ANNAPOLIS – After years of acting, ballet and singing lessons, the jump to professional wrestling was easier for Denise Riffle to make than it was for her family to accept.
“I don’t think they truly understood,” she said. “(But) they supported me and they were great.”
When they came to a show and saw how happy she was, they finally got it, said Riffle, who is known to wrestling fans as Chastity.
“We have a teacher and a police officer in the family,” said her younger sister, Tanya Simmons, 25, of Ellicott City. Now they have a family member in professional wrestling, she said, “It’s a little different.”
Most female valets and managers just escort a wrestler to the ring. They just look good and cheer their wrestler, but not “Chastity.”
She’s not afraid to hurl her petite, 5-foot-4-inch body into the ring, said Danny McDevitt, president of Maryland Championship Wrestling. Once she even jumped in the ring with a fire extinguisher to defend Hardcore Hak.
She gets a lot of respect because she works hard and takes her lumps in the ring, unlike many women in professional wrestling, he said.
Riffle says she’s in her late 20s, though she declines to give her exact age. She grew up the oldest of seven sisters, moving from Laurel to Columbia at 12.
Riffle went to Atholton High School in Columbia and later studied at Howard Community College and worked in restaurant management. She still lives in Columbia, where she is raising her 6-year-old son, “Boomer.”
Like many people in wrestling, Riffle said she always knew she wanted to be a performer. A friend involved with the Mid-Eastern Wrestling Federation suggested she escort a wrestler to the ring. The experience was exhilarating, she said.
That walk to the ring was a foot in the door. She started in MEWF in 1996 with the stage name, Britney. She got her present stage name, Chastity, later from Raven, a wrestler she met in MEWF.
McDevitt, known as Corporal Punishment, and Raven gave her the support she needed in the beginning, she said. They taught her the basics of the business and Raven stood up for her when management thought she might not have what it takes to make it, she said.
She endured a lot, besides the expected injuries, to get ahead, she said. In the beginning she worked for months without getting paid, nearly losing her house and often going hungry, though she said she always fed her son.
She split with her son’s father when Boomer was a toddler, leaving her a single mom. Parenting alone is tough enough, but being on the road so much took a toll on her relationship with her son.
She spent about a year with MEWF and then moved up to Extreme Championship Wrestling in February 1997. Then last year she got a contract with World Championship Wrestling, one of the top promoters in the country.
This move brought more exposure and money but it also meant less time with her son. He’s not a bad kid, she said, but he began acting up to get more attention. She began to wonder if it was worth it to leave him for so long.
The choice was made for her last summer when Hardcore Hak, the wrestler she managed, was injured in the ring. Their WCW contracts were not renewed. Since then, she has been able to spend more time with her son and has noticed a positive change.
The exposure she got in WCW was sometimes more than she wanted. She said she loves her fans but the popularity brought discomfort when it was revealed that she had appeared in an adult film. Her presence in the public eye exaggerated the situation, but it did hit her family hard.
“It’s not something I’m proud of,” she said. “I did make that mistake but that’s not the person I became.”
While many women in wrestling flaunt their scantily-clad bodies, Chastity, true to her character’s name, dresses more demurely than her counterparts.
She says she tries for a more alternative look, wearing thrift-shop sundresses and little braids in her platinum blond hair to one show and a tie- dyed dress with work boots and a bandana at the next.
“She shows a lot less skin than most women in wrestling are showing right now,” said Douglas Clayton, 27, a programmer from Columbia. “Chastity is known for her defining styles, which can change quite drastically from time to time.”
Chastity is not very different from Denise, she said. She’s just a part of herself she doesn’t get to express in everyday life when she’s just a mom running errands or picking her son up from school.
“The more I express Chastity in the ring the more I actually become that way,” Riffle said. “I used to be really shy and timid … (but) once I opened up, it’s really taken over.”
Now that her WCW contract is up Riffle might go back to restaurant management, but she said she’s more interested in having her own business. She has thought about starting a local women’s wrestling group with McDevitt, she said. It would allow her to be around for her son and still work in wrestling.
The camaraderie in the wrestling community is amazing, she said, it’s what makes wrestlers come back to the ring despite any difficulties they encounter.