Deonna Purrazzo ROH
Deonna Purrazzo has a chance to become ROH's first-ever Women of Honor Champion. RING OF Honor Andrea Kellaway

The world of professional wrestling has seen some major changes over the last few years. With the growing popularity of other promotions, there is more opportunity than ever—at least since WCW folded in 2002—for wrestlers to make a comfortable living outside of WWE. The pay-per-view model is dying a slow death with the introduction of the streaming services like the WWE Network, New Japan World and Ring of Honor’s Honor Club.

The landscape of women’s wrestling has been featured prominently among those changes. WWE has dubbed it the “Women’s Evolution” with the spotlight being increasingly featured on female performers.

It’s something that Deonna Purrazzo has wanted to see happen for years. Now, as a member of the Ring of Honor roster, she’s helping to make it a reality.

“I grew up wanting to be a women’s wrestler, and I grew up in a time where women weren’t showcased and they were valets and eye candy and the bathroom break,” Purrazzo told International Times. “To see the whole transformation over the last few years of women becoming spotlights and main events and getting matches with time on TV, it doesn’t surprise me. Because that’s what I saw women could be in wrestling, and to see that come to light is a really accomplishing feeling.”

Purrazzo is just 23 years old, but she’s had a front-row seat to witness the strides that female wrestlers have made this decade. The New Jersey native started training as soon as she graduated high school, and she’s already had experience working with the biggest wrestling promotions in the United States.

Appearing on NXT in 2015, Purrazzo worked with WWE when women’s wrestling in the world’s No.1 promotion truly started to reach new heights. Purrazzo appeared on both “SmackDown Live” and Impact Wrestling in 2016, and she wrestled in Japan in 2017.

Purrazzo has since signed with Ring of Honor, where she is competing to become the first-ever ROH Women of Honor Champion.

“I always envisioned that it could be this way, but when I started wrestling, women still hadn’t made this change yet,” Purrazzo told IBT, naming Lita, Trish Stratus and Mickie James among the wrestlers that inspired her growing up. “I’ve gotten to see where we were and where we are now, and kind of be a part of that on the independent scene at least.”

At Final Battle on Dec. 15, Ring of Honor announced that it would be holding a Women of Honor Tournament to crown the division’s inaugural champion. The first round kicked off on Jan. 20 at a Ring of Honor TV taping in Nashville, and quarterfinals matchups have been set for Friday in Las Vegas when ROH hosts it’s 16th Anniversary PPV. The two semifinal matches will take place on April 7 in New Orleans when the company is in town for Supercard of Honor.

A win over Holidead in the first round put Purrazzo in the quarterfinals. After being named the 2017 Women of Honor Wrestler of the Year, Purrazzo might be the favorite to win the tournament.

Purrazzo is credited with being one of the pioneers of ROH’s Women of Honor division. She made her ROH debut in July 2015 in a match against Mandy Leon, who also advanced to the WOH Tournament quarterfinals, setting the stage for the company to push women’s wrestling.

“That first match was just supposed to be a dark match between Mandy and I. Eyes weren’t supposed to see it, but it went well and it was well received. They put it up on the internet and people just liked the fact that there was another women’s match happening somewhere on a big level, and slowly but surely—it’s been a fight and it’s been a process—but I think we’ve really pushed ROH to invest in us. We’ve really had a hands-on approach in the women that get booked and the direction we see ourselves as characters going in,” Purrazzo said.

“Now we have a 16-women tournament and we’re gonna crown the first WOH champion, which has been a really long process, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Women of Honor certainly has come a long way since 2015, and the division has made significant strides in the last year. That doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of room for it to grow even more.

Most of the women’s matches don’t appear on Ring of Honor’s weekly TV show and have to be seen on the ROH YouTube page. The WOH Tournament matches at Friday’s 16th Anniversary show won’t be on the PPV, instead airing live on the promotion’s Facebook Page. The semifinal matches in New Orleans are scheduled for Festival of Honor in the afternoon before the PPV begins.

Interviews with Purrazzo and Holidead were featured on ROH TV, but only a short clip of their first-round tournament match made it onto the hour-long show.

“I think that it’s always kind of a bummer when you just get clips,” Purrazzo said when asked about the full match not being on TV. “But it was great that when they introduced this new Honor Club, all of the first-round tournament matches will be up on Honor Club for the people that subscribe to it. They got a first look at it and the full matches were uploaded online, so it was kind of a catch-22, because as much as I want to be on TV and as much as I want so many eyes on me, it helped brand a new thing that ROH is trying to push. So from a business point, I get it.”

For Purrazzo, the WOH Championship Tournament is only the beginning. Even when her matches are regularly shown in full on TV and PPV, there will be more to accomplish.

Women have already headlined PPVs in WWE, and the first-ever women’s Royal Rumble took place in January. Former UFC champion Ronda Rousey—one of the most recognizable female athletes in history—recently signed with WWE, and there is already speculation that she could headline WrestleMania next year.

Purrazzo has her eyes set on becoming a main-eventer in ROH.

“I don’t think that anyone gets into wrestling to not be on PPV and not be on TV,” Purrazzo said. “Everyone wants the best for themselves, so I think that when ROH is ready to put women on PPV, that first one is gonna be such an amazing step, but of course, I want to eventually be the main event.”

ROH's 16th Anniversary show starts at 9 p.m. EST Friday night. Fans can watch the PPV with the Fite.TV App or by becoming an Honor Club VIP member.