A Women’s History Month Exclusive Interview with AEW’s Willow Nightingale

In the world of pro wrestling, pure babyfaces like Willow Nightingale are one in a million. Her AEW journey began in 2021 on Dark and resulted in officially becoming All Elite in late 2022 after winning over the audience with her infectious personality and positive energy. Since then, the aptly named ‘Babe with the Power’ has been on a whirlwind of a journey that includes becoming the inaugural NJPW Strong Women’s Champion, winning the 2023 Owen Hart Women’s Tournament, and main eventing two PPVs in one summer with the biggest names in women’s wrestling.

In 2024, we’ve seen a renewed focus on AEW TV around Willow Nightingale and her ever-intriguing relationships with Kris Statlander, Stokely Hathaway, and now All Elite Wrestling’s new CEO, Mercedes Moné. On top of that, she will be representing AEW in Arena México at CMLL’s March 29 show and the Stardom American Dream show in Philadelphia on April 4.

Bodyslam.Net’s AEW Dynamite aftershow co-host Lyric Swinton sat down with Willow for an exclusive Women’s History interview on the Maps & Graps podcast about her remarkable journey & the exciting year ahead. Check out the full interview here:

Highlights from the conversation are below.

On her identity as a character and her recent work with Kris Statlander & Stokely Hathaway:

“I think Willow, as a character that everybody sees, isn’t really too far off of how I am outside of wrestling and that’s really been like the heart of what I’ve done for like nine years. Of course I’ve grown and changed and evolved…but it all comes down to my core belief that:

1. Wrestling is…probably the thing I love most in life aside from people, pets, and things like that. If there’s one thing that sums up everything I love about the human experience, it’s wrestling so that’s always at the forefront. That’s why when I come to the ring I’m so happy because I get to do the thing I love the most.

2. Violence is a part of human nature. You see it when kids are young, they fight each other. They get physical until they learn like, hey, you can’t behave like that. And so even though there is this bubbly, happy side to me, that’s part of being human is aggression and letting out that anger & rage sometimes. So I really do try to show the duality of that when I go to the ring.

And working with Kris Statlander and Stokely, I’ve known since probably 2016 maybe. She’s also from Long Island. So when we were running different shows on the indie circuit, we would carpool, we’d see each other all the time. Stokely too was somebody who we saw around pretty regularly. So when we started being paired together more and more, we were like ‘Heck yeah, let’s do this let’s have fun’ and that really is how it is. You saw the photo shoot we did together like JC Penney.  That was Stokely’s idea but Statlander and I were like ‘absolutely 100 that’s so cool, we’re definitely doing it’. We’re really just having so much fun and I can’t wait to see where this goes next. And of course I can’t undermine how talented Statlander is…naturally she is so athletic. She puts in so much work to help like, what’s the word I’m looking for? make the most of her athletic genes. She really does capitalize on optimizing. That’s the word. [Optimize.] She works hard to optimize her natural athleticism and her gymnastic background, constantly working on getting better with speaking and how to get her natural comedian out [on-screen]  so I think she’s obviously a very important person to have on the roster and she’s been around pretty much since the beginning so I would consider her a cornerstone [of AEW].”

On Mercedes Moné and her thoughts about their future interactions in AEW:

“Well, I think the last time we faced each other, it was very clearly, we both want to win this championship, this is a first-time encounter, and very potentially the only time we would have an encounter at that point. That’s kind of how we saw it. Now, the tone has definitely shifted due to the injury, due to the fact that she’s sticking around. This isn’t like a one-off kind of thing. And now we have to kind of figure out how we fit into each other’s lives. I’m still not really sure where she stands with me. You know, I don’t feel great about how things ended the last time we wrestled each other, but I do still think very highly of her obviously. And I hope she can see that my intentions are good. I hope she can see that I appreciate her and I think she’s a great wrestler, but I’m also a great wrestler. So I do believe that about myself.”

