When Layla El made the difficult decision to retire from the ring in 2015, she meant it. The constant travel and physical toll had become too much. The Diva Search winner turned women’s champion transitioned to life after WWE and didn’t really look back. It wasn’t until the last year or so where El became more open to doing more appearances to meet fans.
“I took a break. I needed a break for myself. I was with WWE for about nine years,” she said. “I was supposed to do these appearances and backed out. I wasn’t sure. I kind of got scared of being in the public eye. I didn’t want attention. I did my first appearance, and it was just fun, lighthearted. I thought, ‘Why not?’ Plus I wanted to see the fans again.
“Fans would ask on social media why I didn’t do appearances. Are you going to come back to wrestling? No, but maybe appearances. It just naturally happened, which I’m glad it did. It’s so nice to see the fans again and feel the warmth from fans and the support. I miss that, but I also like the idea that I can go in for a couple of hours and leave again.”
The WWE alum feels she has grown over the years, initially wanting the attention as a performer starting at a young age. She went from cruise ship entertainer to Miami Heat dancer to the bright lights of pro wrestling. El recalled getting to a point where she thought, “You know what? I don’t want it. I don’t want people looking at me. I want to sit back and observe.”
“I was getting older. I’m mid-life right now. Those days are gone,” she added. “You get to a point as a woman, it’s really hard to age in the public eye. It really is. I didn’t want that for myself. I didn’t want to go out there. I stayed too long. I think I should have maybe retired three years before I did. That was the thought process for me. I didn’t want to get hurt. I didn’t want to get injured. In my head, I was kind of nervous. My time was gone. I loved it. I appreciated it, but my time has passed. You have to accept that and move on.”
These days she enjoys being home with her doggies and husband Rich Young (former WWE superstar Ricky Ortiz). El began exploring other interests including getting her real estate license and simple things like cooking.
“Traveling, running around like a chicken that just lost its head because you didn’t know what was next. It was great. I loved it, but I also enjoyed not having to do that,” El said “.I left London when I was 18 years old. I auditioned for Carnival [Cruise Lines]. Got that job and had a good time. I got to travel the world dancing on these eight months contracts. Then you get a month off and then back again. It was great. I did that for five years. I had a blast, moved to Miami. The Miami Heat was awesome. It wasn’t the most financially beneficial job, but it was great. I loved it and had a great time. I sat courtside and watched games.”
Then she joined WWE and after the first year, it was truly trial by fire. The grueling live event schedule took some getting used to, a different animal than her past experiences.
“Sometimes I would only be home for one day. Sometimes we’d be gone for 18 days internationally. I loved it. I was young enough. It was a great moment in my life,” El said. “It has a lot of wear and tears on you. The older you get, speaking for me personally, I was finding it hard to recover and stay in shape. You need sleep to stay in shape and certain foods. It was hard to maintain.”
Follow Layla El on Twitter @MSLayEl. You can find the full audio and video from Layla’s interview below: