Exclusive interview: Up close with “The Captain of Team Kick” Dakota Kai
Dakota Kai is rapidly approaching her one-year anniversary as an NXT Superstar. On this week’s episode of NXT, the New Zealand-born competitor failed to knock off Shayna Baszler from her NXT Women’s Championship perch. Despite the loss, Kai spoke to WWE.com about her optimism for the future, her road to NXT and what kind of impression she hopes to leave on the WWE Universe.
WWE.COM: You came up short against Shayna Baszler in your NXT Women’s Championship Match this week. Now that you’ve had some time to digest the loss, what are your thoughts?
DAKOTA KAI: This match was personal. I'm happy that I was given the opportunity to stand up to her. While I managed to gather some confidence before the match happened, I still don't think I felt like my usual self going into it. Mind games are a battle in their own right. On the flip side, getting the win actually seemed possible, even if just for a brief moment. There's hope within that.
WWE.COM: How do you feel about your chances against Shayna in the future?
KAI: After that initial match, I learned some important things about my own limits. I hope to get another opportunity, as I know that I'll be better prepared mentally and emotionally. It's insane if you're even slightly lacking in one of those areas, the effect it can have in a high-pressure situation. I also learned things about Shayna. She's not invincible — no one is. All those mind tricks just prove to me how much of an insecure person she really is. The biggest mistake she can make is underestimating someone who is so quietly confident in ending her reign.
WWE.COM: You’ve been with NXT for nearly a year now. From your initial exposure during last year’s Mae Young Classic to now, how wild has the ride been?
KAI: The Mae Young Classic was such an amazing experience. From that to now being in NXT is overwhelming to me. I was working a long time to try and get here, so the fact that it's all happening just proves that hard work really does pay off.
WWE.COM: How much of a transition was it for you to officially leave your home of New Zealand and adapt to the NXT life?
KAI: Leaving my family was tough, but I wouldn't have done it for anything other than pursuing my lifelong dream. Adapting to life here was a lot easier having Steffanie Newell by my side. Steffanie and I started at the exact same time at the WWE Performance Center. We supported each other a lot and still have each other’s back to this day. We even learned how to drive on the other side of the road together. That’s a horror story in itself, which I'll save for another time.
WWE.COM: Speaking of leaving home, what was your upbringing like?
KAI: I grew up in Auckland, New Zealand, within a very active household. My dad put a strong emphasis on sport for my brother, sister and me. We did athletics and cross country from the moment we could walk and would sign up for most sports at school. I am lucky to have a close family bond and a lot of cool memories from my childhood. My brother was the one who actually got me into WWE. He watched it all the time, and I started to watch with him. I was hooked on The Rock and his ability to captivate an audience. From there, one of my friends I used to do athletics with told me about a local company that needed more girls. That was in 2007, and I haven't looked back since.
WWE.COM: One similarity you share with The Rock is that you are actually half-Samoan. Did you ever feel any pressure considering the rich lineage of Samoan superstars who have competed in WWE?
KAI: I never felt any pressure about that. I've simply always embraced being ‘afakasi. Mum would make sure us kids would grow up with a strong sense of who we are and where we came from. I've visited Samoa twice and visited my mum’s home village of Lepea. She would always make traditional Samoan dishes for us, and we would have family get togethers somewhat regularly. Family is priority within the Samoan community, which means the support system I get from them is amazing.
WWE.COM: What current WWE Superstars did you cross paths with before coming to NXT?
KAI: Having worked the independent scene for almost decade, there are a few that I knew prior to being here. Ruby Riott and I used to be tag team champions back in SHIMMER (an all-women’s wrestling organization), Sarah Logan was in Japan during my first Japanese tour, and AJ Styles did a seminar that I attended back in New Zealand years ago. Along with those names, I have also previously met 99 percent of the NXT Superstars that had wrestled on the independent scene.
WWE.COM: Who influenced your in-ring style?
KAI: The main influencers of my in-ring style would have to be Hideo Itami, Finn Bálor and Daniel Bryan. I was watching them since before they were here in WWE and was blown away with the level of skill they consistently showed.
WWE.COM: You’ve mentioned that you watched WWE Hall of Famer Shawn Michaels as a child. What's it like working with him at the WWE Performance Center?
KAI: It still blows my mind that this is even a thing. He's such a wealth of knowledge and even seeing him around the Performance Center is crazy. Working with someone who you used to watch — I don't think I'll ever really get used to that. We are lucky to have him here at NXT.
WWE.COM: What's been one of your favorite moments in NXT so far?
KAI: One of my favorite moments would have to be watching Steffanie Newell finally get back in the ring after her knee injury which sidelined her for 10 months. There were so many emotions and seeing a friend finally become reacquainted with their passion after such a hardship is a joy to watch.
WWE.COM: Least favorite?
KAI: Shayna Baszler and her superiority complex.
WWE.COM: Lastly, when fans watch you, what kind of impression do you want them to leave with?
KAI: I want to show them all how in love with this I am. Passion is essential to fueling the fire. You can have all the tools in the world to succeed, but if you lack passion, it's null and void.