Saraya On Getting Medically Cleared To Wrestle, Signing With AEW After Leaving WWE

Saraya (@saraya) is a professional wrestler signed to AEW and is known for her time in WWE as Paige. She joins Chris Van Vliet from her home in Los Angeles to talk about getting medically cleared to wrestle again after a neck injury in 2017, what it was like being forced to retire from WWE, who she would like to wrestle in All Elite Wrestling, getting sober from drugs and alcohol, clears up rumors about the plastic surgery she’s done, what her future goals are and much more!

On being cleared to wrestle:

“Thank you. Yeah, so I never thought I’d see the day where I’d be back in a wrestling ring, especially in a physical capacity. That day was never gonna come from me. By the way. Apologies for the viewers. But you can’t be that mad at me. I have two dogs. People love dogs. But he’s a puppy. So he’s gonna be [excitable] He’s all black too, so it’s like black carpet black dog. He’s chewing up one of my slippers. Actually, he’s being very sweet. And chewing up my stuff for me Yeah, it feels really good to be back. In the wrestling world, in general, like before we even knew that I was going to be completely cleared to wrestle. It was just really nice to be in a new world too with AEW. Everyone is so sweet and so fantastic and kind of holding my hand throughout the whole thing. They welcomed me with open arms, like I’m having a fantastic time. And now I get to wrestle too, miracles can happen.”

On wondering if a return could happen after the returns of Edge and Bryan Danielson:

“Well, when I got told that you can’t wrestle anymore, the thing that was causing me the issue is that there was no fluid around my spinal cord, a couple of points of my neck where you know, the first surgery was, and the second surgery like there was no fluid there. And so if I was to get even like a little kick or you know, an accident happened, like I could be completely paralysed. So in my head back then I had come to terms with the fact that I’m probably never gonna be able to wrestle anymore, or at least for a very very long time. Like I didn’t have my hopes up to wrestle. But you know, when Edge did come back, I was like nine years, okay, nine years is doable, I’ll still be kind of young by then, you know. And so, you know, going into AEW, there wasn’t really a plan of like me to wrestle straight away. And what people get confused about is that they think AEW doctors just paid me to wrestle and that was that. They weren’t the ones that cleared me to wrestle. They told me I couldn’t take a bump until I get like, a full scan of absolutely everything. So, you know, the first physicality, we didn’t really ask permission, we kind of just did it. Then the doctors were like yeah, I mean, do that just don’t take a bump, please. So they will give us the okay to do the physicality of limited physicality. Like once you get the taste of it and just coming back to wrestling in general is just like, man, I want to do more than just to get on microphone or doing things backstage and like, I probably will be able to do something. If I can do this small physicality. Maybe I’m able to do a little bit more. So I asked Tony about it. And at first he was like, well, maybe we can do tag matches, depending on how cleared you are, you know, kind of like how we did with Sting. And I was just like, Yeah, but like, if I was to come back, I would want it to be like a singles match. I feel like that’s such a big deal. Not that I didn’t want to work with the rest of the girls, I was just like, if I wanted to come back, I just had this dream in my head that it will be a singles match. And so I took it upon myself to be like, Alright, I’m gonna go to a non-wrestling doctor. Nothing to do with WWE, nothing to do with AEW, just a doctor as like, doesn’t have like [bias]. I know doctors are not supposed to be biased, but that was in my head. There’s zero bias if I go to someone outside of wrestling, because this time around, if I was potentially able to get cleared, I would want it to be because I’m 100% ready to go. Not because they’re like, well, maybe we can squeeze her in these and these matches. Like I know, I want to be 100% Ready. I want to go to a doctor that works with NFL NBA singers, like actors, just all these massive people were like, if it was declare me, it would be because again, I’m 100% ready to go because he wouldn’t want his job to be [in jeopardy].”

