Bianca Belair – the ‘EST of WWE’ – never imagined being a WWE superstar

Bianca Belair raises her championship belt before the start of the match against Sonya Deville during WWE "Raw" in Knoxville, Tenn. on Monday, April 25, 2022.
Saul Young/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

Ahead of the 2022 Kentucky Derby, On Her Turf caught up with Bianca Belair, who will be attending this year’s ‘Run for the Roses’ at Churchill Downs. The WWE superstar — who is known for making her own ring gear — is fresh off winning her second RAW women’s title. You can watch Belair in action every Monday night on RAW on USA network. 

This Q&A has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity. 

On Her Turf (OHT): How are you doing today?

Bianca Belair: I’m good. Just over here making my Derby hat.

OHT: Will Saturday be your first Kentucky Derby?

Belair: Yes, this will be my first Kentucky Derby. It has always been on the bucket list. My mom loves horses and she’s always wanted to go to the Kentucky Derby. It’s her 60th birthday on May 8, so I actually bought her tickets that I surprised her with so it’s like a bonus. I’m checking it off of my bucket list and I also get to celebrate with my husband (fellow WWE superstar Montez Ford) and my mom on her birthday.

OHT: I know you’re making your own — what’s the right term? Outfit? Costume? — but are you also helping your husband and mom get dressed up for the Derby too?

Belair: My mom’s actually out looking for a dress for herself. But my husband, we always coordinate our outfits on a daily basis so this is right in our ballpark. I’m helping him get his hat together, making his suit, and altering it. So I’m kind of just hands-on with everyone at this moment.

OHT: Can you give us a preview of what your Kentucky Derby hat is going to look like?

Belair: I’m very indecisive so I’m working on three hats… Roses and pearls is the theme at the moment… if I stick with that. Trying to go with a little southern twist.

MORE KENTUCKY DERBY COVERAGE: Tami Bobo ready for second shot at Kentucky Derby with Simplification

OHT: Transitioning to WWE… I know you competed in track and then CrossFit before. I’m curious: What was the biggest surprise for you when you made the switch to WWE?

Belair: For me, the biggest transition was just starting from scratch. I played almost every sport in the book since the age of five: I started in gymnastics and tumbling and then went into track and field, and did cheerleading, basketball, and soccer. And then I ran collegiate track and field; I was a hurdler at the University of Tennessee. I was an all-American hurdler, all-SEC hurdler.

With every sport that I’ve done — even CrossFit and powerlifting — I’ve been able to pull something from each sport (I did before). But with WWE, I walked in not really knowing anything. I didn’t really grow up watching wrestling. I watched when my brother watched it. I never imagined myself being a WWE superstar. So it was really starting from scratch. The athletic and physical part of it came to me very easily and quickly, but it was the performing part of WWE (that was more challenging).

You know, it’s sports entertainment, so you get the best of both worlds. It’s like watching your favorite action-packed, superhero soap opera mixed with an NFL football game. So, for me the most challenging part was just the performance part and learning how to — not just compete — but perform at the same time.

OHT: Even though it’s a performance, it’s obviously still super physical. What does WWE training look like for you?

Belair: It’s very, very demanding physically, probably more demanding than almost any sport that I did. I’m in the gym usually Tuesday through Friday doing cardio training, CrossFit-type of training. And then Saturday through Tuesday is when I’m traveling and having wrestling matches inside the ring. But on those traveling days, I’m still in the gym at eight o’clock in the morning. Then I’m at the show, having a wrestling match at eight o’clock at night, and then I’m driving to the next show until about 2am. And then I’m doing it all over again the next day. So it’s a grind, not just mentally, but physically as well.

Bianca Belair lifts Sonya Deville onto her shoulder before performing her signature move, the K.O.D., during a WWE RAW match in Knoxville, Tenn. on Monday, April 25, 2022. (Photo: Saul Young/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK) 

OHT: I know there’s been an evolution of the way women are portrayed in WWE. What do you hope that people – and especially young people – see when they watch you perform?

Belair: I’m in WWE at an amazing time. Women are really at the forefront and women are the future of WWE. I was able to be a part of WrestleMania 37 where I wrestled our main event with Sasha Banks. We were the first two Black females to ever (be the) main event at WrestleMania.

Women are main-eventing on a weekly basis in WWE… It’s really cool for little girls to see that, but also — I can’t stress this fact (enough) — that it’s even more important for a little boys to see women in that light as well.

So I’m just looking forward to being a part of this legacy that WWE is creating with women, and just being a representation for women and little girls that you can do whatever it is that you want to do, even if it is in a male-dominated space.

OHT: In a lot of women’s sports that I cover, something I often see is while women are able to compete on the big stage, the space and people around them — the coaches, the administrators — are almost all men. I’m curious what the environment around you looks like?

