Exclusive interview: How Paige became the youngest Divas Champion ever in only 7,903 days
She’s the youngest Divas Champion in WWE history, but 21-year-old Paige is already what many would consider a seasoned veteran between the ropes. Coming from a wrestling family in Norwich, England, Paige’s in-ring history technically began before she was born, as her mother — not knowing she was pregnant at the time — actively competed with Paige in the womb.
Born into a world of spandex and suplexes, Paige was never pushed into the family business, but nevertheless found herself embarking on a globe-spanning ring career at just 13 years of age. The raven-haired prodigy quickly amassed indie accolades that rivaled performers twice her age before WWE came knocking — twice.
The Diva of Tomorrow recently spoke with WWE.com about her unique and, at times, arduous path to the Divas Championship, and the life-changing lessons she has learned along the way.
WWE.COM: What was your early exposure to wrestling like, growing up in a sports-entertainment family?
WWE.COM: What changed?
PAIGE: When I got a little older, like, 10 or 11, my dad would run a training school every month, teaching people how to become wrestlers. I would get in the ring now and again and mess around with one of my brothers, and he’d teach me some stuff. I did that for a couple of years, until I was 13. My dad was running a show and one of the girls didn’t turn up. He said, “There will be eight other girls in the match, could you fill in just for today?” I was so scared, but as soon as I walked through the curtain I got this huge adrenaline rush and I got hooked straight away. And then my dad couldn’t keep me away. I knew this was what I wanted to do.
WWE.COM: How exactly does a 13-year-old girl decide to pursue a career in the squared circle?
PAIGE: I had a lot of setbacks because I was so young and I wasn’t really experienced. But my dad actually managed to get me into a company in Norway and that helped me a lot. People really liked that I got out of the country, out of England, and wrestled. So after that, I sent out my resume to every company I could find. I wanted to do it by myself, because I was always kind of in my family’s shadow and I wanted to create my own legacy.
WWE.COM: How did you go about doing that?
PAIGE: After sending out the resumes, more and more companies were taking the bait. So then I was traveling by myself by the time I was 14. I went to Belgium, France, Germany, Turkey, Norway, Switzerland and Denmark. I did all of that by myself. And just doing that, just being able to travel and do the stuff that I love — even though I wasn’t getting paid that much— it was all so great because it was what I wanted to do. I’d be doing stuff like setting up rings, building the sets, going out there with the leaflets and putting the posters up, and I’d be doing that for hours and hours a day. And then I’d also be training!
Obviously I’d be watching WWE all the time, and when me and my brother were watching I would say, “Oh, we could be there one day. Wouldn’t that be cool?” And then we were like, “That would never happen!”
WWE.COM: When did you first get WWE’s attention?
PAIGE: When I was 17, one of the talent scouts came to a show in England and said to me, “When do you turn 18?” It was in a couple of weeks, so he goes, “Okay, well, WWE is going to be here in November, would you like to come to the tryouts?” Of course I’d be there! An opportunity just to try out was amazing to me. I was freaking out.
WWE.COM: What was your tryout like?
PAIGE: I tried my best to be what I thought they wanted me to be. I went and I tanned, I dyed my hair, I took out all of my piercings, I wore color — I think it was a blue dress — I just wasn’t being me. And then I got there, and I’m looking at people that I’ve been watching on TV my whole life, like, “Oh my God, I’m surrounded by all of these amazing people and now I have to wrestle in front of them!?”
I got a little scared on my tryout, and basically they told me that it wasn’t the right time and that I just wasn’t being me. They could see right through it. I wasn’t being myself, so I wasn’t comfortable. They just said that to be more confident, you need to be this, that and the other. So I said, “Okay, cool. I’ll do it.”
WWE.COM: When did you get your next opportunity with WWE?
PAIGE: I got an e-mail that said WWE would be back in April and they were going to give me another chance. This time, I was going to go as myself. I refused to be just like anyone else. I thought, “I’m gonna be me, and I’m going to be successful as me.”
I was pale, I wore all black, I kept all of my piercings in and my hair was black again. I was the only girl trying out and there were 15 guys — one of them being my brother. Dustin Rhodes [Goldust] and Jamie Noble were holding a training camp, and it was like a two-hour session. I was in there for literally half the time. Me and my brother were just beating the crap out of each other, and they loved it! I got tagged out and Jamie goes to me, “Tag yourself in.” I was like, “Really?” It was rude of me to do it because other guys were trying out, but … who cares? This was my time. I was the only girl there, I needed to stand up for myself.
WWE.COM: What did you do?
PAIGE: This big, muscly guy gets backed into the corner and I just tagged myself in. The look he gave me …ugh! Oh, well. I just got back in the ring and we went from there. I stayed in the ring afterward and Goldust taught me some stuff, and it was really cool to get a one-on-one, even if it was just 10 minutes. We got back into the locker room and the guy goes, “You, you and you are signed.” And he pointed to me! I was so speechless. I cried.
WWE.COM: What did that moment mean to you?
