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Why the Lakers’ Jeanie Buss loves Jungle Grrrl and is putting her money into a female wrestling show

Jeanie Buss is the driving force behind the reboot of WOW — Women of Wrestling — which kicks off with a live fight Sept. 29 at the Belasco Theatre in downtown Los Angeles.

The start of the NBA season is still a few months away and, as you might expect, Los Angeles Lakers President Jeanie Buss is already optimistic about the team in the post-Kobe Bryant era. Yet as she focuses on improving the team’s performance from last season’s disappointment, she is also getting into a whole different arena. 

Buss is the driving force behind the reboot of WOW — Women of Wrestling — which kicks off with a live fight Sept. 29 at the Belasco Theatre in downtown Los Angeles.

The plan for Buss and David McLane, the founder of WOW and her partner in the venture, is to transition WOW to a subscription model for the small screen. Matches have previously aired on a dedicated YouTube channel (youtube.com/wowsuperheroes). Buss is hopeful that WOW’s lineup of colorful female wrestlers will find a home on broadcast TV next year.

The concept first caught on 20 years ago when McLane founded and created the series “Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (GLOW),” which featured the same kind of outrageous characters and conflicts as their male counterparts. 

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Buss sat down this week at the Belasco to discuss her favorite characters and why she got involved with a sport that couldn’t  be more distant from basketball.

Let’s cut right to it, Jeanie. The head of one of the NBA’s most well-known teams is getting into female wrestling? Really?

This is a passion project. Yes, I do have a day job. A big day job. Why am I taking some of my free time to devote to this? I grew up in the era of Title 9, and there are so many female athletes, so many college programs for women to participate in, and there’s not enough places for female athletes to take all this training and hard work that they’ve done for years. I believe that WOW shows that women can become a professional athlete and make a living in this country and be able to entertain and keep training.

Female wrestler Santana Garrett in action at a WOW match in Las Vegas.
Female wrestler Santana Garrett in action at a WOW match in Las Vegas.
(Steve Spatafore / WOW )

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It’s women resolving their own issues, not running to a man to save them.
Jeanie Buss on Women of Wrestling

So what is WOW like?

It’s just like people have seen with wrestling. It’s character-driven. It isn’t about women being the afterthought or under card. There are the age-old issues of good versus evil, rivalry, conflict, chaos. All the different things that make wrestling fun. It’s over the top. The performers are phenomenal, talented, funny. 

What is your personal connection and why do you feel it’s important?

It’s women resolving their own issues, not running to a man to save them. That’s an important message for young women to see. You have to handle conflict and face your detractors. There’s an element of dealing with bullying in our society. We have wrestlers from different backgrounds, and they are wonderful role models for young women.

What is your specific role?

I let the wrestling professionals create their product, and I get to come and watch it and enjoy it. I really don’t have input into the characters or what happens. I’m financially backing it. I’m a fan, and I can tell you who my favorite characters are.

Spill.

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I love Lana Star — she has a heart underneath all the glamorizing. She’s funny and strong. I like Jungle Grrrl because she has a special moves that nobody else has, so it’s exciting to watch her come into the ring and do what she does. I love the tag-team Nona’s Caged Heat — they consist of Delta Lotta Pain and Loca, two women who were wrongly put in prison. Part of their work-release program is that they can come out and wrestle in orange jumpsuits. It’s very “Orange Is the New Black.”

Jungle Grrrl takes flight in her attack on Lana Star during a Women of Wrestling match.
Jungle Grrrl takes flight in her attack on Lana Star during a Women of Wrestling match.
(Steve Spatafore / WOW )

Have you ever wrestled?

No, I never have. But I’ve always been a promoter with an ability for entertainment and selling tickets.

What is the plan for getting this out into the world?

Our goal is to grow our core audience and eventually transition our free content into a subscription model. If a network, online or otherwise, is interested in our content and model, we welcome the opportunity to speak to them, but we are pursuing this passionate fan base now by building our own digital ecosystem that clearly fans are gravitating toward. We have our own channel on YouTube.

Who is the audience for this?

It’s family entertainment. It is something that will appeal to children because of the strong characters. It’s like comic-book characters, superheroes. Young people who will enjoy the over-the-top characters. Women will enjoy the strong female role models, especially for their daughters. Fathers will want their daughters to watch WOW.

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This is not MMA, Ronda Rousey-type stuff.

No, no.

So you know there will be critics and detractors who will be saying, “Why isn’t Jeanie spending 200% of her time rebuilding the Lakers?”

The Lakers have an excellent staff. Whatever I am devoting to WOW would never take away from my Lakers responsibility. I would never let anything interfere with that.

In five years, where would you like to see WOW?

I’d like it to be a touring company, with merchandising and broadcast. And that the girls will become household names, that they will be stars. Because they deserve to be stars. 

greg.braxton@latimes.com

Twitter:@GeBraxton


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