Exclusive interview: Mickie James on her TakeOver: Toronto showdown with the undefeated Asuka

Exclusive interview: Mickie James on her TakeOver: Toronto showdown with the undefeated Asuka

The WWE Universe was stunned when Mickie James was revealed as the next challenger for NXT Women’s Champion Asuka. One of the most beloved female Superstars of her era, James may provide the toughest test to date for the undefeated Empress of Tomorrow at TakeOver: Toronto.

Aside from a guest coaching stint at the WWE Performance Center in 2013, however, James has largely remained out of the eye of the WWE Universe since her last match on SmackDown in April 2010. WWE.com recently caught up with the five-time Women’s Champion and former Divas Champion to see what she’s up to and how she’s preparing to face NXT’s seemingly unstoppable force during Survivor Series weekend.

TakeOver preview: Asuka vs. Mickie James | Follow Mickie on Twitter

WWE.COM: How excited are you to come back to WWE?

MICKIE JAMES: I’m beyond excited. I’ve been on cloud nine since the announcement and seen the reaction from the fans. It’s pretty incredible. It makes you feel good!

WWE.COM: Were you expecting the reaction you got from the WWE Universe?

JAMES: I have a very loyal fanbase, so I was expecting them to be super excited, but I wasn’t expecting the reaction I received. I’m incredibly grateful, because you never know if people will be like “Oh, I remember her, that’s cool.” They genuinely seem to be way more excited than I anticipated.

WWE.COM: Does that get you even more amped up for Toronto?

JAMES: Absolutely! It makes me want to make sure I don’t disappoint them. Obviously, there’s an immense amount of respect and love from them. I had every intention of going out there and giving everything that I have. It fuels that fire even more now.

WWE.COM: The last time you spoke with us was in 2013, when you visited the Performance Center. In that interview, you mentioned Sasha Banks, Alexa Bliss and Bayley as standouts.

JAMES: Yes, they asked me who I saw as the breakout stars out of the girls I worked with. I feel like I was pretty spot on with all of those.

WWE.COM: How do you feel about seeing them succeed on Raw and SmackDown LIVE?

JAMES: I think they’re doing an amazing job. Kudos to them. Nobody can really predict the future or destiny, but it felt good to know that maybe I have my finger on the button of what talent is. When people have a passion and desire, it burns through and shows. That’s what I was like. I had the desire to be the best in the world. I can recognize that in another person, that strong will. That’s what I felt like I saw in all of those girls.

WWE.com: Can you compare what it was like when you started out?

JAMES: When I started, there were a handful of women on the independent scene, vying for that spot to get recognized by the company and make it to the main stage. Now, that competition is a lot thicker. It’s a lot harder for the girls than it’s ever been, especially with a big spotlight on the women’s division. The girls are doing great and killing it night after night. They’re giving the boys a run for their money, which is pretty awesome.

Mickie James sends a message to Asuka: WWE NXT, Oct. 26, 2016

Before their showdown at TakeOver: Toronto, Mickie James sends a warning to NXT Women's Champion Asuka. Video courtesy of the award-winning WWE Network.

WWE.COM: What does it mean to you to come back to a women’s division that’s grown so much since you left in 2010?

JAMES: It’s incredible. I’ve watched it from a distance. It’s something that I’ve always hoped for, for the women of the industry. I started as a wrestler, as a fan of wrestling and wanting to be a wrestler, I strived really hard to have a really great match, not just for women, just trying to kill it and have the best match on the card.

But now, to see that come to fruition and see what women’s wrestling is, is a great thing. To come back to that and be a part of something that I hoped for, for so long, for the wrestling business, is amazing. I’m grateful.

WWE.COM: How did this opportunity come about?

JAMES: I was sitting in the airport in Orlando, Florida, on my way to the UK, where I’ve been for almost a month now. I got the call from WWE and they asked me if I was interested. I know who Asuka is, I’ve seen her work in Japan and NXT. She is incredibly talented. It’s cool to see someone come up and make an impact. I think for her, it’s even harder, because there’s the language barrier. But she’s this mystical kind of person.

For them to even consider me to come back and face her and, hopefully, tear the house down, is pretty awesome. It made me feel like a million bucks. I want to go in there and take it to the next level and give the people everything that they want and more.

WWE.COM: When you see Asuka in the ring, what’s the first impression you have of her?

JAMES: I think she’s fascinating. She has such an amazing presence. That’s one of those things you can’t teach people. Then, she gets it done in the ring.

I know she had her own promotion in Japan and was very successful, so successful that she didn’t necessarily need come to WWE. But she’s smart enough to recognize that if she wanted to be the kind of star she wanted to be, like a household name, she had to come to WWE. I feel like she’s the complete package now, as a performer, artist and wrestler.

WWE.COM: Having seen what Asuka is capable of, are you nervous about facing her?

JAMES: Absolutely not! I’m a little crazy as it is, but I’ve been in the ring with some of the greatest Women’s Champions of all time — Trish Stratus, Lita, Beth Phoenix — they were amazing. I know that she hits hard, kicks hard and has killer submissions moves, but I can hit and kick hard and know some submissions. I haven’t been in this business for 17 years and not learned a thing or two.

WWE.COM: How do you get ready for a match like this?

JAMES: I’ve been training differently than I ever have before. I’ve been doing a lot of high endurance workouts, to get my wind and strength up, to get that immediate, quick and intense movement going. I feel like I need to be fast on my feet because she’s pretty quick. I’ve also been sharpening my mat skills and submissions, so I can have a few different ways to get out of her holds.

I know she has that mental game going on. That doesn’t scare me — I’m the queen of mental games.

WWE.COM: What has your wrestling schedule been like, especially since you had your child recently?

JAMES: He just turned 2. It’s crazy how life works. He is half my workout, chasing him around on a daily basis. It’s absolutely amazing, but in a way, it’s cut into my workouts. It’s not because I’ve let go of the idea of “one last run,” so my focus wasn’t always around my training, because he’s my main focus.

I was still training four days a week. I’m still on the independents, but it’s certainly not anywhere near the schedule of NXT or WWE, 200 days a year. I’ll do a few weekends here and there, but I make sure I have enough time to be at home and take care of my son and make those moments you can’t get back.

WWE.COM: No one in NXT has been able to defeat Asuka so far. Why do you think you can be the first one in Toronto?

JAMES: Because I’m one of the best in the world. I didn’t sign up to come back to lose. I’m going in with the mentality that I’m going to win. If you don’t go in there thinking that, you’ve already beat yourself.

I’m not saying 100 percent for sure that I’m going to win, but I can guarantee it will be the hardest fight she’s ever had in her life. It will probably be one of the toughest battles I’ve ever had, too. We’ll see how it goes.

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