Dakota Kai has wrestled all over the world, from home in New Zealand to Australia to Japan and is now at the top of the wrestling industry, the WWE.
Jack Hudson: How did your journey into wrestling start?
Dakota Kai: Back in the day I used to watch wrestling with my younger brother, and I was raised as a strict Catholic, so we had to sneak to watch it in private, because my dad in particular wasn’t too keen on us watching wrestling.
That’s how I got into it, but I got contacted by an Auckland promotion IPW, because I used to athletics with one of the guys that knew one of the wrestlers and they needed more girls.
I didn’t know there was any wrestling in New Zealand at all, so I never pursued it, but that’s how I got into it.
2007 I made my debut, from there I went to tour internationally, Australia was the first experience and from there I got contacts to work in America and Japan, and the rest tells its story.
JH: How did those opportunities manage to come up with those contacts?
DK: When I did my first show in Australia with PWA, they did an all-women event, and I met Madison Eagles.
She wrestled for SHIMMER at the time and she put my name forward to Dave Prazak, who runs it and that’s how I got to go to the States.
In terms of Japan, Hartley Jackson put my name forward, he was working in Australia at the time, and because I was working Australia quite a bit, they wanted to put more girls forward to a program in Japan.
And then the doors opened, and once they opened, I managed to contact one of the guys in charge of Stardom.
I got to work for them, and it snowballed from there.
JH: Then you get to WWE, how great was that?
DK: I did my tryout back in 2014 when they were doing the Australian tour at the time.
They ran a tryout in Melbourne, and I did it, and initially when they contacted me they said ‘hey, we’ve got nothing for you right now, but please keep in touch and let us know what you’re doing’.
That was the same tryout Billie Kay and Peyton Royce came from, so I kept doing my thing.
I did another tour of Japan, continued doing stuff in the US with SHIMMER, then out of the blue, I get Kanyon, who’s basically the guy in charge of recruitment, he emailed me and asked when I’d be in the US next.
I told him, and they didn’t have any tryouts at the time when I was going to be over there, but he invited me to go to the Performance Centre for a day to train with the girls class and do what they do, meet coach Sara Amato.
Literally a few days later, he emailed me saying ‘congratulations, we’re going to offer you a contract.’
I dropped to the floor, I was crying, I called my mum and sister, it was insane.
People I was around when I found out the news, they thought I got some bad news because I just started crying, I never thought it would’ve been possible.
JH: October 14, 2015 – what do you remember about your first appearance?
DK: That was before I was signed, that’s when I worked with Nia Jaxx, that was her first appearance.
I was still working as ‘Evie’, so I made an appearance on an episode and I was her first ever match, which was nerve-racking too because I wanted to make sure everything went well.
It was overwhelming and as soon as that episode aired, I got a lot of good responses and a lot of surprises, it was really weird.
JH: You’ve been working on NXT, how good has that been?
DK: It’s been so crazy this journey so far.
I started on NXT in 2017, I did the first Mae Young Classic, that was the first major thing I did before being signed.
NXT to me is just the perfect example of what wrestling can be and should be, you’ve got the good balance of storylines, you’ve got these amazing athletes from so many different backgrounds.
There are so many independent stars in NXT that came from the indie scene, then you’ve got people who came from the NFL, the NBA, Ninja Warrior, it’s a great amalgamation of talent from different backgrounds as well as from all around the world.
And having Triple H as your boss is pretty cool too.
JH: What’s it like working with Triple H?
DK: It’s weird, having been one of the people that used to watch them growing up, it’s still kind of weird to be working for someone like him and seeing people like Shawn Michaels and Road Dogg and trying to be normal around them.
You don’t want to still be a fan, but it’s still very cool.
JH: WrestleMania debut in the battle royal and the first New Zealander to compete at Mania, do you feel like you’re a role model to aspiring New Zealand wrestlers?
DK: I don’t like to think of myself like that, but I didn’t know at the time I was the first Kiwi to make a WrestleMania appearance until after the fact.
As soon as I knew that, I had people tweeting me and telling me about it, that was crazy in itself.
The experience was insane, before we went out to the ring, a lot of the girls that had done it before were giving us advice and said make sure you take a moment before you walk down that ramp and get in the ring to really look around and be in the moment and absorb the insane crowd and venue.
Just breathe and take it in, because once the match started, it was a blur, it happened, and it was done.
They were trying to make sure us girls whose first time it was, we make sure we took our time with a crowd like that of 80,000 people.
I can’t even explain the feeling, it was insane.
And we got an NXT chant during that which was cool.
JH: You were on a run then the torn ACL happened, how did you push through to recover?
DK: I know a lot of people who experience career halting injuries like that, they say it never happens at a good time.
For me, I just made my first appearance at a TakeOver War Games event and I was starting to get on a roll with TV storylines and then it happened doing something I do all the time on a road loop.
The biggest thing during that whole process was the physical side of rehab was fine, because you just must take your focus from wrestling and put it into that.
It was more the mental stuff and a lot of other people that have gone through the same thing have said the mental side of recovery and getting back in the ring, that’s going to be the toughest aspect of all of it.
You’re going to have to put your head down and keep going.
Even when I made my return, I was still worried and didn’t want to go through that again.
I was curious to see if I could still wrestle the way I did before.
JH: You’re well into the title picture now, how are you enjoying the latest run?
DK: I just reintroduced myself into the title picture, I love it and ever since the heel turn that happened at War Games, I think it was a much-needed breath of fresh air for my character too, it’s been crazy.
I’m loving the opportunities being presented and I love challenges, so when they are offered to me I want to make sure I’m doing the best I can, and I am excited.
Watch NXT Thursday’s at 10am (AEST) on Foxtel’s Fox8.