Last night, at the WWE's 34th annual Royal Rumble pay-per-view, a star was truly born. Bianca Belair, the 31-year-old Knoxville, Tenn. native who's a few months shy of celebrating her fifth year in the sports entertainment industry, has been a star to her supporters for a minute. She was a star in the world of track and field, as well as a CrossFit competitor and powerlifter, but one day, WWE Hall of Famer Mark Henry saw some footage of her competitions and noticed she had that "it" factor. That thing that legends like The Rock or "Stone Cold" Steve Austin have—the ability to captivate a crowd with a look, then blow them away with their performance. Her winning the Women's Royal Rumble—becoming only the second Black WWE Superstar to do so—felt like it was going to happen some day, especially after her surprising performance in the 2020 Women's Royal Rumble, where she lasted almost 34 minutes, eliminated eight Superstars. (Her 2021 Women's Royal Rumble performance also made history; entering at No. 3 to win the match, she lasted over 56 minutes.)
Speaking with Bianca Belair on the first day in February is one of the best ways to kick off Black History Month. The EST of the WWE [Ed. note: For the uninformed, Bianca calls herself the "EST" because she's the strongest, the fastest, etc.] was in an interesting place during a quick Zoom chat about her historic win and the ramifications of it all. Between some laughs and a moment where she was swept up in the emotions she felt backstage after finishing the match, Bianca shares her thoughts on her huge spot with with former WWE SmackDown's Women's Champion Naomi during the Rumble match, if she's made her decision on who she plans on facing at WrestleMania, and reflects on her amazing performance during Bayley's Obstacle Course challenge from a few weeks back.
I was watching last night, obviously, and scrolling through Twitter after you win the Rumble and seeing Kayla Braxton tweet that Bianca Belair is the second Black person to win the Royal Rumble after The Rock. You're big on making Black history and making those moments but can you talk a little bit about the importance of that fact and you making history overall.
It's crazy. I didn't know that fact until I got backstage and Kayla actually told me. It's crazy that I never ever saw myself being in this position and I'm here now and creating history in the process of just trying to be me and trying to go after my goals and in the process I'm creating history. Being a part of representation, it's an amazing feeling. It's one thing to win the Royal Rumble and get your tickets to WrestleMania, but it's another thing to add even more purpose to it while you're doing it. It's amazing.
It's a huge moment, at the very least it's a beautiful way for us to all really kick off Black History Month. It was amazing watching you doing stuff with Naomi. I think the spot towards, the end of her time and there, where you guys are basically dangling off the side of the ring apron. What was that like?
That's definitely one of my favorite moments of the match. I got to be in the ring with Naomi last year for the Royal Rumble for a very short time. But having that moment with her, we both almost being eliminated and dangling off of the rope and realizing like, "Look, if we got to do this together, we have to work together." And when we finally work together, we end up saving ourselves in the process. So that was an amazing moment to have with her and shared everything with her and I've always looked forward to like just getting in the ring and creating magic with her because she's so athletic and she's so talented.
I remember right before I went to NXT, I went to a show in Atlanta when I was living there. I believe it was like a six women tag and Naomi came out. It was my first time seeing her live. It's crazy how I just naturally just gravitated towards her. I was about a month away from going to the Performance Center and seeing her in the ring really helped me imagine seeing myself in the ring; I could see myself through her. So, just remembering that moment from seeing her before I got to NXT so now being able to share the ring with her and actually working together with her to save ourselves, that was an amazing and special moment in the Royal Rumble.
You mentioned last year's Rumble. The WWE has been able to make the presentation of the shows feel like what it was prior to the coronavirus hitting the world. Talk about the differences between your first Rumble, where you're performing in front of a massive crowd and this year where we've got the ThunderDome.
Last year I was number two in the Royal Rumble and I was a little bit nervous, because I was still part of NXT and I was like, "Okay, I know some people know me, but I don't know if a lot of people know me, so I don't know what it's going to be like." And when I came out for my entrance I was a huge pop and that's one of the things that I remember the most about last year's Royal Rumble was, the huge pop.
