Some fans are finding out about Serena Deeb now when she, in fact, has been wrestling for a very long time. After many years in OVW, Shimmer, and WWE’s then-developmental territory FCW, she became a kind of icon when she was shaved bald by CM Punk and became a member of his Straight Edge Society in 2010. At that time, she said, “It was a really unique opportunity. Seeing a woman getting her head shaved was so rare, you don’t see it all that often in the history of wrestling.” But, instead of becoming a wrestler, what she has always been, Serena became a valet, like many women at that time.
After being released, she went back to Shimmer, appeared in ROH, SHINE, and TNA, spent a lot of time in Japan working for DIANA or REINA, among others. When she was announced as a participant of the first WWE Mae Young Classic tournament in 2017, some people already forgot the bald lady, but not the company’s management who offered her, a few months later, a women’s coaching position at the WWE Performance Center. Then came COVID-19, and Serena Deeb, at the same time, lost her job to find her vocation back. In April, she was fired from her coaching job, but in September, AEW was calling her to join the company, at least for one match. Not only she was signed almost immediately after, but it also opened the doors of NWA, a company she is now the World Women’s Champion of.
SteelChair Wrestling Magazine had the opportunity to talk to Serena Deeb a few weeks ago. She told us about her incredible year 2020, signing with AEW and becoming the NWA World Women’s Champion, her wrestling and coaching experience, and what the future may hold for her.
You had an extraordinary summer because you’re back in a ring, in AEW, and also in NWA, which is a wonderful roller coaster of events. How did it happen? How did all of these things put themselves together?
“I love the way you worded that, “wonderful roller coaster,” that’s pretty accurate. I’m really grateful to be experiencing this right now. The opportunity with AEW came up really last minute. The first Dynamite that I did for them back in September, when I wrestled Thunder Rosa, it came up just really quickly, in about 48 hours notice. It was a really beautiful surprise in the journey of just the past six months to a year, and everything went really well, and then it just took off from there. Obviously a week after that, I officially signed my contract with AEW, and the next month, I went and wrestled at the Primetime Live show for the NWA World Women’s Championship, and that’s when I became champion, and now I’m getting to share this historic championship with AEW. It’s really cool. It’s very exciting.”
Speaking of Thunder Rosa, you competed against her in AEW and in NWA. She was the NWA Champion when you wrestled her on AEW Dynamite, and you took the belt away from her at NWA Primetime (they would wrestle the third match on Dynamite a month after for the NWA title that Serena retained). Do you see a difference between the two matches and the circumstances of them?
“The first match was really an important match well for both of us, but it was really important for her because three days later, she was wrestling Shida (at All Out PPV for the AEW Women’s World Championship). Thunder Rosa’s somebody that has really worked hard to build her name in wrestling, and her work ethic is something I really admire. Thunder Rosa vs. Shida at All Out was a really historic moment because it’s groundbreaking stuff. The NWA World Women’s Champion is now wrestling the AEW Women’s Word Champion, like what is happening? I think that match was really the start of what is going to be some really powerful and special moments in wrestling, so that match was really important for her going into the pay-per-view. Then the rematch that happened at Primetime Live was the match that I became champion. That was a special match because it was our rematch, people had really liked our first match, so there was a lot of pressure to me, pretty high standards. It was really amazing because we got to wrestle for almost 30 minutes, and that’s rare because, especially if you’re wrestling on TV, there isn’t always a lot of TV time. It’s a two-hour show, and it’s broken up with all these commercial breaks, and there are 20 other people that they have to highlight on the show. So getting a time like that, 30 minutes, was really special, especially as women, that was really beautiful.
“I felt good about both of those matches, but they’ve each topped each other. The third one on Dynamite was one of the longer matches that the women in AEW have had. It was an honour that people thought really positive things about our first two matches, and so much so that they wanted to see another one. I put really high standards on myself. I strive for excellence in the ring, and I think those three matches just build one building upon the other. It’s been really special, and it’s bridged the gap between the NWA and AEW, and this amazing working relationship that Tony (Khan, AEW’s President, CEO, and head booker) and Billy (Corgan, NWA’s owner, and promoter) have. I think it’s opened up the doors for a lot of different opportunities. I’m really happy about this trilogy, this series of matches. I believe that there’s a lot more to myself wrestling Thunder Rosa in the future. I respect her, and I look forward to creating more magic with her.”
