It’s a safe bet that many fans would be surprised to learn that TNA Knockout Velvet Sky is a far cry from the Barbie Doll character she portrays so well inside the squared circle.

As part of The Beautiful People, an elite heel group of Knockouts whose gimmick was that of arrogant blondes who believed their physical appearance was superior to all others, the bombshell used her smarts and sex appeal to get whatever she wanted.

Along with original member Angelina Love, their mission was to “cleanse” the TNA roster “one ugly person at a time.”

Sky’s character, however, bears little resemblance to the woman behind the alter ego.

“I’m definitely not a fashion girly girl like my character portrays. Velvet Sky is more of a girly girl than I really am. I’m not a girly girl at all,” says Sky, whose real name is Jamie Szantyr.

The characters she and Love portrayed were inspired by Hollywood divas Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie. But Sky says she couldn’t be more different.

“ I don’t do my hair. I don’t do my makeup. I don’t care about flashy clothes. I wear what’s comfortable. I don’t do things because they’re in or they’re the new thing. I couldn’t tell you what was in right now. I couldn’t care less,” says Sky, a jock of all trades who began playing for her city’s softball league at age 7 and by high school was on the softball, cheerleading, track and cross-country teams.

There is one striking similarity, says the bombshell, between the ring character and the real-life person.

“Velvet Sky the character is a hard-working, stand-up-for-yourself, no-nonsense type of girl, which relates to how I really am,” she says.

Sky, indeed, is one of the hardest-working performers in the company’s successful Knockouts division. And she’s been there since its inception at the 2007 Bound for Glory pay-per-view.

The division has taken a few twists and turns during its five-year history. But the former Knockouts champ feels the inaugural group of performers were special because they provided the foundation for what the division has become.

“The Knockouts division is always going to be a strong division built around strong women,” says Sky. “Back in 2007 when we all first started, it was very, very special. And it’s not going to ever be like that again.”

That’s not to say, she adds, that it won’t ever again reach the level of acclaim it achieved in the beginning.

“Don’t get me wrong. The group of girls that we have right now are great, and everybody gets along wonderfully. But the girls who I was with back in 2007 that helped start the division were special. It was just a special bond that we all shared.”

Knockouts trailblazer

The talented wrestler with seductive beauty may be only 31 years old, but she feels like a pioneer, having been one of the original TNA Knockouts.

“We were all starting out in this new company, living out of our dreams at the exact same time, side by side. I can’t say enough good things about those girls ... the likes of Roxxi (Laveaux), (Awesome) Kong, Taylor Wilde, Raesha (Saeed), just to name a few. It was such a wonderful, wonderful time for the Knockouts. It was such a great division of girls.”

Sky laments the fact that much of the original female talent is no longer with the company.

“The girls who aren’t here anymore are missed deeply,” she says.

And that includes the most recent departure, Angelina Love, with whom Sky enjoyed her greatest run in the company as a member of The Beautiful People.

“Angelina and I ran strong with our gimmick when we first got started. We definitely had a lot of fun being the mean girls of the company, going around and giving everybody haircuts and makeovers and stuff like that. I really do miss that.”

The two jelled from the beginning, and ratings reflected it. The success of the team even prompted WWE writers to come up with a copycat team billed as LayCool.

“We definitely had a lot of on-screen chemistry. It showed especially when we would do our interviews,” says Sky.

Ironically, Sky held the Knockouts tag-team title with later Beautiful People members Madison Rayne and Lacey Von Erich, but never with Love.

“When they first announced that there was going to be a Knockouts tag-team division here, Angelina and I got pretty excited because we honestly thought that we were going to be crowned the first-ever Knockouts champions,” relates Sky. “At the time we were the only female tag team or stable in the company. There were no other established female factions or tag teams. It was all the more reason we thought we had it in the bag. But they had something different in mind, and that never happened. It would have been nice to have had a tag-team title run with Angelina.”

Living a dream

Professional wrestling, like other sports and entertainment genres, is a constantly evolving business.

Even for someone as young as Velvet Sky.

“I miss the old times here,” says Sky, who has been with TNA for nearly five years.

Sky actually began training for pro wrestling in late 2001.

“I didn’t jump right into matches. Back then there wasn’t a lot of talk of me because I spent a lot of time training and doing small indy shows. No one would have heard of who I was back then. I really didn’t start to get my name out there until around 2003. That’s when it all started for me.”

Sky looks back and calls that period “a wonderful time” in her career.

But the opportunity to work at a high level with TNA has been a dream come true.

“I think it’s awesome. Even six years ago I would never have imagined that I’d be in the position I am today. You hope and you wish and you dream about it, but when it comes, you’re asking yourself if it really happened. Is this really my life?”

As a female performer in a male-dominated business, Sky has faced her share of challenges.

