Singapore's First Female Pro-Wrestler, Alexis Lee, Juggles Two Day Jobs To Fund Her Passion
Alexis Lee is in a state of limbo, yet intent on summoning change.
As Singapore’s first female pro-wrestler, she’s charted impressive growth since 2013 with home promotion Singapore Professional Wrestling (SPW), where she trained under co-founders Andruew Tang (moniker ‘The Statement’) and Vadim Koryagin.
In August 2019, the 25-year-old — real name Lee Xin Yi — joined some 40 candidates for the WWE tryouts in Shanghai, along with Tang and fellow pro-wrestler Sean ‘Trexxus’ Tan.
They ultimately weren’t selected for the developmental contract, but the experience gave the oft-dubbed Lion City Hit Girl plenty to write home about, given she grew up watching the entertainment giant’s riotous matches.
Yet, and like the many anecdotes she doles out during our two-hour chat, her fall into wrestling was serendipitous — she met Tang at SPW’s first unofficial show — and an outlet to channel her a**holery, which she maintains is an intrinsic trait in everyone.
“It’s an art form, being able to be a complete a**hole. At a sporting event with Phoenix (Malaysia’s famed 20-year-old hijab-wearing wrestler) in Malaysia, I put my [championship] title in her face. The crowd booed, but I didn’t care.”
It’s worlds apart from her beginnings as an 18-year-old, during which time her segue into wrestling helped her overcome her lack of confidence.
At SPW, a typical cardio session at involves all the makings of a HIIT workout, except the ante is upped: it’s a rigorous 50 push-ups, 200 squats, lunges and sit-ups, all in the lead-up to running the ropes.
That essentially means getting acquainted with bouncing the body off the ropes in a boxing ring, a process that leaves rope burns on the skin.
It’s pretty much self-inflicted pain mixed with theatrics — and, for Lee at least, every bit worth it.
“We work on moves that ensure wrestlers feel comfortable enough to convincingly exaggerate. Like, if you get slapped, you might roll on the ground thrice, and —”
She pauses to dramatic effect, clutching her cheek in mock agony.
It’s only a sliver of what SPW’s actual shows are like: swinging spotlights, metal springs protesting beneath the weight of bodies propelled off ropes, and spectators jeering or cheering amidst the merriment.
“You go through all the f*cking self-torture of training, and then people come up to you [post-match] to say you’ve done a good job. That validates everything for me. We are such broken people,” she intones.
You can tell, however, that she’s deadly serious.
“Pro-wrestlers and people in [the] entertainment [business] are starving for validation. Some players like that it gives them an ego boost. Some even have ego problems, and I’m not immune to it. I’m prone to acting aloof outside of the ring, too.”
The Enduring Appeal of Theatrics
Like many subcultures, pro-wrestling is swathed in a kind of obnoxious inaccessibility to the masses, particularly in Singapore.
Its nature — a cross between showmanship and staged acts of violence — isn’t immediately palatable, although WWE’s legions of fans are proof of how lucrative the entertainment sport is.
Female pro-wrestlers, though, remain few and far between.
“I didn’t get many matches initially because I was female,” Lee admits. “Not many [male pro-wrestlers] would want to work with girls, because it kinda bruises their ego when we beat them. Plus, Singaporeans are slightly sexist in a sense.”
To this, she cites a 2015 video in which she and fellow SPW pro-wrestlers recreated a clip of a man mock-wrestling his girlfriend into a pool — with Lee playing victim in the reenactment. The clip scored a fair amount of flak for its apparent celebration of misogyny.
In reality, though, pro-wrestlers are assigned either the role of heel or babyface — or villain and ‘good guy’. Naturally, the heel always emerges the winner.
Lee is effusive in her love for playing the latter, although she maintains that championship titles aren’t the most defining part of her career.
If anything, it’s the collective experience of standing before a crowd that keeps her going.
“My self-obsession is real,” she semi-jokes. “I often ask to be a heel for overseas matches [because] you don’t have to get whacked as much, since you’re controlling most of the match. You beat down the good guy, and then in-between breaks you get to shout at fans, ‘Shut up, you little piece of sh*t!'”
I begin to sense Lee and her alter ego aren’t all that different; her boisterous nature spills into Alexis Lee, whose persona she says she’s still working out.
