Thanks to an athletic career that began at the age of 5, Bianca Belair is stellar in the larger-than-life world of WWE.
w at the age of 31, Belair (real name, Bianca Crawford) has beaten her ticket to a championship game at WrestleMania 37 by winning the Women's Royal Rumble after the # 3 tie and setting a record by scoring more than The top competition lasted 56 minutes.
Muscle & Fitness caught up with WWE's "EST" to find out how life in the ring compares to other sports fields, how Belair feels about her more experienced opponent "The Boss" Sasha Banks and how she managed to lift Otis over her shoulder on live TV.
With Belair's athletic life starting at such a tender age, the Knoxville, TN powerhouse was always destined to be highly competitive. "I've played almost every sport in the book," she says. In fact, she excelled at falls and athletics, and often competed against girls much older than her. Belair set high school records in both the 100 and 300 meter hurdles and won the Tennessee State Championship in her senior year.
CROSSING OVER TO CROSSFIT
Unsurprisingly, Belair became a sought-after recruit and received a full scholarship for her athletic ability. But a mixture of youth and homesickness threatened to impair their athletic potential. Belair's passion for being the best was cemented when she fell in love with CrossFit. Here she found her "Eye of the Tiger", which served as the forerunner of the confident Bianca Belair, who now dominates the limelight like in WWE.
"I really loved powerlifting and all of the skills needed to do CrossFit," says Belair. “A lot of what we do in WWE is difficult and requires athleticism. But I was able to grasp things very quickly and physically only because of my athletic background. "However, as other elite athletes entering the formidable WWE Universe have found, sports entertainment is harder to master than it looks." I didn't really watch wrestling growing up, "Belair says." So I had to play catch-up. I learned and researched something about the history of WWE. There is so much in WWE that is not just physical. It's an art. I threw myself completely into it. "
Belair's pedigree as an All America athlete gave her all the tools to succeed, but there was no way to prepare for the rigors of a 20-by-20-foot pro-wrestling ring. "I remember my first WWE test learning how to run ropes," she says. "After that, my back was black and blue and I couldn't figure out where that came from. It's the little things, like the ropes, that learn how to hit them properly so you don't hurt yourself, and how to make things safe . You may still get hurt, but there is a difference between hurt and hurt. "
Fortunately, Belair learned quickly. "I've been an athlete my whole life, so I'm very trainable and open to criticism," she says.
Wrestling with a new career path
Bianca signed her first development contract with WWE in 2016 and performed at NXT live events just a few months later. During her run with the black and yellow brand, she had an unbeaten streak that lasted an incredible 367 days. After her WrestleMania appearance last year, she was immediately taken to Monday Night RAW, but after being moved to SmackDown last October, she really got her own.
Bianca's first Royal Rumble appearance (as part of NXT in 2020) had brilliant flashes of lightning, and the experience has definitely paid off. She won the match the following year, becoming the first African American woman to do so. "I live by the motto 'you stay ready so you never have to get ready," "she says. "When you go into something like a Royal Rumble match, it's exhausting and it takes perseverance. I love driving tracks and I lift very hard. It was amazing to get to the end of being the last woman and point to the WrestleMania sign! "
For Bianca, WrestleMania will be a chance to put her money where her mouth is and ultimately back up her claim of being the "strongest, fastest, toughest" superstar on the roster. But to do that she has to dethrone one of the greatest of all time in Sasha Banks. It's undoubtedly a battle in which two of the company's biggest stars will face each other.
Fittingly, WWE recently announced the welcome return of fans to the two-day extravaganza taking place April 10th and 11th at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa (and broadcast live on Peacock). "It's going to be magical," says Belair. "It's going to be like a family reunion. It will be the first time an African-American woman competes in a world title match at WrestleMania. So it's going to be a historic night."
The scale of the challenge is not lost to Bianca, who has great respect for the women who helped develop the exciting division that exists today. "Sasha is the SmackDown Women's Winner and she paved the way," says Belair. "I'm the new kid on the block. She wants to keep her mastery and I want to take it away from her." Some observers may say that Belair is not ready to take the title yet, but it would be unwise to underestimate anyone who once deadlifted 415 pounds at the WWE Performance Center and got a firefighter carry for every 320 pounds of Otis.
Speaking of amazing exploits that were tougher? "Ha! I'd say the deadlift was harder," she says. "Just because wearing Otis on live TV got me so adrenaline. I call myself EST or WWE and go around saying I'm the strongest So I had to show that it was me. I didn't mean to fail, so the adrenaline made Otis feel a lot easier at that moment! "
doubt the adrenaline will fade from the charts when Bianca Belair steps through the curtain and faces "The Boss". "When you're in WWE, you live to get into WrestleMania," says Belair. "It's the wrestling Super Bowl."