She came to WWE at a time when female wrestlers were mostly considered divas but Paige broke the stereotype, fighting perceptions and drawing home a larger point: that women can wrestle too. Paige, real name Saraya-Jade Bevis, has emerged as one of the biggest female wrestlers in WWE but she says initially she did not realise how “male dominated” the sport was.
“But the WWE never held the women back. It was actually more of the fans not taking them very seriously. They wanted to see more male characters, many years ago. That’s what they wanted. It was a male dominated sport,” Paige told PTI.
The 26-year-old says things were dramatically different when she was in FCW (Florida Championship Wrestling). “There were only five women there and 70 men. There was a lot of struggle but WWE believed in us so much.” Paige is considered a key figure in bringing ‘women’s revolution’ in the ring, aided by her NXT Women’s Championship in 2013 which gave a platform to several other female wrestlers to show their talent.
“When I got into the ring with the them, I wanted to prove myself and prove to the WWE, the fans and the male wrestlers that the girls can have really good matches and sometimes even better,” she says. “It was my kind of my mission from the get go to start doing that... A lot of the girls started to come out of their comfort zone and more female wrestlers were getting signed too. Now of course there’s a revolution which is incredible,” she adds.
Paige now has her life chronicled on the big screen in “Fighting With My Family”, a rousing comedy about dreams and identity directed by Stephan Merchat, co-writer and co-helmer of the popular British sitcom “The Office”. The film shows how Paige, who was born into a tight-knit wrestling family, is ecstatic when she and her brother Zak get an opportunity to try out for WWE but only Paige earns a spot in the competitive training programme and she must now leave her family and face the new, cut-throat world alone.
Paige says growing up in a family of wrestlers was “normal” for her but often people around her were left amused. “Zak and I have been surrounded by wrestlers our entire life. Everyone else thought it was a peculiar thing, it was kind of weird. But we didn’t care. We loved wrestling and didn’t care what people thought. That’s also what the movie talks about: we didn’t care about people’s opinions,” she says.
The film features actor Florence Pugh as Paige and has been produced by Dwayne Johnson, aka The Rock, who also features in a special appearance. Johnson is by far the most popular WWE superstar, who branched out of professional wrestling and became a global name thanks to his blockbuster movies.
For Paige, there’s a lot to learn from Johnson’s journey, who, she says, “branded himself so correctly” with his motto of “staying humble and hungry.” “Wrestling doesn’t last forever. Bodies of wrestlers are not capable to wrestle forever. So you do think ‘what am I going to do next after this.’ He was so smart, he built a brand.
“People got to know a different part of him apart from the wrestling. His journey is so inspirational. Like how he came to America with seven bucks in his pocket and now he’s the biggest star in the world. I learnt from him that you’ve to be true to yourself and you can achieve anything.” “Fighting With My Family” releases in the US on February 14 and will open in Indian market in early March.