What is your official work relationship with NWA?
“It’s a great question, and I know a lot of people are trying to understand it. I am the NWA champion, so obviously, I expect in the new year when NWA starts running again, that I will be competing on their roster, on their show, hopefully getting some more successful title defences under my belt. I’m looking forward to that because it’s a whole other roster of women over there, and I love the product that NWA puts out. I’m very old-school in how I came up in wrestling, so I love that they kind of honour that feel, so looking to the future, I’m definitely very proud to be a representative of that company, and I’m looking forward to doing work with them in the new year, but I am also under contract to AEW. One of the most amazing things about Tony Khan is that he’s open to talent trading, and he was very open to bringing people in from other companies and having these working relationships that really haven’t been around in wrestling for a very long time. I really admire that in him, and I think he’s doing a lot for professional wrestling just in having that openness. My loyalty is obviously at AEW, where I’m a contracted wrestler, but I also expect to do a lot more with NWA in 2021.”
Do you see yourself becoming “Serena Two Belts” or “Serena Two Straps?” Are you looking forward to competing against Shida?
“I like that, ‘Serena Two Straps’ (laughs). Shida’s at the top of my list from the AEW roster. I very much look forward to wrestling her, whenever that happens. Like I said, I strive for excellence, I strive to be the best, wrestling is my true love, I’m more passionate about wrestling than anything else in my life, and it’s always been like that, so it means everything to me. I’ve dedicated my life to it. Of course, ‘Serena Two Straps’ would be pretty amazing, and it would be pretty special. If that opportunity comes up, whether it’s a champion versus champion match, or looking to the future, having that match with Shida, whenever it happens, I trust the process, and I really do strive to just be somebody that elevates the division and brings it up. If my matches do that for people, then I’m just really honoured. People will always have my heart in the ring. I think that’s something that I aim to do, just share my heart and my passion as I’m wrestling, as I’m performing. If that shines through to people, I’m really happy about that.”
The AEW female roster is made of wrestlers you have probably never wrestled before. Who would you put on the top of your list?
“That’s a great question. I’m going to repeat myself, but Shida is on top of my list. Britt Baker is somebody that I really want to tangle with. I think a lot of her as a performer, and I respect her evolution as a character and as a personality. She’s really, really strong in that area and has become really awesome in the ring, so I would say Britt would be right up there as well. There’s a lot of up-and-coming women at AEW that I have just observed their work ethic, and it’s very positive, Red Velvet is one of those, KiLynn King is one of those, both of them work really hard, and I just look forward to watching their growth. If I can be a part of that, that would be great.”
Were you asked by Tony Khan to also bring your coaching experience to AEW in order to help the young women wrestlers?
“Absolutely, that has been discussed, and it’s something that I feel great about. I love coaching, and I love helping. I’ve always thought, even in my time coaching at WWE, before this, it would be really cool and really powerful to take on a player-coach role where I’m able to wrestle and get in the ring, do that part of it while also helping out a little bit more behind the scenes and kind of helping scout for women that are out there that might not have been seen yet. I think taking on that role especially when independent shows start running again, pending the whole COVID situation. I’m hoping that I can step into a little bit more of that player-coach role, and I can continue contributing in that way. To touch on your point, that is something that I’m really interested in doing, and I think the feeling is mutual from AEW. The women’s division is in a really amazing growth period right now, where the women are stepping up, and there are more women coming in, and there are hungry women who are working really hard to improve. I would love for my matches and my ring work to just help accelerate that process.”
Were there some moments when you think your career was over, mostly after injuries or earlier this year when your coaching job was over? Did you sometimes feel it was over for you and you may never wrestle again?