On doctor’s advice:

“So we get everything done. He brings me back upstairs, and then he just like, he looks at it. And okay, so I’ve seen a few of my MRIs now and I’m fully aware of like, I’m not saying I’m a doctor of any kind and I know how to perfectly read them, but I saw where I didn’t have any fluid. And this time around, I see that there’s nothing like it on my neck. So I’m just like, am I like reading this right, or does that look like this fluid around my spinal cord? So then the doctor straightaway was just like your neck looks fantastic. And I’m like what? he’s like you got all your fluid back around just fine. I’m like, what? after five years? He’s like yes, you have all the fluid around your spine. Again, your fusions look fantastic. He said the top one is nearly like 100% fused, there’s just a tiny bit where like, you know where there’s a little bit of wiggle room, but he’s not worried about it. You know, like that’s not going to hinder me in any way shape or form. But usually the most important part is that you have your fluid around your spinal cord. So I said to him like, well, what are the odds of me being paralysed now? Because that’s the thing that was holding me back, not the fusions because my neck wasn’t 100 cent fused when it came back the first time, and it’s perfectly fine this time around. And then the top one is like, 99% there right? And so he was like, oh, it’s very rare. He was like, now you have all that cushion around your spinal cord. And here’s like, if something does happen, when someone does kick you, the most that will happen is what happened before or you’ll get like a little pain, and then you just take some time away. [With] your body, you know what to do, you know what not to do. He was like, but I trust that you can go in there. He’s like, if you were in the NFL, and you had to do like, you know football games where you have to charge each other like full pelt and stuff, maybe like, probably not, but he was like, but I trust that you could go in there and limit what you want to do and adjust what you need. And he was like your neck is great, it’s in great health. And I put that to the five that like the last five years, I’ve been nothing but healthy being, being sober and going the gym, just leaving a very, very healthy lifestyle. My boyfriend is kind of like the one that kind of kick started that for me too. Like he was the one he was like, we should not drink anymore. I’d already been sober off drugs at that point. He was like, we should not drink anymore. We should not vape. I was vaping, we should not vape anymore, we should eat cleaner. So we should go back to the gym. So he kind of was the one that ignited that fire. So I thank him a lot because I feel like if it was five or so years ago, and I was still in Orlando and partying and stuff like that, I don’t think my neck would be as healthy as it is now. You know, I’m not saying a green drink is going to make my neck healthy. But I’m saying like, I’m less likely to do some stupid, you know, if I’m sober.”

On Saraya’s body healing itself:

“In five years, I couldn’t believe it. I was like, everyone’s body heals differently. I know that like Cena had his neck surgery and within a couple of weeks, he was back in the ring again, or something like that Edge, it took nine years for him to finally come back to the ring. So and I just fought mentally for a while I couldn’t do it because I was too scared. But also, I just didn’t know how far my neck came compared to how it was when it first got injured. So I was very fortunate in a way that my neck healed the way it did. I couldn’t believe it, I cried my eyes out. I called my family straightaway. I FaceTimed them, and they’re all crying and stuff because like wrestling is their life. You know, and for somebody to like, you know, had their career taken away from it at such a young age without, you know, an end in sight when it comes to it. It is just a miracle and absolutely fantastic. So I was just over the moon. And then one of the first people I texted was Mercedes, Sasha Banks. Because Sasha went through a lot too. She wasn’t the one that was hurt, but she was the one who accidentally ended someone’s career. And she went through a lot mentally, like, social media were cruel to her. And then it just messed her up in general, because she was just like, I can’t believe that happened. And it was a freak accident, you know, wrestling is wrestling, you’re gonna get hurt eventually. Luckily, if you don’t, you know, in your whole career, you don’t get hurt that’s a miracle in itself. But it happens. And I just wanted her to be one of the first people to know that I was like, I’m back. You don’t have to stress anymore, like I’m back, you didn’t end it, I’m good. And she was just over the moon, she was so happy. She was very pleased for me, she was very encouraging. And I just like the fact that it kind of took all that weight off her shoulders too.”

On having a match with Sasha Banks:

“That’s what I said. So I really wanted to have that match for Sasha. Like I wanted to have that rematch with her, because we have a built in story you know, so I really wanted that. But she’s kind of going down her own path and stuff now, doing her own thing. You don’t know where she’s going to be. She has an exciting life going on right now, I’m very pleased and like she’s building her career outside of wrestling too, you know, awesome. And Naomi. So it’s really really cool to see. But I get to face Britt too, who I’ve always wanted to face, and then in this brand new company as well. And the crazy part is that she’s always been like a big fan of mine. I’ve seen the interviews Britt, I’ve seen them all, she was a fan of mine so it’s kind of cool that I get to have like a comeback story with her, and she’s so supportive. So I’m excited. I’m excited to have that match. One day I’ll have that match with Sasha, though.”