Coming into this year not having fans, you would think that if that was the one thing that I remember from last year, that I was going to really miss it this year, but the way that the ThunderDome is set up, you have the lights and the pyro, and we don't have fans there physically, but we having them there virtually and just being able to see their faces makes a world of difference, because what we do is so much a part of having the fans there. But the way the ThunderDome is set up, it makes it so... it's not odd. I don't know, maybe it's because I was just so focused on the Rumble. Last year I was so focused on, "People might not know who I am, but I just want them to know who I am once I leave," and getting the crowds to interact but this year it wasn't about getting people to know who I was, it was about like going for more and winning, like my mindset was on winning. I was just so in a moment that it felt perfect, it just felt perfect.
That's awesome. It was good to see you be able to at least get your moment where you're pointing at the Mania sign, you know what I mean? It feels different, it feels official when you actually get that snapshot. Last night, Big E tweeted that there was an immediate backstage reaction. It was also dope to go onto the WWE Instagram and seeing the moment you had with your husband, Montez Ford. Real emotions. Now, we didn't get to hear anything, it seemed like you guys were just sharing in this amazing spectacle with each other. Was there something said when you came back through the curtain? Did you guys have any type of words or was it just immediate sharing in that moment?
It's just amazing that I'm doing this alongside the person I love. And to be able to have your husband standing there as soon as you walk through the curtain, he's the first person you can go to. I just went to him and I hugged him and we really didn't say much at first we just embraced each other and then we prayed. I didn't know what to say. I couldn't find my words. It's bringing tears to my eyes thinking about it, but I couldn't find my words. And the only thing that I could think in that moment was to pray. So we hugged and I just looked up at him and I said, "Can we pray?" I couldn't find the words but he prayed. He prayed with me. He prayed for me. And that was the moment that we shared after the match.
That's awesome. I apologize getting you a little emotional.
No, I've been crying on and off all day, so it's fine, it's like my normal routine right now. (laughs)
It was inspiring watching your episode of WWE Chronicle recently and really just seeing the year and some change you've had. You mentioned coming from NXT and I remember the SmackDown when NXT kind of invaded SmackDown and you were wrecking shop backstage to months later getting to your first Rumble and now we're see you're carrying Otis on SmackDown now. This year has got to be one of the biggest of your life, no?
Yes, it definitely is. I found out at NXT TakeOver Portland last year that I was going to go to Raw and debut at the Raw after WrestleMania, and 2020 was supposed to be my year. Coming off of everything that's happened in 2020, I didn't want to be frustrated. My whole thing is I want to be happy and enjoy what I'm doing, so I really just focused on the things that I could control in 2020 but I did not imagine that 2021 was going to be my year. I thought, "I'll figure it out. I'm on my way and it'll come together." But I couldn't have imagined that it would come together the way that it has. I thought 2020 is going to be my year, but obviously 2021 is the year of Bianca Belair so it's amazing. I'm just blessed and just so grateful.
You mentioned something interesting there talking about things you can control. There's a big decision you have to make. You could take on Asuka for the Raw Women's Championship or you could take on Sasha Banks for the SmackDown Women's Championship. In a recent interview, you spoke about how you and Sasha in a main event at Mania, that is Black History if that's something that would happen. Have you been weighing that decision at all?
I think it's a huge decision and I've been thinking about it, but in this moment, the fact that I won the Women's Royal Rumble match, I'm just living in the moment. When I was in the ring last night, it kind of hit me in two different stages: When I won, I was in a moment of everything just slowed down, and the realization of, "I just won the entire Royal Rumble, 30 women in the ring and I'm the last one standing," that moment hit me up like, "Oh my god, I just won the Royal Rumble and I'm celebrating that."