The Knockouts, TNA’s version of WWE’s Divas, have gone through several agents — trainers who help shape their styles and their matches. But one former grappler in particular stands out.

Grizzled veteran Dutch Mantell, an unlikely choice for the role, had worked behind the scenes as a writer and agent for TNA since 2003, and had made a number of valuable contributions, not the least of which was helping create the popular Knockouts division and bringing in some of its top talent.

The relationship, however, wasn’t love at first sight.

“Dutch is definitely old school, and it took a while for him to warm up to the girls,” says Sky. “At the time he was so ‘not women’s wrestling.’ He was so against it. But that was fine. The harder we worked, and the better we all did, Dutch started to warm up to all of us. He actually started to look at us in a new light where he would be pleasant instead of ignore us.”

Mantell, unfortunately, was released from the company in 2009 due to creative differences.

“We definitely miss Dutch,” says Sky. “He’s a funny guy, and he helped us out a lot.”

Sky says she’s grateful to be part of a company that puts such emphasis and effort into the women’s division. Having a strong, independent woman like Dixie Carter as president of the company doesn’t hurt either.

“I’m grateful that the powers at be here in TNA allow us to come into our own character, and they allow us speaking on air time and put a lot of focus and time into the Knockouts division. Sometimes in other places, the main focus obviously isn’t the women, and they don’t put as much time and effort there, and the product shows. Here the Knockouts are always being talked about. They give us the ball and we kind of just run with it. They let us be us.”

Near-Diva detour

The TNA Knockouts division has distinguished itself as drawing some of the higher-rated segments on the company’s TNA Impact show that airs weekly on the Spike network.

Sky has played an important role in the popularity and success of the division.

But her career nearly took a detour five years ago when she auditioned for the WWE Diva Search in prior to joining TNA.

“Yes, I did,” she acknowledges. “The only thing I’m going to say about that is the only reason I did that is because there were powers at be within that organization that told me they wanted to see me do it. Some higher-up people in the organization came to me and told me that they would like to see me do it.

“It’s not a way that I wanted to break into wrestling. But if someone is basically telling you that they want to see you do this, then you do it. You bite the bullet and you do it.”

As for the competition, says Sky, she’s happy right where she is.

“I don’t know what their intentions were telling me to do it or what their plans were, but I’m glad it didn’t work out back then because I’m super happy in my spot here. Everything happens for a reason, and it just wasn’t my time then. I’m glad I didn’t get through.”

Southern gal at heart

Pro wrestling, says Sky, has provided her with opportunities she otherwise would have never been able to take advantage of.

One of her biggest thrills as a result of the business came about recently when she played the lead female role in the current Montgomery Gentry video.

The video, titled “My So Called Life,” provides an insight into life on the road for a wrestler and gives the rarely seen female perspective.

“I would have never gotten to do something like that had it not been for wrestling,” says Sky.

The role wasn’t much of a stretch for the Connecticut-born beauty who admittedly has taken to the South like a duck to water.

“I love the South. I dated a guy (pro wrestler Shane Helms) for five years who lived in North Carolina. His home basically became my home, and his friends became my friends. I just got so accustomed to Southern living. I just love it. I love the food. I love the people. I love the environment.”

Sky gushes about the fans and says she loves performing for them.

“Southern fans are so genuine. They’re so awesome. I love meeting all the fans in the South. They’re so polite. ‘Yes ma’am, yes sir.’ It’s such a breath of fresh air coming from the Northeast. Now I do love my Northeast people. But just going from the fast-paced life, with people saying ‘Get out of my way,’ to the laid-back nature here ... it’s just a breath of fresh air.”

Being able to travel the country — and the world — has been eye opening for Sky.

“We went to Abu Dhabi a year and a half ago. I would have never found myself in Abu Dhabi had it not been for wrestling or TNA. It’s just little things like that mean a lot.”

At some point, says Sky, she’d like to settle now and start a family.

Just not now.

“That’s definitely in the cards for me ... it’s just a matter of when. I’m not looking to go get married and have kids tomorrow, but it’s definitely going to be in the cards for me somewhere down the line. You know when your time is done in wrestling. You know when enough is enough. And I haven’t really reached that point yet. I’ll know when that time comes.”

-- Old School Championship Wrestling returns to the Hanahan Rec Center on July 29 with its “July Justice” show.

Top bouts feature Raven vs. Asylum in a hardcore title match, and Universal champ John Skyler vs. OSCW champ Josh Magnum.

Bell time is 5 p.m. Doors open at 4:30.

Adult admission is $10 (cash at the door); $5 kids 12 and under.

For more information, call 843-743-4800 or visit www.oscwonline.com.

Reach Mike Mooneyham at 843-937-5517 or follow him on Twitter at @ByMikeMooneyham and on Facebook.