Why Jeanie Buss is investing her own money in pro wrestling

ByMarc Raimondi ESPN logo
Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Jeanie Buss was a regular high school student in the 1970s when one day, she was told she would be on the girls' golf team. The issue was Buss had never played golf a day in her life.

In 1972, Title IX was passed. It was a federal law that, among other things, attempted to even the playing field between men and women in athletics. Without a girls' golf team, Palisades High School in the Los Angeles area could not have a boys' golf team. So, girls' golf became a sport at the school -- and, as a senior, Buss ended up winning a championship.

Buss, the Los Angeles Lakers owner like her father Jerry before her, now wants to afford young women an opportunity in athletics like the ones she once got. In 2017, Buss hooked on as an owner of Women of Wrestling (WOW), an all-female professional wrestling promotion. Last year, the promotion announced it had scored a distribution deal with Paramount. WOW makes its broadcast return this month across Paramount-affiliated networks and the Pluto TV streaming app, more far-reaching platforms than the previous contract the promotion had with AXS TV.

Buss' vision for WOW is an alternative for women athletes to pursue after college when there are few options on the professional level. She said she invested her own money in this project, which does not involve the Lakers.

"What do you do if you played field hockey?" Buss told ESPN. "You probably started when you were 10, 11, 12 [years old] and sacrificed a lot of your life and now you're just going to hang it up? I wanted to create something [where] female athletes would have an opportunity to perform in front of a large audience. Wrestling has always been very popular with the fans."

Buss, 60, was never a professional wrestling fan until recently. She didn't like how women were portrayed as a "sideshow." Her friend David McLane was the creator of the famed 1980s cult hit "Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling" (GLOW), which has since been dramatized on Netflix. McLane launched WOW in the early aughts and relaunched it in 2012 as a modern-day successor to GLOW. But it took years of prodding for Buss to attend an event.

"I thought it was going to be mud wrestling or Jell-O wrestling or something that wouldn't appeal to me," she said. "After I ran out of excuses, I finally had to go see a show. As soon as I walked in and saw it, it all made sense. I was a kid who collected comic books. I dreamed of being Supergirl or Wonder Woman."

WOW has been doing television tapings since the spring in Los Angeles. The idea, per sources, is to produce a show for every week of the year. Buss and McLane brought AJ Mendez aboard as an executive producer and color commentator. Mendez, known as AJ Lee in WWE, was once one of wrestling's biggest stars and a three-time world champion.

Buss said she stays out of the storyline-creating process -- that's McLane's role -- and you won't see her taking any bumps in the ring any time soon. Buss said she cringes and looks away at times when the athletes attempt high-risk moves. But she takes pride in being a fan and investor in the product, which she believes was picked up by the likes of Paramount due to the growing popularity of women's sports and movies starring female characters like Wonder Woman.

"People want to invest in women's sports," Buss said. "It has to be the right vehicle, the right platform for women to shine. That's why I think wrestling and women athletes are a perfect mix. That's what I believe in. That's why I'll put my name on it, put my money behind it. I believe in these women."

Amberley Shaw, who wrestles for WOW under the name Kandi Krush, is precisely the kind of athlete Buss and company have been seeking. Shaw is a 2-0 pro boxer, but her Los Angeles gym closed during the pandemic. She decided to take a shot and try out for WOW -- a place where she can combine her "athleticism and artistry" -- and made it.

Shaw now believes the series of events was "meant to be," and she gets a kick out of rubbing elbows with Buss. In an Instagram video Shaw posted, she and Buss are posing for a photo and they both started shadow boxing. The boxer-turned-pro-wrestler wrote, "never in my life did I imagine I'd be shadow boxing" next to the "legendary" Buss.

"One of my favorite things in life has always been to be able to empower other people, especially women," Shaw said. "Jeanie Buss is just the best example of that. She is everything wrapped into one -- beauty, strength, confidence. She's a true leader. To be able to look up to her and know the legacy she has already been leaving behind and everything she's accomplished, it inspires me to follow suit and just go after it."

She said Buss is just trying to pay it forward, like the chances she got in golf and the ones passed on to her by her father.

"I know my dad would be very proud of me," Buss said. "He empowered me to be the best I can be at business. The idea that I am taking that and empowering the new generation, this was who Jerry Buss was. He created a person like me and it's for me to pass on to the next generation."