It feels appropriate to speak with WWE Superstar Bianca Belair on Jan. 20, 2021. As a Black woman in the pro wrestling industry who has made it a point to focus on diversity and representation, to have this conversation as the first woman of color is being inaugurated as the vice president of the United States is significant. It’s history, and Belair is all about making history both in and out of the ring.
Despite not growing up as a fan of pro wrestling, Belair has found her purpose as a WWE Superstar and makes an effort to use her platform to make a difference in the world. The EST of WWE began her journey as a track and field athlete, picking up All-SEC and All-American honors in track and field at the University of Tennessee before entering CrossFit and powerlifting competitions. An unfortunate condition of intercostal chondritis (shifting rib syndrome) forced her to retire from competition in CrossFit, but WWE Hall of Famer Mark Henry spotted her and felt she’d be a great fit for the business. In just under five years, she’s become widely recognized as one of the most talented athletes, male or female, on the entire roster.
In the midst of her journey, Belair has turned heads with her unapologetic approach to representation. Whether it be her self-made Black History-themed ring attire or daily book recommendations by Black authors she shared last year, Belair is dedicated to celebrating her history.
Fans will get a closer look at Belair’s journey when the WWE Network Documentaries production “Chronicle” debuts on the WWE Network this Sunday at 10 a.m. ET on-demand. It will then air at 9 p.m. ET on the WWE Network live stream. Ahead of the documentary, Belair discussed the importance of representation, a challenging 2020 both in and out of the ring, high expectations for the 2021 Royal Rumble and why the idea of a showdown with Sasha Banks at WrestleMania gives her goosebumps.
Sporting News: We’re doing this interview on a very special day in America, where the first woman of color is becoming the vice president. The past 12 months have been challenging for you not just as a pro wrestler during COVID but as a Black woman in a country with so much unrest. How would you describe your journey over the past year?
Bianca Belair: With everything that was happening I hit a point where I felt hopeless. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what to feel. I was in this space of trying to figure out how to evaluate my platform and find the best way to try to make a difference, but I didn’t know what to do. My husband and I came together and that’s when we came up with The Culture Connection, and we’ve poured ourselves into that.
It’s been difficult being a Black female performer because I don’t have the privilege to only focus on performing. When we do our job there are other things going on in the world that our minds are on. We are not just worried about performing but we’re worried about representation, if we are doing it the right way or if we are doing enough. It was just a very difficult time.
As you know, social unrest didn’t just start happening. But we are finally being heard. I understand my platform and I take that responsibility very seriously. I am blessed to have it and I’m just trying to do it the right way. It can get exhausting sometimes. But with Kamala Harris being inaugurated, you really see the importance of representation. This is the moment I feel a lot of hope. When you can see yourself in someone in that position it gives you confidence and motivation. I know that I’m not the vice president of the United States, but I know that I am in a position to showcase representation. What Kamala Harris is doing for me as an adult, I look back and remember what women like Florence Griffith Joyner and Dominique Dawes did for me as a child. I now know that I’m doing that for a lot of girls that look like me and I just take that responsibility very seriously.
SN: When it comes to representation, how important was it for you to see an action figure made in your likeness? There are many Black girls who never got a chance to see a Black woman as a toy in pro wrestling.
BB: It means a lot. It’s not just about me and my ego. What makes my job have a purpose is things like having an action figure and knowing that there are little black girls and boys, and even adults, who can see themselves. Knowing the impression and impact I’m having on them is something positive that cannot be put into words. That makes me enjoy what I’m doing. That is my “why.” I think a lot of times it’s hard for people to figure out their “why,” but that’s mine. I am here because I saw myself in the Gail Devers of the world. That torch is being passed to me and I’m just trying to do for other little girls what they did for me.
SN: You didn’t grow up watching pro wrestling and were recruited by Mark Henry to take a shot at this business. Did you have any gauge on what it meant to be successful in this business?
BB: I did not. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I’m really excited about my “Chronicle” because that is covered. From my childhood and all the other things I was trying to do, I didn’t realize that wrestling was my dream. Wrestling found me and I took that opportunity and decided to go all the way with it. The most important thing was staying true to myself through the whole process of figuring out why I was doing this. I knew nothing about this business. I saw it as a new challenge. But along the way, I have learned so much about myself along with finding my purpose. It’s crazy to think that growing up, I never thought about being a WWE wrestler and now I can’t see myself doing anything other than that. It has brought so much joy and purpose to my life. I met my husband here. And now I’ll be a part of the history books because of this platform that they’ve given me. I’m impacting other people in a positive way and I had no idea of that when I first started.
SN: There are wrestlers who get into this business and struggle to figure out what their gimmick is while it seems that everything you are is just an extension of your personality. How satisfying has it been to be unapologetically you?
BB: That’s what makes it fun for me. No matter what you do, there will always be people who do and don’t like you. All I can do is focus on the things that I can control, and this is being unapologetically me. That’s the message that a lot of people in this world need: Be unapologetically you. That’s another part of my “why.” That’s why I do my own hair, makeup and make my own gear. I put every single piece of me into everything that I do so I don’t look back and have any regrets.
SN: Many see you as the favorite to win the Royal Rumble. Does that put any pressure on you to perform?
BB: I don’t feel pressure, because what are you doing in this business if you’re going to crumble underneath it? My motto is to be ready so you don’t ever have to get ready. I love the fact that people want me to win because, listen, I want to win too! Last year I didn’t have time to think about it. I found that I was in it the night before, so I went out there to prove myself and get people to know who I am. That was my goal. I’m trying to figure out how I can top my performance last year. The only way is to win.
There are so many elements heading into this year’s Rumble. I have a back and forth with Bayley and I will probably have her coming at me the entire time. I’ve got Shayna Baszler in there and we’re tied for most elimination in the Rumble with eight, so we’re definitely going to be trying to get the record. And then I have to win to set myself up for WrestleMania.
SN: Sasha Banks was the No. 1 pro wrestler in 2020 according to Sports Illustrated and there is an expectation that she’ll headline one of the nights of WrestleMania. What would it mean for you to win Royal Rumble and face Sasha Banks at WrestleMania with the added cultural aspect of two Black women headlining the biggest show of the year for the championship?
BB: Everything I have approached in WWE I do it looking for a purpose. When I think about a dream match, Sasha Banks would definitely be at the top of my list. And to think about headlining WrestleMania with Sasha Banks, that would be more than just a match. It’s more than having a great match with an effort to tear the house down. Nah, that’s top-level representation that will go down in the history books for multiple reasons. It gives me goosebumps. That would be a dream come true not just for me, but for many people. That would be a very special night, and I can’t even explain what it would mean to me.
SN: You know what that is? That’s Black History.
BB: Yeah! That’s exactly what that is. I just want it to happen. It’s not just to feed my ego. It would be a part of Black history.