AEW's Willow Nightingale continues smashing through barriers

Apr. 16—INDIANAPOLIS — Willow Nightingale is no stranger to making history.

Last March, she defeated Mercedes Mone to become the inaugural New Japan Pro-Wrestling Strong Women's Champion.

Some three months later she concluded a heavily praised feud with Athena in the main event of "Death Before Dishonor" on pay-per-view — the first time a women's match served as the main event for a Ring of Honor PPV card.

On Wednesday night during "AEW Dynamite" at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum, Nightingale again will be part of an historic match.

Her tag team contest with TNT Champion Adam Copeland against TBS Champion Julia Hart and Brody King will mark the first time the TNT and TBS champions have competed in the same match.

"That's really cool," Nightingale said Tuesday during an exclusive interview in downtown Indianapolis. "That's something that's historical and ground breaking. We don't have a lot of mixed tag matches in AEW (All Elite Wresting). So this is my first time doing one, and whenever they do come along it's really exciting to see how the men and women get along, how we team.

"But also, personally, teaming with Adam Copeland is obviously super exciting for me. I've been a wrestling fan since I was like 8, 9 years old, and he was one of the top guys on television at the time. So, for me, I'm like, 'This isn't real life. This is crazy.' But it's not. It's reality."

There could be more than a few surreal moments for Nightingale this week.

The match in the Circle City is just the start of one of the biggest — and most high-profile — stretches of her career so far.

On Sunday, she'll again step into the ring with Hart at the "Dynasty" PPV in St. Louis. The winner gets a match against Mone — making her AEW in-ring debut — at "Double of Nothing" in Las Vegas over Memorial Day weekend.

It's an opportunity for Nightingale to hold her first championship belt in AEW and a chance to bring her story with Mone full circle.

The international star was injured during her first match against Nightingale and hasn't wrestled since. At that time, she was the favorite and Nightingale was the underdog challenger.

If they meet again in Vegas, Nightingale will be the woman to beat.

But first she must solve the mysterious and dangerous Hart.

"She's someone who has really only been wrestling for a few years but has clearly had my number every time we've wrestled," Nightingale said. "She's a threat to me. She has a wicked arsenal of moves. She's got this aura and presence that is just unmatched. The moment her music hits, the blackout goes on, she commands attention.

"And so there's a reason she's the champion, and I'm going into Sunday proving that, 'Hey, I also have a good reason to be champion.' I've been wrestling for nine years now. I've traveled the world, been up and down, around everywhere. And hopefully my time is coming. I believe it will."

Nightingale has worked hard for her current position in the pro wrestling landscape.

She started at AEW as an extra and tried to make the most of the limited opportunities she got on television.

Last summer helped break her out of the mold and proved she can connect with audiences on the big stage and be a star in the business.

One of the highlights was defending her NJPW title in Japan. She's fought hard not to allow others to put limits on what she can accomplish, and some of her earliest inspiration came from watching Japanese stars like Bull Nakano and Aja Kong.

"For me, I've always been a bigger girl, and so there was the question of, 'Is there a place for me in wrestling? Can I succeed?'" Nightingale said. "And those two names I just mentioned are hard hitting. They're legends. ... So that inspired me to think, 'I could have a similar journey. I could have similar path.'

"And to be able to go to the place where women's wrestling was viewed so seriously, as sport and not just kind of like a sideshow attraction like it kind of was presented in my childhood, that was inspiring. And so to be able to have that full-circle moment of being able to step into what my idols were doing, it meant a lot to me."

Nightingale wants to continue breaking the mold and blazing new ground for women's wrestling.

But those historic moments are just the product of living out her dream.

Among her trademarks are boundless energy and enthusiasm. At times, it's easy to conclude no one in wrestling — or perhaps any career — enjoys their work more than Nightingale.

"I love this," Nightingale said. "This isn't just my job. This is genuinely the thing I'm most passionate about in life. This is the thing that makes me happiest, which you see when I do my entrance — big smile for a reason. And every time I go out there, I want it to be better than last time.

"I want more. I want to accomplish more. I want more fans drawn to not just me but the whole show because I truly believe in what we're doing here. I really am happy to have ended up where I am right now."