Kimber Lee soaks in historic victory
Back on July 13, WWE launched what it called a "divas revolution."
Sasha Banks, Charlotte and Becky Lynch made the jump from NXT, WWE's popular developmental territory, to its main roster. On NXT, Banks, Charlotte and Lynch, along with Bayley, broke down barriers for women's wrestling by earning the same billing as the men by showcasing their in-ring prowess and captivating characters.
When the trio made finally made its way up to WWE, it created a buzz among the wrestling community, as it signaled what was supposed to be a shift in how WWE presented women's wrestling from an uncoordinated cat fight to a technical showcase of skill that rivaled the quality of men's matches.
While WWE considered what is was doing revolutionary, it wasn't necessarily historic. Sure, Banks and Bayley became the first women to headline a WWE special event, but that was in NXT, not on one of WWE's main shows.
However, something truly historic did occur at the 2300 Arena in Philadelphia on Dec. 5.
On that night, Seattle native and University of the Arts graduate Kimber Lee captured the CHIKARA Grand championship at the company's season finale, Top Banana.
With the victory, Lee (or Princess KimberLee in CHIKARA) became the first woman to win the primary championship of a non-female promotion in the history of professional wrestling in the United States.
In one night, Lee went from just another women's wrestler to a pioneer of sorts, as she is now blazing a trail that no other woman has ever traversed. She is the face of a male-dominated promotion in what is still a male-dominated industry.
Women wrestling men on the independent circuit is not uncommon. In fact, it happens quite often, especially in CHIKARA. But Lee's victory could spark a trend of women vying for titles that have ever been held only by men.
The significance of the feat is not lost on the woman born Kimberly Frankele.
"It's a crazy feeling because it's just an honor and such a cool thing to be asked to be," Lee said during an interview with philly.com. "I'm still just kind of digesting it all. I have the belt at my house now and that's crazy. Not only that, but the impact it has for women in general.
"It's never been done before," she added. "Now, that door is open for all of the women. They can be the main face of a company and we don't have to be discriminated against just because we have a different set of parts."
Lee earned the right to challenge for the CHIKARA Grand championship by winning the Challenge of the Immortals tournament. The Challenge of the Immortals is an ambitious year-long tournament that CHIKARA never did before, in which 10 teams of four took part in a double round robin that pitted every team against each other twice, making for a total of 90 matches. The teams could face each other in four match types: one-on-one, tag team, trios (three-on-three) or relevos atomicos (four-on-four). The match type has to be agreed upon by the team captains before the match, but the teams cannot face each other in the same match type twice.
At the end of the tournament, the two top teams based on points advanced to the finals, which took place at CHIKARA's season finale, Top Banana, back on Dec. 5. The winner of the tournament earned what was dubbed an immortal opportunity. That opportunity turned out to be a chance to win the CHIKARA Grand championship, which would usually require three singles victories before earning the right to challenge. However, winning the Challenge of the Immortals automatically granted someone that right, which could be cashed in any time. That right also never expired.
Lee's team, dubbed Crown and Court, finished the double round robin in second place, which pitted them against The Wrecking Crew in the final. Crown and Court triumphed in the end, earning her team the golden opportunity.
On the same night she won the opportunity, Lee, her team's captain, decided to cash it in after Hallowicked defended the CHIKARA Grand championship in a triple threat against Icarus and Eddie Kingston.
After the bell sounded and her name was announced as the new champion, the emotions finally set in for Lee, as she had accomplished the single biggest feat in her career.
"It was just so hard to keep all of the excitement and the nerves inside," she said. "I was shaking before I went out, but something just snaps when you go through that curtain and it all changed and it was all game face at that point."
While some might frown at a woman not only wrestling a man but also beating a man in a testosterone-driven sport, Lee believes people simply have to open their minds up to the fact that women like to compete, too, and the only difference between a male wrestler and a female wrestler is gender.
Other than that, Lee feels as though women should be allowed to compete for the things the men do, including championship titles.
"You really just have to give it a chance," she said. "We're competitors, too. We work hard, too. We want to show that we can fight, too. A lot of the times we get across the ring from a man, at least for me, they look at me as a competitor. I'm an actual threat.
"There's so much potential for it to open up so many more things you can do and so many different stories you can tell," she added. "I really think people should give it a chance before they say, 'Inter-gender wrestling, there's no way that could work. A girl can't beat a guy.' Give it a chance. We'll surprise you."
To no one's surprise, Lee has no trepidation about stepping into the ring with a man larger and stronger than she is. To her, it represents only yet another challenge for her to overcome.
"Those are two men, but that's looked at as, 'Oh, OK,' but for some reason, if you switch it to a woman in there, suddenly it can't be done," she added. "It can be. You just have to analyze every opponent for what they are."
The gritty mentality Lee carries is something she has had since she was a child growing up in Seattle.
Since she was two years old, Lee has danced, and she is a classically trained ballerina. On the surface, ballet looks to be all about grace and beauty, but Lee said that ballet training is even tougher than professional wrestling.
Despite that, Lee's mother forbade her from watching the spectacle, deeming it too much violence for her little ballerina. Her mother's edict didn't deter her, however, as Lee watched wrestling either over a friend's house or by sneaking to watch it in her bedroom.
"It always intrigued me," Lee said. "I always wanted to watch it even though I couldn't. It was just something that fascinated me."
Still, ballet was the primary activity in her life and she decided to study the art of dance in college. The school recommended to her the most was the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.
After taking part in an audition in California, Lee moved to Philadelphia to attend the school, where she eventually earned a bachelor's degree in dance education.
During her sophomore year, a coworker invited her to attend an independent wrestling event. After going to a handful of shows, she got the inkling to become a wrestler herself. Lee eventually met people who pointed her in the direction of Philadelphia native Drew Gulak, so that he could train her.
According to Lee, Gulak didn't go easy on her because she was a woman, making things tough for the graceful ballerina. However, Lee kept coming back for more and eventually made her childhood passion her career.
"I think it was just that fascination I had as a kid and it just blossomed into this complete passion," Lee said. "I just fell in love. There's just something about it."
So far, it looks as though she has made the right decision, as she has accomplished something no other woman has.
However, as a famous comic book once said, with great power comes great responsibility. Lee has the power that comes from being the face of a promotion, but she now carries the responsibility as well.
On top of that, she has opened doors for other women. She's not alone, as the independent scene is full of women ready to take things to new heights.
While WWE's movement has been revolutionary, Lee is writing a brand new chapter.
"I think it's awesome that women are finally given a chance to show what we can do," Lee said. "That's all I want. I don't want us to be looked at as, 'Oh, it's the women's match. I can take a bathroom break.' or a novelty on the show, I want people to be just as excited to see us compete as they are to see the men compete because of our athleticism."
Every time she steps into the ring, she will be writing a new page in wrestling history.
"I want to see how many changes I can make," Lee said. "I want to keep pushing as far as I can to the top and see where I end up. WWE would be great, but I want to go there to make changes and keep pushing for that divas revolution so that we can be equal for real."