On being smarter this time around:

“So I’m still focusing on things outside of wrestling and kind of building Saraya up as a brand rather than, you know, Paige and being a wrestler and stuff like that. So I was always still in the mindset of still building that, but it’s so good to be able to do something that I have been in love with my whole life. And just, I mean, doing it 100% too, like, I can go in there. I’m not saying I’m gonna be doing 100% of the things, I’m gonna be going crazy. I’m not gonna be doing like, you know, I didn’t come off my feet a lot anyway when I was wrestling, but yeah, I’m not gonna be doing too crazy. Because the thing that I love to do the most back then is I love to take a bump, I love to take people’s stuff. I loved to bump mostly on the back of my neck, so we had to adjust that. So I have to adjust that to like a regular flat back bump and trying to just like, completely protect myself, even if my neck is 100%. Just because I want to be smarter this time around.”

On the reaction to Saraya’s AEW debut:

“I have never had a pop like that before in my life, and I had a good reaction coming back the first time. I was like, I’m back, you know? That was crazy. And then like my debut just for the Divas Championship was crazy. Even when people didn’t know who I was back then you know, but it just felt really good to have just all the support from so many people. It just felt really good. I was like, man, they really did miss me. Because again, you get in your head a lot. You’re like, Well, maybe not because social media is real. And then it’s, you know, the trolls that followed us on social media. You think the whole world hates here when in fact, it’s just like six people with different like multiple accounts just attacking you.”

On Saraya’s name being pronounced wrong at the debut:

“I was a surprise from everyone backstage too, so it wasn’t even their fault. And that’s why I even mentioned it on my Twitter. I was just like, it’s not their fault. You know, they didn’t like get to see me beforehand. And so everyone just assumes the American way of saying my name is Sar-i-ah because of the way you guys pronounce that r-a-y. Yeah, the way I like to pronounce it is Sa-ray-a like a ray of sunshine. Um, but yeah, I like I didn’t get to talk to them beforehand. But after that Taz still kept getting it wrong. He cannot get my name right to save his life. He’ll be like Sariah? Saraya? Throughout his commentary. I’m like, bro, come on.”

On taking that first bump:

“[It’s going to be scary] For everybody. Everybody watching, just everybody in general is just going to be it’s gonna be a big deal. I’m going to be under a microscope that day. And everything that I’m going to be doing is going to be scrutinised, it’s just I’m fully expecting it. That’s why after the match, I’m not even going to look at social media, I’m not even going to have it on my phone, because I’m already too much in my head to the point where I just want to be good and I have to focus on making sure I keep myself safe. Make sure that Britt is safe, you know, and just the pressure just having a match. It’s just, it’s just wild to me. It’s just, it’s a beautiful story, but it makes me nervous.”

On the difference between Saraya and Paige:

“Saraya is more mature, that’s definitely a big thing, and sober. But the thing is, with Paige, you know, she was, I’m trying to explain how she was. First of all, she was like, you know, this little emo girl teenager, kind of like, I’m like the angsty teenager phase. And going into Saraya. Like, I can’t imagine myself being that character anymore. Just that I would rather be a more elevated version of that character, a more grown up version of that character. Because I’m not her anymore, she’s the young version of me. And now I’m like the older version. Yeah, that kind of Paige just didn’t give an F about anybody, not even herself. She just cared about, outside of wrestling, partying and stuff like that. As Saraya, I focused on elevating myself, remaining healthy mentally being happier.”

On the leaked videos that went public:

