Only two WWE Superstars can say they immediately got signed to the company after the fans chanted for it to happen, and Mia Yim is one of them. After her performance in the second-ever Mae Young Classic tournament, the fans in attendance chanted “PLEASE SIGN MIA.” The rest was, as they say, history.
Of course, history is still in the making for the self-proclaimed “HBIC” of NXT and WWE. A 10-year veteran of the industry who’s wrestled all over the world, Mia’s been across the ring from the likes of Shayna Baszler, Mercedes Martinez, and even “The Original Bro” Matt Riddle—and that was before she even signed with NXT. In NXT, she’s had memorable feuds with the likes of Baszler and Bianca Belair.
RondaRousey.com recently spoke with Mia Yim about her journey to the big stage of NXT and WWE, as well as her friendship with “The Queen of Spades” and her—let’s call it—frenemy-ship with Shelton Benjamin.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
I like to start these interviews by asking a non-WWE question of sorts: How exactly do you unwind from the ring? Or are you someone who’s always kind of in WWE mode?
I unwind at home. Mainly just Netflix or playing some video games—something that has to do with me being at home. I live with Shayna and Jessamyn [Duke], and just, all of us getting together to watch some trash TV, just doing normal people stuff. We all kind of have the go, go, go mentality, so we kind of have that switch that’s like, “Okay, let’s just settle in and just be lazy for a little bit before we have to go again.”
And what are you watching on Netflix right now?
I actually am watching Who Killed Malcolm X? on Netflix. We’ve been watching a lot of Netflix lately, so we finished The Witcher, You Season One and Two. We watch a lot of the crime documentaries, like the Aaron Hernandez documentary. I just started Who Killed Malcolm X? yesterday.
What about the video games? What games are you currently playing?
Right now, I just started Death Stranding. I finished Far Cry 5, and Far Cry: New Dawn recently, but I’m just trying to occupy my time ’til the latest Last of Us comes out.
You mentioned that “go, go, go” mentality. Obviously, in NXT you have a whole other grind now, but how did the grind of being on the independent scene help you prepare for it?
It taught me everything from just the business aspect of it—from how to conduct myself—along with just the hustle. How I was in the indies, I worked every weekend, but I also still had a nine to five job from Monday through Friday. So it was different working and knowing how to balance… Not “real life,” just because being in the ring is real life. but how to balance a desk job along with having to travel every weekend and getting to network and using social media as a networking tool.
So, the indies taught me a lot, not just in the business but in life, as far as just balancing quality time with my family and friends versus having to work all the time and appreciating the little things like being able to be at home. There was a lot of grind to it, just having to figure out time management, for example. Where, nine to five I’m at my desk job, so after work, I would have to go home, eat something real quick, and then go to the gym—because, technically, going to the gym is still work as well. So, a lot of time management, organization, budgeting. “Adulting,” pretty much.
Being in the indies helped you grow up, essentially. Because you had to figure all of that out to actually be successful.
Oh, for sure. Aside from going to college, working independents—like, my first Japan trip—was the first time I’ve ever lived on my own, by myself. So I needed to learn how to cook, how to clean, how to make sure that I had food in the fridge. So, it did help me grow up to be a grown woman pretty much.
But before you got into the business, were there any specific Superstars or matches that inspired you? Was there an exact moment where you said to yourself, “Yeah, I have to do this?”
I don’t remember a specific match. I just remember as a kid watching, when I first saw Chyna and when I saw her competing against the guys, that’s when I knew, “Okay, women can do this.” Because growing up, it was all just managers or valets, so Chyna was the first woman that I saw actually be in the room with the guys. And then I started seeing more women come out having that role, such as Lita and Beth Phoenix. And seeing more women coming out as athletes rather than just eye candy, [that] motivated me and showed me that it’s possible and that I can do it too.
