Bianca Belair Eager to Seize Royal Rumble Spotlight Again

The Week in Wrestling: Bianca Belair on the upcoming Royal Rumble, J.D. Drake on staying true to his old school roots and more.
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Bianca Belair on Sasha Banks and Bayley: “They don’t just elevate themselves, they elevate every single person they come into contact with”

Bianca Belair will be ready for next month’s Royal Rumble.

Belair starred in last month’s Rumble match, eliminating eight opponents and lasting more than 30 minutes before eventual winner Charlotte Flair sent her over the top rope.

The upcoming Rumble is another proving ground for Blair, who is determined to show that she can be a top-of-the-card superstar for WWE. And, unlike last year, she has already begun her preparation.

“I’m preparing physically, I’m preparing mentally, and I am looking to go out and prove myself even more than I did last year,” Belair says. “I am definitely excited about the Royal Rumble.”

The inclusion in last year’s Rumble was a shock to Belair, who was unaware that she was even taking part in the match until the night before the pay-per-view.

“The night before the Rumble, I was actually in the audience watching Rhea Ripley and Toni Storm have a title match [at War of the Worlds],” Belair says. “I thought I was only traveling to sit in the crowd because I was facing whoever won the match. That’s all I was thinking.”

With no plans to wrestle that weekend, Belair planned to spend her extra time in Houston sightseeing and enjoying a lavish meal. But when she walked backstage after the Ripley-Storm match, she learned that a different itinerary was planned for her on Sunday.

“I’m backstage and I hear, ‘Bianca, you’re going to be in the Royal Rumble tomorrow, and you’re going to be No. 2. Go show us what you got,’” Belair recalls. “I was trying to stay all cool, calm and collected, but at that moment, I was so full of emotion. I always ask for the spotlight, so this was a moment where I needed to go out and do what I do.

“I remember walking into the arena the day of the Rumble, looking at all the empty seats, and I was already ready for my music to hit. That day took so long. I was ready for seven o’clock as soon as I woke up.”

The 31-year-old Bianca Blair Crawford is a complete package. Few performers across the pro wrestling industry possess the physical capabilities, charisma and intelligence of Belair. In addition to her ability to seize a capacity crowd’s attention through both her promos and her matches, she has also spent the past four years earning the respect and trust of top WWE officials. Belair is known inside the Performance Center as one of WWE’s most humble, hardest-working performers, and she has set an example for those looking to capture the company’s attention.

“I’m really excited for 2021, and I’m calling it right now—it’s going to be a special year for Bianca Belair to stand out and shine, starting with the Royal Rumble,” Belair says. “I didn’t find out I was going to be part of it last year until the night before, and I was still able to go out there and last over 30 minutes. It will be even better this year. Every time I step in the ring, my goal is to show everyone who I am and what I do. I want to win the Royal Rumble and use that as my path straight into WrestleMania.”

A trip to WrestleMania would likely put Belair on a collision course with the wildly talented Sasha Banks, who has just delivered one of the most magnificent years of her career. Banks is the reigning SmackDown women’s champion, and her captivating work should earn her a lengthy run with the belt. Belair teamed with Banks on Sunday at the Tribute to the Troops special, defeating Bayley and Natalya Neidhart.

“This was my very first time being a part of Tribute to the Troops,” Belair says. “For me, being married to a Marine [WWE star Montez Ford], it hit even closer to home. I’m grateful to honor our servicemen and women and be a part of it this year. I really enjoyed the virtual meet-and-greets with the servicemen and women. And it was my first time tagging with Sasha. All around, it was a great event.”

Belair is currently working a program with Bayley, and she expressed genuine gratitude for the opportunity to learn from Bayley and Banks.

“Bayley and Sasha are more than just vital to the women’s division, they’re vital to WWE,” Belair says. “They’ve done so many monumental things, starting in NXT. They set the bar at TakeOver, then they set the bar again on Raw, SmackDown and on pay-per-view. That Hell in a Cell match was amazing. They continually set the bar in wrestling, and I’m excited to be in the same locker room as both of them.

