Are you aware of the year WWE Superstar Bianca Belair has had? The Tenn. native won the Women’s Royal Rumble back in January, setting a course that led to a championship match of her choice at WrestleMania 37. Belair decided to challenge Sasha Banks for the SmackDown Women’s Championship, which resulted in history: Not only did Bianca Belair win her first WWE championship, but she did it in an ESPY-winning match that was also the first time that Black women have headlined a WrestleMania. A match that many are considering a Match of The Year candiate. Belair has done it while being unapologetically herself, representing for her people and the culture while continuing to be the EST of the WWE.
“It’s been like being a kid waking up on Christmas day, every single day," Belair tells Complex when asked to describe her 2021 so far. “It’s more than I could have imagined." Belair was also just saying this after having successfully completed her first loop on the WWE's main roster, hitting the road immediately after defending her SmackDown Women's Championship in from of 80,000 fans at Rolling Loud in Miami, live on SmackDown.
During her latest conversation with Complex, Belair gives an amazing recollection of her time performing during Rolling Loud while also discussing the WWE's return to live shows, winning an ESPY, and reflects on her historic WrestleMania win.
Describe what the first half of 2021 has been like for you.
The first half of 2021 for me has been like… It’s been like being a kid waking up on Christmas day, every single day.
It’s more than I could have imagined. It’s been an amazing year. It’s been a fun, wild ride. It’s been even better finally having all of our fans back and being able to be at SmackDown this year. Being out, being able to walk out in front of a crowd and share that moment with the crowd, it’s been more than I could ask for. I just feel very blessed and fortunate to be in the position that I’m in right now.
What’s the transition from being in the Performance Center and the ThunderDome for almost a year and a half to suddenly being in front of fans?
It was more than I could have imagined. I got called to Raw last year after WrestleMania, so as soon as I got called to Raw, everything shut down. I didn’t get that debut that everyone always gets when they first come to the main roster. Once we got our crowd back, I feel like I got the debut that I never got. But it was even more amazing because it was like I was debuting to SmackDown as champion in front of a crowd all of a sudden. I was very nervous. I was very anxious when we got our crowd back because I hadn’t been in front of a crowd. I hadn’t heard the crowd. I didn’t really know. I was hoping, “maybe I get the E-S-T chant, I hope they like me. I hope that they accept me and receive me at SmackDown as champion.”
I just feel like it was a very tough year, and the fans stuck with us through everything. They stuck with me and they rode with me through everything. It was just an amazing moment to be able to finally get out there and celebrate with them because it felt like we were having a victory lap.
After the way things have been moving on both brands and for the WWE as a whole, it’s a really interesting time to now see how people are reacting to you, and to Roman and everyone else.
Yes. It was weird that it kind of felt weird having a crowd back. And to say that is weird because the fans are so much a part of what we do, you know? Our job is to put smiles on fans’ faces. But I can say when I walked out there and I see the fans now, I’m just smiling ear to ear and I’m basically smiling the whole way through the match.
Watching Money In The Bank, I was already hyped for the show, but I was also hyped to see what the crowd was going to be like. They didn’t miss a beat. It was good to see.
Definitely. Like I said, I feel like it was a victory lap. It was like a family reunion. Everybody’s getting together and just celebrating after this rough year. I remember hearing the crowd and seeing the videos of having the crowd back and it’s just amazing to have the WWE universe back.
This past Friday, SmackDown was airing from Rolling Loud in Miami. We got to see you compete on that stage. Being in front of the WWE Universe right now is one thing, but then going to Rolling Loud, where you’ve got such a massive audience and you don’t know how they’re going to respond, what was that experience like for you?
I was so excited to go to Rolling Loud. Even before we found out that we were going to, my husband and I were actually looking at the lineup and looking at tickets and trying to figure out ways that we could possibly go. Once I found out that I was not only going to Rolling Loud, but I was going to get to defend my title against Carmella at Rolling Loud, at the largest hip-hop festival in the world, I was so excited to do that. Just to being in front of that massive crowd it was, it reminded me of WrestleMania. That’s the type of feel that it had and that’s the type of nerves that I had before going out there in front of that crowd. It was like those WrestleMania nerves all over again.
I was just excited about stepping into another atmosphere. It was really cool when I looked out in the audience. I could see some wrestling fans, but also just being able to perform in front of more non-traditional wrestling fans, just even trying to get more eyes on the product and more exposure. Stepping into an environment that I felt so comfortable in, because that’s like home to me. Just trying to integrate those two worlds, because music has just been such a huge part of WWE, from our entrance music, pay-per-views theme songs, and even Bad Bunny coming over and being a part of WrestleMania and working. Snoop Dogg has come over and worked. So, it’s always been a huge part of WWE and what we do. It was amazing to be the person in that position to be able to go out there and showcase what WWE is, what we’re about, and show them that WWE is inclusive. It’s for everyone. That’s what’s amazing about WWE. It just transcends across all different religions, races, gender. It doesn’t matter. Anybody could look at the WWE and see someone that looks like them. There’s so much representation there.