PAIGE: So many people told me that I wasn’t pretty enough to be there, or that I wasn’t good enough. And I’ve had people hold me back. It was like, “Yeah, in your face!” I did it. We wound up staying for the show, which was amazing, I got to speak with everyone backstage, and when I got home it hadn’t sunk in until I got the contract.
WWE.COM: What was it like leaving your family?
WWE.COM: What was it like to walk into WWE’s pre-NXT developmental territory, Florida Championship Wrestling (FCW), for the first time?
PAIGE: It was the most intimidating experience of my life! We had Joey Mercury, Norman Smiley and Dusty Rhodes. These people are incredible, and I get to work with them? Everyone was so welcoming; it was like a big family and they treated me so well straight off the bat. I was obviously very homesick from the get-go; my family and I would Skype in the early hours of the morning, and it was tough. But at the same time I was like, “This is my dream. I have to do this.”
Then, a couple of months down the line, all of the girls were going to WrestleMania XXVIII for Axxess in Miami, and I was the only girl not going. I remember thinking, “I get it,” because I was the newest one. But then Norman Smiley called me and said, “Guess what? You’re going to WrestleMania!” That kind of made it more real for me. I got to wrestle at Axxess. I was actually a part of WWE.
WWE.COM: What was the vibe like in the locker room when you first showed up?
PAIGE: People didn’t know me. They didn’t know my background, how hard I worked to get here or what my career was beforehand. I got a lot of, “Who’s this kid who just rolled in from a different country?” I felt like I had to prove that I deserve to be here and that no one should underestimate me because of my age.
If someone gave me crap, I wouldn’t be a wimp about it. I would stand up for myself. I don’t take that kind of thing. But everyone got on and understood me pretty quickly.
WWE.COM: FCW evolved into WWE NXT, where you would become the first-ever NXT Women’s Champion by winning a tournament. What was going through your mind at that time?
PAIGE: Whoever was going to win that tournament was going to make history, but I didn’t think it was going to be me since I hadn’t been here for that long. It was nerve-wracking. All of the top guys were there, Triple H and Stephanie McMahon were there. But with the pressure came excitement. There was a lot of weight on our shoulders, but we really showed what the NXT Divas can do. It was a great showcase.
WWE.COM: Do you have any favorite opponents from WWE NXT?
PAIGE: Emma gave me some of my favorite matches – the NXT Women’s Tournament and then NXT ArRIVAL. I love Bayley; she’s fantastic in every aspect. I would have to say Charlotte as well. She’s definitely someone you’ll have to watch out for. She’s not just Ric Flair’s daughter. She’s another one who’s going to make her own legacy. And Sasha Banks as well.
WWE.COM: You mentioned your match with Emma at NXT ArRIVAL, where you debuted the Scorpion Crosslock. Why did you add that that move to your arsenal?
WWE.COM: Aside from Lita or Bull Nakano, are there any other female competitors not on the current roster that you want to get in the ring with?
PAIGE: Mickie James. I’m also a big fan of Kharma. I’d love to go face to face with her. Also, Stephanie McMahon. If Stephanie wants to go toe-to-toe, I’m ready.[Laughs]
WWE.COM: The Raw after WrestleMania has reached legendary status in recent years. What was it like to not only join the Raw roster 24 hours after WrestleMania 30, but to win the Divas Championship?
PAIGE: It was incredible. First of all, just being at Raw in the first place was such an honor, and I couldn’t believe it. The fans were incredible the whole night, and there were a lot of Europeans there, and more Europeans know who I am. So the reception to me coming out was more than anything I expected. In the backstage interview I did with WWE.com, I was crying, “They’re not supposed to know me!” It was so incredible and they were so welcoming to me.
And then to get in the ring with AJ Lee, and she was someone I looked up to, too. When I started in NXT, she was also a different Diva. But to actually win the Divas Championship from her my first night on Raw? I’ve always said that I wanted to make history in WWE, and in that minute I got to do it. That’s crazy. I can say that.
WWE.COM: Is there anything that compares to that moment?
WWE.COM: Why do you think you’ve already formed such a strong connection with WWE fans?
PAIGE: It’s that message that you don’t have to be like everyone else. That’s what I’d like to get out there. I know a lot of people say it, but not a lot of people do it.
It’s amazing that I get to have fans that tell me, “You helped me. You made me feel like I can be myself. And that I shouldn’t be anyone but who I am.” I’m young, so people my age or younger look at me and say, “Yeah, I can reach my goals, and I can reach them sooner rather than later.” It’s nice to be here and be able to share a message like that.
WWE.COM: You’re being called “The Diva of Tomorrow.” What does tomorrow hold for you?
PAIGE: I’m just taking every day as it comes. I have goals that I want to reach. In the long term, I want to be on the pay-per-views, I want to have my first WrestleMania match, and later on, I want to earn a spot in the WWE Hall of Fame one day. But I’m just taking it as it goes.
I actually got some good advice from The Rock, who took me aside the day of WrestleMania 30, right before my Raw debut. He knew the connection that my family had and how hard I worked, and he said, “I just want you to stay humble and hungry.” Those words have literally been stuck in my head for the last month. Never be satisfied, but always be hungry.