Yet, and as the conversation wears on, she occasionally slips into a pensive mood, as if in thoughtful retrospection.
Of the many topics broached, plans are something we discuss at length — or, specifically, the fluidity of them.
“I don’t have a f*cking clue about [the specifics of] my plans,” she admits, citing a recent break-up that left her scrambling to make sense of the discarded pieces.
“But I know pro-wrestling is my passion. You get your foot in, and you feel this wide-eyed wonder at everything. Then you get a reality of how attainable that dream is, and your dream becomes less a dream — and more a long process of getting to where you’d like to be. My goal is now to conquer Europe and make my name there as a pro-wrestler.”
It’s ironic in every sense; pro-wrestling involves pandering to spectators by staging a convincing act. Yet life outside the ring is predisposed to change, and plans can be fractured just as easily as they’re formed.
Unseen Struggles, ft. the $2 Sports Bra
Lee’s home promotion, SPW, is one of two pro-wrestling leagues in Singapore — the other being Grapple Max, whose focus lies in mat-wrestling without the limitations of a boxing ring.
At present, SPW’s main sponsors include G&B Comics and Gymboxx, the latter of which offers complimentary membership to its wrestlers. These venue sponsorships, along with smaller sponsors for drinks and gear transport, have sustained the pro-wrestling league the past eight years.
But that’s as far as financial support goes.
In fact, pro-wrestlers earn nominal fees for the sport, and don’t normally enjoy individual sponsorships.
With her eight years’ experience, Lee commands a fee of between US$100 and US$130 per match — except she often runs at a loss for overseas events, which typically cover flights, accommodation, and little else.
Insurance, too, is borne by the pro-wrestlers themselves.
“I need a comprehensive insurance plan, but can’t afford it. I’m investing all my money in gear, flights, accommodation, transport — I’ve barely anything for myself these days. My fees are what tide me through to remain fed.”
At her debut in 2013, she painted on a $2 sports bra from Daiso as part of her match gear, then completed it with the trimmings: kneepads, ankle wraps, socks, shorts and shoes, which collectively added up to under $100.
Her makeup, purchased from Spotlight and hand-painted based off YouTube tutorials, is finished with spray before a tiny mirror that’s shared with three female pro-wrestlers.
These costs are kept in check thanks to the two jobs she holds: an internship at a cycling tour agency and, by night, a five-hour shift as a drinks promoter.
The afternoon of our chat, she announces a planned flight to Bangkok that evening for a SETUP Thailand Pro Wrestling match.
“My parents don’t know about it yet,” she chortles. “They’ve only seen me wrestle once, about five years into my pro-wrestling career. [The matches are] scripted and everything, but it’s still painful for them to watch.”
Like most Asian families, her parents fought her unorthodox career path “for the longest time”.
“They’ve come around to it, but still occasionally ask me to settle down with a ‘regular’ job,” she bemoans. “I’m essentially a black sheep in the family, and it’s not helped the fact that I’m bi. Having a thick skin helps, but there will be days where you just can’t deal…especially when your personal or professional life isn’t going well.”
Given her matches have taken her to some 12 countries the world over — including a particularly memorable underground wrestling event in Austria — it seemed inevitable that a hiatus was in order.
Sometime in mid-December last year, Lee made the daunting but necessary decision to put her career on hold.
That came undone barely a month later, with an invitation to fight in the aforementioned Bangkok match — a clichéd reminder that life makes plans of its own.
In all her struggles, though, it’s clear where Lee is most comfortable: in the squared circle, letting rip with her brash persona and feeding off the adrenalin of a well-played fight.
At this, she again reiterates winning isn’t everything, much less anything.
“It’s just a longer, fancier title to add to your name. Real championship is when a company believes in you,” she affirms. “It takes a huge amount of trust for them to put a piece of their company in your hands. Any mistakes will be reflected on them. I know I’m not there yet, but any promotion that trusts in my abilities…that’s f*ckin’ awesome.”
About Hustlers of Singapore
We often bemoan how bland and boring Singapore is — but it’s the people that make a place.
Enter Hustlers of Singapore, a biweekly series that profiles personalities and entrepreneurs who’ve dared to make the change in this shiny metropolitan that we call home. From Singapore’s first female pro-wrestler to so-called hawkerpreneurs, these are the stories behind their financial (and emotional) struggles.
New stories drop on alternate Sundays, 2pm.