Bianca Belair is Ready for Redemption at WrestleMania 38

Bianca Belair is the self-proclaimed EST of WWE—the strongEST, the fastEST, the toughEST and the all-around bEST superstar.

The journey to the WWE and its main roster certainly hasn’t been the easiEST for Belair, a former All-American and All-SEC track and field star at the University of Tennessee who battled binge eating disorder, bulimia, depression, and even a suicide attempt during her sophomore year at Texas A&M.

Belair took up CrossFit and powerlifting following graduation, but an injury and slipping rib syndrome diagnosis put an end to those aspirations.

“(After college) I spent a couple of years trying to figure out what I wanted to do,” Belair says. “I knew I missed that competitive atmosphere, but didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do or exactly how to get there or what pathway to take, and I didn’t have the resources readily available to me there.”

It wasn’t until WWE Hall of Famer Mark Henry DMed her after watching her CrossFit clips online saying he could get her a tryout, but that she would have to do the rest of the work.

As someone who lives by an always-ready mentality, Belair was prepared for that life-changing opportunity, and every one that has come since. On Saturday, Belair faces Becky Lynch for the Raw Women’s Championship at WrestleMania 38 at AT&T Stadium in Dallas.

“It’s definitely a pinch-me-is-this really-happening-so-quickly moment, but it also makes sense because I do work very hard,” she says. “I’m a firm believer in don’t just work hard when the opportunity presents itself, you work hard all the time, year round. My motto is ‘Stay ready so I don’t have to get ready,’ because in WWE opportunities come up very quickly and you have to capitalize on them. 

“I’ve been able to apply that to my career and that’s why I’ve been so successful because I’ve been able to capitalize on all the opportunities that have been presented my way so quickly.”

After a pair of official tryouts, Belair signed with WWE on April 12, 2016—three days after her birthday. She made her in-ring debut in September and her NXT television debut the following May. After multiple championship opportunities and a year-long undefeated streak while honing her craft in WWE’s developmental brand, Belair made her main-roster debut on April 5, 2020, the night after WrestleMania 36.

The following January, Belair became the first Black woman to win the Royal Rumble, earning an opportunity to challenge for the title at WrestleMania 37. At WWE’s “Showcase of the Immortals” in April, she and Sasha Banks became the first Black women to headline WrestleMania, winning an ESPY for Best WWE Moment of 2021. During her rise to the top, Belair has been featured in various WWE brand partner commercials and ads, including starring alongside The Street Profits for Snickers, the presenting partner of WrestleMania, as well as spots for DoorDash, C4 Energy and Cricket Wireless.

“Nothing can top main eventing WrestleMania with Sasha Banks and walking out as SmackDown Women’s Champion, and then winning an ESPY off of that match,” Belair says. “That’s really been the top moment. All of the other moments led up to that moment and everything else has led off of that moment and now we’re back here at WrestleMania where I can have another huge moment and make history again, so I’m excited.”

Belair has been waiting since SummerSlam in August for a shot at redemption at Lynch, who capped her triumphant return to WWE after welcoming her first child by defeating the title holder in 26 seconds. Lynch told Belair she had to go to the back of the line before getting another opportunity, but Belair was ready and eventually went on to win the Elimination Chamber match and another chance to get her hands on Lynch—and her hair.

“I worked my way back to the top and here we are now,” she says. “She’s been pulling every trick out of the book ever since to try to get to me mentally and physically—literally tried to break my throat to take me out of WrestleMania to cutting my hair. To go through that whole journey and have to scratch and claw to keep myself in the game has been tough. Now we’re finally here and past all of the antics. Now I’m just here to get my redemption against her Saturday night.”

Nearly two years to the day since her main roster call up, Belair has another opportunity to further her legacy in WWE as one of the all-time bEST.

“It might take 26 seconds. It might take 26 minutes,” she says. “It doesn’t matter how long it takes, it’s going to end with the same result: that’s Bianca Belair walking out of night one of WrestleMania 38 as Raw Women’s Champion.”

WWE NIL Tryouts

In conjunction with WrestleMania, WWE is hosting 45 current and former collegiate athletes as part of an invite-only tryout in the hopes of earning a coveted spot as part of the company’s second NIL class.

In December, WWE unveiled its Next In Line program to help further provide the resources and opportunities to develop the next generation of superstars, following the NCAA’s new policy adopted on July 1, 2021 that allows collegiate athletes to monetize their name, likeness and image (NIL). The inaugural class features 15 collegiate athletes headlined by two-time NCAA champion and 2020 Olympic gold medalist wrestler Gable Steveson.

Belair, a former collegiate track and field star, is fond of WWE’s NIL program because it offers a “clear pathway into WWE.”

“I could only imagine what it could have done for me if I could have used that program coming out of college,” she says. “… I’m just really excited for this program and the amount of talent that it’s going to bring. It’s amazing, and I think it’s really cool what’s happening.”

Belair Honors Triple H

WWE legend Triple H announced his retirement from in-ring performing last week on ESPN First Take, telling Stephen A. Smith that he was equipped with a defibrillator in his chest following a scary bout with viral pneumonia that resulted in heart failure in September.

Triple H, a 14-time world champion who made his WWE debut in 1995, was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2019. An executive vice-president of global talent strategy & development, the WWE legend, whose real name is Paul Levesque, has been integral in the development and support of many WWE superstars, including Belair, who posted a heartfelt message on Twitter following the announcement.

“Triple H was such a huge part of the development of Bianca Belair,” she says. “He was the person in NXT—the very first person—that believed in me and put me on the stage and gave me exposure to the bigger audience. … He’s been there for every step of the way. I just couldn’t have done it without him. I just really appreciate everything he’s done. The contributions that he’s given to WWE inside the ring, but more so for me, I think the most impactful contributions that he’s given are the ones he’s given outside the ring and that’s why you’re seeing so much outpouring of love for him on social media.

“I know this is the end for him inside the ring, but it’s definitely a brand new start for him in other areas of his life and I’m excited for that.”

NOTE: First appeared on Forbes SportsMoney

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