Zelina Vega: It's Time to Go After the WWE Women's Championship
Zelina Vega talks the talk but also walks the walk on Raw. The WWE superstar has been a shining standout since arriving on NXT, transitioning to SmackDown and then to Monday nights for Raw. Though much of her run so far has been ringside advocating for the likes of Andrade and Angel Garza, the spitfire would get physically involved in spots and sporadically step in the ring for matches.
But this may all change: On Raw last week, the fierce performer made her plans known to Asuka with a slap to the face and her intention to contend for the red brand’s women’s championship. After putting others before herself for so long, it seems Vega is on a new journey. Perhaps one paved in gold.
Given these latest developments and with Hispanic Heritage Month in full swing, we thought it was a perfect time to sit down with Vega who is a renewed threat to watch in the women’s division.
You bring such confidence to everything you do on WWE television. What do you attribute this to?
Zelina Vega: It was legit hunger I had because it took me about seven or eight years to get to WWE. It was the constant tryouts, being turned away and being told it wasn’t the right time yet. It was always something. I’m the type of person who doesn’t have thin skin. I just said, “Okay, how can I make this better? How can I improve myself?”
Then when they paired me with Andrade, it was like lightning struck. It felt like the perfect timing for me because I felt I’ve worked so hard to get here and prove myself. Then he was hungry because he knew the talent he had. He just needed that extra spice or sizzle to him. We are each other’s yin and yang. It just worked out perfectly. I just felt like for me it’s this constant need to prove myself. Even now where people think I’m just a manager and haven’t been wrestling for 11 years. They haven’t seen what I can do. You can see now two different sides to me where it’s the striking side due to [my husband] Aleister [Black]. Then I get the more lucha side due to Andrade. It’s a nice combination in my arsenal.
When you were brought in initially, as you mentioned, it was more in a managerial role. Was there an initial disappointment after you were told you wouldn’t be used regularly as a regular wrestler?
Honestly, no. I saw it as another challenge for me. I had the conversation with Hunter [Triple H] too. He said, “I know you want to wrestle, but I feel this is a great starting point. If you want to get to wrestling still, we’ll absolutely go there. But if you fall in love with this role, let’s go with it. We see great things for you in this role.” I feel looking at people like Paul Heyman or Sherri [Martel], even Melina. They really helped shape who I became eventually. I didn’t come out being a manager. I learned to be that way. It’s funny when people ask me to make the face I do when Andrade gets hurt. I can’t because it’s my genuine reaction. It’s all real. I genuinely get scared for him. I care about him like a brother, so I think it just adds an extra layer of authenticity to my character.
Do you feel there is more fuel to the fire in proving yourself on Raw?
It was the same with NXT where you have to prove yourself to the audience. They have to know you to form an opinion of you. This is why when I first started wrestling I didn’t want to just jump into doing shows. Once the audience knows you, it’s hard to undo that. For me, I wanted to make sure I was ready and have the audience feel the way I wanted them to feel about me. You just have to prove yourself. Raw is a whole different stage as is SmackDown. It can be Raw and SmackDown versus NXT. You don’t know that until you step out and realize the difference in reaction. Then it becomes, “Okay, I have to prove myself to the Raw audience now because this is different.” Now this is another step where I can prove myself again.
When it comes to your overall presentation, there is clearly a lot of time put into what you wear. How much input do you have creatively? I feel every week is a different outfit. Very much like Sherri.
Thank you. I wanted that. When you think of Sherri they say, “When they put her with him, she upped their stock.” I wanted people to think that way with me. I wanted people to think that if someone was going to be put with me, they’d immediately get put on another level. When it comes to my outfits, I have complete creative control. I kind of know the vibe we are going for. I just play with it, especially if it’s for a pay-per-view or something important. I love bringing my life into it.
Vega, I got that last name from Street Fighter because I love him. I got to bring that into my last name. I dressed like him for the Royal Rumble. Then when I wanted to do something more intricate, I did Sombra from Overwatch for SummerSlam. Depending on what I’m going for in the moment and what the story calls for, it decides who I might be bringing into my character that day. Who I’m trying to shed some light on. I always try to be different because I look at the other girls, and nothing I wear looks like anything they wear. I take pride in that because there is something to, “Oh, Zelina looks like this.” Like if Zelina was a doll, what would she look like? Everybody would know exactly what she would look like, and that is important to me.
It's “Hispanic Heritage Month,” and WWE TV is filled with a slew of Latinx performers. There was a time not that long ago where it wasn’t the diversity we’re seeing now, especially for women. What does it mean to you to be part of this change?
It has always been important to me. I’m Puerto Rican from New York. We’re all very proud of who we are. My family, I’m proud of them and feel like I’m representing them. I’m also representing the culture while I’m doing what I’m doing. I want that to reflect well on all of us as Latinos and Latinas. You think of Eddie [Guerrero] and Rey [Mysterio], but I wanted people to initially, especially in NXT, to think of me. That was a huge thing for us.
We really wanted to stand strong with who we were. It’s interesting now because like you said there wasn’t really much when we started. It was really just Rey coming back, Kalisto was coming in. Some of the girls, especially like AJ [Lee] and Bayley. They are Latinas as well. Some people don’t even know that they were and are representing as well. It might not have been in your face, but they were. For me, it was making sure I kept that level of confidence and respect for our culture and bringing that into everything we do.
You parlayed your non-wrestling interests into outside projects like a Twitch channel. WWE’s stance on these ventures has become a hot topic of conversation these days. What is your perspective on the subject?
WWE has always been respectful and encouraging with stuff like that for me. I remember even when I did my cosplay for the Royal Rumble. They thought it was really cool and different. Then Street Fighter tweeted about it. We love working on things like that. We have UpUpDownDown, doing things with Mortal Kombat. They have always been very supportive in that way. I love that I get a chance to do what I do and live my dream, but also I get to live out other dreams like working with Tekken and stuff like that. Never did I think playing Mortal Kombat as a kid that I would be at the Mortal Kombat reveal. It’s definitely a blessing. As much as I’m a fan of them, they’re fans of wrestling and mine. It’s mind-blowing.
When you don't have matches regularly, how do you stay ring ready?
To switch my mindset, I knew eventually [wrestling more] was going to come. I always try to stay ready. Whether it was training at the Performance Center or training with co-workers behind the scenes if there is a ring. It’s fine-tuning what I knew already. Amazing Red is my cousin, so he kind of started this whole thing with me back when I was 18 years old. Working with that and what I learned from Andrade and now learning from Aleister, it’s a cool combination of all those things. It’s something I think the universe is ready for. Seeing a whole different side of me.
We saw you go face-to-face with Asuka, which seems to hint at something cooking up in the future between the two of you. How did it feel to be moving in this direction?
This is a moment I’ve been waiting for since I started. Since I was a kid really. At age four I knew this is what I wanted to do. It was a come full-circle moment and living that moment. You feel almost like a kid again. It’s like you are living that dream for her and making sure she is proud. It also doesn’t take me away from the goal at hand. The goal is to become the women’s champion.
Whether that is on Raw or on pay-per-view, that is the goal regardless. It’s finally time. It feels like it’s time. I’m ready. I’m really meticulous as you said about when and how I do things. This feels like the right time now. Back in 2016, I had a match against Asuka. I lost that match. It was in NXT. Mickie James was the one to ask for a title match after that. Now four years later Mickie was in the match [last week] with Asuka. She lost that match. Now I’m asking for a title match. Someone brought that to my attention. It really is full-circle.
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