INTERVIEW: Yali Sapphire reflects on IMPACT Knockouts Knockdown, talks getting call from NWA, if she’d ever wrestle

Yali Sapphire speaks about getting the call from the NWA, working IMPACT's Knockouts Knockdown, shares Awesome Kong story and more

Photo Courtesy: SP Media Graphics

The weekend of pro wrestling events in Dallas, Texas has come to an end and among the many shows that took place that week, Thunder Rosa’s Mission Pro Wrestling promotion hosted their ‘Bangerz Only’ show from Fair Park.

Referee Yali Sapphire was on duty for ‘Bangerz Only’ and she often officiates Mission Pro events. I had the chance to chat with Yali and she shared that she would classify herself as a Mission Pro regular but had to take a step back in mid-2021 as other promotions she regularly refereed for returned from hiatus caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Yeah, I was [a regular with Mission Pro Wrestling] for the most part throughout the end of 2020 and early 2021 and then I took some time off because all the companies that I used to work for here in Missouri started coming back so I had to divide up my time with them to you know, kind of go back to my ‘home promotions.’

Last August, Sapphire had the opportunity to be a part of the National Wrestling Alliance’s all-women’s event ‘EmPowerrr’. The show was put together by former multi-time IMPACT Knockouts Champion Mickie James and in past media appearances, James stated that she’s had conversations with NWA owner Billy Corgan about a part two.

It was an experience that Yali described as ‘empowering’. She discussed how supportive and welcoming the locker room was and said it was a family-like atmosphere.

It was literally an empowering experience [NWA EmPowerrr] because right off the bat, Mickie [James] was so welcoming and so kind. Like she would speak to you as if you were a friend, like she had known you for years, so it was just mind blowing, like oh my God. This woman that I saw as a kid was right here in front of me, she knows my name. It was crazy. But like, everybody there was just so supportive. Even the men in the locker room, the male referees, they were just so supportive, so helpful. It was just like a family.

At the EmPowerrr show, Kia Stevens a.k.a. Awesome Kong formally announced her retirement from in-ring competition. Talents and staff were not aware that Stevens would be making that announcement.

Yali went on to share that she was not aware that Stevens would be at the event and first spotted her with a towel over her head in the backstage area. She was able to chat with Stevens once EmPowerrr concluded and described the emotional scene as Stevens was on the microphone.

Okay, so first of all, I remember sitting in the locker room and just seeing somebody come in with a towel on their head and I had no idea what was going on, so I was like, ‘Okay, that’s weird.’ But you know, you see somebody for so long, you’re like, ‘Okay, I think that’s that person’ and then you see them and it’s like oh my God. Of course you introduce yourself and it’s an exciting moment. But fast forward to the actual moment before she announced her retirement, I remember sitting in the locker room watching on the monitor, the whole thing go down and after the announcement, there was just so much emotion backstage. People were crying, I got teary-eyed. It was just — you never wanna see the wrestlers that you saw as a kid retire, but like you said, she had such a long and a great career. It was just — I don’t know. It was just a magical moment, it was just an emotional moment, but I’m glad I got to be there to witness it and I also got the opportunity to kind of just sit and chat with her after the show was over. Just kind of like talking about everything from like her wrestling career to G.L.O.W and just everything. She’s an awesome person to work with. Wonderful human being.

Coming out of EmPowerrr, Yali stuck around with the National Wrestling Alliance as she was invited back for their post-NWA 73 television tapings. Originally, Sapphire was supposed to wrap up with the NWA after EmPowerrr, but she received a phone call and was specifically requested by Billy Corgan.

Well first of all, that was unexpected [Yali being asked to work the post-NWA 73 weekend television tapings]. That wasn’t really supposed to happen. I was just supposed to do the pay-per-view [EmPowerrr] and then go home. So like, I got home I wanna say that Sunday afternoon and then I got a phone call saying, ‘Hey, Billy wants you to come back on Tuesday. Can you make it?’ I was like, ‘Ahh! I’m sorry.’ I was like, ‘Uh, yeah, I can make it.’ So I had to get my mind back into that mindset, like oh my God, Billy specifically asked for me. This is crazy, and I also felt a little nauseous, not gonna lie. It was just so exciting to be there and I worked with JTG in one of his matches and of course that’s another person that I watched kind of growing up so, it was… I can’t even say the words right now. It was just an awesome moment.

