Sonya Deville Emerging as WWE’s Next Top Star—Male or Female

The Week in Wrestling: Sonya Deville’s rapid rise since turning heel, Steve McMichael’s unexpected Twitter stardom and more.
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Sonya Deville: ‘I have everything it takes to be the top superstar, whether it be male or female, in the WWE’

Becky Lynch is expecting her first child and off Raw for the foreseeable future, which takes one of WWE’s top stars off camera.

Likewise, on The CW, actress Ruby Rose stepped down from her lead role on Batwoman, forcing the network to take a massive risk by casting a new main character for the show’s second season.

While WWE and Batwoman seem like two entirely different realms, Daria Berenato offered the remedy for both openings: turn to Sonya Deville.

Deville is Berenato’s character in WWE, where she has elevated herself into a prominent role since her heel turn in April. Playing a villain has presented Deville with a long-awaited opportunity to showcase her charisma, edge and personality, and she is quickly emerging as one of the prominent stars on SmackDown.

“My career for the past five years in WWE has been everything it should have been in terms of preparing me for where I am now,” said Deville. “I learned so much working with Paige in Absolution and with Mandy in Fire and Desire. I’ve never been more ready to be on my own and show the world what I’ve always known I am capable of. I have everything it takes to be the top superstar, whether it be male or female, in the WWE.”

As for Batwoman, few wrestlers have ever made so monumental a crossover onto a television series, but casting the new lead character with WWE’s first openly lesbian star would be a bold choice for an industry that is often known for playing it safe.

“When Ruby Rose got cast as Batwoman, I remember seeing that and thinking, ‘Wow, Batwoman’s going to be gay, that’s so cool,’” said Deville. “I grew up loving superheroes, but there weren’t many female superheroes let alone part of the LGBTQ community. But now that she’s stepped away, I don’t see any better fit than myself. I would love to continue with her inspiring message. I’ve been training and acting since I was 12, and I’m definitely in pursuit of the role. I come with my own stunt training, too.”

One of Deville’s strengths is her voice, and she makes a point to speak out against injustice. With people across the United States engaged in very deep discussions about the nation’s racial inequalities, Deville was asked how pro wrestling, which always mirrors society, can play its role to promote equality.

“We have a lot of chaos going on in our world right now, and it’s so important that, if you have a voice, you use it for good,” said Deville. “I hope I can help make a change for the better. The Black Lives Matter movement is very important to me.

“Something I’ve spoken strongly about, and I’ll always use my voice to promote, is equality. Whether it’s race, religion, ethnicity, sexuality, it doesn’t matter to me. What matters to me is equality. That’s something that is super important for me to use my platform and support.”

Deville believes that representation, in WWE and beyond, is critical to widening people’s perspective.

“The WWE that I’ve always been a part of and that I’ve known has always been a diverse and accepting community,” said Deville. “I am happy to be a voice for the LGBTQ community because that’s something that is very important. Me and Mandy [Rose] pitched an LGBTQ story on Total Divas over two years ago, and it didn’t work out, but I wouldn’t change anything. That’s not to say representation can’t be portrayed differently in the future. Inclusivity in every form is important, especially in WWE, and that’s something I’ve talked about over the past few years with the company. So never say never with that story coming around full circle, but I love where I’m at right now and I love what my character is doing.”

A key part of representation for Deville is becoming your most whole, authentic version, as it is empowering to embrace who you are.

“I don’t like to be coined as ‘the MMA fighter’ or ‘the gay one,’” said Deville. “My work speaks for itself. I’m Sonya Deville, the most dominant superstar in the division right now. That’s how people should explain who I am.”

Deville’s breakout moment in WWE happened in a post-WrestleMania promo on SmackDown in April, where she initially appeared to beg Mandy Rose for forgiveness before exposing the reasons she believes her former best friend is a fraud.

“I’ve always had a voice and I’ve always had something to say, but until a couple months ago, I hadn’t been given the opportunity to say what I felt,” said Deville. “There was so much passion and emotion in my relationship with Mandy, both on TV and in-person, so it was easy to translate that into what was happening.”

In addition to Rose, Deville has also started a new program with Lacey Evans. Storylines with more depth and layers are a necessity for Deville in order to evolve. Every moment on SmackDown marks another opportunity to show that her work in the ring and passion on the mic are undeniably compelling.

“I’m finally getting an opportunity to show the world I’m the most well-rounded superstar there is,” said Deville. “The SmackDown Women’s Championship is my next goal.”

Customarily, Deville would be able to receive a temperature check on whether her work connected from the fans at shows, but that is no longer an option in this global pandemic. Still, she is making the most of the new landscape, delivering a sharp message on the mic and in the ring to connect with those watching at home.

“We’re reinventing what we do in the ring,” said Deville. “A lot of what we do is crowd-based so it’s definitely different, but it’s a challenge to me as a performer and a creator on how I can best appeal to the millions watching. I am so grateful for my fans, and I wouldn’t be here without them, so I’ll always keep that intensity and that passion.”