And you’ve clearly followed in their footsteps, as you’ve also done intergender matches before. You’ve faced people like Matt Riddle and Keith Lee during your respective times on the indies. Could you talk a little bit about your experience doing intergender matches?
Intergender matches are probably some of my favorites, especially in the indies, because it’s just balls to the wall. It’s a style that is completely different than competing against another female, which some people are for it, others are against it. But it’s like your cup of tea: it either is or it isn’t.
For me, I remember the first time I had an intergender match that was kind of viral, and that was my feud with Greg Excellent. Greg pushed me to the point where I knew that I can hang with the boys. I knew that I can be respected and [won’t] be looked at as just a pretty face. I am someone that can also go.
My matches with Keith and Riddle were after I broke my leg, so I had low self-esteem, I had low confidence. So stepping in the ring with them and them pushing me to my limit or beyond what I thought was my limit really helped me mentally to get back into the mindset of, “Yeah, I can still do to this. I haven’t lost a step. I can still go.” So, intergender matches to me, I feel like it’s a way for women to express themselves in the ring as athletes, if they’re willing to go that route. It’s my favorite.
It’s, personally, my cup of tea too. And you mentioned Chyna, Lita, Beth Phoenix as inspirations. Were there any other favorite Superstars you had before you became one?
Growing up, The Rock was my all-time favorite. He was amazing on the mic and just had that… He was “electrifying,” as he says. He was definitely someone that, anytime he was on TV, I would be watching. He was one of my favorites. The Hardy Boyz—their style of wrestling was my favorite—Steve Austin. Those are the top people that I definitely would watch as a kid.
And what would you say is your personal philosophy on the sport or the storytelling aspect of it all?
To me, this is an outlet… You know, whatever story I want to tell or whatever story I want to portray, I love the challenge to see if the crowd will follow me, [for example] if I did things “this way.” Or, “Let me see if the crowd will follow me if I did things the other way.” Storytelling and expressing emotion is what would grab me in a match-up; what I hope for others to feel in my matches is emotion and stories.
Because, especially nowadays, there’s so many matches that are just moves, like “Who can do the craziest moves?” and “Who’s the craziest person that could jump off this building?” or whatever. And it’s like, that’s great and all, but then no one’s going to remember that, hell, even a week or two later. To me, people are going to remember if you saw a really good movie, people are going to remember that movie for years, and I want my matches and I want the matches that I enjoy to feel like I’m watching a really good movie.
You made your official NXT TakeOver debut back in August at NXT TakeOver: Toronto, in a title match against Shayna Baszler. You’ve talked about this and I’ve talked to Shayna about this too—you two are roommates and really good friends. So can you just talk about the experience of going up against your really good friend and beating the heck out of her and Jessamyn and Marina as well?
Well, if I was ever to have a first TakeOver match, I am so glad that it was with her. Me and Shayna wrestled in the indies so it’s cool to see how everything turned out, from where we started to now. And just to even have Marina [Shafir] and Jessamyn involved, it was just… It couldn’t have happened with a better person for me. I already get in my head a lot, so to have Shayna there to keep me calm and to know that we’re going to be okay, and to know that I can hit her, she can hit me, and we’ll still be good with each other.
If I was ever to have just one TakeOver match in my whole NXT career, I’m glad that it was with her, just because of the relationship we have outside the ring.
Don’t tell her that.
Oh, I’m totally going to let her know. You both came into WWE through the Mae Young Classic. What was the experience of both Mae Young Classics like for you?
Oh man, the Mae Young Classic was always a lot of fun. It was like, okay, I’m going to step into the ring with girls I’ve worked already in the independents, and some girls where, it’ll be a whole new experience. It was [a lot of] not knowing what to expect. The first Mae Young was very… It was a lot. I didn’t expect it to be that much, just, having to go through what they call a “car wash,” in a day or two. And then having multiple matches in a day, which is also really cool. But it was cool to see that Shayna pretty much got signed from that one.
