When Tenille Dashwood performed as Emma in WWE, she often boasted that she started the company’s women’s revolution. While that was her self-aggrandizing heel character speaking, her claim wasn’t wholly inaccurate.
When NXT established its women’s division several years ago, Dashwood and her rival Paige set the tone by showcasing their considerable in-ring skills and athleticism. It was a stark contrast to the style-over-substance approach of WWE’s Divas division, but eventually the main roster followed NXT’s lead.
Fast-forward to 2018. Now performing under her real name, Dashwood once again is a key figure in a burgeoning women’s division, this time in Ring of Honor’s Women of Honor. In February, three months after her surprising release from WWE, Dashwood was revealed as the 16th and final competitor in the tournament to crown the first WOH Champion.
At ROH’s Supercard of Honor event at UNO Lakefront Arena in New Orleans on Saturday, April 7, Dashwood will face Sumie Sakai in the tournament semifinals on the pre-show on Facebook Live. The winner of that contest will meet the winner of the semifinal match between Kelly Klein and Mayu Iwatani (of Japanese women’s wrestling promotion Stardom) in the finals on Supercard of Honor, which will air live on ROH’s HonorClub streaming service .
“Ring of Honor is one of the top companies in the world, and that played a big part in me going there,” said Dashwood, who also will participate in a WOH panel discussion and meet-and-greet session at the arena before the Supercard of Honor show begins. “And the timing was perfect. They had just put out the tournament for the championship.
“This is the year where [the women in WOH] are really getting the opportunity to show what they’ve got, especially on TV and to a bigger audience. The competition is just getting better and better with the opportunity to build the excitement and the need to perform and put on great matches.”
Dashwood getting released by WWE in late October shocked many wrestling fans and pundits — as well as Dashwood herself — because just a week earlier the Australian star had a competitive match against Asuka at the TLC pay-per-view.
However, Dashwood quickly turned a negative into a positive.
“I was definitely surprised,” she said. “I really enjoyed my match with Asuka at the pay-per-view, and that was the first singles match [on pay-per-view] that I had there. So I was definitely surprised when I found out, but it gave me almost like a launching pad to go out and wrestle for all these companies elsewhere. It was almost a reminder for the fans that I can wrestle. So it really helped me moving forward and I’m glad that I can wrestle everywhere now and the demand is there.”
Indeed, Dashwood’s calendar quickly filled up with dates on independent shows throughout the U.S. and beyond.
“Since I started working again in February, the shows has been booked solid as far ahead as you can book a show,” she said. “Every weekend I travel across country or overseas. Coming up there are tours in the UK, Germany, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, so it’s booked solid.
Dashwood brings not only her vast wrestling ability and experience to WOH, but also her star power -- she has over 1.5 million Twitter followers.
She made her unannounced debut for WOH at ROH’s “Honor Reigns Supreme” show on Feb. 9 in Concord, N.C., and was greeted with an enthusiastic ovation from the surprised crowd.
“I had goosebumps,” Dashwood said of the reaction she received. “It made me feel like I did the right thing. This is where I’m going to do my thing and be me.”
Although she hasn’t worked with the majority of the WOH performers, Dashwood said she is familiar with them and impressed by the overall talent of the division, which was relaunched in 2015.
“Obviously Sumie Sakai has a ton of knowledge, and bringing in Stardom wrestlers from Japan and integrating different skill sets makes for an amazing locker room,” she said.
Despite having not yet reached her 30th birthday, Dashwood has been wrestling for more than half her life. She began training for pro wrestling in Australia when she was just 13 and later moved to Calgary, Alberta, Canada to further her training at Lance Storm’s wrestling academy. Dashwood was 22 when WWE signed her to a developmental contract in 2011.
While at NXT, Dashwood — who lost to Paige in the finals of the tournament to crown the first NXT Women’s Champion in 2013 and had a critically acclaimed match with Paige at NXT: Arrival in 2014 — realized her matches with Paige were opening eyes but she had no idea women’s wrestling would become as big as it has.
“In the history of NXT book it says that the matches that Paige and I had were what kick-started the whole women’s evolution, or revolution, and obviously from there on everyone has just jumped on the opportunity and these women have had some of the most amazing matches,” Dashwood said. “It was special to be a part of, but we never would’ve seen women’s wrestling being where it is today. It just goes to show the talent that’s out there, and when given an opportunity these amazing women are able to deliver.”
Despite her success in NXT, where she was a crowd favorite as the quirky, dancing Emma, she mostly was underutilized on WWE’s main roster. Things looked promising for her in 2016 after she started playing a heel character who wore aviator shades, black gloves and dark lipstick, but then she suffered a ruptured disc in her back that required surgery.
In preparation for her return, the powers that be in WWE repackaged her as the glamorous Emmalina, but after months of vignettes had aired on WWE television, the character was dropped and she came back with the same look and persona she had prior to her injury.
As she embarks on the next chapter of her career, Dashwood said she is excited for what the future holds, which includes bringing back her “Taste of Tenille” cooking show that aired on YouTube a few years ago.
“One of the main things the fans ask me is when am I going to do ‘Taste of Tenille’ again, which I love. I know I connected with a lot of my fans there,” she said. “Now I want to do an evolved version where I incorporate other things. For example, I went to Iceland last year, so maybe it’s incorporating a trip to Iceland and a local place I went to eat and an adventure to the top of a mountain looking over a black sand beach — just all these amazing things I do in my life outside of wrestling and integrating that into an evolved version of ‘Taste of Tenille.’”
For right now, however, Dashwood is focused on getting her first taste of gold in a major promotion by becoming the inaugural WOH Champion at Supercard of Honor.
“In WWE and NXT I never gained the women’s championship,” she said, “so the purpose of me being with Ring of Honor is to finally validate what I’ve done. The hard work, the hectic schedule and everything is to validate all of that and become the women’s champion.
“Then I want to take that championship and wrestle all over the world. … I want to go to places I haven’t wrestled yet and meet new fans and continue to branch out and take that women’s revolution all around the world.”
Follow Tenille Dashwood on Instagram and Twitter at @tenilledashwood