Impact Wrestling’s Mercedes Martinez isn’t one to lack confidence when she steps into the ring.

Regarded by many as one of the pinnacles of women’s wrestling, Martinez made a name for herself over the last 21 years by dropping all comers and claiming titles all over the world. Her unending drive is why she finds herself staring down another active legend, Mickie James, at Saturday’s Turning Point event with the Knockouts title on the line.

But her passion and work to force the progression of women’s wrestling during her career extends far beyond Martinez herself. She helped build some of the most celebrated all-women independent promotions (Shimmer, Shine, Rise) in the country, works with rising talent to build the next generation and became a figure to be emulated along the way.

Martinez’s entrance into Impact Wrestling at the company’s all-women event Knockouts Knockdown in September once again spoke to her legacy. She jumped at the opportunity when Impact’s Gail Kim reached out.

“I love to be a part of history. No matter what it is, I want to be there,” Mercedes said on the Outsports podcast LGBT In The Ring. “I always want to be part of something that can break down barriers, whether small-scale or something large. I want to be a part of something that can be remembered as something significant in women’s wrestling.”

That night saw Martinez top a diverse field of women, including out trans wrestler Jamie Senegal, in the Knockouts Knockdown tournament, earning her shot at James’ championship. But, in the mind of Martinez and many others, her victory was part of a continuing message to pro wrestling as a whole.

“I really do think that every company out there should look at this as breaking another barrier down in making female wrestlers inclusive and making us the forefront,” Martinez said. “We’re not the back burner anymore and anything that we do – the commentators, referees, production, everything as a whole – is monumental and should be highlighted that this is monumental … Females are taking initiative now – stepping up, doing their own narrative and being true to themselves.”

In the same way, Martinez represents a core foundation of the current LGBTQ pro wrestling movement. Martinez is a proud out lesbian who has only in recent years began openly celebrating that aspect of identity through pro wrestling. She faced off with fellow LGBTQ pro wrestling legend Cassandro in the main event of her first Pride-themed wrestling event, 2019’s Rise Pride & Joy, and feels comfortable openly discussing her identity in pro wrestling circles.

But Martinez felt like she had to hide that part of herself for a large chunk of her early pro wrestling career out of fear.

“20 years ago, it was really hard. If I did come out, my life could be in danger at that time. 20 years ago is a lot different than now,” Martinez said.

“You have to think about, OK, if i am my true, authentic self maybe 20 years ago when I first started, I probably may not be here now only because of the time and the way the world was at that time. For me to still be a part of this business and see how the acceptance of the LGBTQ is now, man, I would’ve come out five years ago … It’s so loving, so warm. I wish I’d had that 20 years ago, but, for me to get it now, it’s like, man, I just want to stay in this business forever.”

Pro wrestling’s increasing embrace of performers from both the LGBTQ community and marginalized genders continues to strengthen Martinez, and she isn’t ready to stop using her voice.

“I’m still a private person, but for me to be a part of the community and help others be their true, authentic self – whatever you want to do, be flamboyant or a little more reserved – it’s OK as long as you’re being you, loving who you are and you can be yourself in the locker rooms,” Martinez beamed.

“I wish I could just wear that rainbow flag everywhere now because I couldn’t. You become reserved because of your safety 20 years ago compared to now where I can do whatever, but you stay a little reserved because you have the memories of what you went through back then,” she continued. “But being your true, authentic self is the way to go … it’s a blessing.”

Watch Mercedes Martinez challenge Mickie James for the Impact Knockouts championship at Impact Wrestling’s Turning Point on Saturday, Nov. 20, at 10pm ET on Impact Plus, Fite and YouTube.

Check out the full interview with Martinez on the Outsports podcast LGBT In The Ring. New episodes drop every Thursday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts and all other podcast services.