And then the second Mae Young, I wasn’t really expecting anything long-term. I just kind of went in like, “Let me go in, show out, show them what I can do,” For the second Mae Young, it was after I got injured, so it’s like, “Let me show them that I can still go.” So I wasn’t really expecting much, and then when Triple H pulled me aside and told me that I was a part of tfamily now and welcome, it took me a couple days to really digest it and what it meant. Because the next day, I felt like I was just gonna wake up from a dream and it never happened. So, it took me a while to process, just to really understand that, what I wanted my whole life, I finally got. It’s still one of the most memorable, happiest days of my life.
Was the day slightly ruined by the realization that you’d be working in the same company as Shelton Benjamin?
It’s funny because he was there. The Mae Young was two days, and he was there for the first day, but not the second day when I got signed. So he was there for the first day, which was really cool just because on the indies, we only see each other once in a blue moon. So I was like, “It was nice to finally see you. You’re back in WWE. Maybe I’ll see you down the road.” But now it’s like, I can ruin his life more on the regular.
Can you please talk more about ruining Shelton Benjamin’s life? I think the people want to know about that.
Well, that is my mission in life. Or what I consider my mission in life. To make sure that he is miserable, and any time I text him in the morning or any time in the day, I just want to make sure that I bring a slight inconvenience to his day. And that will make my day!
Speaking of ruining people’s days, Malcolm Bivens—
Oh my god.
You know, Malcolm Bivens lost his CD player, and when I talked to Matt Riddle, he said he thought that you stole it. So what was the truth?
I stole his CD player?
Matt Riddle definitely thought you stole Malcolm Bivens’ CD player.
Well, let me ask you this… Actually, I probably already know the answer to this. Mind you, Matt Riddle is the one who thinks this, and Matt Riddle, let’s just say his thought process is not really 100% clear, so you can take it how you will. I did not steal Malcolm Bivens’ CD player.
I think Malcolm thought it was Nia Jax that took his CD player.
Oh boy. He’s already getting into it with Nia.
Oh, she could and will ruin him. I can’t wait.
Going back to your indy experience real quick, I feel like people either don’t know this or they forgot: The first major thing you did in your career was managing Adam Cole. How was that experience?
It was awesome. I was nervous at first because I didn’t know if I was managing or being a valet or just being on the side. I didn’t have experience or training in that. So it was a whole new thing for me to learn—which, I love to learn all different parts of wrestling. And then Adam Cole has always been very helpful and sweet. And it’s cool because, when we were there, Drake [Wuertz]— the ref, Drake—was there at CZW. So, it’s cool to see the people that I grew up with, and we’re all in WWE together.
But being Adam Cole’s manager was a lot of fun. A lot of fun. Much more fun than I thought it would ever be. Just being a heel on the side and it getting heat from the crowd, it was fun.
How was training at CZW? Because you always kind of imagine it a certain way. I feel like people give CZW a bad rap, but so many great talents have come out of there.
It was difficult. I was training at CZW the same time I was training at Ring of Honor, and they were both two very different styles, but I wanted to learn as many styles as I could. So, two days out of the week I would be at CZW, the other two days in the week I would be at Ring of Honor. [CZW’s where] I learned where to really kick somebody or to really hit somebody’s safe spots.
But it felt more like a boot camp-type style. Which I like. My dad was in the military, so I kind of grew up on that anyway. So I really like the conditioning, the strength and conditioning training there. The drills. It was different, but I liked it.
Comparatively, what’s it like training at the Performance Center now? Especially since you have all of these legends constantly around you. I assume you can pick their brains at any time.
Oh my God, I feel so spoiled at the PC. I try to remind people we are blessed to be in this, to be able to come work out in this facility. The gym itself there—I don’t even need to go to my own gym. Why do I need to go when I have access to a gym and a strength and conditioning coach that’s going to tell me exactly what I need to do to get where I want my body to be? And then I can hit up Coach Sara [Amato] anytime to kick a match or to get her opinion on something. And there’s so much… My third match ever, in the independents, was with Sara, and we competed numerous times throughout my career, so I respect the hell out of her.