The (Online) Week in Wrestling

  • New Japan Pro Wrestling is back. The return show is this coming Monday at 7 p.m. in Japan, which is 6 a.m. ET, and will air on New Japan World. 
  • Another big announcement is that the New Japan Cup will begin next Tuesday. 
  • Keith Lee wore gear that supported Black Lives Matter at Sunday’s NXT TakeOver. More than just a movement, Black Lives Matter is an integral part of humanity, fighting to suppress violence and racism. I hope WWE continues to support their stars that choose to use their voice to support human rights. 
  • Triple H is a part of WWE’s corporate team and still remains close to the locker room, so it is especially important that he uses his voice to empower. 
  • Big E has such a powerful voice, and his message here was especially strong. 
  • I’m excited to see the women’s tag titles back with Sasha Banks and Bayley, and it is great to see more storylines—and, in turn, some momentum—build around those titles. 
  • If you don’t regularly keep up on AEW Dark, Jon Moxley wrestled Robert “Ego” Anthony in a non-title match on Tuesday night’s show that is worth the watch. 
  • There is a lot to like for Wednesday night wrestling, beginning with AEW’s Dynamite. Chris Jericho returns to the broadcast booth, which is the best place for him to continue his verbal assault on Mike Tyson, and FTR make their tag team debut against The Butcher and The Blade. Cody Rhodes also defends his TNT Championship against Marq Quen, which is a match I would have saved until next week, instead preferring a surprise opponent this week, but I’m excited to see what Rhodes and Quen have in store tonight. 
  • NXT has Adam Cole-Dexter Lumis in a non-title match Wednesday night, as well as Finn Balor-Cameron Grimes. But I’m really looking forward to the beginning of Io Shirai’s run as NXT Women’s Champion. 
  • That was a fantastic way to introduce Deonna Purrazzo on last night’s Impact
  • Best wishes to Jinder Mahal, who’s had his recent return cut short. 

Steve “Mongo” McMichael comments on new Twitter page

Steve “Mongo” McMichael has gone viral.

The “what will mongo do next?” page on Twitter has amassed over 24,000 followers. It is an homage to some of the highs and a lot of the lows, somehow perfectly capturing the essence of McMichael’s wrestling career.

McMichael is not on Twitter and was unaware of the page, but did enjoy hearing that people are still talking about his time in WCW.

“That’s something,” said McMichael. “Make no mistake, and it’s why the ’85 Bears will be remembered for all-time, we weren’t just football players, we were entertainers. We had guys that knew how to play to the crowd, and that translated for me right into wrestling.”

A former Super Bowl champion with the Chicago Bears, McMichael joined WCW in 1995 to be part of the Monday Nitro broadcast team. He then transitioned into the ring with a memorable program, teaming with Pro Football Hall of Famer Kevin Greene against Ric Flair and Arn Anderson.

The match served as the co-main event of the Great American Bash pay-per-view in 1996, and ended when McMichael turned on Greene and joined the Four Horsemen.

“When the WCW saw me with Lawrence Taylor [at WrestleMania XI], they wanted to sign me up,” said McMichael. “[Eric Bischoff] asked me, ‘How long do you want to do this, Steve?’ And I said, ‘Until it’s not fun anymore, then I’ll be gone.’ And that’s what happened.”

McMichael was not the only member of the famed ’85 Bears to make a mark in wrestling.

“Walter Payton did a show [in Razor Ramon’s corner at SummerSlam ’94], and [“Refrigerator” William] Perry and [Jimbo] Covert did the battle royal at WrestleMania,” said McMichael. “We liked entertaining people. That’s what I miss most in my life, walking out the tunnel to the roar of the crowd. There’s nothing like it, brother.”

McMichael remained with WCW until February 1999. Though he made an appearance in TNA at Bound for Glory in 2008, he has largely stepped away from wrestling.

“I came in there and was brand new,” reflected McMichael. “I already had a bad neck. When you take a bump, if you don’t tuck your chin and let your head hit that mat, it’s whiplash. And the football injuries I had started compounding.”

As much as he enjoyed his sojourn into wrestling, his true love will always remain football.

“I want to start a national program to help stop concussions in football,” said McMichael. “A neck collar on your shoulder pads protects you later on in life. You shouldn’t have the choice not to wear one, a neck collar should be part of that shoulder pad. That would alleviate a lot of the problems.”

As the babyface color commentator for Nitro during the start of the “Monday Night Wars,” wrestling fans got to know McMichael’s personality, quirks, and charm. Now 62, he still carries that same exuberance and spirit, forever grateful he had the chance to play in the NFL and entertain in WCW.

“I’m dealing with bad nerves in my neck and a bulging disc in my neck,” said McMichael. “I’ve got issues with my knees, neck, fingers, discs and ligaments, problems all over my body. But I’ll quote my old coach Mike Ditka when he said, ‘The going up was worth the coming down.’”

Tweet of the Week

Somehow, Asuka gets more entertaining every week.

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