Q&A: Bianca Belair on Working With Bayley, Her Royal Rumble Breakout Opportunity and More

Bianca Belair stood out in the 2020 Royal Rumble but didn’t win. If she’s the last woman standing this year,
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Bianca Belair is poised to be WWE’s breakout performer in 2021.

The Royal Rumble stands as a massive opportunity for Belair. She starred in last January’s event, recording eight eliminations, and currently stands as one of the favorites to win this year. If she does emerge victorious at the Rumble, that would put her on a collision course at WrestleMania 37 with Sasha Banks, who is the reigning SmackDown Women’s Champion.

In addition to the potential of a program with Banks, another massive opportunity is actively taking place for Belair in her storyline with Bayley, who is one of the best performers throughout the entire industry.

Belair spoke with Sports Illustrated on Wednesday, discussing her program with Bayley, the opportunity to win the Royal Rumble and challenge Sasha Banks at WrestleMania, and her upcoming Chronicle that is set to air on the WWE Network.

Sports Illustrated: Every day during the pandemic feels a little like a Wednesday. Today actually is a Wednesday, but this day has felt so uplifting, especially after listening to the poem read by Amanda Gorman during the presidential inauguration.

Bianca Belair: My husband [Montez Ford] and I, we were watching. I was just streaming it again on my phone; it was amazing.

SI: Looking at your career in WWE, there is so much optimism for a breakout year in 2021. But before we discuss your work, I hoped we could open with a few words about Bayley. She has done such a masterful job of completely reinventing herself from “the Hugger” to “the Role Model.” What do you respect most about Bayley’s work and her as a person?

BB: When I first got to NXT, Bayley was actually still there. I was there when the first draft happened [in 2016] and people split up across the brands. We came to the Performance Center for that event so it could be televised. Bayley didn’t get drafted to Raw or SmackDown. Everyone she had worked with at the Performance Center had moved to Raw or SmackDown, but it felt like she had been left behind. But she always finds a way to make everything work. She pushes through and adapts, just like she has with the change from “the Hugger” to “the Role Model.” She’s still teaching me lessons just from watching her.

I am so fortunate and happy to work with Bayley. She’s coming off this huge, long title reign, and I’m still the new girl on the block. Being on this big stage, learning every step of the way, I couldn’t ask for anyone better to work with than Bayley. I look up so much to Bayley. She is a great performer, a great wrestler, and she always has good matches. She also elevates every person she comes in contact with. She doesn’t just go to the ring and elevate herself. She goes to the table to eat, but she also pulls up a chair beside her. That’s where I am right now, learning from everything she does.

SI: Bayley is such a skilled storyteller, too. I enjoyed your appearance on her new talk show last week on SmackDown. Instead of attacking you, like she did to Sasha Banks a few months ago or Asuka before that, she is challenging you in an obstacle course on Friday night’s show. There are a few different directions this can take to reach the next point in the story, but what has been the most meaningful part of charting out the story with Bayley?

BB: It’s been so much fun. I didn’t watch wrestling growing up, so I feel like my perspective is unique. I’ve navigated this my own way, and I’m so grateful to be working with someone as creative as Bayley. We want to bring something fresh, something new, and something fun to what we’re doing, and Bayley is so easy to play off of. I think that comes off on screen, and we’re planning on going over and above to make magic together.

SI: You are operating in new territory, as you are climbing up the card and becoming one of the signature stars of the SmackDown brand. What has helped you handle the transition with such confidence?

BB: I’ve been an athlete my whole life. I’ve been playing sports since the age of five. Competition has been part of who I am, and I’ve always craved the chance to step up to the occasion. My dad always taught me to never be scared of anything, so whenever there is a challenge, I get a thrill out of facing it and then conquering it.

When I came into NXT, I was the girl that came in without experience. I didn’t come from the indies, so I felt like I was constantly trying to prove myself. I had a different journey than everyone else, but I still worked my ass off to get there. And putting in the work hasn’t changed. I’ve been showing up and showing out, and now the opportunity is manifesting. This is what I’ve been working toward.

I’m proving myself all over on SmackDown. I’m ready to take on whatever opportunity comes my way and make the most of it.

SI: When we spoke a month ago, you went into detail about your Royal Rumble debut in 2020. Though you didn’t know until that weekend you’d be in the Rumble, you had one of the night’s defining performances. There are such enormous expectations entering this year’s Rumble, especially considering the growing desire to see you wrestle Sasha Banks at WrestleMania 37. What is your mindset entering this year’s Rumble?

BB: My whole mindset last year was, “You might not know who I am coming in, but you’re damn sure going to know by the time I leave.” A lot more people know me this year. I’m excited about that. There are so many different angles, too. I’m in there to win and face Sasha Banks at WrestleMania, but I’m also focused on Bayley. There is also the story with Shayna Baszler—we’re both tied for the record at eight eliminations. We’ll both be trying to eliminate one another. There are so many different elements at play, which really excites me.

SI: You have had so much fun getting to know the WWE audience, and that feeling has been reciprocated. Your new Chronicle on the WWE Network, which airs this Sunday, offers a chance for viewers to really get know you as a person and performer. What can we expect?

BB: I’m excited, but I’m also nervous. I’m pretty much an open book, so get to know exactly who the person is behind Bianca Belair. You go inside of my childhood, my parents were interviewed, and there is a sneak peek into my home. There were intimate conversations and moments with my husband, and it’s all about my journey to WWE and what I am looking to do with this opportunity.

It was filmed over a couple weeks, and it was almost therapeutic. I was talking for five hours straight, and I was telling memories from my childhood. It brought me even closer to my parents, and it brought out some very intimate moments. It was weird that the camera was there to catch it, but I’m glad the camera was there to catch it.

SI: Looking ahead, what is the next big goal for you?

BB: I try to focus on what I can control. My next biggest goal is to have a singles match at WrestleMania. I would love to win the Royal Rumble and face Sasha Banks at WrestleMania. My focus is always to have great matches, that’s what I plan to do every time I step in the ring.

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