“I’ve had a number of those moments over the years, whether, like you said, it was injuries, there was a time when I took about a year and a half off. I couldn’t compete, and that was really challenging when you’re in the middle of your growing career, and then you have to step aside for a little bit. That’s really hard mentally. Transitioning into the coaching position, I was trusting the process of my life, and I was embracing that position because I thought it was really amazing to be able to give back in that way and to take on the responsibility of helping others. I’m really grateful for it, but I definitely had a lot of varying emotions about it where, on one hand, I was really loving the job and enjoying the process of stepping into that role, but on the other hand, I believed that I still had more to give in the ring, and in my heart, I didn’t feel like I was done with wrestling, so I had very polarizing feelings about it. Like I said I was trusting the process. That was what was present in my life at the time, so I was embracing it, but I always hoped and dreamed about having another run in the ring.
“When I lost my coaching job at the beginning of the pandemic, it was an interesting time because, when you lose your job, it’s a traumatic experience, it’s stressful, there’s a lot of things going on there mentally, but it was also such a blessing. I think I could recognize that I think this is going to be the biggest blessing I’ve ever had. I just have to wait and be patient so that I can see that transpire, and so everything with AEW and getting back in the ring has really been for me what I really wanted to happen. I wasn’t sure if it was going to happen, and it was those initial preliminary feelings of I know that this is happening for a reason, but I have to wait and see it, well, I’m seeing it now.”
You trained and grew up with a generation of women wrestlers that were very vocal about the fact they wanted to be recognized as competitors, as men would be. I think of Beth Phoenix and Mickie James because you wrestled them in your early days in the ring. Now, we are in a completely different landscape where women are main-eventing shows, they do incredible stuff in the ring. As a veteran of the game, because you’ve been wrestling for like 15 years, how do you appreciate this revolution for yourself, the current generation, and the generations to come?
“I’m joyful about it. You used the word landscape, and it’s a completely different landscape than it was when I started. We had to work extremely hard, and sometimes it didn’t even matter how hard you worked. It just wasn’t welcomed or appreciated. It took many years of women, such as Beth Phoenix or Mickie James, there’s so many of us from that generation that had to work extremely hard to change the narrative. It really wasn’t always easy, and it was complex. I remember when I first started my training at OVW in 2005, the women were not really wrestling. There wasn’t much of a women’s division. There was no women’s championship. With Beth Phoenix, ODB, Katie Lee, we worked so hard that we were able to be the main event of OVW TV for the first time in history. They created a women’s championship because they had to because we were just working so hard. Then the same thing when I got signed, and I went to FCW down in Tampa, there the women didn’t do much, and then within six months of being there, with getting in there with AJ Lee, Naomi and people like that, they created a women’s championship for us, we main-evented at FCW TV.
“I’ve experienced a lot throughout my career, being in environments where the women were not really respected or appreciated, but we’ve worked so hard to change that. That’s a kind of rambling answer, but now when I look at the state of the wrestling business for women, I’m really happy for the women who are in the game today and the ones that will be in the game in the future. It’s a much better place, and it’s much more empowering, as a female athlete now, but in that same breath, I will say I don’t even feel upset that things were that way because it taught me a work ethic that I think I’m really proud of today, and it also taught me appreciation because now I’m getting to wrestle in this climate where the women are just as appreciated and respected as the men. Having gone through periods of my career where it wasn’t that way. I just have even more gratitude now.”
Are you able to bring some things from yoga, something you’ve been practising a lot, to your focus in the ring? Is it something you advise to other wrestlers and people?
“Absolutely. I think probably the biggest teaching through yoga and through meditation and everything has been practising presence in the moment, which is really hard because we have a lot of distractions and there’s a lot of external stimuli, and it just increases by the day. Practising presences is tricky, but I think in a wrestling sense, especially right now, it’s a unique time because there aren’t really crowds, there aren’t many fans, so it’s a lot more about what’s happening in the ring. I think that being able to be more present in every single movement, present in every kick, present in every step, present in every single thing I do in the ring, I think when you go kind of on autopilot it doesn’t serve you, so I think being extremely present in every single detail is something that benefits me a lot in wrestling, just being in the moment, reacting in the moment, feeling in the moment. There’s a lot of professional wrestling that is improvising and coming up with things in the moment and reacting in the moment. I think that the more present one can be in each match, the more it will benefit them.”
Follow Serena Deeb on Twitter @SerenaDeeb
All pics and videos courtesy of AEW and NWA