“Sasha sets the standard. She’s the champion. Bayley is so versatile. Look at the way she went from protagonist to antagonist. She always comes up with something new, and she has the ability to make people around her stars, too. I am looking forward to working with Bayley.”

Bayley and Banks have reached an elite tier of stardom in WWE, but Belair shared that they have remained steadfast in their pursuit of building the talent around them.

“They don’t just bring themselves to the table, they also pull up seats for the other women, too,” Belair says. “They don’t just elevate themselves, they elevate every single person they come into contact with. That’s why I want to be in the ring with Bayley. That’s why I want to get in the ring with Sasha. If I can get into the ring with people of that caliber, I’m only going to get better.”

Belair is still new to the main roster, having received her call-up at April’s WrestleMania. She wants to establish herself as a key piece of WWE programming, becoming the reason people tune in to watch.

“It’s very competitive, and everyone is fighting for that spotlight, including me,” Belair says. “I’m the new kid on the block, but I am ready to get that spotlight and shine.”

As Belair continues to build her story with Bayley, her next goal is to build a rapport with the WWE audience. These next few weeks will be important, serving as an indicator of how she will be booked in January’s Rumble.

“Whenever I step out there, I want to put every piece of me into what I’m doing,” Belair says. “That involves the physical part being in the ring, but it’s more than that. It’s my braids, my hair, my makeup, and my gear. I want to go 100% and never have any regrets. If people watch, they’re not going to regret it.”

The (online) week in wrestling

  • It comes as no surprise to his fans that CM Punk is an incredible podcast guest (his appearance on Colt Cabana’s Art of Wrestling show in 2014 became a top news story for months), and he was superb here. Renee Paquette, it should also be noted, is the best interviewer in wrestling. 
  • Kenny Omega’s week includes appearances for Impact Wrestling (Tuesday), AEW’s Dynamite (Wednesday), and AAA’s TripleMania XXVIII (Friday). The segment on Impact did a solid job building to Wednesday night’s Dynamite
  • This AEW spot brought a lot of fun to Tuesday night’s Impact. Also, the career renaissance of Tony Schiavone continues. Along with his funny quip about quitting the business for 18 years after one night with Impact, he has a big night on Dynamite with two big interviews: one with Sting, and another with Shaquille O’Neal. 
  • There is so much anticipation surrounding Sting’s appearance on Dynamite. That the YouTube video of his debut has over two million views is proof. 
  • Candice LeRae helped put on an outrageously entertaining bout at WarGames, in which she unfortunately broke a bone in her arm yet finished the match. Instead of going immediately to the hospital, LeRae requested to stay at the Performance Center so she could watch her husband, Johnny Gargano, in his match. Gargano then joined her on a trip to the ER. 
  • Chris Jericho has a way with words, one that certainly translates well to Twitter. 
  • Mauro Ranallo, who has his own new Maurologue podcast, spoke with POST Wrestling’s John Pollock and Wai Ting, and touched on many topics, including his departure from WWE: “WWE is one of the most mentally grueling places, and that’s not necessarily a criticism by any means, there’s a reason Vince McMahon has built a multi-billion dollar empire. Is it perfect? Not by any means, but neither am I.”
  • Who would you want to see Ronda Rousey wrestle if she returns to WWE? 

J.D. Drake returning to Limitless Wrestling for Vacationland Cup

Indie wrestler JD Drake in the ring

Limitless Wrestling will crown a new champion at Vacationland Cup. The show, which airs Dec. 19 on IWTV, will feature some of the top performers in independent wrestling, including indie stalwart J.D. Drake.

The vacant Limitless title will be awarded to whoever emerges victorious in the eight-person Vacationland Cup tournament, which features four singles matches and then a championship fatal four-way elimination match. Drake’s first round opponent is Kevin Blackwood, and the clash of styles between the two makes the match even more of a draw.

