From books to brawls: this Montreal high school teacher is a wrestling champion

·3 min read
Jessika Black, a Montreal wrestler, will debut at the All Elite Wrestling Oct. 11, 2022. (Submitted by Jessika Neri - image credit)
Jessika Black, a Montreal wrestler, will debut at the All Elite Wrestling Oct. 11, 2022. (Submitted by Jessika Neri - image credit)

A Montreal high school teacher, who moonlights as a professional wrestler, has been crowned one of four winners of a national wrestling competition, earning her a stay at one of the best wrestling facilities in the world.

"I'm smiling from ear to ear!" said Rosemount High School teacher Jessika Neri, known in the ring as Jessika Black. "I'm going to give it my all and have fun with it."

As much as she loves teaching, she is excited to pursue another dream: wrecking opponents in the ring.

"I think [wrestling and teaching] are very similar. As some of my students may know —or may not know — it's a performance," she said.

After an all-expenses-paid stint at the Nightmare Factory in Atlanta, Neri will make her debut at All Elite Wrestling (AEW) in October. In addition to the $5,000 cash prize, she will also have a figurine of her wrestling persona made.

Kwabena Oduro/CBC
Kwabena Oduro/CBC

Neri is one of four Canadians — and one of two Quebecers — getting the chance to study her passions in Atlanta. One of the other winners is her boyfriend of six years, Jeremy Barnoff, known as Jeremy Prophet.

"I'm extremely proud," he said. "We've put in so much hard work together and we supported each other through this and I think that's one of the reasons we're so successful, we had each other to lean on."

Neri is the only woman to win the competition, which she said "means everything" to her.

"I feel very strongly about women's struggles," she said.

"I'd love to help inspire any other woman, or any other minority … to always go after what they want, no matter what the obstacles are and no matter what anyone says about them."

Jacques Rougeau, a former professional Quebec wrestler and the founder of the Wrestling Academy competition, said he's happy to feel like he's passing the torch to a new generation of wrestlers.

Kwabena Oduro/CBC
Kwabena Oduro/CBC

"I'm on Cloud 9 right now. I feel so great, I'm so grateful to have two Quebecers out of four Canadians," he said.

"To give them a chance to go there, it's such a privilege for me … When you grow old you appreciate things more of life, so to see these young kids live these dreams, I almost feel like a grandfather of the project."

Rougeau described Neri as a "class act," saying he was impressed by her in and out of the ring.

Neri had originally unmasked her wrestler persona before her students during an anti-bullying campaign with Rougeau earlier this year, after keeping both worlds separate.

Neri's students say they feel inspired seeing one of their favourite teachers go after her dreams — and they want her to come back with a belt.

"It's going to motivate me even more and I'll look up to her and know what she did can inspire me to be a better person in the future," said student Laura Bortolaniol.