Trisa Laughlin, the longtime star of Extreme Championship Wrestling, wife of Tommy Dreamer, published author and mom, actually got her first taste of professional wrestling north of the border in Canada.
“I have a sister who’s three years older than I am, and we would take trips,” Trisa said recalling her teenage years. “We would just take state maps — we would pick what state we wanted to go to — and we just closed our eyes and we’d point, and whatever major city was close to our fingers, that’s where we would go,” she added in a telephone interview days before her final wrestling appearance at House of Hardcore 7.
“We ended up in Cincinnati, Ohio. And while I was in Cincinnati, I ended up meeting (the late) Brian Pillman, who at the time was playing for the Cincinnati Bengals. We became friends. He ended moving up to Calgary (because) he was going to play football up there,” Trisa explained. “And he, of course, got associated with the Harts and went into wrestling.”
While visiting Pillman in Calgary, Trisa got her first taste of the business, not long after Pillman did.
“I played his sister for a few days up there,” Trisa recalled. “That was kind of fun. That was my introduction to wrestling.”
That’s not to say that Trisa was a neophyte when it came to the world of professional wrestling. Far from it, in fact.
“I watched with my dad,” Trisa answered when asked if she was a wrestling fan as a child. “I didn’t watch by myself, but my dad used to watch Georgia Championship Wrestling, with Gordon Solie, who I used to think was the most amazing announcer ever, of course until I met Joey Styles,” she added. “I loved Gordon Solie and Georgia Championship Wrestling. After that, it went to my dad watching NWA.” She would also attend a couple of live events with her father.
“I never really thought I was ever going to end up in wrestling, so that was kind of a surprise. But it was a good surprise, because otherwise I wouldn’t have met my husband and had my wonderful children,” she said, referring to their twin daughters, now 10.
While unknowingly planting the seeds for a future in wrestling, it wasn’t until a chance encounter with former Major League Baseball player Ron Gant while working for the legendary musician Prince that fate intervened in Trisa’s life and steered her down destiny’s path.
“I was in Miami during Super Bowl one year,” Trisa recalled, “and I used to do rhythmic gymnastics, which (featured) long ribbons. Prince had these nightclubs called Glam Slam, so I was hired to do these gymnastic ribbons. There was a stage and everybody would dance to the techno music they were playing. They would shut off all of the lights on the stage except for black lights. You couldn’t see me, but you could see my ribbons flowing to the music.”
It was there that Trisa met Gant, who played 16 seasons in the majors.
“He introduced to me to Raven,” Trisa said, referring to the famed wrestler with whom Dreamer and Trisa’s wrestling alter ego, Beulah McGillicutty, have a long and storied history.
“(Raven) was like, ‘Hey, with a gymnastics background, did you ever think about getting into wrestling?’ I go, ‘Funny story, I knew Brian Pillman.’ Blah, blah, blah, he and I started talking and he put me in touch with Paul E. (Heyman) and that’s how I got hired.”
Raven, Dreamer and Beulah would go on to have one of the longest and most memorable wrestling storylines in history, one that famously, or infamously, saw Beulah suffer many a piledriver. It propelled the careers of all three and remains the stuff of Extreme Championship Wrestling lore to this day.
It’s something Trisa is certainly proud of.
“To sustain a storyline as long as it was, there has to be such a good buildup to sustain a story for so long, a feud for so long,” she said, before praising Dreamer and Raven. “Both Tommy and Raven have really good wrestling minds, and that made for some really good TV. And they both knew how to tell stories.”
But something else happened along the way. Trisa and Dreamer fell in love. At the time, Trisa admits, she and Dreamer faced the hard decision of whether to cross the line from friends to dating.
“That was kind of a hard decision to make because before we started dating, he was my best friend,” she said. “I wasn’t sure that I wanted to ruin the friendship because I truly loved him as a friend and yes, I was also attracted to him, but I thought once you cross that line, there’s no going back. You don’t want it to become awkward. I’m just glad it ended up the way it did.”
Looking back, Trisa admits, it couldn’t have worked out better.
“I’m grateful for wrestling. Without that, I never would have met my husband and I wouldn’t have my wonderful two kids. I owe wrestling a lot as far as that’s concerned. I guess that’s just the way it happened, but I can’t imagine my life with anybody else.”
In fact, she admits, the transition for them from friends to more was very natural.
“We just fit together so well, it was just sort of like a natural thing: ‘Of course they’re together.’ I don’t think we ever really got any resistance from it. We had such great chemistry and I think that showed in our work when we were out there. You could tell that we really cared for each other and would do anything for each other. The whole Beulah/Dreamer thing, he would protect her at all costs and she would fight if she saw something unjust. She would always (be like) ‘No, that’s not going to happen, you can’t do that,’ type of thing and he would always protect her. And that’s how it is in a relationship. You’d do anything for the other person. So I think our personal relationship only made it much stronger in the ring.”
When ECW went bankrupt, Dreamer went on to find success everywhere he worked, which continues to this day, while Trisa made the at-times difficult decision to end her active wrestling career. The couple later started a family and Trisa would publish a children’s book, Gertrude the Great, in 2012.
“There were parts of it that were hard to walk away (from),” she said when asked if leaving the wrestling business was difficult. “That adrenaline rush when you walk through the curtain and people are chanting your name … things like that were hard to let go. And (so was) embracing a quote-unquote normal life. But it was something I definitely needed to do. I knew that, especially for women, wrestling is short-lived. I knew that I wanted to go back to college and I was nearing 30 already at that point so I said it’s time for me to exit and move on. I knew that I wanted to do other things in my life, and I wanted to do them while I was still young enough. It was just time to move on.”
