In an unlikely journey to the heights of WWE superstardom, Bianca Belair still seeks to conquer more obstacles, both inside and outside of the squared circle.
Ahead of her rematch against Becky Lynch at this year’s SummerSlam, Belair spoke to ESSENCE about her background as a high-level collegiate athlete, how she landed a career in wrestling, as well as how important the love and support of one’s spouse is for a person in any field.
The Tennessee native has participated in sports for as long as she can remember. Belair began running track at five years old, which manifested into track and field at the University of South Carolina, Texas A&M, and ultimately, the University of Tennessee. It was after graduation that led the current Raw Women’s champion on the path to the WWE.
“After completing the track and field part of my career at Tennessee, I was missing that competitive atmosphere,” Belair said. “But I found that in CrossFit. Through CrossFit I started making my own outfits, and I would compete in different ensembles and things like that.”
It was through her CrossFit competitions, along with her flamboyance at these events that would catch the eye of WWE Hall of Famer Mark Henry. Belair said that “Mark saw a video of me doing CrossFit wearing these elaborate outfits and grabbing the microphone to talk to the audience. He contacted me; he was the one who really saw it [wrestling] in me first, and he said: ‘Have you ever thought about being a WWE Superstar? You have the look, the athleticism, and the personality, and you’re basically wearing wrestling gear and don’t even know it.’”
“He got me a try out; so, I tried out and started working with the WWE in 2016,” she continued. “To me, I just feel like it was me capitalizing on the opportunity of being in the perfect place at the right time. I never imagined myself being a WWE Superstar, but now that I am, I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything other than that.”
Initially, Belair was intimidated by the opportunity to become a professional wrestler since she never watched wrestling as a child. In previous athletic endeavors, she would just pull from her talents in other sports in order to excel. The WWE however, was a bit more challenging.
“I was learning a whole new skill from scratch,” the top ranked female wrestler in PWI stated. “The physical part wasn’t too bad because of my background in gymnastics, track, and powerlifting, but wrestling was a bit intimidating at first. I was constantly trying to prove to everyone that I did belong there because I kind of felt like I was playing catch up from the very beginning.”
As with most of her efforts, Belair committed to her new craft, and slowly began rising through the ranks of the WWE. Being a Black woman in male-dominated sport, she fully understands the responsibility she has to not only do this for herself, but for others that look like her that may want to pursue a career in professional wrestling. “Representation is not a request, but a requirement,” Belair says is a quote she always lives by.
“I do feel like I’ve come into the WWE at an amazing time, where there’s a lot or Black representation on the roster – both the female side and the male side,” she told ESSENCE. “I was fortunate to be the first Black female to main event WrestleMania, and I even earned an ESPY off of that match.”
“There’s a lot of Black representation, and I think that it really shows where people sit in the world, and its possibilities,” she continued. “I’m blessed and fortunate to be in the WWE where I’m encouraged to go out there and be unapologetically myself. Just showing up as myself and encouraging other people to do the same is amazing.”
While wrestling is one of her top priorities, Belair also has another passion; one that has been with her since she was a child. Fashion is something that this talented athlete has always incorporated in many of the things that she is involved with. At the ESPYs last year, the beautiful red dress that she donned was created by Belair herself. She also designs all of her gear that she puts on while competing.
“Fashion has always been a part of who I am,” Belair stated. “When I was a young girl, and through high school, I was able to design our track uniforms. I also make every single piece I wear when I perform. It’s really cool because when I see my action figures – it’s the gear I made. When I see myself in video games – it’s the gear I made. I put a lot of time and work into that; and I put 100% into what I do.”
“Whether that’s working hard in the ring, working hard in the gym, or working hard on my gear; that’s just a part of who I am,” she added.
Belair married fellow WWE superstar Montez Ford in June of 2018. While the life of a professional wrestler includes a grueling schedule, the two definitely make their relationship work. For some, being around their spouse 24/7 can be detrimental to a union, but Belair and Ford cherish the amount of time that they are able to spend with each other. “I would say that I’m blessed to do what I love with the person that I love,” Belair said glowingly in regard to her husband.
“You really get to celebrate the highs together and we get to go through the lows together,” she told ESSENCE. “It always just feels like we’re having fun with each other; he’s not just my husband but he’s my best friend. We just get to go on this journey together.”
As a Black woman in the WWE, Belair continues to break barriers. Last year, she won the Women’s Royal Rumble, making her the second African American wrestler to win a Royal Rumble Match. A few months later, she became the first Black woman to main event WrestleMania, defeating Sasha Banks for the SmackDown Women’s Championship.
Her talent and work ethic has gotten her very far in this industry, but her character is how she remains on top. She says that you should never compromise who you are for the sake of your craft, and whatever you do, make sure you give it your all.
“There’s no greater gift that you can give to someone than just being yourself because there is only one of you,” said Belair. “My thing is that if you want to go and do something, then you just go do it, and if someone tells you that you can’t, don’t worry about them. You have to be your #1 advocate.”
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