“Fighting is my specialty”: Why getting paid to hurt people makes Sonya Deville happy
The WWE Universe was introduced to Sonya Deville via the reality show WWE Tough Enough in 2015. Since then, as seen on NXT Television, Deville has transformed herself into a hard-nosed fighter poised to make an impact in NXT’s Women’s division.
This week, Sonya spoke to WWE.com about transitioning from MMA to WWE and her goals for the future.
WWE.COM: Congrats on your recent NXT victory on WWE Network. You’ve had a very interesting couple of years under the WWE/NXT umbrella. What’s the difference between the Sonya Deville who first arrived and the Sonya Deville we see now?
SONYA DEVILLE: My first time being inside the Performance Center was for the WWE Tough Enough tryouts, and although I knew hardly anything about sports-entertainment, I knew I wanted to be a part of this place. All I knew was that I loved to fight, I loved to perform and I loved being inside the WWE Performance Center. Here we are almost two years later and my mindset is the same as day one: I love being here and I love fighting, and with NXT, I get to do that almost every single day of the week. My life is amazing. I get paid to hurt people.
WWE.COM: Speaking of hurting people, you did quite a bit of that prior to NXT. Tell us about your mixed martial arts background.
DEVILLE: When I was 14 years old, I said, “Mom, I want to fight MMA.” My mom hardly knew what MMA was because there was no women’s division in the UFC, and UFC president Dana White had said at the time, "Women will never fight for my company." But I knew that wasn't true, and I knew women in sports, in general, were on the rise. I knew I could be the next big thing in the fight world.
My mom drove me an hour away to a gym called Liberty Boxing. I walked in, asked to speak with the owner, and I'll never forget the conversation. A little bald Italian guy named Phil came out of the back office. I said, “Hi, nice to meet you, I want to be a fighter.” He laughed in my face, then said “OK” and put me through one of the most vigorous workouts I'd ever been through. He tested me, and I passed. I started training judo along with boxing and, five months later, I entered an in-house grappling tournament against the boys in my gym. I ended up winning first place.
WWE.COM: And this was all during high school?
DEVILLE: Yes. I graduated high school a few years later and the day after my graduation, I got in my car and drove to South Florida to train with one of the best-known fight teams in the country, American Top Team. I competed in grappling tournaments and fought over the next few years from South Florida to California, and that was my entire life. I worked as a bartender on the side so I could pay rent and fight.
WWE.COM: It seems you’ve always been very motivated.
I will be the best, and it's because I train every day like I'm the worst.
DEVILLE: Well I grew up with two sisters, one older and one younger, in a small suburban farm town in South New Jersey. I grew up riding quads, shooting guns and playing sports. I knew from a young age that I wanted to not just see the world, but take over the world. I wanted to test myself beyond what I came from, so from the age of 17-23, I produced an independent film, got my real estate license, fought three MMA fights, won three national grappling tournaments, worked for Paramount Studios in Hollywood and managed a craft beer bar in Los Angeles. I proved to myself that I could do anything.
WWE.COM: Now that your new love is sports-entertainment, how would you compare your MMA training to your training inside the WWE Performance Center?
DEVILLE: It’s all the same to me. I train very similar for the ring as I did for the cage. I treat every practice like it's preparation for the biggest fight of my career. Every day I work on throwing the hardest, fastest strikes, then I work on my ground game and perfecting the slickest, tightest submissions. I hit the ropes like I'm running from a fire because I believe cardio can make or break a person inside the ring. I will be the best, and it's because I train every day like I'm the worst.
WWE.COM: That mindset is very apparent upon your entrance to the ring.
DEVILLE: From a very early age, I realized why I was put on this planet: to fight. Everything I have ever done in my life was to get me where I am now. All those years of training was preparation for this moment. So, yes, my mindset the second I walk out into that ring is simple: I'm going out there to decimate my opponent, and if you think it's going to end any other way, you better be ready to drag me off on a gurney. It's all or nothing for me. This isn't some stepping stone in my life or something I do for fun. This is my life.
WWE.COM: Do you feel pressure to succeed in this division considering some of the names that have come before you?
DEVILLE: The path that has been paved before me is impressive. I look up to and have learned a lot from the women before me. With that said, there has never been a woman in this ring with the experience that I have in fighting. Take my skill set, my strikes, my submissions. You can call WWE whatever you want, but at the end of the day, it's a fight and fighting is my specialty.
WWE.COM: What should the NXT Universe understand about you?
DEVILLE: I live for the pressure, I live for the moments when I’m deep in the match, out of breath, hurt and feel like throwing up. It’s in those moments that I push through, I keep punching, I keep going forward, because no matter what, I will never stop. That challenge, that uncomfortable feeling is what fuels me, and honestly, it's what I live for. I'm not here for the games. I didn't come here to be anybody’s little sidekick. I came here to fight and to take over. I'm changing the game. I don't expect anyone to know that yet, but you will.
Follow Sonya Deville on Twitter @SonyaDevilleWWE.