The IMPACT Knockouts Knockdown special was taped one month after EmPowerrr and aired in October 2021. Sapphire said it felt like a ‘dream’ being a part of that show and when she initially got the message from Gail Kim who is IMPACT’s Co-Head of Talent Relations, she did not believe it was Gail contacting her.

Sapphire spoke about seeing wrestlers backstage who she watched as a viewer of IMPACT’s television product. She joked that she had to play it cool despite seeing many talents who she admired.

It was like — I’m telling you, it was like a dream [being a part of IMPACT Wrestling’s Knockouts Knockdown show] because first of all, I woke up to a text message from Gail Kim saying, ‘Hi, it’s Gail.’ I was like nah, I’m still sleep right now. I thought about it and then five minutes later, I looked and I was like oh my God, this is crazy. They want me to do IMPACT Wrestling and I was still kind of on an emotional high from working with NWA, so I was like oh my God, what is life right now? This is crazy and then you get to the locker room at IMPACT Wrestling and you see — it just seems like everybody that I hadn’t seen before was there in IMPACT Wrestling in the locker room, from Christopher Daniels, Eric Young, just everybody, just… Rhino, Christian [Cage], everybody. It was crazy. It was like a dream, and you know, I had to play it cool.

Several weeks before Knockouts Knockdown was taped, Shannon ‘Daffney’ Spruill passed away. Spruill’s life and memory was celebrated throughout the show and her mother was in attendance. Yali said it meant a lot to those who had the opportunity to work with Spruill and knew her personally.

I mean I think it meant the world to a lot of the women who had the opportunity to not only work with her [Shannon ‘Daffney’ Spruill] but were trained by her. So it was a very heavy, emotional moment that I think it was beautiful to be able to do that tribute for her and to have so many people that loved her, her mom was also there in attendance [IMPACT Knockouts Knockdown]. But you know, to kind of lift up her memory and to do something great for her in her honor.

This past February, the second installment of Black Wrestlers Matter 2 took place and Sapphire was an official at that event as well. She touched on the camaraderie that was on display and seeing an abundance of Black talents come together to participate in the show.

Yali said she has always wanted to meet ACH and got to chat with him. Overall, the experience was a positive one for Yali.

Yeah, that was another show [Black Wrestlers Matter 2] where I got to see people I hadn’t seen in a long time or maybe I hadn’t seen since I started out, so it was just a huge — again, it was just a total connection backstage by everybody vibing out. ACH was there so that was exciting, finally getting to meet him but kind of chat with him a little bit. He’s such a great person, so down to earth and cool, but it was such a fun show and I always have fun at their shows.

As our conversation came to a close, I asked Yali if she’s ever considered wrestling. While she has gotten physical in the ring in the past, she added that she does want to be in pain and she’s fine staying in her lane of refereeing.

I mean there are moments where like, I’ve gotten to hit a Stunner on somebody, I’ve gotten to slap or push somebody. So those are always fun but at the same time, it’s like, okay, I gotta go to work tomorrow, I’m not trying to be in pain. Y’all can have that. Y’all are good at it, I’m good at reffing. I’ll stay in my lane, it’s a good lane, I know where the lane turns [Sapphire laughed].

Yali listed several upcoming show dates that she’ll be working and to keep up with what she has coming up, check her out on Twitter and Instagram @thefemaleref.

Yali and I’s conversation can be watched via the player at the top of this article or on the Andrew Thompson Interviews YouTube channel. Our first interview from March 2020 can be heard at this link.

 

About Andrew Thompson 4616 Articles
A Maryland native and graduate of Norfolk State University, Andrew Thompson has been covering wrestling since 2017.