Wrestler of the Week: Paige

Albert Ching

RondaRousey.com’s Wrestler of the Week series profiles significant wrestlers from the past and present. 

The life of former WWE Divas Champion Paige has had as many unlikely twists as a Hollywood film—so it’s only fitting that it’s inspired one, Fighting with My Family, out in select theaters on February 14 (with a wide release on February 22).

Paige famously made her big WWE debut by defeating AJ Lee for the Divas Championship in her first main roster match in 2014, but her wrestling career actually started about a decade earlier—when she was 13 (!) years old. Yes, that’s very young, but she was literally born into the business, as both of her parents were pro wrestlers (her mother, known both as “Sweet Saraya” and Saraya Knight, is still active on the scene). In fact, her in-ring debut was technically even earlier: According to Paige, Saraya didn’t know she was pregnant until seven months in and kept wrestling up until that time, with little Paige in utero.

After years of experience in the UK, Paige gained exposure in the states as part of the independent organization SHIMMER at the ripe old age of 18—in both singles matches and tag matches teaming with her mom—culminating in the unique bonding experience that is a mother-daughter No DQ match. This run led directly to Paige—real name Saraya-Jade Bevis—landing on WWE’s radar, and moving to Florida Championship Wrestling (FCW, the WWE developmental predecessor to NXT) in September 2011.

FCW transitioned into NXT, and Paige was a major part in the brand’s formative phase, becoming the first-ever NXT Women’s Champion in the summer of 2013, and holding that title for 308 days. It was during this time that Paige gained notice for her status as the “anti-Diva,” acting as an alternative to the more traditionally glam women frequently featured in WWE. In February 2014, Paige successfully defended the NXT Women’s Championship in an acclaimed match against Emma at NXT Arrival, the first-ever live NXT special, winning with the very painful looking PTO submission hold, aka the “Paige Tapout.”

After conquering the NXT women’s division, Paige headed to the main roster, surprise debuting in 2014’s RAW after WrestleMania (typically a highly newsworthy show). She didn’t waste any time, shockingly defeating AJ Lee, another WWE women’s wrestler who didn’t fit the “Diva” mold, for the Divas Championship with her “Paige Turner” finishing move; going from relative unknown to champ in the course of one television segment.

Paige held the championship until June of that year, losing it to a returning AJ Lee—in an impromptu title defense that mirrored Paige’s debut. Paige and AJ continued to feud, before teaming at WrestleMania 31 for a victory against The Bella Twins. As a literal lifer, Paige was good at just about everything involved in being a wrestler, and her physical matches, spirited promos, and Hot Topic-esque aesthetic (she’s been featured in the store’s advertising campaigns) carved out a very distinct place in the wrestling landscape.

WrestleMania 31 turned out to be Lee’s last match, but the women’s division was soon to get a boost—and change forever in the process. Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks, and Charlotte Flair all joined the main roster in July 2015, with the “PCB” stable of Paige, Charlotte, and Becky quickly forming. That group only lasted a couple of months, with Paige turning on her partners after Charlotte won her first Divas Championship—the title change prompted Paige to drop a very memorable promo targeting every member of the division, with her claiming Charlotte she wouldn’t have even gotten a shot if her dad wasn’t Ric Flair. Paige subsequently received multiple opportunities against Charlotte, but wasn’t able to regain the title.

In 2016, Paige’s time in the ring was limited due to suspensions and neck surgery. She returned as an active presence in November 2017, forming the new trio of Absolution alongside Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville—both of whom she had previous history with as a judge in the 2015 version of WWE reality show competition Tough Enough, where Rose and Deville were contestants.

Paige returned to the ring in December 2017, for her first match in 18 months—but within weeks, an injury would end her wrestling days for good, at the age of 25. It was a sad and abrupt close to a career that defied the odds in many ways, with Paige—one of the most pivotal pieces of WWE’s “Women’s Evolution,” whose catchphrase was boasting “This is my house!” while in the ring—missing moments like the first-ever women’s Royal Rumble match.

Paige didn’t officially announce her retirement until the RAW after WrestleMania on April 9, 2018, continuing to accompany her Absolution teammates to the ring until that point. A day after retiring, she was named the new on-screen SmackDown General Manager (taking the place of Daniel Bryan, who had just returned to in-ring action after being forced to medically retire two years earlier).

Paige remained in the GM role until this past December, and she’s since been busy promoting Fighting with My Family, a film based on her and her wrestling family. The movie is produced by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and written/directed by The Office co-creator Stephen Merchant, with Florence Pugh starring as Paige. Her next move in WWE isn’t clear, but whatever it is, it’s sure to be uniquely Paige.

The next Paige sighting may happen as soon as WWE Elimination Chamber 2019, which takes place February 17 on the WWE Network.

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