Belair: Yeah, it’s definitely changing. When I first got into WWE, Sara Amato was my coach. She taught me everything that I know and she was such a part of my success. We just recently got Molly Holly, who is a WWE Hall of Famer, and she’s one of the producers now. (There’s also) Stephanie McMahon, who I look up to. She’s just a great example that women do not have to be in a box. You know, she’s a mom, she’s a wife, she’s a boss. And she’s really just a great example for all the women inside the locker room to show what our possibilities are. Our roster is so stacked with a diverse group of women that represent what it means to be a woman in their own personal way.

OHT: You recently won your second RAW women’s title. What do your goals look like moving forward?

Belair: You know, I’ve had a lot of success very quickly in WWE and I’m very grateful for that. I’m the RAW women’s champion, I just defeated Becky Lynch at WrestleMania 38. Right now, I feel like at the forefront of a new generation of women’s wrestling. You have the four horsewomen who came before me: Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks and Bayley, who really paved the way and broke barriers for women. They don’t have to go anywhere, just make some room for me. I’ve already defeated three out of the four horsewomen and the only one I haven’t defeated is Charlotte Flair. So I would love to go up against Charlotte Flair and try to conquer her. So that’s really my goal for the future.

And I’m all about just being the absolute best version of myself and showing up authentically me, unapologetically me, and just being representation for women, for women of color. I call myself the “EST of WWE,” which means I’m the strongest the fastest, the roughest, the toughest, the quickest, the greatest, the best.

And, outside the ring, eventually I want to write a book and be in some movies.

OHT: I love it. Thanks so much for taking the time today and enjoy your first Kentucky Derby on Saturday!

Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC

Justine Wong-Orantes’ atypical path to becoming one of the best liberos in the world

Justine Wong-Orantes hits the ball in the women's semi-final volleyball match between USA and Serbia during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Getty Images

It’s been 20 years since the same nation held both the Olympic and world volleyball titles at the same time, but libero Justine Wong-Orantes is looking to help lead Team USA accomplish that very feat at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championships in the Netherlands and Poland. Competition began on Friday and the U.S. is currently 2-0 after group play wins against Kazakhstan and Canada.

“We’re trying to win, for sure,” Wong-Orantes told On Her Turf. “I think, especially with the new turn of the program and the new year of the quad, we just have a really nice blend of veterans and also newcomers on the team.”

The 14-woman roster for Team USA, which is ranked No. 1 in the world and won its first Olympic title last summer, features six players from that gold-medal-winning team. And while Wong-Orantes is among the 2021 U.S. Olympic team veterans, she’s still a relative newcomer to international play.

The Southern California native enjoyed a notable junior career – she was 12 when she became the youngest female to ever earn an AAA rating in beach volleyball – and was a standout collegian at Nebraska, where she was a member of the 2015 NCAA championship team. But Wong-Orantes followed a different path upon graduation, initially choosing not to go overseas to play professionally.

While she was first selected for the U.S. national team in 2016 and played a handful of international tournaments in the following years, it wasn’t until she started playing professionally in Germany in 2019 that she saw the potential to elevate her position on the roster. In particular, the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics gave her an additional year of overseas experience, which she calls “a blessing in disguise.”

“I just felt like I was still in that developmental stage,” she said. “And a whole year postponement allowed me to go overseas and really get all the touches, all the repetitions, and just kind of expose myself to international volleyball another year. So I was, in hindsight, pretty thankful for that COVID season because I got an extra year under my belt, and I think that just gave me a ton of confidence.”

Ahead of the Olympics, Wong-Orantes earned “best libero” honors at the 2021 FIVB Volleyball National League in Rimini, Italy, which helped secure her spot on the Olympic roster. In Tokyo, she followed up with another standout performance and was named best libero of the Olympic tournament.

As to how the Wong-Orantes transformed into one of the world’s top liberos, she points to her background as a beach volleyball player. She began competing at age 8, and her first partner was Sara Hughes, a star on the AVP Pro Tour who also won two NCAA titles with USC.

“I think having that background and just the court awareness that beach volleyball forces you to have allowed me to really have a good read on the game,” said Wong-Orantes. “I think that’s what makes a great libero is just reading and always being reactive towards the ball.”

Wong-Orantes also credits the assistance of mental coach Sue Enquist, a former UCLA softball coach and U.S. national team coach, who now helps teams work on their culture and relationships. Enquist began working with the U.S. volleyball team during the pandemic and has continued in her role ever since.

“We just worked on a lot of stuff within ourselves, within our program, how to communicate with each other off the court, and I think that honestly propelled us into such a high, high level with how we worked with each other, and then that transferred onto the court,” explained Wong-Orantes, who noted the team has Enquist on speed dial while at the World Championship. “I really commend Sue. I just really give a lot of praise to her because I think our culture was never bad, but I think [she] just transformed into a different level.”