On being the woman on the AEW roster who’s competed in the most street fights thus far:

“For me personally, I was a big fan of deathmatch wrestling before I started wrestling. And so I’m very aware that there are women like Lufisto, Mickie Knuckles. Nowadays, we have women like Allie Katch, Sawyer Wreck, all these girls on the indies, Masha Slamovich. There are so many more that are doing insane, mind-bending things and excelling at that. So I, first of all, want to absolutely give all of the women in the Deathmatch scene their kudos because that’s bananas. But obviously, in AEW, we still are out there wanting to get physical. I won’t even say we’re just put in a position to get physical. Every time a street fight is announced and we realize, oh, this is really happening, we want to go out there and go crazy, go balls to the wall and deliver because the precedent’s already been set. The first Lights Out match, Britt [Baker] & Thunder Rosa, like the precedent has been set that we will get hardcore and I think there is something extremely funny about the most wholesome bubbliest [wrestler]  like smiley me has the most experiences in this. But you know in true AEW fashion, at the end of the day, it’s about what goes on in the ring. So I love it. I think it’s great. I’m pretty confident we’re going to have more of it in the future because we love it and the audience loves it. Why stop?”

On what she’d like to see in the future for the AEW women’s division:

“I am not sure how many other women on our roster, aside from myself, have had the opportunity to wrestle internationally and represent AEW. I know Toni Storm had done a few things with New Japan in terms of being with Juice over there. But from a wrestling perspective, I may have been the only so far representing AEW to wrestle for New Japan. And this coming week, I’m also going to be representing AEW over at CMLL. So I’m really grateful for these opportunities. I’m excited about them, and I hope I can continue to do so in the future. But I know we’ve had some girls from Stardom come over recently. I think when…if there are moments where maybe someone on the roster isn’t on TV every single week or they’re not directly tied into a storyline, it would be really cool to see some girls go over to Stardom for a few weeks and get to train there. Because even if you’re not training there, doing the matches and working with all these other international wrestlers, you think about wrestling a different way. You adapt to a different audience and you kind of understand more about yourself. Because the way I think when I go and I do all these different things is, how do I make this audience believe that I have a value outside of what is already going on here? Like, what do I bring as an American? How do I also blend into what’s going on without disrupting the flow too much? But how do I also give them the personal Willow Nightingale experience? How do I show them me? And I think you learn a lot about yourself through doing that. And there’s so many girls on the roster who could do the same. So more of sending our girls over to other places and learning more about themselves would be very cool. And [women’s] tag team championships would also be really awesome to have.”

On wrestling in Japan and her influences as a wrestler:

“Specifically speaking about Japan, a lot of my personal influences and role models came from there. When we think of Bull Nakano, Aja Kong, even Awesome Kong, Kharma, whatever name you know her as, she really came into her own from going over there. Her and Aja, we’re looking at biracial, Black women who are not the conventional body type that you see in wrestling. That hits home for me. When the time came where I was like, can I be a wrestler? Will I sign up? That really stuck in my head and helped me believe that it was possible. You know, Akira Hokuto, when I broke my neck years ago, and I wasn’t sure if I could even, if it would be worth it for me to get back to wrestling, like would I be able to have a successful career after? You know, I have friends, personally who I’ve seen overcome those injuries. But her story in particular, that’s why I do the gut-wrench powerbomb as my finish. I know a lot of people are like, ‘oh, it’s the Doctor Bomb, like Steve Williams’, absolutely so cool. Oklahoma Stampede, I do too for him, but, like…[the] Doctor Bomb is actually the Dangerous Queen Bomb, please. 

…And so to be able to see a culture where for 30 years now, women’s wrestling has been wrestling at the forefront, that speaks volumes about how we got to where we are now versus in the past maybe like 20 years ago when I was a kid watching wrestling, women wrestlers did wrestle and they were great at it but they weren’t really given the platform to have the wrestling itself be the forefront. So going into a culture like that, I was just [happy] I just got to show up and do the thing I love. And luckily, I was met with a lot of appreciation.”

You can follow Lyric on Twitter @LyricWrestling and subscribe to her YouTube channel @LyricSwinton.
Catch Lyric and Dani (@danidontmiss) on Wednesday nights after AEW Dynamite for The Dynamite Book on Bodyslam.Net’s YouTube channel.