“So WWE were really fantastic. I mean, they were helping me and they were keeping me updated. And they were texting me and just just constantly, like, sending out like that olive branch of like, we want to help you like, let us help you. And at the time, I didn’t listen to people because I didn’t think that I could be helped. I was like, you can’t help the person that doesn’t want to be helped, and I didn’t want to be helped at the time either. And so I was just going through a whole lot, you know, the first surgery, all the public stuff that came up the videos that came out, and it was just completely rock bottom, like, it was a f*cking awful time in my life. I said to myself, I was like in a bush outside of Walmart right when these videos came out, like I ran out of my house, and I just started running. And I don’t know why I was running, but I was running. And I got to like Walmart, and then I hid in a bush. I don’t know why, but I just felt so humiliated that I was out there on the f*cking internet for people to see. And no one was ever supposed to see those. You know, I was 19, you know, and I just remember being so low at that point. I’m saying like to myself, If my dad doesn’t accept me in this, my dad’s opinion of me mattered so much, I probably wouldn’t be here today is how bad it was. And I remember calling him and I was absolutely devastated. I’m like, I’m so sorry. You know, I was completely f*cking heartbroken. I was like, I’m so sorry, and he straightaway was like, I don’t care. I’m like what? He was like, I don’t care. He was like, Look at Kim Kardashian. He was just like, everyone does what you’ve done, you’re just in the spotlight? So you had sex, if they’re mad about it, they’re probably virgins, or they can’t pull a decent bird. But he was just like, who cares? And so I called my brothers after that. And I was like, I’m so sorry, and they said the same thing. My family was just like, we don’t care about that stuff, we just want to be there for you. And so after that, I just remember feeling like a lot of weight coming off my shoulders. Although publicly, people would recognise me and say the meanest sh*t. Like Twitter was real life for a second, which Twitter is not usually real, like people would be hurling f*cking sh*t at me. I remember one time I was sitting at a bar with my friends and someone asked for like a picture or something like that. And I was like, yeah, like, we get it afterwards I’m just like, gonna eat my food, and then totally we can we can, I’m just in the middle of eating. And then he was just like, I only want it because you’re a f*cking porn star. You know? And like, it was the first time hearing it in public, like someone’s saying that to me. And usually it’s just on social media and I have control of that because I can just delete it off my phone, right? But having that in person. I like ran to the bathroom. And I started sobbing. I was like crying my eyes out. I was just like, I can’t believe someone said that to me. And I’m not a f*cking porn star. Like this is not who I am. Like, this is not what I wanted. Like, this is the you know, somewhat like I’m the victim in this like, people don’t realise that I’m the f*cking victim in this. People just think I put them on the internet. And I’m like, I would never that wasn’t even on my phone. That stuff wasn’t on my in my cloud. It wasn’t in my stuff. It was on my boyfriend’s at the time phone. And so I mean, I believe it was him, he can deny all he wants but I believe it was him. Because no one else had that stuff.”

On an argument with Sebastian Bach:

“He’s an asshole, I was so disappointed. So this is the story right? My boyfriend was about to go and do this festival. And then his laptops like got stolen, he didn’t know where they were. But the laptops are so important because it has the lighting, it has the rap beats, it has the synths, it has everything right? It doesn’t have his vocals and stuff on there. He’s naturally so gifted with his vocals, but these laptops went missing and he doesn’t like to put on half assed shows, right? So he was like, I’d rather cancel than put on a show that’s 50%. So Sebastian Bach saw that and said that he’s not a real rock star and all that kind of stuff and you shouldn’t have to use laptops. It’s just like, I don’t know if you listened to my music, but I rap in my music too, as well as sing so like the band can’t just do these like rap beats like, you know, you can’t just do that using your instruments and f*cking beatboxing. You need laptops, there’s laptops for that and for the lights and stuff like that. So and then Sebastian Bach tried to say that he never cancelled shows, which he has. But he also said that he doesn’t use laptops, which he does like there’s literally videos of him with the laptop, I don’t  what he’s talking about. But he just like decided to say that when he’s not a real rock star. Anyway, the whole of the music industry had phonies back like Nicky Sixx from Kiss was just like, What are you talking about Sebastian? Like, you’re so old. And you know, like, you don’t have the gatekeep rock’n’roll, and Ronnie just became like this f*cking like God in the music industry like talking to Sebastian Bach, we didn’t realise how much the Sebastian Bach was f*cking hated. And I was like this guy is a menace, he got in an argument with Chris Jericho at one point, like he is a menace. So I tried to like write on his Instagram, like something nice, like you don’t realise like, you know, what you would use as like a backing tape tape. So like, for example, when Aerosmith had like, you know, like, Welcome to the Jungle or something like that already. Or even Kiss, they had like intros and stuff like that they didn’t play those live, they had like, even if it was like a CD or like a cassette, you know, like, they had that. I was, I was trying to say to him, like, it’s 2022, we can use laptops now. You don’t have to put in a tape and play the intro that way or that way. Anyway, he was telling me I was fake that wrestling’s fake and stuff like that. And I was like, Look, I’m just as fake as your f*cking hair plugs. Because if this all sounds like one of my music idols like I love like Sebastian Bach, he was in my favourite band like of all time but I can’t believe him arguing with him. So long story short, he is not on my top five list anymore.”

On what Saraya is grateful for:

“My health, my boyfriend and my family.”

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