2022-09-26 - FIVB Volleyball Womens World Championship 2022 - Day 4
ARNHEM, NETHERLANDS – Justine Wong-Orantes (far right) poses for a photo with her U.S. teammates after defeating Canada at the 2022 FIVB Volleyball Women’s World Championship on September 26, 2022. (Photo by Rene Nijhuis/Orange Pictures/BSR Agency/Getty Images)

Wong-Orantes said she and her U.S. teammates are on their toes for the world championships, which features twice as many teams (24) as the Olympics and a “more grueling” format.

“It’s going to be a long tournament, and I think we’re really going to need all 14 of us that are here. I’m pretty certain that, at any given moment, someone’s going to be called on and someone’s going to need to step up in big moments.”

2022 Ascendant LPGA: How to watch, who’s playing in Texas’s annual signature event

Atthaya Thitikul of Thailand hits her second shot on the 16th hole during the final round of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.
Getty Images

The LPGA make its annual stop in The Colony, Texas, this week for the 10th edition of the Ascendant LPGA benefiting Volunteers of America, where Thailand’s 19-year-old rookie Atthaya Thitikul comes in hot off her second career win and second playoff victory this season at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.

Leading the 132-player field at Old American Golf Club, located at Golf Clubs at The Tribute, are Texas residents and past champions Cheyenne Knight and Angela Stanford. They’ll compete for the $1.7 million prize purse alongside major champions Nelly KordaLydia Ko and Brooke Henderson. Last year’s Ascendant LPGA champion, world No. 1 Jin Young Ko, will not be defending her title after announcing earlier this month she would be missing several weeks due to a nagging wrist injury.

This past weekend in Arkansas, Thitikul took the lead with a 10-under 61 in the second round and shot 68 in the final round to finish regulation tied with Danielle Kang at 17-under 196. Thitikul, who won the JTBC Classic in March in a two-hole playoff vs. Nanna Koerstz Madsen, drained an 8-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole to secure the win over Kang.

How to watch the 2022 Ascendant LPGA 

Coverage of the 2022 Ascendant LPGA from Old American Golf Club in The Colony, Texas, can be found on Golf Channel, with streaming options available any time on any mobile device and online through and the NBC Sports app.

  • Thursday, Sept. 29: 12:30-3:30 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Friday, Sept. 30: 12:30-3:30 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Saturday, Oct. 1: 1-4 p.m. ET, Golf Channel
  • Sunday, Oct. 2: 1-4 p.m. ET, Golf Channel

Who’s playing in the 2022 Ascendant LPGA

Six of the top 10 players in the Rolex World Rankings are among the field in Texas, including:

  • No. 2 Nelly Korda
  • No. 4 Lydia Ko
  • No. 5 Atthaya Thitikul
  • No. 6 Brooke Henderson
  • No. 7 Lexi Thompson
  • No. 10 Nasa Hataoka

A number of local Texans also are in the tournament, headlined by past champions, Angela Stanford (2020) and Cheyenne Knight (2019), and two junior champions of the Volunteers of America Classic Girls Championship, who are playing on a sponsor exemption: Yunxuan (Michelle) Zhang (2022), a freshman at SMU, and Avery Zweig (2021), a high school sophomore from McKinney, Texas.

Past five champions of The Ascendant LPGA

2021 Jin Young Ko (South Korea) 16-under 268 1 stroke Matilda Castren
2020 Angela Stanford (USA) 7-under 277 2 strokes So Yeon Ryu, Inbee Park, Yealimi Noh
2019 Cheyenne Knight (USA) 18-under 266 2 strokes Brittany Altomare, Jaye Marie Green
2018 Sung Hyun Park (South Korea) 11-under 131 1 stroke Lindy Duncan
2017 Haru Nomura (Japan) 3-under 281 Playoff Christie Kerr

Last time at The Ascendant LPGA

South Korea’s Jin Young Ko carded a final-round 69 to maintain her 54-hole lead at Old American Golf Club and held on for a one stroke win at the 2021 Volunteers of America Classic, her eighth career LPGA tour title. Ko finished regulation at 16-under 268, edging Finland’s Matilda Castren by one stroke.

It kicked off a five-win season for Ko, who had just lost her No. 1 ranking to Nelly Korda the week prior after holding the top spot for 100 straight weeks. She regained the No. 1 ranking back in October 2021, after earning her fourth win in seven starts at the BMW Ladies Championship.

More about Old American Golf Club

Opened in 2010, the Old American Golf Club is one of two clubs at The Tribute, a lakefront resort community on Lewisville Lake in The Colony, Texas. Designed by Tripp Davis and 12-time PGA Tour winner Justin Leonard, Old American plays as a Par 71 and stretches to 6,475 yards on the tournament scorecard.