Armenian beauty sets sights on wrestling world
Tatevik Hunanyan is a knockout in more ways than one.
Combining sexuality and physicality, the 24-year-old Armenian beauty is lovely and lethal. It’s a dangerous combination, and she likes it that way.
“When I’m in the ring, I’m an animal. When I’m out of the ring, I’m 100 percent woman,” she says.
Her pretty face and classical training belie a strong combat arts background and an ability to hold her own with the men she trains with.
Known in the ring as “Tatevik The Gamer,” a nod to her competitive gaming skills, she brings an assortment of attributes to the discipline that she likes most of all.
And that’s pro wrestling.
Her resume is more than a little impressive.
The artist known as Tatevik (she’s named after a 10th-century Armenian monastery) is an accomplished ballet dancer who began her training at the age of 5. By the time she was 15, she was dancing the Argentine tango under the tutelage of renowned dancer Sergei Tumas.
Her varied array of talents in the classical arts come quite naturally.
Her father, Gevorg Hunanyan, is a noted opera singer and master tenor. Her grandfather, Artashes Hunanyan, was a recognized artist in Armenia, Russia and parts of Europe.
But those talents were pointing her in another direction.
In 2009 she enrolled in the Lee Strasberg Theater/Film Institute in Los Angeles. “I did a lot of student films and theater,” she says.
Last year she got a role as a DEA agent in the low-budget, indy feature “Rush” starring Randy Couture and Dolph Lundgren.
“I wasn’t supposed to be in the movie, but they thought I looked like a cop,” she says. “I was showing Randy and some of the main guys their fight scenes, and they offered me a role. It was a great experience.”
While studying at the Strasberg school, she met legendary martial artist and Hollywood stunt coordinator Benny “The Jet” Urquidez, and began extensive kick boxing and stunt training.
“That’s when my life changed forever. He led me to be where I am today,” she says.
“Sensei Benny was teaching stage combat at the theater. I had such a great time because I’m so physical. If I was going to do this one day for the movies and for the camera, I know I wanted to be able to do this for real. I wasn’t going to fake anything.”
Her next step was pursuing a career in the squared circle.
Pirouettes to punches
Tatevik was only 2 when her family moved from the former Soviet state of Armenia to California. She’s been there ever since.
She says she’s always enjoyed pro wrestling, but wasn’t allowed to see much of it growing up. Her most vivid memory was that of watching WWE diva Trish Stratus. The WWE Hall of Famer was a woman in a man’s sport, and Tatevik admired the strong, independent character Trish portrayed in the ring. The sexuality of the performers, she says, sometimes overshadowed the sport.
She also liked watching old Bruce Lee movies. To her, the action-packed spectacles were just another version of art.
“I really didn’t understand the movies, but it sparked an interest in me. It was such an intense art form.”
Her parents, though, were old school. They couldn’t understand their daughter’s fascination with such things.
“You’re not going to kick and punch and do pirouettes the next day,” her mother would say.
But her interest, she says, never waned.
“They thought that I was going to be a singer like my father. I can sing, but I just didn’t enjoy it as much. It wasn’t my heart.”
Learning the ropes
Tatevik joined the WOW (Women of Wrestling) promotion last year. Founded in 2000 by David McLane, previously the founder of GLOW (Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling), and Los Angeles Lakers executive Jeanie Buss, the Los Angeles-based company relaunched in 2012.
Steve Stasiak, one of Tatevik’s trainers, is high on her potential.
“She brings so much into wrestling with her very diverse background. She quickly stood out when she first began training. She would work on the movie set for six hours and immediately come into the gym for training and work hard for another five to six hours. She had some amazing matches in Las Vegas this year for WOW,” says Stasiak, noting that she defeated the established Santana Garrett in her debut.
“She is training as much as possible to become the best at her trade,” chimes in former WWE women’s champ Leilani Kai. “She has been going around the country and learning from many established vets. She is going to bridge many gaps between sports and entertainment.
