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Wrestling competition prize fund becomes point of contention

UPDATE: You can watch the full match and the emotional exchange over prize money in the player above.

A Guelph, Ont. wrestler turned down a shot at training with top pro wrestling talent because she didn't agree with how the prize fund was split among competitors.

Natalie Cicoria, known as Kc Spinelli in the ring, competed in her finals match at the Quebec-based Wrestling Academy 2023.

The finals included three matches – a men's tag team, a men's singles and a women's singles. The winner from each got $10,000 and three months of training at the Nightmare Factory wrestling academy in Atlanta, GA.

The winner from each match is decided ahead of time by the flip of a coin. But what's not pre-determined is who would get the money and training. That's based on their performance in the match.

The outcome of the women's match is where some added drama comes in – unplanned from the original storyline.

Former pro wrestler Jacques Rougeau, who organized this cross-country competition, asked Spinelli and her competitor Kat Von Heez whether they'd be OK with splitting the prize fund.

"And without hesitation, I said no," said Spinelli. "So I said 'Jacques, look, you're already picking two guys. Now with us having to split our win, it's sort of already telling the people that we don't match up.'"

So when decision time came, frustrations boiled over. Pro wrestler QT Marshall, who co-owns Nightmare Factory and served as a judge, raised both Spinelli's hand and her competitor's.

"So they asked is in front of everybody 'are you willing to split the $10,000' and I had to say no," said Spinelli.

Natalie Cicoria, known as Kc Spinelli, seen on Sept. 20, 2023. (CTV News/Spencer Turcotte)

She says it became bigger than wrestling at that point, arguing that it comes down to fair compensation for men and women.

"They're asking for you to take a cut. They're saying you win 'but.' You're not saying that to the men. How dare you say that to the women?" she said.

Spinelli says the total prize pot should've been split equally.

"If we had four people with $7,500 and it was two men and two women, I would be OK with that. There would be nothing to say no to," she said.


Rougeau says how the prize fund was divided came down to the number of male versus female competitors.

"If there's 60 competitors and there's 50 that are men and there's 10 that are women, it's normal that there's going to be two prizes of $10,000 for the men and one prize of $10,000 for the women," he says.

But Rougeau says he intended to get both women that amount in the end.

"You're bringing this to me, you know, it's something that's new to me. We never expected to encounter this and instead of me taking the money away from the guys that were supposed to get the $10,000, for me the most important thing was to raise more money for the girls so that both get $10,000," Rougeau said.

But he says the rejection from Spinelli caught him off guard so he had to act fast for the fans.

"So I jumped in the ring. And I just improvised and I took both of their hands and I said 'OK if you want one winner, I'll take one winner. So I took Kat Von Heez's arm and I raised her arm up,'" he said.

While wrestling thrives on storylines and drama, the drama in this case spilled out of the ring and into the real world. But regardless of which side of the ring they stand on, both Spinelli and Rougeau agree 'equal pay, equal play' should be top of mind. Top Stories

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