I feel like we were really able to showcase that at Rolling Loud and just being on the same stage as the most known and successful hip-hop artists. We were on the same stage as them and that was an amazing feeling. And that just shows how big WWE is. That we can get out on the same stage as them.
I watched the clip that was on the WWE Twitter account, and the one thing that I like that you talked about was that it’s being there for the culture. With everything you’ve spoken about, from Bad Bunny to Cardi B songs playing during the SummerSlam commercials. It’s dope to see this type of collaboration happen during this year when we have so many different moments integrating the culture within the industry, as well. You mentioned on Instagram that you had been wanting to go to Rolling Loud. Was this your first Rolling Loud ever?
This is my first Rolling Loud, ever.
Were you able to actually watch some of the performances after your match?
We weren’t able to really watch a whole lot of performances though because I had to fly out. It doesn’t stop. We’re back on the road. And this was a really cool way to actually jumpstart my very first road loop. I had my very first road loop with WWE, with SmackDown, this weekend. I actually flew out the next morning, early in the morning, to Pittsburgh, for a live event on Saturday. And then we flew out again for a live event on Sunday to Kentucky, but I was on social media. I was watching everybody that was performing. It was really cool just to be on the same stage with some of my favorite artists. Some of my cousin’s favorite artists. He’s really into music and we got to share that moment. That’s what was so cool about this moment, too. My husband, Montez [Ford], was there with Angelo Dawkins. [Ed note: Ford and Dawkins, known as The Street Profits, are the second tag team to become WWE Tag Team Triple Crown winners.] They got to have a tag match, and we got to share that moment. And like you said, be there for the culture and put on for the culture. That’s what we’ve always been about ever since we got into WWE. We’ve always said we want to just do it for the culture and bring our culture into this and bring more eyes to the product and I felt like we were really able to do that in WWE. It really shows just how inclusive we are and how much reputation, how much representation there is.
Now, last time we spoke, we talked about you working on your ring gear. Was that a Miami skyline on your gear for Friday?
[Laughs.] I was hoping people could tell, yes. It was the Miami skyline. If you look at the theme of Rolling Loud, the theme of Rolling Loud is the Miami Skyline. So, I was trying to do something with their theme. I was just so honored to be there for Rolling Loud so I wanted to have the gear dedicated to Rolling Loud. I always try to make gear and wear it once so that when I look at it, I know exactly when [and] where I wore it. Now I have a gear that I can say, “I wore that at Rolling Loud in front of 80,000 people on the same stage as the performers like Meg[an Thee Stallion] and Bobby [Shmurda] and Travis Scott. I was on the same stage as them in this gear facing Carmella, representing for SmackDown. It’s just an amazing feeling.
Speaking of Carmella. I was looking at the stats and, no disrespect to her, but you beat on her a lot within the last, the last month or two. This has happened with some exciting movements within the Women’s division. There were recently some additions, it looked like some people, were starting to debut on the roster, and SummerSlam’s coming up. Is there anyone, in particular, you’re looking out for when it comes to challengers? SummerSlam is right around the corner.
Like you said, this year has been so wild for me and everything’s just been kind of been thrown at me very quickly. I’m just trying to stay on my toes. And Carmella, to her defense, she was kind of thrown into this. Our first title defense, she had a week to prepare. She’s really helped me step my game up, and that’s what I love about our locker room: Every single woman is amazing. Every time I get in the ring with any of them, they bring the best out of me, and they just keep making me better as champion. It’s good for them, but it’s also good for me because they just keep making me better. But, now we have all these new debuts. We have Tegan Nox and Shotzi. We just had Toni Storm's debut. I just know that I have a target on my back. Everybody’s coming for me and my eyes have to stay in the front of my head, the back of my head, and also…I don’t know when Sasha is returning, if she’s going to return. I don’t know. I just know I took something from her and I have to watch my back for her. I have to watch my back with the newcomers that just debuted. They’re trying to prove themselves. I’m really just looking out for everybody.
I was hoping that you two would win the ESPY, and when it happened, I just started getting consumed with all of the videos and images hitting the timeline, but I soon realized that we’ve not really seen Sasha since Mania. It may have been that SmackDown after Mania. We’d not seen the two of you together since then. In the back of my mind, I’m like, “SummerSlam’s coming up.” But, there’s a lot of unfinished business.
Yeah. It’s just an exciting time. The door is open for everyone. At this point, I think anybody has a fair shot at going for the SmackDown Women’s championship. And I think, that whoever stepped in the ring with, it’s going to be magic. Like you said, Sasha and I have unfinished business. At WrestleMania, that night, I walked out as SmackDown Women’s Champion, but I always say that night was so much bigger than me. It was so much bigger than Sasha. It was so much bigger than just winning the SmackDown Women’s Championship. As you can see, we won an ESPY from it. That’s how big that one was. At the end of the day, nobody really lost that night.