It’s awesome that I can easily just go into the PC and just go into her office, and just ask if I could watch a match with her and pick her brain. Just to have access to her, to Coach [Matt] Bloom, Scotty 2 Hotty, all these legends. It’s like, a lot of people that I used to watch as a kid and just admire—X-Pac is there on occasion—and just picking these guys’ brains. Road Dogg is amazing, just helping me with promos and backstage stuff.
And it’s like, never in a million years would I… If I was 13 years old again and if I told myself this gonna be my life, I would have thought I would be lying to myself. It is a blessing and an honor to be able to have access to such great coaches and an amazing facility and to be able to travel the world. It was my dream.
I’m actually glad you brought up Sara. I’m a huge Sara Del Rey fan, so it’s really awesome to know that she’s really helping out in WWE, creating the future.
I remember, even in the independents, what I loved about her was that she didn’t take crap from no one. She stood her ground. Like, if a promoter wanted something specific that she didn’t agree to, she wasn’t going to do it. And I respect the hell out of her for that. And she’s still the same way now, and I’m so blessed and lucky that I got to know her early on in my career because I feel like that is what kind of set me up to be the performer slash businesswoman that I am now. Because I got to see someone stand up for themself and know that I don’t have to be walked all over to get to where I want to be. I feel like she’s definitely continuing to show people that way.
That’s great to hear. The PC is full of a lot of established wrestlers now, but you also have a lot of newcomers from different worlds and sports. How do you feel when you’re in the ring with someone you’re familiar with or at least know is familiar with this world as opposed to someone you’ve never worked with before or doesn’t have the experience?
I feel like everyone can bring a little something out of everyone else. So if I’m in the ring with Shayna or in the ring with Mercedes Martinez, we’ve competed against each other enough in the indies where it’s, I trust them, they trust me, and if something were to go wrong, we’ll be alright. If I’m in the ring with someone new, I know that it’s my role to make sure that they’re comfortable, to make sure that they’re confident enough in their abilities, and to make sure that they look good.
I like being able to be in the ring with someone I’ve never been in the ring with before, just so I can bring out the confidence that they need. Or if they need help with something specifically, I love being able to help them through whatever they’re going through, even outside of the ring. Like, if they’ve never been in the indies before and never really knew what the world was like, what the business is like, I like being able to tell them, “Hey, if you ever need anything, let me know. I’ll help you. I’ll do whatever I can to help you.” It’s really cool. I love the heart and the determination that these people that have never been in this world before [have]—that this is all new to them, but they want to learn as much they can. So, if they want to be in the ring with me and just kind of roll around and just kind of feel things out like, I love it. I totally love it.
Spoken like a true vet. You know your nickname in WWE/NXT is the “HBIC.” Can you explain to the readers what the “HBIC” is exactly?
Oh, well… HBIC in WWE is “Head Baddie in Charge.” Stemming from a less [PG] acronym that I will not say. But in WWE, it’s “Head Baddie in Charge.”
And what does that entail, being the “Head Baddie in Charge?”
Being a baddie is a mentality. A lot of people like to say, “Oh, if you’re a baddie, why are you a good guy?” It’s not being a good guy or a bad guy. It’s standing up for what I think is right, and if I have to be a vigilante in a sense, I will be. The TakeOver match against Shayna, it’s not a babyface move to take out her two ponies, but I’ll do whatever I have to do to make sure that it’s equal. So, take it how you will.
So, obviously, you have a gimmick already, but I like to ask: If you had to do your gimmick like you were in a WWE in the ‘90s, what would it be? You know, like professional gimmicks like The Goon or Duke “The Dumpster” Droese?
Oh man. I can’t even think of a witty name, but it’ll definitely be a thug.
Ah, “The Street Baddie.”
Pretty much. Yeah.