Trisa and Dreamer would eventually marry and have twin daughters. Dreamer went on to work for World Wrestling Entertainment, Total Nonstop Action, on the independent scene and overseas before starting up his own company, House of Hardcore, in 2012. Today, at age 43, he continues to work several shows a month, and despite the wear and tear of a now decades long career, Trisa knows that wrestling is what completes her husband.
“You have to walk a fine line because you want your significant other to be happy,” she said when asked if she ever wishes Dreamer would retire or scale back his appearances. “I’ve always supported him in what he’s wanted to do. And I always knew that when he’s ready to (retire), he’ll go. Yes, I’ve always wanted him to be home more. Sometimes I have to plan vacations and then hope that he can make it. It’s one of those kind of things. There’s no way for me to know when he’s going to be available.
“Body wise, yeah I absolutely wish he would scale back because I don’t like seeing him where he’s in pain. It’s the car rides and the plane rides that do it for him because he has to be stationary for so long and they’re not the most comfortable seats. That’s kind of hard to watch.”
But at the end of the day, Trisa said, her husband will know when it’s time.
“He’s sacrificed a lot, but for something he’s very passionate about and you can’t fault somebody for following their dream and giving everything that they have to what they’re passionate about. I might have a problem with it if he wasn’t such a dedicated father, but when he’s here, he’s present. A lot of times people could have a husband who works on Wall Street and not see him as much as we see Tommy because when he’s here, he’s here.”
House of Hardcore, Dreamer’s brainchild, continues to grow in popularity and is poised to return to the former ECW Arena in Philadelphia this weekend. When Dreamer first told his wife he was considering starting up his own promotion, Trisa said she was elated.
“It was, ‘Thank God that he’s going to do this.’ I always told him that he should because he gives so much to every company he’s ever been with. It was always generating all these ideas and thoughts … I’m not trying to be biased, yes, he’s my husband, but he’s always been such a creative genius. People probably don’t really know, but he actually attempted to write a movie and it was laugh out loud funny. It was so good. He’s such a good writer and he (knows) psychology and he knows how to pull emotion out of people. I always told him that he should have his own company because then he could do everything that he wanted to do. It’s one thing to work for somebody else and give all these ideas, it’s another to do it yourself and then see all these wonderful things come to fruition. For him, House of Hardcore, having the buzz he has around House of Hardcore and all of the great feedback and it’s going very strong, that’s very gratifying because it’s something that he created. That’s important. That’s very validating.”
It was because of her husband and his fledgling promotion that Trisa brought her Beulah character out of retirement last year. Dreamer, who has a penchant for surprises at his shows, delighted the crowd by involving Beulah in his tag match with the great Terry Funk.
Unfortunately, the elation of Beulah’s return would be overshadowed by a serious head injury she suffered that night, one that Trisa said caused months of health problems and which still plague her to this day.
“The concussion was pretty significant,” Trisa said. “I actually, at one point, lost the hearing in one of my ears temporarily. It came back, thank God, (but) I was scared that there was swelling in my brain and all of that stuff. I had to have all the (tests) done, I had to see a neurologist. I’m still feeling some of the effects from it, which they said could happen years later: side effects, things that won’t go away. The thing that has affected me most is the vision in my left eye is a little off sometimes. When I notice it the most is if I’m very tired. It’s just a hair off, but it takes it a second to stabilize. If I’m walking, I can actually feel my vision bounce in my left. It is what it is.”
I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that one of the founding stars of ECW and the wife of a hardcore legend has shaken off that injury and is climbing right back into the ring, albeit for one final time, Saturday in Philly, where it all began.
“It’s my official retirement,” Trisa said. “It’s my way of saying goodbye. When (Tommy) told me that he was doing the old ECW Arena, I had mentioned to him it would be awesome if I could retire in that building. I said, ‘You know what? It’s been almost 20 years since I started there.’ I said I’d really love to retire there some day. Then I saw it advertised that I’m retiring and I said ‘Yay.’ ”
The significance of Saturday’s appearance is not lost on Trisa.
“It means a lot to me,” she said. “It gives me some good closure because I know I’ve got two girls that I’ve got to take care of when he’s on the road and I can’t afford to be hurt. I know that that wrestling side of me is done. I needed the closure. This is good closure for me.”
Asked if she thinks it will be an emotional night, Trisa said she has but one goal.
“I am hoping I get through it without crying,” she said.
As far as her health goes, Trisa said she’s good to go.
“Let me put it this way, you have to keep in mind I’m 20 years older than I was when I started, so I don’t look the same, OK,” she said with a chuckle. “But I am very healthy and I’m very fit and I’ve been exercising like crazy, cardiovasicular-wise, to make sure that I’m ready for anything that happens. I have been training very hard, and I feel really good.”
For her fans, who can come see her live one final time in Philadelphia or watch House of Hardcore 7 live via i-pay-per-view, Trisa has one final message: “I guess I would say that it’s been one hell of a ride that I’m so grateful for.”
The subject turns to Dreamer, her husband and friend. Asked what Tommy Dreamer means to wrestling, obvious biases aside, Trisa said no on can dispute that Dreamer has never lost sight of what’s important in wrestling, the fans.
“He’s like the every man’s man,” she said. “He’s like the person that you can live vicariously through if you’re not a wrestler but you always wanted to be. He’s like the everyday guy that made it and was able to achieve his dream and love it and live. I look at him and I admire the person that he is and that he’s never sacrificed his values to (be the) top guy. He’s always stuck by what he believed in and what he believed was right and he’s still accomplished a great deal. I think fans look at him and, yeah, he’s not the best shaped guy or anything like that, but you know what, he’s the type of guy that there is nothing that can keep him down. He will always get back up and he will always keep fighting for what he loves.”
Behind every great man is an even greater woman. In this case, one who will call it a great career when the final bell rings on Saturday in Philadelphia.