WWE prodigy Paige a 'Diva for Tomorrow'

Paige became the youngest performer in WWE history to win the divas title last April at the age of 22.

It could have been a career milestone for Paige when she became the youngest divas champion in WWE history last April at the age of 21.

Even more impressive was the fact that she won the title in her very first match on the main roster.

Paige, though, wasn't exactly some inexperienced greenhorn. She may have even taken her first bump before making her official entrance into the world.

Born Saraya-Jade Bevis, Paige comes from a wrestling family in Norwich, England, that includes a pair of grappling parents and two brothers.

Her mother, who performed as Sweet Saraya, was actively competing before Paige was born, unaware that she was seven months pregnant.

Paige, a raven-haired beauty who has been dubbed WWE's “Diva for Tomorrow,” figures she can accurately pinpoint when she — albeit indirectly — took that first bump.

“It was when (veteran British wrestler and current NXT trainer) Robbie Brookside gave my mom a gorilla press slam over the rope onto my dad,” she says. “So he basically gave me my first bump.”

And, she adds, “I've been bumping ever since.”

Wrestling was a family tradition in Saraya-Jade Bevis' household.

“My granddad was a wrestler too. My sister wrestles. Both of my brothers are wrestlers, and my nieces and nephews all plan to wrestle.”

Her parents, Julia Hamer-Bevis (aka Sweet Saraya) and Ian Bevis (aka Ricky Knight), have established track records in the world of British pro wrestling. Her dad ran a training school in Norwich.

“They're incredible. My dad is very, very old school. He reminds me of Steve (Sir William) Regal. My mom is more of a brawler. She just likes to get in there and fight. I think that's where I got my side from her,” she laughs.

Paige's older brothers, Roy Bevis and Zak Frary, team under the name The UK Hooligans (Ray and Zak Knight) and have aspirations to wrestle in WWE.

“They are incredible ... really, really incredible,” she says. “One of my brothers (Zak) was at my WWE tryout. Unfortunately he didn't get signed, but he's still trying. Both of my brothers are trying to do it together so they can become a WWE tag team.”

Paige gushes at the thought of her brothers joining her in WWE.

“Hopefully one day they'll get another tryout and hopefully be with their little sister. They were so protective of me over in England. I think that would be so neat.”

Paige says she knew from day one that she wanted to be in WWE. But she also realized that it might be a long road to get there.

She was lucky enough to get an early tryout with WWE when a talent scout caught her act in England and was impressed enough to suggest that she get a look.

In hindsight, she says, her initial strategy might have been a miscalculation on her part.

Instead of being the free-spirited soul that she is, Paige says she tried to conform to what she thought WWE was looking for.

To that effect, she dyed her hair, tanned, removed all her piercings and wore color.

“It was just wasn't me. I tried to be something I wasn't,” says Paige, who was more than a little awed at performing in front of WWE stars she had grown up watching on television.

Her tryout match at the O2 Arena in London also could have gone better.

“I had just a short match with this one girl and I ended up splitting her lip open. I think they knew that I wasn't being myself. They told me to come back, change up just a little bit. I was still very young (18).”

WWE officials, though, obviously knew that Paige was a unique character with great potential. Their hunch proved to be right.

Paige got another tryout — this one run by Dustin Runnels (Goldust) and Jamie Noble — six months later. She didn't make the same mistake twice.

“I was pale, had all my piercings in and my hair was black again.”

She was the only girl trying out that day and was among 15 males — including her brother. With a renewed sense of confidence, she passed the test with flying colors and was signed on the spot.

“It was a great moment. But I had worked very hard for this,” says Paige, who will be part of a WWE show Feb. 6 at the North Charleston Coliseum.

When the British-born performer was signed by WWE in 2011, she already had six years of international wrestling experience.

Her first match was at the tender age of 13 when a female wrestler failed to show on a card promoted by her dad. He asked his daughter, who had some experience working out with her wrestling family members, to fill in.

Paige did and was hooked by the adrenaline rush.

“I was scared at first but I loved it.”

So much, in fact, that she sent out resumes to companies throughout Europe. By the time she was 14, she was traveling by herself to shows in Norway, France, Germany, Denmark, Turkey and other locales, making a name for herself and gaining valuable experience along the way.

By the age of 14, she had wrestled in nine different countries.

The pay wasn't great, she admits, but it didn't matter because she was following her dream.

“At 13 I knew where I wanted to be. I wanted to be in WWE,” she says. “But I needed experience. I needed to learn different styles.”

The young globetrotter, bound and determined to create her own legacy, would eventually get her reward.

Paige, who had performed on Britain's indy circuit as Britani Knight, would debut with FCW (now NXT) under the ring name Saraya, her own name and as a tribute to her mother. She joined developmental in a battle royal that included male competitors.

“I was the new girl and didn't know very much, so I don't think they liked me too much,” she says. “It was odd.”

Perhaps it was because Paige, with her unique appearance and worldly demeanor, didn't look the part of a WWE diva. She was from another country, and she felt she had to prove that she belonged there.

The WWE style was different than what she was accustomed to in Europe. But she had worked the American style in various U.S. promotions, and she was a fast learner.

“When I was in England, I did a lot of wrestling and moves. Over here, they were like, 'You don't need to do that much. Save your body. Become an entertainer rather than a wrestler.' And I wasn't used to wrestling on TV and in front of huge crowds, so it was a big adjustment.”

Paige not only wrestled as a tag-team partner with her mother back in England, but also wrestled against her on occasion. And both went full-throttle.

