On a recent episode of "Ten Count," Steve Fall interviewed IMPACT Wrestling’s Mickie James. About a third of the way through the interview, Fall asked James if her current "Last Rodeo" series of matches – doing the 2008 Ric Flair gimmick where she will retire the next time she loses a match – was intended as a statement about how she can still deliver as a wrestler despite, at 43, being older than the vast majority of female wrestlers who are still active at a high level. James responded with a very detailed answer, one that built upon themes that she’s discussed in previous interviews as well as on social media.

"I think I’ve been very vocal about my feelings towards that," she said. "Especially when you look at it in [terms of] women versus men, I hate to separate us in that way, but sometimes you really have to [so as] to look at the inequalities sometimes along the way. Or just even how it’s viewed. There will be male champions who are well in[to] their 50s, and nobody blinks an eye. Nobody says anything. As they shouldn’t, because their career speaks for themselves, [so does] their work. I would never take that away from them. If you are a badass, and you can go out there and make those people react and care about what you’re doing out there, it doesn’t matter what your age is."

‘It was very rare that a woman would stay in the wrestling business’

James continued by speaking more broadly about how ageism and sexism go hand-in-hand.

"You always hear that, ‘Age is nothing but a number,’ or ‘You’re only as old as you feel,’ or, ‘You’re only as old as you act’ in some cases," she continued. "But for women, and this is just a cultural thing, and I don’t know if it’s just in wrestling or if it’s been something that’s been bred in us since the dawn of existence. A woman’s role has always been a shorter role in television, but just think about in life: Women have always been told, ‘You have the babies, and you’re at home, and the husband goes out and makes the money, and then you keep the house in order.’ And a woman’s job in the household is very, very important, and I never take away from that, because they keep the ship going, they keep that ship driving straight forward."

Defying The ‘Next Chapter’

At this point, the former WWE and IMPACT champion pivoted back to how women are treated differently with regard to their ages in pro wrestling.

"On television, even when I first debuted, it would be like most women at that time – even today – would have a five, seven-year run on television, tops, and then it was [the] next chapter," she explained. "It was making babies, next career moves, and it was very rare that a woman would stay in the wrestling business, stay doing things behind the scenes. Now we’re seeing doors like that open more. Like, Gail Kim is the head of the Knockouts [division in IMPACT Wrestling], Beth Phoenix transitioned and started doing more stuff on commentary, but also helping mold the talent at ‘NXT,’ Maria {Kanellis-Bennett] heading up Ring of Honor’s women’s division. Even when I got to do Empowerrr for [the] NWA, those were all really monumental movements, because … when I came in, there weren’t a lot of women leaders, because they had already been phased out. They had already been ‘next chaptered.’ So there weren’t a lot of women to learn from."

The experience that’s available now for women in the wrestling business, with not just the above names having roles behind the scenes, but also, for example, Molly Holly as a producer in WWE, is much different from how Mickie James came up.

‘I only learned from mostly men’

"I only learned from mostly men," James said. "And I’m very grateful for that, because I learned a lot, obviously, from them. But now that there’s so many women, and women who have made history, and done remarkable things for the business, there for this new generation, to truly learn how to make money as a female in this business, because it IS different. It’s really, really cool, and so I think that there’s more opportunities available for women, and a lot of companies are seeing that, and opening up those doors. [But for] a lot of people, it was seven years on TV and then that was it, and I just didn’t want – I love wrestling. At that point, you’ve dedicated your whole adult life to chasing this dream, and it was frustrating to me that it was such a short-lived dream, and then you’re forced to think about something else when you don’t love anything else like you love this. And they all tell you, ‘You should do what you love until the day you die. If you’re doing what you love, then it’s not work.’"

Just to get an idea of how different things were when Mickie was starting out, in an era where intergender matches barely existed on the indies, one of her earliest matches was an intergender bout for Dylan Knight’s KYDA Pro Heavyweight Title. There just weren’t many women around, period.

‘I can still go with the best of them’

It was at this point that Mickie circled back to her recent "Last Rodeo" run of matches for IMPACT Wrestling and how her experience relates to the larger topic at hand.

"So I’ve tried to stay in wrestling and stay relevant, but at the same time, this ‘Last Rodeo’ was a test to myself, because you hear it, and you see it, social media, especially, can be extremely toxic," she said. "I would see [comments like], ‘It’s time for Mickie to pass the torch and let this new generation shine.’ […] So it ticks you [off], it kind of goes, ‘Ugh.’ So you see and you hear these things, and I’m like, ‘But … I can still go with the best of them and be a household name, and I’m a legend, and I’m only 43 years old this year. So most men are just [hitting] their strides in their 40s; most men are just becoming champions, sometimes for the first time in their 40s. So why is it so different?"

Passing The Torch

"But at the same time, I have been on television as a television superstar since 2005, and that’s a long time for a woman," James explained. "I just wanted to prove to myself – it wasn’t even about proving it to the fans – but prove to myself that I can still go, in this new locker room and with these women that people want me to step aside for. I do believe in torch-passing, but I also believe in the fact there needs to be able to be someone to step up and take the torch."

As part of her "Last Rodeo," Mickie James will put her career on the line against Jordynne Grace’s Knockouts Championship at IMPACT’s Hard to Kill 2023 pay-per-view on January 13 at Center Stage in Atlanta, Georgia, the former home of "WCW Saturday Night." James has held the title on four previous occasions, with the reigns totaling 374 days.

If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit "Ten Count" with an h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.