Bianca Belair has been with WWE for about four years and recently competed in big matches at NXT Takeover: War Games, Survivor Series and Royal Rumble. She is set to take on Rhea Ripley for the NXT Championship at NXT Takeover: Portland this Sunday. Before WWE, Belair was not a wrestling fan nor did she know anything about wrestling, which she discussed on the latest episode of Corey Graves' After The Bell podcast.
"Yeah I didn't really come from a wrestling background. Not only that, I didn't really watch wrestling growing up. My brother watched it a lot. He was a hardcore wrestling fan so I would catch it here and there because when you're younger, we're about four years apart, we would fight over the remote. Whenever he won, he would put on wrestling, so I did see it some, but I only saw it because he was watching it," Belair said. "Not only did I not come from a wrestling background, but I didn't know much about the history of the business when I first came in. I feel like from the beginning, I've been playing catch up. I feel like I use that to my advantage because I knew that there were people coming in that were ahead of me that had more experience than so I knew that if I wanted to be successful in this business; I had to just throw myself in it and fully invest myself."
Belair talked about her CrossFit career before WWE. She had thought she could manage both, but talked about needing to focus solely on WWE if she wanted to be successful.
"And I was doing CrossFit before I came in. In my mind, when I first started, I was like, 'I would still do CrossFit on the side and I would be in NXT and I'll be training.' That all went out the window when I realized, this is something that is not like anything that I have ever done before, and if I want to be successful at this, I have to respect the business enough to fully invest myself in it when it comes to learning the history of the business, when it comes to pulling everything from every coach inside the Performance Center," Belair said. "I've always been this multi-dimensional athlete where I play this sport and that sport. I try to put myself in everything but with WWE and NXT, if you want to be successful, you can only focus on this. So it was challenging at first but I just had to want it and invest myself into it."
Graves asked Belair about the moment she felt that everything clicked for her in wrestling. While Belair said that she is always learning, she notes her Mae Young Classic match against eventual winner Kairi Sane as the moment she knew she could be successful in wrestling.
"I feel like I'm trying to figure this out. I think I was just talking to Norman Smiley in the Performance Center I was like, 'at what point in time, how many years do I have to do this when I will actually feel like I know exactly what I'm doing?' He told me, 'this is a business where you never stop learning.' So I feel like I'm still figuring it out and learning now, but I feel like for me when it really clicked for me feeling like this is something that I can do; I feel like I'm good at this, was the Mae Young Classic when i was in the ring with Kairi Sane. I was just super green. I think I had been doing this for less than a year, and I was just blessed enough to get in the ring with someone like Kairi who is super experienced. She's been doing this forever. She's great at what she does, and I just went in there," Belair said. "I took everything my coach Sara Amato had taught me, and that's all I knew. I kind of just let my body take over, and I let it do what it [does]. Afterwards, I think that was the realization of not I think, I know I'm good at this. I finally found my niche. I finally found what's for me, and I feel like it's just a perfect fit. It's been clicking since the Mae Young Classic."
Belair's path to WWE started with a message from WWE veteran Mark Henry. Belair talked about feeling indebted to Henry and how she performs to make Henry proud of his decision to give her a chance.
"Mark Henry has completely changed my life. He changed my life when he offered me this opportunity. I remember when he first hit me up on social media, and I thought it was fake. I thought it was fake, until my nephew said, 'Mark Henry commented on your photo.' He messaged me about if I ever thought about being in WWE. He gave me a tryout. I had to do the rest. From the jump, it gave me confidence knowing someone, a legend like Mark Henry, saw something in me, and it just gave me confidence from the very beginning. I feel like I am very indebted to him because he just completely changed my life, and I never want to let him down," Belair said. "He was at the Royal Rumble. He's been at a lot of my Takeovers. Every time he's there, I'm not gonna say it adds pressure, but I use it as motivation because I always just want to make him proud. He was at the Royal Rumble, and after the Royal Rumble, I went up to him and he hugged me. He said, 'you always make me proud.' It just means a lot that someone that changed my life, I'm making them proud. He's not regretting his decision to back me so it means a lot."
Belair told a story about a piece of advice that Henry gave her when she was first starting out at the Performance Center. She cites that piece of advice as to how approached creating the Bianca Belair character.
