Interview with WWE’s Paige “Don’t Blame Sasha, It Was Never Her Fault”

She was the first NXT Women’s Champion, a multiple time Divas Champion, she’s the current SmackDown Live general manager, a thirteen year veteran of the Wrestling/Sports Entertainment scene and just over a month ago, she turned 26. Ahead of the release next year of the movie about the story of her journey from Norwich to WWE, Wrestling with my Family, directed by The Office‘s Stephen Merchant and produced by Dwayne Johnson, and with season 9 of her reality TV series, Total Divas on E! Network currently, we had a chance to sit down with Paige:

What impact has the Women’s Revolution had and what should young people take from it?

I just think the message is that women of all shapes and sizes can do it, the WWE has taken this revolution very seriously and I think we’re going to show young girls that they shouldn’t give up on their dreams because when I was younger, every time I stepped in the ring I wanted to change the perception men had of women in sports entertainment and that’s happened, women could main event WrestleMania, women have main-evented in UFC, the movement in all sports has been incredible to see.

Does your current work fill the void of being out of the ring?

I’m so proud of all the work I do and looking forward to everyone seeing the film but right now, I am committed to being the best GM I can and it’s different because I’m not getting in the ring but I’m doing 4 or 5 promos a night sometimes and I’m mixing it up with the men and the women and I love getting to work with Samoa Joe, Daniel Bryan, R-Truth, Miz. It’s different because I’m not having to think about matches in the same way but I’m still there all the time which I love and it’s fun, it’s pushing me massively outside my comfort zone but I’m loving every single minute of it but…

At this point, the interview was interrupted by the cleaning staff entering Paige’s hotel room.

Sorry, we live out of hotel rooms basically and this kind of thing tends to happen. Anyway, I have all this but also I’m back for this season of Total Divas which after missing last season I’m so excited to be back on it and I think people are going to see a different side of me this season. I do a lot more adulting than people are possibly used to (laughs).

What was it like after her last match/realising she might never wrestle again?

The first thing I want to say is it wasn’t Sasha’s fault, I heard that so much afterwards and she was getting so much backlash and crowds chanting ‘Sasha sucks’ but she doesn’t deserve it, it wasn’t her fault. It was a dropkick to the back, a move I’d taken before but I was being stubborn, I was only just back in and my neck hadn’t really fully recovered but I called for it, I told Sasha to do it and she did but unfortunately my neck snapped back, it felt like a car crash with the whiplash and I couldn’t feel my arms, I’m grabbing for her (Sasha’s) legs and she’s calling for them to finish the match but I said ‘no, no, I can finish this, I can stand up’. So I stand up but then I fall back down again and I’m so terrified that I’m paralysed and I look around see everyone’s crying, Bayley’s in the corner sobbing and Sasha is worst of all, I couldn’t even cry I was in shock, I knew then ‘my career’s done’.

All I wanted was to get feeling back and walk out. I didn’t want to go out on a stretcher, that was all and I walked out and the crowd cheered me which was so sweet and there backstage were the trainers and Jamie Noble and they checked my reflexes and all through this Sasha was with me and checking on me and I kept telling her, it isn’t her fault. The next day, I got flown out to see the Doctor and he tells me ‘well you could have another surgery but either way, you can’t wrestle again. You do it again, you might be paralysed’. I felt I already knew this, I’d seen how the same thing happened to Edge and back to work and I didn’t want to tell anyone except Sasha who I told first and she cried and I cried and she would constantly check in with me. She’s been the best and I’m moving on and I’m back to work.

One disappointment of when your in-ring career ended was we never got to see you interact with Ronda Rousey. How do you feel Ronda’s been doing?

She’s been doing fantastic, I’m an honest person, I will tell someone if they’re great or crap but she’s been so good, she’s put in the work, she’s great backstage, so nice, so humble but even more than that, she’s taken to wrestling like a fish to water and she’s just getting better, I think she’s going to make even more of an impact here than she did in the UFC, just you wait and see?

Did your family give you any advice?

Not really, I mean, I grew up in the business so I knew kind of what to expect but then moving to America and dealing with that culture clash, I had to work out that stuff for myself but my family have always had my back, especially my Dad but they know to let me try and do it for myself and succeed, they’re just there if I need me. The person who did give me some great advice is Dwayne (‘The Rock’ Johnson) who just told me to always say ‘humble and hungry’and I think those are words anyone can live by. Just always working hungry, always trying your hardest but never letting that success get to you just remembering, there’s always someone who’s where you were.

What was it like working with The Rock on your film?

So I got told about the movie, the day I debuted on RAW, I got a message and it said ‘Hey it’s DJ, call me’ and I was like ‘DJ’? It took me forever to realise, ‘oh, Dwayne Johnson, dummy’ so I heard he wanted to talk to me and it was important and here I was, this NXT girl and The Rock wanted to talk to me, I had no idea what it was about and he said ‘hey so you’re going to debut on RAW tomorrow’ and I was shocked enough by this then he told me ‘yeah and you’re going to win the championship’ and I started crying and I asked him ‘why are you telling me this?’ and he said “well , I just wanted to be the one to tell you so I could see your face and I can see from it, you deserve this”. He told me that he’d been in England filming Fast & Furious 6 and he caught the documentary on my family and thought “that girl’s family is just like mine. They just love the wrestling business”. So he just wanted to be the one to tell me my whole life was about to change and he wanted to tell me to make it special.

