It may seem like a small, or meaningless, gesture, but in WWE, a finger point can mean so much more.
For Bianca Belair, getting to point at the WrestleMania sign last January was as big of a moment as she had in her WWE career thus far. Somehow, despite the significance of winning the Royal Rumble, both professionally and historically, Belair says her mom was worried she might forget to do it.
“When I won the Royal Rumble, all of that confidence, the super hard exterior [my character exudes] came tumbling down,” Belair told Yahoo Sports. “I became super vulnerable in that moment, crying tears of joy and happiness. There’s a video of my mom watching me at the Royal Rumble and she’s screaming at me ‘Point to the sign! Point to the sign!’”
By outlasting 29 other women, Belair’s win guaranteed her a championship match at WrestleMania 37 — WWE’s biggest event of the year — and sparked the most high-profile feud the 31-year-old former NCAA track and field standout has had since becoming a professional wrestler.
If winning the Royal Rumble was a “whirlwind” of emotion, the weeks that followed were pure bliss.
“The best way to describe the few weeks after winning the Royal Rumble, I’m a grown woman, but I felt like a little kid. I was full of joy and happiness,” Belair said. “I’m super excited. Your dream in WWE is to go to WrestleMania, the biggest event of the year.”
'It just wasn't my time and that's OK'
Belair has been on a slow, steady rise for some time now. Despite having no prior professional wrestling experience, her character, the “EST of WWE,” quickly became one of the most popular with fans during her time with NXT, WWE’s Florida-based brand.
During her time with NXT, Belair flirted with making the jump to the next level of WWE stardom on several occasions. Despite never winning a televised match at a TakeOver event, Belair never wavered in her character or vision for her career in WWE.
“I never thought about switching anything because the crowd always welcomed me,” Belair said. “It’s not about wins and losses all of the time, because every time I went to a TakeOver match, everyone thought I was going to win. It was all about keeping my name relevant and staying in the conversation. It was more about moments. I want to be in every big moment. I want my reputation to be that I deliver in the biggest moment.”
Eventually, her dedication paid off as she made her Royal Rumble debut in 2020, eliminating eight other women and making a name for herself, despite not winning the match. Belair would make a cameo appearance at WrestleMania 36 three months later and officially debut on Raw the following night.
Throughout the rest of the year, Belair would perform sporadically on WWE programming, but even as her career somewhat stalled, Belair again stayed the course.
“I try to keep my perspective in check,” Belair said. “You really have to focus on the things that you can control. Just because you aren’t getting momentum doesn’t mean you are doing something wrong either. When it’s your time, it’s your time. I think it’s very important to clap for people when it’s their time because you want them to do the same for you. I don’t think I was doing anything wrong before, it just wasn’t my time and that’s OK because you know it’s eventually going to come.”
Belair’s time would appear to come again in October, as she was moved to Smackdown and would soon find herself in a program with Bayley, one of the biggest names in WWE.
Belair’s feud with Bayley went a long way in getting her over with the crowd as a top babyface on Smackdown. As Belair continued to build momentum, it became clear that she was being set up to carry on the legacy of the women of NXT, stars like Bayley, Charlotte, Becky Lynch and others who helped transform women’s wrestling in WWE and remain among the most beloved performers in the company.
“I think the one thing that is great about our locker room is that while we are competitors, we empower each other and all want to see each other do amazing things,” Belair said. “When I came to Smackdown, one of my very first feuds was with Bayley and she’s amazing and is someone who is so easy to feed off of and she pulls the best out of you. I always say that Bayley comes to the table to eat, but she pulls a chair up beside her so you can eat too. That’s what is amazing about the women in our locker room.
“To know that these women have come from NXT and the Performance Center, the Four Horsewomen and others. I talk about Alexa Bliss a lot because she had the same path as me, she didn’t have a wrestling background and was a homegrown talent from NXT. Seeing these women come from NXT and be successful on Raw and Smackdown and on these grand stages, for me, it sets an example. If they can do it, I can do it. It motivates me.”
A historic match worthy of WrestleMania's top billing
As if she needed more motivation, Belair and her opponent, Smackdown women’s champion Sasha Banks, will create a historic moment as they are the first two women of color to have a championship match at WrestleMania.
“I feel honored and blessed to be the person able to create this history,” Belair said. “The representation gives more purpose to our match. We’re going to be representation for women and representation for women of color. It’s amazing to be in this position alongside Sasha Banks.”
The landmark moment will be Belair’s second of the year, as in January she became just the second Black WWE star to win the Royal Rumble, joining Dwayne “The Rock'' Johnson in that exclusive category.
The match with Banks will also mark the first time Belair — as will be the case with every WWE star performing at WrestleMania — is performing in front of a live crowd in more than a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Working within safety protocols, WWE is allowing 25,000 fans in attendance for each night of WrestleMania 37 and the Belair-Banks showdown could potentially be the main event of the first night.
“What we do in WWE is all about putting smiles on people’s faces,” Belair said. “Missing our fans physically, there’s nothing like physically seeing their faces and making them feel an emotion. I don’t think it’s said enough, but those fans actually put smiles on our faces and give us purpose. It’s going to be amazing to have them back. Everyone is just so eager to get back to their normal activities and I think we’re jumpstarting that with WrestleMania. It’s going to feel like a family reunion.”
Unlike the night of her Royal Rumble, however, where the emotions were flowing fast and furious, only one overcomes Belair as she prepares for WrestleMania.
“I’ve been grinding and working hard, it’s my time right now and I am just grateful for it.
When all is said and done though, undoubtedly she's hoping there will be a championship belt to actually grasp, not just a sign to point at.
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