And then looking over and seeing the WrestleMania sign, it hit me like a couple of seconds later I was like, "Oh, wait, you're going to WrestleMania," it hit me at two different times and it was like a wave of emotions. And so just, the fact that it just hit me at two different times, I'm just living in the moment of winning the Royal Rumble and just trying to figure out my emotions right now and trying to not cry every five seconds. So I feel like I don't want to make an emotional decision right now. I'm just trying to like get my emotions in check and weigh my options and then go from there.
So I guess that means you haven't even started thinking about what your gear is going to look like at Mania.
Oh man, it's like, I make my gear all the time, and to be on The Grandest Stage, WrestleMania, when you're in WWE, your dream, everybody's fighting to get to WrestleMania and have a match at WrestleMania. So now that I'm going to be on The Grandest Stage of Them All, it's like my gear has to be something crazy. Just like, can I even make something that can live up to like the hype and live up to this big moment? But I have to make my own gear, I have to. I can't get to this point and not make my own gear. I have no idea what I'm going to do.
I'm kind of nervous about trying to figure out something that can live up to the hype, but hopefully I'll figure it out. My Royal Rumble gear, I didn't make it into the night before so I feel like I'll probably end up making like 10 different gears before WrestleMania and then the night before it'll come to me and I'll be up all night making my gear the night before.
What was the thought process behind your Rumble gear taking that long?
I knew that there was the comic book theme, and I was trying to figure out what to do. I had a couple of different ideas of what I wanted to do, and I feel like it was like, it was the Royal Rumble, what's better than just sticking with the theme? And so, like I made the decision Saturday and I got the fabric and I started sewing at eight o'clock the night before Royal Rumble. And then I finished sewing that night and on the way, the car ride to the ThunderDome, Sunday morning, I finished sewing the gear in the car. So I was working on the gear all the way up until basically the match.
That's amazing. Now, outside of the Rumble, again, one of my favorite things is sitting down to watch SmackDown and I love the back and forth you and Bayley have had. And during the recent Obstacle Course segment, we got to see that you're truly a superior athlete. You do everything, but it was dope to see you take Bayley to the hoop. It's like, "I'm about to take the rock to the hole, bring it, what do you got for me?" What are your skills really like on the basketball court? Like, is that just what you do when you get down? Or, was that something special that you pulled up for SmackDown?
I've been an athlete my whole life. I've played almost every sport in the book and basketball was one of the sports that I played. We were state runner-up champions and state champions in basketball in high school. But I haven't been on the court in a while so it was really fun to get to the obstacle course and see Bayley pullout the basketball hoop. So I was like, "Okay, we're going to take it back old school. I can pull this out of my pocket here," and doing the Obstacle Course, to try to EST it up when I got to the end I look up at the clock I had about 20 seconds left. And in my mind, I'm like, "Okay, I can just go dunk it or let me just take these ankles real quick." I was like, "I got to prove this point. This girl try to pull a fast one on me so let me prove a point real quick." It was fun, it was fun.
You did a lot during that in the short amount of time, including making lifting Otis across that side of the ring look very easy. Were you hurting after that, or that's just another day?
Well, Otis is solid, in good way, in a great way. He's solid. So when I came over the wall and I looked at Otis I'm like, "What." Okay, at this point, it's like, I have to do it. I knew I could do it. I'm strong, I call myself the strongest and I am strong, but I will say adrenaline had a whole lot to do with that, that day. I was so focused on the Obstacle Course and picking him up, I think I didn't even... Like at that point Otis is solid, it's going to be hard, but I always say you have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. So in that moment, I was like, "It is what it is. Let me pick him up and let's go, let's get it." So, I walked around calling myself the strongest and I tell everybody that it's time to show everybody.
Amazing. I hope you know that there's a lot of us—black pro wrestling fans, just to be clear—who have been rooting for you for a minute and really appreciate seeing you get this time to grab the rock and hopefully take it all the way at Mania.
I'm so excited. I'm so appreciative of all the support that I've gotten. I'm just out there trying to represent for you guys and trying to do it the right way and just being unapologetically me and who I am. I feel like everybody, like especially online right now during the COVID area like everybody's like my virtual best friend, like now it's really how I feel with everyone.