“The Vacationland Cup is a way for me to stake my claim in Limitless Wrestling and win a prestigious piece of singles gold in the Limitless Wrestling Heavyweight Championship,” Drake says. “It’s also special because this is the first singles run for me in Limitless Wrestling. I started off in a tag team with Anthony Henry, and we went in and wrecked shop. Anthony isn’t taking as many bookings as he used to, but I’m not sitting by idly and letting opportunities pass me by.”

The work of the 6' 1", 287-pound “Blue Collar Badass” is full of passion and pride. He also brings a very unique approach to his wrestling. Drake presents himself as a legitimate big man, but he can also move as gracefully as men significantly smaller.

“When I started wrestling, I was 220 pounds, so I was always a big fella, but I trained with all cruiserweights, so that’s who I had to keep up with,” Drake says. “I loved that. Growing up, I really got hooked on cruiserweight wrestling and the luchadores. That was my favorite, as well as Arn Anderson and the Great Muta.”

Drake wrestles as a heavyweight, but he has maintained his athleticism. When he added jiu-jitsu to his offensive arsenal, Drake realized just how much he relished contact and physicality, so he decided to mesh everything together. He now has a handful of cruiserweight maneuvers to go along with his power moves, emerging as one of indie wrestling’s signature big men.

“I took my work ethic and turned it into a hybrid style,” Drake says. “And I still hit people really hard.”

A native of Shelby, N.C., Drake’s wrestling roots are forever intertwined with the way the industry is presented in the Southeast.

“I trained under George South, and he instilled in us that it’s not about the moves you can do, but it’s about the moments you can create,” Drake says. “We really take pride in trying to draw emotion out of a crowd. That is a difference from northern wrestling. I remember when Ring of Honor was first coming around and everybody wanted to do the 48 top finishes and the crazy spots. If you did that type of match in the south, the crowd would sit on their hands.

“These crowds don’t want to see an exhibition of athleticism, they want someone to hound them and fuss back-and-forth with them. Then they’ll put their energy into somebody that will beat up the one that was fussing back-and-forth with them.”

Drake’s return to Limitless this month marks the third year he has been working for the promotion. He has evolved into one of the leaders of their locker room, dispensing advice and guidance to anyone that cares to ask.

“I love being able to share knowledge,” Drake says. “I think I’m pretty good at what I do, but I look at the wrestlers I’ve had a hand in developing over the past 18 years. That’s what truly humbles me.”

As for Drake’s future, he has options. The father of two works full-time for Highspots designing wrestling gear, and he still plans to wrestle in as many different territories as possible—unless one signs him to an exclusive deal first.

“I just want to continue to spread wrestling, wherever that is,” Drake says. “Whether it is NXT, WWE, AEW, Impact, Ring of Honor, wherever—I want to continue to show people that old-school wrestling is not dead.

“I also want to cement a legacy. I have two children, and I want them to be able to look at me and say, ‘You know what? My dad did something pretty stinkin’ cool. If he can follow his dreams, by gosh, I can, too.’ That’s all I want from wrestling.”

More than just a championship pursuit, the upcoming Limitless show marks an opportunity for Drake to show he belongs among the top indie singles wrestlers. His matchup with Kevin Blackwood has plenty of potential, and for those new to Limitless, Drake promised a show that is worth investing both money and time in at Vacationland Cup.

“Don’t let the physique fool you,” Drake says. “There is nobody on the planet that does what I do. There may be some people that do the same moves that I do, there may be some people that do the same spots that I do, there may be some people my size just as athletic. But they’re not going to do it with my heart, my emotion, or my flair. You have to experience the emotion I bring to a match and the emotion I bring to professional wrestling.

“I take extreme pride in trying my best to connect with every single person that watches the product I put forth. So if you want to live vicariously through someone, please watch a JD Drake match. I promise you’re going to be entertained.”

Tweet of the Week

The moment was undoubtedly big for Sting, but also served as a reminder of the brilliance of Tony Schiavone.

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