Justin Barrasso
Tuesday May 31st, 2016

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Appearances deceive when it comes to Velvet Sky.

The 34-year-old Jamie Szantyr, who has performed as Velvet Sky since 2007, is perhaps the most gorgeous woman in pro wrestling. Yet, despite the allure of her looks, Szantyr’s most compelling feature is her relentless drive.

“I dedicated my youth to my training,” said Szantyr. “I was on the indies for six years before I got the call from TNA. Back then, I would send VHS tapes, which sounds a little archaic now, to promoters in hopes that I’d get a call. I was so determined to get that call. I didn’t care if I had to live at home, or quit a job that wouldn’t give me weekends off, I wouldn’t stop.”

Szantyr is linked romantically to Mark LoMonaco, better known in the business as Bubba Ray Dudley. Both have a knack for catching others off-guard with their many talents, and Szantyr explained that her 6'4", 320-pound boyfriend is actually an extremely talented chef.

“Who would ever thought this big, bad-a-- Bubba Ray Dudley could cook?” asked Szantyr. “But he can cook a mean meal. He is amazing in the kitchen.”

The two started dating during their time together in TNA, and Szantyr admitted that the way into her heart is through her stomach.

“My family loves him, and we have these family dinners where he cooks for everybody,” Szantyr explained. “By the time they come over, the food is cooking and the aroma is in the air.”

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Bubba Ray and Devon Dudley are the most decorated tag team in wrestling history, having won tag titles around the world on 23 separate occasions. The duo recently celebrated their twentieth anniversary together. Szantyr is fully aware that she may never replace Devon, though she is perfectly content in her relationship with LoMonaco.

“I am so grateful to have Mark in my life,” said Szantyr. “We talk about wrestling a lot together and he has an amazing mind for the business, but he is also an incredible person. He’s very supportive of me and so inspiring. He is so motivating and helps me believe in myself.”

After originally enrolling at Eastern Connecticut State University, Szantyr decided to leave school to fully embrace her calling as a professional wrestler. She worked five days a week just to wrestle on the weekends, and after nearly ten years as one of TNA’s most popular wrestlers, she is ready for the next challenge–the WWE.

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“That is why I sacrificed right from the beginning,” explained Szantyr. “That is why I left college, and the reason why I wrestled every weekend. The indie scene is not glitz and glamour, but a chance with the WWE is the reason I did this from the very beginning. I would totally embrace any opportunity with the WWE.”

Given the opportunity, Szantyr would add a different element to NXT. Her fifteen years of experience would allow her to teach the younger talents, as well as learn from some extremely talented individuals.

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“I think I would do well there,” said Szantyr. “The women there are killing it, and empowering and building up the women would be a great role for me. Bayley is so much fun to watch wrestle. She has so much energy and passion, and the people feel her energy and feed off that. She’s so great at expressing herself, and she’s so genuine. Nattie Neidhart is also someone I’d love to work with. I’ve known her for a long time, and she is someone that I look up to and respect. She’s someone I’d love to learn even more from.”

Former TNA stalwarts–like AJ Styles, Austin Aries and NXT champion Samoa Joe were finally given the opportunity to succeed in the WWE, and Szantyr hopes to blaze that same trail for the women.

“I am so proud of the guys like Samoa Joe, AJ Styles, Eric Young, Austin Aries and Bobby Roode,” said Szantyr. “I traveled all over the globe with them in TNA, so to see them excel on the level they’re at now, I’m so happy for them. You’re never fully satisfied or fulfilled in wrestling until you get to the big leagues.

“Nobody gets in this business just to bump. I’ve never stopped learning, so I’m glad I have not worked there yet. All I ever wanted in the business was a chance, an opportunity. If I get that with WWE, I’ll give so much.”

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Romanticism and wrestling do not always walk the same path, so the pragmatic Szantyr is armed with options for her future. She fulfilled a promise to herself by returning to school, and is now a marketing major at Post University in Connecticut. The school is only twelve miles away from ESPN, which represents another career path that has crossed Szantyr’s mind. Even with a successful apparel and accessory line, her greatest passion still beats between the ropes.

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“The person who really motivated me to jumpstart my wrestling career is Lita,” said Szantyr of Amy “Lita” Dumas, the four-time WWE women’s champion. “She is very inspirational to me, and she’s done so much for the business and women in general. I was actually there the night she made her WWE debut. She captivated me with the way she moved, the way she was able to go in the ring. The guys loved her, the women loved her, and she could kick it with anybody.”

