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.
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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.
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