Bianca Belair left an impression with her first women’s Royal Rumble appearance by lasting more than 35 minutes in 2020. This year, the 31-year-old SmackDown superstar — the “EST of WWE” — has her sights set on winning the Royal Rumble and earning a championship match at WrestleMania 37 in Tampa, Fla. Before mixing it up with 29 other women on Sunday at the Royal Rumble (7 p.m., WWE Network), Belair took time for some Q&A with The Post’s Joseph Staszewski.
(Edited for length and clarity)
Q: Can you describe what that’s like to last more than 30 minutes in a Royal Rumble?
A: With the Royal Rumble it’s so unpredictable, you have no idea what to expect. Being that it was my very first Royal Rumble and I found out the night before, I was just going in there trying to prove myself to get people to know who I was once the match was over. The more eliminations that I got I started feeling more and more confident. The longer I was in there I really started building confidence and realizing I’m hanging in there with everybody.
Q: What would it mean for you to win this year and have your first WWE championship match be at a WrestleMania?
A: Winning this year would mean everything. That’s something that would bring a feeling that I can’t even put into words. The answer is just a feeling. It’s a feeling like everything you put into being a WWE Superstar it’s all making sense, it’s all coming together. This would be your ticket to get to WrestleMania. Everybody’s dream is to have a match at WrestleMania, so winning this Rumble would mean the world to me. The expectation are high for me this year being that I tied for the most eliminations at eight and I lasted over 30 minutes and everyone is like how is she gonna top (that) this year? And, I think how could I possibly top this year other than winning.
Q: Would there be a personal feeling of the company finally thinks I’m ready to get handed that ball of being in a main event spot?
A: Definitely. I think last year being that they told me the night before I was going to be in the Royal Rumble and I was the second entrant and I was starting the match. That right there told me that they also had faith in me and they handed me the ball saying, “you asked us to put you in the game, show us what you can do with it.” I think I was able to prove that to them last year and I think every single time I step out there I’m proving that to them even more.
I want my name to be in the conversation whenever there are big moments about to happen. When they are figuring out these big moments, I want my name to be in those conversations because I want to have the reputation that I will always come through and I will always show up and show out.
Q: You talked in your ‘WWE Chronicle’ episode about the responsibility and pressure you feel when it comes to how you represent yourself as a black athlete, making sure you do it in the right way. Why do you feel that way and what’s it like dealing with that extra layer of pressure?
A: I definitely feel this way because I have this platform and I could choose to not use my platform in that way. But I feel like that’s my responsibility because when I think about when I was a little girl when I looked up to Flo Jo (Florence Griffith Joyner) and Gail Devers and Dominique Dawes those were the people I saw myself in and I became a gymnast because of Dominique Dawes. I became a track athlete because of Flo Jo and Gail Devers. Because I did those things, I am where I am now. Because I saw myself in them I’m able to be who I am now. They helped me really navigate through life. They helped me find my place in this world and they did that for me. I have a platform now and I feel like the torch is being passed to me and that’s my responsibility. The same thing that they did for me, I want to do for other people.
Q: You have talked about your battle with bulimia and depression and your suicide attempt in college. What did you learn about yourself going through that and how did that make you stronger having overcome it?
A: I really learned that I was living for a lot of other people and not myself. Sometimes I was putting that pressure on myself, it wasn’t even someone telling me what to do. I was taking responsibilities on myself to live for other people and trying to seek other people’s validation and in the process, I lost focus on myself and I learned that self-love is a must. It’s not selfish to focus on yourself and take the time to really figure out your identity, who you are.
I really learned that I had attached my identity to track at the time. So once that all fell apart I didn’t know who I was. And once I figured out who I was by really slowing down and reflecting and realized I had people in my life that want to love on me I was able to be vulnerable with them and they brought me back to the person I was supposed to be. Before I was listening to the world and who they were telling me to be.