Szantyr was so enticed by Lita, and the work of the “Attitude Era,” that she was forever hooked on wrestling.

“Everyone had a style, everyone had a character and it made wrestling so exciting,” said Szantyr. “I was in college studying early childhood education at Eastern Connecticut State University, but I would be in class thinking about being a professional wrestler. My thoughts were so loud, and all I could think was school was not my passion–my passion was wrestling.”

Szantyr followed her heart, left school, and started training in 2001 at the age of 20.

“It wasn’t glamorous,” she explained. “I moved back home, found a job, and trained at a wrestling school close to my house–the House of Pain Pro Wrestling Dojo and Jason Knight from ECW was the head trainer.”

Szantyr remains modest about her success, but she reached the peak of her popularity in TNA as a member of the Beautiful People with Angelina Love.

“Looks are a big part of my career,” said Szantyr. “Angelina and I were two heel b------. We played characters who thought that they were better than everybody else. But looks can be deceiving–at the end of the day, I know how hard I worked to get there.”

The Beautiful People was an idea put together by former WWE “Attitude Era” writer Vince Russo, who worked with TNA at the time of Szantyr’s arrival. Russo is often a lightning rod in discussions, but Szantyr explained that is simply a byproduct of his honesty.

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“The Beautiful People was Vince’s creation, and he had faith in me to bring this character he envisioned to life,” said Szantyr. “I’ll always be thankful for that. Vince is brutally honest, and some people love him for that and some people hate him for that. There are a lot of fakes and phonies in this business, but Vince is brutally honest, and I’ve always appreciated that. I can’t thank him enough.”

Szantyr is also honest in her assessment of her own body of work.

“I’m not the best wrestler in the world, but I have an emotional connection to the crowd,” she explained. “No one can take away from the entertainment side of what I bring to the ring. I feed off the crowd, and they’re the ones who inspire and motivate me in the ring.”

Szantyr has worked hard to develop a unique array of moves in her skillset, which includes a northern light suplex, Russian leg sweep, and face breaker knee smash. Her work also has a touch of Samoan influence to it.

“My fondest memory from my indie experience was branching out a few years into my training with the Samoans–Afa, Samu and Sika,” said Szantyr. “They helped and supported me throughout my indie career beyond what I ever could have imagined. I will never forget where I came from, or the many people who have helped me along the way.”

Selling an opponent’s moves is rapidly becoming a lost art in wrestling, but Szantyr takes immense pride in the skill, which is one of many lessons she learned from former WWE women’s champ and five-time TNA Knockouts champion Gail Kim.

“I have so much respect for Gail both as a person and as a wrestler,” said Szantyr, who was a two-time Knockouts champ in TNA. “Gail always pushed me beyond my limits in the ring. We worked really well together, and I will miss working with her in the ring. For almost ten years she helped me grow as a wrestler and as a performer.”

Szantyr just finished her nearly decade long run with TNA, but has no time to second guess her decision.

“Leaving TNA was best for me,” said Szantyr. “I’d been there for almost ten years and I’d accomplished everything I wanted to do. My contract was coming up, and this was a business decision I made for myself. It was hard because there are so many memories there with the fans and the TNA family, but I don’t regret it. I look back on the career I had with TNA, and I’m so proud. I did what I set out to do, and I’m very proud of what I accomplished.”

The emotions were on full display as Szantyr exited the ring following her finale on TNA.

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“That was the most emotional night of my career,” said Szantyr. “As soon as I lost the match, there was so much support from the crowd that it was overwhelming. Then the entire locker room was waiting for me in the back, and I wasn’t expecting that. Everybody was crying and hugging me, and the entire night was very emotional.

“I’m very happy I went out on a positive note and that I got to say ‘Thank you’ to the fans of the Impact Zone. I have the best fans in the world. It’s so rewarding and so humbling that people are excited to see what is next to come in my life.”

As for the next step, the artist formerly known as Velvet Sky will continue working on her college degree, potentially pursue opportunities at WWE or ESPN, and continue to pulsate with energy.

“I’m keeping busy,” confirmed Szantyr. “The fans drive me. They fuel me. People are eager to see what I’ll do next, and I never want to let them down. They motivate me and keep me driven, everything I do, I do for them.”

Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.

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