Wrestling fans can go back as far as they want to regarding the history of the sport, and they will find many women who have left a significant impression. No other woman has made an impact on the sport quite like Carlene Begnaud, better known to wrestling fans by her in-ring name Jazz.
“My dream has always been to be the best or one of the best. I have been compared to the Fabulous Moolah, which is a great honor for me,” said Carlene Begnaud. “When you’re being compared to one of the greatest of all time, there are no other words that can be said. I want to thank her and people like her who have paved the way for me.”
The wife of pro wrestler Rodney Mack, a mother, a corrections officer, and the current NWA Women’s World Champion, made her wrestling debut back in 1997. Jazz also made her presence known just a year after that in Extreme Championship Wrestling.
When ECW hit the wrestling scene, it was a promotion like no other. The wrestlers there went all out, and they pushed each other every night to put on the best performance that they could. The style in ECW was physical, and there wasn’t much that was not allowed. The use of tables, chairs, and high-risk maneuvers was the norm.
“ECW was very tough at times. I would be in the mix of the action, I would say a prayer, and that was all I could do,” said Begnaud. “I took the finisher from everyone on that roster and they would knock me down, but the most important thing was that I would get back up, and be ready for the next night.”
At that time in ECW, there were very few women on the roster, but that didn’t stop Jazz. She was going to wrestle. It used to be common for the WWF to have lingerie, evening gown, or pudding matches with their woman wrestlers. Jazz took the profession very seriously, and she wanted to be respected. It was no joke for her.
Paul Heyman, (Paul E. Dangerously) the creative force for ECW had other ideas for the “Female Fighting Phenom.” Paul had Jazz wrestling with men. It gave the fans the opportunity to see what women could actually do besides all the gimmick matches.”
“I don’t look down on them for matches like that, but it just wasn’t for me,” said Begnaud. “Paul E. saw something in me and knew what I was capable of.”
Jazz’s reputation grew as she proved who she was, and what she was able to do inside the squared circle. She held her own against the likes of Jason Knight, Simon Diamond, and Steve Corino.
“Paul threw me in there with the wolves, but it helped me stand out tremendously,” said Begnaud. “When you wrestle someone for two or three minutes, you can look like a million bucks, but when you are wrestling for 15 to 20 minutes, you have to go to work.”
The work that she did finally paid off. The time Jazz spent in ECW and the connections she made there led to her getting an opportunity to wrestle against Ivory, in a dark match for the WWF. The two women never worked together, but Jazz was determined to have a great showing.
“We went out there and tore the house down,” said Begnaud. “We were told it was one of the best crowd responses that they experienced in a long time from a girl’s match.”
By 2001, Jazz would find herself wrestling full-time with the WWF. Up until that point of her career, she wrestled as a babyface, the executives there told her that she needed to wrestle as a heel. This was something that Jazz was not familiar with.
”I did the best I could,” said Begnaud. “I started studying some of the all-time great heels like Tully Blanchard and Bob Orton. It helped me become the vicious animal that I am today.”
She wrestled against the top women talent that the WWF had to offer. Jazz would have some great matches with wrestlers like Lita, Molly Holly, and Jaqueline, but the matches she had with Trish Stratus were epic. Whether the two women wrestled each other on a pay-per-view match, or at a house show, the chemistry that had inside the ring was special.
“We changed the face of women’s wrestling. Trish and I were having some awesome matches,” said Begnaud. “Our matches were so good, that our ratings were topping some of the guy’s ratings at RAW.”
It’s no secret that fans would sometimes leave the arena to get popcorn when women would take to the ring. That wasn’t the case with these two. Fans knew what to expect when it came to Jazz and Trish. The crowd would erupt in cheers for Trish and they would boo Jazz with everything they had.
“She was so over as a babyface and me being the heel that I was, just made the fans love her even more,” said Begnaud. ”They wanted to know if Trish was going to kick my ass or how bad I was going to kick hers.”
In her time with the WWE, Jazz held the promotion’s Women’s World title twice. She was the last woman to hold the title under the WWF banner and the first for the WWE.
“The Female Fighting Phenom” also had the chance to relive a part of her early days from ECW when she wrestled against men. Jazz challenged Bubba Ray Dudley for the Hardcore Championship on RAW in Buffalo, New York which resulted in a no contest.
Since leaving the WWE, Jazz has wrestled with several independent promotions, holding tag team and single titles from time to time. She has continued to do what she loves to do, at the same time, she has also been honored by her peers.
Jazz was elected into the Women Superstars Uncensored Hall of Fame in 2010 and the Texas Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2012. That same year, Pro Wrestling Illustrated ranked her number 13 in its top 50 female wrestlers list.
On September 16th in 2016, Jazz won the NWA Women’s World Title after she was victorious in a three-way match involving then champion Amber Gallows and Christi Jaynes in Sherman, Texas. Now that the NWA is under new ownership, Jazz is excited about moving forward in her career with the oldest promotion in wrestling.
“My hope is to make history with this NWA belt,” said Begnaud. “I want to help make this title have the meaning of what it used to stand for. I want to be a part of bringing the NWA back to what it used to be.”
The NWA has been promoting themselves with their “10 Pounds of Gold” series that can be found on Youtube. Their production team recently went to Louisiana to film a segment with Jazz. The cameras followed her to the jail that she works at and they also visited her at her home. Jazz talked about her future career hopes and she opened up and shared her true feelings about wrestling.
When it comes to getting down to business inside the ring, Jazz can do it. She has proved it for a little over 20 years. Not many women can say that they have been able to wrestle for that long or that well. With new ownership overseeing the NWA, there is new hope for the “Female Fighting Phenom,” and for the women that are interested in challenging Jazz for the title, there is something that they need to know first.
“I am just honored and privileged to t be a part of the NWA legacy,” said Begnaud. “If anybody wants this title, they will need to be able to bring it.”