Before becoming a prominent manager / singles competitor in the squared circle, Zelina Vega always imagined she would begin her career as an actress. Inspired by what she saw from former WWE Women's Champions Trish Stratus and Lita, she was destined to follow in their footsteps. This week, Vega sat down with Chasing Glory host Lilian Garcia to discuss when her acting career started to take off.
"Well, when I was a kid, I watched WWE, and you always saw, like what really captivated me, besides the wrestling, was the performance," Vega noted. "It was [their segments] backstage and, you know, I hated Trish because how dare she hit Lita like that? That what really drew me in.
"I remember my mom saying something like, 'Well, they're actors, too. They have to do both.' I was like, well since I'm very young and I can't start wrestling yet, maybe I'll just start acting and see how [it goes]. I started doing it in high school and then college."
Although Vega found herself working for other well-established promotions before her signing in 2017, she mentioned that it took roughly 11 years before she was officially welcomed to WWE. She recalls how frustrating it was to get to the top, and how she was so close to quitting right before she received her big break.
"It was hard in the moment. I was 18 or 19 when I had my first tryout," she replied. "I got turned down every year since 2010, except for 2011 - 2012, but every year after that. And then, like, around 2017, I said, 'ok, I'm out.' They had me as a Rosebud for, like, six months. So I was driving from New York to, like, everywhere, just to prove to them how much this meant to me.
"It's funny. I feel like a lot of people, who are just coming up now, they have no idea what that process is [like]. They have no idea what, you know, really paying your dues to get to that point means. You know, when you're sacrificing when you don't have money, when you don't have anything... I did what I had to do 'cause I knew, like, something in me just knew, that this is what I was meant to do."
While we're in a standstill during this pandemic, it seems that WWE is kicking it into full gear by showcasing other talents who've been vying for a chance at the spotlight. During this unforeseeable time, Vega is fortunate enough finally receive her big opportunity, regardless if she's managing or competing. Even though she has captivated fans with her mic skills, she admits it's hard to know if her words still have such powerful meaning to those at home.
"It was scary because you usually have the response from, you know, the people to kind of let you know if you're doing a good job or not. And sometimes when you can't gauge that, you're just like, well, I'm gonna go with it and see what happens," she openly admitted. "But I think in some ways I've tried to just hone in on whoever it is that I was talking to as if it was just us. And I mean, it technically was.
"You know, Drew was like my other promo half. I've said it like a million times: I love Drew. It was cool because we were just us. And to us, I felt like nobody in that room mattered, not even my partners. And I was like, let's just make this as entertaining as possible and bring back some of our NXT roots, and see what happens, you know? People seemed to really like it."
While some Superstars continue to gain a big push, WWE remains a revolving door for those still hopeful their big break is coming following any sort of gained traction. As the leviathan in the sports entertainment world, stars like Vega are worried that once things pick up amid COVID-19, people similar to her will go back on the shelf, waiting for another chance to portray a main role contender. Vega is worried, yet hopeful, that she'll remain an important figure in the company.
"[It's] confusing because you never know what to expect," she said with a sigh. "You always want to better yourself. But I feel like just with how this business goes, things change from day to day, hour to hour, even. So when you think that you're on a path and you're heading towards something, you want to know how exactly to get there.
"I feel like WWE doesn't get enough credit because you're doing more than just acting, you're doing more than, you know, sports entertainment. You don't get five million takes. You only just get one. That is something that, you know, obviously you get like, oh wow, I have to make sure I get this right. It's confusing because as soon as, like, one week, it might change that next week. You have to be prepared for anything. Is it confusing? Absolutely! But it's always keeping me on my toes, and that's a good thing."
Following her move over to SmackDown, Vega looks to follow her dreams of becoming the next women's champion, regardless of if she stays on SmackDown or back over to the RAW brand. On RAW, she was close to that opportunity after having two monumental matches with the RAW Women's Champion, Asuka. Now, she hopes to gain another shot towards the current SmackDown champion Sasha Bank's newest piece of gold.
"I want to become, whether it's Raw or SmackDown, [their] Women's Champion," she stated with a gleam in her eyes. "It's something that I didn't think was possible at one point. I thought, 'ok, this is my ceiling, this is where I'm going to be, get comfortable in the manager role 'cause this is what you're going to be doing.' And then once things started to change, I said, 'No, I can suppress that.' If it's something I can handle, I've always said, 'Give me the ball.' You know, if I drop it, screw me. But you lose nothing."
You can watch Zelina Vega's full interview here. If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit Lilian Garcia -Chasing Glory with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.