Trish Adora is 2021’s Independent Wrestler of the Year

Making a Case for the Afro-Punk

It’s December and I’m stoned, watching Trish Adora wrestle a robot.

As Adora flusters Shockwave the Robot by grinding a bit in the middle of a tight waistlock, I have to double-check the frayed wires of my short-term memory to make absolutely certain I didn’t sprinkle some recently-procured magic mushroom powder on my blunt. No, dear reader, this is legitimately happening.

Not knowing exactly what to make of Shockwave as her opponent does its signature dance—it would be too obvious to call this dance out by name—Adora ends up wrestling a predictably great match with Shockwave. Right from the opening collar and elbow tie-up, Adora played Shockwave up as an anomaly. Like wrestling a robot.

It was also an anomaly in the idea that it was an American comedy wrestling match that was actually genuinely funny. I find myself straining my tolerance for whimsy when it comes to much comedic wrestling. But this match, taped for Beyond’s weekly series Uncharted Territory, was also deeply rooted in fundamental wrestling, with Adora spending a lot of time in the side headlock. Offensively, Shockwave presented brutally efficient at the fundamentals of wrestling, because if you’re going to commit to the gimmick, you can’t go in there and wrestle like a person. The match ended in a draw, because how do you beat an android?

Adora taking on Shockwave felt like an interesting diversion in a year that has proven Adora as one of the more versatile storytellers on the independent scene right now.

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Her Beyond debut happened early in 2021, an incredibly good 60-minute Iron Match against the also-reliably-talented Tony Deppen in February. As part of a burgeoning generation of gifted and Black technical wrestlers—a generation which includes Lee Moriarty, Jonathan Gresham, and Darius Lockhart—60-minute matches are exactly Adora’s speed from a critical standpoint. In the ring, she’s skilled and patient, beatable but never one to get caught slipping into a too-serious predicament. The way she reacts to what’s happening to her elicits a crescendo of facial expressions and body language eventually finding its hard-earned peak.

Look, I know there is a vocal contingent of people who hate long matches. Faux-prestige, pretentious. Boring. I get it. My Match of the Year in 2021 was eleven minutes long, significantly shorter than favorites of years past. But I’m also the type of person who would throw on an 11-minute Wooden Shjips song into the middle of a DJ set. I have no qualms with being pretentious.

Shortly before the 14:00 mark, matters between Adora and Deppen began to get a little chippy, with Adora slapping the back of Deppen’s head from the mounted position like an older sibling’s taunts. Deppen yelled at the referee: “She wants this match to be equal! Yell at her like you yell at me!”

Tony Deppen doesn’t get enough credit for how good he is at as a little shithead when circumstances call for it. 

Proudly from Washington D.C.—a city whose rich Black culture is dramatically overshadowed by the 24-hour shit cycle of being in the center of American government—Adora is nicknamed the Afro-Punk, shades of James Spooner’s 2003 documentary and later, the most stylish music festival in the world. Wrestling in holy fishnets and the Pan African colors of red, black, green, and gold, Adora is a Black woman existing in several different cultures that have been whitewashed to paste. I hate to be the guy who always stresses how much representation matters. Actually, I don’t hate it at all. My heart lights up when I see Black children inspired by someone who looks like them.

At one point, Deppen knocked out a set of sit-ups while Adora was trapped in a Trailer Hitch. To say Adora’s white opponent being a cocky shit doesn’t add unspoken stakes to this match is to willfully turn a blind eye on the history of America. It may only be subtext in the match, but subtext is such a valuable tool in art. In the waning moments in the match’s first half-hour, Deppen became outright disrespectful, stomping out Adora’s knee and spitting water in her face. In retort, Adora briefly turned the match into a fistfight. 

Deppen spent the better part of 40 minutes working over Adora’s knees and ankles without going for the win. Early in the match, Adora used her technical prowess to outpace Deppen, but by the 42-minute mark, he was hitting brutal crossface forearms.

The first fall didn’t didn’t come until about 51 minutes into the match, where Adora hit her can’t-miss finisher Lariat Tubman for the surprise fall. Deppen scored the tying fall by submission simply from bashing Adora’s knee into the canvas. After a string of very strong late-match kickouts (a sign of gutsiness), Adora reversed a crossface reversal into a flash pin just as time expired.

Photo by Speedy Photo

A lot of bad opinions have surfaced about intergender wrestling ever since chatting about wrestling on Twitter became “discourse,” the most egregious of which is that it’s supposedly “not believable.” Trish Adora regularly wrestles men in defense of her Pan-Afrikan World Diaspora Wrestling Championship, which was recently recognized as a World Championship by Pro Wrestling Illustrated. Normally, I’d be blasé as fuck about what a newsletter does or doesn’t officially recognize as a world title, but the Pan-Afrikan World Diaspora title is significant purely because of the work Adora has put in to make the championship prestigious.

Without too many cliché platitudes about the person making the title, since winning the Pan-Afrikan World Diaspora championship shortly before the world shut down, Adora has turned defenses into must-see matches through grit and verve, grinding her way through a variety of competitors in a variety of promotions. She’s had very good matches for the title against Darius Carter and Eel O’Neal, and her two matches against Suge D—once at the inaugural, rescheduled For the Culture last year, and later on Uncharted Territory—are certified cult-classics. 

Adora and Suge ran back one of 2020’s best matches to create a sequel which actually surpassed the original. It’s due in no small part to Suge being part of the aforementioned generation of Black excellence in the field of technical wrestling, but also heavily successful because of his and Adora’s undeniable artistic chemistry.

When considering which independent wrestler has had the best overall year, it’s easy to pick one with the highest profile matches (i.e. the wildest five days of Daniel Garcia’s career), but a lot of the grind for an independent wrestler is to make artistically viable work no matter who you’re in the ring with. You still have to pull your weight, but how much weight do you really have to pull to get a great match out of Minoru Suzuki? It’s an honor, and a legit dream match to get that booking, but your mettle is really tested in how good you make people who are still building their name look.

Sure, Adora has had outstanding matches against Allysin Kay, Willow Nightingale, Wheeler Yuta, Dark Sheik, Masha Slamovich, Jordan Oliver, and in a blockbuster tag match with Moriarty against Kris Statlander and Orange Cassidy. But in the 54 matches she’s wrestled in 2021 (at press time), far more names on Adora’s match docket are regional favorites and the types you could call up-and-comers. Still, there’s not a bad match in the bunch, even when she was on the service end of a Riho enhancement match.

With her recently-signed Ring of Honor contract abruptly expiring and the company’s future in doubt, Adora goes back to the grind as arguably America’s greatest unsigned wrestler. If these major wrestling companies have any common sense, we won’t be saying the same thing next year.