Exclusive Q&A: How Mia Yim overcame hardships inside and outside the ring
It’s been a long, winding road for NXT Superstar Mia Yim. After recently making her NXT TV debut as an official member of the black-and-gold brand, Yim spoke with WWE.com about her road to sports-entertainment, her unique upbringing and her powerful passion for domestic violence awareness.
WWE.COM: How are you settling into your role as an official member of the NXT roster?
MIA YIM: It’s a dream job come to life, although it doesn’t even feel like a job. I wake up every morning thankful for my life and that I'm able to go into the WWE Performance Center to train. I have tons of friends there, old ones from the independents and new friends that I have made since being on the roster. The work is hard, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
WWE.COM: It’s been a rather long road for you to get here. Let’s start from the beginning. How did you get your start in the industry?
YIM: I started training at the end of 2007 and made my in-ring debut in 2009. I began my wrestling journey in Northern Virginia. Soon after, I branched out to the Philadelphia/New Jersey/New York area.
WWE.COM: I understand you started training right out of high school. What attracted you to the sport?
YIM: My parents didn’t like the idea of wrestling just because of the intensity of the sport, along with how some women were portrayed in wrestling at the time — mud matches, etc. I made a deal with my father that I’d make college a priority and graduate if I’m allowed to train and pursue wrestling. I’ve always been a tomboy since I was a kid. I would play football and street hockey with the neighborhood back in California. So, when I first started watching wrestling and saw Lita and Chyna go toe-to-toe with the guys, I knew this was the sport for me.
WWE.COM: What was your upbringing like, especially having a father who was in the military and then later worked for the FBI?
YIM: My parents were strict, especially my father. Growing up in California, my dad was in the field most of the time. We weren’t allowed to tell anyone what our dad did growing up just in case the criminals he put away would come after us. Once we moved to Washington, D.C., he grew a bit stricter when it came to boys, grades, friends, etc., just because we were getting older. He became a part of the Missing & Exploited Children unit in D.C., so our online activity was closely monitored. But I thank him for it; I wouldn’t have the discipline and work ethic if my dad let me do whatever I wanted growing up.
WWE.COM: I assume your dad’s job led to your own personal interest in IT/cybersecurity.
YIM: I’ve always been a techie. Computers, coding — it all came easy to me. After wrestling, that’s my backup plan. My dad played a big role in the FBI using computers to catch kidnappers and predators. I want to follow in his footsteps. He’s my hero.
WWE.COM: What is your ethnic background?
YIM: I am African American and Korean mix. My father is black, and mother is Korean.
WWE.COM: You came to a point when you had to decide between volleyball and wrestling. Tell us about that decision.
YIM: I grew up playing sports. I did taekwondo and loved to play football for fun. They wouldn’t allow girls to play football in high school, but I knew I needed to play a sport in school, so I gave volleyball a try. I always liked volleyball from playing a bit during PE classes. I was able to make the freshman team my freshman year, junior varsity during my sophomore year, and varsity in my last two years of high school. During the offseason, I would play club volleyball, so I could continue to learn and perfect my skills. I wanted to earn a college volleyball scholarship because my academics wouldn’t be enough to qualify entry to the colleges I wanted. My dad sent tapes to Virginia Union University, and they gave me a full scholarship for two years.
Remember that deal my father and I made about wrestling and college? Well, I’d dedicate all my time playing volleyball during the season and keep my grades above average all year. During the offseason, I’d drive two hours each way to go to wrestling training in Northern Virginia two to three times a week. I transferred to Marymount University and continued to play volleyball for another two years. In my final year, I decided to fully pursue wrestling and drop volleyball. My dad was disappointed, but because I kept up my deal to that point — I had one more year to go — and the momentum of wrestling began to pick up, he allowed me to do so. I graduated with a bachelor’s in information technology.
WWE.COM: Your pursuit of wrestling full-time allowed you to become very well-traveled, both domestically and internationally. How have those experiences prepared you for NXT?
YIM: Traveling definitely prepared me. I’d never been a fan of traveling, because growing up with my dad, we had to move around a lot for his job. Now being older, I appreciate different places and cultures. I was able to learn different styles — British style in the U.K. or joshi strong style in Japan — and incorporate it in my arsenal. It also helped my body adapt to the road life.
WWE.COM: You had to adapt quite a bit on your road to WWE NXT, as well. What kinds of opportunities did you have before officially signing your contract two months ago?