And once I found that person I realize I never want to let that person go and I just live my life now by just never seeking validation from anyone and anything else other than myself. And really just know that no matter what I have to know who I am and always be myself, unapologetically me and never let that go.
Q: Do you think that comes through in the Bianca Belair we see on TV?
A: Defiantly. I hear a lot of people say when you’re Bianca Belair you look so natural and it’s because that is just who I am blown up to a thousand. When I’m out there I think about everything that I went through. I was living for everyone else. I was seeking everyone else’s validation. I was shrinking myself to try to figure out who I am. When I’m out there I feel like I am the person that I wanted to be when I was a little girl. I was the person I was trying to be in college but I was just so lost and I made it through and now I can be big and I can be bold and I know who I am and I want to celebrate and embrace that. I know that I’m good at something and you shouldn’t be ashamed of what you’re good at or shy away from it. Now that I know who I am, I’m so proud of it.
Q: If you weren’t wrestling what do you think you’d be doing?
A: I really think I could see myself in movies, acting. I did want to act as a little girl and I want to write a book at some point in time.
Q: Are there any other unique things you’ve been able to do with your long braid. We recently saw you jump rope with it?
A: I was (using it) to pull Sasha Banks so I could tag her in a tag match, eliminate some people in the Royal Rumble match. I really want to see if I can do some creative stuff in the Royal Rumble match this year. I want to try to do some videos with some cool things with my braid and really see who creative I can get.
Q: What’s the best part of being married to Montez Ford?
A: The person that everyone sees on TV is 100 percent the person I have at home, always make me laugh. When I first met him I called him weird and he was so offended. I was like, “No, I mean that as a compliment.” Because I think I’m a little weird and quirky. And I was like, “No, I definitely mean that as a compliment.” Being weird is a great thing and we can be weird together. He keeps me laughing and he is the perfect gentleman. He opens my doors.
Q: You and Montez started The Culture Connection website a couple of months ago. Why did you feel like that was the way you want to get involved in the issues and events affecting the Black community?
A: We were in a space where we didn’t just want to react. We wanted to act and we really wanted to try to do something that was meaningful and could have a long-term positive impact. And we were talking to our friends and our family. Everyone was just kind of like, we want to do something but we just don’t know what to do.
So we started talking to people and people were telling us things that were going on and where you could donate and different ways you could get involved. We came up with the idea that there is so much information out there we just need to share it with each other and just get everyone on the same page and get understanding. That’s where we came up with The Culture Connection, just keep everyone connected, share information, share ways to get involved, ways to get everyone educated, start reeducating yourself.
Q: How powerful of a potential match would you and SmackDown women’s champion Sasha Banks be at WrestleMania, considering the big personalities of the characters, the strong women behind them and to have two African-American women squaring off on that stage?
A: Just the thought of Sasha Banks and I having a match at WrestleMania gives me goosebumps. I’ve said this before, it’s not about feeding my ego, it’s so much bigger than just having a wrestling match. Just having two strong women whose characters stand for, you know we are alpha females. We want to empower women and having two females who stand for the exact same thing and two African-American women standing in the same ring that is top-level representation right there and that’s for women, that’s for black women. I just feel like anybody, whoever you are that right there is just inspiring and just the thought of it … That answer is the same thing, it’s a feeling that you can’t describe if I was ever to be in the ring with Sasha Banks at WrestleMania.
Q: After months of no live crowd at shows, how much are you looking forward to and what do you think it’s going to feel like to be back in front of lives fans for WrestleMania?
A: The fans are the main reason why we do what we do. Our whole purpose is to put smiles on people’s faces and it’s great to see everyone in the ThunderDome virtually and see them smiling, but it’s going to be a great feeling actually seeing their faces. We’re going to be able to feed off the energy. I’m just very excited for when we all get back together.
Q: It is going to be strange to hear them live again?
A: I don’t think strange is the word. We are going to enjoy it a whole lot.