I remember when I first got into NXT, he came down at the Performance Center and this was before I even had my first match probably around the first couple of months that I was there, and at the time, I didn't really understand what he was saying because my mind was just too inexperienced. When I first started developing my character, his words always recycled in my head, and I remember him asking me, 'so who do you want to be?' I was like, 'what do you mean?' He's like, 'who do you want to be in WWE?' I just gave this generic answer that I thought I was supposed to say. I didn't really know what to say. I remember him telling me, 'you have to think about what you want to portray when you're in the ring as a character,' and he told me that in the ring you want to have a character where when they see you, they know exactly who you are, they know exactly what you're about [and] they know exactly who your character is without you having to open your mouth," Belair said. "And I think that was some advice he gave to me super early in the game, and I think that really helped me when I started developing my character, Bianca Belair, when it comes to my presence and my move set. I just ground everything around being the EST and showcasing that without ever having to open my mouth, and that just really helped me with my character. Of course he gives me advice on matches. He's given my advice on, 'I think you should do this hold. I think you should do that hold.' He always critiques me, of course, because when someone cares, they critique you, but I think that was the best advice that stuck with me was the advice he gave a couple of months being in NXT."
Belair went more into where her character comes from. She talked about her childhood and high school life and how she felt the need to hold herself back in fear of being seen as arrogant and cocky.
"I feel like 'Belair', that's what i call her, she's just an extension of me, and I like to think of 'Belair' as my alter ego. I really pulled from my real life experiences, my childhood, to create 'Belair' who is now this person: I know my value now; I'm not afraid to say it, I'm not afraid to tell you how good I am [and] I'm not gonna hide it. But at the same time, I came from humble beginnings."
"Well I just feel like as a child, I've always been super athletic; I've always been super talented not to sound cocky. I'm talking in my 'Belairisms'. As a child, I was super athletic, I was super talented [and] I was smart. Kind of everything my character embodies was who I was. Sometimes in my childhood, I went through moments of having to kind of dim my light to soothe other people's insecurities, and I don't know if it was a thing where they were actually doing it to me or if I was just taking responsibility on myself not wanting others to feel bad. Like in gym class, I would pretend that I could only do 10 pull-ups instead of 20 just so that the kids wouldn't say, 'she's showing out' or 'she thinks she's better than us. She thinks she's all that.' I would get that a lot in all different aspects of my life, so a lot of times I was super humble. I didn't want to make anybody feel different. I didn't want to make it feel like I was bragging or showing out. Even when I was in high school, I wanted a scholarship; I wanted to go to college. I wanted a full ride. I would wake up every morning and do 1000 abs a day and 250 push-ups every single morning, but nobody would ever know. I would work hard behind closed doors. I was starting to get scholarship offers. And I had friends who were in track with me, and they weren't getting the same scholarship offers. They didn't even know that I was getting these scholarship offers because I didn't want to tell them," Belair said. "I didn't want people to say I was trying to brag. I kept everything a secret, and I worked hard behind the scenes. I was downplaying my accomplishments, and I would sometimes act like I couldn't do things just to try not to show off. It was like all the ambitions I had, I felt like I had to downplay [them]. So 'Belair' is just to the point where she's over it, and she doesn't want to do that anymore. And it's not my responsibility to soothe your insecurities. It is what it is, and I'm the best. That's just where it kind of evolved from."
Graves asked Belair about her favorite feuds that she has had so far. She talked about her feuds with Nikki Cross and Shayna Baszler. She talked more about proving her worth in regards to the Baszler match because of Sam Roberts' comments on the pre-show.
"My feud with Nikki Cross. I loved my feud with Nikki Cross that I had in NXT. I love working with Nikki. She's amazing. I feel like we really created some magic in the ring together," Belair said. "Of course, my first Takeover match in Phoenix against Shayna Baszler. I feel like that was my other big moment stepping out on the scene and showcasing who I was to proving my worth with the whole Sam Roberts comments that happened that had social media going crazy."
Belair also talked about her other big Takeover matches. She gave praise to NXT for always topping the big moments.
"Then of course Takeover: New York when I was in the ring with Shayna Baszler and Kairi Sane and Io Shirai because I was the least experienced in that match, and I was stepping into the ring with girls [who were], and I felt I had to prove myself all over again to show that I can hang with these girls. Not only hang with them but also stand out amongst these great superstars," Belair said. "Of course, I have to mention War Games. It's probably the top one for me right now other than Royal Rumble, but War Games was just crazy. The NXT women's division is just stacked. You have so many talented women to the point where you couldn't even fit all of us. There weren't enough spots in War Games.
"Mia Yim, she got her injured so she couldn't be in. They replaced her with Dakota. It's even beyond that. We have so many women that could have been in the War Games match. We just didn't have enough spots but just the fact that I was picked to be in one of the those spots, that was a crazy moment. It was a crazy moment to be able to do it alongside [those] women; we've grown together, we've gone through moments together and just to have that moment with them and be a part of that moment, it probably tops all of them right now. I love NXT. My life is just crazy. Every time I have a big moment, I'm like, 'nothing can top this.' Then something else just swoops in and tops it. It's just crazy."
Graves also talked to Belair about opponents she would like to face in the future. He also shared a story from the time RAW was postponed in 2015. You can listen to the full podcast by clicking here. If you use any quotes in this article, please credit WWE's After The Bell with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.