Mickie James first started her WWE career in 2005, during an important era of women’s wrestling in the company.
Her time in WWE, from 2005 to 2010, saw more than its share of farcical story lines, but James helped add a different layer to the women’s division with her relentless pursuit of in-ring excellence.
Now 41, James is seeking one more run atop the company. She is in a much different place now than she was in her first period of time with WWE. As a wife and a mother, her life is certainly different than it was a decade ago, but one piece that has remained unchanged is her dedication to pro wrestling.
“My goal has always been to change the way women are perceived in wrestling, and that’s still my goal,” says James. “It was very different when I first broke in. I never wanted to be a valet or a manager. I wanted to be a wrestler. I wanted to have the best match of the night. That mentality has kept me leveling up. I always want more for women in wrestling.”
James has a chance to shine on Monday’s “In Your Face” edition of Raw, when she wrestles Asuka for the Raw women’s championship. Reentering the title picture is of major significance for James, who is a six-time WWE champion—but has yet to hold a belt since the company parted ways with her in 2010. A prolonged feud with Asuka, leading James to her seventh title reign, a mark that would tie longtime rival Trish Stratus, has the potential to be must-see television for WWE.
“A title run would mean the world to me,” says James. “That belt means you’re the standard-bearer, and it’s been 10 years since I’ve held gold in WWE. The belt means the company believes in you and the people want to see you. I’m putting my heart and soul into working with Asuka.”
The 21-year wrestling veteran has sacrificed the vast majority of her adult life to the business, but the results are visible. James has an in-ring style that allows her to outlast peers that are a decade or two younger, and she also possesses a presence that continues to allow her to stand out in a business where everyone on the roster is eager to take your spot.
“There have been so many moments of doubt, and all the people that didn’t believe in me,” says James. “I’ve been told, ‘Sorry, but you’re just not good enough,’ too many times. But that was always fuel for me to improve and get better.
“I know who I am in the ring. The ring is my home, it’s my escape. The moment I’m there, nothing else matters. When I step into the ring, that moment is mine.”
A chance to work with Asuka immediately evokes memories of their match together in November 2016 at NXT TakeOver: Toronto. Asuka was in the midst of her undefeated streak as NXT champion, and James made her NXT debut after being away from WWE since 2010.
“That was a pivotal moment in my career,” says James, reflecting back on her introduction to NXT and reintroduction to WWE. “I still remember that genuine fan reaction in Toronto. I was still wrestling and I was very proud of what I’d accomplished, but I’d been off WWE television for almost seven years at that point. A lot of the younger audience may not have even known me, so to get that response meant so much to me. And I was able to prove I could still go toe to toe with the woman they deemed their best.”
Similar to the scene in NXT four years ago, WWE is in the process of establishing Asuka as one of the top stars in the world. That decision could not have been particularly difficult, as Asuka brings a charisma and unrelenting style to her work every time she steps onto a viewer’s screen. And just like she was in 2016 before their TakeOver match, James is grateful for another chance to share the ring with Asuka.
“Asuka is hard-hitting. She’s intense,” says James. “She has such a presence. She just captivates people. Asuka’s character is timeless, and she will go down as one of the greatest of all time.”
Asuka is a much different performer than Trish Stratus, Lita, Melina, Beth Phoenix, Maryse or Michelle McCool, but James looks to add the current Raw champion to the list of opponents she has defeated for a title. James’s story with Asuka has enough plotlines to extend into and even beyond the Clash of Champions pay-per-view later this month, and the chase for a seventh title reign would provide the weekly three-hour Raw with a new wrinkle up until the moment James finally returns to the top.
“It’s tough to be a woman in this business, but I’ve done everything I can to create some special moments for women in wrestling,” says James. “It’s been a long road to get where we are now, and the expectations have changed from the fans. That’s permeated throughout women’s wrestling across the globe. The bar has been raised.
“I’m very proud of my career, and I’ve been back with WWE and done so many cool things, especially with Alexa Bliss. But one more run with the title, that is for me, for my career, and for my legacy.”