“I got used to it. I know it seems weird. We actually went harder, because you don't want people thinking we're going light with each other. We would argue so much during our matches. I would actually be dropping F-bombs. Anytime she grounded me, I would just take it out on her in the ring,” she laughs.

The two would eventually travel to America as a mother-daughter team for promotions based in Chicago and Tampa.

Paige became the first NXT women's champion in 2013 when she emerged victorious in a tournament that featured wins over Tamina Snuka, Alicia Fox and Emma.

Her entrée to the main roster less than a year later came as a complete shock.

Paige was invited to be a part of the NXT entourage at Axxess during Wrestlemania week in 2014. But she had no idea of what was to come.

“I watched so many matches that weekend. I even lost my voice. I had no idea something like that was going to come along,” says Paige, who did autograph signings and some exhibition matches against Charlotte during the pre-Wrestlemania event. “Sara Del Rey, the female trainer we have down at NXT, and Fit Finlay come up to me. Sarah says, 'Hey, you're doing something on the show tonight.'”

Finlay, a longtime pro wrestler, agent and trainer, as well as a family friend from across the Atlantic, then broke the news to her that she was going up against WWE divas champ AJ Lee that night on Raw.

Paige, completely unaware that she was going to wrestle much less win the divas crown, was stunned. She burst into tears.

“You better clean yourself up,” Finlay smiled, “because nobody knows you.”

“I thought I was losing my mind,” she says. “There were mixed emotions, but it was absolutely incredible.”

So Paige made her auspicious debut on the main roster one night after Wrestlemania 30 in New Orleans. She congratulated divas champ Lee on her successful title defense the night before, but when Lee slapped Paige and challenged her to a match that night, the stage was set.

In her first official bout on WWE TV — a match with no buildup and in front of a national audience — Paige ended Lee's 295-day reign, making her the youngest WWE divas champion in history at the age of 21.

“It was something I have wanted my entire wrestling career,” she says. “It was such a thrill just to have it (the belt) in my hands. I covered up my face, and I think I dropped an F-bomb. I was going through so many emotions. I think it was in the (video) packages they kept showing over and over for a couple of weeks. I don't think they realized what I said.”

Paige, who dropped the title to Lee in a triple threat match on the June 30 episode of Raw, repeated the feat after Summer Slam with a second divas title win on her 22nd birthday.

“It was mind-blowing. I was so lucky (working) with AJ because she's very humble and she really helped me throughout the whole thing. Not just with wrestling primarily, but also backstage. She's just been a very good friend. She's the top diva you know.”

Their on-again, off-again in-ring relationship has made for an entertaining dynamic.

“What I get a lot from fans, is that our feud is very much like Batman and Joker,” Lee said in a recent interview. “I think its really interesting because we go back and forth on who is Batman and who is Joker. After Wrestlemania you had Paige, the hero in all black leather, stopping maniacal AJ, which was perfect.”

Paige, who recently joined the cast of “Total Divas,” a reality television show produced by WWE and E!, says she loves her role as a WWE diva.

It has given her the opportunity to reach out to girls who may have self-doubts and reassure them that it's OK to be different.

“They (WWE divas) should obviously be a role model. I just think that every girl should completely be themselves. With me, I don't change. I feel like I have such a large fan base now, and that's incredible. But there's always women who reach out to me and kind of look up to me because I never change and I'm so different. I tell them to just be you. You don't have to be like everyone else.”

For a 22-year-old with her entire future in front of her, Paige has a wealth of experience.

Voted the best singles female wrestler of 2014 by Pro Wrestling Illustrated, she realizes that the business can be a tough one, but her passion for the profession and engaging optimism shine through in her conversation.

“I've been in WWE three years now, but this is going to be my 10th year wrestling. And I just didn't do wrestling. I did stunt work and everything. I have traveled the world by myself. People have a hard time believing that, especially people who didn't know me before I made my debut. They were like, 'Who's this kid?' But I love what I'm doing. Luckily I'm not jaded.”

Paige says her parents are ecstatic over her success.

“They're so proud of me. Especially my dad ... his whole Facebook page is like a shrine of me. He has his own wrestling company (World Association of Wrestling), and his gym is covered in posters of me. I'm very lucky to have the family I have. They're very supportive.”

Paige also has connected with her fellow divas. Her favorite is Alicia Fox.

“I absolutely adore her. We've become best friends outside the ring. The Bellas also have been absolute sweethearts.”

She's also high on current NXT talents such as Charlotte (Ashley Fliehr), Bayley (Pam Martinez), Sasha Banks (Mercedes Kaestner-Varnado) and Carmella (Leah Van Dale).

Of Charlotte, Paige says, “I think she's very talented. Any advice I would give her is to just keep her feet on the ground. She's an incredible athlete.”

Paige, who will team with AJ Lee against Alicia Fox and Layla on Feb. 6, says she's looking forward to coming to Charleston.

“It's a beautiful place ... absolutely beautiful.”

WWE returns to the North Charleston Coliseum on Feb. 6 with a Raw brand event.

Lineup includes Rusev defending his U.S. title against Roman Reigns; Dean Ambrose vs. Bray Wyatt; and The Usos vs. The Miz and Damien Mizdow for the WWE tag-team title.

Ric Flair, Hulk Hogan, Jimmy Hart, Shawn Michaels, Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, Billy Gunn, Ron Simmons and X-Pac (Sean Waltman) will appear on Monday night's Raw Legends Reunion show.

Reach Mike Mooneyham at 843-937-5517, or follow him on Twitter at @ByMike Mooneyham and on Facebook at Facebook.com/MikeMooneyham.