With a WrestleMania opportunity approaching, Nia Jax finally feeling like she fits in
It wasn't long after she graduated from high school that Nia Jax took a leap of faith and dove into a situation she wasn't quite sure she was ready to handle. Apprehensive and scared, Jax moved to New York to embark on a modeling career.
She knew she hardly had the prototypical physique in a trade that, once you swipe away the sheen, exploits any imperfections and screams them to the world. Still, Jax had a vision of who she wanted to become and what she wanted to accomplish -- until she didn't.
"They broke me down," Jax said of the modeling critics. "Your forehead is too big. Your hips are too wide. Your love handles are too large."
And get this one -- her toes were too long.
"Literally, head to toe," Jax said. "They told me everything that was wrong with me."
All the work and energy that the 6-foot Jax, whose real name is Savelina Fanene, had put into building her confidence and self-esteem had vanished. She had been bullied throughout her life, but with professionals essentially browbeating her into submission, Jax couldn't take it anymore.
After hearing the feedback, Jax called her mother, sobbing. What was she thinking? Modeling? This was not a trade for women her size. That was always in the back of her head, but it wasn't until she heard the extended list of flaws that it hit her.
Her mom wasn't the sympathetic ear Jax was expecting. "You're better than this," she told Jax at the time. "You have time to figure this out. Don't quit."
Unsure, Jax reluctantly listened to her mom. But it was difficult to hear. She is part of the famed Anoa'i wrestling family dynasty that has spawned the likes of physical specimens like The Rock, who is Jax's first cousin.
Jax followed through on her goal and spent time as a plus-size model before signing with the WWE in 2014. But even in a business that relishes the big and strong, like the WWE, Jax felt like there was still trouble fitting in.
Even today, while Jax's notoriety continues to grow, there's still a good amount of truth-telling buried beneath the storylines. Just two weeks ago, Raw women's champion Alexa Bliss had some disingenuous words of encouragement in a backstage segment after Jax had fallen to Asuka.
"Look at what you've overcome," Bliss said. "Your whole life you've been an outcast. You've been bullied, scorned. All because you're so much bigger than the other kids. Even now, when we walk into an airport, I see how people look at you."
Jax conceded that Bliss' storyline-focused speech did hit home.
"I have a positive outlook, but when you're out in the public eye, you wonder how people see you," Jax said. "It's something I have dealt with my entire life. It's something I still deal with today. It's a constant battle."
At this stage in her career, Jax understands her reaction to the ridicule has a profound effect on others who also feel like castaways.
"When I got to the WWE, I found out there were a lot of girls who looked up to me and that I was giving them confidence," Jax said. "I realized I'm not doing this just for me. I want my niece, who is already so much taller than the other kids, to grow up and realize nothing is wrong with her. If others think I am good with myself, they will in turn feel good about themselves."
Jax also said she is encouraged by what she called the "protected love" she receives from her fellow WWE performers. This was in stark contrast to an Instagram post last November when Jax said she was subjected to body-shaming in her own backyard.
"To be fair, we're around each other so often," Jax said, when asked if this was a pervasive issue in the locker room. "I am around them more than my family; this is my second family. You have your arguments, you have bickering, but you have each other's backs."
While self-satisfaction might require a daily pep talk with herself, Jax looks like she might be more than satisfied in the coming weeks, especially if the current narratives play out in her favor.
The infallible Asuka, who originally looked like the top contender on Monday nights, decided to take her undefeated streak to SmackDown, at least for WrestleMania, where she will take on Charlotte Flair for the women's championship. Which means the Raw title-holder Bliss needs an opponent.
The weekly tension between Jax and Bliss is growing. Unless something unforeseen is thrown into the women's division, and soon, Jax looks like she will have her best opportunity to win gold since she was drafted by the Raw brand nearly two years ago.
So, is it your time, Nia?
"I always think it's my time," Jax quipped. "But after all the hard work and time away from my family, it would mean so much more at WrestleMania."
Still, while Jax could rise to the most powerful women's figure on Monday Night Raw, she still considers herself somewhat green. She's relatively new to the main roster and during her developmental time on NXT, she spent only eight months performing on televised shows.
"I'm still learning the ropes," Jax said. "But if I'm called to be on the grandest stage, at WrestleMania, I'll be ready."
Not bad for someone with those toes.