I’m just waiting for when we can face each other again when the only thing that’s on the line is the title. I’m a fighting champion. I want to defend my title as much as possible and make magic with as many people as possible.
I also saw you sharing your new action figure online. How are you feeling about that design?
That is probably my most favorite action figure. For one, an action figure, period, it is exciting. I’m blessed. It’s still a weird feeling, in a good way, to see myself in the actual figure. But it has the three best accessories. It has, for one, I have the SmackDown Women’s Championship. Then, I have my bamboo earrings and I have my baby hair, which is representing for the culture. This is so empowering. To be able to just be unapologetically me. And of course, the gear! I made the gear. So it’s cool to look at an action figure with the gear that I made. And, it’s from the Royal Rumble, which was one of the greatest moments of my life. It was another moment that I was nominated for an ESPY for, as well. So, this action figure just has a lot of just, significance in it. So I’m just super excited about this action figure.
Take us back to the Mania match. I remember how I felt before that match started—it felt like the entire day built towards your bout with Sasha. There was a moment, I don’t want to say you were about to break down, but I mean, were you about to break down before that match started?
Yes. I’m not ashamed to say it because when you work so hard for something, and when you’re a part of something that is historic, and that it’s going to go down in history, the way that it did, it hits you. And it hit me. And I understood how important that moment was. I didn’t stop moving the whole day that I got to the stadium. Only time I stopped moving was when I got in the ring and I realized, “Wow, we’ve been talking about this. We were hoping we were the main event. And now, we’re here.” I’m standing in the ring, across from Sasha Banks, we have our fans back. And without even having to touch each other, say anything, just a standing that in that moment, that just represented so much. And we were already making history, And it was overwhelming and it hit me.
I was just blessed to be the person in that position. I always say, “So many women that came before us and paved the way so that that could happen that night.” I just felt like I just wanted to soak in that moment and be vulnerable and just feel my raw emotions. Winning the SmackDown Women’s Championship was amazing, but that’s the moment that sticks with me the most. And anyone who can’t understand that… I don’t know how anybody can’t feel that.
I’m glad you said that because, when I’m thinking about the moments in that match—and my apologies for this conversation turning into a Mania recap, but we spoke right after you won at the Rumble and it was like, “this could be the thing that was going on.” There’s one moment that sticks out in that match for me that showcases the emotion you speak of. It was one of your near falls. You hit a move off the ropes, you got a two-count, and you kind of shifted from the pinning position to like halfway across the ring, because you were kind of just like “How? What?” That moment for me, it’s stuff like that, that really showed how into it and how determined you were to reach your goal.
Yeah, that match was just the biggest moment of my career in my life, to be making history with Sasha Banks. I just wanted to be the one to walk out of SmackDown with the championship and be able to raise that title and celebrate with the fans. I had my family there. The best way I can describe it is like your wedding day and you’re able to do something that you’re so happy about doing in front of your loved ones. And I just wanted to put 110 percent into the match. I always say, “I never do the bare minimum,” so I was just so passionate. I’m a very passionate person, in general. But, so passionate about that match and what it represented.
And we were main event. Just wanted to put on for women. For Black women. Just, for everyone. Anyone that was a fan of Sasha Banks or Bianca Belair or a WWE fan. We wanted to put on for them. And at the end of the day, it’s still a competition and we both want to walk out of SmackDown Women’s Champion. I threw everything that I had at that match. Every emotion. Every physical capability that I had. And when she kicked out, it was just like, “Okay, I don’t, this is, I know this is going to be rough, but this is, this is rough.”
Now I don’t know what you read or who you hear, but there are a lot of people who are calling this a Match of The Year contender. Have you heard that before? Do you pay attention to any of that kind of talk?
Yeah. I heard it before. I’m not as much because I’m just so absorbed into the match. Just to oversee the match and hearing the crowd, there’s some talk about the match and I’m like, “Was it good?”. I remember my husband looking at me and saying, “Yeah, why? What are you talking about? Why are you asking?” I’m just like, “I don’t know. I was just wrapped up into it.” I started hearing “Match of The Year” or “Favorite Women’s Match of All Time,” and it means everything. I feel like I’ve been playing catch up ever since I [got] into this business and trying to prove myself. I have mad respect for this business.
It’s amazing how I never imagined myself being a WWE superstar. Now, I can’t imagine myself doing anything other than this. It’s the most passionate I’ve ever been passionate about [something]. When I first [joined the] WWE and I was trying to learn the business, I was researching and watching matches. I remember watching Beth Phoenix and watching Jacqueline and using their matches for inspiration. To think that there may be another young lady coming in a few years down the line, or next year that they’re going to be using my matches with Sasha Banks as inspiration, that’s really what sticks with me the most.