Я|R Exclusive Interview: IMPACT Wrestling star Mickie James

The IMPACT legend will put her career on the line on Friday the 13th, when she faces Jordynne Grace for the Knockouts Division Championship at Hard to Kill

Я|R Exclusive Interview:  IMPACT Wrestling star Mickie James

Mickie James has had her fair share of battles during her illustrious career. She's had her back against the wall and been forced to pass some big tests.

On Friday the 13th in Atlanta, she may face her toughest test of all. James will face IMPACT Wrestling Knockouts World Champion Jordynne Grace for the gold and the glory at the promotion's annual Hard to Kill event. And while Hardcore Country has nothing to prove after a legendary two decades, she's added an extra stipulation to this match: If James loses, she will retire.

This isn't the first time that Mickie has risked it all, as she continues her 'Last Rodeo' through the ranks of IMPACT Wrestling. However, she hasn't faced someone as young and powerful as Grace, who has developed into one of the cornerstones of the Knockouts Division. 'Thick Momma Pump', always in phenomenal shape, has upped her game recently and is comfortably enjoying her second reign as the titleholder. She captured the crown last June.

With all the cards on the table, Mickie James spent some time with RealRasslin.net to discuss her career, the legacy of the Knockouts Division, and (of course) her upcoming title shot at Hard to Kill this Sunday.

Hardcore Country says that she's been blessed since her debut with IMPACT Wrestling 20 years ago

Some of James' first major exposure in the industry was when she appeared for IMPACT's earlier incarnation, TNA Wrestling, in the early 2000s as Alexis Laree. It was far before there was even a Knockouts Division, and James would come back to the company a handful of times over the years.

During those different tenures, she contributed to the growth of female performers and helped forge a Hall of Fame legacy.

"I never thought back then that I would still be in this position today," James told RealRasslin.net as she prepared for Hard to Kill. "I was fully aware of how short a female's career was on television, getting into it, and I was hoping to try and change that."

"I just wanted to make it... Little Alexis Laree. And especially watching that package that IMPACT had put out, and going back to those days of my 'Scary Sherry' makeup and my LOD shoulder pads. I was just trying to emulate my favorites and just trying to be what I thought it meant to be as a professional wrestler."

"It's remarkable, but I don't think I ever saw this," she recalled. "I knew I was determined. I had no doubts that I could make it, but to know how far I've come now? It's amazing."

"As you grow as a performer, you have to keep moving the goalposts. And I had to keep moving the goalposts because I've been blessed."

James discussed the growth of women's wrestling during her legendary career

"When he came back, the thing I noticed the most was just how many women were there and just how good everyone was. It's amazing to see how much the talent has risen, and how far it's come in terms of women's wrestling. It's so good now."

"And I think there's been incredible talent along the way. obviously. You know, I remember the first time I watched Trish and Lita in the main event, and I was still just trying to get to that level. That was one of those defining moments for me where I thought, 'Holy shit, this is possible for us'. Like, we can main event one day. Like, this is it; that's really cool."

"Now? We look at it, and women are the main event, and no one blinks an eye. That's special to me because that's where we always wanted to be. To be seen as equals. And I think if it wasn't for all those strides, women that are in the locker room today wouldn't have had those people like that to look up to. They maybe wouldn't realize that this really is something they can do."

Mickie James says she's often overwhelmed by the reaction she gets from younger wrestlers

"It means so much to me and I don't take it lightly if other wrestlers have looked up to me," James said.  "That's very special to me. I think we all need someone to look up to, and the fact that I am that person for anybody is still very humbling. I never expected things to turn out that way, and I'm very honored that they have."

"It's wild. I never thought that would ever be me, by any means. I think what I have been able to do in wrestling has been a blessing. It didn't come out that way without work and without some struggles. So, I hope I'm always looked at as someone who had the drive to stay with it and make a success of this."

She faces a huge battle on Friday the 13th against defending Knockouts Division Champion, Jordynne Grace

"I'm expecting a lot from (Jordynne)," James said of her young opponent. "She is one of the very best of this generation, and I think she's been an incredible champion."

"Jordynne is tough, and she's held on to that championship very tightly. I watched her very closely this whole time defend that title during my Last Rodeo."

"We're two very different types of athletes, and I know she's going to put up the strongest test yet. Every match in this Last Rodeo has been tougher and tougher. But that's because it's been leading up to this championship match. I know she's going to give me the fight of my life, and one of my toughest battles yet."

"I know it's worthy of whatever happens. Whether I win the championship, or I have to retire, at least it was in a match and against a person who is respected in the industry, loves wrestling, and wants change. She wants to keep raising the bar for women in the industry just as bad as I do."

"So, I respect her, and I think she's been a great champion. But it doesn't mean that I don't want that championship just as bad she does."

If this is truly her 'Last Rodeo'? Mickie James has a message for the IMPACT Wrestling fans

"Thank you so much for not just supporting Hardcore Country. If I end up going out in a blaze of glory, then that's the way my career should end. I'm okay with things being like that. Because what else do I have to prove at this point? I've done so many things, and I have been so blessed, that there are definitely no regrets. No matter what happens."

"But the one thing I can say to the fans is that without them... there is no me, there is no Hardcore Country. The way they have stuck by me through my career is one of the things that makes it all worthwhile. It's an honor to be able to do what I've done for all these years now. And that's because of the fans."

(If using any quotes from this article please credit @realrasslinuk on socials and www.realrasslin.net)