I was completely overwhelmed and then he tells me he loved the documentary so much he wants to make it into a movie and that is almost too much I’m just thinking ‘what the f*ck is going on here?’ So he gives me all this great advice like ‘stay humble and hungry’ then tells me it’s just going to be a smaller independent picture but not to tell anyone and I thank him and walk away, an emotional mess. Then a few months pass and I see it’s actually going to be this big blockbuster film with a proper release and it’s just so incredible to see.

How much input did you have on the film?

I didn’t directly get involved in it but the writer has been texting me and asking about it and when I was in Florida, rehabbing injuries, they were there filming some pieces for the film and I got to see that. Over the time, as well as the writer and director, Dwayne was texting me, every, single, day. He would come to the Performance Centre and WrestleMania and was there all the time just seeing how I reacted and how I felt and he managed to bring it all to life and so accurately, it’s insane. He’s so good at what he was.

With the NXT UK Women’s division just starting up, are there any women you feel should be included?

Yeah, my mum (laughs). I just think she is a genuine legend and so great but I just want anyone and everyone to get a chance and with the WWE branching out so much, it’s great to see how many people are getting that chance to shine now but I know how hard it is for someone to come from the UK and try and make it in the US so if they can build UK stars in the UK, that’s great.

With your run as GM, you really have shown you are fair and willing to give deserving people shots. This could also be said of 205 Live’s Drake Maverick and NXT’s William Regal. Why do Brits make the best GMs?

I don’t know, maybe it’s the accents. I love that we’re taking over, there’s Johnny Saint with NXT UK, I don’t know, we just don’t take any sh*t. It’s so cool to see, obviously, Regal’s been a big part of my career but especially with Drake, I’ve been at shows with him since I was 12 and now he’s a manager (of Authors of Pain) on RAW now too and it’s great to see him getting these opportunities too.

Do you think you’ll return to acting yourself and what was it like working with the Miz (On 2015’s Santa’s Little Helper)?

I love acting so much and it’s something I wanted to do more of in the future. At the moment so much of my time is spent General Managing but down the line, I’d love to get to do some more acting. Working with Mike (‘The Miz’ Mizanin) is great, this was my first live action role, I’d done some voice acting for Scooby Doo and such but Mike made it so easy to do the work and gave me so much support. He’s like Shane McMahon in that way, he was just so supportive and as much as I’d love to act again, I’d doubly love to do it if Mike was involved.

How do you feel Absolution are doing without you leading them and are there any other teams you’d make from your SmackDown Live Women’s division?

First off, I absolutely feel there should be Women’s Tag Team Championships, I really want that to happen. Sonya & Mandy are doing so well together and separate but, it’s just hard, they hadn’t been in NXT that long then they’re brought up and after I had to bow out with my injuries, I don’t think I’d had a chance to help them get established enough before they were sent out on their own. But Mandy’s great, she’s kind of an old-school diva and Sonia, she was killing it in NXT, working with Asuka and Ruby Riott on non-televised shows and she had that great match with Charlotte the other week, I just think they both have so much potential and when the time is right, with so many storylines going on, sometimes people have to wait for their turn but when they get their shot, it’ll be amazing. I can’t think of any teams that aren’t already together, there’s Absolution, well, there was Charlotte and Becky not really anymore though, there are Asuka and Naomi, The IIconics, beyond Carmella, there isn’t really anyone else left to put in a team.

What do you still want to achieve or how do you want to further put your mark on Wrestling?

I feel like I’ve done enough to already put my mark but from here on out, I want to just be as good as I can at whatever I do, be that being the best General Manager I can be as this is still ‘The Paige Era’ but it’s not just me, Renee’s making her mark on commentary, everyone in the ring, we’re all making our mark and making a point about Women in Wrestling and I’m glad to be part of that. Obviously, I’d like to be in the Hall of Fame one day, that, I really want.

Tell us about the next season of Total Divas?

It starts on Wednesday and it covered two months of my lives from SmackDown shows to WrestleMania, obviously me becoming GM of SmackDown and they were there to capture it all and also for my to be around to cause some more trouble (laughs). But no, it’s going to be really fun and I think the fans are going to love it, I can’t wait for it to be out. In England, it comes out on the 23rd, so that’s Sunday and it should be good. I was very open about everything, my neck issues and drug problems and I just wanted to get it all out in the open because I want people to learn from my mistakes and they’ll get to see my transition from the ring to behind-the-scenes, you’ll get to see the real Saraya more than you will Paige and I’m interested to see how people react to that.

Was it emotional watching that back for the first time?

It was because there’s this series of documentaries on the Network now, Chronicle, and I was in one of the first ones and it showed me the first day I come back and everyone starts crying and I’m wrestling every single week and it shows my match with Sasha and me breaking my neck and the Doctor’s appointment through to now when I’m a General Manager and I’m happy again. But watching things like this, it’s beautiful how they’ve done it but it does remind me that I can’t wrestle anymore but it makes me want to get back in there and seeing all the other women on Total Divas still doing it but I’ve gone down a road where I can’t.

Edge, actually was one of the first people to say to me to make peace with it, he told me “it’s hard but once you do it, you’ll have a whole weight lifted off your shoulders, you’ll feel so much better”. He was right. It was but it’s so much easier once you say goodbye. I do feel in a good place but it can still get me down. It was the fans that got me out of my rut though. I was at rock bottom for a year and a half but the fans were there saying “you’re so much stronger than this, you can make a comeback” and that helped me get out of it and it inspired me, it motivated me not to give up and more so than I’ve ever been, it reminded me that my neck getting injured wasn’t the end, it was just the beginning of a different chapter and it reminded me never to give up.

You can watch how your favourite WWE female Superstars juggle their hectic lives every Sunday at 6pm on E! for Season 8 of Total Divas!