her one on one. Another person that I would like to get back into a feud with and wrestle one on one, no distractions, and really be able to tell a story, would be Allie. I think that everyone wishes that we would have had that blow-off match, and nobody got that. I think that we haven’t gone too far, we can come back to that and revisit it, because I’m crazy. So I can snap back into that. I would really like to do a storyline with her, and have that blow-off match. She’s got a great style of wrestling that I think we complement each other.
RS: If you could add anyone to the locker room who’s not currently signed with Impact, who would that be?
LVN: Rachael Ellering. And she knows that, I tell her that all the time. Deonna Purrazzo too. Deanna’s great, she’s a very old-school mat wrestler, but what people don’t know is that she can do everything. Everything. There’s nothing she can’t do. If you want her to get in the ring and dance and do gymnastics, she can do it. If you want her to high-fly and do lucha, she can do it. You just don’t get to see that, and you don’t see females who can do everything all the time, so I’d love to have here there, she’d really surprise people.
RS: Final question - if you had to pick your dream match, what venue, what stipulation, and what opponent, present or past.
LVN: I’m going to do two dream matches. If it was in north America, it would be myself, versus Natalya, Gail Kim, and Trish. Four-way, hopefully in Canada but in the States would be cool too, with Canadians. I’d love that. If I could have a dream match in the UK, it would be at [Glasgow’s SSE] Hydro with Viper and Kay Lee, and maybe Kasey. I always pick a whole bunch, it’s never singles. Because that’s more fun.
Impact airs weekly on Spike UK every Friday at 9pm.