MOLINE, Ill. (KWQC) - At 4'10 and 100 pounds, Maria Elena Martinez receives the same reaction each time she steps into the ring.
"Surprise," she laughs. "They definitely are very surprised. Because I'm small and they're just like 'you? you wrestle?'"
At professional wrestling events she goes by the name Valentina Loca and has always dreamed to be a part of the business.
"Kids grow up and want to be veterinarians or doctors or lawyers," Martinez says. "I always wanted to be in the wrestling business somehow."
The Black and Brave Wrestling Academy in Moline has helped many, like Martinez, find their way.
Travis Horn, a graduate of the academy, says it's not the easiest profession in the world.
"We want to make sure if you want to become a professional wrestler, you put your heart and soul into it," Horn believes.
Martinez is one of the few women who trains locally, but she's part of a national trend in the growth of female wrestlers.
"We're here and we're ready," she says. "We're athletes and we should be taken seriously."
Horn says women's professional wrestling has grown by leaps and bounds over the last couple of years.
"There are a lot of women who can really put boys and men in their place if they don't show them the respect that they deserve," says Horn.
Martinez admits wrestling can be a performance art.
"Sports entertainment," she describes. "I'd say there's elements of entertainment and elements of sports."
Either way, to her the future of wrestling is female.
"Women are being treated as legitimate competitors and I think it's a great time to be a women's wrestler," says Martinez.
She plans to keep at it for as long as she can.
"There's nothing in the world that I'd rather be doing," Martinez says with a smile.