YIM: I was told when I first started wrestling that I’d never make it. I had my first WWE tryout in 2014. It felt like volleyball conditioning with all the cardio work! I felt prepared for it and enjoyed every minute of those three days. I was told “not now,” which motivated me even more to get here. In October 2014, I had a short match against Charlotte Flair. She’s incredible! It was a great learning experience because it was my first time doing any TV work and I developed a friendship with her. I also got to finally meet Natalya, who gave me advice that helps drive me to this day. From 2014 to 2015, I did extra work like being a rosebud for Adam Rose. I got to do that alongside my best friend, Leva Bates [aka Blue Pants]. We were able to do a few tryout matches before the shows where we received tips and critiques, so I would try to really absorb everything the coaches and other people watching the matches would tell me.
WWE.COM: Then came the opportunity to compete in the Mae Young Classic?
YIM: Yes. I was invited to the first-ever Mae Young Classic. What a fun experience! I got to wrestle two friends from the indies, Sarah Logan and Shayna Baszler. It was kind of a full-circle moment because I wrestled both of them when they first started and then we got to showcase our skills on the big stage. I caught up with Nattie, Charlotte and Maria Kanellis, who continue to give me motivation and advice. I got overall good feedback from the coaches and agents. I received another invite to the second Mae Young Classic, but I was nervous because it would be my first big showing since my injury. After the numerous tryouts, extra work and the last Classic, I was determined to land a full-time spot on the NXT roster. I was lucky to be among all the great talented women in both Mae Young Classics, and even luckier to have the support of my fans at Full Sail and all over the world. They made sure to be heard and they made my dream come true.
WWE.COM: You mentioned a serious injury you experienced prior to the last Mae Young. What happened?
YIM: I did a show in Northern Virginia on Black Friday in 2017. It was a 5-on-5 Elimination Match. In the match, one of the girls landed on my leg, causing a break in the fibula along with pushing out my ankle, which needed to be realigned. It was the first time I ever broke a bone, so when I felt that pop, I thought I just dislocated my ankle and figured I could pop it back in place. I went to kick with my leg and it felt like it was asleep the whole time, so I knew it was more than a dislocation. One of my trainers, Bobby Shields, drove me to the hospital. During the ride, I called my parents. My mom met up with me at the hospital and she was hysterical. I had to stay with my mom that whole weekend then flew back to Orlando that Sunday.
I was out four months and made my in-ring return last April. Those four months were the hardest mentally. I broke my leg for this sport, but what did I have to show for it? Could I ever wrestle the same again? What if I got hurt again? There goes my opportunity to work for WWE, I thought. I had so many doubts, but I also had good friends like Shayna Baszler, Jessamyn Duke and my friend Blake Thomas keeping my spirits up. Even when I could barely walk, Shayna and Jess would teach me submissions and roll around with me to help my conditioning. I had a great group of friends and family making sure I’d come back stronger and better.
WWE.COM: You’re obviously a very determined person inside the ring, but outside the ring, you’ve also championed the cause of domestic abuse awareness. Why this cause?
YIM: I never thought I’d be in a situation like that. I know a lot of people would say, “That could never be me” because I’ve said that. Going through [domestic abuse] for two years, those were the darkest years. Looking back at it now, the signs were there. It’s never easy to just leave. Once I finally got the strength to leave, I would talk to my close friends about what to do. Talking to them, I realized a lot of my friends had been through similar situations, but they never wanted to speak out because as female wrestlers, it made them feel that they need to have a strong image or that people wouldn’t believe them because of the sport they are in.
I knew I had to be a voice, so others can feel comfortable speaking about their own issues or even help those who are still in those abusive relationships. Safe Horizon allowed me the platform to speak up, and it all started with a purple nail — the #PutTheNailInIt campaign. I wanted to tell the survivors that they are not alone and that it’s OK to speak about it. If I could help just one person, then to me, that’s all I ever wanted. Domestic violence was a hidden epidemic all over the world that needed a spark to raise awareness. I didn’t want my situation to be another silent story, I knew I had to be that spark.
WWE.COM: Lastly, what are your goals in NXT and beyond?
YIM: My goal in NXT is to become the next NXT Women’s Champion and to become a champion on either Raw or Smackdown LIVE. I must have a WrestleMania moment to see my parents cry in the stands. My goal is also to have a better record than Shelton Benjamin and to torment his life until the end of time. Outside of wrestling, my goal is to become a role model, a spokesperson to raise awareness of domestic violence. I want to be a role model who shows that whatever hardships or obstacles one goes through, if you want it bad enough and put it in the work, you can make anything happen. Long live the rose that grew from concrete.