Nikki Bella on her Mexican heritage, her future as an aunt to Brie's child and her wrestling career
This story first appeared on ESPN Deportes.
When she was searching for a role model during her formative teenage years, Stephanie Nicole Garcia found one in a dynamically talented Latina: Jennifer Lopez.
As she considered the path she wanted her future to take, Garcia, who is now best known as WWE superstar Nikki Bella, her choice of inspiration led her directly toward her present success. But it didn't come easily; at times she felt she didn't fit in -- in a number of ways.
Nikki, whose father, Joe, is Mexican, grew up in Scottsdale, Arizona. She latched onto Lopez, who is of Puerto Rican descent, as her motivation as she went through her teenage years.
"My idol was Jennifer Lopez," Bella said during a recent interview with ESPN Deportes during Royal Rumble weekend. "I was maturing in a way that all my friends weren't. How is it that I'm 10 and I look 15 and all my friends don't?"
Bella can draw a clear line from seeing Lopez on the cover of Latina Magazine to her own appearance in the magazine more than a decade later.
"I'm so proud to be a Latina," Bella said. "Growing up and being Latina and growing up with my father and getting to do a lot of the Hispanic traditions, I loved it.
"It was funny, because when I shot the cover for Latina Magazine, I spoke about that [moment in my life] when the magazine came out," Bella said. "I was in sixth grade, and it was something very important to me because as a Latin woman growing up, a Latin girl, I related to them and there were people that I was growing around that I wasn't relating to."
Bella featured on the Latina Magazine cover in 2016 with her twin sister Brie, just a few weeks before Nikki's return to the ring after a serious neck injury that kept her out of action for close to a year. It was also just a few months after Brie announced she was retiring from the ring to start a family with former WWE superstar and current SmackDown general manager Daniel Bryan, real name Bryan Danielson.
This step in her twin sister's life makes Nicole very emotional because before Brie's marriage to Danielson, they had been together all of their lives.
It was the case throughout their childhood and through the start of their wrestling careers. After going into modeling and acting at the same time, in 2007, they signed WWE contracts and began training in Florida Championship Wrestling, then the development territory for World Wrestling Entertainment.
That was where the Bella twins, Nikki and Brie, were officially born, morphing over the years into company icons after their debut as part of the main roster in 2008. Today, among many things, they are stars of the WWE's reality show, "Total Divas," which presents their life outside the ring along other female stars, as well as their own spinoff, "Total Bellas."
While Brie is in the midst of her pregnancy and awaiting her first child with Bryan, Nikki is back to performing five times a week as part of the Smackdown Live brand. She's not all alone, though, as Bryan makes weekly appearances on the TV show, and her boyfriend John Cena, one of the biggest WWE superstars of all time and a pop culture phenomenon in his own right, is also right by her side performing on the same show.
Now that Brie is expecting, Nikki can't hide her joy.
"I can't wait. My sister has this amazing glow. I feel like this is my first child; she's my identical twin too, so I'm very, very excited," she said.
While they spend more time apart now than they have previously in their lives, as Brie starts her family and Nikki carries on in the ring, they still film their reality shows together, as well as several other business interests. But after spending so much time together with Brie in the ring, this change in circumstances has motivated Nikki to shine on her own. It's not a totally foreign feeling, either, as Nikki was the longest-reigning Divas champion in the title's history, before it was retired in favor of the Raw women's championship.
"In the beginning I kind of felt like lonely, and I kind of embraced it. Hey, now actually I can prove the people that I'm an individual, I just don't have to be a Bella Twin to make a name for myself here. I can be Nikki Bella, Fearless Nikki, and I've really enjoyed that," she said. "But there are moments like the Royal Rumble or different moments that I wish I could share with Brie, and I do miss seeing her out there. Like when I do tag matches [I think], 'Oh I miss my sister Brie.' So it has its ups and downs."
As she further explores her independence, Nikki also hopes to return to some of her roots. Among her goals in the next few months, besides wrestling, Nikki would love to learn more Spanish.
"I'm so proud, from the food to the women to the curves. I just need to learn a little more español. Entiendo un poquito."