“Every 10 years, there’s a once-in-a-decade performer that comes along and captivates our audience and transcends our sport. Moolah in the 70s, Wendi Richter in the 80s and Trish in the late 90s. I really feel like Tatevik is this decade’s performer. She has the heart of a champion.”
Her ring name in WOW is Tatevik The Gamer. In addition to her artistic and athletic background, Tatevik also is a competitive video gamer with impressive sets of gaming skills that match her skills inside the ring.
“I’m an avid competitive gamer. I am super competitive. That’s the one thing about me. If we’re eating, I’m going to make sure I finish before you do. I enjoy playing video games. It clears my mind and expands my creativity.”
She likes the fact that MMA is no longer seen strictly as man’s sport. One can be a fighter, she says, without losing one’s femininity.
“I’m not a tomboy. I’m very feminine. But I’m not a girly-girl to the point where I’ll be in the mall shopping all day. I love to keep my femininity.”
Tatevik attended a Future Legends training camp this past summer in Charlotte. The only lady grappler who participated in the seminar, she picked up a shiner and five stitches when a male opponent stiffed her during a training match.
“He probably underestimated my ability. I don’t know if it was because I was a female, or I didn’t have as much experience, or both.”
She remained calm and in control, though, like she had always been taught. It was just another learning experience.
Tatevik realizes that this is just the first step of a journey that will take her to the next level. And no way is she resting upon any preconceived laurels.
She trains six days a week and pushes herself past the limit. “You have to do that to succeed,” she says.
“People from all over the world have the dream to come here and make a name for themselves and do their own thing. Very few make a living doing this. It’s not easy, and for the most part, it can take a number of years for an artist to make a name for themselves.”
An art form
Tatevik’s striking features and impressive background clearly augment her chances of reaching her ultimate goals. A legitimate actor, dancer, fighter and wrestler, she brings a lot to the table with her highly diverse background.
She is proud of the fact that she is the first Armenian-born ladies pro wrestler.
Mature beyond her years, the self-described “old soul” understands that wrestling can be a cut-throat business. But she appreciates it, she says, for its own unique, aesthetic qualities.
She loves what the calls the “freedom” that pro wrestling affords.
“It’s just me, and it’s very honest. You have the freedom to do what you what and express yourself the way you want. We’re storytellers. I want to wrestle. I want to act. It’s like painting a picture, and the ring is my canvas.”
Her style in the ring, she says, is mixed.
“I like to come up with things that I haven’t seen. I constantly see the same moves over and over again. I try to make up my own combinations and my own spots. I like to create. I like to add on to what already exists.”
Everything she has done to this point, notably her love of art, has led her on this path.
“You change one dream and you fall into another one. I feel like everything I’ve done up to this point has led me to pro wrestling.
“If I didn’t have these other things, I don’t think I would have appreciated pro wrestling as much as I do when I’m in the ring. It would feel mechanical. It wouldn’t feel natural. It would be like a painter only working with the colors black and grey. Pro wrestling has been the one sport where I can intertwine all the things that I do.”
She knows there’ll come a day when new doors will open for her, and she’ll be ready.
For now, it’s not about getting rich or famous.
“That really doesn’t matter to me. If that happens, great. It obviously comes with the job if you’re good enough. We all want to have financial freedom. If and when it does come, I want to be able to do what I do like I’m sleeping with my eyes closed. This is what I love to do. It’s game for me.”
Confident but not cocky, she knows that her stock will only continue to improve.
“I have nothing to prove inside this business or outside this business. I’m only here to better myself as a person and to hopefully inspire somebody else to do the same. I know how good I am because of how hard I train. Like (Muhammad) Ali said, training is never fun. But train as hard as you can so you can live like a champion the rest of your life.”
Reach Mike Mooneyham at 843-937-5517 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter at @ByMike Mooneyham and on Facebook at Facebook.com/MikeMooneyham.