Back when Kacy Catanzaro became the first woman to complete a city finals course on American Ninja Warrior, fellow ninjas would tell her she did a good job, “for a girl.”
“That statement is not acceptable for me,” says the 27-year-old athlete, known by fans as ‘Mighty Kacy.’ Fortunately, this year the backhanded compliment “is not a thing anymore,” she says. And that’s a legacy she can be proud of.
Catanzaro is retiring from Ninja, after she competes in the show’s Vegas finals Sept. 11 (the season finale airs Sept. 18). But she has another career move in mind, and it also involves performing under bright lights and hearing chants of “Kacy! Kacy!”
She’s joining World Wrestling Entertainment.
“I’m ready to take on a new challenge,” Catanzaro, who watched wrestling as a kid, told USA TODAY in an exclusive interview, after she finally accepted her umpteenth offer to become a WWE superstar. “For a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be brought to me a handful of times — I knew that it was rare, and I was getting older. I want to be somewhere where I can make the biggest impact I can.”
A few years ago, that place was most certainly ANW. It was on the obstacle-course competition, adapted from a Japanese format, that Catanzaro inspired what producers refer to as the “Kacy Effect” — an influx of female athletes interested in the sport.
“(Women’s) overall submissions jumped tenfold overall after Kacy’s season 6,” says executive producer Arthur Smith. “As the first woman to conquer the Warped Wall, she proved that anything was possible while paving the way for the dominance we see from our female ninjas today.”
That dominance also brought female eyeballs: Ninja viewership went from mostly male in 2012 to 55% female, its highest percentage of women viewers.
“I feel like I’ve made my history, I’ve made my friends (and) I’ve helped the next generation of girls be ready to take over, and they’re passing me!” she says, citing competitors including Barclay Stockett (a good friend who was inspired by Catanzaro’s 2014 video to become a ninja), Jessie Graff (the first woman to